Don't Shoot the Messenger

by Vaniver1 min read19th Apr 201713 comments


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Of course, the there is a game theoretic reason to shoot the messenger. The whole point of doing so is to burn a bridge. The original meaning of the term is:

Originally in military sense of intentionally cutting off one's own retreat (burning a bridge one has crossed) to commit oneself to a course of action

Ancient battles, and probably to large extend in modern battles as well, were won or lost on moral. When a large part of your army panicked and ran your side was almost certain to loose. Furthermore, whoever was the last to run would be the first one killed when the enemy overran your position. Thus, if you were afraid the soldier next you would run, you were likely to run as well. Burning the bridge behind you was one way to resolve the game theoretic dilemma. Running cannot save your life, so you might as well hold the line.

Metaphorically burning a bridge by killing the messenger serves the same purpose. By publicly killing Sauron's messenger Aragorn is reassuring his allies that he's not going to betray them by cutting a deal with Sauron that leaves them out to dry.

I am pretty sure Aragorn followed virtue ethics, not consequentialsim. Abandoning honour for game-theoretical reasons wouldn't have appealed to him.

Furthermore Aragorn et al specifically saw this conflict as a one-shot dilemma that had to be definitely resolved with the absolute destruction of Sauron. They already knew what negotiated peace with the enemy looked like (Saruman) and were not willing to risk that outcome, or any other outcome that would result in the rise of Sauron again. This is why they risk everything by making a frontal assault on Mordor against overwhelming odds. Killing the messenger / burning bridges is perfectly in line with the character motivations here and actually a point where the original source material fails.

That was a very good article!

Unlike the author, I've never found it "very counterintuitive to think about a future that might last a long time". Am I unusual in this repect or is he?

Yeah, I remember around 2007 a friend saying her parents weren't sure whether it was right for them to have children circa 1983, because they thought nuclear war was very likely to destroy the world soon. I thought that was so weird and had never heard of anyone having that viewpoint before, and definitely considered myself living in a time when we no longer had to worry about apocalypse.

It's a bit ironic to say that on a website with a large contingent of people that are purposefully child-free until the control problem is solved.

I think LW is rare in that regard, though. I don't think most people think their children are in danger of any grand disaster except maybe climate change.

I don't understand that viewpoint for a different reason. Suppose you believe the world will be destroyed soon. Why is that a reason not to have children? Is it worse for the children to live short but presumably good lives than not to live at all?

I think it was sensible of them to at least evaluate the question, particularly if they thought their children might live in a nuclear wasteland rather than dying. Given that I heard this from their daughter, they did indeed decide to have children (at the advice of their priest, who reasoned as you do that a short life was better than none.)

Side note: author is female.

I think him. Most people I know behave as though they expect to live into old age (save up, pay taxes, etc.)

EDIT: Raemon got this already about Sarah's gender.

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