Disability Culture Meets the Transhumanist Condition

post by Rubix · 2011-10-28T19:02:32.583Z · score: 31 (38 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 150 comments

With apologies to Ed Regis.

Modern science has caused humankind to develop better cures and patches for once-debilitating conditions; people often survive maladies which would have killed them not long ago. In the wake of this and of a recently changing attitude regarding how cognitively disabled people might see the world, a disability rights movement came into swing in the 1970s. Increasingly, the attitude of disabled people was that it wasn't inherently bad to be disabled; a disability could be an intrinsic part of a person's self-image. Some people in wheelchairs, for instance, want badly to be able to walk - but some do not, and the mainstream attitude has historically not validated those people's experiences. This is where disability culture intersects the transhumanist movement. If it is possible to identify so strongly with a physical disability as to not want any cure, how does that mesh with believing that it is desirable to improve one's mind and body? Is it possible to identify as a happily disabled transhumanist?

This does not intend to suggest that transhumanism is a movement of eugenic warriors; it's hard to imagine anyone suggesting that folks who don't sign up for the "Harmless and easy cure for senescence" shot be sterilized. However, despite the fact that hardly anyone would identify emself as an eugenicist (a fine thing to call yourself once-upon-a-time in America, until the Nazis rendered the term unpopular,) literally eugenic attitudes in society prevail, e.g. the prevalent belief that people with Huntington's disease or schizophrenia who reproduce are cruel for hazarding the inheritance of their condition.

One wonders what disability culture would look like if people who are today in wheelchairs had access to technology that could repair their legs and allow them to walk. I wonder if people with congenital disabilities which would today require a wheelchair would have a choice about being cured, or whether the cure would be implemented in infancy. In 2007, a girl named Ashley who has an unknown brain disorder and cannot communicate or move herself effectively was given a series of radical procedures - hysterectomy, mastectomy and high estrogen doses - intended to make her easier to take care of. Was the literally non-consensual hysterectomy an eugenicist procedure? An immoral one? Was it in the spirit of transhumanism? In a future where Down syndrome can be prevented with a prenatal vaccine, would such a vaccine be moral? How about vaccines for "low-functioning" autism? At that rate, surely it would be possible to vaccinate for Asperger syndrome, depression, and ADHD, conditions which many people dislike and/or dislike having. (As an aside, with all the medically-repudiated yet widespread fear about vaccines causing autism, one can only imagine the panic an autism vaccine would cause.)

I don't have answers to these questions. I have feelings and impressions, but those are not very useful. The issue cannot be solved unilaterally by saying that only those who enthusiastically consent to certain medical procedures should be given them, because many people are incapable of giving clear consent, as in the Ashley treatment. Nor can it be clearly solved by suggesting only prophylactic measures against disabling conditions, because certainly some parents would forego those measures. In a transhuman future, is the birth of a nonverbal autistic a preventable tragedy? Is it less of a tragedy if the child is a savant? Nor can one say that only conditions without an accompanying culture should be eradicated. Even if the definition of 'culture' were not elusive, HIV/AIDS has a definite culture about it, and few people would suggest that HIV should not be eradicated.

It is not useful to ignore the role of disabled people and disability culture in the transhumanist movement. I believe that the future has a lot to offer many people with disabilities, including those who do not want a 'cure.' Transhumanism can encompass interest in diverse AAC methods, and I believe it should. Simple keyboard technology has made it possible for many otherwise nonverbal people to communicate eloquently, as have DynaVox devices and various iPad apps. It would delight me to see widespread discussion about more powerful AAC devices, which could enable us to perceive and act on the desires of those who cannot now communicate.

Nor has technology reached its limits in helping those with physical disabilities; wheelchairs are generally clumsy and heavy, and expensive for people without insurance - nearly inaccessible to people who live without insurance in impoverished areas of the world (or of the United States.) People who, like Stephen Hawking, become paralyzed by motor neuron diseases, do not all possess Stephen Hawking's access to high-tech communications devices (for which prices begin at thousands of dollars.) And people with disabilities like epilepsy or cerebral palsy are still often abused for their "demonic possession" or inaccurately stereotyped as mentally disabled. The transhumanist movement tends to advocate augmentation sans cure as far as physical disabilities are concerned, but there are people with mixed feelings about transhumanism as it applies to disability.

Disability is a hot button topic surrounded by widely varying spectra of beliefs. It directly affects humankind and is not often discussed rationally because of the subjective experiences people have had with varying disabilities. (The mother of a nonverbal autistic says, "There should be a cure for autism; I want my son to say he loves me." A nonverbal autistic communicating by AAC says "There shouldn't be a cure for autism; I want people to learn how I communicate my affection." Their conflicting beliefs do not predict radically different anticipated experiences.) So a rational, clear dialogue about disability is vital - for disabled people, their friends and families, and the world at large - in order to integrate these identities and experiences into the future and present of humankind.

150 comments

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comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-28T20:59:51.247Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

Like a lot of social questions, attitudes toward disability remediation only start getting really nasty when they intersect with people's identities -- which is probably what writers are getting at much of the time when they talk about "disability culture", although I think that's a less than ideal choice of words since cultures intersect only imperfectly with self-image. Now, at this point I could link to "Keep Your Identity Small" and wash my hands of the problem. Certainly that's the advice I'd give to anyone in the unlikely position of making conscious choices about their future relationship with disability. But that's a dodge, and there's enough situations where it's inadequate that I think the question deserves a real answer.

I don't think breaking our response to the identity construction of disability down in medical terms ("they're sick; it's our job to cure them") is going to get us anywhere: the social architecture of medicine makes it poorly suited to navigating scenarios which the patient wouldn't consider dysfunctional. Let's consider our response in sociological terms instead: it has medical consequences when alternatives are or may become available, but people take on all sorts of identities with quality-of-life implications.

Looked at through that lens, choosing to accept a disability when remedial measures are available becomes largely equivalent to e.g. taking a vow of silence. Public choice issues make this trickier (enough so that I could probably devote a fairly long post to them), but if we leave those out it looks to be well within the scope of social variation: a little weird, sure, but not obviously destructive and perhaps handy on a society-wide level if problems come up where isomorphic coping skills would be useful.

But then there's the issue of taking steps to spread disability identification: patients opting out of gene therapies which could resolve the disability for their children, campaigning against curative technologies, and so forth. To a certain extent this can be considered self-defensive, and it's probably best to keep the distinction in mind. But insofar as it involves nonconsensual withholding of potential cures, it seems equivalent to (to borrow an Iain M. Banks phrase) aggressive hegemonization, and strikes me as rude. Identities do not have a right to exist independent of their carriers' preferences, and attempts to render those preferences irrelevant should probably be discouraged.

The analogies to augmentive transhumanism are all fairly straightforward.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-28T20:52:02.301Z · score: 17 (27 votes) · LW · GW

Increasingly, the attitude of disabled people was that it wasn't inherently bad to be disabled

Same way that many battered spouses have learned to talk about the good points of their abusers, and many mortal people have learned to talk about the good points of mortality, I'm sure that many disabled people have learned to talk about the good points of their disability.

But as for the rest of us, we don't need to treat abuse, or death, or disability as remotely good.

comment by ZankerH · 2011-10-28T23:31:04.245Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed, but the argument of the "deaf culture", as far as I can see, isn't "being deaf is good", it's refusing to trade away what they see as "native" culture for social acceptance. And besides, cochlear implants are far inferior to normal hearing capabilities, I expect their attitude to them will change as the quality improves.

Would you view a homosexual refusing a (real, working) treatment for his "condition" as equally irrational? The deaf culture isn't just a pathetic rationalisation like deathism.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-10-29T16:09:48.563Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Once again, I bring up the exchange from Gideon's Crossing, where a black doctor advises a deaf woman to give her deaf daughter cochlear implants:

Mother: You're saying that hearing people are better than deaf people!
Doctor: I'm saying it's easier.
Mother: Would your life be easier if you were white?

For those that don't catch the analogy: yes, life might be easier if you were hearing rather than deaf, but gaining the ability to hear would change a fundamental part of your identity and separate you from your "native culture".

Not endorsing this view, just trying to give a better intuition for it.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-10-31T18:22:00.016Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW · GW

It's interesting that obvious moral of your anecdote is supposed to be that no black person would want to change into a white person, even though life would be easier. I mean, I agree it's probably true, but it seems mysterious to me, like something that needs to be explained. One explanation is that a single black person changing to white would in a sense be betraying all her black friends, or legitimizing the idea that being black is worse than being white, but I can think of a contrived scenario where those explanations don't seem to apply.

Suppose that we had a machine that could change people's skin color, physical features, and speech patterns, so that people of one race could be turned indistinguishable from people of another. And suppose we wanted to end all racial discrimination forever by making everyone the same race. So we flip a coin to decide whether all white people have to change into black people, or all black people have to change into white people - discrimination disappears either way, and this way we know it's not a power thing where white people are trying to enforce their own norms.

I'm white, and I don't think I would object too much if the coin came up as "all whites have to change to blacks." I could see some white people objecting on aesthetic grounds, that they've been conditioned to think white people are more attractive and don't want to be in bodies they would view as less attractive. I could imagine a whole bunch of white people objecting just to be contrary. But overall I can't think of any really good objections from the white point of view.

But I know that part of white privilege is the privilege of thinking race doesn't make that much difference, so I predict that black people would want to think much harder about the case where all blacks have to change into whites. They'd probably have the same aesthetics and general contrariness objections as the white people, but if the rest of the thread is any indication there might also be an objection surrounding "black culture".

One could say that whatever black people like about black culture, they could continue to like if they had white skin. I guess the counterargument would be that black culture needs a certain critical mass to survive, and that if there were no artificial division between blacks and whites forcing them into different communities and different "meme pools", it would get overwhelmed by the more common white culture. But this seems like it's also a good argument against any attempt to fight racism or end segregation. And although I am almost sure someone is going to scoff really hard at me for saying this and explain why it's totally not appropriate, lots of white people seem to like a lot of black culture and even be pretty good at some "traditionally black" forms of expression, and vice versa.

I'd be really interested in hearing from some minority - whether in terms of race or sexual orientation or whatever - who wouldn't want her community to accept a coin toss on the principles described above.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-31T20:45:23.986Z · score: 17 (12 votes) · LW · GW

But overall I can't think of any really good objections from the white point of view.

Is "my bodily autonomy is more important than your dreams of social justice" just being contrary?

I'd be really interested in hearing from some minority - whether in terms of race or sexual orientation or whatever - who wouldn't want her community to accept a coin toss on the principles described above.

What would such a coin toss look like for sexuality? If it comes up heads, everyone becomes straight, and if tails everyone becomes gay? That would have significant extinction concerns. Everyone becoming bisexual on tails is more reasonable, but it doesn't map onto the same sort of concerns, because now it's asymmetric: straight guys who become bisexual can still be attracted to women, but gay guys who become straight can't still be attracted to men. So maybe heads is everyone stays the same? But that's just odd- "we have this option, and either we'll do it or we won't."

I wouldn't mind moving from gay to bisexual, and I wouldn't mind gay culture disappearing. I suspect that everyone becoming bisexual would lead to a net social loss, though, even though I might be better off.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-31T22:46:55.008Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What would such a coin toss look like for sexuality?

That's a good point, and it made it more obvious to me what the problem is. Equalizing everyone forces them to all play the same status game, and it being zero-sum, minority groups would lose. Before, I only competed with the rest of my small community, afterwards, I compete with everyone. (See also The Melancholy of Subculture Society.)

(Incidentally, my answer is "stop the game". As an asexual, I'd be very much opposed to being forced to play sexuality, no matter what side I ended up on.)

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-01T00:38:44.110Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Incidentally, my answer is "stop the game". As an asexual, I'd be very much opposed to being forced to play sexuality, no matter what side I ended up on.

I also don't think I would terribly mind becoming asexual, but again, I wouldn't want everyone to be. (Definitely not before we have artificial uteruses, and still possibly not afterwards.)

comment by Alicorn · 2011-10-31T22:06:03.111Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that everyone becoming bisexual would lead to a net social loss, though

Why? What kind of loss?

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-01T00:14:56.911Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

The first thing that comes to mind is that there is a benefit to being able to befriend / work with people without having to deal with the possibility of romantic attachments, especially when you consider sexual jealousy. If everyone were straight, I could trust my wife with half the population, and she could trust me with half the population- if everyone were bisexual, I would now have to consider the possibility that my wife/husband were cheating on me with literally everyone s/he knows, and s/he would have the same worry.

Similarly, the number of unrequited connections could increase significantly. I'm not sure what would happen with sexual frustration- there would be more desire but also probably more fulfillment.

Then you get to other measures, like STD transmission or population growth. If you give all men the desire to have sex with other men, given the increased willingness of men to have casual sex compared to women it seems like you'll get fewer stable couples, fewer child-raising couples, and more promiscuity, leading to dramatic increases in STDs.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-02T05:27:23.289Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

The first thing that comes to mind is that there is a benefit to being able to befriend / work with people > without having to deal with the possibility of romantic attachments,

Are you the sort of person who views every member of your preferred attraction-category by sex as a potential romance? If so, this says a lot more about you than human nature.

especially when you consider sexual jealousy.

Options: Non-monogamy. Trusting your partner. Communication with partner, ascertaining whether emotional needs are likely to be met in this relationship. Accepting that sexual jealousy happens because humans are emotional animals and that its mere existence does not constitute a failure mode.

If everyone were straight, I could trust my wife with half the population, and she could trust me with > half the population-

Or you could actually trust each other. What kind of trust is it that depends upon the other player being unable to defect? And are you so entirely sure your wife couldn't be bisexual?

Similarly, the number of unrequited connections could increase significantly.

People could also learn to, you know, deal with those. It's not like unrequited attraction is new.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-02T08:02:32.982Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Are you the sort of person who views every member of your preferred attraction-category by sex as a potential romance? If so, this says a lot more about you than human nature.

I have no doubt that I unconsciously evaluate every person I interact with; where else would the label "cute" come from?

