Is Politics the Mindkiller? An Inconclusive Test

post by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-27T17:45:13.390Z · score: 14 (47 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 277 comments

Or is the convention against discussing politics here silly?

I propose a test.  I'm going to try to lay down some rules on voting on comments for the test here (not that I can force anybody to abide by them):

1.) Top-level comments should introduce arguments (or ridicule me and/or this test); responses should be responses to those arguments.

2.) Upvote and downvote based on whether or not you find an argument convincing in the context in which it was raised.  This means if it's a good argument against the argument it is responding to, not whether or not there's a good/obvious counterargument to it; if you have a good counterargument, raise it.  If it's a convincing argument, and the counterargument is also convincing, upvote both.  If both arguments are unconvincing, downvote both.

3.) Try not to downvote particular comments excessively, if they're legitimate lines of argument.  A faulty line of argument provides opportunity for rebuttal, and so for our test has value even then; that is, I want some faulty lines of argument here.  If you disagree, please downvote me, instead of the faulty comments, because this post is what you want less of, not those comments.  This necessarily implies, for balance, that we not excessively upvote comments.  I'd suggest fairly arbitrary limits of 3/-3?

Edit: 4.) A single argument per comment would be ideal; as MixedNuts points out here, it's otherwise hard to distinguish between one good and one bad argument, which makes the upvoting/downvoting difficult to evaluate.  (My apologies about missing this, folks.)

I'm going to try really hard not to get personally involved, except to lay down a leading comment posing an argument against abortion, a position I don't hold, for the record.  The core of the argument isn't disingenuous, and I hold that this argument is true, it just doesn't lead to my opposing abortion.  I do not hold the moral axiom by which I extend the basic argument to argue against abortion, however; I'm playing the devil's advocate to try to help me from getting sucked into the argument while providing an initial point of discussion.

Which leads me to the next point: If you see a hole in an argument, even if it's an argument for a perspective you agree with, poke through it.  The goal is to see whether we can have a constructive political argument here.

The fact that this is a test, and known to be a test, means this isn't a blind study.  Uh, try to act as if you're not being tested?

After it's gone on a little while, if this post hasn't been hopelessly downvoted and ridiculed (and thus the premise and test discarded as undesirable to begin with), we can put up a poll to see whether people found the political debates helpful, not helpful, and so on.

277 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-27T19:46:12.294Z · score: 24 (36 votes) · LW · GW

I think the organ market should be legal. The arguments against it are far to weak to justify so many people dying.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-27T23:32:19.620Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Organs don't work like drugs; allowing sale would greatly encourage smugglers. This would lead to organ theft. Families could also pressure people who don't earn enough to sell their organs.

comment by Emile · 2012-07-29T07:16:02.225Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Organs don't work like drugs

It seems to me that the differences between drugs and organs make organ sale easier to regulate. Surgical operations already have plenty of paperwork and administrative oversight (by the government and insurance companies). And patients probably care more about where the organ came from than they do for drugs.

comment by magfrump · 2012-07-29T12:53:16.986Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Emile's counterpoint makes me undecided on whether to believe you without some kind of evidence or citation. What you say rings true but my intuitions with respect to organ theft are pretty bad.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T00:34:44.664Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are ways of preventing theft if you have oversight. The only way to avoid oversight is to do it on the black market, which will be much harder when you have to compete against a legal market.

Families could also pressure people who don't earn enough to sell their organs.

Maybe the majority of people who sell organs will be idiots who really shouldn't at that price, but it's better than not doing it at all.

You could put a price floor on it, although then idiots who don't need them as much would start selling them, and there'd be costs with all the people waiting in line to sell. Subsidies wouldn't work at all, since they'd pretty much end up going to the people buying the organs.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-28T12:59:07.165Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's unlikely there would be end-to-end oversight. Legal organ harvesters would probably not get looked at very closely (not enough money for inspection) and could easily pass off stolen organ as legitimately bought ones.

I disagree with your characterization of pressured people as idiots. "You aren't bringing home the bacon and you have poor marriage prospects, so you'd better sell a kidney, or I'll kick you out of the house" is not idiocy. But that's not really the point.

I don't see at all how a price floor helps with that.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T20:15:22.405Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's unlikely there would be end-to-end oversight.

Why not? It's outright illegal in every country except one. I would expect it to be heavily regulated if it is ever allowed. If there are problems with stolen organs, they would definitely start regulating it.

Also, I haven't seen anything saying that this is a problem in Iran. I read it has been a problem in India, so they made it illegal. It's not the same as regulating, but it shows that they won't allow that sort of thing to happen.

I disagree with your characterization of pressured people as idiots.

I just mean people selling their kidneys when it hurts them. "Idiots" meaning acting irrationally, not necessarily stupider than average.

I guess it's possible for it to happen like you describe so that they have an additional incentive to sell, in a bad way. I don't think that's likely to happen.

I don't see at all how a price floor helps with that.

It makes it more likely that it actually will be worth while for them. If it's never worth while to sell your kidney for below $x, then setting a price floor above $x would at least mean that some of the people selling their kidneys would benefit.

comment by AlexMennen · 2012-07-30T22:12:46.368Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(not enough money for inspection)

So tax organ sales enough to pay for the inspection costs.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-27T23:55:43.516Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

This policy is plausibly superior to the status quo, but I'm not convinced it is the best available alternative. Can you tell me why you think this would be a better way of doing things than, say, mandating organ donation upon brain-death?

comment by Antisuji · 2012-07-28T21:11:36.150Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Or, for that matter, making organ donation opt out rather than opt in.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-07-30T02:50:03.088Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Empirically, opt-in vs opt-out doesn't matter. Kieran Healy writes about this extensively. I think he discusses other things that actually have resulted in large changes in Spain and Italy in this paper. This time series is nice.

One relevant fact is the in virtually all jurisdictions, the heirs can and usually do veto donation. [Edit: Actually, just one of many obstacles, probably a small effect. I forget why I included it.]

comment by amcknight · 2012-07-29T19:37:35.728Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In the United States it's kind of neither. When you get an id card there is a yes/no checkbox you need to check.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-29T12:29:00.020Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It already is in Italy (and I'd guess in much of the rest of the EU too).

comment by magfrump · 2012-07-29T13:00:10.783Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One thing that makes the OP a better idea than yours is that no way in a million years (this is hyperbole) will any US political system ever adopt mandatory organ donation.

However just making it opt-out instead of opt-in as suggested by antisuji below seems like it would capture 80-90% of the benefit (wild guess) with 5-10% of the political fallout (another wild guess).

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T00:45:20.801Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I mostly mean the organs you donate while still alive.

In the case of the organs you can't live without, it's pretty much the whole free market thing. It will create incentive for people who want to be able to keep their organs when they die. There's no more reason to take their organs when they die than there is to take their money and spend it on saving lives.

I'm not entirely convinced that this is the best either. I don't know how much incentive people really get from stuff that happens after they die. Perhaps it should at least be encouraged with fees to keep your organs, or subsidies to sell them.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-07-29T00:37:43.425Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

You know, it would probably be possible to benefit from your organs' value while you're alive. Sign a contract to agree to be organ-harvested after your death, and get a stipend for the average estimated value of your cadaver, today! Free money, from your perspective. You could get more if you contractually agreed not to smoke or take certain dangerous jobs.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-29T01:34:56.456Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You know, it would probably be possible to benefit from your organs' value while you're alive. Sign a contract to agree to be organ-harvested after your death, and get a stipend for the average estimated value of your cadaver, today! Free money, from your perspective. You could get more if you contractually agreed not to smoke or take certain dangerous jobs.

That's a brilliant idea and it is a travesty that it isn't in place now. (The whole "moral hazard" thing would need to be solved but there are ways to solve it.)

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-29T00:54:54.757Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That has a pretty similar result as the government forcing you to donate and slight change in the tax system.

You could get more if you contractually agreed not to smoke or take certain dangerous jobs.

That part would be useful.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-07-29T00:59:31.969Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Certainly, but loss-of-autonomy has a cost associated with it, in my utility ordering, at any rate. I think it's best to allow people to do what they want with their bodies. Creating incentives is far less intrusive, in terms of personal freedom, than forcing a single course of action on everyone. Besides which, leaving aside the provisional issue at hand, I don't like to think too hard about the legal implications of deciding that people don't own their bodies and brains.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-28T01:32:19.640Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

There's no more reason to take their organs when they die than there is to take their money and spend it on saving lives.

If people were routinely burning all their assets when they died, preventing anyone from getting any use out of them, I think I would be in favor of a policy that mandated the donation of the property for life-saving purposes. In the property case, one could at least make the argument that mandating redistribution after death would disincentivize people from working hard during their lifetimes. I don't see a similar disincentive associated with mandatory redistribution of organs after death.

I'm pretty convinced that mandatory organ donation upon brain-death is an unmitigated good thing. Are there any sound arguments against it, besides the pragmatic difficulty of selling the policy to people? So the important question for me is: Should we institute an organ market for living donors in addition to requiring donation upon death? There are costs to the organ market, as has been pointed out in the comments. Also, an organ sold by a living donor is one less organ harvested from a cadaver, so an organ market wouldn't increase the number of organs available for transplant in the long term. It would skew the allocation of available organs towards the wealthy, which raises equity concerns.

The big advantage to the organ market that I see is that it allows for better matching of donors and patients. My understanding is that harvested organs can't be stored for more than a few days, so if an organ is harvested from a cadaver it might go to waste because of the lack of suitable patients in the (spatial or temporal) vicinity of the donor. If there were an organ market, some organs which would otherwise be wasted in this way would in fact get transplanted. I guess my view on the organ market would hinge on the extent of to which it would mitigate this kind of waste, and that's an empirical question. If anyone knows of data pertinent to this question, I'd be interested in hearing about it.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2012-07-30T19:54:39.589Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty convinced that mandatory organ donation upon brain-death is an unmitigated good thing.

Are you aware that it would mean no more cryonics?

(Even if you want to preserve the head only, the injection of anti-ice fluids makes the rest of body unusable for transplantation.)

comment by pragmatist · 2012-08-01T02:23:24.236Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks! I was not in fact aware of that. I actually thought about the cryonics objection when I was writing that comment, but I figured neuropreservation would not be a problem. Looks like I was wrong. I probably should have tried harder to follow up on my initial suspicion rather than dismissing it.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T02:39:30.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If people were routinely burning all their assets when they died, preventing anyone from getting any use out of them, I think I would be in favor of a policy that mandated the donation of the property for life-saving purposes.

But they are making use of their organs. I don't know why they consider burying them important, but it's not my place to judge. It might not make them nearly as happy as it would the recipient, but the same can be said of them spending money on luxury when there are people who have trouble meeting their basic needs.

Also, an organ sold by a living donor is one less organ harvested from a cadaver, so an organ market wouldn't increase the number of organs available for transplant in the long term.

Yes it would. To my knowledge, it's pretty rare for people to die in a condition where their organs can still be used.

If there were an organ market, some organs which would otherwise be wasted in this way would in fact get transplanted.

I wonder how that would work. Would they move people who need organs to hospitals where people who match them are dying? Why couldn't they do that now? Perhaps they can, and just don't because there's no money in it and it seems really tasteless.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-28T03:32:40.144Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But they are making use of their organs. I don't know why they consider burying them important, but it's not my place to judge. It might not make them nearly as happy as it would the recipient, but the same can be said of them spending money on luxury when there are people who have trouble meeting their basic needs.

You are probably much more libertarian than I am. I don't buy the strong self-ownership assumption that undergirds many libertarian arguments. I think it is within a government's legitimate sphere of power to legislate against sufficiently widespread wastage of important resources, even if those resources are legally acquired by their owner. If a crazed billionaire began buying up all the silicon in the world in order to bury it on the moon, I think the government should step in to prevent this from happening. When the relevant resource is literally a part of the owner the government should err on the side of liberty, but there can still be cases of waste egregious enough to warrant intervention, and the widespread burial of transplantable organs is sufficiently egregious.

Yes it would. To my knowledge, it's pretty rare for people to die in a condition where their organs can still be used.

Ah, I didn't know this. If this is the case, then there is good reason to encourage living people to give up their organs.

I wonder how that would work. Would they move people who need organs to hospitals where people who match them are dying?

I was thinking more about living donors. An organ market would encourage some people to sell their organs while they were alive. Unless something goes really wrong, these organs are presumably going to end up transplanted. If all of those people waited until they were dead, some fraction of those organs would be wasted, either because their former owners died in a way that renders the organ usable, or simply because the organ could not be transported to a suitable recipient in time.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T06:25:21.473Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think it is within a government's legitimate sphere of power to legislate against sufficiently widespread wastage of important resources, even if those resources are legally acquired by their owner.

The problem is, once you get past the poverty line, additional money doesn't make you all that much happier. If you're well past it, anything you do with your money is wasting it. If you stop them from wasting it, you're just stopping them from earning much money. You'll destroy incentives. There's no reason to stop them from wasting resources in one way if it just means that they'll waste them in another.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-28T06:49:09.112Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We don't have to choose between the extremes of allowing people to do whatever they want with their resources (as long as they don't use them to directly harm people) or legislating against any socially suboptimal usage of resources. I think people should have quite a bit of freedom to use their resources the way they want, precisely because we don't want to disincentivize people from working, and also because a government that is constantly monitoring its citizens to ensure socially optimal resource usage would be unbearably intrusive. But I also think there are cases where the benefits of government intervention outweigh these costs.

Where exactly to draw the line is a difficult question, and there are a number of cases where I'm unsure whether a government mandate is advisable. However, there are also cases that are clearly on one side or another of the line. Banning all luxury consumption, for instance, is definitely a bad idea. I also think its pretty clear that mandating organ donation (perhaps with a religious exemption clause) is a good idea. In this case, the costs aren't that great. I can't see any disincentivization of productive behavior, and the additional intrusiveness required to adequately enforce the policy does not seem all that burdensome. And by all accounts the social benefits would be quite significant.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-29T22:09:09.717Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Since the government is hardly going to do the best possible thing with our money, my last comment was vastly exaggerated.

Even so, I don't think people are generally expected to help others with their money. If they manage to do something particularly wasteful, you can tax them for it to make up for it.

I generally prefer the idea of subsidizing the stuff that does help people, but it works out the same if you add a tiny change in how you do income taxes.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T20:15:10.761Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Consider someone who is deciding whether to donate their money to Seeing Eye or use it to dig ditches and then fill them. Seeing Eye is less than 0.05% as effective as the Fred Hollows Foundation, so the difference in social optimality is less than 0.05% of what it could do.

This means that if they dig ditches and then fill them, they are less than 0.05% more wasteful than if they donate to Seeing Eye. Why not just move the line by 0.05%, and let them do whatever they want? You can just tax them an additional 0.05% to make up for it, and they'll still end up with more incentive. For that matter, you'd probably save enough money on not bothering with regulation to make up for it.

It seems like digging ditches and then filling them is infinitely more wasteful than donating to Seeing Eye, since it makes an infinitely smaller difference, but that's not really how it works. The difference is so small it's lost in rounding.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-28T23:58:31.120Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

i disagree with the kind of analysis you're doing here. Just because a difference is a small percentage of the maximal possible difference does not mean it is a small difference. Suppose you have three mutually exclusive actions available to you: A - play video games all day, B - put in a small amount of effort that will ensure that malaria is eliminated, C - put in a moderate amount of effort that will ensure that everyone in the world lives forever without sickness or deprivation. As a percentage of what you could accomplish by doing C, the difference between doing A and doing B is negligible. But it seems absurd to say that the difference between doing A and doing B is so small that it doesn't really matter. Sure, it's small as a percentage, but it's still a massive difference.

Of course, it still might be the case (in fact, it probably is the case) that in your particular example, the cost of intervention outweighs its benefits. But I have already granted that this is often the case. If your example was meant to provide a general argument against any government regulation of resource usage, I don't see how it works.

Instead of discussing hypotheticals, why not talk about the actual policy under consideration: Do you think that the cost of a mandatory organ donation policy plausibly outweighs its benefits? If you don't, do you have other non-consequentialist grounds for opposing the policy?

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-29T00:43:53.658Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't matter because you could add a rediculously tiny tax to make up the difference.

Also, I think it's generally a good idea to give taxes and subsidies to get rid of externalities. If this is done correctly, it makes no difference at all how you spend your money.

comment by atorm · 2012-07-29T02:22:11.796Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One argument per comment, please. I disagree with your first response and agree/appreciate your second.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T21:13:15.816Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You can do either, or both. The two policies don't really affect each other.

comment by Nisan · 2012-07-28T05:42:01.990Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Meta: Reading through this thread was pleasant and rewarding. I feel like I learned as much about the practical ethics of organ donation in ten minutes here as I would from an ordinary two-hour-long argument in real life, and I feel a lot better now than I'd feel after a two-hour-long argument.

comment by aaronde · 2012-07-27T22:29:38.122Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. But I also think that the government should buy some of those organs at market value (Edit: they could negotiate for better prices like any other large buyer, but not force any supplier to sell), to be distributed according to the current system. (But then, I'm for socialized medicine in general, since it appears to be more efficient: countries with socialized medicine achieving better outcomes at lower costs.)

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-27T22:46:53.013Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How would that work? You have an option to either buy a kidney or wait in line and hope for the best? If your insurance doesn't cover kidneys, you wait for a government one?

