jack: (Default)

Axiology, morality and law

I'm not sure how standard this is? But Scott described a three-way breakdown between axiology, morality, and law. Axiology being "which actions are right and which are wrong". And morality being a set of rules for "which principles should you follow, such that you have correct axiology as often as possible"? Partly from a "I can't evaluate each situation from scratch" standpoint, and partly a "we need rules that let us coexist with other people even when we disagree" standpoint. And law being "which principles should be codified and imposed on people".

And if there's an overwhelming axiological imperative, that can override morality (eg. in general you shouldn't do something bad in order to promote a greater good, but if the good is REALLY REALLY REALLY good and you're REALLY REALLY REALLY sure, maybe you should make an exception and feel really bad about it later). And an overwhelming moral imperative can override the law.

But that it's definitely useful to have a law, even if it's not perfect, and to have a morality, even if there are cases where it doesn't work perfectly.

And many moral dilemmas are essentially, "do you have a precise cut-off for when a general principle should override the immediate benefit in a particular situation" (spoiler: no, if it was codified it would already be a principle).


I assume this is one of the cases where everyone who's read more philosophy than me says, oh yes, that's obvious, we just didn't explain it clearly before because you didn't know to ask. And also one of those where Scott's not exactly completely right, but brings up important principles I wasn't previously thinking about.


Confusingly, this was brought up in the middle of a post about offsets which I thought was interesting but imperfectly explained.

He's talking about when you can make up for a bad thing by doing more good things.

He disagrees with someone elseweb, who says "you can do it for small bad things but not for big bad things". I'm with him so far.

He uses the example of carbon offsets, which is where I'm confused, because to me that's not offsetting the morality, that's offsetting the *action*. If you emit some carbon and then capture it again, I don't think you can cancel that out entirely before considering its moral weight at all. (Whether the carbon offset WORKS as advertised might be a trickier question.)

Then he goes on to say, you can't usually offset morality, because keeping moral rules is useful for its own sake (in cultivating the habit of doing so, in setting a good example, in a stable society), so if you break one, doing more good things is better, but doesn't really make it ok.

But he theorises that doing something forbidden by axiology but not covered by a more general rule in morality, *could* be offset by unrelated good actions. And that sounds like a reasonable guess but I'm far from sure.
jack: (Default)

Scott wrote another short story. As is usually the case, it's intriguing but there's also much to critique :) The aliens in the story develop great technology, and build an ansible out of negative average preference utilitarianism.

I have a lot of different thoughts inspired by this story. I don't think it's the sort of story where knowing what happens is a problem for reading it, but I will cut a detailed discussion just in case.

Spoilers )
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I've had several conversations about why "secondary" is such a loaded concept in poly relationships and feel like I'm slowly getting how people feel. But still, I feel there's a lot that's important to people I'm missing.

1. Not enough

It seems like many people are starting from the assumption that nobody *wants* to be a secondary, and the concept is basically synonymous with "I'll probably want more but I'll settle for what I can get". And yes, if that's how you feel, then that might be ok, but there is an inherent source of tension which is likely

I never had that assumption, only as I've met a wider variety of relationships have I started to understand it. It seemed to me, some people had many parallel relationships (either a small number of permanent partners who are equal priorities in organising your life whether or not they're different in other ways, or varied relationships each negotiated individually etc). Or they had one or two main partners, and other partners as well, usually people who themselves had many other partners, or had other major commitments, or otherwise were at a point in their life where a relationship *might* become much more, but they weren't looking for more, they were looking for something which fit their life right now, even if they had limited time and energy.

But if every relationship is "I fall deeply in love" then it makes sense that anything other than deep and permanent is really hard. Likewise, if you only have room for one relationship, it's a very painful choice to be with someone who wants to be with someone else more, if that's not what you want, and either "they need to have room for their relationship with you to grow" or "they need to realise that they may not be kind by having a relationship with you" may be issues.

With the benefit of hindsight, that looks to me like, "here's a form of relationship that suits some people but not others, don't choose it if it doesn't suit you". But if you have no experience of possible relationships, and the only model you have is "A and B are the love of each other's lives, and C is there too but is treated with absolutely zero respect", it's easy to fall into that model, and come out feeling like it should be burned to the ground.

2. Negotiating from a position of weakness

The other thing I had to say is, it's common for a relationship (not romantic, any form of association) to involve people with different amounts of power. Sometimes that's seriously unfair, as in a bad boss and an employee who needs the job: the boss has every opportunity to take advantage, to not just be unfair but to manipulate the interactions to their advantage by changing the rules all the time.

Sometimes it's completely fair, as in A wants to date B and B doesn't want to date A: then B deservedly has completely control over who they want to date, and they may reject A politely and compassionately (if A is not a jerk) or harshly (if A is a jerk, or if B is for that matter).

