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

Comment on governance and other things


My comment follows.

First on words, that a concept should be defined according to its defining characteristic is a moral tautology. Good things should be good. Definitions should point to their defining characteristic. Of course! A more helpful suggestion to making good definitions is that a definition should carve reality at the joints and create clusters of similarity in ThingSpace, but this is introducing some jargon and the advice can't really be appreciated absent the whole body of work here: (I know you don't like EY, but that's one of his finest sequences in practical advice to having productive discussions. One reason I avoid a lot of discussions these days is because I know people don't have that same shared context of avoiding pitfalls in using their words. In fact I probably need to reread sections of it and refresh my own context. Another reason I avoid discussions is because so many people want it to be an argument and are focused on "winning", instead of having a civil discussion trading hopefully-prior-updating information and exploring consequences of statements.)

Regardless of that sequence though, what I look for in a good definition is an absence of ambiguity and an absence of confusion. I don't want to feel the need for further questions about the definition. If the given definition easily transfers the bulk of the intended concept and basic inferences (like the definition's negative) to other minds, it's probably a good enough one.

Clarifying violence as conflict plus uncertainty (which I should mention is not my original idea, but not the original idea of the guy I'm cribbing from either), both of your examples have conflict, which is the dominating factor. An argument where it's about winning entails a conflict, though a discussion where it's about trading information to come to some sort of agreement does not. Arguing is violence on a minor scale when it's between two people, but scaled up to an organized fashion like in democracy then politics are all about determining the outcome of a civil war in a more "civilized" fashion. Modern politics is a (mostly) blood-free way of gathering information: With better information, there is less uncertainty, and less need for conflict.

In your other example, the conflict is there, so clearly it's violence, but I also see uncertainty. Where did this crime occur? Let's say it occurred on a street. For the criminal, depending on the street, the time of day, whether there are witnesses, and so on, there is uncertainty regarding the outcome of whether he can beat the old guy *and* get away with it, even if it's certain he can win the actual fight, which you have to admit must factor into his consideration. For the old guy, there is uncertainty about whether he can safely walk down the street. If we had a magic unbreakable rule that pushed either one of these uncertainties to either a certain "you will be caught and punished" or a certain "you can safely walk this street", and this rule lets those certainties be known ahead of time, then in either case there will be no conflict.

So what's to be done? Conflict is a part of our nature and nature itself with its presently scarce resources. If we can make everyone into super-rationalists or augmented via some other means to transcend our nature, this might change. However, in the mean time, there are things to be done to eliminate uncertainty and produce incentives towards good behavior because without those incentives good behavior is not assured. For instance, in the case of theft, if there was some unbreakable rule that tells everyone in advance who owns what, there's no motive to steal because the outcome of the conflict wouldn't change this immutable fact that the original owner still owns his wallet and no one but him can use it or its contents. (How could this magic rule be implemented? Genie.)

(Incidentally, I recently finished watching the anime Psycho-Pass which covers an interesting implementation of something similar to this magic rule. Highly recommend.)

We don't have magic rules, but we do have agreements. It seems like there's a difference in kind when I agree to pay you if you agree to make me a widget, and if I agree not to go around killing people on this street I'm on. All agreements are breakable, even though we have cultural and biological norms that give pressure against going back on your word. Generally agreements often contain consequences for breaking the agreement -- if you don't make me the widget I wanted, I don't pay you. And if you made me a widget that was very close to what I wanted but I don't like it, we still may have an agreement to consult an impartial third-party about what fraction of the total sum I should pay you for your time. In the case of restraining my actions on a street, I think the agreement is just with whoever owns the street.[*] If you can own a wallet, why not a street? Why not a city? Why not a country? Indeed, something your definition of government misses, or at least doesn't strictly or obviously imply, is that in the past when monarchies were around, the country was in fact the King's property. Thus governments can own property, and have a monopoly on that ownership. Unless you want to define away past governments. If we are in the King's land, the King may wish to bind us to an agreement to keep the King's peace, and in the event we have a conflict with the King, what determines whether there will be violence or not is how certain we are that we can get away with the action we're motivated to do. You don't go to war with someone you know you can't win against[**], even if you dislike them, and you don't commit murder when you know you'll be caught.

