[SEQ RERUN] Superhero Bias

by MinibearRex1 min read12th Nov 201127 comments

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Today's post, Superhero Bias was originally published on 01 December 2007. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):

 

It is better to risk your life to save 200 people than to save 3. But someone who risks their life to save 3 people is revealing a more altruistic nature than someone risking their life to save 200. And yet comic books are written about heroes who save 200 innocent schoolchildren, and not police officers saving three prostitutes.


Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

This post is part of the Rerunning the Sequences series, where we'll be going through Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts in order so that people who are interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was The Halo Effect, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it here, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, or summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki. Go here for more details, or to have meta discussions about the Rerunning the Sequences series.

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Super Hero. The Super is in capability and power, not in altruism or courage.

In fact, do any Super Heroes have the kind of altruistic "heroic responsibility" seen so far in the new and improved Harry Potter? Given their power, and what they could do, Super Heroes are less altruistic than most. Rather callous in their disregard for others.

Most of them are fairly courageous, but not really much more than an ordinary soldier. Again, they're probably really less heroic than most. Courage is just the ability to overcome fear. I'd imagine that's easier when you've motivated by saving the universe, instead of just saving one or two people.

A Super Hero is Super, and a Hero. Few are Super Heroic or Super Altruistic. Some really aren't particularly heroic at all, and only just Super.

In fact, do any Super Heroes have the kind of altruistic "heroic responsibility" seen so far in the new and improved Harry Potter?

I'd say yes. Even with the super powers they have they still face more actual risk to themselves more regularly than any human. The authors throw supervillians, evil geniuses and kryptonite at them constantly. They also take more active initiative to seek out people that need saving, etc. Their failing isn't a lack of heroic responsibility, just a lack of strategic intelligence and multiplication. Plenty heroic - just not competent!

Is the tendency to regard Superman as more heroic than a police officer solely due to the halo effect? I think the evaluation of how heroic someone is is pretty much just a measure of how much we would like to be that person. And in that case, it is more desirable to be essentially invulnerable, as well as having the higher social status of having saved 200 children, as opposed to being a vulnerable human being who risks their lives to save a few prostitutes. Police officers are more moral, but that doesn't mean you would necessarily want to be a police officer, if you could choose to become one of the two.

Police officers are more moral

Well, not necessarily.

If there's anything remarkably moral about Superman, it's that he has extraordinary opportunities and temptations to abuse his powers, much more so than an ordinary policeman, and still consistently uses his powers for the good.

True. I was thinking more of the police officer in this post.

Don't forget the fear-aspect, too. Sure, Superman may have just saved your baby, but he's also capable of leveling your city. The fact that such a demi-god actually plays by our measly rules is praiseworthy. Iredeemable does a pretty good job of showing just how terrible a world run by the world's most powerful (and recently flipped his shit) superhero could be.

That's a little off topic, but I hope it shows that there are likely other aspects at play beyond the Halo Effect --- but they would have been orthogonal to Eliezer's point.

The fact that such a demi-god actually plays by our measly rules is praiseworthy

Evidently the friendly super-hero problem has been solved.

Evidently the friendly super-hero problem has been solved.

Now if only we could make him quit being such a pansy, get a better haircut and learn how to wear underwear properly.

Once that is handled he can leverage his super speed and respectable albeit non-genius level of intelligence to develop an FAI. Then his work is done and he just wins.

Obligatory SMBC.

Exactly what I had in mind while writing the second half. The first half prompted another SMBC.

Fictional evidence aside, either a super-hero or a super-villain would clearly present an existential risk.

Depends how super. Superman, several of the X-men or Dr. Manhattan? Yes. Spider-man, Wolverine, or Cyclops? No.

Depends how super. Superman, several of the X-men or Dr. Manhattan? Yes. Spider-man, Wolverine, or Cyclops? No.

There seem right. And, counter-intuitively, I'd say "Batman: yes".

[-][anonymous]9y 0

Batman? How? Because he might provoke others into becoming a super-villain?

Batman? How? Because he might provoke others into becoming a super-villain?

He and the company he controls have already created technologies that constitute an existential threat without even trying and he has even come close to joining terrorist organisations that actively destroy civilisations. The guy has real power. He belongs in the same category as the other heroes that could destroy humanity if they felt like it.

He and the company he controls have already created technologies that constitute an existential threat without even trying

Such as? (I already know about the other part of the statement; I'm just not familiar with what technologies the company has developed that would fall into that category.)

On the other hand, Batman being Batman, if he wanted to destroy the world, he probably could find a way to do it.

On the other hand, Batman being Batman, if he wanted to destroy the world, he probably could find a way to do it.

Batman being batman he already has. ;)

Even just that (more or less magical) surveillance system that he made. With that, and some mundane application of his stealth technology and skills getting launch codes and deploying nuclear arsenals would be a piece of cake. Nevermind deploying things like his microwave rays. I'm not sure if his company (while he wasn't in charge) made nuclear weapons themselves too. It seems like something they'd have done.

Is that the sort of thing that the government lets private corporations do? I don't think they would be allowed to do that in the real world.

Is that the sort of thing that the government lets private corporations do?

No, private corporations are strictly limited to creating remote control rocket propelled tanks, microwave beam superweapons and a near perfect big brother privacy invasion system.

Well to be fair, we've already got a private company designing microwave beam weapons for the military, and plenty of other military technology besides, but nuclear weapons are kept under tighter reign.

According to one of the first sources that came up on a google search

For good reason, traditionally and almost exclusively the management of nuclear warheads lies with the government (the U.S. government frequently contracts out nuclear related work and research labs are privately operated, however the military is the sole manager of completed weapons).

I think the evaluation of how heroic someone is is pretty much just a measure of how much we would like to be that person.

What? No way. It's what I want other people to perceive me as being and it is what I want other people to actually be. I want Frodo to get burnt out and stretched like butter over too much bread while saving the world. I don't want to actually be Frodo... such a pansy!

I meant that in the sense of desiring to have the characteristics of that person, not be put in the same situation. I do not want to have to get burnt out and stretched like butter over too much bread. I would like to think that if the world needed saving, I would have the moral strength to do that. I want to be Frodo, but not actually have to suffer through Frodo's quest. Different things.

I meant that in the sense of desiring to have the characteristics of that person

So did I.

I would unsurprisingly prefer you to be Frodo than to be Frodo myself.

Of course, in the absence of Sauron and the One Ring and all that, Frodo would presumably have lived a pleasant and unremarkable life in the Shire, and your understanding of what it means to be Frodo would be completely different.

the evaluation of how heroic someone is is pretty much just a measure of how much we would like to be that person

To the extent the function of praise is to regulate society by rewarding behavior beneficial to the group such that it becomes beneficial to individuals, this is circular, because the (non-altruistic) reason we'd want to be heroic is to be praised.

I think praise is to encourage activities by rewarding them socially.

Praising someone is different from idolizing them as a hero, though. I think Superman gets more of the second, at least in this world, where he's a fictional character.