Options: Non-monogamy.

The question was what would happen if everyone became bisexual; I presumed everything else would stay constant. That is, many people would choose many varieties of non-monogamy, and the existence of jealousy would complicate those choices.

People could also learn to, you know, deal with those. It's not like unrequited attraction is new.

Sure. But remember that policy debates should not appear one-sided. Having to deal with unrequited attractions is a cost, even if people get good at doing so. The question about net loss or net gain is about balancing losses and gains. There are a number of benefits to everyone becoming bisexual, but also a number of costs, and when I eyeball them I reckon the costs as larger than the benefits.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-02T18:59:27.238Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

where else would the label "cute" come from?

Do you evaluate kittens, small children, and the like as potential partners as well, then? "Cute" can come from a lot of places, not all of them shorthand for "attractive in a mateseeking way."

The question was what would happen if everyone became bisexual; I presumed everything else would stay constant.

My point in that actual section was that the problems you're talking about seemed less like costs one could universally infer as arising from the button-press, and more like you projecting your own relationship difficulties onto other people. I wasn't advocating monogamy as an additional button-press to fix the problem you see, I was pointing out that the problem you're talking about already has solutions that don't disappear if we press this button, and that the problem as you stated it seems to have more bearing on you specifically than on humanity in general.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-02T21:55:58.564Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"Cute" can come from a lot of places, not all of them shorthand for "attractive in a mateseeking way."

You're right, "sexy" would have been a better word to use there.

My point in that actual section was that the problems you're talking about seemed less like costs one could universally infer as arising from the button-press, and more like you projecting your own relationship difficulties onto other people.

I see how it could seem that way, but that is not the case from my perspective. My relationship difficulties stem mostly from the small size of the gay dating pool and the attractiveness of my straight male friends. If everyone were bisexual, my dating pool would be massively larger and my male friends might be interested in me, and thus I would probably be better off.

But when I look at straight people around me, and ask myself what their difficulties are, and ask if bisexuality is likely to make them worse off or better off, it seems to me unlikely that the gains would outweigh the losses. The solutions you suggest- I would prefer the term "strategies"- are sometimes employed successfully, and sometimes not, and it's not clear to me if bisexuality being the norm makes them more likely to be employed successfully.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-02T22:32:00.115Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I see how it could seem that way, but that is not the case from my perspective. My relationship difficulties stem mostly from the small size of the gay dating pool and the attractiveness of my straight male friends

Small size of the dating pool where you are specifically, or your perceptions of its small size generally? It's an important distinction...

(I ask because in theory my own dating pool is quite small: I'm transgendered, polyamorous, bi, autistic, disabled -- my dating pool might seem very small when performing a naive analysis just because anyone willing/able to deal with dating someone who's one of those things is still not necessarily willing/able to deal with all the others, and intuitively the more you stack on such multipliers the harder it is to find people who fulfill those conditions...yet I'm in something like five concurrent relationships right now, and go on dates with new people several times a year at minimum. I'm not enjoying straight-up statistical cluster benefits from being bi and poly; being any of the other things has been a serious handicap in those circles in my experience...so a cursory look at the estimated size of my dating pool is very misleading, because clearly I can and do have lots of relationships...being poly just makes it possible to do so concurrently.)

As for the attractiveness of your straight male friends, how does that actually cause relationship difficulties? Presumably you're not getting into romantic relationships with them?

The solutions you suggest- I would prefer the term "strategies"- are sometimes employed successfully, and sometimes not

I guess I just don't see how an uptick in unrequited attractions is a fundamental issue. If most people couldn't find a suitable partner, then it would be more obviously an issue, but...hell, I get unrequited feelings for people all the time, it sucks and it hurts, sometimes a lot, but does it really impair people in a long-term sense? In a way that existing coping mechanisms couldn't account for?

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-02T23:45:22.492Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As for the attractiveness of your straight male friends, how does that actually cause relationship difficulties? Presumably you're not getting into romantic relationships with them?

It is unpleasant to have desires no amount of planning or effort could deliver, and not be able to convince the source of that desire of that desire's futility without risking something. It is a sad thing to lose a friend by asking them out, and a sadder thing to be in turmoil over when and how.

does it really impair people in a long-term sense?

Does it need to be long-term for it to be a cost?

Were I to explain my intuition about the long-term and broad consequences, I would talk about things like reduced population growth, increased STD prevalence, and possibly decreased social harmony. Talking about something like social harmony is easier to do if you start off with the short-term and small-scale, though.

comment by Strange7 · 2012-08-25T16:08:13.164Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(I ask because in theory my own dating pool is quite small: I'm transgendered, polyamorous, bi, autistic, disabled -- my dating pool might seem very small when performing a naive analysis just because anyone willing/able to deal with dating someone who's one of those things is still not necessarily willing/able to deal with all the others, and intuitively the more you stack on such multipliers the harder it is to find people who fulfill those conditions...yet I'm in something like five concurrent relationships right now, and go on dates with new people several times a year at minimum. I'm not enjoying straight-up statistical cluster benefits from being bi and poly; being any of the other things has been a serious handicap in those circles in my experience...so a cursory look at the estimated size of my dating pool is very misleading, because clearly I can and do have lots of relationships...being poly just makes it possible to do so concurrently.)

A small pool in statistical terms can still be shockingly large in absolute terms, given the number of humans currently alive. People who tolerate, or outright prefer, those qualities in a prospective mate will have an equally limited pool of prospective mates, and react with a corresponding degree of enthusiasm.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-08-25T17:43:42.659Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A small pool in statistical terms can still be shockingly large in absolute terms, given the number of humans currently alive.

That would be my point in its entirety, yes.

People who tolerate, or outright prefer, those qualities in a prospective mate will have an equally limited pool of prospective mates

Does not follow at all. People who like, or seek some subset of those qualities might still be considered very desirable in the eyes of a large number of others.

(Hell, I can think of several past and present partners of mine who were positively spoiled for choice, and mostly dated folks who weren't those things, and still found me interesting as a mate...)

and react with a corresponding degree of enthusiasm.

Yeah, no. I think you have a straw model of attraction here.

comment by zslastman · 2012-11-22T11:54:30.892Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think as a good Bayesian you actually DO have to view every member of your preferred attraction-category by sex as a potential romance, and every potential partner around your Significant other as, to some degree, a competitor. I often wonder if first order rationality is actually beneficial in this matter. I may instinctively trust my partner, but at what rate do trusting people get cheated on relative to non-trusting people? That's all the strength of evidence that my trust can offer me.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-11-01T13:47:49.922Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

All of these seem more like problems with monogamy than problems with bisexuality.

Edit: Also,

The first thing that comes to mind is that there is a benefit to being able to befriend / work with people without having to deal with the possibility of romantic attachments

Relevant...?

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-01T19:36:52.687Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

All of these seem more like problems with monogamy than problems with bisexuality.

Polygamous people don't have to worry about STDs or population collapse?

Relevant...?

As in, asexuals wouldn't want to become sexuals? Oftentimes, they don't. Being interested in a single gender is essentially 'asexuality lite' in that you both have the prospect of fulfilling sexual relationships and there are groups in which you can just set sex aside and focus on other things. The convenient thing about being straight is that the sex-free group is people similar to you- one of the awkward things about being gay is that the sex-free group is people dissimilar to you. (The group is also very tiny, ignoring asexuals: once you add a second lesbian, now there's a chance the two of them will be attracted to each other.)

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-11-02T00:21:11.757Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Polygamous people don't have to worry about STDs or population collapse?

You might have a point about STDs, but I doubt it's your true rejection - if that were all, it would just mean spending more effort toward education, prevention and cures. Mostly I was talking about the assumptions underlying your concern with jealousy / trust / cheating, unrequited connections, stable couples / childraising couples, and promiscuity.

And could you explain what you mean by 'population collapse'? I'm confused.

As in, asexuals wouldn't want to become sexuals?

Yes, but the point was more like: it goes both ways. If you have it, the advantages seem to outweigh the flaws; if you don't, it seems the other way around.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-02T05:10:14.196Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And could you explain what you mean by 'population collapse'? I'm confused.

As more men date men and more women date women, the amount of accidental childbearing decreases, and thus the total amount of childbearing. Beyond that, having a stable population is more than just 2.1 children per women- it's generally expected to be painful to have the elderly as a larger fraction of the population.

I doubt it's your true rejection - if that were all, it would just mean spending more effort toward education, prevention and cures.

Which is all I need to show something in the loss column, neh?

My true rejection is along the lines of "if it were better for everyone to be bisexual, everyone would be already be bisexual, thanks to evolution." Obviously, modern society is not the EEA, but it's a better place to start from than idealism.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-11-02T05:16:54.543Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

My true rejection is along the lines of "if it were better for everyone to be bisexual, everyone would be already be bisexual, thanks to evolution."

Gaining with respect to our utility functions is not what evolution selects for. If evolution has a choice in the short term between more miserable people who have more successful offspring and happier people with fewer successful offspring then evolution will have more miserable people. Don't confuse what the blind idiot god does with what we want or would consider to be at all good.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-02T07:58:25.984Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Don't confuse what the blind idiot god does with what we want or would consider to be at all good.

I'm not. Societies don't have utility functions; they propagate forward in time through a blind process similar enough to evolution. As mentioned in an ancestral comment, I suspect I personally would be better off in a society where everyone were bisexual, but suspect that the overall society would be worse off.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-11-02T05:25:24.554Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As more men date men and more women date women, the amount of accidental childbearing decreases, and thus the total amount of childbearing.

Intuitively, I would have thought of this as a good thing, but

Beyond that, having a stable population is more than just 2.1 children per women- it's generally expected to be painful to have the elderly as a larger fraction of the population.

is a good point.

My true rejection is along the lines of "if it were better for everyone to be bisexual, everyone would be already be bisexual, thanks to evolution."

??? Let me get this straight: in this context, your definition of 'better' is 'increases reproductive fitness'?

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-02T07:55:08.085Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let me get this straight: in this context, your definition of 'better' is 'increases reproductive fitness'?

My original claim was "net social loss." Such a term is purposefully vague, but I suspect it should be uncontroversial that something that leads to collapse or replacement counts as a net social loss.

comment by shminux · 2011-10-31T22:43:46.797Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Enforced uniformity is always a loss.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-02T05:22:26.438Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't want transgendered people to all make a switch to identifying with the binary gender assigned to them at birth.

Sure, nobody would be picking on us for being trans, because we wouldn't be trans anymore. We wouldn't have to deal with any of the awful crap that society presses on us. We wouldn't have to deal with feelings of discomfort and alienation from our bodies (those of us that have such -- it's not a completely universal trait). We wouldn't have to worry about things like costly surgical procedures, the availability of psychologically-stabilizing hormone treatments, whether we'll be able to find clothing that fits and looks good, whether or not we want to aim for passing and how well we can do at that, and so on.

Those are things that make my life difficult, and they're often pretty horrific.

But the thing is? I also wouldn't be me. It is conceptually nontrivial to propose "a version of Jandila who isn't trans" -- that is a hypothetical individual who is a fundamentally different person, who experiences the world differently, who doesn't have my memories and my experiences of the world. Whole different person. Sure, you can speculate what'd have happened in some counterfactual timeline where the person born to my parents never wound up displaying this trait, but then so much of their life would have been so different from mine.

This is a problem for me because if the goal is to do well by people who are still alive, we have to actually listen to them to some extent about their preferences and needs. I wouldn't suffer so much or have as many challenges if I pushed a magic button that made me cis, but a lot of my problems don't have to be this way.

I wouldn't need to worry about surgery the way I do if it were something health insurance covered -- my condition is considered medical by all my providers and doctors and insurers, yet surgery to remediate it is handled not by meaningful standards of best practices and studied in medical schools or offered at a typical hospital. Instead it's a bit like buying a collector's item -- a lot of money, up front in cash, buyer's remorse is entirely your risk, it's considered a vanity rather than a necessity no matter what said medical profession's consensus is otherwise, and exceptions are thin on the ground.

Trans people wouldn't have nearly as much trouble getting hormone replacement therapy if our own medical needs were taught alongside other parts of endocrinology, and if medical research into our health was mostly directed at longitudinal studies of outcomes, treatment modalities and the like, and not predominantly focused on "what makes trans people trans?" (unhelpful to most actual people who are, but a great way to monopolize what little funding is available for research relevant to trans people)

I wouldn't have to worry nearly so much about never getting a job, or being assaulted or harassed, if trans people and acceptance thereof were more normalized in popular culture, if it weren't limited to the "deceptive/pathetic transsexual" dichotomy most of the tiny number of portrayals of us fall into -- because more people would be familiar with the idea, and (I can hope) might think of something other than those stereotypes.

There's a whole lot of stuff that various entities already extant in the world could do that would make it a lot easier for trans people to exist, without just offering us a magic "turn cis in a flash" pill. Yes, if we were like you we'd not be persecuted for being us, but we'd also not have to be persecuted that way if, y'know, people didn't persecute us. If people could recognize that we're targeted as a perceived group, lumped together whether or not we prefer to identify and live that way, and that even those of us who have no strongly-felt affiliation with any trans-specific cultural entity still suffer the effects of being perceived as part of that group.

Counterfactuals about making [minority who suffers/is persecuted/has disproportionately bad outcomes] go away by ensuring no more of them come into existence look a lot squickier when you're a member of that minority who can think of a few much less drastic things the majority could do to accomplish similar ends.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-31T23:03:02.038Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think that tribalism expands to cover any differences. Some experience among various Orthodox Jewish groups is one piece of information in my background. Ideological divisions are unimportant within a group half the size of a congregation and important within a group the size of a congregation, regardless of the ideological diversity in the congregation.

Mothers can tell identical twins apart. Anything less than an extreme reduction in differences won't do much to reduce Schelling point in-group/out-group division.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-31T21:08:30.395Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Speech patterns are part of culture, and you mentioned them as one of the things which would be changed.

That objection could probably be covered by adding speech patterns rather than eliminating them.

How about religion? Would the atheists here be comfortable with a coin toss approach to being religious or not?