"Fair" doesn't mean "half and half". Although in most healthy ongoing relationships, jobs, romance, etc, both sides get comparable good things out of it.

A relationship can be unequal. Say, A has young children, another partner, and many other commitments. And they have a fortnightly date with B, whose commitments are a lot more flexible. That's just how their lives are, no-one is deliberately being unfair. But it does turn out, B has more flexibility than A, so they end up rearranging things more often.

Now here's the distinction. At the moment A doesn't really have the power to offer a lot more time to B. But they do have the power to make arrangements respectfully, by being clear in advance what commitments they can and can't make. By being honest about what time they have. By being upfront that occasionally emergencies will happen but that won't be a default. By not changing plans at short notice and expecting B to cope, can we emphasise that one.

Maybe B *could* cope with that if they had to, but if A forces them to for no reason, or for unfair reasons like, "My other partner is jealous if I spend ANY TIME WITH YOU AT ALL so rather than talking about it I'm just going to constantly jerk you around in the hope that eventually they're happy", then A is not treating B at all respectfully.

The reason I mention this particularly is that it seemed to be a common complaint from people familiar with certain sorts of history, that A had apparently logical reasons why they needed to constantly change stuff around. But it's possible for A to be unfront about what's not really changeable, while also being respectful and communicative about everything.

This is obvious in some relationships: most people with friends know that sometimes a friends' job or partner need them right now, and most friendships, if you move away your friend will usually stay with their job or family, not move with you. And that's just normal: almost all humans have many relationships and give different things to different ones. But it's also normal that friends are not jerks about it, and (a) don't constantly talk about how something else in their life is more important than you and (b) make time for you sometimes and don't just cancel all the time without telling you.


Hopefully this is obvious, but this is, me trying to understand many thoughts I've heard from different places, and not about any particular relationships of anyone (especially not anyone I know). Hopefully that postscript isn't needed, but I know it's possible for me to post "thoughts on X" and people to worry "is this about me".
jack: (Default)
Every so often I hear someone talking about modelling traffic jams as waves travelling in a queue of cars. After some thought, I came to some tentative conclusions, without having actually tried any modelling or anything.

Imagine a long long stream of cars along a somewhat congested motorway without much overtaking.

The first observation is, whatever you do, you can't really affect the car in front as long as you're driving legally/safely. And whatever you do, you don't end up significantly behind them: if there's any sort of traffic, the average speed is much under the fastest speed you could drive in an empty road, so you can always catch up with them. So whatever you do, *you* will reach your final turnoff shortly after the car in front.

However, over a long run of cars, it seems plausible (I haven't double-checked the maths) that cars driving at 30mph have a greater throughput than ones alternating 60mph and 0mph, mostly due to needing more than twice the distance between at 60 than at 30. That means that if traffic is dense, there's a natural tendency for small disruptions to sometimes get magnified, when each car reacts a little slowly to the car in front, and hence makes a slightly larger correction. Whereas if you go a bit slower and give yourself a bit of extra space when the traffic in front of you starts of but you suspect it's more stop-start, hopefully the traffic behind you will experience *less* disruption.

I'm not sure, does that sound right?
jack: (Default)

Almost everything Scott posts is interesting, even when I disagree with it. Sometimes I decide I absorbed an important idea anyway despite superficial disagreements. Sometimes I decide he's just wrong, but said interesting things along the way.

Here he describes a case where a student group invited a couple of deliberately controversial speakers as a pro-free-speech point. This is probably a bad idea for a variety of reasons, whether it was well meant or not. But he and I were thinking of the details about *why* it was a bad idea.

Was that effectively pro free speech whether or not it caused harm in other ways?

His point was, separate to which ideas *should* be covered under free speech, deliberately choosing controversial ones uses up people's tolerance and moves us a notch closer to associating free speech with mostly being used for horrible things and make everyone dislike it.

And I'm sort of torn. Because on the one hand, that sounds completely true. Things that are sufficiently harmful are NOT covered under free speech (morally or legally depending on culture or country), and this is deliberately expanding that category by making potentially-harmful things a lot more of a problem.

On the other hand, defending horrible things as legal if undesirable feels like it sets a standard for free speech: we know other speech is ok, because we allow this.

Did it cause harm in other ways?

Everything above is true whether you chose speakers you personally sympathise with but don't want to say so, or speakers you massively disagree with but want to engage with. However, there's definitely an awful trend that when talk about free speech, they don't mean "lets invite some communists" or "lets burn some american flags". No. They mean, "lets find some supposedly-intellectual research which has been seized on by a rallying cry by the alt-right".

People attacked by the alt-right have done MORE THAN THEIR FUCKING SHARE of being attacked with little recourse. If you're convinced that inviting speakers who are incredibly threatening to a certain proportion of people on campus is necessary, can you at least choose some DIFFERENT subset? Invite some revolutionaries who want to guillotine people with inherited wealth. Invite some over-the-top animal rights types who want to bomb all non-vegans. Or, preferably, find views which are *controversial* but not *immediately threatening* to make your point with.

