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Comment author: Boyi 20 January 2012 03:05:27PM *  0 points [-]

This is a wonderful post, and it is a personal problem I strongly sympathize with. Here are my thoughts; I hope they are of some use.

But it’s not my true rejection. My true rejection is that them being wrong is too annoying for me to want to cooperate. Why? I haven’t changed my mind, really, about how much damage versus good I think churches do for the world.

You see physics and rationalism as right, but at the same time you value community (which is also right seeing as humans are social creatures who demand healthy relationships). This is an ethical dilemma. Ethical dilemmas are situations where it is not about right vs. wrong, but right vs. right. In this case Truth vs. Loyalty. You cannot argue that Truth should always be prioritized over Loyalty, or that Loyalty should always be prioritized over Truth. What is needed is moderation. How to moderate is something I too am currently struggling with. Since graduating from College my Truth has become immersed in academic theory. I love reading, writing, and talking about theory. My family and hometown friends do not. In fact many of them hate it. It does not feel like an exciting game to them, rather it is a threat to their intelligence, personal image, and just stressful. I guess I could just cut these people from my life, but it would be an amputation of my self. It would be a painful process, and I find it rarely justified. On the other hand, what I find to be Truth is also perhaps the strongest statement I can make about my identity. To live a secure, healthy life, I need my Truth as much as I need a community. But it is also important to realize that neither is absolute. My community, as well as the symbolic body that I support, are both subjectively created.

Comment author: TimS 06 December 2011 09:06:01PM *  0 points [-]

You are equivocating on the word fuzzy. There's a contrast between doing something because it feels good and doing something because it actually helps others. Contrast serving food at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving, which makes one feel good vs. serving food on some random day in June, which is probably more helpful to the soup kitchen. The first act provides "fuzzy." The second provides more social utility.

None of this asserts that maintaining relationships is not valuable or real. The argument is that transformational relationships have less payout per effort than other social improvement acts (like donating lots of money).

And one point of anti-Aid groups is that international donors are so consumed with "trendy" types of aid that they crowd out both African self-improvement and foreign aid that might help. For more on Dead Aid in particular, you might find this developmental economist's take interesting.

Comment author: Boyi 06 December 2011 09:23:33PM 0 points [-]

" The argument is that transformational relationships have less payout per effort than other social improvement acts (like donating lots of money)."

I realize this is the argument, it is what I am disagreeing with.

Comment author: thomblake 06 December 2011 01:08:11PM 0 points [-]

That story sounds suspiciously nice.

Given the choice between being a 'good person' and fostering local relationships of various fuzzy impacts, or saving the lives of ten thousand people, would you really choose the former over the latter? Do you think that actually makes you a good person?

Note that this is not merely a hypothetical; that is effectively the choice the lawyer is making when he works in soup kitchen instead of donating money.

Comment author: Boyi 06 December 2011 08:49:08PM 0 points [-]

Well given the way you word it, yes, it does seem suspicious. There are several things I would change about your retelling of my position.

1.) I advocate for proper and efficient relationships. This idea is local if you mean thinking of mechanical solidarity before organic solidarity, but in this day in age with telecommunication and a globally mobile workforce I would not call relationship cultivation "local" in the traditional sense. For example, my self-network spans multiple continents. The potential for impact is huge.

2.) Proper relationships are by no means "fuzzy," I would say that the fact that you would describe relationship cultivation as fuzzy shows a serious lack of mental effort. Since it is something I think about a lot, I will give you an example. First let me say I am currently trying to define all core relationships of the social self. The social self is the idea that human identity, motivation, action, cognition, do not arise from autonomous agents, but from, a network of human, non-human, and cultural relationships. One such relationship is the relationship between child and parent/ child and guardian. It is possible to not have parents, or to not have a guardian, but it is not possible to avoid the consequences of this fact. The dynamics of the child to parent/ guardian relationship is fundamental to a person's actions, thoughts, and feelings. If my mom or dad were to die, no matter how happy, satisfied, complete I felt immediately prior to this, it would completely rearrange my feelings and thoughts. I would eventually recover, but I would be a different person, one who had to figure out how to be happy, satisfied and complete knowing my mother was not alive.

So far I have been trying to show the impact of a core relationship. The point I originally wanted to make was that cultivating relationships is not "fuzzy." Frankly speaking it is hard being a good son. If your parents are racist, religious zealots, unhealthy, insecure, it is not your job to fix that. You think it is your job, because your parents raised you, fixed you in a sense, and at some point to validate your own maturity you want to do the same. And honestly in a perfect world you should be able to. I have far more education than my parents about health, psychologically, and sociality. I am positive that if I know what my parents are doing wrong in certain aspects of their life, and that I could do better. There is nothing wrong with telling your parents you think they should change in some way; the problem arises when they do not want to. You cannot force your parents to change. You can cut them out of your life, but that is destroying a relationship not cultivating it. Now I am not talking about extremes here. There might be some cases where they choice comes between those two options, but the majority of the time it is not. The majority of the time, the choice is to either accept your parents for their imperfection, ignore it, or abandon them. The proper choice being the former. It is a hard thing to do.