I'm ethnically Jewish (personally agnostic). I'm uncomfortable with Christianity in a way which I think is different from the way people who were raised Christian and who've had bad experiences are. I haven't had personal bad experiences with Christianity, but I'm not only edgy about it, but it's like Gandhi and the murder pill-- I'm not comfortable with the idea of fading out my discomfort, even though I can't see that it's doing me any good.

Being Jewish carries a lot of memories with it. I only go to a service if it's an important event for someone else, but if I do, I'm reasonably familiar with the ritual. I still like the Jewish folk songs I learned in Hebrew school. I suppose I could keep all that (from this paragraph) if the coin toss came up Unitarian, but not otherwise. It's not as though the folk songs are a secret, but no one else especially bothers to learn them.

The general point is that these differences aren't just pasted-on labels for the most part. (The exception I'm thinking of is a news story I read about an anti-Semite in Eastern Europe who found out he had Jewish ancestry, gave up anti-Semitism, and became observant. People are very strange.)

I'm not sure how useful arguments from completely imaginary tech are.

Other free association: I've read about an exercise where people were asked to list the labels they identified with, and the list tended to mostly include things they'd been hurt about.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-10-31T21:51:10.210Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Religion seems different insofar as some people think it has a truth value. If I believe Jesus is the Son of God, that's a very strong argument for not using a machine that turns me into an atheist - once I'm an atheist, I would be wrong on the Jesus question.

I also am ethnically Jewish, but I don't consider that to be an interesting test case of the principle. Part of why I find the black case interesting is that black people could continue to perpetuate black culture even if they had white skin. Since Jews don't look very different from the majority population, it's unclear what a machine to make me "not Jewish" would mean other than that I lose Jewish culture and ritual and so on, which makes it a totally different case.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-11-01T14:26:16.151Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Being made not Jewish would presumably also mean that you wouldn't identify as Jewish.

I apparently look Jewish. I've been handed $20 by someone in a Western state because of a Bible verse that nations which are friendly to Jews will flourish. I told her I wasn't observant, but she didn't care.

A street musician spontaneously played Hatikvah (the Israeli national anthem) for me.

In order to be thoroughly not Jewish, I'd have to look different.

How much is one's identity in oneself, and how much is in other people's minds?

One piece of black culture is about hair-- having different hair would change the culture.

comment by shminux · 2011-11-01T15:57:28.507Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How much is one's identity in oneself, and how much is in other people's minds?

A large majority of German Jews before WWII were fully assimilated and considered themselves Germans, until they were rather sternly reminded of the difference. The situation was very nearly repeated in the Soviet Union around 1953, though Stalin's death interfered with the planned forced displacement and possibly worse. Still, the resulting anti-Jewish sentiment there never went away completely.

So, other people's minds often matter more than your own.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-31T20:24:16.233Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be really interested in hearing from some minority - whether in terms of race or sexual orientation or whatever - who wouldn't want her community to accept a coin toss on the principles described above.

I’m white and I wouldn’t be favourable towards the coin toss idea, but I’ll answer anyway since some of the reasoning might be the same.

Suppose that we had a machine that could change people's skin color, physical features, and speech patterns, so that people of one race could be turned indistinguishable from people of another. And suppose we wanted to end all racial discrimination forever by making everyone the same race. So we flip a coin to decide whether all white people have to change into black people, or all black people have to change into white people - discrimination disappears either way, and this way we know it's not a power thing where white people are trying to enforce their own norms.

Firstly, changing surface appearances wouldn’t necessarily end racial discrimination (i.e. physical similarity doesn't guarantee the absence of tribal identification; discrimination may be based on alleged biological differences that are not limited to surface characteristics). Furthermore I don’t see how pair bonding and attraction, and personal identity could be adequately preserved (for people in general) through substantial changes in physical appearance. For the sake of the thought experiment I suppose we can ignore this, though.

I would nonetheless object to the idea on the basis that it is needlessly illiberal. Why not just allow anyone to use the machine if they want to do so? If someone feels he is being discriminated against, then he is free to use the machine. If he is unwilling to use the machine, presumably the problem isn’t bad enough to merit trampling over the personal liberty and aesthetic values of others.

I'm white, and I don't think I would object too much if the coin came up as "all whites have to change to blacks." I could see some white people objecting on aesthetic grounds, that they've been conditioned to think white people are more attractive and don't want to be in bodies they would view as less attractive. I could imagine a whole bunch of white people objecting just to be contrary. But overall I can't think of any really good objections from the white point of view.

I presume that "conditioning" refers to social conditioning, i.e. being told or being subjected to media and insinuation that one ethnic group is more attractive than another.

Other (not mutually exclusive) possibilities:

  1. Said aesthetic judgements are not purely due to "conditioning", but are (at least in part) formed by the same mental processes as other aesthetic judgements in general.
  2. There are certain modules of the mind that render humans likely to form tribal attachments to their ethnic groups (non-EEA condition - just how the adaptations are expressed today). The in-group/out-group dichotomy influences sincere aesthetic judgements.
  3. Humans are on average naturally attracted to somewhat similar-looking mates. This influences aesthetic judgements of other ethnic groups in general. Unpacking "natural", genetic causes might interact with early environment e.g. the ethnicity of the humans to which someone is exposed as an infant. #2 and #3 might be closely related causes.

I don’t see why aesthetics shouldn’t be considered a good reason for objecting to the change, whatever the case may be. I suppose humans might be expected to have second-order preferences in favour of allocating relatively little priority to aesthetic preferences that are merely socially conditioned - perhaps - but I don’t see any reason to assume that this is true of the aesthetic preference in question.

Furthermore, homogenising humanity might be considered an aesthetic disutility independent of any comparison between the aesthetic qualities of different ethnic groups – much in the same way that it is a shame when attractive and unique animal species become extinct. Human ethnic groups differ less than different animal species but as humans, the value that many of us attach to diversity and distinctiveness within the human species is magnified.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-10-31T23:32:50.718Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the anecdote (parable?) requires or implies that no black person would want to become white, just that a black person could feel that way, and wish to keep other blacks from making such a conversion, without being obviously malicious.

At least, I find that view (for black or deaf people) much more understandable than the view that drives the humans in the good ending of Three Worlds Collide [1], which is widely agreed with here.

[1] that view being, basically, that the loss of a planet of humans is an acceptable price to pay to preserve human "growing pains" (romantic strife, embarrassment, etc).

comment by Vaniver · 2011-11-01T00:51:30.993Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

wish to keep other blacks from making such a conversion, without being obviously malicious.

The obviousness seems to hinge on your definition of 'malicious.'

comment by Alicorn · 2011-10-31T18:58:22.416Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

But overall I can't think of any really good objections from the white point of view.

My haaaaaaaaair!

(Lest I be accused of not taking this seriously, note that "My haaaaaaaaair!" is also the first objection I generate to the prospect of coming down with cancer, even though I know that is stupid.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-31T21:31:51.879Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be really interested in hearing from some minority - whether in terms of race or sexual orientation or whatever - who wouldn't want her community to accept a coin toss on the principles described above.

Hm.

So, I think that if actually offered such a coin toss for sexuality, with some kind of proviso that kept me from suddenly no longer being sexually attracted to my husband or vice versa (and that avoided similar problems for everyone else), I would ultimately conclude that the benefits of accepting such a coin toss outweighed the costs, and thus would want my community to accept it. (Note that this is a different question from whether I would impose the results of such a coin toss on my community.)

I'd be really torn, though, and the truth is I don't know how well I can predict my actual behavior in the event.

The same thing is true for being Hispanic, but I'm more confident that I'd endorse the cointoss there. Unsurprisingly, I identify less as Hispanic than I do as queer.

The same cointoss for Judaism is somewhere in between, and my anxiety considering it is high enough that my confidence that I can actually predict it is again pretty low.

As for where the anxiety/resistance comes from... I don't think it's anything surprising. Cultural identities feel very important and they are associated with whatever attributes they are associated with. Mess with those attributes, you mess with the associated identities, which feels threatening.

And, of course, in real-world situations (which don't have the magic properties you've posited for your thought experiment) such feelings of threat have historically often been justified. That is, historically, eliminating the distinctions between majority M1 and minority M2 frequently turns out to mean eliminating M2 altogether, or trying to. And, hey, if M1 is going to act against M2's collective interests, then M2 had damned well better be prepared to act collectively in their mutual interests, or they're going down... so it's not too surprising that our instincts trend that way. (of course, one can come up with evo-psych justifications for anything, so that's not worth much.)

comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-31T19:40:59.282Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The best objection I can come up with is really more of a generalized diversity argument: that heterogenous genetic populations tend to be more robust against environmental stresses, and that the same is probably true for their memetic analogues. But there's nothing coding that objection to any particular phenotype, minority or otherwise, and I can certainly imagine scenarios where it might be outweighed by circumstances.

I don't think I'd personally care too much in the scenario presented -- it's conceptually squicky, but I wouldn't see it as a personal attack -- but then again I'm a white dude, so any of Yvain's caveats could just as well apply to me. My first impulse when I imagine painlessly homogenizing various points of contention where I do fall into the minority is to appeal to something similar to the above, though.

comment by atorm · 2011-10-29T18:19:35.877Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW · GW

In at least one sense, hearing people ARE better than deaf people. I'm not saying they have more moral worth, I'm saying that, all other things being equal, the hearing person can do things that the deaf person can't. The latest iPhone (to pick a piece of technology with a recognizable progression in quality) is better than the iPhone 3G. It has a faster processor and various other doohickies that improve its function. It's not morally superior, but it IS objectively better, as, as far as I can tell, the ability to hear is objectively better to deafness.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-29T23:10:40.839Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Deaf people can also do things that hearing people can't. They are completely immune to noise and auditory distractions. I can imagine a future in which people pay for getting an implant that grants them voluntary deafness powers. I'd buy it.

Apart from that bit of pedantry, I agree with your comment.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-31T23:02:53.916Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I can imagine a future in which people pay for getting an implant that grants them voluntary deafness powers. I'd buy it.

Behold The Future!

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-03T19:50:40.172Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Earplugs: imperfect, uncomfortable, annoying to "turn on and off" and gross. And, I suppose, that in many social contexts using them could end up causing you to be labeled a passive-agressive weirdo. Headphones are better in some ways and worse in others. I think they provide weaker isolation and require you to actually listen to music if you want to really stop hearing outside stuff but I never had high-end headphones so I don't actually know.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-11-01T14:20:09.890Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd pay for earlids, especially if they came with a shut-in-case-of-loud-noise reflex.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-29T23:45:45.823Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Deaf people can also do things that hearing people can't. They are completely immune to noise and auditory distractions.

These sound a lot like the rationalizations used to justify why death is a good thing.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-10-30T15:27:32.317Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

No, it doesn't. It would only sound that way if the claim were that deafness is better on net (as is claimed of mortality), rather than pointing out one particular benefit of being deaf.

(Minor nitpick: people labeled "deaf" can still pick up very low-frequency vibrations, and if they're next to a really wild party, can still get annoyed by the bass. Similarly, people with "no light perception" still get fried by lasers.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-02T05:38:56.966Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Deafness is not death. If you die, you can't do anything at all, because there isn't a you left to speak of.

If you cannot hear, but you can communicate linguistically, and you did not recently lose hearing in a traumatic fashion, your hedonic set-point incorporates that fact. Acquiring a sense of hearing if you don't have one already is non-trivial and often imperfect; it also does not make it easier to speak in a way others will react to normally (many hearing people listen to the voices of deaf people speaking aloud and subconsciously dehumanize or belittle them since their speech often sounds awkward to someone used to hearing/fluent speakers of their native language). So even then their problems don't go away, and social acceptance is not total.

Not the same thing as rationalizing death.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-31T06:32:03.073Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

These sound a lot like the rationalizations used to justify why death is a good thing.

Actually -- the senses we use to shape our map of the world in a very strong sense alter the ways in which we understand the world. It has long been demonstrated that in patients who lack a specific sense, the neural mass normally dedicated to that sense begins to "bleed over" into the remaining senses, giving them more 'processing power' than would otherwise normally be the case. What this, in turn, means is that the perceptual world of a deaf or blind person is very strongly different from the one that we who have all five senses would otherwise understand or know.

What does all of this imply? The deaf truly perceive the world in ways that we who have all of our senses cannot today comprehend, in any true sense -- though we can extrapolate from considering cases such as color-blindness; I can imagine that to a deaf person I am effectively color-blind to a whole range of visual depth that I can no more know than could a profoundly color-blind person 'know' the reality of red and green being profoundly separate colors.

In restoring hearing to such a person, if we are to truly argue that such a thing would be solely augmentative in nature, we should endeavor to ensure that such depth of perceptual capability was not lost in the process.

As a diagnosed autist, I very often wonder what it would be like to be what many of those of my condition refer to as "neurotypical". But I definitely would never want to live my life as 'one of you'; I am quite proud of the insights and demonstrably variant modes of thinking my condition has granted me.

As a transhumanist, I very often find that the notion of neurodiversity; of having the freedom to define for one's own self what one's cognitive processes should be shaped after, at any given time, is a more realizable near-term goal (morally, if not technically). It bypasses many of these problems.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-30T01:46:18.924Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Every net good policy has some bad consequences. Every net bad policy has some good consequences.

comment by atorm · 2011-10-31T13:58:26.084Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think that is absolutely true. Consider the following policy followed by Omega: "Whenever life is discovered on a planet, all the life is extinguished and the planet is destroyed." Where are the good consequences of such a policy? This reminds me of "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger," an aphorism meant to make people feel better but not actually based on fact. Ask a polio victim if they're feeling stronger.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-31T16:23:22.750Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Less pain on that planet. Depending on the extermination method, possibly awesome fireworks.