I think it would be a lot better if the government finds the people that likely would end up waiting in line (like the people on medicare or medicaid) and just buy them organs immediately. Either that or just buy them for everyone.

comment by aaronde · 2012-07-27T23:12:01.787Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

How much do you expect markets to increase the supply of organs? You seem to be assuming there'll be enough for everyone.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T00:29:05.167Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The organ market is legal in Iran, and there are indeed enough for everyone, including some people from other countries who came there just for the organs.

At least, for kidneys and stuff. I'm not even sure if you're allowed to sell stuff like your heart when you die there. From what I understand, even if you mandated everyone give away their heart, there still wouldn't be enough since it's rarely an option. In those cases, I suspect there will still be a significant increase. Also, it makes it so that people have more of an incentive to work hard so that they can afford health insurance that will pay for those organs. If you're going to have inequality anyway, you might as well take advantage of it.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-07-27T22:27:09.451Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What exactly do you mean by "organ market" ?

META: How should I vote if I'm neither for nor against your viewpoint, but if I simply do not understand it ?

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-27T22:40:25.499Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

If you need a kidney, you find someone who has an extra, and you buy theirs. Also, you can opt to sell your organs when you die, instead of just donating them.

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-07-27T22:44:40.371Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

This scenario provides several strong incentives for unscrupulous agents to harvest people's organs without asking for permission (in addition to any existing incentives that may exist in our current society). Thus, I believe that the total utility of legalizing the organ market (as I currently understand it) would be highly negative.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-27T22:52:03.896Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If that becomes a problem, have the government check to make sure that the people who are listed as selling kidneys both gave permission (preventing people from just harvesting without telling you) and is actually missing the organ (preventing people from claiming they gave an organ that was harvested from someone else). The only other option is for the entire operation to be off the books. This would be prevented the same way it is now, along with the fact that people are less likely to buy organs on the black market if there's a legal option.

Also, even if that was the only way the organ market worked, for every organ stolen there'd be a life saved. It seems like it would still be positive unless they actually killed the people they were taking organs from, and even then only if they only took one organ each. How could it be highly negative?

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-07-27T23:08:57.147Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If that becomes a problem, have the government check to make sure that the people who are listed as selling kidneys both gave permission...

How would the government achieve this in practice ? For example, let's say there's a demand for livers this month. How would the government know whether the liver A for patient B came from a legitimate donor, some unfortunate homeless person within our country who was robbed of his liver against his will, or from some foreign national who lives in one of those totalitarian and/or lawless countries where human life isn't worth much ?

Furthermore, let's say that people could sell their organs after they die -- by proxy, presumably -- as per your scenario above. Doesn't this create a powerful incentive for unscrupulous agents to speed their demise ?

Also, even if that was the only way the organ market worked, for every organ stolen there'd be a life saved.

I don't think this is true. Firstly, organ transplant procedures do not have a 100% success rate, due to rejection issues, surgery complications, etc. Secondly, what do you mean by "a life saved" ? All lives will end eventually. Would it be worthwhile to shorten someone's life by, say, 10 years (due to their loss of a kidney), in order to grant someone else 5 extra years of life (by using that kidney) ?

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-27T23:20:45.332Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How would the government know whether the liver A for patient B came from a legitimate donor, some unfortunate homeless person within our country who was robbed of his liver against his will, or from some foreign national who lives in one of those totalitarian and/or lawless countries where human life isn't worth much ?

If it didn't come from a legitimate donor, either the doctor has to explain why he didn't say who the donor was, why the donor doesn't know about it, or why the "donor" still has a whole liver.

As for the foreign country, just don't accept organs shipped across national lines if the other nation doesn't check the stuff. I suspect it's a bad idea to ship organs across national lines anyway, as opposed to just shipping the donor, but I don't really know all that much about how organ donation works.

Would it be worthwhile to shorten someone's life by, say, 10 years (due to their loss of a kidney), in order to grant someone else 5 extra years of life (by using that kidney) ?

No, but I'm willing to bet that's not what the ratio will be. If losing an organ hurt you more than it helped the person getting it, nobody would ever consider donating them.

Edit:

Furthermore, let's say that people could sell their organs after they die -- by proxy, presumably -- as per your scenario above. Doesn't this create a powerful incentive for unscrupulous agents to speed their demise ?

You mean their next of kin? I don't see how it's much more of an incentive than it would be to kill them just for the inheritance. Also, I suspect that the health insurance company would normally take the money, since most people aren't going to be in a position to donate their organs and people tend to be loss-averse.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-07-30T20:44:36.370Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Organ transplantation costs tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, including the costs of doctors, hospital time for recovery, drugs, etc. Paying less than $5,000 for a legal kidney (at prices in Iran), or even $25,000 in rich countries with more expensive surgical staff, makes for a trivial portion of the overall cost of the operation. Why make the whole operation illegal (making it hard to advertise, recruit employees and customers, avoid imprisonment, etc) by not using voluntary donors to reduce costs by a few percent?

Consider that the surgeons make up a much larger portion of the cost. Should we fear that legalizing organ transplantation will drive a criminal industry kidnapping and enslaving surgeons to perform organ transplants? We don't see such an industry for coronary bypass operations, so we shouldn't expect it for organs.

comment by Cyan · 2012-07-31T15:30:34.411Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Meta: Is the OP really a political position? The mere fact that the resulting comment thread is highly informative and not contentious at all makes me doubt it...

More precisely, it seems to me that a majority of participants here share values, e.g., saving lives is more important than almost anything else. Most of the refutations of arguments against the OPs position are about updating the map to match the territory. Nobody's arguing about what course one ought to set through the territory per se.

Consider the contrast between these comments and the abortion debate in the US. I think the essence of the latter is a disagreement about the absolute and relative moral statuses of and rights due to fully grown humans and potential people. I expect it would continue to exist even if everyone agreed on the pertinent biological and medical facts of the matter.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-08-01T13:16:41.820Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Consider the contrast between these comments and the abortion debate in the US. I think the essence of the latter is a disagreement about the absolute and relative moral statuses of and rights due to fully grown humans and potential people. I expect it would continue to exist even if everyone agreed on the pertinent biological and medical facts of the matter.

I doubt that this is a descriptively accurate characterization of the debate. I'm guessing a majority of the most committed pro-life activists aren't motivated by a concern for potential people; they actually believe a foetus is a person, not just potentially a person. A number of Christian denominations preach that ensoulment occurs at conception, and that personhood (in the moral sense) is associated with ensoulment. If everyone agreed on the pertinent biological facts -- one of which is that there is no such thing as a soul -- this justification would no longer work.

comment by Cyan · 2012-08-01T17:12:35.451Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm guessing a majority of the most committed pro-life activists aren't motivated by a concern for potential people; they actually believe a foetus is a person, not just potentially a person.

Thanks for catching this. The words "person" and "potential person" were just intended to be labels, but I ended up unintentionally sneaking in connotations. Let's imagine that in my counterfactual situation no one is doing that either intentionally or unintentionally.

one [pertinent biological fact] is that there is no such thing as a soul

I don't disagree, but I do think religious people might claim something similar to, "even though the soul is not a physical thing, it still exists in the sight of God".

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T21:11:17.479Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. If they thought the utility gained by making potential persons into actual ones, was greater than the negative utility to women who become unwilling mothers (would abort if they could), then they would support forcing all women to be constantly pregnant.

comment by Cyan · 2012-08-02T03:45:46.983Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

They're deontologists -- it's a mistake to attempt to predict their ethical reasoning using consequentialist or utilitarian terms.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-31T18:34:37.592Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

More precisely, it seems to me that a majority of participants here share values

That's necessary for any disagreement we could have a real discussion about. I've gotten into political arguments with people with similar values. I'm largely libertarian, not because I believe in individual rights, but because I believe that it's what produces the most happiness. There are plenty of people who are socialist, not because they value equality, but because they believe that it's what produces the most happiness.

comment by Cyan · 2012-07-31T18:45:30.342Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

More precisely, it seems to me that a majority of participants here share values

That's necessary for any disagreement we could have a real discussion about.

Maybe this was already obvious to you, but it wasn't to me until just now. Thank you for that.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T21:16:33.852Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Consider the contrast between these comments and the abortion debate in the US. I think the essence of the latter is a disagreement about the absolute and relative moral statuses of and rights due to fully grown humans and potential people. I expect it would continue to exist even if everyone agreed on the pertinent biological and medical facts of the matter.

I think the abortion "debate" is a Blue vs Green, Arguments as Soldiers issue. Pro- or anti-abortion doesn't follow logically from other positions held by each party. Counterfactually, if the two US parties had chosen different positions on abortion due to some historic accident, then I would expect their electorate to still support each party along current divisions.

comment by Cyan · 2012-08-01T23:00:29.307Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think the abortion "debate" is a Blue vs Green, Arguments as Soldiers issue.

I agree. That's why I set up my counterfactual.

Counterfactually, if the two US parties had chosen different positions on abortion due to some historic accident, then I would expect their electorate to still support each party along current divisions.

I have the contrary expectation -- I can't conceive of a historical accident that would swap the parties' positions on abortion without also swapping their respective bases.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-27T23:39:18.761Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's likely an international organ market would move organs from poor countries to rich ones. This would create great resentment in poor countries, while not being that huge a source of revenue.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T00:37:07.905Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This would create great resentment in poor countries, while not being that huge a source of revenue.

That seems odd. They don't have to sell their organs to foreigners. You could make laws about only doing it within the country. I'd be against that, for much the same reasons as I'm against all protectionist policies.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-07-28T23:59:09.920Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I could see ways in which it would be disastrous.

In places where getting a $25 microloan is a big competitive advantage, a $5000 organ donation would be absolutely disruptive (according to this article kidneys go for anywhere from $20,000 to hundreds of thousands depending on country). If you were an entrepreneur in such a country you would basically never be able to compete with anyone else who donated organs without donating one yourself. That could definitely cause a lot of resentment.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-07-30T20:38:42.372Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In places where getting a $25 microloan is a big competitive advantage

I think this is an exaggeration. The severely poor are demarcated as earning less than $1 per day.

There are many millions of migrant workers from poor countries working in richer countries, e.g. Somalian taxi drivers in New York, Bangladeshi janitors in Dubai, and so forth. They make many thousands of dollars per year. They send remittances, and sometimes come home. This doesn't seem to cause terrible resentments or anger. Rather, the money significantly boosts the standard of living back home, allowing the purchase of more imports and raising wages for local workers (paid out of the remittances and by the returnees).

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-29T00:52:45.063Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I could see ways in which it would be disastrous.

More disasterous than someone dying? Is there going to be hundreds of people resenting per donation?

(according to this article kidneys go for anywhere from $20,000 to hundreds of thousands depending on country).

Kidneys are worth $2,000 to $4,000 in Iran, according to this article. They are illegal to sell in any other country.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-28T07:06:27.952Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That seems odd. They don't have to sell their organs to foreigners.

Perhaps it would be odd for the particular people who are selling their organs to feel resentment. But it doesn't seem all that odd if people in poor countries who need organ transplants feel resentful that the organs which would otherwise be harvested from cadavers and given to them are instead being bought up by rich foreigners.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-07-30T20:35:05.257Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The big supply change from organ markets is incentivizing things like kidney or marrow donations from living donors. Those donations would not be made otherwise (and the overwhelming majority of organs of the dead are of far worse quality, since people tend to be old and sick when they die, and sudden causes of death like car accidents have a tendency to wreck the body).

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-28T04:47:27.915Z · score: 22 (38 votes) · LW · GW

OrphanWilde,

Welcome to the site! We are glad to have you. But let me tell you a story:

A man goes to the mayor, asking to remove a fence on public property. He gives reason after reason why the fence should not exist, and how much better life will be once the fence is gone. The mayor listens closely, nodding in agreement, and the man finishes his argument. The mayor pauses for a moment, then asks, "Who put the fence there, and why?" The man waves his hand in dismissal: "I don't know and I don't care." The mayor frowns, replying, "Until you know why that fence exists, I can't let you tear it down."

Moving from the story to advice: reading all of this sequence may be helpful. Around a year ago, I mostly gave up discussing politics after finding Less Wrong, and my life is noticeably better. It's hard to elaborate all of the reasons why- but to start, I find myself less bothered by other people and the world, I find my time much better spent, as I'm reading positive psychology rather than political philosophy, and putting my hope in start-ups rather than political parties.

Instead of testing to see if politics can be discussed on Less Wrong, I suggest an alternate test: see how long you can go without having a political discussion. See what you do with your time and emotional energy instead.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T03:30:15.710Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

[Meta] I've gone long periods of time without having political discussions. My interest in such waxes and wanes, much as my interest in writing poetry, my interest in writing prose, my interest in programming games, my interest in having any contact with other people, etc. I wouldn't say my life at any point in any of these cycles is better or worse; if it were better, I doubt my interest would wane, if worse, I doubt it would wax.

As for my reasons for introducing this test, it was introduced in response to another individual calling the rule "Stupid," in rather less polite terms. I decided to create a test to see if the fence was actually useful; I didn't create an article calling for it to be torn down, I asked the mayor to create a space in that public property without that fence, to see if it did indeed serve the purpose it was erected for. I'll "conclude" the test sometime tomorrow, and ask people whether, indeed, they found the discussions here constructive or informative. (I've already learned one thing, which I'll elaborate on tomorrow, in my closing poll and commentary. So personally it has already been both constructive and informative.)

I read this response as two distinct things - a reason for not wanting politics discussed here (politics is an unconstructive and unhappy temptation), and a completely unrelated justification (politics is impossible to discuss rationally, a strawman interpretation of the "Politics is the Mindkiller" sequence which some people here nonetheless seem to hold). This post challenges that justification. Your reason may or may not still apply; I will try to include something in the poll to reflect the possibility that people found the test demonstrated that politics can be discussed here, but would still rather this be a politics-free zone.

My strongest recommendations, depending upon the result of this test and the poll, will nonetheless be, as suggested by DanielLC here: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/dsv/is_politics_the_mindkiller_an_inconclusive_test/73sl a regular and quarantined area for political discussion, subject to a cessation if things turn ugly or particularly unproductive. As I invoked in my introductory post, this is not a true test, because it is a test, and known to be a test. The very act of entering into this test is an acknowledgment that politics are an area of rational vulnerability. That is, my strongest recommendation will be that an area of public property be left without the fence. That will be a longer-term test which will more truly demonstrate whether or not the fence effectively serves the purpose it was created for.

comment by drethelin · 2012-07-28T15:49:57.589Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I've gone through the same sort of alienation and apathy about politics from reading lesswrong and moldbug, but that actually makes it more FUN for me to discuss politics now that I no longer identify as a blue. The separate discussion as to how much fun conversation there should be on the forums could be interesting, but I would enjoy more of it and I think it's also somewhat useful to see non-blue and non-green political points made.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-28T17:43:43.737Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's also somewhat useful to see non-blue and non-green political points made.

Indeed. Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided is my favorite entry in that category, and this is worth keeping in mind as well.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-28T12:17:20.700Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

My experiences mirror yours. Without delving into the details, I've also given up politics. Doing so has allowed me to focus my energy into activities that make me happier and improve my well-being

I do periodically feel the urge to re-involve myself in politics, though. Addiction is too strong of a word, but maybe it's compulsion? Sometimes I push through it, ignoring it until in goes away. But other times I re-involve myself. It usually lasts a few days, at least until I realize how miserable it's making me and I pull myself away.

Regardless of whether politics can/should be discussed on LW, I likely shouldn't involve myself. Let this be my public per-commitment that I won't discuss politics on LW.

Also, Vaniver, I enjoy your posts. If you'd ever care to discuss positive psychology, I'd definitely be up for a Skype chat.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T21:07:17.579Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed. I have not bothered to inform myself about politics since I was in grade school. I have never followed mainstream news (TV/newspapers/etc), not even occasionally. And my life is much richer for it. I have more time for other pursuits, I'm not angry about things I can't affect, and I'm not alienated from people with different a political allegiance.

There have been times when I honestly didn't know who the prime minister of my state was. (I happened to have heard the name of the current one some time ago.) And I'm happy that way. There are so many much more interesting things in the world I can spend my time on! Why should I concern myself with what I would do if I were prime minister? It's more fun and just as profitable to think of what I would do if I were Superman.

comment by aaronde · 2012-07-30T18:05:25.696Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That analogy conflates two things: The fact that the man doesn't know why the fence is there, and the fact that he doesn't care. If I were the mayor, I'd dismiss his request simply because he hadn't done his research. This is not analogous to tearing down laws or social norms so old and complicated that no one could reasonably be expected to know why they were made in the first place. Maybe laws against homosexuality made sense once upon a time, or maybe they were always a bad idea. But I don't need to know that in order to establish that homosexuality should be allowed and accepted today. If there really were a fence, with no record of who built it or why, that just seemed to be inconveniencing everyone, we really would be justified in tearing it down. Sometimes 2 + 2 is just 4.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-07-30T18:21:41.359Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is not analogous to tearing down laws or social norms so old and complicated that no one could reasonably be expected to know why they were made in the first place.

Is this relevant to a norm whose invention was explicitly documented six years ago?

But I don't need to know that in order to establish that homosexuality should be allowed and accepted today.