[*]And to a degree, with yourself. Just because I'm out in the wilderness no authority has claimed and I happen upon another person, while it's true I could immediately kill them and get away with it, I wouldn't, and most well-adjusted humans wouldn't. Psychology offers a lot of insights into why this is.

[**]There are cases of "irrational violence", or "insane violence", which appear to be motive-less, or not designed to achieve a real-world objective, or so incredibly unlikely to achieve a claimed real-world objective that every impartial third-party agrees it's obviously so. e.g. certain religious nutcases. Or some sociopaths. But without the aforementioned methods of removing humanity's potential for conflict at the source, no social structure can protect against these entirely. (The aforementioned anime explores this assertion in a fun way, again highly recommended.) Even in a perfect Objectivist World, no law or standard of morality or anything can help in the unlikely event everyone's infected by a Zombie Virus. Prevention is the word, and incentives need to be in place for preventive measures to actually be realized. My whole comment could possibly be cut down to "you need to align incentives in a hierarchical system for society to function".

On certainty: I don't believe in absolute certainty. I do believe you can be "certain" without being "absolutely certain". This is a consequence of the non-boolean mathematical model I use to model belief and uncertainty, a simple but detailed version of which you can read all about in Goertzel's *Probabilistic Logic Networks*. (I have a PDF if you really want a copy.) But it also just means I refuse to commit to a position from which no amount of information could move me. (This applies to my position on absolute certainty as well -- it's just that I have yet to encounter information that convinces me that there are some things I should be absolutely certain about and for which I should sacrifice my freedom to change my mind about in the future if I come across new information.) This belief doesn't preclude me from *assuming* something is absolutely true and applying the rules of the predicate calculus on such assumptions to see where they lead, maybe finding contradictions or further truths, but ultimately I'll only be as certain in any theorems as the initial assumptions. Testing those theorems experimentally can increase/decrease my confidence in the assumptions. This is why I demand predictions from my beliefs, because if a prediction comes out true or false (or kinda true or kinda false) that affects the truth value of things that deductively generated the predictions. Just a more generalized form of modus tollens, really.

I agree in general that creativity can't be coerced -- though I wish my own creativity could be, by my own will or another's! If the government said I had to take a pill that would make me more creative, or else face a fine, then hell, it wouldn't even feel like coercion because it's such a better state from my perspective. Coercion can lead to positive outcomes. I don't think this is some magic fantasy scenario, however; I think it's very possible that in some future humans will have found a way to induce creativity in a brain, to induce reason, etc. I don't think complete prevention of such technology is possible either because while there are major risks, there are also major rewards -- incentives to get this technology are in play. Already we have ways to force concentration in brains (caffeine and other stimulants), even if they're somewhat primitive and imperfect. Already the government uses coercion in the form of vaccinations to eliminate deadly diseases that cost lives (and when it stops its coercion due to libertarian complaints, lives are lost), which is fine by me because I think human life is more important than never having to bend to authority. Admittedly it's best if only I am coercing myself and the Powers keep their attentions on criminals (for instance coercing the brains of violent sociopaths to accept a new worldview that makes them no longer violent while minimally changing their personality, which is the whole point of required therapy for some criminals that can be reformed, we just suck at it right now), and I encourage incentives for that arrangement, as the likelihood of disaster goes down when the Powers are encouraged to be respectful. (And by nature of unlimited sovereignty there's a built-in incentive. See If you read none of my other links, read that for the parable of Fnargl.)

Why can't a government be an agent of destruction *and* production? You make it sound like government is a necessary evil, than something which like all human organizations can be and do both good and bad, and that a government can only initiate force (destructive) or not initiate force. If I'm King and I own my country and I have some money, some of which I use to help uphold my monopoly of force in the area, why can't I endeavor in productive projects like paying people to build new roads[*] according to my country-wide design, and partner with neighboring countries to build roads between us, all of this openly for my own goal of increasing my own money store because increased prosperity for my country generally means increased prosperity for me? (Especially why can't I do this if taxes are voluntary and I want to hedge for harder times when my subjects are feeling less generous?) Why shouldn't I be able to engage in the productive behavior of buying stocks in a foreign company that is doing well?