The badly dehydrated do love getting water, but no one (?) seeks to be badly dehydrated. Those who were dehydrated and say it was wonderful but do not lock themselves away from water frequently are probably expressing sour grapes towards those who never went without water for days. The pleasure of getting the water is still real.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-11-02T05:32:35.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As an autistic person with serious auditory sensitivities, I can see the draw of being able to shut down my sense of hearing voluntarily. If I lost it (I may as I age; there's some family history) I think I'd just prefer to bank against that possibility by learning ASL now, which -- bonus! -- gives me some linguistic access to interacting with people I'd find difficult to talk to before, rather than get a cochlear implant or a hearing aid.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-29T23:15:38.508Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

They also tend to have better vision than hearing people, I believe.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-31T06:34:07.401Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Neurally, this is true; they possess the same amount of gray matter dedicated to processing sensory input but it has fewer signals to work with. We who possess all five senses can do something similar by using sensory-deprivation tools to note the "sharpening" of a particular sense we pay attention to.

In terms of apparatus, however, simply being deaf doesn't suddenly eliminate near-sightedness.

comment by ZankerH · 2011-10-29T22:58:12.175Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But is the ability to distinguish a discrete and limited number of tones that you have to learn to interpret properly to have any benefit from at all (even more so if the person in question was born deaf) worth an invasive medical procedure?

All things being equal, you are of course correct. If cochlear implants cost €1, could be worn like earbuds and replicated normal human hearing perfectly, this wouldn't be an issue at all. The issue is precisely the fact that all things are not equal.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-30T00:21:26.591Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

But is the ability to distinguish a discrete and limited number of tones that you have to learn to interpret properly to have any benefit from at all (even more so if the person in question was born deaf) worth an invasive medical procedure?

If the true objection was the invasiveness of the procedure, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

If cochlear implants cost €1, could be worn like earbuds and replicated normal human hearing perfectly, this wouldn't be an issue at all.

And I bet you it would be an issue. There are people out there who force female genital mutilation to their children -- that's an invasive procedure right there that is meant to deprive their children of an ability. And yet millions of people do it to their children.

It's not about the invasiveness of the procedure -- it's about cultures that choose to do evil in pursuit of their self-perpetuation.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-31T06:38:22.512Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If cochlear implants cost €1, could be worn like earbuds and replicated normal human hearing perfectly, this wouldn't be an issue at all.

You'd be surprised. Mostly from what I've gathered, they discuss the cost of the acquisition of hearing -- at all -- as compared to their current condition. There are significant differences in how the brain processes sensory input from a profoundly deaf/blind/etc person as compared to a hearing/seeing/etc. Having even 50% hearing restored would 'cost' a deaf person the depth and richness of their other perceptions. It really can be boiled down to a question of net expected utility.

But then there are also those folks that stubbornly identify around the culture dedicated to the absence of a given sense and as such can be seen as something of a 'permanent victim' mentality -- at least, that is my perception.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-29T23:14:19.235Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

In at least one sense, hearing people ARE better than deaf people. I'm not saying they have more moral worth, I'm saying that, all other things being equal, the hearing person can do things that the deaf person can't.

You're conflating being better at something with being better. "In at least one sense, white people ARE better than black people. All other things being equal, they can pursue more opportunities with less discrimination." How is that a useful observation?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-30T03:07:05.452Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Deaf people's disadvantage is an innate property of being deaf. Black people's disadvantage comes about because a lot of people, at least implicitly, believe (possibly correctly) that being black correlates with other traits that are undesirable in and of themselves.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-30T06:18:15.582Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Deaf people's disadvantage is an innate property of being deaf.

I disagree that there can be innate disadvantages, except for to the extent the utility function addresses those properties directly. See:

St Addahad's Symptoms. A small group of symptoms including fleshy growths, nerve clusters and neural pathways which result in a near permanent state of distraction as patterns of air pressure change are translated into thoughts and inserted into the mind with disruptively high priority. "Sounds" from all around, indoors and out, near and far, from nearby footsteps to distant thunderstorms or even one's own bodily functions all combine to make a state of prolonged focus nearly impossible to achieve, though this ability can be regained somewhat with practise.

As with many curses, St Addahad's sufferers describe benefits as well, such as being able to know things are happening without needing to see them, and to know which direction they are happening in, and some even report being able to balance without handholds. These trivial sounding benefits appear so addictive that most refuse to be treated. Efforts are underway to cause the onset of these symptoms by technological means, but there is debate on the moral issue of such experiments on humans as the necessary interventions cannot wait until the age of consent.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-30T03:11:02.532Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you explain why you believe that makes a moral difference?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-30T00:11:10.847Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

No, what you are doing is confusing a claim of moral superiority with a claim of superior ability -- a confusion arising because English has the inconvenient fact that it uses the word "good" to mean moral worth (he's a good person), and great ability (a good musician).

How is that a useful observation?

Well, here we tend to be a group of people that prefer the world to be improved, because we currently believe it's highly subpoptimal. Does that make it clear to you why we don't want people to be forced to stay blind or deaf or mute?

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-30T00:23:04.922Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, what you are doing is confusing a claim of moral superiority with a claim of superior ability

I don't think I'm doing that. In the instrumental sense that "ceteris paribus, hearing people can do more than deaf people," it's also true that "ceteris paribus, white people can do more than black people (due to discrimination curtailing opportunities)." Both are purely instrumental claims, and both are fairly trivial in themselves. In the deaf case and in the racial case, all else is not equal. Otherwise, we'd want to specially encourage black parents to adopt white babies instead of conceiving. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with your conclusions, just pointing out that the reasons given are incomplete.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-30T01:50:36.117Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Arguments about how things would be ceteris paribus don't translate well into policy suggestions.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-30T15:46:00.560Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They can still be relevant when we're not talking about any particular person, though. They're especially relevant when we're discussing future people, who we can't come to a good understanding of but must decide whether or not to affect anyway.

Which isn't to say that we can't take other factors into account too.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-30T00:30:59.327Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Otherwise, we'd want to specially encourage black parents to adopt white babies instead of conceiving.

Do you know of a way where something like this could be practically done and be successful? If so, then we might discuss the pros and cons of such a scheme.

If you don't know any such way, then this is a mere distraction and diversion at best -- or worse yet, an attempt to use the taboo topics of racial politics in an attempt to mind-kill.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-30T00:39:49.871Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Do you know of a way where something like this could be practically done and be successful?

This is a moral question. It might be the case that we don't have any practical ways of convincing people that death is bad, but that doesn't mean that death isn't bad.

If you don't know any such way, then this is a mere distraction and diversion at best -- or worse yet, an attempt to use the taboo topics of racial politics in an attempt to mind-kill.

Silas Barta introduced an anology between the deaf case and the hearing case. Atorm responded with a potential disanalogy, and I responded to him by saying that the disanalogy he provided didn't straightforwardly work. Do you seriously think I'm trying to "mind-kill" anything? I feel you're being unfair.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-30T01:00:50.316Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This is a moral question.

I don't see a question mark anywhere in your comment. What is this moral question? "Why don't we encourage black people of adopting white children instead of conceiving?" "How is this different from encouraging black people of adopting white children instead of conceiving?"

Make exact what this moral question is for me -- but let me warn you that your analogy is currently much more likely to convince me that we should discourage black people of conceiving, than that deaf people have the moral right to force their children to remain deaf even if there's a cheap safe method to restore said hearing.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-30T02:27:52.202Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What is this moral question?

So it's bad for deaf people to impair their children's hearing abilities, because all else being equal, hearing people can do more. By the same token, is it also bad for us to create black rather than white children, since "all else being equal," discrimination allows white people to do more?

More generally, how do we figure out what to hold fixed - that is, what precisely the "else" is to hold "equal" - when comparing the worthiness of two lives?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-30T02:47:16.450Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

By the same token, is it also bad for us to create black rather than white children,

"Us"? I've not created any black children, and most black people don't have the capacity to create white children. And child-creation hasn't been collectivized yet, it's still an individual process.

If someone deliberately created a child with the explicit desire of having it be socially disadvantaged enough that they'd need to partake in the culture its parents belong to, instead of having more options available, that'd be evil.

More generally, how do we figure out what to hold fixed - that is, what precisely the "else" is to hold "equal" - when comparing the worthiness of two lives?

What does worthiness have to do with anything? This is about allowing children to hear, not about who is "worth" what. About quality of life, not about justice.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-30T02:56:28.768Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Us"? I've not created any black children, and most black people don't have the capacity to create white children. And child-creation hasn't been collectivized yet, it's still an individual process.

I think you're missing the point. Please substitute the word "you" with whoever would be faced with such a situation (a black couple deciding whether or not to conceive of a black baby, a deaf couple deciding whether or not to conceive of a deaf baby, etc.).

What does worthiness have to do with anything? This is about allowing children to hear, not about who is "worth" what. About quality of life, not about justice.

I am using "worthiness" to refer to an informal measure of how much we should actualize certain lives relative to others, which includes considerations like quality of life. Maybe "choiceworthiness" would've been a better word.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-30T03:09:04.901Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

a black couple deciding whether or not to conceive of a black baby

You mean a black couple that were given the choice to conceive a black baby or a white baby, and choosing "black" instead of "white"?

I guess that depends on their motivations for this choice, and whether it's for the perceived benefit of the child or the perceived disadvantage of the child. If they perceived blackness as an inherent disability on the level of deafness, that'd be wrong, yes.

edit to explain: I slightly edited the post shortly after I posted it, which explains the small discrepancy before the current text of the comment, and the quoted text in the response to it.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-30T03:18:10.966Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I guess that depends on their motivations for this choice, and whether it's for the perceived benefit of the child or the perceived benefit of their own selves, or their culture. If they perceived blackness as an inherent disability on the level of deafness, that'd be wrong, yes.

They believe that a black child will face certain social difficulties that a white child wouldn't, but that he'd nevertheless lead a happy, flourishing life and love his culture and skin color, and moreover that the added diversity would be a net good for humanity.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-30T03:27:26.332Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

but that he'd nevertheless lead a happy, flourishing life and love his culture and skin color and moreover that the added diversity would be a net good for humanity.

Are we still discussing this as an analogy with deaf people? Because I don't think that most deaf people love their deafness, and though I like diversity of skin colors (and genders, and hair colors, and eye colors) I don't believe that the existence of deafness or of blindness or of leprosy or of AIDS is a net good for humanity.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-30T05:32:07.685Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Because I don't think that most deaf people love their deafness

I honestly can't cite any statistics, but there are many, many, many congenitally deaf people who view their condition as a fundamental part of who they are and don't want it to change. Maybe that attitude is pathological or something, but there it is.

I don't believe that the existence of deafness or of blindness or of leprosy or of AIDS is a net good for humanity.

I think the existence of deaf people who want to be deaf is arguably a net good for humanity. Deaf culture is as real as black culture. Few people with AIDS or leprosy are glad they have it, however.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-30T12:41:12.595Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I honestly can't cite any statistics, but there are many, many, many congenitally deaf people who view their condition as a fundamental part of who they are and don't want it to change.

Doesn't it tell you something if it's only people who are congenitally deaf and thus have never experienced hearing who are the only ones that don't want to experience it?

I think the existence of deaf people who want to be deaf is arguably a net good for humanity.

How?

Deaf culture is as real as black culture.

You keep using the word "culture" as if it's supposed to drive away all my objections. Fine it's real -- how does that show it to be good that it exists?

There are lots of cultures that I wish had never existed -- and when they exist I wish they were eradicated. Female-genital-mutilation cultures, because I wish there was no female genital mutilation. Aztec human-sacrificing culture, because I want there not to be any human sacrificing. Deaf culture, because I don't want there to be any deafness.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-30T03:33:44.833Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I understand this perspective, but the analogy seems rather inapt. I can imagine societal changes that ameliorate the relative stigmatism of dark skin. I have difficulty imagining changes that would allow deaf people to enjoy music, for example. I can imagine technological changes that would allow deaf people the benefit of communicating with a much broader portion of the population without restoring their hearing, but am uncertain how resistant the deaf would be to that for cultural reasons

I think a better analogy for the deaf parents here is to people in the developed world who argue for leaving uncontacted tribes isolated. They think the tribespeople would be losing something by being exposed to the modern world around them, just as the deaf parents think something of their culture would be lost by easy access to the hearing world. I'm not particularly sympathetic in either case.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-28T23:54:28.280Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed, but the argument of the "deaf culture", as far as I can see, isn't "being deaf is good", it's refusing to trade away what they see as "native" culture for social acceptance.

I'm talking about the ability to hear, I'm not talking about "social acceptance". The way you put it, it almost sounds as if the only difference between a deaf person and a hearing person, is that the latter is accepted by society and the former isn't.

The deaf culture isn't just a pathetic rationalisation like deathism.

You don't think that we'll have to abandon at least as large a chuck of our current mortal deathist cultures when we defeat death? A mortal might just as well complain about abandoning mortal culture, as some deaf people might complain about abandoning deaf culture.

And fine: that's their own personal choice -- I'm all in favor of voluntary euthanasia. But if they start talking about doing the same to their kids, throw them to jail, and put the kids in a family where they'll be safe from such harm.

Would you view a homosexual refusing a (real, working) treatment for his "condition" as equally irrational?

No, being sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex or the same sex, or both sexes, or neither sex, isn't an "ability". It's an attribute that is desireable at some times, undesireable at others. I wouldn't frown on those who chose to configure themselves in any of the four ways (gay, straight, bi, asexual), any more than I would frown on the people who hacked themselves into polyamory, or who would have hacked themselves out of it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-29T03:24:13.186Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that the difference between hearing and deafness is more than just a social construct (although there is a social construct associated with it, and the importance of that is non-negligible); there is also a difference in ability. Hearing people can hear; deaf people can't.

If that is sufficient grounds to conclude that bearing and raising a deaf child is grounds for taking that child away from me (either now, or in our hypothetical transhumanist future), it seems to follow that failing to reconfigure my child to benefit from any technologically achievable augmentation should equally be grounds for doing so.

The endpoint of that reasoning seems to be that in a transhumanist culture, everyone is raised with all available augmentations -- not just as potential options, but as realized capabilities. Any attempt to raise a child without one of those augmentations is grounds for having that child taken away.

