Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided

Robin Hanson recently proposed stores where banned products could be sold.  There are a number of excellent arguments for such a policy—an inherent right of individual liberty, the career incentive of bureaucrats to prohibit everything, legislators being just as biased as individuals.  But even so (I replied), some poor, honest, not overwhelmingly educated mother of 5 children is going to go into these stores and buy a "Dr. Snakeoil's Sulfuric Acid Drink" for her arthritis and die, leaving her orphans to weep on national television.

I was just making a simple factual observation.  Why did some people think it was an argument in favor of regulation?

On questions of simple fact (for example, whether Earthly life arose by natural selection) there's a legitimate expectation that the argument should be a one-sided battle; the facts themselves are either one way or another, and the so-called "balance of evidence" should reflect this.  Indeed, under the Bayesian definition of evidence, "strong evidence" is just that sort of evidence which we only expect to find on one side of an argument.

But there is no reason for complex actions with many consequences to exhibit this onesidedness property.  Why do people seem to want their policy debates to be one-sided?

Politics is the mind-killer.  Arguments are soldiers.  Once you know which side you're on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it's like stabbing your soldiers in the back.  If you abide within that pattern, policy debates will also appear one-sided to you—the costs and drawbacks of your favored policy are enemy soldiers, to be attacked by any means necessary.

One should also be aware of a related failure pattern, thinking that the course of Deep Wisdom is to compromise with perfect evenness between whichever two policy positions receive the most airtime.  A policy may legitimately have lopsided costs or benefits.  If policy questions were not tilted one way or the other, we would be unable to make decisions about them.  But there is also a human tendency to deny all costs of a favored policy, or deny all benefits of a disfavored policy; and people will therefore tend to think policy tradeoffs are tilted much further than they actually are.

If you allow shops that sell otherwise banned products, some poor, honest, poorly educated mother of 5 kids is going to buy something that kills her.  This is a prediction about a factual consequence, and as a factual question it appears rather straightforward—a sane person should readily confess this to be true regardless of which stance they take on the policy issue.  You may also think that making things illegal just makes them more expensive, that regulators will abuse their power, or that her individual freedom trumps your desire to meddle with her life.  But, as a matter of simple fact, she's still going to die.

We live in an unfair universe.  Like all primates, humans have strong negative reactions to perceived unfairness; thus we find this fact stressful.  There are two popular methods of dealing with the resulting cognitive dissonance.  First, one may change one's view of the facts—deny that the unfair events took place, or edit the history to make it appear fair.  Second, one may change one's morality—deny that the events are unfair.

Some libertarians might say that if you go into a "banned products shop", passing clear warning labels that say "THINGS IN THIS STORE MAY KILL YOU", and buy something that kills you, then it's your own fault and you deserve it.  If that were a moral truth, there would be no downside to having shops that sell banned products.  It wouldn't just be a net benefit, it would be a one-sided tradeoff with no drawbacks.

Others argue that regulators can be trained to choose rationally and in harmony with consumer interests; if those were the facts of the matter then (in their moral view) there would be no downside to regulation.

Like it or not, there's a birth lottery for intelligence—though this is one of the cases where the universe's unfairness is so extreme that many people choose to deny the facts.  The experimental evidence for a purely genetic component of 0.6-0.8 is overwhelming, but even if this were to be denied, you don't choose your parental upbringing or your early schools either.

I was raised to believe that denying reality is a moral wrong.  If I were to engage in wishful optimism about how Sulfuric Acid Drink was likely to benefit me, I would be doing something that I was warned against and raised to regard as unacceptable.  Some people are born into environments—we won't discuss their genes, because that part is too unfair—where the local witch doctor tells them that it is right to have faith and wrong to be skeptical.  In all goodwill, they follow this advice and die.  Unlike you, they weren't raised to believe that people are responsible for their individual choices to follow society's lead.  Do you really think you're so smart that you would have been a proper scientific skeptic even if you'd been born in 500 C.E.?  Yes, there is a birth lottery, no matter what you believe about genes.

Saying "People who buy dangerous products deserve to get hurt!" is not tough-minded.  It is a way of refusing to live in an unfair universe.  Real tough-mindedness is saying, "Yes, sulfuric acid is a horrible painful death, and no, that mother of 5 children didn't deserve it, but we're going to keep the shops open anyway because we did this cost-benefit calculation."  Can you imagine a politician saying that?  Neither can I.  But insofar as economists have the power to influence policy, it might help if they could think it privately—maybe even say it in journal articles, suitably dressed up in polysyllabismic obfuscationalization so the media can't quote it.