How confident are you that an argument for abolishing a social norm that is thousands of years old that makes no charitable reference to why the norm survived thousands of years is calm, dispassionate, and complete? (I should note this is a general response, and I am entirely uninterested in discussing the specifics of homosexuality in this thread.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-30T18:46:09.868Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe laws against homosexuality made sense once upon a time, or maybe they were always a bad idea. But I don't need to know that in order to establish that homosexuality should be allowed and accepted today

"Need to know" is a strong condition, and I probably agree with you that you don't need to know the relevant history in order to establish that a particular law is a bad idea. But I would also agree that if I'm actually trying to determine whether a law ought to change (rather than trying to justify my pre-existing belief that the law ought to change), trying to understand how the law came to be in the first place seems like a really good place to start.

comment by kilobug · 2012-07-28T08:02:51.598Z · score: 21 (37 votes) · LW · GW

I always wondered why the Less Wrong community was so "libertarian" (US-style, ie, pro-free market).

It seems at odds to me with LW views on other topics. Free market is akin to evolution : it's at optimisation process which, given enough time and space, will end up finding local maxima, but it's a blind, uncaring force that doesn't care about the sufferings it produces, that has no long-term vision. It's Azathoth. The same way that good engineering is more efficient than evolution (show me a bird flying as fast as a plane), wouldn't a good partially planned economy be better than free market ?

Or if you look at it from a CS view, especially with the SIAI view on AI (which is not shared by all Less Wrongers, but by most) : we use Azathoth-like solutions (neural network, genetic algorithms, ...) when we don't have a classical engineering solution. Shouldn't we do the same in economy ? Try to have more "engineered" solution when we can do so, and resort to the "free market" as a suboptimal but working default when we don't have an engineered solution ? If you look at EDF or SNCF (french electricity and railroads), it seems there are domains in which the "engineered solution" works well.

It would seem more coherent with the rest of the LW view to support things like Cybersyn rather than Azathoth.

Also (but my comment is already too long so I won't elaborate that one), a rational view on human psychology and cognitive biases should tell us that Homo Economicus just doesn't exist, and things like "consent" and "free will" are always a bit fuzzy, humans are prone to error and manipulation, so we should have safeguards to ensure the errors done by individual don't completely ruin their (or others) life, which argue for a strong social safety net.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2012-07-28T15:44:35.042Z · score: 16 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not a principled libertarian who will defend the "free market" consistently (in fact, I think the very notion is rather incoherent), but the sort of "engineering" you're talking about runs into two problems:

  1. We still lack the epistemological means to obtain the expertise necessary for such engineering, except for some basic simple insights that were already known to governments of civilized countries centuries ago. Insofar as any economic engineering interventions have been successful historically, they have been based on this ancient common-sense knowledge. Practically all the other stuff dreamed up by economists during the last hundred (or maybe even two hundred) years is a frightful abomination of cargo-cult science, anti-epistemology, and rationalizations for ideology and rent-seeking. (This also goes for the bulk of "social science" in general.)

  2. Even insofar as such expertise can be obtained, there is still the problem that the intervention must be executed by a realistic government, whose agents have their own venal interests and ideological aims (and delusions). And given the above-described state of the economic "science," even the most delusional ideology and the most blatant venal interest can be given a perfectly respectable veneer of "scientific" economics, if only some high-status and appropriately credentialed economists will vouch for it. So even insofar as we have some sound insights about the possible interventions, they are unlikely to be recognized as such unless there's a lucky alignment of interests and incentives. (But that is extremely unlikely in contemporary political systems.)

So, basically, you can see my view as roughly equivalent to someone who is sick but lives in a society where the only physicians available are crazed charlatans and superstitious witch-doctors (and where, in addition, institutionalized incentives are strongly against anything resembling valid medicine). Passively hoping for mercy from Azathoth (i.e. that your immune system will win out on its own) may well be the most rational strategy in this situation.

comment by kilobug · 2012-07-28T17:51:30.172Z · score: 6 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I understand this point of view, but it doesn't feel to really watch the situation we are in right now.

We are more like with current medicine : we don't yet how to build a purely synthetic body that will not age, be sick, tired, ... and the best we have is the Azathoth-built biological frame, but yet we can do lots to improve that biological frame (like vaccines) or fix its flaws (glasses, painkillers, pacemaker).

Looking at the world, we can see that even if not perfect, there are many cases of things which are done "outside of the market" but does works, from CERN to Appolo project, EDF/SNCF as I said in my original comment, European-style universal healthcare, ... it feels to me that being libertarian in this context is more like akin to refusing vaccines and keeping Azathoth alone.

And it also strikes me as odd that while here at LW we are so enthusiast in mind upload and the like (to fix what Azathoth did imperfectly in our bodies) the common LW opinion is much more to keep Azathoth for the economy than to try to think and test alternatives.

Blood transfusions often failed before we knew about blood groups, but the rational reaction was to consider that sometimes they succeed, and try to tell when they fail and when they succeed, so you can use them, not giving up.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2012-07-28T18:40:38.326Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Looking at the world, we can see that even if not perfect, there are many cases of things which are done "outside of the market" but does works, from CERN to Appolo project, EDF/SNCF as I said in my original comment, European-style universal healthcare, ... it feels to me that being libertarian in this context is more like akin to refusing vaccines and keeping Azathoth alone.

When you mentioned economic "engineering," the first thing that occurred to me were various schools of macroeconomics and their proposed measures for economic planning via monetary, fiscal, trade, and other policies. Speaking as someone who has spent considerable effort trying to make sense of this supposed "science," I really don't see anything there but pseudoscience driven by ideology, hubris, political expediency, and rent-seeking.

What you mention here, however, is in the domain of those much older kinds of interventions that I spoke of: public infrastructure spending, wealth redistribution, and patronage of arts and sciences. Unlike the modern macroeconomic "science," you could have an interesting discussion about those even with an ancient Roman statesman. I am definitely not opposed to them in principle, and I think they should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

However, I believe you are far too optimistic in evaluating the outcomes of the contemporary such policies. For example, if properly done, government patronage of science can work wonders, but if not, it can give rise to a diabolical system of perverse incentives that will thoroughly corrupt the entire field of science in question -- and in a way that will still make it look fully legitimate to the general public, and make the critics who understand the terrible truth seem like laughable crackpots. Similar things can be argued about other government enterprises too, with corruption and disastrous bungling often rampant under a veneer of perfect respectability and (often sincerely deluded) pretense of success. And while we clearly won't agree about the extent this is happening, given the confident off-hand style of your examples, I definitely think you're badly underestimating this extent.

comment by falenas108 · 2012-07-28T14:18:32.044Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

At least one problem with this is that any attempt to actually control the market will almost definitely get sidetracked by politics instead of what works. With lobbyists involved, I wouldn't trust the government to do what's best for the country. See farm subsidies for an example.

comment by kilobug · 2012-07-28T19:58:51.838Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I understand the issue, but I'm at odd with it for three reasons :

  1. If the problem is lobbying and corporate corruption of the government, I don't see how getting rid of the proxy and putting directly the corporations in charge will make anything better. Regulations may be imperfect and biased by lobbying, but having the corporations directly in charge seems even worse to me.

  2. It seems to me by looking around the world than when a reasonably democratic government starts providing real services to the population (universal healthcare and education, social safety net, ...) the people become less apathetic towards the government, and will get more involved with how the government is runned. It also seems to me that countries with higher wealth redistribution, like Scandinavian countries, have lower corruption.

  3. This is a kind of defeatist arguments. Here at Less Wrong, we speak of defeating death itself, conquering the stars, breaking the FAI problem, getting to the "level above" in understanding of the world, and yet, on this specific issue of politics/economics, we concede defeat so easily ? There are countless ways to "actually control the market" that we could imagine. Shouldn't we try to find a political system that ensures the market is controlled in a reasonably efficient way, rather than giving up ? Doesn't sound harder than solving the FAI problem. Corruption and lobbying ? What about making a jury trial for every law after the Parliament voted it, with 20 randomly selected citizen, held isolated from pressures like in normal jury trial, decide if the law goes through or not ? That's just one random idea in the enormous space of possible mechanisms. Why do we give up so easily ?

comment by asr · 2012-07-29T15:54:51.975Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It also seems to me that countries with higher wealth redistribution, like Scandinavian countries, have lower corruption.

I wonder about cause and effect here. I would trust the government more to redistribute wealth fairly if it weren't so very corrupt and incompetent.

What about making a jury trial for every law after the Parliament voted it, with 20 randomly selected citizen, held isolated from pressures like in normal jury trial, decide if the law goes through or not ?

I can think of several objections. Some laws are very complicated and require a lot of staff work by experts to formulate, and the jury won't be able to do a good job. Or did you want to require the jury to spend six months listening to testimony before delivering their verdict?

Do you mean an American or British-style jury, that requires unanimity? If so, you will reliably get hung juries on any controversial law.

There's a lot of laws that are time-sensitive. If the appropriations bills don't pass, the government shuts down. And we don't want to allow indefinite delays in restarting the government until the jury reaches consensus. (In America, there is probably 10% of the country who would reliably vote for shutting down the government, so you really cannot keep the country running if they can derail the jury.)

comment by falenas108 · 2012-07-29T14:42:08.273Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If the problem is lobbying and corporate corruption of the government, I don't see how getting rid of the proxy and putting directly the corporations in charge will make anything better.

That's the thing, it wouldn't be corporations in charge of setting prices, there wouldn't be anyone setting the prices. Except in the case of monopolies, it would be the combined market.

It seems to me by looking around the world than when a reasonably democratic government starts providing real services to the population (universal healthcare and education, social safety net, ...) the people become less apathetic towards the government, and will get more involved with how the government is runned. It also seems to me that countries with higher wealth redistribution, like Scandinavian countries, have lower corruption.

Okay, if that's true then that's a good argument for those forms of government control. But, that doesn't argue for involving the government in the other parts of the market.

As to the third point, I'm not sure we know how to reliably make changes to the market that results in positive changes. I'd appreciate the input of an economist here, but from the basic econ I've learned, except in the cases of monopolies or other failure modes of the free market, government intervention mathematically always results in a net loss. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadweight_loss)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-29T11:48:42.949Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If the problem is lobbying and corporate corruption of the government, I don't see how getting rid of the proxy and putting directly the corporations in charge will make anything better. Regulations may be imperfect and biased by lobbying, but having the corporations directly in charge seems even worse to me.

I agree that putting the corporations in charge of government would be bad. That's why libertarians oppose crony capitalism.

This is a kind of defeatist arguments. Here at Less Wrong, we speak of defeating death itself, conquering the stars, breaking the FAI problem, getting to the "level above" in understanding of the world, and yet, on this specific issue of politics/economics, we concede defeat so easily ? There are countless ways to "actually control the market" that we could imagine. Shouldn't we try to find a political system that ensures the market is controlled in a reasonably efficient way, rather than giving up ? Doesn't sound harder than solving the FAI problem.

Eliezer would probably argue that it's more-or-less equivalent to the FAI problem. Personally, depending on what one means by FAI I think it may well be harder. Specifically it may well be possible to create at FAI capable of managing an economy composed of humans, said FAI would not be capable of managing an economy composed of AIs of comparable complexity to itself, more or less due to the pigeon-hole principal.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-07-29T00:33:44.310Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The runtime complexity of modelling an economy is non-trivial, and a 'band-aid' reactionary approach to fixing issues in a system as complicated as the free market with an instrument as blunt as law is catastrophic in the long run (I subscribe to the Austrian school).

I'm against central planning, because computers fast enough to actually do it well don't exist - and, if they ever do, a centrally planned society should be able to function perfectly well under capitalism. It should turn a profit, and people should join it voluntarily. No coercion involved.

comment by kilobug · 2012-07-29T07:43:10.884Z · score: 13 (19 votes) · LW · GW

And since the runtime complexity of the human body is non-trivial, we should give up on medicine and methods as blunt as surgery and drugs ? Sorry, but complexity is not an excuse to let Azathoth rule alone and not try to improve things. Or we would have given up on science and medicine since long.

As for coercion, capitalism relies on it too : coercion to enforce private property, even when it means, for example, expelling a family from its house and sending it to the street because they can't pay the mortgage. If you reject coercion, you reject private property which is enforced by coercion. If you accept some amount of coercion to defend private property, why not some amount of coercion to ensure people have a roof and food ?

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-07-29T10:30:59.682Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The human body is subject to a number of reductionist approximations which allow us to work with it predicatively. These approximations and models are extremely well supported experimentally. So far, the only such approximations that apply to the economy are the Keynesian ideas, and those produce results that are intuitively nonsense, and have no experimental backing. Modifying the economy without causing more harm than good is much, much harder than it is in medicine right now. We are not surgeons here. We are plague doctors with masks, and leeches.

Capitalism (more specifically, classical liberalism or Minarchist Libertarianism) does accept a minimal level of governmental coercion, as the loss of freedom associated with anarchy is even greater, and because you must draw lines between the rights of individuals, and property and contract is a reasonable place to draw it. You'll note that property rights are fairly straightforward. They're easy to enforce, they're inexpensive, and they're intuitive. Once you start cobbling on new laws in a patchwork attempt to fix current problems, though, it all goes to hell in a handbasket rather quickly. Adding new laws is costly.

Because I'm not a strawman capitalist, I'm not going to claim that all poor people are lazy, or even that all poor people on welfare are lazy. However, I am going to say that there is a tendency for welfare to be abused by the lazy. It's like a magnetic cooling system. High energy particles escape, so after a while, all of the particles left in the trap are the cold, low-energy ones. Same basic principle applies.

Additionally, the government is fantastically bad at spending money. Orders of magnitude worst than essentially any private organization. I've seen the way they buy chairs. It's terrifying. In general, putting them in charge of any significant sum of money is an excellent way to ensure that much of it will wind up being expended as economic waste heat.

comment by aaronde · 2012-07-30T17:33:57.270Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

The human body is subject to a number of reductionist approximations which allow us to work with it predicatively. These approximations and models are extremely well supported experimentally. So far, the only such approximations that apply to the economy are the Keynesian ideas, and those produce results that are intuitively nonsense, and have no experimental backing. Modifying the economy without causing more harm than good is much, much harder than it is in medicine right now. We are not surgeons here. We are plague doctors with masks, and leeches.

And yet we've gotten past leeches, and developed medicines that work. Don't you think we should try some economic models to see if they work? Who cares if Keynesian ideas don't make intuitive sense? You just explained why that the economy is too complicated to understand intuitively. The evidence isn't very good (for or against), because it's never been properly tested.

property rights are fairly straightforward.

No they aren't. How do people come to own property in the first place? (are the descendants of native Americans due reparations? Who has the land rights to Israel / Palestine?) How much do polluters have to pay for the damage they're doing to everyone else's property? Do I have the right to sell myself into slavery? What ideas can be patented (copyrighted) and when do those patents (copyrights) expire? Unfortunately, to try to sort out who owns what, is to mire yourself in as twisted and complicated a political issue as any.

Additionally, the government is fantastically bad at spending money. Orders of magnitude worst than essentially any private organization. I've seen the way they buy chairs. It's terrifying. In general, putting them in charge of any significant sum of money is an excellent way to ensure that much of it will wind up being expended as economic waste heat.

Be specific. How does the government buy chairs?

Also, overpaying for something doesn't make the extra money simply disappear as "economic waste heat." The people who sold those chairs can spend the extra money again. The actual cost is bad information being fed to the market, which can result in workers making too much of one thing, when everyone would have been better off if they'd made something else. And it's not as if private consumers always spend their money perfectly in accordance with their values either. If anything qualifies as "economic waste heat", it's the tobacco industry.

comment by asr · 2012-07-29T16:04:26.018Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you accept some amount of coercion to defend private property, why not some amount of coercion to ensure people have a roof and food ?

We have this in America and I think most other wealthy countries. We spend many tens of billions of dollars on food assistance for the poor, and a substantial amount on housing assistance. It's not even all that controversial, politically.

(The food part works much better than the housing -- public housing projects in the US are notorious for sometimes being badly run to the point of being unsafe.)

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-28T14:17:29.556Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

All economic systems not of the form "free market plus some government intervention" have failed horribly. Are you arguing for one of these, or just for more regulation in what's basically a free market?

comment by kilobug · 2012-07-28T20:07:19.695Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I make a difference between long-term and short-term goal, like I make for the rest. If you take the medicine comparison made above, I'm aware that for now we don't know how to completely replace our Azathoth-made organic bodies with better, engineered ones. So for the short I'm advocating improving/fixing the body as we can. But for the long term, I would like us to find a solution to get rid of that Azathoth frame, and have an engineered body that is free of all the defects.

I made the same stance for the economy. On the long term, I want to get rid of free market, this Azathoth process that may end up finding solutions to problems, but doing so without caring for the suffering it produces, and without long-term vision. Every time a company goes bankrupt, it's a huge amount of waste in term of energy, time and resources, and a huge amount of suffering, broken families, ... and so on. Natural selection is cruel, and it is as much as in the economy.

But I'm aware we can't get rid totally of free market for now. We don't know how to do it. But we should try to improve what we can improve, fix what we can fix. Organs that can be made in a non-Azathoth way should be made so (EDF, SNCF, CERN for example). Safety measures should be added (unemployment money, working code, ...). Universal free healthcare and education. Things like that, that have working implementation already.