I originally tried to list some views which were very controversial to the point I can easily imagine protests etc about them, but (a) from all over the political spectrum and (b) not personally threatening. Some of which I secretly agreed with, some of which I hated. But I decided that would just cause a worse argument right now.

No we actually want to hear them, we're not just being controversial for the sake of it, honest

Scott talked about, if you actually *want* to hear a speaker, you should use different criteria than if you're trying to air controversial views. If you're being controversial on purpose, I feel you need a greater weight on "not harming people" in addition to "does this help or hurt freedom of speech".

But if you really want to hear a speaker, even one I find vile, I generally don't think banning them is that useful -- provided you do sensible things like, advertise to people who actually want to hear them, and for fuck's sake don't try to make it at some mandatory event, or even some organisation-wide event, to show you just want to have a speaker, not that you want to force a speaker on people who will be harmed by it. Most of the "bans" have been because people have been deliberately bullying people they expect to object, not because they were genuinely trying to have a quiet meeting and then got invaded by protesters.


Jan. 18th, 2017 11:37 am
jack: (Default)
I've kicked this idea around before as a possibility, but I've been thinking more about it since.

People have a great tendency to expect to find underlying truths. Introverts and extroverts are *really* like this underneath. Men and women have blah blah bullshit different brains. Etc.

But my idea of introversion is almost the reverse. I speculate that it's best understood as a catch-all for people who are less social for whatever reason. Two axes I think of (I don't know if this makes sense for other people) is "how much you NEED interaction with other people" and "how EASY you find interaction with other people".

And some of that is who you are, and some of that is circumstance: lots of external factors can make socialising easier or harder, which forms a self-reinforcing feedback loop in how easy you find it. This would predict that some people who aren't that interested, some people who naturally find it difficult, and some people who are prevented by circumstance, are similar in many ways.

And it also ties into the "extroverts gain energy from interaction, introverts spend energy on it" idea which many people endorse. In my way of thinking, that's more of a consequence than a root cause, that you need it a certain amount, and it takes a certain amount of effort to do, and if it refreshes you more than it costs, it leaves you net positive on energy and if it's the other way round, you need a reserve of energy to spend on it.

For instance, I notice with Liv and I, when we're interacting with each other, we need quite similar amounts of time. We can spend a *lot* of time just interacting, but we both need a certain, not that large, amount of time having a break from it too. But it seems to me, Liv is like that with *more* people. Whereas the number of people I can interact with basically indefinitely is quite small.

So my theory is, some people don't *need* that much social interaction, whether or not they find it easy when they need to do it. And other people find it difficult to varying degrees, but act quite similarly when they're with people they *can* interact easily with, but vary in how often they are.

But I don't know if that sounds like it applies to other people, or just how it helped me to think of it.
jack: (Default)
I sometimes think of things I enjoy doing, just like things I need to be able to do, as skills. Not that the main enjoyment of reading a book is the challenge, but I think *some* of it is. I enjoy reading books where I DO have to work to follow what's going on, even though I enjoy that less often than I enjoy reading books that aren't as hard work.

But that partly means, I'm always slowly getting bored with the sort of books I used to like. Because if you can read the first few pages and say, "right, I bet the tough protagonist talks like an asshole but actually always does the right thing and the female lead flirts with him for some reason and the morally ambiguous manipulators switch sides several times but end up essentially working with the protagonist in the climax even if he doesn't like it", and all that happens, the only bits I'm really experiencing are the bits that *don't* fit into that mold.

And it also means, reading books in a different genre can be *difficult*, I need to consciously practice in order to follow when much more of the book is new to me. But rewarding, because a bit of practice can open up a lot of other books.

And it also means, "how much do you like this book" can vary a lot, "it's good, but only if you're familiar with that sort of thing" or "it's good, but you may have read it all before", can be the norm, not the exception.
jack: (Default)
Did I talk about this before?

Sometimes people you share a society (or a household) with are wrong about really important things. But it's usually best to say, if they're not harming *other* people, to allow your views to be known, but mostly simply let it go. For several reasons:

* Partly practical reasons, that changing someone's mind is often a difficult or impossible, so haranguing them is likely to make you feel better but not actually help, and mutually agreeing to suspend the haranguing unless you have time to talk about it properly is better for both of you.
* Partly humility, you can't be right about EVERYTHING, and how are you going to improve if you don't listen to other people?
* Partly morality: that imposing your opinion on someone else, even if you're right THIS time, erodes people's right to decide for themselves in lots of other cases.

Unfortunately, it's rarely that simple, because often people ARE harming other people, and you SHOULD try to fix it, but sometimes you're forced to compromise for now anyway just because there's only one of you and lots of other people and you can't overpower all of them instantly, and it's hard to find an acceptable compromise, but necessary to try to live in a society with other people at all.