I don't think that when someone makes a stupid choice and dies, this is a cause for celebration.  I count it as a tragedy.  It is not always helping people, to save them from the consequences of their own actions; but I draw a moral line at capital punishment.  If you're dead, you can't learn from your mistakes.

Unfortunately the universe doesn't agree with me.  We'll see which one of us is still standing when this is over.


ADDED:  Two primary drivers of policy-one-sidedness are the affect heuristic and the just-world fallacy.

 

Part of the Politics Is the Mind-Killer subsequence of How To Actually Change Your Mind

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TGGP, if the mind were not embodied in the brain, it would be embodied in something else. You don't need neuroscience to see the problem with the naive conception of free will.

The reason I don't think idiots deserve to die is not because their genes played a role in making them idiots. Suppose it were not the genes. So what? The point is that being stupid is not the same as being malicious, or dishonest. It is simply being stupid, no more and no less. Drinking Sulfuric Acid Drink because you wishfully think it will cure your arthritis, is simply not on a moral par with deliberately burning out someone's eyes with hot pokers. No matter what you believe about the moral implications of determinism for sadistic torturers, in no fair universe would mere sloppy thinking be a capital crime. As it has always been, in this our real world.

In no fair universe would mere sloppy thinking be a capital crime.

What about when sloppy thinking leads a person to hurt other people, i.e. a driver who accidentally kills a pedestrian while distracted by a call they thoughtlessly answered in motion?

in no fair universe would mere sloppy thinking be a capital crime. As it has always been, in this our real world.

And, in no fair universe would the results of sloppy thinking be used as an excuse to create coercive policies that victimize thousands of sloppy thinkers for every sloppy thinker that is (allegedly) benefited by them. Yet, because even the philosophers, and rationality blog-posters of our universe are sloppy thinkers (in relation to artilects with 2000 IQs), some of us continue to accept the idea that the one-sided making of coercive laws (by self-interested, under-educated sociopaths) constitutes a legitimate attempt at a political solution. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hal, I don't favor regulation in this context - nor would I say that I really oppose it. I started my career as a libertarian, and gradually became less political as I realized that (a) my opinions would end up making no difference to policy and (b) I had other fish to fry. My current concern is simply with the rationality of the disputants, not with their issues - I think I have something new to say about rationality.

I do believe that people with IQ 120+ tend to forget about their conjugates with IQ 80- when it comes to estimating the real-world effects of policy - either by pretending they won't get hurt, or by pretending that they deserve it. But so long as their consequential predictions seem reasonable, and so long as I don't think they're changing their morality to try to pretend the universe is fair, I won't argue with them whether they support or oppose regulation.

I think you may be conflating 2 common meanings of the word "deserve" which may be magnifying some of the conflict over your statement.

deserve [moral], ie that someone deserves it like someone might deserve prison for a terrible crime and deserve as in [events that happen to them as a result of their own actions] which need not have any moral elements.

Someone who goes walking into the Sahara without water, shelter or navigation equipment has done no moral wrong. They don't deserve [moral] bad things to happen to them but bad things may happen to them as a result of their unwise choices and may be entirely their own doing. In that sense they get what they have earned or "deserve" [non-moral, as in "have a claim to" or outcome they have brought about]. It's not something malicious that's been forced upon them by others.

Someone who steps in a hidden bear trap has been unfairly maimed by a cruel uncaring universe and does not deserve [moral] or deserve[reaping earned results of their own actions] it.

Someone who, against the advice of others, ignoring all safety warnings, against even their own better judgement uses a clearly marked bear trap as a sex toy has done no moral wrong. They don't deserve[moral] bad things to happen to them but bad things may happen to them as a result of their unwise choices.

I favor the thesis statement here ("Policy debates should not appear one-sided"), but I don't favor the very flawed "argument" that supports it. One-sided policy debates should, in fact, appear one-sided, GIVEN one participant with a superior intelligence. Two idiots from two branches of the same political party arguing over which way to brutalize a giant body of otherwise uninvolved people (what typically amounts for "policy debate") should not appear "one sided" ...except to the people who know that there's only one side being represented, (typically, the side that assumes that coercion is a good solution to the problem).

Hal, I don't favor regulation in this context - nor would I say that I really oppose it.