And we should also continue looking and experimenting for ways to make deeper change. We have a very small amount of workers control over companies in France, a "Comité d'Entreprise" elected directly by the workers in the company, and that have a say on safety/hygiene related issues within the company. We should increase its power and see if it does really improve working conditions or not. I spoke of Cybersyn in my initial comment. This project was made 40 years ago, with much reduced computing power, in only 3 years, and yet it gave interesting results, before it was drawn in blood by Pinochet. Couldn't try to make things like that, limited in some sectors, and see how they work ?

comment by Pentashagon · 2012-08-01T23:26:18.332Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't a working theory of utilitarianism "solve" the economy directly? Similarly if everyone had perfect market knowledge they would know from the prices set on goods and services (including "live forever" and "be free of pain and suffering") what everyone's utility preferences were and it would be possible in theory to calculate a course of action that maximized wealth and at the same time maximized utility.

The problem is that people produce artificial prices and utility values that don't reflect reality or their true preferences. Fixing that problem can only be done with more rationality, I think.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-02T20:52:29.310Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't a working theory of utilitarianism "solve" the economy directly? Similarly if everyone had perfect market knowledge they would know from the prices set on goods and services (including "live forever" and "be free of pain and suffering") what everyone's utility preferences were and it would be possible in theory to calculate a course of action that maximized wealth and at the same time maximized utility.

That runs into pigeon hole problems, even in theory.

comment by Pentashagon · 2012-08-03T01:19:54.209Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Say a theoretical human can have M preferences and there are N humans so we need to store MN utilities. Clearly humans can't consciously hold that much information in their head even for just themselves, but I can currently store about 142 32-bit integers for every person alive on earth on a single relatively cheap hard drive. A centralized world economy could keep track of individual price-preferences of all products that have a UPC assigned using about 7x10^19 prices, or a little over 10 exabytes. Difficult, but not intractable.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-08-03T19:03:04.441Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Say a theoretical human can have M preferences and there are N humans so we need to store M*N utilities. Clearly humans can't consciously hold that much information in their head even for just themselves, but I can currently store about 142 32-bit integers for every person alive on earth on a single relatively cheap hard drive.

Assuming the other humans aren't similarly using hard drives to extend their effective memory.

comment by Pentashagon · 2012-08-03T20:58:15.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Assuming the other humans aren't similarly using hard drives to extend their effective memory.

I guess there's an limit on the percentage of wealth owned by the people, then. In the worst case the government would need at least 50% of the total wealth to devote to mirroring the memory storage used by all the people. Pretty steep tax rate, and that doesn't include effective taxation by wealth redistribution that might result from the central government's calculations.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-07-30T20:57:39.481Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I always wondered why the Less Wrong community was so "libertarian" (US-style, ie, pro-free market).

Were you aware of the LW survey results?

The most popular political view, at least according to the much-maligned categories on the survey, was liberalism, with 376 adherents and 34.5% of the vote. Libertarianism followed at 352 (32.3%), then socialism at 290 (26.6%), conservativism at 30 (2.8%) and communism at 5 (.5%).

Compare to the philpapers survey results for philosophy faculty and PhDs below. The differences are moderate, and can be explained by the disproportionate presence of computer science, hard science, male gender, Anglosphere origins, and industry (as opposed to academia; comparing people with equal IQ and education, those with more 'right' political views are more likely to enter non-academic fields) in the LW population.

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?

Other 672 / 1803 (37.2%) Accept or lean toward: egalitarianism 595 / 1803 (33%) Accept or lean toward: communitarianism 294 / 1803 (16.3%) Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 242 / 1803 (13.4%)

For "philosophy of computing," which may be especially relevant for comparison to LW:

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?

Accept or lean toward: communitarianism 4 / 11 (36.3%) Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 3 / 11 (27.2%) Other 2 / 11 (18.1%) Accept or lean toward: egalitarianism 2 / 11 (18.1%)

And for "social and political philosophers":

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?

Accept or lean toward: egalitarianism 101 / 203 (49.7%) Other 51 / 203 (25.1%) Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 30 / 203 (14.7%) Accept or lean toward: communitarianism 21 / 203 (10.3%)

For philosophers of the physical sciences:

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?

Other 37 / 90 (41.1%) Accept or lean toward: egalitarianism 24 / 90 (26.6%) Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 16 / 90 (17.7%) Accept or lean toward: communitarianism 13 / 90 (14.4%)

comment by drethelin · 2012-07-28T16:02:28.924Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

1) I think it's very possible that in systems with a huge number of agents with varying preferences that an aggregate of those preferences like the free market can lead to better outcomes on average than any but the most advanced systems of control (which we don't have and don't seem close to having).

2) In general I think it makes sense to oppose many non free-market solutions simply because of the evidence we have for how terrible they are in practice. Sort like how I wish we could be governed by Plato's philosopher kings, but would not elect the philosophy departments of universities as our oligarchs.

comment by tut · 2012-07-28T10:19:23.296Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Given that you only do this when the "engineered solution" is workable, sure, whatever. Please remember though, that all policies that are ever implemented anywhere in the real world are (at best) what from this perspective should be called "a suboptimal but working default" which are resorted to because "we don't have a ... [usable] engineered solution."

comment by kilobug · 2012-07-28T10:23:47.119Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But then shouldn't we try to find the "engineered solution" instead of defending the "suboptimal but working default" as a matter of principle ? And shouldn't we use it in the domains where we do have a working one ?

comment by Psychosmurf · 2012-07-30T17:41:12.270Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's interesting that the only proposed alternative to Azathoth in this discussion so far is government intervention of one form or another (the government itself is just another creation of Azathoth). But there exist many more such as changing the fundamental institutions of our society, including our very notions of property and democracy.

comment by prase · 2012-07-31T16:36:30.317Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The parent comment didn't suggest specifically government intervention as an alternative.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-28T09:08:22.098Z · score: -2 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I wish I could upvote this twice. It deserves being made into a top-level post.

comment by kilobug · 2012-07-28T09:15:02.447Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I honestly pondered making a "discussion" post on that topic elaborating a bit more, but since there is a "no politics" rule on Less Wrong, I decided not to. When I'm part of community, I respect the rules of that community, even if I don't agree totally with them. To a point of course ;)

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-07-31T00:53:47.756Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is not clear whether there is a "no politics rule" on LW. You should make your post as a test to discover whether or not there is one.

If you think there is a "no politics rule," be specific about what you think it is and what leads you to believe that it exists.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-28T10:30:22.376Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that's more about economics than politics per se, and some similarly politics-reated themes (racism, religion, criminalization of drugs, women's rights, etc.) have been discussed on LW quite often.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-07-28T08:15:23.197Z · score: 15 (25 votes) · LW · GW

(Under the Politics is the Mindkiller test post. Incoming WALL of an argument.)

The typical view of capital punishment by the American right wing voter is correct. I'm speaking of the view that "we damn well know s/he's guilty so don't bother putting them in jail just give 'em a bullet to the head." I will argue that this is the correct course of action for running a justice system under uncertainty.

I'll be crystal clear. I am advocating execution of convicted persons without the special protections traditionally afforded to death penalty cases and without mandatory appeals which reach state supreme courts. I am not advocating for the current system of death penalty, which I consider worse than having no death penalty. "We know they're guilty so lets just kill 'em" can be considered an accurate description of my viewpoint. Also, getting this out of the way, the death penalty does nothing to deter crime more than threat of life imprisonment, and this argument does not rely on any special deterrence properties from capital punishment.

((Lets define some facts so we're working with mutual data. Since 1973, 1267 convicts have been executed, 140 death row inmates have been pardoned or otherwise exonerated. About ~140,000 inmates are currently serving life in prison. For ballpark averages, the cost to house an average inmate is ~$35,000 a year, the cost to house an inmate over 50 years old is ~$100,000 per year, the cost to house a death row inmate ~$125,000 per year (though interestingly this study linked to from the ACLU's case against the death penalty claims death row incarceration costs were practically identical to non-deathrow inmates convicted of similar crimes). The actual execution costs are trivial; one Texas paper was complaining that the cost of injection drugs jumped over 2000%... from about ~$80 to ~$1800. The primary cost increase (approx 85%) of death penalty cases is due to the trial process: death penalty dual trials, mandatory appeals, and increased likelyhood of appeals being granted and the level of those appeals.))

First, I hold that life in prison without parole is not an efficient use of resources. In Efficient Charity, Yvain talks about how money, being fungible, can be used to save 1 painting or 110 children via medicine or 1,100 children via nets. You may argue about the merits of saving lives vs eyeglasses vs paintings, but whichever charity you choose, there is one which does the job best. If the ACLU is to be trusted, we're spending $125,000 per year for death row inmate or LWOP. We value keeping someone locked up in Azkaban for a year more than we care about saving 250 African lives per year, or hiring 2 teachers full time, or funding x-risk charities, or covering 4000 people for cryonics so they'll live forever in case they die that year. If we want to save lives, keeping people in prison is the wrong choice. Hell, for the price of one year of incarceration, we could kill them and freeze them cryonically, hire a teacher for a year, save 20 African lives, AND have $30,000 to give to x-risk research. And that's just one year's savings, we get even more value each year thereafter.

((Yes, I'm aware that if we just pumped funds into malarial nets it would quickly lose low-hanging fruit to target (in fact, by being givewell's top charity it already passed the marginal point into 2nd place, and IIRC is now hovering around $2000 per life saved but I'm not certain on that so I'll stick with Yvain's numbers), and you couldn't just directly trade lives saved. But it's psychologically easier to compare lives with lives, than lives with money. If you don't like African lives, trade some other unit of terminal value. Anyhow I digress.))

Wouldn't we be killing innocent people? Yes. We will get it wrong and kill some innocent person. They won't deserve it and that will be sad. People like Amanda Knox will die just because we want to save money. However, just like the FDA prevents 5,000 casualties per year but causes at least 20,000-120,000 casualties by delaying approval of beneficial medications, our justice system is trading fewer visible, blamable deaths for more deaths that are harder to see.

Wait, doesn't the death penalty costs more because of trials? It does, and that's why I suggest dropping death penalty trials to the same standard as LWOP trials. I hold that extra-stringent trials are not an efficient use of resources to save innocent lives. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, non-death penalty murder trials average $1.1 million, while death penalty trials cost $3 million before appeals. That means we're spending $1.9 million to maybe save one life from wrongful execution (instead of false imprisonment for life). Vaniver's value of information has an illuminating insight (which Elizier also wrote about in Scientific Evidence, Legal Evidence, Rational Evidence): When Bayesian evidence is good enough, requiring legal evidence can be costly. In this case, it's ~3,800 Africans costly. I sincerely doubt this information really has a value more than 3.8 thousand African lives, or sending a couple of doctors through medical school who otherwise couldn't pay for it, or funding 3 Singularity Institutes for a year. LWOP trials are already decently accurate, and death penalty trials aren't significantly more accurate to justify the expense. At some point we have to say that the evidence is "good enough" and make our decision, and I hold that the existing trial cost for LWOP is, if not optimal, a good schelling point.

I'd also like to note that this is essentially paying for a dust spec removal program, and all it costs is some torture (well, execution). In a way, I consider it a repugnant conclusion of the dust spec line of thought, except this one's actually correct (though I'm not prepared to prove that at this moment).

So the question is, are we justified in making life or death choices based on Bayesian evidence instead of legal evidence? I posit that we already do. Supporters of SIAI give over $500,000 each year because we think it's more worthwhile than 1,000 Africans. After the matching drive finishes, we'll have 'killed' more people than there have been capital punishment executions since 1976 when the constitutionality of it was affirmed. There are people who would be alive if we donated one way instead of another, and yet we do it because our reasoning told us that the greater good weighed on the side of SIAI. And yes, SIAI is the right choice. We made a decision under uncertainty that costs lives. We're rationalists; decision making under uncertainty is what we do; our uncertain decision making has mortal consequences whether we recognize it or not. The death penalty is no different.

There are many counterarguments. Some would argue that a guilty LWOP person's life is still worth living even in prison, and I'm neglecting the value that I'm destroying there. Hanson might argue that execution to free up funds would lead to inevitable unintended consequences. Eliezer would probably counter with something regarding Ethical Injuctions, which is a great mini-sequence. Or even "for the good of the tribe, do not execute people even for the good of the tribe". Yet I still find these objections unsatisfying. If I randomly found a Death Note binder that would only work on people convicted of murderer (Is that how it works anyway? I haven't actually seen that anime)... I would start writing down names and hoping our government used the savings to spend more on teachers, R&D, and health care. And even though I'd be sad about each potential innocent I'd killed, I'd keep doing it because it balances out to the right thing.

The right wing ideal of Capital Punishment is correct. "We know they're guilty well enough so lets just kill them" is the correct action for a justice system to take until we reach the singularity and can afford better options.

(NB: You should note, this logic has a flip side. Why not set them free? The answer is that we should iff the expected damage they do is less than the expected cost of enforcement (taking into account non-enforcement encouraging more law breaking). Murderers cost more than this value but a lot of crimes are under this value. Since we're not following politics is the mindkiller here, I'll just flat out state that I think this line of logic explicitly requires legalization of drugs and certain other offenses. However, this thread seems best for political arguments that people find offensive and not for those which everyone, I suspect, agrees with)

comment by Unnamed · 2012-07-28T19:36:13.175Z · score: 21 (23 votes) · LW · GW

'Bednets would be a more efficient use of those resources' is a nearly-fully-generalizable argument against the vast majority of spending within the United States. Reducing US government spending on X by $2 million and increasing spending on bednets by $2 million would be an improvement for nearly all values of X, even if X is something that you support like scientific research, hiring police officers, repairing roads, lead abatement, or early childhood education.

Spending the money on optimal philanthropy is the wrong counterfactual to consider because the money that will be saved, if your proposed capital punishment reform is enacted, will not be spent on optimal philanthropy. My guess at the 4 most likely places where that money would go are:

  1. Other criminal justice spending (e.g. incarcerating more people for other offenses)
  2. General government spending (increasing the amount of spending on whatever policies the government is actually considering on the margin, not the ones that you think would be most valuable)
  3. Reducing the government's debt (or slowing the rate at which the debt increases)
  4. Lowering taxes (or reducing the extent to which taxes are raised), leaving the money in the hands of specific Americans to use however they use their marginal disposable income

None of which are especially high-value.

Your proposal, to kill murderers after a quick trial, is basically optimized for saving money. You are vastly overstating the value of those savings, by valuing them based on the best possible use of any dollar, rather than on their actual likely use.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-07-28T23:41:05.654Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

'Bednets would be a more efficient use of those resources' is a nearly-fully-generalizable argument against the vast majority of spending within the United States.

You are correct on many of your objections, though I disagree on this point.

Levels of action, talks about how we can either do something, or increase the rate at which we do something, or increase the rate at which we increase the rate... ad infinitum. It's basically the difference from increasing a number directly, or increasing it's 1st/2nd/3rd/etc derivative.

To do lives saved, we can give children bed nets to directly save lives. Or we can build factories to build bed net to save lives faster. Or we can invest in automated technologies to build faster factories. Or we can invest in general AI research to build automated technologies faster (eg, the singularity). By devoting resources to bed nets directly we save lives now, but by going up each level we save way more lives later. Thus, things like donating to SIAI, are saving more lives eventually than bed nets directly. But if you're here, you probably already agree with SIAI above bed nets.

For example with the government's case, scientific research eventually speeds up the rate at which we do everything, and education eventually speeds up the rate of the rate at which we do everything. In this manner, I wouldn't consider bed nets better than sci research or education. And there are a lot of other programs that provide similar benefits. However, I don't think imprisonment is one of those things where more funding gets us better meta-improvements.

You are vastly overstating the value of those savings, by valuing them based on the best possible use of any dollar, rather than on their actual likely use.

These inefficient programs should also get cut until their marginal utility is comparable. If they start wasting the money that was saved to imprison other people, then we fight that inefficient practice too. There are millions of ways in which our government is wasteful and inefficient. It's the job of us voters to try and constantly push it to be less so.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-07-28T16:27:59.881Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

it's more worthwhile than 1,000 Africans

This is an implicit rate of $500 per life. GiveWell claims less efficiency than that for their top charities now, more like $1,600 to $4,000 (not including example effects of promoting efficiency or transparency and distant indirect effects).

Their number is probably better than Yvain's for talking about available marginal opportunities.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-29T12:41:19.688Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Are you nitpicking for nitpicking's sake, or do you really think that what the SIAI does with $500,000 is more worthwhile than 125 or 312 Africans but not as worthwhile as 1000 Africans, so that being off by a factor of 3 to 8 makes that part of Xachariah's argument invalid?

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-07-29T17:50:31.833Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Mainly, I think it's bad news for probably mistaken estimates to spread, and then disillusion the readers or make the writers look biased. If people interested in effective philanthropy go around trumpeting likely wrong (over-optimistic) figures and don't correct them, then the community's credibility will fall, and bad models and epistemic practices may be strengthened. This is why GiveWell goes ballistic on people who go around quoting its old cost-effectiveness estimates rather than more recent ones (revisions tend to be towards less cost-effectiveness).

comment by gwern · 2012-07-29T16:59:01.313Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

There has to be some factor where money sent to SIAI stops being worth more than money sent to Africans, no? If you don't like a 0-10x range, what is your interval?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-30T07:38:01.838Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know, but I think it's unlikely a priori to be within an order of magnitude of the actual present-day effectiveness of the AMF. So I thought it was more likely that there was another reason for pointing that out, and indeed CarlShulman confirmed that.

comment by CarlShulman · 2013-06-16T21:28:17.538Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Both reasons were present in my mind.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-07-31T22:42:47.181Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I noted this in my post, but it's so long it's understandable if one missed it.