However, whenever I recap the argument for tolerating opposing viewpoints in my mind, I always ask myself, "But what about people who DON'T agree to let it go and allow people to decide for themselves, people who insist their views MUST be imposed on you (whether for good reasons or not)?" As a practical matter, if you don't want to capitulate, you have no choice but to resist. But only recently did I admit, I basically had to accept, tolerating OTHER views as long as they didn't harm anyone else, but that itself was an exception, you had no choice but to impose "tolerate other views as long as they don't harm anyone else" on people if you can, even if you disagree...
jack: (Default)
I've a lot of unformed thoughts related to this topic recently. Likely there some existing theory of value I don't have the concepts for which would resolve it, anyone know?

Preamble: minimum price, maximum price, real-world price, and "fair" price

Suppose Alice does some work for Bob (making something, repairing something, helping with something). I'm going to start by considering the simplest case of "they agree what Bob will pay Alice, then she does it" and try to work towards what would actually happen if this was a repeated (eg. as a wage for ongoing employment, or as advertising goods/services for sale en mass). There are going to be a LOT of complications which overwhelm this basic idea coming shortly.

What price might they agree? I'm considering four relevant prices. Firstly, the minimum price Alice will accept, presumably the minimum that she expects to cover materials, any intangible benefits, and the minimum compensation for her time that will make it preferable to do this rather than something else. Second, the maximum price Bob will pay, presumably the benefit he expects to gain (in pleasure, or in saving spending money elsewhere, or making more money).

These may be very subjective and hard to quantify! I'm not saying they need to be fixed, or known, just that they're a way I find it useful to think about the question in principle. The third price, is the price actually agreed at in real life. Most of the time this will be between the minimum and the maximum, though there will be exceptions when people make mistakes. But the place in the range varies wildly depending on lots of messy real world factors, and a lot of theoretical and practical economics cover describing HOW it varies.

Both people will have limited knowledge of their own position and even more limited knowledge of the other person's, so will not always know what offer to make that might be accepted. There are significant transaction costs in reaching an agreement, eg. if one party strings the other along and then adds price at the last minute, or if Alice's main job is working for Bob, it will take her a lot of effort to get a different job which may or may not be better. If there are lots of Alices and only one Bob, or vice versa, the single party will almost automatically negotiate a more favourable price, as the multiple parties compete against each other. Is it more advantageous for Alice to mass-produce what she can offer and sell to as many Bobs as possible, or seek out the few Bobs to whom it's most valuable and sell it to them for more? Or both?

The "fair" price

Most people have some intuition what constitutes a "fair" price, although I'm not sure if there's a single best definition. Some people say that whatever people agree to is "fair". Most people would say that a deal that is massively one-sided, paying Alice the absolute minimum you can get away with -- even if it's better for her than doing nothing -- is unfair, if it means that she can barely eat, or that her work produces tens of millions of pounds of profit, of which she gets none.

People disagree about whether how unique Alice's offer is should affect what's a "fair" price. If she's got a talent most people lack, most people accept she deserves to earn more, but is that because she has a stronger bargaining position, or because the maximum price is higher so a fair point "somewhere between" is higher?

Supply and Demand

The idea of supply and demand, that if a market is at least somewhat liquid, it will reach a natural level is so embedded in a lot of discourse, it's easy to assume that's what's "fair". Many people naturally accept that if someone is the only person in the world who can do something, they get SOME benefit from doing that for people. Others say, no, everyone should put in the same EFFORT and get the same reward, and the benefits of natural talent, luck, etc, should be divvied up amongst all people equally. I suspect the best answer is toward the direction of "divide equally", but there are benefits to everyone in allowing people freedom to choose what benefits they want and what work they want to do for whom, and that implies _some_ amount of some people getting more (as long as everyone gets enough).

What did other people think? That supply and demand has something to do with a fair price? Or everything? Or nothing? Or not sure? Or you think something different after reading this?


Another implication, is that the COMBINED benefit to Alice and Bob is mostly determined by whether Alice does the work or not. The effort spent negotiating may be necessary to make things more fair, or may be perverted to make things less fair, but is a zero-sum game -- it's pure loss to humanity as a whole, Alice only engages in it to avoid being screwed over by Bob (or to screw Bob over) and vice versa.

Sometimes we're fortunate and the obvious best strategy for one party happens to be the best strategy for everyone, eg. something is useful to EVERYONE and there's no benefit to trying to negotiate individual deals, it's best to just sell it to as many people as possible as cheaply as possible and you'll make lots of profit and help lots of people.

Other times, the best strategy for one party generates almost no benefit at all: they have a monopoly over something, and it doesn't provide any benefit AT ALL over the alternatives, but network effect, or cost of switching, or corrupt legislation, etc, etc, prevent people switching away unless they can all do it at once.

