Given that we are talking about pre-capitalist societies where working for hire (which is what you presumably mean) was not all that common, what do you think these people did? Is working in the fields "work", but managing the farm "not work"?

I had in mind precisely those rich people who did not hands-on manage the farm, but hired others to do it for them: the upper nobility, for instance.

But yes, the idea of retiring and doing nothing is fairly new.

And that is precisely the idea I wanted to address. The OP's example retirees are of this kind.

This is precisely the Luddite argument: the textile machines have priced humans out of the previously profitable market of weaving.

That the textile machines priced humans out of the market is a fact. The Luddite argument is that, therefore, the machines should not have been introduced - and I disagree with that.

Humanity survived.

Never once did I say humanity won't survive automation, or that automation is bad for humanity. Automation can free humanity from the need to work to survive, which would be a very good thing! But societies will have to adjust to stop requiring people to work in order to earn money in order to pay for basic necessities.

Have you checked the US unemployment rate recently?

You give the outside view: until now automation hasn't caused sustained mass unemployment, so it won't in the future either. I give the inside view: almost all jobs are susceptible to profitable automation, and (almost?) all new kinds of jobs that are introduced require high intelligence and years of study or training.

In addition, there are possible inventions that would be rule-changing if they occurred; in the longer term of decades we can't ignore them. In the most extreme case, AGI could automate all or almost industries. Just because it hasn't happened until now doesn't mean it never will.

As to predictions, well, predicting is hard. Especially the future.

I'm not sure what are you saying here. Is it that "predicting the future is so hard I always apply a very low prior to all concrete predictions, no matter what argument is being made"?

This is getting a bit messy, let's recap.

The original disagreement was you saying "The concept of retirement is ... fairly new" and me disagreeing. I still think that sentence is plainly false for most sane values of "retirement".

You also said that what's new is the idea of retiring at a particular age, in cohorts, and that's kinda true. Only kinda because first, as your Wiki link shows, that idea in its contemporary form appeared more than a hundred years ago; and second, because retiring after a term of service is an ancient custom, g... (read more)

Why people want to die

by PhilGoetz 1 min read24th Aug 2015175 comments


Over and over again, someones says that living for a very long time would be a bad thing, and then some futurist tries to persuade them that their reasoning is faulty.  They tell them that they think that way now, but they'll change their minds when they're older.

The thing is, I don't see that happening.  I live in a small town full of retirees, and those few I've asked about it are waiting for death peacefully.  When I ask them about their ambitions, or things they still want to accomplish, they have none.

Suppose that people mean what they say.  Why do they want to die?

The reason is obvious if you just watch them for a few years.  They have nothing to live for.  They have a great deal of free time, but nothing they really want to do with it.  They like visiting friends and relatives, but only so often.  The women knit.  The men do yardwork.  They both work in their gardens and watch a lot of TV.  This observational sample is much larger than the few people I've asked.

You folks on LessWrong have lots of interests.  You want to understand math, write stories, create start-ups, optimize your lives.

But face it.  You're weird.  And I mean that in a bad way, evolutionarily speaking.  How many of you have kids?

Damn few.  The LessWrong mindset is maladaptive.  It leads to leaving behind fewer offspring.  A well-adapted human cares above all about sex, love, family, and friends, and isn't distracted from those things by an ADD-ish fascination with type theory.  That's why they probably have more sex, love, and friends than you do.

Most people do not have open-ended interests the way LWers do.  If they have a hobby, it's something repetitive like fly-fishing or needlepoint that doesn't provide an endless frontier for discovery.  They marry, they have kids, the kids grow up, they have grandkids, and they're done.  If you ask them what the best thing in their life was, they'll say it was having kids.  If you ask if they'd do it again, they'll laugh and say absolutely not.

We could get into a long argument over the evolution of aging, and whether people would remain eager to have kids if they remained physically young.  Maybe some would.  Some would not, though.  Many young parents are looking forward to the day their kids leave.

A lot of interests in life are passing.  You fall in love with a hobby, you learn it, you do it for a few years, then you get tired of it.  The things that were fascinating when you were six hold no magic for you now.  Pick up a toy soldier and try to play with it.  You can't.  Skateboarding seems awesome for about five years, and then everyone except Tony Hawk gets tired of it.

Having kids might be like that for some people.  Thing is, it's literally the only thing humans have evolved to be interested in.  Once you're tired of that, you're done.  If some of you want to keep going, that's an accidental by-product of evolution.  And there was no evolutionary pressure to exempt it from the common waning of interest with long exposure.

The way to convert deathists isn't to argue with them, but to get them interested in something.  Twist them the way you're twisted.