[*] This isn't the "roads!" argument in its classic form. If I'm King it's up to me whether I want to let people build or maintain their own roads or not, where they want, and whether they want to assert some partial ownership over them or not and maybe extract a toll. However, it avoids a lot of potential conflicts if I the King assert I own the country and you need at very least permission from me to build a road on land you or your friends already do not have permission to build roads on, and if you don't like it you can go to some land I haven't claimed and do stuff there.

If the government is a classic monarchy, who are you to limit the ruler's actions in following His own self-interest in making His rule more secure and certain and good for Himself and His subjects?

Government as corporation isn't a page from the anarchists' stuff about the function of government being solved by competing security agencies, it's a way of looking at all organizations of humans that called themselves governments throughout history. It lets us compare different forms of government as different management styles, and as a big plus helps us specify exactly what we mean when we call something "fascist" while at the same time taking some of the reason-clouding emotional teeth from such terminology. We can focus on whether a way of running things is efficient or not, not whether it's associated with a dirty word or not.

A constitution is not a mission statement. A constitution is more like corporate bylaws (or as they're sometimes titled a corporate constitution), and when you see it in that light you'll see why a constitution for a government is pretty silly. Corporations file charters and bylaws that get approved by the sovereign government they're incorporating under, because to form a corporation in the US at least you need permission from the sovereign state, and the government wants to know what you plan to do and how you plan to do it and if you break your agreements you've put to paper this gives the government something to point at when it comes to bust you up for breaking your word. The reason it's silly for a government to have a constitution is because the government is the highest authority, it already is the sovereign. There's no one to file a set of promises to, and no one to hold it to its promises. It is a mistake to think that sovereign power comes from the People. Sovereign power comes from the (not god) Father, I'll refer you to Filmer if you don't believe me:

Another way to see constitutions as silly is that if it accurately reflects the reality of how the government operates, the distribution of power, and so on, then it is a redundant piece of paper. And if it does not accurately reflect the reality, then it is a lie and contributes to disinformation which contributes to increased uncertainty in general. Now a King may wish to put to writing his laws and methods of operation, because paper is an excellent medium for storage and transmission, and a wise King may wish to spell out the incentives to all parties involved in governance, but being the ultimate authority, He can always change His mind. The paper is no more than a recording of the King's Will at the time, not an agreement the King makes with anyone. The agreement between King and Subject is the Subject agrees to follow the King's Will if he wants to remain in the King's land. (The King may spell out that because His country is His own property, of course He has a vested interest in protecting it and those within it from harm, and of course he has an interest in promoting the welfare of His subjects. This vested interest spells out the incentive that keeps, not by force or paper, but by nature, the King suddenly waking up one morning and deciding to put everyone to the sword, which He has the authority to do, but not the incentive. Wise Kings plan for the future to make sure this incentive remains, unwise Kings don't and usually aren't in power for long because even though they have the authority, actual humans can only take so much before they refuse an authority's order.)

To sum up, I think it is a fool's errand to expect a sovereign entity (or any individual for that matter) to remain bound by a piece of paper when incentives exist to go against what the paper says. You're trying to constrain the agency, the free will, of someone, or some organization which can be headed by a single someone, with paper. It doesn't work.

On duty, I am taking the traditionalist stance. If you're wondering about whether I take a modern or traditional stance for something, assume it's the traditional one unless you can see a very obvious connection to modern transhumanism ideals (but I'm not sure how familiar you are with those so maybe just always assume traditionalism). I think modern "conservatives" are only slightly less Left than the Left, I want no association with them.

My break from anarchy started with the recognition that man in his present nature will create organic hierarchies, even in the absence of a declared formal hierarchy, even in the presence of a stated flat management (see Valve), and that formally specifying and upholding hierarchy in the way governments did before WW1 is a superior state than having it be informal. Even if the formal hierarchy is "unfair".

Posted on 2014-08-03 by Jach

Tags: Anarchy, government, morality, philosophy


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