You always need SOME willingness to negotiate, if you just accept whatever the other party offers, then everything in the world gets gobbled up by the greediest least scrupulous people. But not to get into ongoing bidding wars about it. It would be better for both parties if "fair" could be imposed from above, even imperfectly, although it's impractical, there would often be too much temptation to game the system.

What WOULD be a "fair" price?

Suggestions? One answer is a completely marxist economy, but even if you view that as "an economy where everything is fair", you need to know what "fair" is. Maybe it DOES depend on the value created (eg. two jobs might be equally morally valuable, but if one is more immediately valuable to the other person, it's paid more), but DOESN'T depend on how good your bargaining position is (but you might have to strengthen it in order to reach a fair offer, eg. by presenting a united front with other buyers/sellers to counteract a monopoly on the other side)?

I feel I left out the important examples, but I think I need to get this posted and get to bed... I will try to follow-up later if possible.
jack: (Default)
I've said similar things before, but I'm feeling like "capitalism" is used both to mean "fluid competition" and also "its natural end-state, entrenched monopoly" (or "whatever people with money want") and I almost want different words for those things.

Like, the recent problems with the EU trying to close VAT loopholes between different countries. I think the basic concept of trying to tax companies which are big enough to invest in ways to cheat the system equally with those that don't is a good one. But in doing so, effectively shutting down all micro-businesses because they have to pay thousands of times more in time and energy dealing with VAT regulations for all EU countries than they make in profit, is a bad thing.

That latter is a case where capitalism was doing great -- person A had a thing, person B paid for it, it was good for everyone... and then the government shut it down. It actually fits a stereotypical libertarian nightmare of "government taxes things so much they don't work any more". I've actually shifted more towards that position! It would be surprising if regulation was ALWAYS the right amount or ALWAYS too little or too much. But I'm shifting more towards saying "on average we need significantly less capitalism, but there's definitely ways we need more capitalism".

That might be a better explanation of why I think of myself as socialist, but still uncomfortable with saying I'm "anti-capitalist" without further qualification?


Jan. 27th, 2015 01:11 pm
jack: (Default)
On the scale between "raw libertarianism" and "wealth and jobs completely allocated by central fiat", I think we need less capitalism than we've got now, but a lot more than zero.

I'm not sure exactly what my ideal society would look like, economically it's based on more on practical questions of "what works" than what I want ethically. But from here, much more monopoly controls, higher wages, less large-scale tax-evasion, and also more redistributive.

So, um, basically "less capitalism". But OTOH, I want to stop a long way short of no capitalism. I think we should be employed for wages, or given money to support them if we don't have wages, and should be able to spend that how we like, and that generally leads to a more useful distribution of resources than fiat-ing what we get. I think people should be able to start organisations and see if people are willing to buy from them. I want the government to shape and curate the market and nationalise and ban things when there's a clear benefit, not all the time.

I'm not sure that's all right, I don't know enough about it, but that's my general direction by default. I think that makes me "socialist", but does that make me "a capitalist?" I feel like "yes", but I also think "capitalist" has strong connotations of more free market than we've got now, which I want in some areas, but not most. Is this just another word which is useless to use now?
jack: (Default)
This is a response to http://liv.dreamwidth.org/459478.html, but I thought it might go on too long for a comment.

Liv's brother floated the suggestion that making ethical consumer choices is just a way to express your values, it doesn't really help to bring about change.

I interpret this as "this is closer to reality than many people are comfortable admitting" not "this is reality" (else I disagree a LOT). But in fact, I have a response on about four different axes.

1. Is it ever worthwhile making small changes that only matter if everyone does them?

Is it worth voting? Is it worth giving to charity even if you can only make a small difference? Is it worth being polite? In the giant iterated prisoner's dilemma that is society, is it worth cooperating?

I say YES, it is.

Anything one person out of 7 billion does is unlikely to make a difference, but out of the allotted "chance of making a difference" you have, you might as well use it! People on Liv's post had several good examples where incremental shifts in popular opinion HAD made a difference in the past.

2. Purchasing specifically and market segmentation

There's also a question on purchasing specifically. It's often the case that things are sold as "ethical" are not actually that ethical, even if it's not obvious. Sometimes it's blatant, like saying "buy this and fight breast cancer" but donating only 0.00000000000001% of the purchase price to the charity. Sometimes it's less obvious, like even if all the eggs are actually free range, if you sell 90% of them as "special chicken-murder eggs" and charge more for the rest, probably most people will buy the eggs anyway, but people with more money to spend will buy the more expensive ones.

I think this is common, but not universal -- I think some purchasing decisions matter, even if it's also easy to be misled and do things that look superficially ethical but actually aren't really. I suspect most people I know think about it a lot and automatically discount a lot of obvious scams, and are implicitly talking about decisions which actually matter.