This is a life or death issue, and you don't have a moral opinion? What purpose could you possibly have for calling yourself a "libertarian" then? If the libertarian philosophy isn't consistent, or doesn't work, then shouldn't it be thrown out? Or, if it doesn't pertain to the new circumstances, then shouldn't it be known as something different than "libertarianism"? (Maybe you'd be a "socialist utopian" post-singularity, but pre-singularity when lots of people have IQs of <2,000, you're a libertarian. In this case, it might make more sense to call yourself a Hayekian "liberal," because then you're simply identifying with a historical trend that leads to a certain predicted outcome.)

I started my career as a libertarian, and gradually became less political as I realized that (a) my opinions would end up making no difference to policy

Gosh, I'm glad that Timothy Murphy, Lysander Spooner, and Frederick Douglass didn't feel that way. I'm also glad that they didn't feel that way because they knew something about how influential they could be, they understood the issues at a deep level, and they were highly-motivated. Just because the Libertarian Party is ineffectual and as infiltrated as the major parties are corrupt doesn't mean it has to be. Moreover, there are far more ways to influence politics than by getting involved with a less-corrupt third party. This site itself could be immensely influential, and actually could obtain a more rational, laissez-faire outcome from politics (although it couldn't do that by acting within the confines established by the current political system). Smart people should act in a smart way to get smart results: even in the domain of politics. If politics is totally corrupted (as I believe it is) then such smart people should act in a manner that is philosophically external to the system, and morally superior to it.

and (b) I had other fish to fry.

This is a legitimate concern. We all have priorities. That's actually the purpose of philosophy itself. If I didn't think you had chosen wisely, I probably wouldn't be on this site. That said, nothing stops you from at least passively being as right as Thoreau was, over 100 years ago.

My current concern is simply with the rationality of the disputants, not with their issues - I think I have something new to say about rationality.

Rationality has something to say about every issue, and political issues are especially important, because that's where one mostly-primate MOSH has a gun, and a stated intention of using it.

I do believe that people with IQ 120+ tend to forget about their conjugates with IQ 80- when it comes to estimating the real-world effects of policy - either by pretending they won't get hurt, or by pretending that they deserve it.

As if these were the only two options. (And as if regulation helped the poor! LOL!) This makes a "straw man" of libertarianism. Walter Block points out that the law of unintended consequences indicates that the abuse of force, as minimum wage "regulation" allegedly intended to help the poor, actually hurts them. He also points out that the people making and enforcing the policies know this, because they have the evidence to know it, but that they often don't care, or are beholden to perverse interests, such as unions who wish to put less-skilled labor out of business. Occasionally, if such regulation hurts the poor in combination with a set of regulations and "corrections" to those regulations, so one mustn't narrow their criticism to just one political intervention. It's a good idea to think about this until you comprehend it at a deep level.

But so long as their consequential predictions seem reasonable, and so long as I don't think they're changing their morality to try to pretend the universe is fair, I won't argue with them whether they support or oppose regulation.

This is a moral failing on your part, if you think that your argument could possibly lead to a better outcome, and if you WOULD argue with them about the right to contract with cryonics companies, in the case where a person you love will either die for good, or have the chance of life. This is not a criticism of you, because I go through my day in a continual stream of moral failures, as does everyone who lacks the ability to solve a really large moral problem. If my IQ was 2,000 and I allowed to prison industrial complex to continue to operate, and even paid taxes to support it, that would be an immense moral failing. If, with my far lower IQ I pay taxes because I'm stupid and coerced, that's a lesser moral failing, but a moral failing none the less. Unless I stop complying with evil, as Thoreau did, I'm guilty of a moral failing (Thoreau was only guilty of a mental and physical failing). Lysander Spooner and Frederick Douglass were both guilty of physical and mental failing as well, but to a lesser extent. They were fairly effective, even if they were far less effective than an artilect with and IQ of 2,000 would have been.

p( overall fairness of law | unfairness) is probably a bad way to look at this, because it's using a suitcase word "unfairness" that means something different to different people. Even given this context, I could point out that the universe trends toward fairness, given intelligence (but that the world is very unintelligent now, because it's only at human-level intelligence, which is USUALLY scarcely more philosophical than animal intelligence). The concept of individual rights requires emotional distance, given occasional "unavoidable under any system" bad outcomes. The bad outcomes are often too difficult to analyze for "unfairness" or "fairness" but bad outcomes that seem cruel are always useful to the politician, because every law they make definitely enhances their illegitimate power. If we're smart enough to recognize that this is a universal, and that this has caused the complete degradation of our once-life-saving-but-now-life-destroying system of property and law, then why shouldn't we always point it out? The abolitionists only gained ground in defeating chattel slavery when they refused to be silent.

