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Uni comments on Are wireheads happy? - Less Wrong

109 Post author: Yvain 01 January 2010 04:41PM

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Comment author: Uni 28 June 2011 05:43:00AM *  0 points [-]

So which form of good should altruists, governments, FAIs, and other agencies in the helping people business respect?

Governments should give people what people say they want, rather than giving people what the governments think will make people happier, whenever they can't do both. But this is not because it's intrinsically better for people to get what they want than to get what makes them happier (it isn't), it's because people will resent what they percieve as paternalism in governments and because they won't pay taxes and obey laws in general if they resent their governments. Without taxes and law-abiding citizens, there will not be much happiness in the long run. So, simply for the sake of happiness maximizing, governments should (except, possibly, in some very, very extreme situations) just do what people want.

It's understandable that people want others to respect what they want, rather than wanting others to try to make them happier: even if we are not all experts ourselves on what will make us happier (not all people know about happiness research), we may need to make our own mistakes in order to really come to trust that what people say works works and that what people say doesn't work doesn't work. Also, some of government's alleged benevolent paternalism "for people's own good" (for example Orwellian surveillance in the name of the "war on terror") may even be part of a plan to enslave or otherwise exploit the people. We may know these things subconsciously, and that may explain why some of us are so reluctant to conclude that what we want has no intrinsic value and that pleasure is the only thing that has intrinsical value. The instrumental value of letting people have what they want (rather than paternalistically giving them what some government thinks they need) is so huge, that saying it has "mere" instrumental value feels like neglecting how huge a value it has. However, it doesn't really have intrinsic value, it just feels that way, because we are not accostumed to thinking that something that has only instrumental value can have such a huge instrumental value.

For example, freedom of speech is of huge importance, but not primarily because people want it, but primarily because it provides happiness and prevents too much suffering from happening. If it were the case that freedom of speech didn't provide any happiness and didn't prevent any suffering, but people still eagerly wanted it, there would be no point in letting anybody have freedom of speech. However, this would imply either that being denied freedom of speech in no way caused any form of suffering in people, or that, if it caused suffering, then getting freedom of speech wouldn't relieve any of that suffering. That is a hypothetical scenario so hard to imagine that I think the fact that it is so hard to imagine is the reason why people have difficulties accepting the truth that freedom of speech has merely instrumental value.