Whereas I wonder if part of Jacob's point might be that many people don't -- they assume that buying the scam-ethical products makes a difference. And I agree that's probably a common problem, but I feel like I mostly already took it for granted -- I don't want to say that purchasing decisions never matter, even if many people need to realise that some don't.


I mentioned "special murder eggs" and thought of this comment about goblins being listed as an "evil" race in the DnD monster manual http://www.giantitp.com/comics/oots0511.html. And then it occurred to me, if something like Pate Foie Gras is desirable because it's expensive, and expensive because it's complicated, and complicated because it's cruel, then humans are the race eating things just for the sake of being evil :( (Though I hear ethical Pate Fois Gras is more common now??)

3. Performing values

Like the previous point, but whether in buying things or not, I think it might be a common problem that people want to do something good (or be seen to do something good) but aren't that good at choosing things. I think there are apparently ethical things that are mostly for show: charities which make a lot of noise but don't really do any good, or do harm; products advertised as ethical that aren't really any better; folk-tale good-deeds like "unplug charger" which is such a small benefit compared to many other things. I think this is a thing that happens.

But I think this happens with everything. We buy products marked "you're ethical". We buy products marked "you're smart". We buy produces marked "you're healthy". We buy products marked "you're going to be rich". That doesn't mean we're never smart, or healthy, or rich, or good. It just means we're hit-and-miss at it.

As in #2, I think this is a common problem which could be improved on, but most people I know already agree with that. Not that "buying decisions are automatically useless".

4. Is supporting ethical things by buying them sensible?

Implicit in all the previous points is that if buying ethical things does little or no good, there's no point in it. And I can easily imagine an argument "why buy from companies who pay a living wage, better to buy as I like and spend time supporting legislation changes" or "why buy from companies with ethical animal-welfare policies, better to eat what you like and donate to animal charities".

And I think there's some truth in that: if you really want to make a difference, I think other things probably give you more leverage. But I also think, being ethical in small ways does add up. And specifically supporting the end goal of "companies which could live in the society you imagine" is necessary at some point in the process of hoped-for societal shift. Paying a fair wage even if you don't have to might be theoretically eclipsed by not doing so and giving the money to people who need it even more. But I think establishing norms of paying fair wages helps establish a framework for how society is supposed to work, whereas breaking that down but giving to charity elsewhere undermines it. I don't have this completely thought out, but I think it's important even if I'm not exactly sure how.


Jan. 26th, 2015 02:17 pm
jack: (Default)
Via emperor http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30976610

I wish articles wouldn't conflate every sort of e-voting. I have very different views of:

1. MPs allowed to vote in absentia -- since the votes aren't private, risk of shenanigans seem a lot lot lower, basically a good idea.

2. Jumping straight to allowing remote electronic voting without even a cursory look-over by a security expert -- I have no idea why anyone even contemplates this it seems criminally irresponsible. We have a pretty good voting system, let's not destroy it on a whim?

(Likewise, using electronic voting machines in polling stations produced by partisan companies, with no oversight from all parties or election officials, that are trivially hackable, seemed an obviously bad idea, I don't know how it happened.)

(Although, I would be interested to see what the possible trade-offs were, if it were designed by somebody competent.)

3. Investigating ways of using electronic vote counting in polling stations -- extreme caution, but possibly worth investigating, because the convenience is definitely something people want, and it would be good to have actual pros and cons, not just "NO". I agree there are lots of risks and I'm not eager to explore it, especially if it's conflated with #2. But it seems like you could make machines which were sufficiently simple they couldn't boot off SD cards, and had oversight from representatives from all parties (as elections do currently), and it might be worth trying??
jack: (Default)
I could have found an answer that fitted this question and yesterdays question both, but I decided they were interesting in different ways.

Technological innovations I think we're groping towards, which I'm impatient to have already:

A programming language with a syntax as straightforward as python, but works like C++14 is trying to, of letting it all compile to blazing fast code, even for embedded systems, by default, but letting you easily use dynamic typing where you actually want it. And of letting you use static type checking MOST of the time, but lets you be as dynamic as you need when you actually need it.

Widespread 3D printing of replacement parts, etc. We're nearly there, but we're waiting for a slightly wider variety of materials, and a wider database of possible things. Where you can say "I want this £10 widget holder from the supermarket, but can I get one 30% longer if I pay extra? OK? Thank you!"

Private cars replaced by mega-fleets of robot taxis and universal good public transport throughout/between all population dense areas.

Everyone uses git, or another dvcs, and the interface is actually consistent and friendly for everybody.