Moreover, since the common law has been thrown out, the politicians and their agents will predictably have free rein to enforce the new laws in whatever manner they choose. This is also a known fact of reality that can and should factor into every argument we make.

You can see the dead mother holding the unlabeled bottle of "sulfuric acid," but you can't see the society that refrained from ever going down the path of a regulatory big brother, where the courts and the media had functioned properly in their information-sending capacity for 100 years. You can't see the carefulness of a society that reads labels because it might really matter, since the government can't and won't protect you; and you also don't see the benevolence of a society that hasn't been trained to mindlessly trust everything that carries an FDA-label. You can see the bad result, but can't imagine the good alternative. If you compound this error by appealing to force to solve the problem, you mark yourself as a low-intelligence human. This is clear to anyone who has been paying attention. The fact that you say that you neither favor nor oppose regulation indicates that, on this issue, you had better things to do than pay attention.

But let's consider the admittedly "unfair" but vastly "fairer" universe as it looks with far less regulation, and let's not make the stupid (unwittingly self-destructive) blunder of assuming regulation the saved life of an idiot. In actuality, in the unregulated universe, there are orders of magnitude fewer dead mothers, from all causes, not just mindless mistakes of their own causing. Additionally, there is then a pressure against "moral hazard" in that universe. Without this moral hazard, the universe is far more intelligent, and thus far fairer.

You'll also never see the 100 years of unregulated progression in the direction of the laissez-faire "fairer" universe. You only see the alleged "fast track" to justice (where the legislators have drowned us all in unenforceable laws with perverse outcomes for over 100 years), and you begin arguing in that muddy environment. Of course you'll lose any argument unless you argue based on a deep philosophical conviction, because the subject will remain narrow, and the political side of the argument will be able to keep the focus of the discussion sufficiently narrow. If you attempt to reference the larger picture, you'll be accused of being "impractical" or "off topic."

Would you have "argued" with a slavery advocate in the time of abolitionism? (Or at least "stated your opposition to them.") Would you have argued with a Hitler supporter in 1930 Germany? If you'd like to think that you would, then next time someone defends the truly indefensible (not what is considered to be indefensible by the sociopath-directed conformist majority), then you should point out that their ideas are stupid and murderous. It's the least you can do for the mother whose only choice of medicine is an FDA-approved version of sulfuric acid.

PS: And, the risk might not be tiny if you took off all the safety precautions. But, yes, you could dispense with quite a few costly pointless ostentatious displays of effort, without changing the security risk in any significant sense.

"Yes, sulfuric acid is a horrible painful death, and no, that mother of 5 children didn't deserve it, but we're going to keep the shops open anyway because we did this cost-benefit calculation." Can you imagine a politician saying that? Neither can I.

--60 Minutes (5/12/96) Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.

She later expressed regret for it, after taking an awful lot of flack at the time, but this does sometimes happen.

I think your point that she took a lot of flak for it is evidence for the original point. The only other reasonable responses to that could have been changing her mind on the spot, or disputing the data, and neither of those responses would have brought similar backlash on her. Conceding weak points to your arguments in politics is often looked upon as a weakness when it shouldn't be.

Alex, a possible problem is that Rational would then attract all the terrorists who would otherwise have attacked different airlines.

TGGP, I think we have to define "deserve" relative to social consensus--a person deserves something if we aren't outraged when they get it for one reason or another. (Most people define this based on the consensus of a subset of society--people who share certain values, for instance.) Differences in the concept of "deserve" are one of the fundamental differences (if not the primary difference) between conservatism and liberalism.

Do we need a definition of "deserve"? Perhaps it does not correspond to anything in reality. I would certainly argue that it doesn't correspond to anything in politics.

For instance, should we have a council that doles out things people deserve? It just seems silly.

Politics is ideally a giant cost/benefit satisficing operation. Practically, it is an agglomeration of power plays. I don't see where "deserve" fits in.

A "council that doles out things people deserve" sounds like Parecon: Life After Capitalism by Michael Albert.

(Personally, it fills me with horror, but there are people who think it's a good idea.)

I agree strongly with everything in the above paragraph, especially the end. And so should you. Greens 4 life!

Down-voted due to political phrasing (despite shared political-party membership).

Voted up due to political phrasings (and assumed effort goal of humor :))

James, my comment on drawing the moral line at capital punishment was addressed to the universe in general. Judicial executions count for a very small proportion of all death penalties - for example, the death penalty that you get for just being alive for longer than a century or so.

