Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Reversed Stupidity Is Not Intelligence

With apologies to Eliezer for using the title, and the one I love for attacking her premise (and double apologies if I remember it wrongly), I think the statement of the title bears repeating frequently. Reversed stupidity is not intelligence.

"The world's greatest fool may say the Sun is shining, but that doesn't make it dark out." --Robert Pirsig

There are a vast many real-world examples of reversed stupidity, but I'm only going to try focusing on one. There is an idea of anarchy that, while similar to mine in terms of basic social function, is completely different in terms of economy and technology. To get a broad picture, take an orderly anarchy and add environmentalism.

Our industries today are destroying the beauty of the Earth; they're destroying forests, polluting the air, obliterating mountains, overfishing the waters, and in general making the world less desirable to live in. The solution? Let's all go back to the good ol' days when man only made a minor footprint on the Earth. (A side note, I'm not sure this was ever the case--we're probably the reason woolly mammoths are extinct.) Let's live the simple life, hunt with slings and spears and bows and arrows, take only what is necessary, and in general be less annoying to the environment than today. Oh yeah, and get rid of capitalistic ideals too. Everyone should be working to just feed themselves or anarchistic community. No room for watchmakers here.

Do you see the reversing? Let's just take one problem: industries are destroying forests. The "solution" to this problem is to destroy industries to save the forests. Personally, I'd rather have government regulation on those industries, giving them limits on where/what they can kill, and mandating things like reseeding and so forth. (I'm not well-versed in environmentalism issues so I'd probably have a much better solution if I was, that still didn't involve destroying industries.)

Note here that I mention government regulation, which being an anarchist and mostly-capitalist means I have to denounce. I can go several routes from here: the average capitalist says "When everyone holds our traditional capitalist values the market will regulate itself. We true capitalists look in the long term, and realize old forests have more value than just the wood, and wouldn't disturb the balance of things by mining them." The environment-anarchy person says "There aren't any industries here, so it's not even a problem." I could say "Everyone will be rational or hold the same ideals as me, so no one will want to mine the old forests."

All of those are easy ways out. What I will be trying to address in future posts is how my system deals with defectors. Unfortunately it seems for most people the answer comes very quickly and very obviously: government! But it's a known phenomenon that on hard problems people often jump to the first solution and go with it. When asked how they might implement a Friendly AI, people might say "Its actions are friendly if it makes people smile, since friends make friends smile." Then the AI goes and tiles the solar system into smiley faces, or hardwires every human face into a permanently-smiling state. So in my Anarchy, I'm going to try and think beyond the obvious conclusion of "government!" which as I continue to think about the problem seems scarily possible. (If I do end up deciding "government!", then I'll next be defining what type. I don't like our current republic all that much. (You can also say that my Anarchy is a type of distributed government, but by "government!" I mean some centralized force that has great powers.))

The reversal process manifests itself in vegetarians, also. Someone might see some horrible slaughtering practices somewhere, and then reverse that to the decision of never eating meat again, instead of campaigning for better slaughter house conditions which seems the smarter thing to do.

My eco-ana friend has admitted that she doesn't think her system is very likely without some global catastrophe leading to civilization collapse, and I agree. Another goal I want my Anarchy to have is to fit our current world okay (meaning it can be transitioned to, or a growing community can live by it easily enough), and also fit parts of the future world. While I can't say what life is going to be like beyond the intelligence-explosion Singularity (which may very well happen within the next century), I can guess at what life might be like just before. Nanotechnology will eliminate pathogens, hunger, poverty, etc., will save the environment, will give us immortality, and all sorts of nice things I'm rather optimistic for. I want us there soon, and government intervention sure isn't helping things along, nor is preaching about going to primitive life. My Anarchy might have to define a special case for the futurist society, where it can be assumed that people are more responsible (if they've made it that far) and thus small governments would be more stable, but the point is that I want it to not be something completely unusable, like primitivism is to our current society.

To me there are two stable outcomes of the human species: extinction, or Friendly-AI Singularity. Even if we nuked ourselves tomorrow, eliminating 95% of the population, that 5% would over time rebuild, and over time we'd be right back to where we are now. Though it's not hard to imagine 100% elimination of our species tomorrow, if the nuke strikes are coordinated enough. So even if we went back to primitive life, it wouldn't last. This is another reason I disagree with anything advocating less or no technology, and also why I believe that any such system is doomed to fail regardless of how powerful it is or what the majority of society believes. There are numerous fictitious works if you're interested in more plausible (but strictly less probable) examples of this happening, but real-world ones are good enough. The Church was very powerful and still didn't stop scientific progress; albeit it slowed it down a ton.

I hope my overall point has been made clear, though. Always wonder if your "clever solution" is really just reversing some stupidity, and not actually trying to find the smartest way. Ask yourself "If group-I'm-reversing actually advocated reversal-I-have, would I agree with what they now say?" There was a rumor some time ago that Paris Hilton signed up for Cryonics, and some people reversed the stupidity of Hilton and decided Cryonics was also stupid. A recent Microsoft contribution to open source has left mainly Linus (ironically?) as the level-headed person who values code quality over politics, with others defaulting to the "Microsoft hating disease".

It's also very tempting to shy away from the hard questions and just reverse some stupidity. I really want to say "People will see Company X destroying Forest Y and thus won't buy Product Z made by that company, so that company will either stop or never start in the first place with destroying forests." This is reversing that there are people who won't see that way, and it's assuming "People" are very similar and that most (if not all) of those people will think destroying Forest Y is a bad thing. If only 20% of the people thought it was a bad thing, then the company's going to do it anyway without government regulation (and even then).

How is a society, where there is no powerful government and where only 20% of the people believe destroying Forest Y is a bad thing, and where it rationally is a bad thing but not nearly the baddest thing (so the other rational portion of the 80% of people don't waste resources acting on it), supposed to stop or discourage Company X from destroying it for profit, without resorting to shooting up the company workers? After some thought, I don't think they can, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Posted on 2009-07-26 by Jach

Tags: Anarchy, philosophy


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