I reject that endpoint... but it's not entirely clear to me where along the garden path I want to draw the line, or how I would justify drawing it there.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-29T11:48:22.759Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If that is sufficient grounds to conclude that bearing and raising a deaf child is grounds for taking that child away from me (either now, or in our hypothetical transhumanist future), it seems to follow that failing to reconfigure my child to benefit from any technologically achievable augmentation should equally be grounds for doing so.

Does it follow? The way I see it it doesn't follow that a parent taking away a kid's IPhone must necessarily be treated as if they had taken away their hearing or their eyesight. The former would be normally considered legitimate parenting, the latter would normally be considered criminal child abuse (though similar is still done in some parts of the world in the form of female genital mutilation).

Our moral instincts currently differentiate between health/ability and technological luxury. How this will be changed in a transhumanist future is a question I don't yet feel qualified to answer.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-29T14:43:50.263Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that there's a difference between a basic need/right, and a luxury, and that fundamental to that difference is that it's more OK to deprive someone (including oneself, maybe) of a luxury than a right/need. That said, you seem to be presuming or inferring something about the line between them, I'm not sure exactly what, that makes it a more reliable indicator than it seems to me.

More generally: yes, of course we can set whatever mores we want. Especially in the kind of transhumanist self-augmenting environment the OP brought up, where our moral instincts are themselves editable. But even in my own birth culture, there are serious disagreements about to what category education falls into, for example... so I lack your confidence in the reliability of that line.

I suppose I'm just expressing what amounts to an aesthetic preference for having standards in that environment that can be justified on some grounds other than "well, that's how we did it back in the 21st."

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-29T15:34:45.580Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That said, you seem to be presuming or inferring something about the line between them, I'm not sure exactly what, that makes it a more reliable indicator than it seems to me.

I don't see how the law can have a consistent set of ethics if on the one hand it allows parents to say no to their children's vision being restored, and on the other hand forbids them from surgically removing their kids' eyes.

Either the kids having vision is a good thing that they can't be legitimately denied of (no matter what their parents say), or it's a thing that they can be legitimately denied of, and falls under parental jurisdiction.

If the parents have the right to deny vision or hearing from their children, what's the difference whether said kids would need a surgery to restore it, or to remove it?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-29T19:31:53.250Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see how the law can have a consistent set of ethics if on the one hand it allows parents to say no to their children's vision being restored, and on the other hand forbids them from surgically removing their kids' eyes.

You seem to be confusing ethics and law. The law needs to be a Schelling point, and "you don't have to help but aren't allowed to hurt", is probably as good a Schelling point as your going to find.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2011-10-29T23:08:57.413Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be confusing ethics and law.

Not quite, though I should have spoken generally about rulesets, instead of laws. Whether it's a personal ruleset, or a legal ruleset, it needs be logically consistent.

"you don't have to help but aren't allowed to hurt" is probably as good a Schelling point as you're going to find.

That has nothing to do with the topic at hand, since the parents in questions wouldn't be forced to help, they just wouldn't be allowed to hurt by preventing others from helping.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-30T04:39:36.359Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A parent may not injure a child or, through inaction, allow a child to come to harm...?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-30T15:49:47.377Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Just foists the whole problem off on whoever has to define "harm." That's what a lot of modern law ultimately comes down to, of course, but I don't think that's a desirable endpoint.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-30T17:26:24.247Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this is why we can't build a FAI just by implementing the Three Laws.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-29T17:17:18.392Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(nods) I share your intuitions here.

That said, I can imagine cultures that don't. For example, I can imagine a culture that forbids me from forcibly blinding people (including my children) but doesn't obligate me to grant them sight, and arrives at those mores consistently by framing the whole question as one of property rights... much like my culture forbids me from forcibly taking your money but doesn't obligate me to provide you with money if you lack it (1).

Of course, such a hypothetical culture would also need to have a notion of children's property rights as distinct from their parents', which my culture mostly doesn't, but that's easy enough for me to imagine.

Even if I couldn't imagine such a culture, though, I generally think it's a mistake to treat my failures of imagination as data about anything but the limits of my imagination.

===

(1) - Individually, I mean. Collectively/indirectly my culture does obligate me, in the form of taxes and welfare programs... but then again, collectively/indirectly my culture also allows me to forcibly take your money, in the form of government- and court-imposed fines.)

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2011-10-30T17:39:00.179Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

At present, surgery in itself is harmful and risky.

In the future, that distinction may evaporate, sure.

comment by smk · 2011-10-31T22:11:34.102Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

we'll have to abandon at least as large a chuck of our current mortal deathist cultures when we defeat death

Speaking of that, can anyone recommend some fiction that deals with the cultural changes that come with defeating death (or mostly defeating it), and doesn't come out on the side of deathism?

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-31T22:43:34.067Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of religious material, particularly Christian, might qualify.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-31T23:00:51.711Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How do you mean? I've read a fair bit of Christian doctrine and apologia, and I've never seen any substantial volume of material dealing with the actual mechanics of an immortal existence. Usually it's described in terms of an existence of perfect concordance with God's wishes, which implies perfect bliss by some theological sleight of hand but doesn't imply much detail as to what that actually involves, experientially speaking. Certainly nothing concrete on the cultural changes that we'd reasonably expect after defeating the last enemy that shall be destroyed.

The Muslim afterlife's much more detailed, incidentally, but it's just your standard feasts-and-gardens paradise, more or less equivalent to Valhalla but with different cultural foci of enjoyment. I don't find it much more eternity-term compelling than what little we can infer of the Christian version, although I'd probably be more inclined to visit it as a holiday destination.

comment by atucker · 2011-11-02T06:37:54.697Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that the main reason that deaf culture is a thing (in a way that blind culture doesn't really exist) is that they need to speak a particular language with each other. American Sign Language is pretty much not related to English, and so it's difficult to communicate with hearing people without using a foreign language.

Blind people can communicate with everyone else perfectly fine, they just can't see,

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-11-02T06:23:20.832Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

While I was still participating in the forum for Koala Wallop, which used to host Dresden Codak, there was a prominent and controversial member, John Nyzell, who was a fairly prominent activist in Sweden. He said that he occasionally received death threats from members of the Deaf community due to his public stand against the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis by deaf parents to select for congenitally deaf children.

For Deaf people, at least (and deaf is not the same thing as Deaf,) it's not that they consider deafness favorable, so much as being able to hear would destroy their culture. They have social norms and values that are dependent on an inability to hear, and they're very defensive of them.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-28T20:34:06.581Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure the question means anything, nor am I sure exactly what it would mean if it did.

An easier thought experiment for me to imagine, which seems to relate to this question, is how I would expect cultural attitudes towards unattractive people to evolve when technology allows individuals to choose their appearances. A still easier one is how I would expect such attitudes to be projected into an online environment where people choose the appearances of their avatars. My intuition is that the "ugly"/"attractive" scale starts to mean very different things in such cultures, and ultimately ceases to mean much of anything at all, and questions like "should I be allowed to choose an ugly avatar?" and "should my avatar be forcibly upgraded to be less ugly?" start to feel like silly questions to which the correct answer is "who cares?". Sure, I may understand intellectually that newcomers to this culture come from a world where attractiveness matters a great deal, and may have a hard time acclimatizing themselves to the idea that my world is different; I may even sympathize with their need to ask such silly questions, but that won't make me respect the questions any more.

Relatedly, one thing I might expect in a transhumanist culture is that the whole idea of a linear scale of ability might wither in the face of a myriad incommensurable but mutually exclusive abilities and a general presumption of as much competence as an individual desires. That is, "disabled" would come to mean something very different, and ultimately would cease to mean much of anything.

Put another way: if I'm a nonverbal autistic in such a culture who has the choice of installing the ability to express affection verbally, but chooses not to, and you're a something-else who has the choice of installing the ability to understand how I communicate affection but chooses not to, and both of us have the choice of installing the ability to communicate telepathically but have chosen not to, it's not clear to me that either of us is in a position even remotely like the autistic and his mother you describe.

Another example: in such a culture, if I plug real-time information about others' preferences directly into my own motivational framework to become maximally social, while you artificially compensate for the natural cognitive biases that would ordinarily cause your motives to be influenced by others' expressed preferences in order to become maximally independent (or vice versa, if you prefer), it's not at all clear that it makes sense to talk about either of us as disabled, even though each of us lacks an ability the other possesses, and even though someone in my culture who approximated either of those states might be considered disabled in various ways.

So, I dunno. I agree that a rational clear dialogue about disability is desirable, but more because of their actual effect on the present than their hypothetical effect on a potential transhumanist future.

comment by Lapsed_Lurker · 2011-10-28T20:18:53.373Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I remember hearing about people complaining that cochlear implants were damaging deaf culture, or something. A quick google turned this up as the first hit, which seems to be evidence that what I heard was somewhat real.

I'm pretty sure I have heard about people saying that technology for having unimpaired children is in some way 'against' the disabled.

An awful lot of people do not think straight.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-28T22:26:46.093Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW · GW

When I first encountered this some years ago, it made my head spin.

After some thinking about it, I ultimately concluded that it's not a completely alien idea.

I acknowledge that life is more difficult in certain readily quantifiable ways for queer people than for straight people, but it doesn't follow that I would use a reliable therapy for making me straight if such a thing existed... and in fact I wouldn't. Nor would I encourage the development of such a therapy, particularly, and indeed the notion of anyone designing such a therapy makes me more than faintly queasy. And if it existed, I'd be reluctant to expose my children to it. And I would be sympathetic to claims that developers and promoters of such a technology are in some way acting 'against' queer folk.

And that's not because I want the difficulties themselves; I don't. I want those differential difficulties to disappear; I just don't like the idea of having them disappear by making everyone straight. I want them to disappear by having the culture treat queers and straights in ways that don't create differential difficulties.

Perhaps, were I a more rational being, I would make different choices along these lines... perhaps this is a sign of non-straight thinking on my part (no pun intended). I can see a reasonable argument along those lines.

My head still spins when I try to extend that understanding to Deaf folks who say similar things about deafness. But objectively I'm not sure it's that different.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-29T01:06:51.650Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's reasonable to argue that deafness (just for example) is more fundamentally limiting than having a "nonstandard" sexuality. It's not just a matter of social norms. Choosing to be deaf is one thing, but intentionally having deaf children is problematic. (I can understand the attitude that current medical techniques are a calculated risk, of course.)

There's also the issue that not everyone is comfortable with the way their mind or body happens to be put together (on every side of things). Telling those people that they can't change themselves because somebody thinks that they're "betraying their heritage" or whatever else strikes me as rather the opposite of what transhumanism is all about.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-29T03:11:02.163Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So, I definitely sympathize with the sentiment in your first paragraph, but I am not sure how much weight to actually grant that sympathy. There are plenty of situations where I am far more disturbed by the notion of people choosing X for their children than I am by people choosing X for themselves, but... well... so, yes, OK, I'm disturbed. So what?

So, if I try to strip my sense of the situation of all those implicit appeals to my emotional intuitions and see what's left, what I'm left with is a tentative sense that the gay/straight difference is more of a social construct than the deaf/hearing thing. That does seems relevant, but I have a very hard time articulating precisely what's relevant about it and what follows from that.

Unrelatedly: I agree with your second paragraph... but then again, telling people that they have to change themselves because somebody thinks that they "aren't living up to their potential" or whatever also seems to be not quite right.

Mostly, I feel like transhumanism is implicitly built on top of an idea that we can/will/should eliminate scarcity and externally imposed limits, and that so many of the dichotomies that feel emotionally important to me are based on scarcity and limits that real transhumanism would not select one side or the other of those dichotomies so much as cause the dichotomy itself to disappear into absurdity: they will just come to feel like silly questions.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-29T03:42:17.805Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I definitely agree that a mature transhuman society would probably regard these sort of issues as non-problems. That's certainly where I want to end up, if I end up anywhere at all. But such a society might have its own equivalent problems: What do you think of genetically propagated religion?

My real concern, though, is with the transition period: How do you legislate, say, a medical procedure that can only be applied to young children? How to you handle people who adamantly want to pass on their "unique" genetics to their children? Do you get the same answer for autism as for blindness? What about for being really short? What about for a genetic disorder that might kill you?
For that matter, how do you handle people who want to indoctrinate their children into Scientology? Christianity? Islam? Do you think that no possible biological state can have so much influence?

That does seems relevant, but I have a very hard time articulating precisely what's relevant about it and what follows from that.

At some point it becomes a form of abuse, I think. Being gay doesn't really involve losing something internally, relative to being straight. Even the possible losses due to social norms strike me as involving relatively little utility, unless your identity happens to strongly involve being gay. But I don't have a fully specified theory, or any good way of avoiding all the usual failure modes for social intervention. At the same time, I'm not willing to say "oh well" and let people destroy themselves (or others) if I can help it.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-29T05:30:19.318Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My answers in the short-to-mid term mostly center around rethinking how we relate to children and families. A lot of these specific questions become much simpler if I sidestep our cultural incoherence around that.

Personally I'm fond of the general principle that accountability goes hand-in-hand with power... if my debts ultimately get paid to some degree from your account, then you've some say in when and how I can risk indebtedness. If how I raise my children affects your quality of life, then you're entitled to some say in how I raise my children. (And vice versa.) If I don't want to grant you that power, I ought to "buy out your share" in some fashion or another.

That's easier to state as a principle than to actually work out a coherent implementation of, of course, but it suggests that for each question you raise I should be trying to approximate the difference in expected value to person X of how I'm raising my children compared to some cultural norm, aggregated across all Xes affected and weighted by the severity of the effect on X.

Even more simply, though, it suggests that if someone takes a devil's offer in a way that doesn't affect me at all (say, they kill themselves while arranging to have themselves replaced by something else that provides me with the same EV that they do), I am not entitled to prevent them from doing so in any way. If they take a devil's offer that affects nobody except themselves, then nobody is so entitled.

I'm not comfortable with that, but it seems easier to defend than anything else I can think of.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-29T05:45:19.468Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If how I raise my children affects your quality of life, then you're entitled to some say in how I raise my children. (And vice versa.)

So if I want to subject my children to horrible agonizing torture, you have no problem with that as long as it doesn't affect you?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-29T07:55:08.909Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

A few things.