Proper relationships are not fuzzy. If a relationship is fuzzy all the time, generally you are not maintaining it well.

3.) I see cultivating good people as making transformation change. Meaning that it is a transforming change that does not just stop at initial impact. It is perpetual. If you model proper relations in your social network, then the networks connected peripherally will be impacted. In the short run pouring money on the problem might help, but I do not see this as a solution.

A perfect example of this is Aristotle's appeal for the need of practical wisdom to complement laws. You can make laws to regulate, but if people do not have an internal commitment to the spirit behind the laws then the laws will become perpetually less effective. How many thousands of pages of new laws does the United States produce each year? The byproduct of which is that normal people can no longer understand the law because it has become so complex. If normal people cannot understand it the result is two-fold. The masses do not internalize it, and the elite figure out how to take advantage of it. I would argue this problem of deficient practical wisdom is directly related to a lack of proper relationships and knowledge of how to cultivate them.

4.) I do not think you can save 10,000 people with any one action. Nor do I think just because your intention is to save people that is what you actually do. If you get 10,000 people malaria nets that does not save them from a. being able to get malaria, b.) living in an environment where malaria is prevalent, c.) the poor condition of their lives, d.) being able to sustain their lineage for multiple generations.

Dambisa Moyo has a book called "Dead Aid" the argument is that the millions of dollars in aid sent to africa is actually doing more damage than good. There are several reasons for this, if you are interested in hearing them I would be happy to share.

Comment author: Boyi 06 December 2011 02:18:24PM -2 points [-]

Hi, I really enjoyed your essay. I also enjoyed the first half of the comments. The question it brought me to was: whether or not there is no higher utilty than transformation? I was wondering if I could hear your opinion on this matter.

It seems to me if transformation of external reality is the primer assesment of utility, then humans should ratioanlity question their emotivism based on pratical solutions. But what if the abiilty to transform external reality was not teh primer assesement of utility? Recently I have been immersed in Confucian thinkinng, which places harmony as the pinnicale of importance. If you do not mind I would like to share some thoughts from this perspetive.

When faced with a problem it seems that as humasn our inital solution is to increase the complexity of our interaction with said aspect of the external world through expanding scale, organization, detail, of our involvement with that portion of reality in hopes of transforming that reality to our will. Is this logical? Yes, we have clearly demonstrated a potential to transform reality, but have any of our transformations justify the rationale that transformation will eventually lead to a uptoian plateau? Or to put it another way, does the transformation of one good/bad scenario ever completely deplete the nessecity for further transformation? If anything, it seems that our greatest acheivements of transformation have only created an even more dire need for transformation. The creation of nuclear power/weapons was supposed to end war and provide universal energy; now we are faced with the threat of nuclear waste and global anhilation. Genetically engineering food was supposed to feed the world; in ameriac we have created a obessity epidemic, and the modern agricultral practices of the world walk a fine line between explosive yeild and ecological destruction.

I was somewhat hesitant to say it because of a preceived emotivism of this blog, but what I am questioning is the discourse of progress. Transformation is progress. You say:

"In general, any debate about whether something is "good" or "bad" is sketchy, and can be changed to a more useful form by converting the thing to an action and applying utilitarianism." But is that not soley based on a emotive value of progress?

From the harmonizing perspective emotivism in itself contains utilty because it is in our common irratioanlity that humans can truly relate. If we did institutionally preceed arbitrary value wtih a logic of transformational utility would this not marganilze a huge portion of humanity that is not properly equipped to rationalize action in such a way? It legitimizes intellectual dominace. In my opinion this is no different than if we were to say that whoever wins in an offical arm wrestle/ foot race has the correct values. That may seem completely absurd to you, but I would argue only because you are intellectually rather than physically dominate.

It should be noted that my argument is based on the premise that there are graduated levels of intellegence, and the level required to rationalize one potential transformation over another is sequesterd from the lower tiers.

I also write under the assumption that the discourse of progress (I think I called it utiltiy of transformation?) is emotive not rational in the sense that it is clearly the most effective cogntive paradigm for human evolution. Before my words come back to bite me, my concepts of "progress" and "evolution" are very different here. Progress is power to transform external reality (niche construction), evolution is transformation of the human structure (I will not comment on whether such orgnaic transformation is orthogenic or not)

Comment author: thomblake 05 December 2011 11:35:25PM 0 points [-]

Your comment tries to answer the question, "How can I make myself more charitable?" rather than the question, "Now that I'm very charitable, how can I maximize my impact?"