"...the death penalty that you get for just being alive for longer than a century or so."

The "ethics of gods" most probably is the ethics of evolution. "Good" (in this particular sence) Universe have to be "bad" enough to allow the evolution of live, mind and [probabbly] technology. The shaw is natural selection - and the shaw must go on. Even as it includes aforementioned death penalty...

I was just making a simple factual observation. Why did some people think it was an argument in favor of regulation?

I've noticed that Argument by Innuendo is unfortunately common, at least in in-person discussions. Basically, the arguer makes statements that seem to point to some conclusion or another, but stops a few steps short of actually drawing a conclusion, leaving the listener to draw the conclusion themselves. When I've caught myself doing this and ask myself why, there are a few reasons that come up, including:

  • I'm testing my audience's intelligence in a somewhat subtle and mean way.
  • I'm throwing ideas out there that I know are more than one or two inferential steps away, and seeing if my audience has heard of them, is curious enough to ask about them, or neither and just proceeds as if I didn't say anything.
  • I want to escape the criticism of the conclusion I'm suggesting, and by making someone else connect the last few dots, I can redirect the criticism towards them instead, or at least deflect it from myself by denying that that was the conclusion that I was suggesting (even if it was).

Needless to say, this is pretty manipulative, and a generally Bad Thing. But people have sort of been conditioned to fall into the trap of Argument by Innuendo - to not look stupid (or "slow"), they want to try to figure out what you're getting at as quickly as possible instead of asking you, and then argue against it (possibly by innuendo themselves so they can make you look stupid if you don't get it right away). Of course, this makes it extremely easy to argue past each other without realizing it, and might leave one side bewildered at the reaction that their innocent-seeming statement of fact has provoked. I think that this has simply become part of how we reason in real-time in-person discussions.

(To test this claim, try asking "so what?" or "what's the conclusion you're getting at?" when you notice this happening. Note the facial expressions and tone you get in response. In my experience, either the arguer treats you as stupid to ask for clarification on such an "obvious" point, or they squirm in discomfort as their forced to state explicitly the conclusion that they were trying to avoid criticism for proposing, and may weasel into an entirely different position altogether that isn't at all supported by their statements.)

So, I'd venture to say that that's what's going on here - your audience heard your factual observation, interpreted it as laden with a point to be made, and projected that conclusion back onto you, all in the blink of an eye.

I think it's a good thing to do this. It is analogous to science.

If you're a good reasoner and you encounter evidence that conflicts with one of your beliefs, you update that belief.

Likewise, if you want to update someone else's belief, you can present evidence that conflicts with it in hopes they will be a good reasoner and update their belief.

This would not be so effective if you just told them your conclusion flat out, because that would look like just another belief you are trying to force upon them.

I recently spoke with someone who was in favor of legalizing all drugs, who would not admit that criminalizing something reduces the frequency at which people do it.

Was that actually his claim or was he saying that it doesn't necessarily reduce the frequency at which people do it? Clearly the frequency of drug use has gone up since they were made illegal. Now perhaps it would have gone up faster if drug use had not been made illegal but that's rather hard to demonstrate. It's at least plausible that some of the popularity of drugs stems from their illegality as it makes them a more effective symbol of rebellion against authority for teenagers seeking to signal rebelliousness.

Claiming that criminalizing can't possibly reduce the frequency at which people do something would be a pretty ridiculous claim. Claiming that it hasn't in fact done so for drugs is quite defensible.

In the real world, PhilGoetz's interlocutor was almost certainly not making the sophisticated point that in some scenarios making X illegal makes it more desirable in a way that outweighs the (perhaps low) extra costs of doing X. If the person had been making this point, it would be very hard to mistake them for the kind of person PhilGoetz describes.

Portugal, anyone? There is a point when arguments need to be abandoned and experimental results embraced. The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal has seen a scant increase in drug use. QED

The same goes for policies like Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Many countries around the world have run the experiment of letting gays serve openly and there have been no ill effects.

Abandon rationalization, embrace reality.

There is something fishy about the words "legalize" and "decriminalize." Buying, selling, making and consuming wine are legal activities in Portugal. Not marijuana.

The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal has seen a scant increase in drug use. QED

So you think an increase in drug use following decriminalization supports your view? And you were upvoted?