Yes, I'm aware that if we just pumped funds into malarial nets it would quickly lose low-hanging fruit to target (in fact, by being givewell's top charity it already passed the marginal point into 2nd place, and IIRC is now hovering around $2000 per life saved but I'm not certain on that so I'll stick with Yvain's numbers)

I'm not sure if malarial nets were never at 500/life efficiency, or if they were at 500/life at the start of their operation, then the charity got so much funding that all the low hanging fruit was picked and the price increased to 2000/life. My source was based on 'things I sorta half-remember from a newer Givewell interview' whereas Yvain had a concrete number written down, so I used that.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-28T08:54:32.947Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Until the last paragraph, you only made the case that death penalty is better than life imprisonment, not that it is good. So I suggest moving that last paragraph higher up. Also, you suggest the only alternative to life imprisonment or death penalty is setting them free; how about fines, penal labour, torture à la A Clockwork Orange, pillory, etc.?

comment by Xachariah · 2012-07-28T09:21:12.160Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I realized now that I hadn't made a sufficient argument for execution specifically. I left out quite a few things, but It's such a monolith I'm not sure where to add things in.

There's a few competing options. A non-exhaustive list includes imprisonment (status quo), execution, legalization, rehabilitation, and fines/labor.

Imprisonment is bad and because it's the status quo I focused on it entirely. I consider it the worst of all options except fines/labor. Execution is a terrible option but, as I argue above, better than imprisonment. Fines/labor is the worst because it could incentivize people to increase the number of people who commit crimes in order to get free money/labor, as is already happening with red light cameras causing accidents just to generate more money. Legalization or setting them free is the best option for several classes of crime, but as I mentioned murder isn't one of them.

Rehabilitation / Clockwork Orange's system seems interesting depending on the data. Not the torture part; torture is something I don't condone since it would be expensive and ineffectual. However, ignoring Clockwork Orange's implementation, the idea of perfect rehabilitation is a powerful one. I know of an experiment with Norway's Halden Prison. It seems promising for a wide variety of criminals, though I'm curious about how they would deal with people who cannot be rehabilitated (eg, brain damaged). This approach is IIRC fairly new and I'm interested in what time will make of it.

I could very well see myself becoming an advocate of a pure rehabilitation system if it turns out to be successful.

comment by bogdanb · 2012-08-04T11:31:55.234Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

One traditional punishment that I don’t see being explicitly discussed much is exile.

I.e., we don’t want you here. You have a month to find somewhere else to go, then we shoot you on sight.

It’s got quite a few good points for it:

  • The convict is responsible for his maintenance, so it’s him/her that must put a price on his/her life;

  • Even if we pay for his/her air fare it’s cheaper than permanent incarceration;

  • It’s not permanent (if the convict picks exile), so it can be reversed if new evidence comes up in a decade;

  • With modern communications the family can interact the convict without leaving the country, or they can choose to leave at the same time if they wish;

  • If no other country (or abandoned island) can be found to admit the exiled, that’s a pretty good justification for not accepting the cost of their upkeep;

  • If it so happens that Norway takes them in and rehabilitates them, so much the better; if it happens enough we might copy the experiment, or at least put in place a procedure to “parole” rehabilitated exiles;

  • Noncompliance is handled quite differently from things like illegal immigration and escape from prison: Next time you’re found (and we can confirm identity pretty well these days if we have the person before and after) you get executed within a couple of days, without the years of appeals and waiting in death row, and a much lesser chance to escape;

  • It’s pretty clear that people prefer it to prison, death row, and even persecution, given how many self-exile (e.g., run to Mexico) and claim political asylum; wouldn’t it be much simpler to just let someone go wherever someone’ll take them (remember, they get shot if they try to get back) than chase them all across the country just to drag them back, put them in prison, and pay for their upkeep for decades?

comment by prase · 2012-07-31T17:06:46.264Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

red light cameras causing accidents just to generate more money

Could you describe the mechanism by which this happens? The link seems to include statistical studies showing correlation between cameras and accidents, but I can't imagine how this works causally.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-07-31T19:49:25.784Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, there is the government's FHWA study. There are a couple mechanisms.

The first is that sometimes running a red light is safer. People normally don't think about red light cameras and thus their impact on behavior only comes into play when after the driver is already in a position to get caught. This leads to people making unsafe stops when it would be otherwise more advisable to just go through the light. The link above shows an increase in rear-end collisions.

More relevant to the original point is how the city reacts. The city council enjoys money and shortens yellow light timings or blocks lengthening of yellow light timings, causing more crashes.

comment by gwern · 2012-07-31T17:29:31.526Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Looking briefly, they're all before-after correlational studies (longitudinal). These are not as good as randomized experiments, but they're still much better than a cross-sectional correlation (eg. "we looked at all traffic lights; ones with cameras have higher accident rates p=0.xyz").

For example, given a cross-sectional correlation result like that, there's a very easy retort: "people only install cameras at dangerous intersections!" The longitudinal design deals with that: "but they weren't so dangerous before the cameras were installed!"

Now a critic must look to less likely explanations: "maybe there has been a traffic-crime wave whose early phases caused both the installation and later increased traffic rates" (or something like that, I don't know much about the issue). It is to deal with all these more exotic variants that one wants to step up a level and add randomization.

comment by prase · 2012-07-31T18:13:30.559Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The critic's default should probably be "publication bias" or something related.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-29T12:52:12.387Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree about fines (though that could in principle be fixed by specifying beforehand a very narrow range of things fine money can be spent on); but as for forced labour, your point only applies if the value produced by the prisoners substantially exceeds the cost to house them; if the cost to house them exceeds the value produced by them, your point about regular imprisonment applies instead, and if the two are about the same you deter people without either of those drawbacks. (But yeah, an idea requiring fine tuning is probably not a very good idea.)

Anyway, maybe the best possible solution is something that neither of us could imagine.

comment by steven0461 · 2012-07-28T19:51:28.530Z · score: 4 (10 votes) · LW · GW

For the good of the tribe, do not daydream out loud about executing people for the good of the tribe.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-07-30T03:32:26.590Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hanson might argue that execution to free up funds would lead to inevitable unintended consequences.

If you have a more specific version of this objection, could you spell it out?
We know that the current way of spending this money is corrupting: both prison guard unions and private prison corporations lobby for stricter sentences. Taking money from a specific use to the general fund seems to me less corrupting than spending money in any particular place. Of course, loss aversion may cause existing interests to react badly to the removal of money.

comment by thomblake · 2012-07-27T18:40:10.272Z · score: 15 (21 votes) · LW · GW

META: Upvoted for using empiricism.

comment by steven0461 · 2012-07-28T00:01:15.611Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Where can I find a defense of the (ETA: seemingly) implied claim that whatever sells itself as testing something can be assumed to have greater benefits than costs without further analysis?

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-28T00:05:02.867Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see the implication. If I upvoted a post for its eloquence, would you infer that I assume without further analysis that any eloquently phrased idea has greater benefits than costs?

comment by steven0461 · 2012-07-28T00:28:06.226Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If an eloquent but otherwise really damaging post were made, and someone commented "upvoted for eloquence" and received a lot of upvotes in turn, I might similarly complain. Moreover, eloquence (with its resulting good feelings in the reader) is more of a goal that one can sometimes successfully achieve, whereas empiricism is more of a strategy that one can freely take but that often isn't worthwhile; this makes me skeptical of the analogy.

ETA: also, there may be relevant differences between upvoting for eloquence and saying one is upvoting for eloquence, and between claiming that something can be assumed and assuming.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-07-31T00:46:25.720Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

otherwise really damaging post

You have added a hypothesis: namely that the original post is "really damaging." If you think so about this particular post, come out and say it. Moreover, if you do think so, you should make it a top-level comment, rather than hiding it in this thread, as if Thom Blake and Pragmatist were the only people who disagree with you. Practically everyone participating in this thread is implicitly claiming that the thread is not "really damaging" simply by participating.

comment by thomblake · 2012-07-30T14:11:55.112Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Claim not implied. I would like to see more posts where people try to use empiricism. People should generally be encouraged to actually test things more often.

comment by olalonde · 2012-07-28T06:54:44.487Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I believe government should be much more localized and I like the idea of charter cities. Competition among governments is good for citizens just as competition among businesses is good for consumers. Of course, for competition to really work out, immigration should not be regulated.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charter_city

comment by Vladimir_M · 2012-07-28T17:33:49.308Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, for competition to really work out, immigration should not be regulated.

How does this follow? Unless I'm having a severe case of reading misapprehension, this is equivalent to arguing that there should be a market in housing because competition between landlords will result in good housing with reasonable rents -- and then adding, as if it were obvious, that for competition to work out, landlords should not have any rules for screening potential tenants.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-07-29T00:28:45.468Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think his point was more like 'the landlords / cities must allow people to freely leave.'

comment by Solvent · 2012-07-29T06:25:11.242Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't that be a lack of regulation on emigration, not immigration?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-29T13:56:05.766Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You know, unless you're willing to live in open sea or in space or in Antarctica, you can't possibly emigrate from a country without immigrating into another one.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-07-29T17:14:54.809Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Solvent's point is that there's a difference open immigration:

'the landlords / cities must allow people to freely enter.'

and open emigration:

'the landlords / cities must allow people to freely leave.'

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-30T07:33:58.989Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Which is a reason why landlords aren't analogous with countries. If you don't like your landlord, you can (in principle) buy your own house, become homeless, live with your parents, etc.; whereas if you don't like your country, even if your country allows you to leave, if you don't find a country that allows you to enter you're out of luck.

comment by olalonde · 2012-07-28T21:09:25.587Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have no real ideological objection to immigration regulation but it seems that at the moment it is a big barrier to making governments really competitive among each others. If there were many charter cities within a relatively small area, I guess it wouldn't be an issue if some of them had stricter immigration rules. My personal guess is that governments with lighter immigration control would be the most successful (that was the case of the US a few decades ago) but I'd be happy to be proved wrong. As long as there is a realistic option for citizens to move from one government to the other, competition will work.

comment by Slackson · 2012-07-28T12:48:23.510Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I like this idea, but for it to work how we want to, having immigration unregulated isn't quite the right way to put it. Immigration needs to be free, perhaps by contract between charter cities.

There'd need to be protocols for the creation of the cities, for the transfer of land between them, for them shutting down, and so on. Perhaps this could be organized by a meta-government. I'm not sure how well a decentralized system would deal with that.

The barriers to entry would be very high, unfortunately, and while I'm not well versed on the economics of the development of monopolies, it appears to me that there might need to be some kind of regulation to prevent them from developing and allowing new charter cities to enter the market somehow. Unless the division of land was predetermined and static, which also solves the previous problems of land transfer and city creation.

In the end this ends up being a substantially less elegant system than initially imagined, but that doesn't mean it's still not potentially far more elegant and effective than the system we have now. States are supposed to operate and compete in a similar manner, but there aren't enough of them for that to work well enough and AFAICT the federal government plays a much larger role than is ideal.

Forgive me if I'm being stupid, I only get over my social anxiety enough to post if I'm a little bit drunk.

comment by AlexMennen · 2012-07-30T22:02:27.516Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Counterargument: cities can compete against each other not only by implementing policies that will benefit the average resident, but also by implementing policies that will attract already successful immigrants. Thus, localizing government could result in policies that are biased to the advantage of already successful people.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-27T19:27:19.157Z · score: 13 (23 votes) · LW · GW

I figure political discussions are perfectly fine as long as they're quarantined. Just make periodic threads like this one to discuss politics, and make the rule to not discuss politics in non-political threads.

comment by steven0461 · 2012-07-27T23:36:53.238Z · score: 12 (16 votes) · LW · GW

LessWrong threads aren't quarantined from each other; all comments show up in recent comments and in the sidebar.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-07-27T23:20:32.162Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That sounds fun. I'd really like to a regular thread for this, or let people discuss politics in the open threads.

comment by aaronde · 2012-07-27T23:13:50.055Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Then why not just discuss politics on another site?

comment by TrE · 2012-07-27T23:22:51.442Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Because on a different site, the users would be different, i.e. I wouldn't be talking with people I knew I share a certain mindset with.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T00:52:11.762Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Because then we won't be able to discuss them with lesswrongers.

comment by steven0461 · 2012-07-28T00:56:10.812Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What if you advertised the site only to LessWrongers?

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T01:03:03.827Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Then why not just discuss it on LessWrong?

comment by steven0461 · 2012-07-28T01:14:52.104Z · score: 6 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Clutter, distraction, drama.

(ETA: Very much confused by downvotes. Are these not relevant considerations that differ relevantly between the scenario where politics is discussed in threads on LessWrong, and the scenario where politics is discussed on a different site inhabited by LessWrongers?)

comment by pragmatist · 2012-07-28T02:04:16.869Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The "clutter" and "distraction" concerns don't seem to be specific to politics. Any topic which a substantial portion of the community is uninterested in discussing raises similar concerns. I am sure there are a number of readers who are not all that interested in the interpretation of QM, for instance, and for them MWI-related threads and comments are clutter and distraction. Is your worry that political threads will generate far more comments (and thus far more clutter for the uninterested) than other topics that aren't of nigh-universal interest? Or do you think that the portion of the community uninterested in discussing politics is significantly larger than their counterparts for topics like MWI?

The "drama" concern might be especially salient for political discussion. That's where experiments of this sort are useful. If it turns out that the discussion remains largely drama-free (as it has so far), that is at least some evidence that we can talk about politics on LW without too much drama ruining the site.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-07-28T05:51:49.909Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The "clutter" and "distraction" concerns don't seem to be specific to politics.

That an error is commonly made is not an argument for making it.

comment by steven0461 · 2012-07-28T04:04:27.179Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree with various parts of that, but in retrospect it was a mistake for me to enter this discussion and I'm hereby bowing out.

comment by drethelin · 2012-07-28T15:33:44.955Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From my experience on other parts of the internet, yes a political thread with lots of disagreement clogs the heck out of recent comments etc.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-28T01:26:15.259Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What's so bad about quarantined clutter, distraction, and drama? If you don't like it, don't enter the quarantine.

comment by steven0461 · 2012-07-28T01:53:18.711Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You mean don't read recent comments and don't read the sidebar?

comment by magfrump · 2012-07-29T12:49:49.547Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I personally don't read either of those, and when I'm not reminded about them I forget that cluttering them is frustrating for a large number of readers.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-28T13:19:52.165Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Meta: please make one comment per argument. Otherwise you can't distinguish "one very good and one very bad argument" from "two unremarkable arguments".

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-07-27T23:26:17.915Z · score: 3 (19 votes) · LW · GW

Hazing is not unethical, nor should it be illegal. Hazing is like BDSM, minus the sex. When it is safe, sane and consensual, hazing promotes group cohesion and intimacy. It is a fast-track to camaraderie, which is why so many fraternity/sororities use it.

I make this comment after being hazed myself, and deciding I couldn't handle it. But several of my friends completed hazing, and went on to haze other people. I see effects as being net positive.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-27T23:59:35.916Z · score: 19 (23 votes) · LW · GW

Fraternity hazing seems to regularly involve drunkenness. Combining drunkenness with BDSM seems to be considered a bad idea in the BDSM community, both in terms of consent and safety.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-07-28T16:11:07.930Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

About 80% of hazing deaths involve alcohol. I was lucky in that my organization was alcohol-free and safety-conscious.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-28T17:48:47.367Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Given that you assert that hazing is a net positive, and you notice that it causes some deaths, this seems to imply that you believe the benefits exceed the cost of those deaths. Is this correct?

comment by BlazeOrangeDeer · 2012-08-01T11:11:18.058Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I interpreted it to mean that hazing with safety considerations is good, not all current hazing.

comment by drethelin · 2012-07-28T16:05:59.552Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Social pressure and alcohol mean in practice hazing isn't safe, sane, or consensual.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-07-28T16:25:06.634Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe I was lucky, but in my case the hazing was all three of these things.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-28T13:58:56.424Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is anyone trying to ban consensual hazing?

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-07-28T15:41:22.045Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

None of the 44 states with laws against hazing make an exception for consensual hazing, and some laws directly say that consent is not a legal defense.

comment by MixedNuts · 2012-07-28T16:15:57.759Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't know that! I checked French law and it too explicitly prohibits consensual hazing. I've been (very mildly) hazed and I believed the opposite. Those are dumb laws. If they're worried that people will be pressured to go along with it they should ban that directly.

I'm curious about your experience. Mind telling what the hazing was and whether you had any trouble getting out of it?

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-07-28T17:34:47.543Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Officially, my university had zero-tolerance policy towards hazing. In practice, hazing was permitted so long as wasn't dangerous. Some organizations inevitably pushed the line; they were punished. But my organization did not push the line.