If someone is not a very charitable person, yes some learned empathy might fix that, and hands-on experience might be the best way to do that. But such a person would not be asking the first question above.

If someone is already a very charitable person, then they should be concerned with how much of an impact their actions are actually having - then, the work on the beach is inefficient as compared to the thousands of dollars.

Comment author: Boyi 06 December 2011 02:43:32AM 0 points [-]

Well said, but I would tweak your wording of my question to "now that I am a good person, how can maximize my impact?" What is the estimate of a good person? I would argue that a good person is one who produces meaningful relationships in the world. The model of efficiency above touches only on how to most impact the person-captial relationship, i.e what to do with the material and labor resources I have accumulated to most positively impact humanity. I agree that this is important, but add that the "good person" is defined by multiple relationships, not just of the one they have to capital. For example, I would argue a truly good person would be a good child, good parent, good friend, good older/younger (depending on the age of the opposing actor), good stranger, good citizen, good character, and potentially much more. To maximize the meaning and positivity of all critical relationships is not done through economic efficiency. And while I cannot make any absolute claims that the social impact a person makes is more beneficial than the way they use their capital, personally I believe it to be so.

Now if your original statement about already being charitable was meant to mean that you are already a very humane person (meaning your relational impact in your community is maximized) , then sure, I think maximizing charitable action is great. But I think to maximize your role within a social network is really hard, if not impossible to some extent. I also think that most people are not as empathetically developed as they would like to think. I would go as far to as to say that a perfect empathetic awareness is as unreachable as Truth with a capital T.

I apologize if I sound argumentative, I just was not sure if my question was already dealt with in your minds/blogs and this is a further point.

Comment author: Boyi 05 December 2011 10:52:04PM 0 points [-]

I agree with the idea that efficiency should be taken into account when considering charitable actions, but I do not know if I agree with your conclusion of what is most efficient. Alleviating a problem does not cure it. While paying for malaria nets, cleaning up the beach, donating to charities alleviates real social issues, it does not address the issue of their causation. In my opinion, what is most efficient is not concentrating on recuperation, but attacking the sickness. Without changing the causal conditions the disease will continue to grow endlessly no matter how much you suppress it. This is why even after going through successful rehab, addicts will experience relapse if reintroduced into their original environments because nothing has changed to prevent the same symptoms from arising again.
What then is the cause of social travesties? I would argue a lack of high-level empathy. In my opinion the question then becomes does financial donation increase a person's empathetic capacity? I do not think it does. It definitely increase the amount of pure capital being pushed at a problem, but i do not think that necessarily cures the problem. I know that some of the poorest schools in America have recently gotten state of the art equipment, smart rooms, i-pads, new schools, but their test scores are not changing. That is because the problem is the values being pushed into the kids not the amount of money. What does promote empathy? Pierre Bourdieu is a prominent sociologist who is best known for the idea of habitus. The general idea of habitus is that cognitive and emotional patterns are shaped by human physicality. Aristole's virtue ethics represent the idea that morality is developed through habitus. Mencius, the second most famous confucian moralist, also had notions of empathy being like a muscle that must be strengthened within people. From this theoretical framework the type of charity proposed in the essay above would be inefficient. While I cannot for certain say what action/ environments cultivate empathy/morality; I think it is a safe bet to say that working to make more money and spending money does not. if that was the case, then the most successful business men and women would also be the most empathetic people. No, it seems more likely that empathy would be developed through committing time to people and places that are not readily identified with the actor's self. Meaning that the lawyer taking an hour each day to work on the beach would increase his virtue/empathetic capacity, making that working more valuable than the thousands of dollars that he could have earned in that time seeing as there is no way to buy morals.

I am not sure if my idea is correct. If the author of this essay writes from a fundamentally economic frame, I write from a fundamentally sociological/anthropological/confucian one. The correct answer is probably a mediation of the two depending on type of charity and circumstance. Thanks for your thoughtful writing.

Comment author: gwern 05 December 2011 09:29:00PM 0 points [-]

Genes give rise to the sociality in the first place; this is one of the paradoxes of trying to fight one's genes, as it were. It's hairy meta-ethics: where do your desires and morals come from and what justifies them?

Comment author: Boyi 05 December 2011 09:36:23PM 1 point [-]

I don't think morality should be segregated from desire. I realize that Freud's concept of drives is at this point in time obsolete, but if there were "drives" it would not be a sex, aggression, or hunger drive that dominated the human animal, but a belonging drive. In my opinion it does not matter where the hardware comes from, what is important is an intimacy with its function. I think for too long there has been a false dichotomy constructed between morals and desires.

as to the question of meta-ethics, I would apply the works of E. O Wilson or Joseph Tainter to the construction of a more humane humanity.