The claim of sensible consequentialist (as opposed to moralizing) drug control advocates who are in favor of the War on Drugs is that the War on Drugs, however disastrous, expensive, destructive of liberties, and perverting of justice (to whatever degree they will accept such claims - can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, etc.), is a lesser evil than the consequences of unbridled drug use. This claim is most obviously falsified by a net decrease in drug use, yes, but also falsified by a small increase which is not obviously worse than the War on Drugs since now the anti-War person can use the same argument as the pro-War person was: legalization is the lesser of two evils.

The benefits and small costs in Portugal are, at least at face value, not worse than a War. Hence, the second branch goes through: the predicted magnitude of consequences did not materialize.

I agree completely.

Note that PhilGoetz, following the subject of the thread, pointed out a good consequence of drug control (that is, good on its own terms) that an opponent of drug control refused to acknowledge. AndyCossyleon apparently thought that the Portugal example is a counterpoint to what PhilGoetz said, which it isn't (though as you point out it is evidence against some views held by drug control advocates). In retrospect, I should have said "rebuts PhilGoetz's point" instead of "supports your view" in the grandparent.

AlexSchell, "scant" is essentially a negative, much like "scarce(ly)" or "hardly" or "negligible/y". Rewriting: "The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal has scarcely seen an increase in drug use." I'd argue that these sentences mean the same thing, and that together, they mean something different from "The decriminalization ... has seen a small increase ..." which is what you seem to have interpreted my statement as, though not completely illegitimately.

I would still read that as an increase. "Scant," "scarcely," etc., all mean "an amount so small it is negligible." But that's still an increase. 1 + 99^99 isn't 99^99. I understand what is trying to be said in the argument concerning decriminalization, but strictly-speaking, that is an increase in drug use.

Funny. The response to AndyCossyleon at the time should have been a link to this post.

Alex raises an interesting point: do most of us in fact assume that we would never walk into a Banned Shop? I don't necessarily assume that. I could envision going there for a medical drug which was widely available in Europe, but not yet approved by the U.S. FDA, for example. Or how about drugs that are supposed to only be available by prescription, might Banned Shops provide them to anyone who will pay? I might well choose to skip the time and money of a doctor visit to get a drug I've taken before without problems (accepting the risk that unknown to me, some subtle medical condition has arisen that now makes the drug unsafe, and a doctor would have caught it). Or for that matter, what about recreational drugs? If Banned Shops sold marijuana to anyone with a 100 IQ, I'm sure there are many list members who would partake.

Like much of Eliezer's writings, this is dense and full of interesting ideas, so I'll just focus on one aspect. I agree that people advocating positions should fully recognize even (or especially) facts that are detrimental to their side. People advocating deregulation need to accept that things exactly like Eliezer describes will happen.

I'm not 100% sure that in a public forum where policy is being debated, that people should feel obligated to advance arguments that work to their side's detriment. It depends on what the ground rules are (possibly implicit ones). If everyone is making a good faith attempt to provide this kind of balance in their statements, it could work well in theory. But if one side does this and the other does not, it will lead to an unbalanced presentation of the issues. Since in practice it seems that most people aren't so even-handed in their arguments, that would explain why when someone does point out a fact that benefits one side, the audience will assume he favors that side, as happened to Eliezer.

Reading the above, I get the impression that Eliezer does in fact favor regulation in this context, and if so, then the audience conclusion was correct. He was not pointing out a fact that worked to oppose his conclusion, but rather he was providing a factual point that supports and leads to his position. So this would not be the best example of this somewhat idealized view of how policy debates should be conducted.

I note that thousands of people die every year in motorcycle accidents, a death rate far higher than in most modes of transportation. However I do not support banning motorcycles, for various reasons I won't go into at this time.

An implicit assumption of this article which deserves to be made explicit:

"All negative effects of buying things from the banned store accrue to the individual who chose to purchase from the banned store"

In practical terms this would not be the case. If I buy Sulphuric Acid Drink from the store and discover acid is unhealthy and die, that's one thing. If I buy Homoeopathic Brake Pads for my car and discover they do not cause a level of deceleration greater than placebo, and in the course of this discovery run over a random pedestrian, that's morally a different thing.

The goal of regulation is not just to protect us from ourselves, but to protect us from each other.

"All negative effects of buying things from the banned store accrue to the individual who chose to purchase from the banned store"

Or, the individual who chooses to purchase from the banned store is able to compensate others for any negative effects.

Unfortunately we have not yet discovered a remedy by which court systems can sacrifice the life of a guilty party to bring back a victim party from the dead.

No, but several historical cultures and a few current ones legitimize the notion of blood money as restitution to a victim's kin.