Some activities I was a "victim" of:

  • Following a long list of arbitrary rules, such as which side of the sidewalk I could walk on.
  • Breaking these rules would result in group punishment. Every time one freshman messed up, all the freshmen would have to do push-ups or squats or something.
  • Memorizing arcane trivia about my organization and my university.
  • Speaking to upperclassmen in a formal and rigid procedure.
  • Lots of physical activity. Exercise was a way of life for the organization, and the upperclassmen would exercise with us for eight hours per week. (You were strongly encouraged to do more on your own) At one point, the upperclassmen were planning to make us run 18 miles. That was cancelled when the university raised an eyebrow.
  • I probably averaged 5.5 hours of sleep per night during the weekdays. I had to schedule naps during the day.
  • We had to pee in some unusual places.
  • Rules about how to eat, what we could wear, words we were forbidden to say, .
  • Rituals, all the time.
  • It lasts your whole freshman year.

We never used alcohol, and the upperclassmen were always watching for signs that our bodies had been pushed to hard. We also had lectures on safe sex and drug abuse. The upperclassmen cared about us, and they only hazing us for our benefit.

Leaving was fairly easy. About half the new recruits left during the first semester. We were supposed to be stigmatized by the people who stayed in the group, but they let us be friends anyway.

I was very depressed during that time and the stress of being hazed was too much for me to handle. But my friends who stayed in enjoyed it, even freshman year. Their perspective is being excluded from the hazing discussion.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-27T18:00:08.589Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

META: I think it's an interesting experiment. However, I wouldn't want to get involved if it violates LW's posting rules. There's a longstanding community norm against discussing politics, but I don't know if it is actually violating the rules to do so. Can the mods please clarify?

Edit: I've observed that at least three people have voted this comment down. I'm unsure why.

comment by Larks · 2012-07-27T18:21:36.386Z · score: 13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

It wasn't a mod-given verdict; it's just a (very beneficial, I think) norm that's arisen, partly due to the post this refers to.

comment by Jack · 2012-07-27T18:36:57.270Z · score: 19 (23 votes) · LW · GW

It's worth noting that the actual enforcement of the norm-- downvoting of any comment remotely perceived as political-- is a dramatic enlargement of the recommendation actually made in that post.

I'm not saying that I think Overcoming Bias should be apolitical, or even that we should adopt Wikipedia's ideal of the Neutral Point of View. But try to resist getting in those good, solid digs if you can possibly avoid it. If your topic legitimately relates to attempts to ban evolution in school curricula, then go ahead and talk about it—but don't blame it explicitly on the whole Republican Party; some of your readers may be Republicans, and they may feel that the problem is a few rogues, not the entire party. As with Wikipedia's NPOV, it doesn't matter whether (you think) the Republican Party really is at fault. It's just better for the spiritual growth of the community to discuss the issue without invoking color politics.

Instead of merely downvoting the "good solid digs" and color politics people will downvote anything that even pattern matches with a contemporary policy issue. This, I would argue, actually exacerbates any political thinking because commenters then feel like they're being attacked and respond in kind.

comment by jsalvatier · 2012-07-27T18:40:20.394Z · score: 8 (20 votes) · LW · GW

The other half of this is that discussing politics is goddamn useless, and I say that as someone who really enjoy's discussing and thinking about politics. Even if you were to make really fast progress in coming to sound conclusions about politics it would still be useless because almost everyone has very little political power and thus changing their minds has very little effect on the world.

comment by Jack · 2012-07-27T19:33:42.661Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW · GW

People here usually value having true beliefs for their own sake. It's hard to imagine convincing someone of the efficacy of NGDP futures targeting or humanitarian military intervention is actually more useless than convincing someone of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics or Bayesian epistemology. There is no shortage of Less Wrong discussions involving people trying to persuade others to hold beliefs that will have no impact on the world and I don't think that criteria is diagnostic of whether or not a discussion should take place on Less Wrong.

comment by Cyan · 2012-07-27T19:43:49.547Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard to imagine convincing someone of [blah blah] is actually more useless than convincing someone of... Bayesian epistemology.

Hey screw you buddy!

(Ha ha, only serious.)

comment by Jack · 2012-07-27T19:53:54.675Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps I should note that I have spent many hours engaged in such conversations. It's just that the utility of the conversion isn't really relevant to the question of whether or not they're worthwhile-- I don't think the time spent on such conversations is wasted or anything like that...

comment by drethelin · 2012-07-28T16:07:45.123Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Let's ban HPMOR discussion! We've wasted way more words on that than on politics.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-27T18:56:07.419Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It might be helpful to have a meta-discussion about the expected value of thinking about politics.

comment by aaronde · 2012-07-27T22:38:53.369Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

And then we can discuss whether having all the discussions about whether to discuss politics is really less costly than simply discussing politics :D

comment by thomblake · 2012-07-27T18:39:36.960Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

There's a community norm, but not a hard policy.

It's been explicitly suggested in the past to have experimental posts like this around political issues, particularly to test the waters and see if we can take it.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T17:07:23.188Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So... what conclusions can we draw from this experiment?

I learned a few things; first, http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/dsv/is_politics_the_mindkiller_an_inconclusive_test/73ug included a link to a more fully reducted form of the argument I was posing which I had previously been unaware of. (It relies on a metaphor, which I'm generally cautious of, but I think in this case it's a good metaphor.)

Second, I learned LessWrongians don't like rules on upvoting/downvoting. Either that or the fact that the comments here appeared in the comments section messed with my rules; which leads me to the major fault as I see it with this experiment -

It wasn't fully quarantined. For good or for bad, the format of this site means comments have a tendency to leak out of their original context.

This limits, to my mind, the ability to have quarantined political debates here.

So I'll formulate my poll with that in mind...

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T17:11:34.077Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

[Poll #2] Upvote here if you have a preference, considering how this experiment went, to start having quarantined (inasmuch as debate here can be quarantined) political debates on LessWrong

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T17:08:04.519Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

[Poll #1] Upvote here if you: [Edit] Found that this experiment demonstrated that useful political discussions are possible here.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T17:08:55.522Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

[Poll #1] Karma dump

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T17:08:45.787Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

[Poll #1] Upvote here if you: [Edit] Do not find that this experiment demonstrated that useful political discussions are possible here.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-30T22:33:03.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You mean Poll #1, right?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-31T14:55:42.091Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes I did.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T21:52:12.291Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Extra karma dump for people who both want to vote -and- help me balance my poll karma against people who vote but don't use the karma dump, since voting and balancing are otherwise mutually exclusive.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-30T21:54:40.540Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Extra karma dump for people who both want to vote -and- help me balance my poll karma against people who vote but don't use the karma dump, since voting and balancing are otherwise mutually exclusive.

Where is the extra karma dump for people who want to do each of vote -and- help you balance your poll karma against people who vote but don't use the karma dump -and- thwart those who would vote the parent up in order to themselves thwart those who wishes to 'balance' their karma gift?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T22:00:40.629Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Uh... this is officially the karma dump for people who want to engage in recursive karma fighting?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T17:12:05.838Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

[Poll #2] Upvote here if you have a preference, considering how this experiment went, to continue the community prohibition on political discussion on LessWrong.

comment by Emile · 2012-08-01T19:52:21.400Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that this is currently at -3 makes me think that polls on LessWrong are not used correctly, so their results are not very telling.

Either that or people who want to discuss politics on LessWrong are overwhelmingly the kind of people for whom reading and understanding simple instructions requires too much effort.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-08-01T20:05:59.668Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Or the people who don't want to discuss politics deliberately sabotaged this poll, or I irritated a few people enough that they downvoted stuff I created just to punish me. We can come up with explanations all day, but in the end have a limited set of options without simply ending the experiment and declaring it a failure: Have a second poll and hope it turns out better. (Which seems unlikely.) Do what the poll nominally suggests, and create the thread. ?

The second option has the strong benefit of being a second defacto poll. If the thread works, then the poll's results are vindicated; if it fails, then the poll's results are rejected as being biased. I've noticed the karma votes for the created post have gone up and down constantly since created, which I'm interpreting as being votes for and against politics being discussed here. The net result, thus far, has been neutral.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-30T17:12:14.177Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

[Poll #2] Karma dump

comment by lsparrish · 2012-07-28T17:23:35.968Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The impression I get is not so much that we avoid politics on principle but that there are more important "political" issues out there than those that most people understand and argue about. If more people would "taboo" (avoid) these arguments they would come across these more important issues much faster rather than being distracted before they get there.

Abortion for example: Even if we bite the right-wing bullet that humanity is killing thousands of innocent pre-conscious human entities (babies!) per day, it seems less significant in the context of the 100,000 fully sentient and conscious adults per day who perish automatically of aging, let alone the trillions upon trillions that could be created and destroyed if we don't do AI correctly.

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-07-29T00:41:25.974Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree: if you accept the premise that biological life (and not brain function) determines human value, then abortion becomes low-hanging fruit for saving human life-value. One law can prevent thousands of babies dying per day.

It's like religion. If you accept that God and Hell are real, then becoming a fundamentalist Christian and trying as hard as you can to convert as many people as possible is the only ethical option.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-29T01:32:39.270Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It's like religion. If you accept that God and Hell are real, then becoming a fundamentalist Christian and trying as hard as you can to convert as many people as possible is the only ethical option.

Nonsense. That is the most ethical of the options that your brain is willing to provide you when you ask it "what is the best option?" But if someone actually had that belief a more ethical option would be to murder as many Muslims, Atheists and Buddhists (of child bearing age) as you can. The chance that you will successfully convert any given individual is tiny and if you allow them to live to breed they will raise children doomed to hell.

An even better option is to kill all males who will not convert and keep all women (Christian and otherwise) pregnant constantly with twins (IVF, fertility drugs). The children are to be taken and raised to be loyal to your faith.

(Or you build an FAI to tile the universe with Christians with the minimum possible lifespan to qualify for heaven.)

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-07-29T10:23:15.414Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The bible's more coherent passages to have pretty strong claims about killing and enslaving people. But disregarding that, you're probably right. That said, most people are not that creative. Those that are tend to wind up atheists.

comment by sketerpot · 2012-07-29T10:44:00.694Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The bible's more coherent passages to have pretty strong claims about killing and enslaving people.

So God frowns upon your sin of mass murder, but you will have saved numerous souls from Hell. "Shut up and multiply," I think the saying goes. It's better still if you run a government, and can force conversion by the sword.

Incidentally, similar reasoning applies to infanticide if you believe that dead children go to heaven automatically. In fact, this one is probably a better bet, since small children are easier to take in a fight, and killing them will directly guarantee their salvation.

(I enjoy this topic more than is strictly proper.)

comment by Dolores1984 · 2012-07-29T11:06:46.112Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you believe that god has the authority to define morality, than violating divine edict is immoral, regardless of your feelings on Hell. Although, that has serious problems, since divine commandments are internally contradictory...

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T20:41:35.235Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's why some hold all humans are inherently and necessarily sinful.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-29T10:49:17.926Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The bible's more coherent passages to have pretty strong claims about killing and enslaving people.

Yes, if you don't genocide the heathens you can be sentenced to death. I think you are only allowed to enslave foreigners too. The New Testament has a somewhat less positive attitude to slaughter---on the other hand it also says "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." then goes on to say that you just have to repent after you sin. It wouldn't be ethical to not slaughter all the heathens to preempt their breeding then repenting and feeling some shame about it. Kind of like with masturbation only it provides thousands of infinities of utility.

comment by prase · 2012-07-31T15:44:02.089Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For a sufficiently fanatical believer the most moral act may be to genocide the heathens and then go to hell for it, thus sacrificing own eternity in order to save the heathens and their children from hell. Similar beliefs were held by the Romanian Iron guard movement (they were willing to go to hell to save their nation rather than the heathens but it's still sort of impressive).

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T20:38:35.708Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The bible's more coherent passages to have pretty strong claims about killing and enslaving people.

Yes. They say killing unbelievers is a duty, and enslaving is allowed within limits (except when killing is mandatory).

They don't say much about the need to evangelize and convert others, though.

comment by Normal_Anomaly · 2012-07-30T15:26:59.348Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The bible's more coherent passages to have pretty strong claims about killing and enslaving people.

But you can still go to heaven via faith. And even if you can't, then you're sacrificing your own salvation to save others, which is very moral.

comment by aaronde · 2012-07-30T18:39:15.662Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This is like saying that anyone who takes the singularity seriously should be dedicating every waking moment to FAI theory. It's just naive, and frankly, sounds stupid when atheists tell Christians what they would do if they "truly believed". Evangelical Christians have put more thought into how to keep people out of hell than you have. They know, for example, that being too pushy trying to win converts just drives people away (because they've tried it). They also know that acts of religious terrorism, religious wars, or genecide could backfire, discrediting their religion (tried that too).

TL;DR stop concern trolling Christians!

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-30T19:48:55.048Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

This is like saying that anyone who takes the singularity seriously should be dedicating every waking moment to FAI theory.

You are wrong.

It's just naive

Of course it is "naive". That's the word you use for when people take far mode beliefs literally rather than as verbal symbols used to signal group affiliation.

Evangelical Christians have put more thought into how to keep people out of hell than you have.

No they haven't. I was an Evangelical Christian for 22 years and did far more thinking about such things than the mean, median and mode Evangelical Christian. I am also more than passably familiar with the kind of reasoning used by Evangelical Christian leaders of various levels of shrewdness. I can assure you that next to none of them are naive enough to base their decision making on literal min-maxing of near infinite positive and negative utilities in heaven and hell. This isn't surprising---Christianity isn't based upon consequentialism in the first place.

TL;DR stop concern trolling Christians!

Avoid inflationary use of terms.

comment by matabele · 2012-08-01T12:17:05.035Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

... I was an Evangelical Christian for 22 years ...

That explains things, there appears to be no way back from there. What would your young self thought of you now?

The common factor here; that you need to evangelize about something; what exactly that something is, does not appear to concern you. Some examples of your evangelical 'thoughts' from your posts over the past few days:

... I mean that is bullshit ...

... Nonsense ...

... a more ethical option would be to murder as many Muslims, Atheists and Buddhists ... as you can ...

... An even better option is to kill all males who will not convert ...

... You are wrong ...

... No they haven't ...

... it is "naive" ... when people take ... beliefs literally ...

I could go on, but that would be even more boring than the original diatribes from which these fragments were abstracted. How wrong can one possibly be; evangelism is the last thing expected on a forum which claims to be:

... devoted to refining the art of human rationality ...

Please convert back to some appropriate religion, before you lose any last semblance of credibility. Perhaps then you can die a happy man, and the other users on LW can resume normal rational discourse.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T20:23:53.708Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

One law can prevent thousands of babies dying per day.

I disagree - this is not known. Particularly the magnitude of the expected effect is hard to predict and a cost-benefit analysis requires a prediction.

  • The law would affect conception rates as well as birthrates, and we don't know how ahead of time.
  • It would also affect rates of unwanted babies born and given up for adoption or raised in unloving or too-poor or single-mother homes. These factors affect life expectancy (also through hightened poverty and crime), which have moral weight by the "biological human life" criterion.
  • Some women would still do illegal or at-home or out-of-state abortions. Some of the women would also die or be injured thereby.
  • Enforcement of the law costs money and resources and also depends on cultural support for the law in each community.
comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-29T13:58:22.844Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's like religion. If you accept that God and Hell are real, then becoming a fundamentalist Christian and trying as hard as you can to convert as many people as possible is the only ethical option.

“God and Hell are real” doesn't imply that whoever is not a Christian will go to hell. Even some Christians (e.g. present-day mainstream Catholics) acknowledge that.

comment by BlazeOrangeDeer · 2012-08-01T11:08:58.754Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder what your last sentence implies, as I have found "present-day mainstream Catholics" to be more reasonable than many other denominations. Though it depends who you place in that group.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T20:24:54.202Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Presumably the Pope is not a mainstream Catholic.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-01T12:09:49.042Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"Even" as in "not only detractors of Christianity, but also some Christians themselves". Edited to make that clearer.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T20:12:19.031Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Political issues are generally those that many people, or powerful people, care strongly and disagree about.

At LW we discuss mostly issues that most people don't understand, know about, or care about. That's the only reason they are not "political". Suppose someone builds an AGI and it changes the world. Everyone will suddenly care about FAI, AI ethics, etc. The issues will become highly politicized and no doubt strong mind-killers for most people who talk about them. But I wouldn't want LW to then stop talking about those issues.

comment by duckduckMOO · 2012-07-31T14:07:54.575Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

"Upvote and downvote based on whether or not you find an argument convincing in the context in which it was raised. This means if it's a good argument against the argument it is responding to, not whether or not there's a good/obvious counterargument to it; if you have a good counterargument, raise it."

It can't be a good counterargument if there's a good obvious counterargument to it. obvious but not good is fine, good but not obvious might be/is sorta fine but not both. You could well have meant either, as a forward slash tends to mean or, but I and/or is also pretty common. Good argument shouldn't mean "momentarily convincing if I don't think through the consequences." Unless you mean good to include good for advancing the discussion but I didn't get that impression and in any case it's still worth saying that's not what most people mean when they say something is a good argument.