Decent, standardised, change-tracking and formatting for non-plain-text documents that allows sensible merging. (OK, this seems to be two steps forward and three steps back, so maybe there's no point waiting for it, but I'd still like it! :))
jack: (Default)
Good question. There's lots of things I might talk about, and it's hard to pick a particular one. Like most geeks, I would be happy if space travel existed as much as science fiction hoped. But even we do start building towards missions to mars and asteroid mining, it probably won't be a revolutionary change. I hate the energy wasted (by me and society as a whole) on travelling to places we need to be, I'd be interested to see how society would change if you could open a zero-hour almost-free transport link from the middle of one area to another, or even from each house.

Many fictional inventions have come a long way to existing. I'm really used to always having a map and encyclopaedia in my pocket, and widely-used asynchronous communication that lets me build friendships with people who are similar to me as well as people who live in geographical proximity to me. And being able to deal with many bills, forms, etc, with the press of some buttons, without having to go places. I don't think I was cut out for the 20th century :)

But one example that especially springs to mind is Bujold's uterine replicator, that can safely gestate a baby without a human womb, for what it symbolises about society. It's the sort of thing that sometimes rubs some hard science fiction fans the wrong way, because it's not physics or mechanical engineering, and the focus is on the societal implications, not how the technology could be built. But I think the same is often true of hard sci-fi, of building something which seems plausible, but not always from actual blue-prints, and seeing where you go with it.

On the one hand the uterine replicator is a symbol of how society could change, if gestating babies wasn't randomly assigned to half of the population. And all sorts of secondary potential changes: like Athos, the planet of only men[1]; or the possibility of centralising child-rearing completely, and people can be parents only if they'd like to be; or of reducing the need to unwanted pregnancies.

On the other hand, a lot of the inequality in society is cultural, not biological, in the assumptions that mothers should be primary child-rearers more than fathers, even apart from gestation and breast-feeding. So maybe it wouldn't make that much of a difference :(


[1] I thought Athos was interesting example of Bujold's worldbuilding, in that she postulated Athos as originally populated by monastics, but that after a couple of generations there was a mix of monastic celibate farmers, and essentially gay cosmopolitan culture, but because she didn't NEED to, she never specified if the proportions were 90%/10% or 10%/90% and the reader could assume either way.

This post brought to you in the past from the future by the power of cheating! :)
jack: (Default)
Today I saw an act of pure evil (and an act of pure good).

If you're in a stationary queue of traffic, and and a vehicle wants to turn through (not into) it, into or out of a side road, there is absolutely no benefit to you in preventing it, and negligible harm to anyone else. It's physically impossible for the queue ahead to accelerate so fast that waiting 20 seconds to let someone through means you may be left behind, unless they have psychic powers. And even if they do, you're still only losing 20 seconds.

As far as I can tell, the only possible downside is that way at the back of the queue, the cars are being held up by 20 seconds, and someone *may* be slowed down by the queue from reaching the turning they want. But the person in the vehicle that would like to turn in front of you is *definitely* being prevented, so letting them through seems like it would always be better. There's not even any mental effort, since letting someone turn out of a side road is pretty boring, but it's less boring than sitting in a queue of traffic :) Is there any other downside I'm missing? Even if the queue is only moving slowly, it's still usually better, but sometimes it's actually rolling forward a few metres at a time between stopping again.

It's basically free karma. Completely free: not "clearly better to do more good, at the expense of a smaller downside", not "put in a bit of effort now and it will make a greater return later", just "no downside, take the gold pill and make the universe slightly better, or take the green pill, and don't". Pure positive-sum, a small microcosm of positive-sum-interpersonal-interactions which are what make society.

So why do people NOT do this? It's pure evil.

Except, even if that analysis of the pros and cons are accurate, that emphasises the difference between evil intent and evil outcome. Most people haven't thought it through, just "must get to the red traffic light AS SOON AS POSSIBLE just in case something delays me". As with big things, for small things, "evil" intent is poorly correlated with evil outcome -- obliviousness is at least as common.

Which feels more wasteful, but might be easier to fight.
jack: (Default)
I have the idea that things like price, wage, rent controls are very useful to correct imbalances in bargaining position or imbalances in bargaining information -- eg. employers and landlords often have more power in the short term, and can use that to impose unreasonable contract terms, if they were not stopped, and the same could apply to prices.

But that they don't usually work to change the value long-term, because if the "official" value doesn't reflect the market for a long time, it distorts the market and the problems bubble up elsewhere: eg. either black markets (if prices are significantly too high) or bribes (if the prices are significantly too low). And often "bribes" are really inefficient, eg. the school catchment area system is supposedly fairer than paying for education, but leads to people overpaying for houses to get to the right catchment area, which can lead to everyone living somewhere that's less efficient for them.

And if the changes are short-term or not-too-large it works because it's not worth anyone's while avoiding the official answer. And sometimes we don't have a better solution, and using the only tool we have available and hoping the side-effects are not too bad is better than ignoring the problem. But it would be better if the demand could be addressed directly (either by meeting it or ameliorating it) rather than pretending it can be legislated out of existence.