No amount of money can raise the dead. It's still more efficient to prevent people from dying in the first place.

All people are idiots at least some of the time. I don't accept the usage of Homeopathic Brake Pads as a legitimate decision, even if the person using them has $1 billion USD with which to compensate the innocent pedestrians killed by a speeding car. I'll accept the risk of occasional accident, but my life is worth more to me than the satisfaction some "alternative vehicle control systems" nut gets from doing something stupid.

"Homeopathic brake pads" are a reductio-ad-absurdum of the actual proposal, though — which has to do with products that are not certified, tested, or guaranteed in the manner that you're used to.

There are lots of levels of (un)reliability between Homeopathic (works 0% of the time) and NHTSA-Certified (works 99.99% of the time). For instance, there might be Cheap-Ass Brake Pads, which work 99.95% of the time at 10% of the cost of NHTSA-Certified; or Kitchen Sponge Brake Pads, which work 90% of the time at 0.05% of the cost.

We do not have the option of requiring everyone to only do things that impose no danger to others. So if someone chooses to use a product that is incrementally more dangerous to others — whether because this lets them save money by buying Cheap-Ass Brake Pads; or because it's just more exciting to drive a Hummer than a Dodge minivan — how do we respond?

how do we respond?

Well, as a society, at some point we set a cut-off and make a law about it. Thus some items are banned while others are not, and some items are taxed and have warnings on them instead of an outright ban.

And it's not just low intelligence that's a risk. People can be influenced by advertising, social pressure, information saturation, et cetera. Let's suppose we do open this banned goods shop. Are we going to make each and every customer fill out an essay question detailing exactly how they understand these items to be dangerous? I don't mean check a box or sign a paper, because that's like clicking "I Agree" on a EULA or a security warning, and we've all seen how well that's worked out for casual users in the computer realm, even though we constantly bombard them with messages not to do exactly the things that get them in trouble.

Is it Paternalist arrogance when the system administrator makes it impossible to download and open .exe attachments in Microsoft Outlook? Clearly, there are cases where system administrators are paternalist and arrogant; on the other hand, there are a great many cases where users trash their machines. The system administrator has a much better knowledge about safely operating the computer; the user knows more about what work they need to get done. These things are issues of balance, but I'm not ready to throw out top-down bans on dangerous-to-self products.

It's a similar argument to my proposal of Rational Airways, an airline that asks you to sign a release when buying a ticket to the effect that you realise how tiny the risk of a terrorist attack is, and therefore are willing to travel with Rational, who do not apply any annoying security procedures.

(Responding to old post)

This has another problem that other people haven't mentioned so far: it's not really possible to trace a terrorist attack to a specific cause such as lack of a particular security procedure. This means that Rational Airways will cut out their annoying security procedures, but the release they will make you sign will release them from liability to all terrorist attacks, not just to terrorist attacks related to them cutting down those security procedures. That's a bad deal for the consumer--the consumer wants to avoid intrusive searches, finds an airline which lets them avoid the searches by signing a release, but the release also lets the airline hire known serial killers as stewardesses as well as not search the passengers, and you can't sue them for it because the release is all-encompassing and is not just limited to terrorism that would have been caught by searches.

Furthermore, then all the other airlines see how Rational Airlines works and decide to improve on it. They get together and decide that all passengers will have to either submit to being stripped fully naked, or sign a release absolving the airline of responsibility for terrorists. The passengers, of course, sign the releases, and the result is that the airlines never have to worry about hiring serial killers or any other forms of negligence either. (Because not screening the stewardesses for serial killers saves them money, any airline that decides not to do this cannot compete on price.)

Later, some smart airlines decide they don't actually need the excuse and just say "there's an unavoidable base rate of terrorism and we don't want to get sued for that" and make everyone, period, sign a release acknowledging that before getting on the plane (and therefore absolving the airline of all responsibility for terrorism whether it is part of the base rate or not.)

Even later, another airline decides to just make its customers promise not to sue them for anything at all (whether terrorism, mechanical failure, or other) before getting on the plane.

Similar things happen in real life, like insurance companies that won't pay if you have a preexisting condition (regardless of whether the preexisting condition is related to the condition you want them to pay for).

In fact, let me add a comment to this. Someone may be willing to assume some risk but not a higher level of risk. But there's no way to say "I'm willing to accept an 0.5% chance of something bad but not a 5% chance" by signing a disclaimer--the effect of the disclaimer is that when something bad happens, you can't sue, which is an all or nothing thing. And a disaster that results from an 0.5% chance looks pretty much like a disaster that results from a 5% chance, so you can't disclaim only one such type of disaster.