"If it's a convincing argument, and the counterargument is also convincing, upvote both." <--- that shouldn't be happening. If an argument is convincing despite it having a convincing counterargument that means you weren't paying enough attention.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-31T14:54:54.398Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW
  • Unless you mean good to include good for advancing the discussion but I didn't get that impression

Advancing the discussion was the purpose of the rules I tried to forward. See this statement: "A faulty line of argument provides opportunity for rebuttal, and so for our test has value even then; that is, I want some faulty lines of argument here"

After all, there may be a non-obvious counterargument to the obvious counterargument. A faulty line of argument may be a good line of argument wrapped in unnecessary faulty logic or assumptions.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-08-01T17:32:58.024Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Moldbug is less wrong than most political scientists, many historians and quite a few sociologists.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-08-01T17:28:05.380Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible."

--Peter Thiel, The education of a libertarian

This has been my opinion as well since late 2011.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-01T20:07:39.552Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This implies you, and he, previously believed they are compatible. What evidence determined that original belief, and what evidence made you change your mind that only appeared in 2011 in your case? What changed Thiel's mind (link to quote context please)?

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-08-02T06:34:58.462Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I have added a source for Peter Thiel's statement, some of his reasons are also mine.

My previous belief was primarily based on adults telling me as a child that democracy was the mechanism keeping us free. My change of opinion stems in large part for me looking for the appropriate evidence for such a claim and not finding it.

One of the arguments that kept me believing in my early teenage years was that looking around the world one sees "democracies" as better places to live and more free than "non-democracies". This isn't powerful evidence at all since we have only a handful of countries in the world that don't claim to be democracies. The problems of this poor data set are compounded by first world people play a game of no true Scotsman to explain the terrible results democracy brings to many third world countries, often with sentiments not far from:

Genocide in Rwanda? Clearly they weren't a true democracy yet! A key element was clearly missing.

Note this is a fully general argument against all failure of any political regime or ideology, one that is often use to explain away the atrocities of Communism under Stalin or Mao.

First world countries are much better places to live materially and have more freedom than many third world ones but I don't see a convincing case that this is due to democracy.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-02T07:22:02.172Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My previous belief was primarily based on adults telling me as a child that democracy was the mechanism keeping us free.

"Democracy keeps us free" is a very different claim from "democracy is compatible with freedom". Even if you now think democracy and freedom are not correlated at all, as long as they are not anticorrelated, why would you think they are incompatible?

Thiel in his essay appears to be saying that specifically in the contemporary US, the people don't want freedom, so it is incompatible with effective democracy. (His relevant definition of freedom seems to be pure free markets without government intervention, or without intervention of certain kinds.)

First world countries are much better places to live materially and have more freedom than many third world ones

That's a tautology. Because they are better places, you call them first world countries.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-08-02T07:26:20.901Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The reasons why they might be anti-correlated Thiel explores seem mostly about the US and not some hypothetical country of mostly Libertarian voters. The thing is no such country exists in the world and this is I think no coincidence.

Democracy is like having dinner in a expensive restaurant with a few million people where everyone knows they will be splitting the bill at the end of the evening. The incentives are both on a organizational and individual level messed up and we rationalize our choices afterwards to make them seen less like defecting against other people. If this wasn't bad enough people for some reason tend to have strong sentiments attaching them to their state of birth, which leaves them open to exploitation by that Eldritch Abomination. Note that I fully agree that "the market" is one too. Then there is the Moldbuggian argument that in a democracy power corrupts the truth finding mechanisms of a society. The map the society uses veers off in all sorts of unpredictable but memetically adaptive ways from the territory. One of the more insidious edits is the doddle at the centre of the map claiming that you are living in a good approximation of a Popperian Open Society.

In short democratic government like many structures built out of humans doesn't necessarily behave in human friendly ways. We have strong evidence that it is viral and good at waging 19th and 20th century style wars, weak evidence that it is less unfriendly than most structures we have tried in the past and even weaker if any evidence that we can't come up with something much better.

That's a tautology. Because they are better places, you call them first world countries.

You are right. I should have said Western Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan are nicer places to live and more free than say Iran, Egypt or Nigeria but the reason probably isn't democracy.

While redundantly worded I think the original statement still makes sense. Countries that are nicer places to live may tend to be democracies, but they also tend to have higher rates of diabetes. Why do we assume democracy is causing the niceness and not diabetes? This is hyperbole of course, but what if democracy is diabetes human societies get when becoming wealthy or too large?

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-19T07:21:03.826Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Apologies for late reply.

weak evidence that it is less unfriendly than most structures we have tried in the past and even weaker if any evidence that we can't come up with something much better.

True. But we have no evidence that it's any worse, more unfriendly, than other modes of government we've already tried before.

If one accepts the above statement, as I do, then "democracy is incompatible with freedom" implies "we have never had freedom yet". One who holds such a position, should be very wary of freedom: who knows what it might do to society if it's a major new untried social condition! Fortunately, I don't accept the premise.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-08-01T17:51:22.923Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Out of curiosity, do you think some other large-scale organizational system possible among humans is more compatible with freedom, or is this just a special case of the principle that large-scale human organizations are incompatible with freedom?

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-08-01T17:59:32.203Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think they are possible. I'm especially optimistic about the new possibilities opened by advancing technology. Thought talking to Konkvistador has made me think even something as simple as a well thought out monarchy might be better for city-states and small countries with no more than a few million people.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-28T15:48:34.770Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I think the problem with politics is that people forget that societies are like people: they change. So, to quote some Popperian philosophy: "The fact that change is never going to stop renders the very notion of a blueprint for the good society nonsensical, for even if society became like the blueprint it would instantly begin to depart from it." Imagine that instead of trying to tell society how to be perfect you had an even easier job: how to instruct a single human being in the art of perfection. I don't think that would be a very easy task -- even for a rationalist. Now, let's say we had somehow succeeded with that one person, and that person didn't change. Could we apply the same techniques to other people? Probably not. We've have to change them -- at least a little -- to fit the others. We're individuals. We don't conform to a mold. We don't live in utopias. We change. Therefore, politics will always be flawed.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-07-28T16:56:16.745Z · score: 16 (16 votes) · LW · GW

(shrug)

Hydraulic engineering is not an exercise in identifying the "perfect state of fluids" and then trying to fix fluids in that state. It is an exercise in identifying the properties of fluids that govern how they respond to various forces, and then using that knowledge to build fluid-dynamic systems that behave in useful ways.

Done right, politics is similarly an exercise in identifying the properties of humans that govern how they respond to various forces, and then using that knowledge to build human-dynamic systems that behave in useful ways.

The fact that individual humans change in the process of traveling through these systems is undeniable, but no more relevant to the perfectibility or imperfectibility of politics than the fact that different water flows through my pipes every day is to the perfectibility or imperfectibility of plumbing.

comment by BlazeOrangeDeer · 2012-08-01T11:16:13.585Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Your argument works against literally everything (it seems to be saying "things which are not perfect are not valuable"). It is therefore not effective against politics.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-27T17:46:38.540Z · score: -3 (31 votes) · LW · GW

The question of whether or not abortion should be legal is, in fact, the question of whether or not a fetus is a human, and entitled to the legal protections of a human being. The argument is not whether or not women should be forced to be incubators - we've already answered the question in court of whether or not we can be forced to act in a child's best interest against our will, as failing to protect a newborn infant from the elements is wrong. Starting from that premise, there is just one question. "Is this fetus entitled to the legal protections of a human being?"

Does the fetus have human value?

I argue that all human lives have moral value, and that therefore abortion is wrong, and should be prohibited as murder.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-07-28T04:11:48.087Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW · GW

Note that "should abortion be illegal" != "is abortion immoral". There are plenty of people who think abortion is wrong and would never abort their own children, but are opposed to legally forbidding abortion because they realize that would just mean people who want to abort will get clandestine abortions which are much less safe, and hence such a prohibition would be a net negative.

comment by kilobug · 2012-07-28T09:55:02.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Indeed, that's a very general thing to remember. Forbidding something is always a double-sided sword. It'll make that thing less frequent. But it'll also made the remaining cases of that thing to be done in much worse conditions. It applies to abortion, prostitution, drugs, ...

So we have to make a very careful analysis, when suggesting to ban something, not just if that thing is moral or not, but also if the effects of the ban will be more of "that immoral thing will be done less" or more of "that immoral thing will still be done by in worse conditions".

That's the reasoning that makes me favour the legalisation of drugs, and oppose bans on tobacco, while I do consider it is immoral to make widely available something that ends up torturing to death millions of persons, I do realize that a ban will lead to even more trouble (black market, organised crime, traffic, no control over quality, ...).

But on some other cases, I estimate the ban to be more efficient than costly, like I'm very glad that guns are forbidden (well, strictly controlled) in France where I live.

comment by magfrump · 2012-07-29T12:45:13.191Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It applies to abortion, prostitution, drugs, ...

I am pretty sure that, in practice, this does not actually apply to drugs. A couple of references indicate that criminalization does not decrease and decriminalization does not increase drug abuse. I don't have the time/resources/expertise to search through academic articles for explicit numbers, if someone else wanted to give more thorough summaries I would be much obliged.

comment by Salemicus · 2012-08-28T19:00:13.278Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right, but don't you think that position is suspiciously convenient? I used to believe something along those lines myself, but then I realised I was just rationalising for social applause.

If you genuinely think that abortion is immoral but that illegality is counterproductive, then you should support, say, punitive taxes on it. Yet that suggestion will win you no plaudits with the "immoral but not illegal" crowd. We must draw our conclusions accordingly.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-28T22:20:17.034Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There appear to be plenty of people with that position (at least where I am) even looking at revealed preferences. (Specifically: the number of sexually active girls I know in my home town who have had a child in their teens isn't much smaller than a Fermi estimate of the number of them who would have gotten pregnant at some point (ETA: based on what I know about the failure rates of contraception), so there's a sizeable fraction of people who decide not to abort their own children. OTOH I can't see many people doing anything to try to make abortion illegal. Now, it could be that those girls for some reason are less likely to abort than the general population, but “high-school students, often politically left-wing” is about the last demographic for which I'd expect that to be the case.)

EDIT: According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_in_Italy, “[a] proposal to repeal the law [allowing abortion] was considered in a 1981 national referendum, but was rejected by nearly 68% of voters” (and given the fact that the quorum for referendums to be valid in Italy is the majority of people eligible to vote, lots of the people who want to keep the status quo will usually just stay home and not vote), but “[i]n 1993, the abortion ratio in Italy was 9.8 per 1,000 live births”. Now stuff might have changed in those 12 years, but still... (Nice that wild-ass estimates I got from just looking around aren't way far off.)

EDIT: I know there likely are lots of clandestine abortions going on in certain parts of Italy, but even if the statistic of 9.8/1,000 was off by a factor of --say-- 3, my point would still hold.)

comment by Salemicus · 2012-08-28T22:59:09.596Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Forgive me if I have misunderstood you, but you appear to be saying:

  1. In your home town, most girls who got pregnant as teens kept the baby.
  2. These girls are no less likely to abort than the general population.
  3. Neither these girls nor anyone else is trying to make abortion illegal. Therefore
  4. Judging by revealed preference, there are lots of people who think that abortion is immoral but should not be illegal.

I do not see how (4) follows from (1), (2) and (3). Firstly, getting pregnant is a benefit as well as a cost - being pro-choice doesn't mean you will have an abortion even if you want the baby. Secondly, political activism is a niche activity, and "teenage single mum" is not exactly the most represented demographic among political activists. You don't distinguish among the groups:

  1. Thinks abortion is immoral, and should be illegal, but not politically active.
  2. Thinks abortion is morally permissible, and should not be illegal, but wanted to keep the baby.
  3. Genuinely thinks abortion is morally permissible and should not be illegal.
  4. Does not have deeply considered moral views on the matter. If asked, the response will be very sensitive to the wording of the question. Not politically active.

IMO groups (1), (2) and especially (4) have many more members than (3).

I do not understand your point about Italy at all. Could you perhaps clarify?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-29T10:12:08.882Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Since you say “political activism is a niche activity” I think you had in mind bigger things than I was thinking. When I said anything (emphasis in the original), I meant anything. I can't even remember the last time I saw a Facebook post proposing to stop abortion (whereas I see such posts about --say-- vivisection all the time). And

Firstly, getting pregnant is a benefit as well as a cost - being pro-choice doesn't mean you will have an abortion even if you want the baby.

Well, if you want a baby you don't use contraception (not even coitus interruptus) in the first place. If you do, but it fails and you get pregnant anyway, and you still don't abort...Since you say “political activism is a niche activity” I think you had in mind bigger things than I was thinking. When I said anything (emphasis in the original), I meant anything. I can't even remember the last time I saw a Facebook post about abortion.

comment by Salemicus · 2012-08-29T22:53:09.487Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well, if you want a baby you don't use contraception (not even coitus interruptus) in the first place. If you do, but it fails and you get pregnant anyway, and you still don't abort...

With respect, I think this is far too simplistic an analysis. I too know teenage single mums who got pregnant by accident, but they didn't talk about the morality of abortion as a factor in their decision.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-29T22:55:59.436Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

didn't talk about

That's why I said I was talking about revealed preferences.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-28T20:14:13.382Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why would punitive taxes have a result different in kind from outright prohibition?

comment by Salemicus · 2012-08-28T21:52:39.293Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Because they can be set at a level high enough to discourage the action somewhat, but low enough that clandestine abortions are not chosen instead.

For example, where I live cigarettes are taxed at punitive rates (to the right of the Laffer maximum) in order to discourage smoking. It is theoretically possible to evade these taxes, e.g. by growing your own tobacco or smuggling, but taxes are not so high that this is an appealing alternative, given the risks and penalties for breaking the law. So we get less smoking than otherwise, and revenue for the Exchequer, but we do not have smokers turning to dangerous contraband cigarettes instead. It is possible to mess this up; some years ago, cigarette taxes were too high, and we had a problem with smuggling. But I think the principle is clear.

The same logic applies to a tax on abortions. Suppose that the risks and dangers of an illegal abortion are worth -$5000 to the pregnant woman. Then if we forbid abortions, any woman who values an abortion at over $5000 will have one in a clandestine manner. But if instead we put a $3000 tax on abortions, then the pregnant woman who values the abortion at over $3000 will have one legally and safely, and the pregnant woman who values the abortion at less than $3000 will not have an abortion at all.

(Numbers are for illustrative purposes only).

Now, no-one is proposing a tax on abortions. I can see why you would oppose the tax if you are stringently pro-life, as you would see it as facilitating murder. I can see why you would oppose the tax if you are stringently pro-choice, as you might see it as an impermissible restriction on personal freedom. But consider the group who think that abortion is immoral, and thus presumably ought to be discouraged, but claim that their objection to a ban is that such a law would have bad practical effects. Surely then they should be searching high and low for ideas for other laws which would discourage abortion with better practical effects - like a tax. But instead people advance the argument that banning abortion would be counterproductive - and then leave it there.

My conclusion is that this argument an example of status quo bias, and fallacy of the excluded middle. I think it is popular because it allows the arguer to seem "onside" to both pro-life and pro-choice interlocutors.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-29T08:03:14.156Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(Apart from the fact that taxing abortions would discourage poor people from aborting more than it would rich people, which is not exactly what most people would want -- unless the tax scales with the woman's income, but that would just give Yet Another incentive for people to underreport their incomes) maybe that just doesn't occur to people? Seriously, some of these homo hypocritus discussions badly fail Hanlon's Razor (i.e. forget that 84% of the population has IQs below 115, or forget the way people with IQs below 115 think). My grandpa complains if I keep too many lights on when I'm at his place, but he has incandescent bulbs rather than fluorescent ones; does this mean he's lying about his concern about how much he spends on electricity? Maybe Hanson would say he is and could concoct some explanation of why he would he want do that, but I honestly can't.

comment by Salemicus · 2012-08-29T23:01:23.770Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that a tax doesn't occur to most people. Nor does any other solution. That's exactly what I'm saying is suspicious - it looks very much like motivated stopping. And more than that - if you do propose a tax on abortion, or public shaming for those who commit abortion, or any other intermediate step, these people concoct special pleading reasons to be against it.

If you claim to believe that something is immoral, but you are not interested in preventing it and react against any proposal that might, then I think the simplest conclusion is that you don't really think it's immoral.

I should point out, for the record, that I am not actually proposing a tax on abortions, or that people having abortions be publicly shamed, etc. I am merely pointing out that these are logical steps if you think it's "immoral but shouldn't be illegal."

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-29T23:18:32.294Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So does the fact that my grandpa hasn't looked for ways to save on his electricity bill (at least, not hard enough for him to buy fluorescence lightbulbs) also look like motivated stopping? Motivated by what? (My model of people like him also says that telling him about fluorescence lightbulbs wouldn't be enough to make him buy some.)

comment by Salemicus · 2012-08-29T23:49:55.744Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I imagine his stopping is motivated partly by laziness/habit. Yet I'm sure he'd switch if you were able to convince him that fluorescent lightbulbs would save him (say) $1000 a month. So it's also a question of cost/benefit.

But while I don't think he's lying, I do imagine that there's more to his reaction to leaving the lightbulb on than the mere cost. It is also the fact that it is wasteful. Leaving a lightbulb on in a room you're not in feels profligate, and wrong, in a way that failing to buy the most energy-efficient lightbulb does not.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-30T07:31:07.113Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I imagine his stopping is motivated partly by laziness/habit.

Couldn't the reason why people don't think about ways to discourage abortions also be laziness? “Humans are cognitive misers” an' all that. (Especially in the case of people who have never had an undesired pregnancy themselves.)

