Jan 20, 2009
Previously in series: Sympathetic Minds
Today I shall criticize yet another Utopia. This Utopia isn't famous in the literature. But it's considerably superior to many better-known Utopias—more fun than the Christian Heaven, or Greg Egan's upload societies, for example. And so the main flaw is well worth pointing out.
This Utopia consists of a one-line remark on an IRC channel:
<reedspacer> living in your volcano lair with catgirls is probably a vast increase in standard of living for most of humanity
I've come to think of this as Reedspacer's Lower Bound.
Sure, it sounds silly. But if your grand vision of the future isn't at least as much fun as a volcano lair with catpersons of the appropriate gender, you should just go with that instead. This rules out a surprising number of proposals.
But today I am here to criticize Reedspacer's Lower Bound—the problem being the catgirls.
I've joked about the subject, now and then—"Donate now, and get a free catgirl or catboy after the Singularity!"—but I think it would actually be a terrible idea. In fact, today's post could have been entitled "Why Fun Theorists Don't Believe In Catgirls."
I first realized that catpeople were a potential threat, at the point when a friend said—quotes not verbatim—
"I want to spend a million years having sex with catgirls after the Singularity."
"No, you don't."
He said, "Yes I do."
I said, "No you don't. You'd get bored."
He said, "Well, then I'd just modify my brain not to get bored—"
And I said: "AAAAIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE"
Don't worry, the story has a happy ending. A couple of years later, the same friend came back and said:
"Okay, I've gotten a bit more mature now—it's a long story, actually—and now I realize I wouldn't want to do that."
To which I sagely replied:
"HA! HA HA HA! You wanted to spend a million years having sex with catgirls. It only took you two years to change your mind and you didn't even have sex with any catgirls."
But my general objection to catpeople—well, call me a sentimental Luddite, but I'm worried about the prospect of nonsentient romantic partners.
(Where "nonsentient romantic/sex partner" is pretty much what I use the word "catgirl" to indicate, in futuristic discourse. The notion of creating sentient beings to staff a volcano lair, gets us into a whole 'nother class of objections. And as for existing humans choosing to take on feline form, that seems to me scarcely different from wearing lingerie.)
"But," you ask, "what is your objection to nonsentient lovers?"
In a nutshell—sex/romance, as we know it now, is a primary dimension of multiplayer fun. If you take that fun and redirect it to something that isn't socially entangled, if you turn sex into an exclusively single-player game, then you've just made life that much simpler—in the same way that eliminating boredom or sympathy or values over nonsubjective reality or individuals wanting to navigate their own futures, would tend to make life "simpler". When I consider how easily human existence could collapse into sterile simplicity, if just a single major value were eliminated, I get very protective of the complexity of human existence.
I ask it in all seriousness—is there any aspect of human existence as complicated as romance? Think twice before you say, "Well, it doesn't seem all that complicated to me; now calculus, on the other hand, that's complicated." We are congenitally biased to underestimate the complexity of things that involve human intelligence, because the complexity is obscured and simplified and swept under a rug. Interpersonal relationships involve brains, still the most complicated damn things around. And among interpersonal relationships, love is (at least potentially) more complex than being nice to your friends and kin, negotiating with your allies, or outsmarting your enemies. Aspects of all three, really. And that's not merely having a utility function over the other mind's state—thanks to sympathy, we get tangled up with that other mind. Smile when the one smiles, wince when the one winces.
If you delete the intricacy of human romantic/sexual relationships between sentient partners—then the peak complexity of the human species goes down. The most complex fun thing you can do, has its pleasure surgically detached and redirected to something simpler.
I'd call that a major step in the wrong direction.
Mind you... we've got to do something about, you know, the problem.
Anyone the least bit familiar with evolutionary psychology knows that the complexity of human relationships, directly reflects the incredible complexity of the interlocking selection pressures involved. Males and females do need each other to reproduce, but there are huge conflicts of reproductive interest between the sexes. I don't mean to go into Evolutionary Psychology 101 (Robert Wright's The Moral Animal is one popular book), but e.g. a woman must always invest nine months of work into a baby and usually much more to raise it, where a man might invest only a few minutes; but among humans significant paternal investments are quite common, yet a woman is always certain of maternity where a man is uncertain of paternity... which creates an incentive for the woman to surreptitiously seek out better genes... none of this is conscious or even subconscious, it's just the selection pressures that helped construct our particular emotions and attractions.
And as the upshot of all these huge conflicts of reproductive interest...
Well, men and women do still need each other to reproduce. So we are still built to be attracted to each other. We don't actually flee screaming into the night.
But men are not optimized to make women happy, and women are not optimized to make men happy. The vast majority of men are not what the vast majority of women would most prefer, or vice versa. I don't know if anyone has ever actually done this study, but I bet that both gay and lesbian couples are happier on average with their relationship than heterosexual couples. (Googles... yep, looks like it.)
I find it all too easy to imagine a world in which men retreat to their optimized sweet sexy catgirls, and women retreat to their optimized darkly gentle catboys, and neither sex has anything to do with each other ever again. Maybe men would take the east side of the galaxy and women would take the west side. And the two new intelligent species, and their romantic sexbots, would go their separate ways from there.
That strikes me as kind of sad.
Our species does definitely have a problem. If you've managed to find your perfect mate, then I am glad for you, but try to have some sympathy on the rest of your poor species—they aren't just incompetent. Not all women and men are the same, no, not at all. But if you drew two histograms of the desired frequencies of intercourse for both sexes, you'd see that the graphs don't match up, and it would be the same way on many other dimensions. There can be lucky couples, and every person considered individually, probably has an individual soulmate out there somewhere... if you don't consider the competition. Our species as a whole has a statistical sex problem!
But splitting in two and generating optimized nonsentient romantic/sexual partner(s) for both halves, doesn't strike me as solving the problem so much as running away from it. There should be superior alternatives. I'm willing to bet that a few psychological nudges in both sexes—to behavior and/or desire—could solve 90% of the needlessly frustrating aspects of relationships for large sectors of the population, while still keeping the complexity and interest of loving someone who isn't tailored to your desires.
Admittedly, I might be prejudiced. For myself, I would like humankind to stay together and not yet splinter into separate shards of diversity, at least for the short range that my own mortal eyes can envision. But I can't quite manage to argue... that such a wish should be binding on someone who doesn't have it.
Part of The Fun Theory Sequence
Next post: "Failed Utopia #4-2"
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