Is that right? I'm not sure I'm thinking about this the right way.

It's painful for me to say so, because there's lots of things I wish were distributed "fairly" rather than on the basis of "who can pay a ridiculously extortionate sum", from education to concert tickets. But I'd rather everyone were taxed a lot more and then things were priced according to demand, rather than trying to fix individual unfairnesses piecemeal.

The past

Nov. 10th, 2014 05:27 pm
jack: (Default)
In the past, if you didn't know the way somewhere, you had to find a map of the area in advance and bring it with you, or you'd be lost.

If you weren't able to plan to bring something to read while you waited, you didn't have anything to read.

If you arranged to meet someone somewhere and they weren't there, there was no way to find them.

In the past, if you wanted to talk to someone, you had to ring the building they were in and hope.

People routinely used synchronous voice communication for minor non-urgent communication, because there wasn't anything better.

Before 1989, and in 1999/2000, there were periods of time with no humans in space.

Radios, calculators, notebooks, stereos, spreadsheets, compasses, maps, spirit levels, plumb lines, rulers, protractors, dictionaries, encyclopaedias, flashlights, telephones, alarm clocks and calendars were distinct physical objects, not apps you could just download whenever you needed them.
jack: (Default)

There's a famous concept of a relationship escalator, that people have a shared expectation of a relationship progressing in a natural order from first interest, to being "a relationship", to potentially being legally recognised, and potentially to long-term commitments like having children together.

Obviously this concept was coined by people who _didn't_ want that process to be inevitable, because people who were happy with (or resigned to) the process didn't have any reason to re-examine it.

However, like many ideas from polyamory, I think it has a lot to say about any relationship.

Specifically, even for people happy with the rough order of the steps, I think it's useful to recognise what stage you're at and what range of stages you'd like to be at. When you're first experimenting with flirting, usually as a teenager, most people don't want a relationship which is expected to quickly progress all the way to the top and get married, they actually want to flirt with a few people and audition them for short-term relationships, with the possibility but not always expectation of become serious long-term relationships. Conversely, many people have dated enough and actively want marriage and children, and are looking for someone compatible: someone who knows what they want and is eager to progress up the scale very fast.

Having the concepts and vocabulary is very useful to describe what you actually want, and understand how miscommunication can occur. There's a fairly large amount of leeway -- people at a "actively want short-term dating, open to long-term dating" state may work with people at a "auditioning short-term dates to find someone compatible for long-term dating" stage, with only a few false starts.

But if there's a large mismatch, everyone will feel hard-done-by, and often feel they were misled. As with most sitcoms which assume half of people want casual sex and expect to reluctantly dragged into a serious relationship after that, and half of people only want sex as a step directly on the way to a serious relationship.

And it's useful consciously recognising what level you're content with. If you've got marriage and don't want children, then you've found the place you want to stay in, then that's perfect if both parties agree. But disaster if one party wanted to go to the top, and one party wanted to go 2/3 of the way up and then they'd be happy, and they both assumed that went without saying and never told each other.

However, even for poly people, it's useful to describe exactly what relationships you'd look for. Eg swingers who might say, "I have a primary relationship progressing most of the way up the escalator already, I'd like casual sex, but don't want to progress any further". Eg. people in a primary relationship, who might be eager for another relationship, but content with that not progressing to equal-primary status.

If I were designing Betan relationship status earings, I think _this_ is what they should encode. Not whether someone has a relationship, but what relationships they're open to. And it's a detail you normally have to ask, if they're "interested in a short-term relationship but not a long-term relationship" because they've already got one and don't want two; or because they're going to another planet in 9 months; or because they're happy without one and don't want one at all. And of course, it only works if people can be honest about what they want now and might want one-day without people barraging them with innapropriate offers.
jack: (Default)
Any test along the lines of the Bechdel-Wallace test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test) is never a conclusive determiner whether an individual film is gender-balanced enough. No test ever can be, because there will always be some films which naturally have a predominantly male cast, and the real problem is that there's way too many films with a predominantly male cast.

However, I think the Bechdel-Wallace test is a useful shorthand, even for an individual film, not to say that it's "good" or "bad", but to say roughly how gender-balanced it is, which is something people often (not always) care about.

However, you might be able to have a _better_ shorthand. I'd suggest something like:

1. Gender (or orientation, race, etc) of main character.
2. Excluding main character, proportion of male-male conversations to female-female conversations.

Obviously that would need to be tweaked for films which don't have a single main character, but I think gender of protagonists is a different problem to gender balance in general: some things do well at having a non-male protagonist, but still have all secondary characters be male by default; other things are gender balanced in general, but still tend to focus on a male lead.

And using a ratio, rather than just a binary yes/no, lets you capture something about the film: for instance, edge cases with a female lead and no other characters at all; or the difference between a film which _barely_ passes, and a film which _clearly_ passes.