  • Your inference only follows if you insert a "and only if" into the sentence you quote. Just like "if you do work for me then you're entitled to compensation" doesn't imply that you aren't also entitled to compensation under other circumstances, "if how I raise my kids affects you then you're entitled to a say in how I do it" doesn't imply that you aren't also entitled to a say under other circumstances as well. Your willingness to jump so quickly to an unjustified inference suggests to me that you're projecting a context onto my post that I didn't put there. That sort of thing can cause a lot of misunderstandings; I encourage you to slow down a little accordingly.

  • I have lots of problems with you subjecting your kids to horrible agonizing torture.

  • Many of those problems are emotional and visceral. I don't think you have any obligation to take my emotional reactions to your child-raising practices into account. (Well, except in the very tenuous sense that those reactions do incur some very marginal costs on my part, but in practice that's lost in the noise.)

  • If I disregard my emotional problems, and I disregard all cases where there is an effect on me, and I ask what's left over, I conclude that the value of the world (using my valuation, 'cuz who else's would I use?) with more tortured people in it is lower than with fewer. There is something to be said here about how that gives me a basis for action, but that's rather beside my original point.

  • It also suggests that I have a basis for action to prevent you from torturing yourself when your doing so doesn't affect me at all, which is relevant to (and runs counter to) my original point. That's basically why I say I'm not comfortable with my original point. But I'm also not comfortable with saying you're entitled to forcibly keep me alive just because you think I'm better off alive than dead (or entitled to kill me if you think I'm better off dead than alive), so I don't think that situation is particularly simple or easy to defend.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-29T06:46:42.298Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

affects

The trick is that the principle is sound, but those implications don't follow, because if I mind if someone does something, it thereby affects me.

One might ask: if I don't know something, how can it affect me, for "we care only about our own states of mind"?

As it turns out, I care about the world directly, and that's the meaning of "affect" here - affecting my utility, not affecting my perception of my utility.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-29T19:24:46.692Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As it turns out, I care about the world directly, and that's the meaning of "affect" here - affecting my utility, not affecting my perception of my utility.

In that case TheOtherDave's statement is completely vacuous.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-10-29T07:00:51.866Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The trick is that the principle is sound, but those implications don't follow, because if I mind if someone does something, it thereby affects me.

That goes too far, though. There are plenty of people in the world who would think that all of us should be executed for the doctrines we accept as a common background here. How much say do you think they are entitled to have in LessWrong?

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-29T07:29:20.608Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If it's not what they want, that they're not getting it is negative, but it doesn't mean anything here is a net negative.

Regarding "How much say...they are entitled to have", even if they are affected it isn't necessarily good to grant them anything. A loose analogy: in a psychology experiment where one makes even bets on card color from a deck of blue and red cards, if one determines ~75% are red, one should bet red every time. Likewise, those who would execute LWers for common doctrines here should have zero sway despite having an interest greater than zero.

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2014-12-11T06:56:32.384Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I acknowledge that life is more difficult in certain readily quantifiable ways for queer people than for straight people, but it doesn't follow that I would use a reliable therapy for making me straight if such a thing existed... and in fact I wouldn't. Nor would I encourage the development of such a therapy, particularly, and indeed the notion of anyone designing such a therapy makes me more than faintly queasy. And if it existed, I'd be reluctant to expose my children to it. And I would be sympathetic to claims that developers and promoters of such a technology are in some way acting 'against' queer folk.

I think there is a fundamental difference between being queer and being deaf. Being queer means you have different values from other people. You are attracted to different types of people than is typical. Being deaf means you have different abilities from other people. You can't hear things a typical person can. If you are struck deaf your fundamental values haven't changed. If your sexual orientation has changed, they have.

And that's not because I want the difficulties themselves; I don't. I want those differential difficulties to disappear; I just don't like the idea of having them disappear by making everyone straight. I want them to disappear by having the culture treat queers and straights in ways that don't create differential difficulties.

If you weren't queer you would have more difficulties fulfilling your values, not less. If your value is to find a mate of Type A, and you modify yourself to like Type B instead, you will be even less likely to find a mate of Type A than you were before, since your new self will be pursuing Type B people. In other words, if you weren't queer you wouldn't be better off because you wouldn't be you, you'd be somebody else.

Now, you might argue that the fact that the new you can fulfill his values more easily can compensate for this. I would disagree. I am not a negative utilitarian, but I do believe there are many circumstances where creating and fulfilling new values/people cannot fully compensate for the destruction of old values/people, even if the new values are easier to fulfill than the old ones. And I believe that changing one's sexual orientation is usually one of those circumstances.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-12-11T15:27:30.518Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So, I agree that there's a difference between being queer and being deaf along the lines of what you describe.

It's not clear to me how this difference justifies the distinction in my thinking I was describing.

If your value is to find a mate of Type A, and you modify yourself to like Type B instead, you will be even less likely to find a mate of Type A than you were before, since your new self will be pursuing Type B people.

How do we tell whether what I value is to find a mate of Type A, or to find a mate I find attractive?

In other words, if you weren't queer [...] you wouldn't be you, you'd be somebody else.

I'm pretty sure I disagree with this completely.

If I woke up tomorrow morning and I was no longer sexually attracted to men, that would be startling, and it would be decidedly inconvenient in terms of my existing marriage, but I wouldn't be someone else, any more than if I stopped being sexually attracted to anyone, or stopped liking the taste of beef, or lost my arm.

Is this simply a semantic disagreement -- that is, do we just have different understandings of what the phrase "who I am" refers to? Or is there something we'd expect to observe differently in the world were you correct and I mistaken about this?

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2014-12-11T18:18:37.959Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not clear to me how this difference justifies the distinction in my thinking I was describing.

I believe the difference is that in the case of deaf people, you are improving their lives by giving them more abilities to achieve the values they have (in this case, an extra sense). By contrast, with queerness you are erasing a value a person has and replacing it with a different value that is easier to achieve. I believe that helping a person achieve their existing values is a laudable goal, but that changing a person's values is usually morally problematic, even if their new values are easier to achieve than their old ones.

Now, keep in mind that I am speaking in principle, not in practice. In the real-life case of deafness this issue is more complicated than the way I just described it. There are other issues, for instance, the value of an extra sense is to some extent tied to the support mechanisms society has developed for it. I think that the deaf community may be voicing a valid concern that society has good set of support mechanism for people who are fully deaf and fully hearing, but not as good mechanisms for people with the kind of mid-range hearing that cochlear implants provide.

But those are concerns of practice, not principle. In principle having extra senses should make it easier to achieve your values. I mean, wouldn't you want super-hearing, microscopic vision, etc if you could get them without any side-effects.

How do we tell whether what I value is to find a mate of Type A, or to find a mate I find attractive?

I think the fact that you are unwilling to have your criteria for attractiveness be modified is good evidence that it is the former and not the latter.

Is this simply a semantic disagreement -- that is, do we just have different understandings of what the phrase "who I am" refers to? Or is there something we'd expect to observe differently in the world were you correct and I mistaken about this?

I think there are two issues, one is semantic, the other is that I did completely understand what you meant by being changed into someone who isn't queer.

First, the semantic issue. I have been trying to approach the issue of Personal Identity by righting a wrong question. Instead of asking "Am I the same person as him?" I instead ask "How desirable would it be for me to change into that person?" I find that this approache generates the same intuitive results as traditional approaches to personal identity (for instance both approaches identify being killed and being wireheaded as very undesirable outcomes) but doesn't get bogged down by the issues of what exactly it means to be "the same."

Saying that you literally wouldn't be the same person was hyperbolic of me. I was trying to draw attention to the fact that our values are an important part of who we are, and that changing our values can change our identity. It would be more accurate to say something like "the new you is only 90% the same person as the previous you."

The other issue is that I don't think I quite understood what you meant when you talked about being changed. To give a framework to what I mean, I call your attention to Yvain's famous post on Wanting, Liking, and Approving. When you talked about being changed to not be queer, I assumed you meant that your Wanting, Liking, and Approving stats had all been changed. You had been changed so that you wanted to not be queer, liked it, and deeply approved of this fact.

However, this does not match your description of what you imagine the subjective experience of being modified to not be attracted to men would be like. You say:

If I woke up tomorrow morning and I was no longer sexually attracted to men, that would be startling, and it would be decidedly inconvenient in terms of my existing marriage, but I wouldn't be someone else, any more than if I stopped being sexually attracted to anyone, or stopped liking the taste of beef, or lost my arm.

That sounds to me like your Wanting and Liking stats have been modified, but your Approving stat has stayed the same.

I consider the "Approving" portion of your personality to be a much bigger part of your personal identity than "Wanting" and "Liking." So if the change left the "Approving" portion of your personality intact, I would completely agree with you that you are still the same person that you were before, regardless of what personal-identity framework I am using.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-12-11T18:51:21.337Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I have been trying to approach the issue of Personal Identity by righting a wrong question. Instead of asking "Am I the same person as him?" I instead ask "How desirable would it be for me to change into that person?"

Interesting.

So, speaking personally, I approve of people seeking same-sex mates, I approve of us seeking opposite-sex mates, I approve of us seeking no mates at all, I approve of various other possibilities and none of this seems especially relevant to what I'm talking about when I describe myself as queer. People just as queer as I am could have completely different approval patterns.

So, yes, as you say, I'm not envisioning having what I approve of modified when I talk about not being queer, merely what I "want" and "like". Straight-Dave approves of all the same things that queer-Dave does, he just desires/prefers different mates.

Rereading your original comment keeping in mind that you're talking mostly about approval rather than desire or preference... so, would you say that Deaf people necessarily disapprove of deafness? It sounds that way from the way you talk about it, but I want to confirm that.

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2014-12-11T19:16:20.985Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Rereading your original comment keeping in mind that you're talking mostly about approval rather than desire or preference... so, would you say that Deaf people necessarily disapprove of deafness?

I'd say that a good portion of them do approve of it. There seem to be a lot of disability rights activists who seem to think that being disabled and making more disabled people is okay.

I should also mention, however, that I do think it is possible to mistakenly approve or disapprove of something. For instance I used to disapprove of pornography and voluntary prostitution. However, I eventually realized that the arguments for why those things were bad were wrong/incoherent, and realized that I should never have disapproved of those things. Disapproval of pornography and voluntary prostitution was never my CEV.

I think a large portion of disability-rights activists are also confused in their thinking, and would have different views if their thinking was clearer. For instance, many disability rights activists seem to think that any suggestion that disability is bad implies that the lives of disabled people aren't worth living and that they should all be involuntarily euthanized, which is obviously false. It's possible to believe your life is worth living while simultaneously believing it could be better.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2014-12-11T23:22:16.854Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So, with that in mind, I go back to your original comment that there is a fundamental difference between being queer and being deaf.

If I understand correctly, the difference you were seeing was that being queer was a "value," which is related to it being something that queer people differentially approve of. Whereas deafness was an ability, which was importantly different.

But since then, you've concluded that being queer isn't actually something (at least some people, like me) differentially approve of.

But you also believe that many Deaf people approve of deafness... you just think they're mistaken to do so.

Have I got that right? I have to admit, I have trouble making all of that stuff cohere; it mostly seems to cache out as "Ghatananthoah believes being queer is different from being deaf, because Ghatananthoah disapproves of being deaf but doesn't disapprove of being queer."

Which I assume is an unfair characterization.

But perhaps you can understand why it seems that way to me, and thereby help me understand what I'm misunderstanding in your position?

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2015-09-16T14:43:08.001Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But since then, you've concluded that being queer isn't actually something (at least some people, like me) differentially approve of.

I'm not sure what I wrote that gave you this idea. I do think that queer people approve of being queer. What I'm talking about when I say "approval" is preferences that are ego-syntonic, that are line with the kind of person they want to be. Most queer people consider their preference to be ego-syntonic. Being queer is the kind of person they want to be and they would not change it if they could. Those who do not are usually motivated by mistaken religious ideas, rather than clearly reasoned disapproval.

What I am trying to say is that being queer is a statement about what people want to do. When we say that someone is queer that means that they have a desire to engage in romantic and sexual relationships that are different from the heterosexual norm. This desire is ego-syntonic, it is approved of.

Being deaf, by contrast, is a statement about what people are able do. They lack the ability to hear things.

If you removed someone's deafness, none of their desires would change. They would still want everything they wanted before they were deaf. If they were really attached to their current lifestyle they could buy earplugs. By contrast, if you changed a queer person into a straight person, they would stop wanting to have non-heteronormative relationships. They'd be able to continue their current lifestyle (or at least, as able as anyone is in a heteronormative society), but they wouldn't want to.

There are some people who claim that they prefer being deaf to being able to hear, and that being deaf is ego-syntonic. I believe that they are confused. I think what they really value isn't being deaf, it's the community that they have built with other deaf people. They are confusing their preference to display loyalty to their community with with a preference to not be able to hear. In addition I think they are confused for some other reasons:

  • Sour grapes. When people are unable to do something, they often convince themselves they didn't want to do it anyway in order to assuage their ego.
  • Confusing "life could be better" with "life is not worth living." As I said before, a lot of disability rights advocates seem to think that if you admit that their disability makes their life even slightly worse, that means their life is not worth living at all and they should be euthanized. This is not true.
  • If people got hit in the head with a baseball bat every day.....
  • Happy death spirals around their community. They love their community and want to say more and more good things about it. So they say that their community is so awesome that living in it is worth being significantly less good at sensing one's surroundings.

To sum it up, I believe that being queer is an ego-syntonic desire. I believe that being deaf is not ego-syntonic, but people say it is out of a desire to have self-esteem and be proud of and loyal to the deaf community.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2015-09-16T17:48:27.904Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure what I wrote that gave you this idea.

(nods) Months later, neither am I. Perhaps I'd remember if I reread the exchange, but I'm not doing so right now.

Regardless, I appreciate the correction.

And much like Vaniver below (above? earlier!), I am unsure how to translate these sorts of claims into anything testable.

