I first attempted to post this in 2009, but bounced off the karma wall.  Since then, MY forgetfulness and procrastination have been its nemesis.

I invite you to listen (read) in an unusual way. "Consider it": think WITH this idea for a while. There will be plenty of time to refute it later. I find that, if I START with, "That's so wrong!", I really weaken my ability to "pan for the gold".

Remember the Swamp!


I looked over the tag cloud and didn't see:

  • Existential Risk
  • War
  • Aggression
  • Competitveness
  • Territorialism
  • Nuclear arsenals

Admittedly, searching on war did provide a few results.  

I invite you all to let this concern guide your posts: humanity is on a path toward multiple futures, and way too many (IMHO) of them include our extinction or the destruction of our civilization.  Not many people even think about it.  We have become so numb to the nuclear fear that was so palpable in the 1950s - early 1960s.  When I talk to people about it, they remember, and most agree thet the huge nuclear arsenals are a really bad idea.  But, it's not present in their daily thought.

Think big and think far.

Think about how we can have the great mass of people, not just a few rationalists, become Less Wrong about what is important.

Thanks for your Consideration.


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11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:50 PM

This post seems incomplete. If it is complete, it seems almost...confused? I don't understand what the point of your post is.

The post avoids making an explicit argument about what an optimal LW would look like and comparing LW as it is now to that ideal. I think this serves two major purposes, one legitimate and one illegitimate.

It is legitimate to argue in favor of any of a broad and diverse range of alternatives as preferable to a specific policy, and vagueness is legitimate when used to do this. E.g. "Let's not drive to the theater. We can do something here instead" "You're saying we should stay home and eat all the silverware?!" "...no."

It is illegitimate to avoid making actual arguments and specificity as a dodge that invokes arguments favoring your conclusion in the minds of readers, without articulating anything falsifiable. "I have to go, but if we had kept playing chess, I would have won." "I can force a mate in at most six moves after my next move here. You can't escape either an eventual fork by the knight or pin by the bishop. See?" "No, see I can move the rook to prevent the fork..." "Right, that's what sets you up for the pin!" "...no, because I don't have to move my rook. So you see, it's not certain that you can take the rook with the knight and it's not certain you can take it with the bishop. Therefore, it's not certain that you can take it, and not certain you can mate me." "That actually doesn't follow. You can only make one move at a time. Your moves certainly leave the king vulnerable, but because your account of what your moves would be is so vague, I can't say one move in particular will lead to your defeat." "Did I mention, LW doesn't have 'competitiveness' in the tag cloud? I disapprove and am concerned." "Umm...I wouldn't say that's a major concern. Tell me exactly why you think it is and I'll tell you how you're wrong, but until you do, I'm mentally downvoting you for nonconstructive contrariness-raising a nonspecific concern without telling me why it's an actual concern or what would be better, because it seems to me that there are no good arguments that it is a concern. I'm responsible for being able to defeat the best Frankenstein argument that could be cobbled together out of the shards of even your worst argument, but I'll be damned if I'll pay for the reagents to rehabilitate your statement when you haven't given me reason to think you even have an actual argument. I fulfill my responsibility of being able to defeat arguments like the one I think you almost made by understanding exactly what's wrong with the similar arguments other people spend the effort to think through."

It's probably a draft that was published prematurely due to this bug.

It's not originally from the discussion area, so no.

Nuclear weapons are an existential threat but they aren't really a major one at this point in time. Part of why people were more scared in the late 1950s and over the next few decades was that nuclear war was a real threat to humanity. (Moreover, if one was a general US or Soviet citizen, even if nuclear war didn't wipe out humanity one would probably not personally survive.) A single city or two getting destroyed by terrorists with nukes is awful and horrific but isn't an existential risk threat. The only existential risk from nuclear weapons is global thermonuclear war. What are the possible options for a nuclear war scenario?

India and Pakistan is one of the most likely possible scenarios. It would leave the subcontinent glowing pretty badly and hurt the global economy a lot but it is clearly not an existential risk threat.

Israel and Iran might exchange nukes, or Israel might use a few on one of its other neighbors if Israel judged its existence to be threatened. That almost happened in the 1973 war. But that would lead to only a glowing mideast. It would be unfortunate for oil prices and of course would lead to again massive loss of life, but isn't a game-over situation.

There are also some scenarios involving North Korea, but again, none of them resemble an existential risk threat.

The only three powers with anywhere near enough nuclear material to cause a global war are Russia, China and the US. And it is true that any pair of those is a not completely implausible scenario. However, none is at all likely. Moreover, given the deterioration of the Russian military, and the general reduction in arms levels by both the US and Russia, it seems likely that a full-scale war would not be nearly as bad as it would have been during the Cold War. Given the current balance of power, the US and Russia both likely have close to first-strike capability on China, although for obvious reasons that option is a much poorer idea for Russia than it is for the US.

There are obviously a handful of other scenarios since both Great Britain and France have nuclear weapons, and it wouldn't surprise me if some of the former Soviet states lied about giving up all their nukes, but again, none of these lead to an end of the world scenario.

There are a lot of existential risks out there, and nuclear war is one of them, but it isn't that likely.

I invite you to listen (read) in an unusual way. "Consider it": think WITH this idea for a while. There will be plenty of time to refute it later. I find that, if I START with, "That's so wrong!", I really weaken my ability to "pan for the gold".

I would be very interested if you could provide examples of this approach helping you, particularly if those examples would not have been better approached by the similar advice of refraining from discussing solutions until after a situation has been thoroughly analyzed.

Are the six bad things you listed supposed to be swamps or alligators?

If they're alligators, what is the swamp?

Nukes could be extremely useful in powering spacecraft, Pluto would be less than a year round trip. If the arsenals are to be reduced the nukes should be used for a Project Orion. Even without that, Nukes are useful in that they could potentially deflect asteroids.

Aggression and Competitiveness certainly have their place in a Capitalist society. The important thing is to direct such behavioral tendencies into business instead of into war or politics.

On a related note, I wonder what an optimal portfolio of anti-existential risk programs would look like... although I suspect "holdings" of anti-nuclear programs per se would be on the lower side, if present.

At any rate, you might be interested in knowing that anti-violence is part of the (pro-liberty rather than existential risk) "portfolio" of the Thiel Foundation, although Imitatio has always been the one organization mentioned there that has consistently had me scratching my head as to what it means and why it matters (it is, I confess, also something I've not spent a lot of time on). There is also an academic field of peace studies which seems to address quite a few of your bullet points.

I wonder what an optimal portfolio of anti-existential risk programs would look like

Agreed that it's not obvious, and what's more, it would almost certainly be different than what one would expect to be reflected in the tag cloud of LW posts about what an optimal portfolio of anti-existential risk programs would look like.

E.g. global warming is an important issue, but it's not important for LW to dilute its content by being the millionth website to feature content on it.

[-][anonymous]12y 0

Well, that was interesting as an exercise in applause lights, at least.