Comment author: gwern 05 December 2011 08:50:01PM 2 points [-]

-In some cases, human beings have evolved in such fashion as to think that they are doing X for prosocial reason Y, but when human beings actually do X, other adaptations execute to promote self-benefiting consequence.

No, again you're not following the precise lines. An adaptation doesn't necessarily benefit one's 'self': it's supposed to help one's genes or one's genes in another person (or even just a gene at the expense of all the others). Kin selection, right? Fisher's famous "I would not sacrifice myself to save a brother, but would for 2 brothers, 4 cousins...'

So again, this corrupted hardware business is not identical with selfishness or self-interest, however you seem to be using either.

Comment author: Boyi 05 December 2011 09:18:47PM *  0 points [-]

So you are saying the hardware of genes that has fueled the movement of life, and must embryologically exist within the human structure, is a hinderance to the structure of the social animal?

Comment author: gwern 05 December 2011 02:26:28AM 1 point [-]

If a file is corrupted with noise, or a portion of RAM is corrupted by some cosmic rays, is that file or portion of memory now filled with evil? No; it is simply not what it was intended to be. Whether there are any moral connotations beyond that depends on additional details and considerations.

For example, Robin Hanson (or maybe it was Katja Grace?) has argued that the proper response to discovering the powerful and pervasive missions of one's evolved subconscious - aims that may not be shared by the conscious - is not to regard the subconscious as one's enemy corrupting one's actions towards its own goals, but as simply part of oneself, to embrace its goals as perfectly valid as the conscious mind's goals. Other LWers disagree and think the subconscious biases are just that, biases to be opposed like any other source of noise/bias/corruption.

(I hope you see how this Hansonian argument does not fit in with a simplistic 'human nature is good' or 'evil' take on the idea that the mind has hidden motives. It's pretty rare for anyone to seriously argue that just because human nature is flawed, we should give up on morality entirely and become immoral evil monsters.)

Comment author: Boyi 05 December 2011 02:43:54AM *  -2 points [-]

Thanks for the clarification of the corrupted hardware analogy. It was a poor choice of words to compare the argument to human nature being evil. The point I am trying to make is that I do not agree with the statement t hat human nature is flawed. What you are calling flawed I was calling evil. But from this point on I will switch to your language because it is better. I still do not see the logic

-In some cases, human beings have evolved in such fashion as to think that they are doing X for prosocial reason Y, but when human beings actually do X, other adaptations execute to promote self-benefiting consequence.

As proving that human nature is flawed, because it makes the assumption that self-interest is a flaw. I would ask you two questions if I could. First, do you believe self-interest to be a flaw of human nature, if not what is the flaw that is talked about in corrupt hardware? Second, do you believe it is possible to posses a conscious without self-interest?

I would add that just because I support self-interest, does not mean I support selfishness. Please respond!

Comment author: gwern 05 December 2011 12:16:22AM 2 points [-]

I now return to your premise that "humans run on corrupted hardware." It is a new way to phrase an old idea: that humans are by nature evil. It is an idea I disagree with.

The hardware is corrupted, that's not the same as evil. The corruptedness can easily lead to 'nice' or 'good' prosocial actions - 'I am doing this soup kitchen work because I am a good person' (as opposed to trying to look good or impress this potential ally or signal nurturing characteristics to a potential mate etc.).

Comment author: Boyi 05 December 2011 02:19:54AM *  0 points [-]

Then I do not understand what is meant by corrupted. Perhaps it is because of my limited knowledge of the computer science lexicon, but to me the word corrupted means damaged, imperfect, made inferior. To imply something is damaged/ inferior makes a value-judgment about what is well/superior. But if you are saying that doing something out of self-interest is an inferior state, then what is the superior state? Altruism? By what rational basis can you say that people should be completely altruistic? Then we would not be people, we would be ants ,or bees, or some other social creature. Self-interest is part of what makes human sociality so powerful. I do not see it as corrupted hardware, but rather misused hardware (as I state in my original post). The self can be extended to a family, a community, a nation, even to humanity itself, so that even though a person acts out of self-intrest their interest extends beyond an atomized body or singular lineage. Basically I am agreeing with your deception of human nature, but not your interpretation of it.

What I get out of the analogy "corrupted hardware" is that self-interest is a detrimental capacity of human nature. If this is not what is meant, then please explain to me what is meant by corrupted hardware. If it is what is meant, then I stand by my assertion that it is not self-interest that is detrimental but cultural conceptions of the self; making it the software, not the hardware that is corrupted.

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