Sorry, Brayton. I do know better, it was simply an accident of phrasing. I hadn't meant to imply that abiogenesis itself occurred by selective processes - "arose" was meant to refer to life's ascent rather than sparking.

Though, in my opinion, the very first replicator (or chemical catalytic hypercycle) should not really count as "life", because it merely happens to have the accidental property of self-replication and was not selectively optimized to this function. Thus, it properly belongs to the regime of accidental events rather than the regime of (natural) optimization.

Nobody chooses their genes or their early environment. The choices they make are determined by those things (and some quantum coin flips). Given what we know of neuroscience how can anyone deserve anything?

"Nobody chooses their genes or their early environment. The choices they make are determined by those things (and some quantum coin flips)."

All true so far... but here comes the huge logical leap...

"Given what we know of neuroscience how can anyone deserve anything?"

What does neuroscience showing the cause of why bad people choose to do bad things, have to do with whether or not bad people deserve bad things to happen to them?

The idea that bad people who choose to do bad things to others deserve bad things to happen to them has never been based on an incorrect view of neuroscience, and neuroscience doesn't change that even slightly.

The point TGGP3 is making is that they didn't choose to do bad things, and so are not bad people - they're exactly like you would be if you had lived their lives. Always remember that you are not special - nobody is perfectly rational, and nobody is the main character in a story. To quote Eliezer, "You grew up in a post-World-War-Two society where 'I vas only followink orders' is something everyone knows the bad guys said. In the fifteenth century they would've called it honourable fealty." Remember that some Nazis committed atrocities, but some Nazis were ten years old in 1945. It is very difficult to be a "good person" (by your standards) when you have a completely different idea of what being good is. You are displaying a version of the fundamental attribution error - that is, you don't think of other people as being just like you and doing things for reasons you don't know about, so you can use the words "bad person" comfortably. The idea "bad people deserve bad things to happen to them" is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that there is such a thing as a bad person, which is unproven at best - even the existence of free will is debatable.

There are people who consider themselves to be bad people, but they tend to be either mentally ill or people who have not yet resolved the conflict between "I have done X" and "I think that it is wrong to do X" - that is, they have not adjusted to having become new people with different morals since they did X (which is what criminal-justice systems are meant to achieve).

The point TGGP3 is making is that they didn't choose to do bad things, and so are not bad people - they're exactly like you would be if you had lived their lives.

I can only interpret a statement like this as "they are exactly like you would be if you were exactly like them", which is of course a tautology.

The idea "bad people deserve bad things to happen to them" is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that there is such a thing as a bad person

If you first accept a definition of what is good and what is bad, then certainly there are bad people. A bad person is someone who does bad things. This is still relative to some morality, presumably that of the speaker.

A bad person is someone who does bad things.

If doing "bad" things (choose your own definition) makes you a Bad Person, then everyone who has ever acted immorally is a Bad Person. Personally, I have done quite a lot of immoral things (by my own standards), as has everyone else ever. Does this make me a Bad Person? I hope not.

You are making precisely the mistake that the Politics is the Mind-Killer sequence warns against - you are seeing actions you disagree with and deciding that the actors are inherently wicked. This is a combination of correspondence bias, or the fundamental attribution error, (explaining actions in terms of enduring traits, rather than situations) and assuming that any reasonable person would agree to whatever moral standard you pick. A person is moral if they desire to follow a moral standard, irrespective of whether anyone else agrees with that standard.

If a broken machine is a machine that doesn't work, does that mean that all machines are broken, because there was a time for each machine when it did not work?

More clearly: reading "someone who does bad things" as "someone who has ever done a bad thing" requires additional assumptions.

I can only interpret a statement like this as "they are exactly like you would be if you were exactly like them", which is of course a tautology.

No. If they were, say, psycopaths, or babyeater aliens in human skins, then living their life - holding the same beliefs, experienceing the same problems - would not make you act the same way. It's a question of terminal value differences and instrumental value differences. The former must be fought, (or at most bargained with,) but the latter can be persuaded.

If you first accept a definition of what is good and what is bad, then certainly there are bad people. A bad person is someone who does bad things. This is still relative to some morality, presumably that of the speaker.

So anyone who's actions have negative consequences "deserves" Bad Things to happen to them?

So anyone who's actions have negative consequences "deserves" Bad Things to happen to them?

I am not saying that. I was only replying to the part "... is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that there is such a thing as a bad person".

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