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-28T23:04:38.465Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But if instead we put a $3000 tax on abortions, then the pregnant woman who values the abortion at over $3000 will have one legally and safely, and the pregnant woman who values the abortion at less than $3000 will not have an abortion at all.

You assume that a woman unwilling or unable to pay $3000 would just not have an abortion. Why not assume that she would instead have a cheap, illegal, unsafe abortion - just like some women do when abortions are illegal outright?

Another argument against taxing abortion is that it's discriminates against the poor, causing them to have fewer abortions, more unplanned children, which reinforces their families' poverty. It is also an inducement to go into debt to afford an abortion.

However, the market will eventually adjust to your tax by providing abortion insurance, thus spreading out the cost of the tax to people who don't actually have abortions.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-29T22:37:11.186Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However, the market will eventually adjust to your tax by providing abortion insurance, thus spreading out the cost of the tax to people who don't actually have abortions.

Not sure about that -- for an insurance company to offer such a policy would likely be very bad publicity for a certain part of the population. Given charities have refused donations to avoid bad publicity...

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-30T07:31:28.156Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

For a target market of roughly half of all women (going by age of fertility) - a quarter of a population - who might consider buying such an insurance policy, an insurance company could probably afford to ignore everyone else. New companies could be started with no affiliation with ones that sells other kinds of insurance if necessary.

Of course, someone who legislated a tax on abortion would probably also legislate forbidding to insure against abortion.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-30T07:41:16.302Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

New companies could be started with no affiliation with ones that sells other kinds of insurance if necessary.

Yes, I hadn't thought about that.

Of course, someone who legislated a tax on abortion would probably also legislate forbidding to insure against abortion.

Well, if they really wanted to they'd probably find a way around that. For example, they could call it an insurance on pregnancy (and claim they don't require the pregnancy to be successful because a pregnancy ending in miscarriage also costs several months of your life, or stuff like that).

Wow, now that I think about this, such an insurance policy makes sense even if people aren't going to abort. (Though being given $3000 una tantum doesn't solve all the problems in the world for someone very poor who wants to raise a child.)

comment by DanArmak · 2012-08-31T19:31:56.464Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Wow, now that I think about this, such an insurance policy makes sense even if people aren't going to abort.

I'm not sure I understand. Are you suggesting an insurance policy that pays out if you get pregnant or give birth?

Normally insurance policies are taken against unwanted events. If you have a policy that pays out in case of abortion, that makes sense to the insurance company because if you're willing to abort, you probably tried to avoid the pregnancy by e.g. using contraceptives.

But if you have a policy that pays out in case of something that is generally wanted (ETA: by those doing it) - giving birth - then people would take out the policy only if they do want to give birth. Then the percentage of people with the policy who get paid would be near 100%, and the insurance company would make a loss on the policy, so they wouldn't offer it.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-31T21:28:13.960Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I hadn't thought about that. (And there's no obvious way of proving that you're using contraception to the insurance company, so you can't even have a policy that pays only if you are.)

(Not sure about "generally wanted", though: I guess that, among the people who are having sex today (in the developed world at least) the fraction who are trying to have a baby is much less than 1.)

EDIT: Maybe it could work if restricted to demographics who wouldn't normally want a child (say, unmarried, below a certain age, and with income below a certain threshold) -- though the premiums mustn't be so large that people would want to get pregnant only for the money.

comment by DanArmak · 2012-09-01T00:31:08.489Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure about "generally wanted", though: I guess that, among the people who are having sex today (in the developed world at least) the fraction who are trying to have a baby is much less than 1.)

Poor phrasing on my part, will fix. I meant that people who get pregnant and give birth (while having the options to use contraceptives and to abort) generally want to raise a child. Not that people in general want to raise one.

Maybe it could work if restricted to demographics who wouldn't normally want a child

This depends on the availability, cost and effectiveness of preventatives and abortions: if they're good enough, you don't need to pay for pregnancy insurance, since they will prevent or abort the pregnancy.

In practice, since I haven't heard of such insurance policies, I expect that they are indeed cheap and effective enough.

comment by DanielLC · 2012-07-27T19:25:20.150Z · score: 16 (24 votes) · LW · GW

The argument that abortion should be illegal goes:

A fetus is a person.

Killing a person is bad.

Therefore, killing a fetus is bad.

I believe that consciousness is not an all-or-nothing thing. A newborn baby is most likely a significant fraction of a person. Certainly enough to be important. A fetus early in development is not-a-person enough to ignore. Also, I don't believe that killing a person is bad, at least not intrinsically. It's bad because someone who is dead can't be happy, but preventing abortion is not the best way to increase the population. Getting pregnant and getting an abortion is morally about the same as never getting pregnant in the first place.

Of course, just because death is morally neutral doesn't mean birth is. Is there any way to tell how unborn babies feel? If the last trimester is basically keeping the baby in solitary confinement for three months, then you shouldn't stay pregnant that long unless you plan on letting the fetus be born and have a life worth living.

I argue that all human lives have moral value

Taboo human. Do you mean self-aware entity? Entity capable of feeling emotion? Entity containing a large number of copies of a double helix structure that contains a very long and specific series of nucleotides?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-07-27T18:46:33.841Z · score: 16 (26 votes) · LW · GW

The question of whether or not abortion should be legal is, in fact, the question of whether or not a fetus is a human...

This is the fundamental mistake in moral philosophy - to feel compelled to value according to your categories, instead of categorizing according to your values.

comment by novalis · 2012-07-27T18:57:08.674Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Probably the reason for this mistake is that we confuse moral philosophy with legislation, where it is very important to have clear rules.

comment by Lightwave · 2012-07-28T07:12:06.752Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

categorizing according to your values

How can you define your values without using categories? I don't think you can. How can you say that Clippy values making paperclips without referring to a 'paperclip' category?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-07-28T09:53:13.137Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You can't, because you define words, not values, or tastes, or smells, or sights, or sounds.

Clippy can have pattern matching algorithms without any verbal content. Then he might attempt to identify his values using words, but values can exist without words.

comment by Lightwave · 2012-07-29T08:48:03.100Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There's some semantic confusion going on here with the word 'define'. By 'define your values' I meant something like 'state your values explicitly'.

Clippy's pattern matching algorithm itself defines (or constructs, if you prefer) a category that can be explicitly stated. It seems natural to say that Clippy values according to its paperclip category.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2012-07-30T02:48:18.712Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

a category that can be explicitly stated.

In actual fact, there's little reason to believe that anyone in the universe can explicitly state Clippy's values accurately.

I believe that with sufficient study and analysis, someone could. But positing that Clippy exists in no way entails that anyone can.

comment by Jack · 2012-07-27T18:17:18.702Z · score: 8 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Now: here's the thing about this game. It's easy. It's easy because neither of us is wedded in identity or ego to the outcome. It is merely an exercise in evaluated argument schema. I didn't even take a position on the issue here, I simply responded to invalidity issues in your argument. This is nothing like politics as it really happens. The arguments aren't soldiers. I'm not trying to win. We haven't taken sides. So our minds will be fine. But it won't prove anything.

we've already answered the question in court

We've also already answered the abortion question in court (I assume the context is the American legal system...) if that criteria is sufficient to establish one of your premises it should be sufficient to establish the issue in it's entirety. Conversely, if the abortion question is up for debate, so too is the sheltering newborns from the elements questions.

of whether or not we can be forced to act in a child's best interest against our will

The government can legally force me to pay income taxes against my will. That does not settle the question of whether or not the government can legally force me to do anything against my will. For instance, most people do not believe it is legal for the government to secretly lock me up and torture me without due process. Similarly, there being an obligation to shelter newborn infants does not settle the question of the extent of the sacrifices a government can require of parents for their children. Presumably there are some sacrifices you would find onerous.

I argue that all human lives have moral value,

Your terms are ambiguous and the substance of the issue lies in their definitions. In particular, you appear to beg the question about when in fact human life begins. Those who support a legal right to abortion often deny that human life begins at conception and have various reasons for this view.

In conclusion 1) the argument you use for one of your premises also argues for the inverse of your conclusion, 2) your subconclusion that women can be forced to be incubators if fetuses are humans does not follow from your premise and 3) you provide no argument for the claim that fetuses are human lives

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-27T18:29:37.481Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW · GW

[META] I'm not trying to win for a reason; it would be improper for me, a person who loves to argue about politics, to create a "test" in which I conveniently get to argue about politics with a community which has a prohibition against arguing about politics; I felt that there would be an implicit ethical violation there. I chose that argument specifically so I wouldn't get sucked in. Yeah, the axiom I chose was kind of poor; it's not a position I regularly argue from. Fortunately, even faulty arguments are good for this test. (And holy crap staying uninvolved is going to be hard. I had to erase my counterarguments four times while writing this.) [/META]

comment by Jack · 2012-07-27T18:39:28.516Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

(And holy crap staying uninvolved is going to be hard. I had to erase my counterarguments four times while writing this.)

Now this is really interesting evidence. But I'm not sure it's unique to political issues.

comment by hairyfigment · 2012-07-27T20:41:31.222Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

we've already answered the question in court of whether or not we can be forced to act in a child's best interest against our will

I don't think we have answered the question, in court, of whether or not we can force parents to donate organs. I would expect the courts to say No, the right to bodily autonomy (and the right to choose medical risks) outweighs the benefit to the child of guaranteed organs.

comment by drethelin · 2012-07-27T18:00:36.063Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Society has de facto decided that lives have different levels of moral value, and that it is ok to kill in some contexts. If you feel a fetus is not human, this averts the question, but even if a fetus is human you still can and should decide to whether they are moral to kill separately.

Personally, I don't think humans without subjective experience or memories are innately valuable, so I'm fine with killing them for convenience.

comment by Dallas · 2012-07-27T18:00:22.885Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Infants and fetuses are not sapient. Arbitrarily privileging biological life regardless of its mental capability would set a horrible precedent. Note that there isn't that coherent of a line between more intelligent mammals and human babies.

comment by Kawoomba · 2012-07-27T19:40:08.982Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

(Assuming we rely on sapience as the chief criterion for privileging life, as you seem to imply)

You are also not in a sapient-testable state when you're under the effects of anesthesia, or in deep sleep.

You might object that you will be in such a state again once you wake up - in other words, that you have the future potential to be in a sapient state.

That, however, would also apply to a human baby, albeit given another time horizon, while it would not apply (to the same degree) to many other mammals, whose individual future potential is much more limited.

Why would you be worthy of protection (e.g. while in a medical coma) based on regaining testable sapience in a matter of weeks - or months - if a baby weren't?

comment by Dallas · 2012-07-28T10:57:50.868Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Our local surroundings could be made into a dense volume of self-replicating computronium hosting as many bare-minimum sapients as possible, but only a few people here would argue that it's morally imperative to carry that out to full term.

Another difference is that the mature sapient has typically specified, or would specify, that it should be reinstated in advance, and works within the framework of society. If the baby survives any sort of abuse it undergoes until it is sapient, then it might be entitled to some damages, but until then, it lacks self-ownership and is susceptible to destruction by its possessors.

comment by hairyfigment · 2012-07-27T20:36:31.630Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, in point of fact I don't feel sure that "For The People Who Are Still Alive" works here. But if we end a consciousness that has already started, even if it's currently paused, that certainly appears to reduce its "average lifespan". We can infer that this decision procedure would reduce the chance of a random real human satisfying his/her desires for more life, if the argument in the linked post works at all.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-07-27T18:47:48.946Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Note that there isn't that coherent of a line between more intelligent mammals and human babies.

Bet: If you give me 1,000 pictures each of fully developed chimpanzees, dolphins and some newborn babies (none of which have any birth defects) I will be able to distinguish between every one. (I will then assign moral weight consistently according to the principle "My species matters more so there!")

comment by Cyan · 2012-07-27T19:29:58.537Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

RichardKennaway made a similar comment and I replied here.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-07-27T18:43:07.687Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Note that there isn't that coherent of a line between more intelligent mammals and human babies.

Of course there is. The latter is human and the former (assuming you mean "more intelligent non-human mammals") is not. It is very easy to tell the difference and there are no doubtful cases.

There are no comparably clear lines to separate human fetuses, infants, children, and adults.

comment by Cyan · 2012-07-27T19:27:58.449Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's good to note the obvious oversight in the grandparent's claim. That said, a charitable reading of that claim (operationalized for your convenience) is that there does not exist a prediction rule that takes a fairly detailed description of a being's* behavior in some task requiring intelligence and outputs a high accuracy classification.

*selected from a known mutually exclusive and exhaustive list of possibilities limited to human infants and adult intelligent mammals.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-07-28T18:33:40.843Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

there does not exist a prediction rule that takes a fairly detailed description of a being's* behavior in some task requiring intelligence and outputs a high accuracy classification.

To look for one presumes, as does Dallas, that the division between entities with rights and entities without is to be drawn in terms of current mental capability. Someone in dreamless sleep currently has less mental capability than an awake baby, or, I guess, a soon-to-be-born one. The argument for turning off Terri Schiavo's life support was that she had no possibility of regaining any mental function, not that she currently had none.

comment by Cyan · 2012-07-29T02:35:42.933Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why are you replying to me instead of Dallas? I'm not defending the argument. I just noticed that more than one person was distracted by the obvious oversight, so I zombified Dallas's claim as best as I was able.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-07-28T00:14:02.990Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There is not one "question of whether abortion should be legal". There are several, presented in different contexts.

For instance, one of the arguments used within theocratic groups against abortion, is that legalization of abortion allows sexually promiscuous women to escape the just consequences of their sinful choices. This is analogous to the argument made regarding vaccination against sexually transmitted diseases such as HPV: that by reducing the possible "punishment" for sexual promiscuity, vaccination promotes promiscuity. Since theocrats consider sexual promiscuity to be inherently wrong, reducing its possible negative consequences is evil.

However, this argument is not usually used between theocrats and others in society, because most others do not accept the premises, and many consider such an anti-consequentialist argument to be villainy (or at least bigotry) in itself.

You will notice that this is a divine-command argument, not a consequentialist argument. The argument is not even "sexual promiscuity will send you to hell; we should discourage you from going to hell." It is, rather, "we are commanded by God to prevent sinners from escaping punishment."

comment by BlazeOrangeDeer · 2012-08-01T11:18:27.988Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree wholeheartedly with most of your post (in fact I make that point freqquently in other words) but the last sentence does not follow.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-08-01T13:05:53.732Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The last sentence was a clumsy attempt at an axiom and a conclusion; I was rushing when I wrote this so the comment would be there when somebody got to the end of the post. (In retrospect, I really should have written this -before- I posted the article.) Indeed, everything except the last sentence I ended up copying from my blog, because I realized it would be faster than trying to rewrite the logic from scratch. I omitted several pieces of logic that the blog contained in my haste, however, including the conditional that the current state of legal affairs about leaving infants exposed to the elements is desirable.

comment by aaronde · 2012-07-27T22:22:33.536Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is actually a good argument that, predictably, most people are ignoring (since the weak premise is such a tempting target). But it's not airtight.

I am under no legal obligation to go out of my way to save random children. People are only under legal obligation to sacrifice their own interests to keep children alive, after they have taken on the legal responsibility to care for that child, by becoming the child's legal guardian. It's true that we, as a society, make sure that all children have legal guardians, and that those guardians take care of the child. In contrast fetuses have no legal guardians. That doesn't necessarily mean we aren't treating them as people, it just means we aren't treating them as children. Adults also have no legal guardians.

But even if we insist that fetuses must have legal guardians, there is still a loophole. Suppose mother A gives up her unborn fetus for adoption. Mother B adopts, and A removes the fetus since she is no longer under any obligation to care for it. Then B, fulfilling her obligation as a guardian, does everything in her power to keep the fetus alive, but of course it dies anyway. This is an absurd example, but it illustrates how we may be able to kill fetuses, not because they entitled to fewer human rights, but merely because they are in such a unique position as humans.

Finally, It seems this argument was designed with the Violinist thought experiment) in mind. But does it really change things? Are you required to make organ donations to your children, if they need it? (hat tip to hairyfigment)

I think it really is a matter of whether or not women should be forced to be incubators. Even if we decide that fetuses should have full human rights, we would need to find a way to balance the rights of mother and fetus. And that balance would at least sometimes allow abortion. For example, we certainly wouldn't force a women to carry a fetus to term, if there were a 50% chance they would both die in childbirth.

comment by gwillen · 2012-07-27T20:13:15.562Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

META: The test appears already to have failed, in that people have downvoted your initial test argument below the visibility threshold, without downvoting the post itself, or explaining their actions. I'm not sure what to make of that, and it surprised me a lot. (I would have expected the post itself to also have been downvoted to oblivion, if people felt that strongly about it.)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2012-07-27T20:22:14.485Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

META: My initial test argument was poorly argued (by myself), so the downvoting was what should have happened by the rules I set out; responses have arisen, and responses to them in turn, so in that, at least, it has succeed. At least one more argument has arisen, and I figure the test will take a couple of days to shake out either way. It's actually been somewhat more successful than I originally anticipated, as I weighted the possibility that people wouldn't want any political discussion here at all, even in this form, rather heavily.

comment by Jack · 2012-07-27T21:13:12.440Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect endorsers of the experiment would upvote the post but may not reverse the downvotes to the test argument.