Also I'm wary of the tendency to reason as follows: "I don't value being deaf. Therefore deafness is not valuable. Therefore when people claim to value being deaf, they are confused and mistaken. Here, let me list various reasons why they might be confused and mistaken."

I mean, don't get me wrong: I share this intuition. I just don't trust it. I can't think of anything a deaf person could possibly say to me that would convince me otherwise, even if I were wrong.

Similarly, if someone were to say " I believe that being queer is not ego-syntonic. I know people say it is, but I believe that's because they're confused and mistaken, for various reasons: x, y, z" I can't think of anything I could possibly say to them to convince them otherwise. (Nor is this a hypothetical case: many people do in fact say this.)

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2015-09-16T19:35:18.439Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And much like Vaniver below (above? earlier!), I am unsure how to translate these sorts of claims into anything testable

One thing I consider very suspicious is that deaf people often don't just deny the terminal value of hearing. They also deny its instrumental value. The instrumental values of hearing are obvious. This indicates to me that they are denying it for self-esteem reasons and group loyalty reasons, the same way I have occasionally heard multiculturalists claim behaviors of obvious instrumental value (like being on time) are merely the subjective values of Western culture.

The typical defense of this denial (and other disability-rights type claims) is hearing only has instrumental value because society is structured in a way that makes use of it. But this is obviously false, hearing would be useful on a desert island, and there are some disabilities that society is not technologically capable of solving (there's no way to translate instrumental music into sign language). Plus, structuring society around disabilities is essentially having society pay to enable a person instead of having biology do it for free. Obviously it's better than not accommodating them, but it;s even better to have biology do the accommodation for free if that is possible.

I think another factor is simply my knowledge of the human brain structure, and the psychological unity of humankind. It seems like it would be a much smaller departure from standard brain design to switch the specific target of the "romance" module of the brain, than it would be to completely erase all desire to enjoy the pleasures that a sense of hearing can provide us, and to assign terminal value to being inconvenienced by things like not being able to talk to people who aren't in your visual range.

I think another thing that supports my intuitions is Bostrom's Reversal test. Imagine instead of discussing giving a preexisting sense to people who lack it, we were considering giving people a new sense that no human being has ever had before. Should we do that? If there were no side effects, I would say yes! As I told Vaniver in my reply to them, I really want to be able sense magnetic fields. Seeing infrared and ultraviolet would also be fun. The fact that my intuitions are the same in the Reversal Test provides evidence that they are not based on the Status Quo Bias.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-16T22:29:26.009Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They also deny its instrumental value.

I think some parallels still go through, if you consider the difference between "sex is for recreation!" (the queer-friendly view) and "sex is for procreation!" (the queer-unfriendly view). I don't see anyone claiming that heterosexual sex never leads to babies, but I do see a lot of people trivializing the creation of babies.

comment by gjm · 2015-09-16T15:49:52.934Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It looks to me as if you may be mixing up being queer and preferring to be queer. It's true that people tend to find themselves approving the way they actually are, but (as you actually acknowledge) there are queer people who would much prefer not to be queer, perhaps for very bad reasons, and I think there are also not-queer people who would prefer to be queer (I think I've seen, a few years ago on LW, a discussion of the possibility of hacking oneself to be bisexual).

I would say (in terms of the want/like/approve trichotomy already referenced) that what defines a person as queer is that they want and like sexual/romantic relationships that don't fit the traditional heteronormative model. Approving or disapproving of such relationships is a separate matter. If tomorrow someone convinces Dave that fundamentalist Christianity is correct then he may start disapproving of queerness and wishing he weren't queer, but he still will be.

It may well be, as you suggest, that approval is actually a more important part of your personality than wants and likes, but that doesn't mean that everything needs to be understood in terms of approval rather than wants and likes.

But does not wanting to change indicate that Dave's queerness is really more about approving than about wanting and liking? I don't think so. If someone pointed a weird science-fiction-looking device at me and announced that it would rewire my brain to make me stop wanting-and-liking chocolate and start wanting-and-liking aubergines, I would want them not to do it -- but I don't (I'm pretty sure) approve of liking chocolate and disliking aubergine any more than I do of the reverse. It's just that I don't want someone rewiring my brain. It seems very plausible to me that Dave's queerness might be like my liking for chocolate in this respect.

I also wonder whether we're at risk of being confused by the variety of meanings of "approve". Perhaps that trichotomy needs to be a tetrachotomy or something. In particular, I don't think "affectively endorsing the idea of oneself having quality Q" is the same thing as, e.g., "intellectually endorsing the idea of people in general having quality Q", and when we talk about something like "approving of being queer" with the first meaning -- which I think is the only relevant one here -- there's a danger of sounding as if we intend the second.

I agree that preferring being deaf seems likely to be the result of confusion and affective death spirals and whatnot. But ... It seems quite possible to me that the following things might be true of some deaf person (let's call her Debbie): (1) Debbie gets great benefits from being part of the deaf community. (2) If Debbie ceased to be deaf -- especially if she did so by her own choice -- and other deaf people discovered this, it would be awkward and would impair her ability to fit into that community. (3) That impairment would harm her more than ceasing to be deaf would help her. (4) Ceasing to be deaf and hiding the fact from others in the community would be psychologically disturbing for her and involve the risk of even greater ructions if found out. (4) That risk would also be, for Debbie, worse than the benefit of ceasing to be deaf. Therefore (5) Debbie would be better off remaining deaf, even if some simple and effective treatment were available to her. None of that means that being deaf is better in the abstract; it means that one can get into a situation where it's better to stay deaf. (If it seems absurd on general principles that having greater abilities could ever be harmful on net, then go and read e.g. The Strategy of Conflict by Thomas Schelling, which contains plenty of counterexamples.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-16T16:22:35.072Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(3) That impairment would harm her more than ceasing to be deaf would help her.

That's the core claim that leads to everything else and the first question that pops into my head is: How do you (or anyone) know? Notably, I am not sure that Debbie is going to be able to make a good judgement in this case, plus there is a self-fulfilling prophecy element in here, too.

Oh, and for a fun exercise in mindkilling try substituting "on welfare" for "is deaf" X-/

comment by gjm · 2015-09-17T00:46:24.374Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

How do you (or anyone) know?

I don't. That's why all I said was that it seems possible that it (along with those other things) might be true of some people. Community is really important to many people. Finding a new community and getting well integrated into it can be difficult. That seems sufficient to make it likely that for some people staying part of an important community they're in could be overwhelmingly important.

try substituting "on welfare"

I'm not sure what point you're making, but for what it's worth the people I know who are on welfare don't appear to me to constitute a being-on-welfare community. Perhaps I know the wrong ones?

[EDITED to add:] Oh, wait, maybe you were making a less specific analogy and remarking that some people on welfare can be made worse off if, e.g., they get a job. True enough, but nothing about that seems terribly relevant to the present discussion.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-09-17T02:44:24.525Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

remarking that some people on welfare can be made worse off if, e.g., they get a job

Yes -- or that they believe they'll be made worse off. Not terribly relevant, true, that's why it was a side remark.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-16T16:24:28.168Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Being deaf, by contrast, is a statement about what people are able do. They lack the ability to hear things.

It seems to me that most people lack the ability to be aroused by people--typically, their ability is seriously limited, to half of the population at most.

I believe that they are confused. I think what they really value isn't being deaf, it's the community that they have built with other deaf people. They are confusing their preference to display loyalty to their community with with a preference to not be able to hear.

I suspect that most, if not all, queers have a preference to be queer (if they do) for this reason. But it's not clear to me how to even test this one way or the other--even if one asked the hypothetical question "if there were a pill to make you straight, would you take it?" that puts one into far-mode, not near-mode, and it's very possible that people will pick answers to please the community of potential romantic partners. (If you say "yes, I'd like to be straight," that'll increase your attractiveness to opposite-sex partners, but not actually increase their attractiveness to you!)

(I have thought, at times, 'how convenient to be gay, since I probably would get along much better with men than women!', but I can't claim that I would choose to be gay for that reason, starting from emptiness. Why not bisexuality? Why not asexuality?)

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2015-09-16T18:44:31.540Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that most people lack the ability to be aroused by people--typically, their ability is seriously limited, to half of the population at most.

When I was talking about being queer I wasn't just talking about the experience of being aroused, I was talking about the desire to have that experience, and that experience being egosyntonic. It's fairly easy to rephrase any preference a person has to sound like an ability or lack thereof. For instance, you could say that I lack the ability to enjoy skinning people alive. But that's because I don't want to skin people alive, or to enjoy it! That's a terminal value, the buck stops there.

Some other factors to consider:

  • Even if I was to define "being aroused" as an ability, that doesn't perfectly map onto the discuss. In the case of removing deafness we are adding an ability. In the case of changing queerness to heterosexuality, we are either removing an ability to find some people arousing and replacing it with a different one (in the case of homosexuals) or removing an ability and replacing it with nothing (in the case of bisexuals).
  • Arousal has very little instrumental value compared to hearing. Even if someone with the power of hearing took no pleasure from music or people's voices they would still benefit from being able to hear people talk outside of their visual range, and to hear cars coming when they cross the street. I can see deaf people denying the terminal benefits of hearing, but denying the instrumental ones seems obviously crazy.

I can't claim that I would choose to be gay for that reason, starting from emptiness.

Starting from emptiness you would be completely indifferent to everything, including changes to your future preferences. To paraphrase Eliezer, you would be a rock, not a perfectly impartial being.

At some point you just have to say "These are my terminal values, the buck stops here."

Now, while I would not say it is impossible to create a creature that assigns a terminal value to deafness, I find it unlikely that humans are such creatures. The way human psychology works makes me assign a much higher probability to their being self-deceived for group status purposes.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-09-16T19:14:07.585Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When I was talking about being queer I wasn't just talking about the experience of being aroused, I was talking about the desire to have that experience, and that experience being egosyntonic.

Then I see how your claim that most queers are egosyntonic flows through, but it seems like reversing the order of how things go. I visualize the typical experience as something like "id wants X -> ego understands id wants X -> superego approves of id wanting X," with each arrow representing a step that not everyone takes.

At some point you just have to say "These are my terminal values, the buck stops here."

I agree, but I observe that there's a difficulty in using egosyntonicity (which I would describe as both wanting X and wanting to want X) without a clear theory of meta-values (i.e. "I want to want X because wanting X is consistent with my other wants" is what it looks like to use consistency as a meta-value).

Starting from emptiness you would be completely indifferent to everything, including changes to your future preferences. To paraphrase Eliezer, you would be a rock, not a perfectly impartial being.

I was unclear--I meant emptiness with regards to sexual orientation, not values in general. One could imagine, say, someone who wants to become a priest choosing asexuality, and someone who wants to get ahead in fashion design choosing to be gay, someone who wants to have kids naturally choosing to be heterosexual, and so on. If you kept all of my values the same and deleted my sexual orientation, what would regrow? Compare to the "if you deleted all proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem from my mind, would I be able to reinvent it?" thought experiment.

(Since we are talking about values instead of beliefs, and it's not obvious that values would 'regrow' similar to beliefs, it may be clearer to consider counterfactual mes of every possible sexual orientation, and comparing the justifications they can come up with for why it's egosyntonic to have the orientation that they have. It seems some of them will have an easier time of it than others, but that all of them will have an easy enough time that it's not clear I should count my justification as worth much.)

comment by Ghatanathoah · 2015-09-16T19:23:09.203Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

it may be clearer to consider counterfactual mes of every possible sexual orientation, and comparing the justifications they can come up with for why it's egosyntonic to have the orientation that they have.

I think that maybe all of them would be perfectly justifying in saying that their sexual orientation is a terminal value and the buck stops there.

On the other hand, I'm nowhere near 100% sure I wouldn't take a pill to make me bisexual.

If you kept all of my values the same and deleted my sexual orientation, what would regrow?

I think a way to help tease out your intuition would be Bostrom's reversal test. If transhumanist scientists invented a new kind of sexual orientation, a new kind of sexual experiences, and so on, would you want to be modified to be able to enjoy this new, never before seen type of sex. I don't know how you'd reply, for me it would probably be yes or no, depending on specific details of the new kind of sex.

I think the reason I would sometimes say yes is that I have a strong preexisting preference for novelty and novel experiences. So my desire for new sexual preferences would grow out of that.

Incidentally, Bostrom's reversal test also supports my intuitions about deafness. If transhumanists invented new senses that no human has ever had before, would I want to have them if there were no side effects? Of course I would! I especially want to be able to sense magnetic fields like sharks can.

comment by Rubix · 2011-10-28T21:33:11.331Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's... more complicated than that? The issue of audio quality is present; right now, there's no implant that can cause a Deaf person to hear things without significant distortion. It makes sense to me that some Deaf people would want a shot at communicating face-to-face with a broader spectrum of people, and others would feel that the lack of sound quality wasn't worth an invasive, expensive surgery which is only sporadically covered by insurance. The factors of choice involved are what make doing implant surgeries on babies a bit problematic.

It's relevant that non-disabled people rate the probable quality of life of the disabled as significantly lower than do the disabled people themselves.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2011-10-28T23:07:59.830Z · score: 19 (21 votes) · LW · GW

You can find audio samples online that attempt to represent what speech and music sound like through a cochlear implant. It ain't pretty.

But it's much more than that. Here's my understanding, based on some ASL classes and reading on the subject. If there is a Deaf person reading this, I hope you'll correct any errors or exaggerations I've made:

Deaf culture is a linguistic minority group as well as a disability minority group. People involved in Deaf culture strongly value their language — sign language. There's a solid reason for this: Many years ago, most schools for the deaf had policies of suppressing the use of sign language and instead forced deaf kids to learn as much oral language, lip-reading, and so forth, as they could. This was called "oralism". And it turns out that oralism inhibits and slows language acquisition to the point that kids don't become competent in any language during the critical early years when the human brain is capable of primary language acquisition.

As a result, deaf people taught through exclusive oralism have lower reading comprehension and even IQ than deaf people taught through sign language. In contrast, those who learn sign language early are subsequently able to learn to read and write at the same level as hearing people. Sign language (e.g. ASL) turns out to work as well as spoken language in developing the brain's general language ability.

