Choose that which is most important to you

by CarlJ3 min read21st Jul 20132 comments

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Personal Blog

Followup to: The Domain of Politics

To create your own political world view you need to know about societies and your own political goals/values. In this post I'll discuss the latter, and in the next post the former.

What sort of goals? Those which you wish to achieve for their own sake, and not because they simply are a means to an end. That is, those goals you value intrinsically. Or, if you believe that there exists only one ultimate goal or value, then think of those means which are not that far removed from being intrinsic goal. That is, a birthday party might be just of instrumental value but most would agree that it is more far away from the intrinsic value than, say, good tires. I will for the rest of the post assume that most people value a lot of things intrinsically, and by values I will denote intrinsic values.

So, I'd like to draw a line between values and that which achieve those values. The latter is what we're trying to figure out what they are, without first proposing what they are. Those are political systems, or parts of them; they are institutions and laws. This is not to say that these things cannot be valued for their own sake – I put value on a system, possibly for aesthetic reasons – but those values should be disentangled from the other benefit a system produces.

With that in mind, you should now list all the things you value in ranking order. To rank them is necessary since we live in a world of scarce resources, so you won't necessarily achieve all your goals, but you will want to achieve those that are most important to you.

Now, what one values may change over time, so naturally what seems to be most important may also change. That which was on place #7 may go to #1 and vice versa. That is, values are changing with new information and a change in one's condition. That said, one's political values don't probably shift all that much. And even if they do, if you can't predict how they will change, you still need them to be able to know what political system is good for you.

There are many ways to get a feel of what your most highly valued political values are. Introspection, discussing with friends, think through a number of thought experiments, read the literature on what makes most people happy, listen to what experiences have been most horrible or pleasurable to others, etc.. In any case, here's a thought experiment to help with finding your ideological preferences, should you need it:

A genie appears and it says that it will make ten wishes come true and then it will be gone forever. As this genie will make more than three wishes come true it has an added restriction: all wishes need to be political in nature. By luck you get to make the wishes – what do you wish for?

The important thing to remember is that, if you should lose one wish, you will be less sorry to give up your tenth wish than any other. And less sorry to give up the ninth wish than the eight if you lost two wishes, and so on.

To make it clearer what I mean I'll write down some of the things I value. Not my most preferred goals, but those on 11th to 20th place:

  1. Those who have trouble excelling in life should receive whatever help can be given so they may become better.
  2. If someone comes up with a previously unknown idea for improving the world, and if three knowledgeable and unrelated individuals believe the idea is very good, it should only take some hours for everyone to be able to know that this matter is of importance.
  3. Everyone should have access to some means of totally private communication.
  4. There should be no infringement on the right to develop one's mind, whatever technology one uses.
  5. All animals should be, if the technology ever becomes available, sufficiently mentally enhanced to be given the choice of whether or not to become as intelligent (or more) as humans.
  6. If it ever seems likely to be possible, we should strive towards creating a technology to resurrect the dead sooner rather than later.
  7. The civilization should be able to co-exist with other peaceful civilizations.
  8. There shouldn't be any ultimate certainty on the nature of existence or in any one reality tunnel; some balkanization of epistemology is good.
  9. Everyone who share these values should know or learn the art of creating sustainable groups for collective action.
  10. The civilization which embodies these values should continue indefinitely.

EDIT: DanielLC notes that this simple ranking wouldn't give you any information on how valuable a 90% completion of one goal is relative to a 95% completion of another goal. That information will however be important when you have to choose between incremental steps towards several different goals.

To create a ranking which displays that information, imagine that each goal you have written down can be in progress in five stages - 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% - so that it is possible to be 75% or 0% on the way to achieve any particular goal. So, for instance, the goal of having private communication for everyone might be 50% completed if half the population have access to secret communication channels, but the other half doesn't.

Next, assume your one wish (in the scenario) is divided into five parts, one for each stage. And then rank every wish again following the same rule. This will look something like this:

  1. 100% of my first goal.
  2. 100% of my second goal.
  3. 100% of my third goal.
  4. 100% of my fourth goal.
  5. 75% of my first goal.
  6. 100% of my fifth goal.
  7. 50% of my first goal.
  8. 75% of my second goal.

(This was made purely for illustrative purposes. I haven't thought the matter through completely on how much I value these incremental parts.)

Another option is to do these more fine-tuned rankings on a gut level. Just having an imprecise feeling that, somewhere being closer to goal A stops being as important as being closer to B. This should be appropriate for those areas where your uncertainty about your preferences is high or where you don't care that much about which goal gets satisfied.

Next post: "Consider the Most Important Facts"

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