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[Placeholder] Against dystopia, rally before Kant

-6 [deleted] 17 January 2012 01:44PM

I was just sitting there studying for an exam today (passed fine btw), when my mind, eh, made up its mind on a subject. I've been pondering Robin Hanson's happy resignation to a distant efficiency-obsessed dystopia. Then it struck me that, one meta level up, it's no different from the milder, blander current incarnation of the (neoliberal or whatever) Church of Efficiency - which LWians who work as small cogs in big corporations must be all to familliar with. And that creed, although unattractive in itself, is part of a proud tradition: utopian or generally "far-mode" thinking which clearly spelt disaster even in its inception to any thinking contemporary who held the complexity, richness and beauty of the human condition as their absolute and overriding value.

Such was the case of Dostoevsky, who rose far above his attacks on everyday anti-humanist thought when he wrote his Legend of The Grand Inquisitor. This short story, probably the most significant one in world literature, makes a thorough, convincing and compelling case for the opposition, the likes of which LW holds to be the best standard of argument. Moreover, he doesn't just hack apart the rather average faux-Nietzchean, utopian socialist, right-wing Catholic and other brands of thought, then makes a stronger enemy out of them in his Inquisitor. He, identifying with Christ, refuses to use any postulate of a benevolent God to shut down the opposition. And does his corpus of work present a convincing response to the Inquisitor's icy wall of reason? Not in any single point, as far as I've found. Yet a great idea - nearly flawless in itself, once you get rid of any debatable or weakening connotations - was already found by Kant (and reused by Dostoevsky and others from different standpoints). Importantly, the meta-meta-meta-rule of "treating humanity as an end in itself and not just the means" does not, by itself, require any connection with deontologism. My view is that any utilitarian who likes the existence of beings like themselves and is concerned about them adopt the Second Formulation without caveats, as a recipe against false second-order values like "hedons" or "efficiency" that would undermine the quality not merely of human life, but of human condition in itself if left to reign unchecked and taken to their absurd/logical conclusion. Would Calvinism, the Reign of Terror, Stalin's policy or Pol Pot's genocide have happened if the generally intelligent, unselfish people who acted as the catalysts behind all those dystopian blunders took a good, honest look at the wisdom of Kant's humanist suggestion?


Sorry, I'm tired as hell. I realize that I have nowhere near enough evidence or detail, and maybe there's a flaw in this reasoning somewhere. Will return to it later, and try to think harder.

Damn, this style does read too much like WillNewsome. No offense, Will.


Edit: OK, might be not very readable, but why don't you start arguing this so I can make the post better as the fog of not-exactly-war clears?

Comments (12)

Comment author: atucker 17 January 2012 04:01:32PM *  3 points [-]

There's different kinds of efficiency.

There's the relentless submission to another's goals, which you are not expected to consider, condone or adopt, and there's the desire for effectiveness in carrying out your own desires.

One is oppressive and soul-sucking, one is liberating and joyful. Lots of unhappiness comes from assuming they're the same.

It seems like most people who use Utopian thinking make the mistake of assuming that other people value the same things that they value, and are willing to sacrifice the things that other people value to accomplish them. They don't seem to get that the peasants want "Progress" or whatever only insofar as it helps them not starve, but beyond that that they'd rather get drunk or hang out with their friends.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 January 2012 04:57:12PM *  0 points [-]

See, it's absolutely not guaranteed that you'll act wisely if you're very very intent on implementing your worldview, particularly when your actions are informed by far-mode thinking. When some compartmentalization is needed most, humans seem to abandon it, devolving into fanatics whose Idea is all-encompassing (see Hannah Arendt's masterpiece, The Origins of Totalitarianism), then push on blindly. The only known defense against that is to treat yourself and everything around you with a degree of apriori skepticism and laxity. Akrasia might have saved us from some pretty scary dictator - perhaps even a black-swan one that would've outweighed all the disadvantages of human inefficiency in history.

Consider that, if somehow, humans evolved with a much weaker sense of large groups like nations, and everything fell apart into city-states all the time, someone would be saying: "If only we could be united by that most rare and wonderful feeling known as patriotism! It'd stop all that anarchy, and I hardly see something as constructive and positive as that sublime idea leading to, say, genocide!" I fear that our inefficiency might be the same Pandora's box that we shouldn't unlock until we can get an adult to do it for us.

Comment author: atucker 18 January 2012 12:38:41AM 2 points [-]

Hold strong opinions lightly.

The problem doesn't come from acting on your beliefs, it comes from not changing them in response to finding out that they make you miserable.

If you remain inefficient intentionally, you don't get things that you want. If you swiftly act maximally in accordance with your beliefs, you can find out more quickly what living by them is like. If you don't like it, then you should just change your mind. If you don't act, you never find out.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2012 03:01:58PM -1 points [-]

Could have been better, but thanks a lot for articulating some of my thots on Hanson's em-ghetto future.

I realized Hanson's future was a problematic outcome when he said that people would get used to it, as they had gotten used to all the previous tragedies of the human condition (agriculture, division of labour, slavery, industrial revolution, etc).

This is a really important subject, hopefully we can have more posts and discussions on it.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 January 2012 05:13:35PM 0 points [-]

Indeed, That particular idea of Hanson's is a sympthom of rather undesirable meta-thinking, but in itself it's rather useful, insofar as it draws our attention to the issue.

Comment author: orthonormal 17 January 2012 08:48:28PM 1 point [-]

Look, I love Dostoyevsky as much as anyone (no, seriously), but I don't think that his intuitions about human society were particularly apt at the time (though his intuitions about human psychology were brilliant and prescient), and I think he has virtually nothing to contribute to modern futurism. Ditto for Kant, except that I don't think any of his stuff is relevant to us.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2012 09:36:41PM 0 points [-]

Ditto for Kant, except that I don't think any of his stuff is relevant to us.

I think Kant had significantly more intuitions about human psychology that turned out to be correct. For example, I've spoken before about the mental rotation task, and it shows that at least some of Kant's claims about the human perception of space are more than mere typical mind fallacy. There's also some movements in the direction of -- shall we say "universal anthropology" -- near the beginning of the Critique of Judgment that are more or less borne out by current knowledge of primitive symbolism.

Naturally the bits about God and deontology are hopelessly wrong, but it's not all terrible.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 January 2012 09:43:26PM -2 points [-]

Exactly. Disregarding the failure of deontologism, we must salvage everything valuable from its ruins, especially if that's something that could protect us from what we might unleash on ourselves.

Comment author: shminux 17 January 2012 05:08:04PM 1 point [-]

Downvoted for obscure and vague writing style. The sentence that was supposed to summarize your point ("My view is...") is a horrible run-on that makes no sense to me even after repeated reading.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 January 2012 05:11:36PM *  0 points [-]

Well, yeah, you're right; there's worse around here, but there's also far better. I'll rewrite it, it's a placeholder for Cthulhu's sake.

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 17 January 2012 05:23:59PM 4 points [-]

I'm with you in thinking these are interesting and important questions (hence no downvote from me). But what's the point of a "placeholder" post? It's not like the internet's going to get used up in the meantime. And the best discussion will probably ensue when the first thoughts your readers hear on the subject are written as well and as clearly as you possibly can.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 08 February 2013 03:25:47PM 0 points [-]

Perhaps he'd rather have a less than optimal discussion right up front so that the thoughts he'll have to provoke a final version will be more optimal?