Basically, oralism causes learning disability: it literally makes people stupider. And so, failing to teach sign language to a deaf kid is basically considered a form of child abuse.

So, as a consequence, there is a very negative reaction to the idea of taking deaf kids away from the Deaf (i.e. sign-language) linguistic community; doing so is historically associated with child abuse; with ruining that child's development; depriving him or her of a primary language, linguistic ability, and a language community in which he or she can fully participate. So, to some, cochlear implants are seen as threatening to take a person out of first-class status in a small community (Deaf culture) and instead giving them second-class status in a larger community (hearing culture).

comment by Emile · 2011-10-29T11:29:31.345Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Basically, oralism causes learning disability: it literally makes people stupider. And so, failing to teach sign language to a deaf kid is basically considered a form of child abuse.

I wonder how much that remains true with cochlear implants; I would expect that cochlear implants + oralism (lip reading, etc.) > sign language > oralism alone.

... though I'm not even sure of the last bit; from Wikipedia:

Research along those lines continued, however, and studies have helped validate the assertion that children benefit developmentally, educationally and socially from modern oralist teaching methodologies like the Auditory-Oral method.Geers and Moog (1989) found that of a test sample of 100 profoundly hearing-impaired 16- and 17-year olds enrolled in oral and mainstream programs, 88% were proficient and highly intelligible with their spoken language, and could read at much higher grade levels than the national average for deaf children.

Do you have any sources for Oralism being worse than sign language, and not merely less popular among the deaf? (the latter is evidence, but weaker than serious research)

comment by J_Taylor · 2011-10-28T21:18:02.238Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Is the opposition to cochlear implants really an example of bad thinking, or merely certain deaf individuals having different goals?

Note: I do not necessarily support these goals.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-29T03:41:48.262Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Is opposition to life extension/immortality really an example of bad thinking, or merely certain individuals having different goals?

comment by atorm · 2011-10-29T18:29:13.166Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Point for a really eloquent rebuttal, but I wonder if this might actually hold some merit. I think that a theist who is looking forward to paradise is guilty of less (or at least, different) bad thinking then an atheist who embraces mortality, because the theist does have a goal that is achieved through death. Are there any secular goals that are only achievable through the continuing mortality of humans? What about human evolution?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-10-29T18:56:53.961Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Evolution in its conventional meaning of changes in a population caused by differential breeding success of individuals coupled with descent-with-modification arguably requires mortality, but I'm not sure I know anyone who values evolution in that sense as compared to some other mechanism that makes equally valuable changes in the population (e.g. via technology).

Some people do seem to have goals that involve killing other people; presumably eliminating mortality prevents them from achieving those goals.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-31T06:57:45.786Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any secular goals that are only achievable through the continuing mortality of humans?

Well -- "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." ; more colloquially "Science progresses one funeral at a time."

If we postulate that for any given level of scientific progress there are a number of existential risks it is not yet capable of addressing, it may well turn out that ubiquitous clinical immortality poses an existential risk to the human race.

Definitely a problem that needs addressing.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-11-02T15:36:47.485Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well -- "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." ; more colloquially "Science progresses one funeral at a time."

I've heard this proposition before, but I find it extremely dubious. Looking at my own professors, for instance, considering the length of time they'd been teaching, some of them would have to have seriously altered their course content over time to reflect advancements in scientific knowledge.

Veteran scientists may not adopt new findings as easily as they should, but in general the notion that old scientists must die off for new information to become widely adopted seems to be false.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-11-02T15:53:57.112Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This idea about science progressing by funerals is generally ascribed to Kuhn, but his own views were more nuanced. His primary relevant work "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" is definitely worth reading. Note that for most of history this claim is empirically false. For example, during the "Copernican Revolution" there are many recorded instances of astronomers who used Ptolemy's model and then adopted the model of Tycho, or Copernicus or Kepler (or one of the many weird hybrid systems that was going around). Similarly, in the case of the chemical revolution, a major part of why Joseph Priestly's insistence on the phlogiston theory to his dying day was so noteworthy was that all his peers had long ago given up on it, and so his work in his later years was to a large extent ignored. When Einstein came up with special relativity, many physicists who were quite old and had only worked in a Newtonian framework embraced it.

The notion that science progresses by the death of the elderly scientists seems to be empirically false. Moreover, in so far as there are limited problems of this sort they are likely due to the difficulties that arise when brains become old and have more trouble learning or adopting to new ideas. If life-extension keeps brains young and healthy (likely), or is accompanied by technology that increases general brain power (probably not as likely but not very unlikely either) the genuine parts of this problem will be alleviated.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-03T02:34:20.537Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If life-extension keeps brains young and healthy (likely), or is accompanied by technology that increases general brain power (probably not as likely but not very unlikely either) the genuine parts of this problem will be alleviated.

Will be easily alleviated, we imagine, anyhow. It is certainly true that ideology and moral progress seems to be a generational phenomenon, and while scientific progress might be able to overcome that problem now, I don't know that general/popular ethics and politics are, yet.

So we need solutions. Rigorous instrumental rationality, to me, is a potential solution to that problem, though.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-11-03T03:30:07.288Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is certainly true that ideology and moral progress seems to be a generational phenomenon

This empirically seems to be difficult to confirm. Let's pick two major historical issues where attitudes are considered to have changed rapidly in the United States, attitudes towards interracial marriage and attitudes towards gay marriage.

I'm using Gallup as a rough estimate for historical interracial attitudes. In 1958, there was an approval rating of 4% for interracial marriage and a disapproval rate of around 94%. In 1969 that had changed to 20% and 73%. Now, the population was around 174 million in 1958 and 200 million in 1968. Using the estimated death rates from here, which gives about 2 million people dying yearly and assuming that about 2/3rds of all people who died were against interracial marriage and that about 2/3rds who were entering the population (for a year 10 year period, really not actual births but people who had been too young to earlier have an opinion or if have an opinion be asked about it in polls, but roughly the same as just new people), then one gets around 18 million people leaving the disapprove group and around 8 million entering, for a total delta of -10 million, which gives an expected value percentage of 164/200= .82%.

Of course, the most questionable number here is the 2/3rds. That seems like a safe estimate, but if one assumes a larger fraction then one gets other results. If one assumes that instead of 2/3rd it is nearly complete conversion (only disapproves dying and only approves entering the population) then one somewhat undershoots this. But at least from this sort of estimate it seems difficult to say that deaths were the only cause of the changing attitude. It does seem however that deaths were a major part.

Similarly, approval rates for gay marriage and civil unions have changed faster than a simple population die off model would work.(source) Here it is worth seeing how extreme the numbers are. There's been about a 10% decline between 2001 and 2011 in the fraction opposing gay marriage and about a 10% increase in the percentage who are ok with it. There are around 2.5 million deaths a year in the US in the last decade, meaning that about 25 million people died. (source) There were in 2001 a population of around 281 million, so with a 57% disapproval of gay marriage that translates to around 160 million people. So if all 25 million died off from that population then one gets around 135 million disapproving which out of 308 million population is around 44% disapproval, which is about the current rate. Now, it might look from that like die off is the only cause here, but this model assumes that almost everyone dying is in the disapprove category and that almost no new people are entering into that category. The second assumption is at least empirically wrong. From those numbers one sees that young people are much more likely to approve, but it isn't enough to justify this sort of assumption.

So the data seems to suggest that death is a major cause of moral changes but at least for both these issues, a major part is people actually changing their minds. Now, it is possible that they are changing their minds in part because the older authority figures are dying off, but that's a more subtle narrative.

Overall, crunching these numbers has made me update more in the direction of deaths mattering. When I started pulling up the numbers I expected it to be much more clear cut in the direction of deaths not being sufficient. This seems to suggest that they aren't sufficient, but it does seem like in reasonably simple. plausible models deaths do explain a large fraction and possibly majority of the change.

Getting more detailed understandings might require much more careful demographic study.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-11-03T06:00:14.279Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Similarly, approval rates for gay marriage and civil unions have changed faster than a simple population die off model would work

I have noticed in the past that the majority of people allow their opinions to be swayed by a minority of individuals. So I suspect that 'die off rates' might be magnified in this manner -- but I can't really corroborate that. It's worth investigating at some point, especially if I'm going to raise it as an issue.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-11-03T13:28:28.341Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the majority of people allow their opinions to be swayed by a minority of individuals.

I don't see how to make predictions from this or easily modify it to be able to do so. Note that every majority opinion consists of slightly different opinions that are each minority opinions.

My intuition is that people have different thresholds of agreement around them to hold each opinion they have. If 60% of people are at least comfortable holding an opinion so long as at least 50% hold it, and a subset of them, at least 50%, are comfortable holding it so long as at least 40% do, etc., the belief will be stable.

But if support for an opinion is shallow and fragile, such that some people are only comfortable holding it if it is nearly universal, and others only if it is overwhelmingly popular, and others only if it is a supermajority opinion, etc., support for it could unravel quickly even if people change little.

comment by Emile · 2011-10-29T11:53:14.415Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting analogies and questions, but

It is not useful to ignore the role of disabled people and disability culture in the transhumanist movement. I believe that the future has a lot to offer many people with disabilities, including those who do not want a 'cure.' Transhumanism can encompass interest in diverse AAC methods, and I believe it should.

This reeks of politics - of "you should believe this because of the political gains to a movement associated to a label that might describe you" instead of "you should believe this because evidence shows it's true".

The label "transhumanist" might apply to me, but that doesn't mean I have any loyalty to a "transhumanist movement" or that I should support things that are "useful" to that movement. (Was it "useful" to the Russian communist movement to start killing off dissenters, ally with Hitler and starve Ukrainians? It allowed the "movement" to last many decades!)

I'd rather we just talked about whether X was right or wrong, or how to think clearly about X, or what the evidence about X is. A solid argument shouldn't require any reference to the listener's identity.

comment by atorm · 2011-10-29T18:37:25.220Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Although I don't use the term "eugenecist" because of its negative social connotations, I consider myself a proponent of eugenics.

I want to vote your article up twice, once for being interesting and thought provoking, and once for being careful to use terms like "hardly anyone would identify emself" rather than "no-one would identify emself". One of the things I like about the Less Wrong community is its devotion to accuracy.

comment by Logos01 · 2011-10-31T07:08:12.767Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For what it's worth, as a diagnosed autist and a (adult-)lifelong self-identified transhumanist, I can tell you that I never encounter disagreement with the notion of neurodiversity being the ultimate goal of transhumanism, as opposed to forced arbitrary definitions of what is 'superior'. After all; ultimately there is very little difference in the expected utility of providing hearing to the deaf as opposed to finding means of translating sound into other senses they already possess, or even granting senses they do not yet possess in order to process auditory input.

That we are currently limited from doing so does not mean that these things are impossible. Consider as a thought experiment the introduction of ampullae of Lorenzini (electroreceptors as found in sharks) to an adult deaf person with an external device that translated auditory input into local electrical fields those ampullae could then pick up.

As I mentioned elsewhere in this thread; as a diagnosed autist I find that my patterns of thought are significantly different from those around me. And while I would certainly cheer the development of a cure for the low-functioning part of low-functioning autism, I would find myself apalled at the notion of a cure for autism itself. While I from time to time toy with the notion of wondering what it would be like to be like "the rest of you" -- I treasure my difference and the distinctive insights it has clearly offered me.

So as I espouse transhumanism to others, I do so by couching it in terms of providing a wider array of available outcomes, rather than thinking I have the right -- let alone the qualifications -- to decide what forms of 'being' are superior to others, all relevant expected utilities being equal. (Case in point: I would not do away with the ability to 'suffer' unhappiness. I find that, at least for myself, there is no more powerful motivator towards dissatisfaction with my current condition. If a means could be found to prevent profound depression, however, I believe making it an option would be a highly positive moral outcome. I just wouldn't force it on anyone.)

comment by blogospheroid · 2011-10-29T04:27:06.056Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think that in a world with as many options as the transhumanists think of, some sort of a compulsory rumspringa for every culture/ sub culture might get instituted.

A rumspringa is a brief time where amish young men get to see the world. Similarly, some kind of a rule might be instituted where all young humans are given some time to explore other cultures. But in the case of disabilities, such therapy and re-baselining might take measures that are very expensive from today's perspective.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-28T21:01:07.564Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think that the underlying issue is that different people often make radically different (and sometimes conflicting) qualities a central part of their personal identity. What's worse, some such identifications are regarded as improper while others are enshrined as utterly inviolate, all without any widely agreed upon decision-making metric.

In the case of individuals making their own choices things are usually manageable (one might expect as much or more variance in a transhuman society even without identity politics), but when it comes to propagating identity things get messy. As far as I'm aware, no one's managed to solve that problem to wide satisfaction even for things like religious affiliation that can be changed relatively easily later in life.

I tend to sympathize with Paul Graham here, but I can't even begin to see a society-level solution to the problem. Even the sort of changes discussed by TheOtherDave are regarded as extremely offensive in some cases.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-31T23:09:58.164Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not sure if anyone has ever linked to this story before on LW, but it seems appropriate, both in terms of the particular argument happening below in the comments and as a general metaphor for transhumanists' struggles with wider society.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-11-01T00:08:14.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. Although, I can't help but think that if he had emphasized with the people more and had less personal ambition he might have been able to actually convince them.

comment by beoShaffer · 2012-07-02T03:40:09.720Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting article, but I think the line

Was the literally non-consensual hysterectomy an eugenicist procedure?

Is pretty much begging people to argue about the definition of eugenicist.

comment by hesperidia · 2012-07-02T01:49:35.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

To further muddy the waters, transablism exists: some people believe that their ideal bodies are ones that have specific disabilities, and are willing to undergo significant trauma to gain those disabilities.

Is this in the spirit of transhumanism? (I want to think so. It's not much different from wanting to improve one's judgement by removing certain less useful circuits, I think?) Is this something that we as a society should allow? (...I have no idea.)

See also Transsexuals and Otherkin.