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srdiamond comments on The curse of identity - Less Wrong

125 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 17 November 2011 07:28PM

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Comment author: [deleted] 19 November 2011 04:05:13AM 9 points [-]

Let me ask a rude question: What makes you so sure you want to "do good"? If you do, this would be a most unusual appetite. People do what they want for other reasons, and then they explain it to themselves and others as "doing good." The motivation to "do good" isn't a primary motive. How could it be? From where might it come ? To root that sort of motive in nature, one pretty much has to invent some form of moral realism; you must cross the "is" versus "ought" chasm. Now's not the time to address the moralistic illusion, but without the prior need to morally justify one's sense of seeking right, I think moral realism would appear the fantasy it is.

One tries to do right but ends up seeking status. Then one asks: how do I weaken or redirect my status seeking? That may seem the obvious problem, but then why would someone who is smart, studies rationality, and tries to apply his conclusions end up failing to achieve his goals?

I don't buy the cynical line of that Dirty Old Obfuscator Robin Hanson: that status is our primary drive. This is a transparent rationalization for its being his primary goal. There are more important drives, call it effectance, competence, or Nietzsche's "will to power." Even "self-actualization" may do in a pinch. You obviously haven't succeeded in engaging any deep interests (in the sense of "intellectual interests" not the sense of "source of comparative advantage.") As it looks to me, that's your problem. .

You're right, of course, that signaling status often distracts from what's productive. And perhaps everyone needs to work on being distracted less. Theoretically, this could be accomplished in one of two ways. One might 1) observe the environmental triggers for status-oriented thinking and decrease one's exposure to them; or 2) find ways to gratify status striving through the objectively more valuable activity. Only 2 seems to have been discussed, but I think it's less important; even, unworkable. The problem is that indulging status drives, like most nonhomeostatic (appetitive) drives, increases their strength. If you recognize status seeking as a distraction, you're probably better off limiting your exposure to what precipitates it. (Serving as head of a political party is certainly well-calculated to be an effective trigger of status seeking.)

But, while these elements of truth impart to your analysis a sense of truthiness, they don't apply to your situation as you describe it. You weren't merely distracted; you directly subverted your own goals. No situationist tinkering will address a problem that really lies elsewhere. The problem is, it seems to me, that you are so concerned with what you "should do," ethically speaking, that either you don't recognize your intellectual interests or you refuse to follow them.

It is easy to become intellectually enchanted with an idea, whether the Singularity, the Pirate Party, or (for that matter) a religious ideal. But this doesn't mean you believe it with the certainty that your intellect claims. Your balking at the goals you set yourself suggests that beneath your conscious intellect, you are at best indifferent to them; I would go further and say you're probably downright hostile to your professed goals.

Comment author: nshepperd 19 November 2011 05:04:50AM 3 points [-]

The motivation to "do good" isn't a primary motive. How could it be? From where might it come ?

Built in, like all other drives?

Comment author: [deleted] 19 November 2011 06:02:08AM 2 points [-]

What's built in, plausibly, are specific drives (to comfort a crying baby, to take a clear example) whose gratification overlaps what we're inclined to call good. But these specific drives don't congeal into a drive to do ethical good: "good" isn't a natural property.

Now, you could say that "doing good" is just a "far" view of gratifying these specific drives. But I don't think that's the way it's used when someone sets out to "do good," that is, when they're making "near" choices.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 November 2011 09:49:38PM 0 points [-]

I would tend to take the position that to "do good" is simply to take actions that satisfy (in the sense of maximizing or satisficing output utility, or some approximation thereof) some fixed function of likely great complexity, which we refer to by the handle "morality."

Obviously, we only take those actions because of our luck (in a moral sense) in having evolved to be motivated by such a function. And we are strongly motivated by other things as well. But I don't think it's reasonable to state that because we are motivated, therefore we are not motivated by morality. Of course, you might call me a moral realist, though I don't believe that morality is written in the stars.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 19 November 2011 09:17:05AM 2 points [-]

Even "self-actualization" may do in a pinch. You obviously haven't succeeded in engaging any deep interests (in the sense of "intellectual interests" not the sense of "source of comparative advantage.") As it looks to me, that's your problem. .

You're right in a sense - I have been doing things that I felt were prestigious and world-saving, not necessarily the things that I had a deep, inherent interest in. But when I say that I'm now trying to concentrate on the things that I have a comparative advantage in, I mean things that I have some talent in and which I have a deep, inherent interest in. Being so interested in something that one is naturally drawn to do it, and doesn't need to force oneself to do it while gritting one's teeth, is a big part of having a comparative advantage in something.

Comment author: PrometheanFaun 13 October 2013 01:29:25AM *  1 point [-]

Dangit I wish I knew who this was. I hope their disassociation isn't a sign of evaporative cooling in action.

Comment author: satt 15 October 2013 09:35:43PM 2 points [-]

Fortunately the title of the page gives it away: it's srdiamond, who I believe still posts occasionally as common_law.

Comment author: PrometheanFaun 17 October 2013 04:27:24AM 1 point [-]

OK, that's got to be a bug..