Why would a free human society be in agreement on how to alter itself?

by Multiheaded1 min read29th Dec 201122 comments


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So I've been grappling with these discussions on the plausibility or implausibility of redefining cultural boundaries of several sorts to (as the radical example of self-alteration by Eliezer goes) make non-consensual sex as tolerated and tolerable as non-consensual conversation. Said discussions being quite separate from EY's largely accepted underlying statement of principle; "Something in a world better than ours is likely to creep us out, at least purely emotionally."

Then I suddenly saw a plot hole in the source material. The story outright mentions that internal disagreement was present at all points in its culture during the transition from 20th century sexual mores to the end result. So... why didn't anyone who saw the trend of self-modification and couldn't accept it for themselves or their children, DO anything about it? To use another locally popular example, if Gandhi knew that his children, whom he had begun to raise in pacifism, were to be given pills that'd make them enjoy killing in self-defense*, why the hell wouldn't he and his followers split off? And, supposing that a large amount of Indians and others at the time disliked that slippery slope, wouldn't their forked culture make a considerable impact on the future's "mainstream" society, such as a much greater level of catering to pacifists in all areas of life than e.g. the visibility of Jewish kosher goods and services in today's West?

In other words, why didn't the story mention its (wealthy, permissive, libertarian) society having other arrangements in such a contentious matter - including, with statistical near-certainty, one of the half-dosen characters on the bridge of the Impossible Possible World? I strongly suspect that this blow to suspension of disbelief, while swallowed by most commenters who began talking about the implied binary choice (modify entire culture to tolerate rape/society at large stays frozen in stone), added a great deal of needless, irrational controversy, fueling the already incensed emotions and such.





*(I know the real Gandhi didn't totally abhor self-defense, but that's beside the point)


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When I read that part of the story, it looked like a storefront on a stage set with nothing behind it. That is, I saw nothing in the story to indicate that Eliezer had given any thought to fleshing out the actual complexity of a detail that was merely mentioned in passing. A Rowlingism, one might call it. There's no point wondering how that custom works in that society and how it came to be, because it's a fictional society and if the author didn't imagine anything to fill that gap, there's nothing actually there. The only function of the detail is to be a nod to the posting on weirdtopias.

Eliezer said in the comments that it was in fact a fully fleshed out idea, but taken from a different story, and that it didn't seem right in the context of this story because it belonged to a different universe.

But yes, the out-of-placeness is noticeable.

Compare present-day Western society to that of a century or two ago. We got here from there, even though many of those then would be horrified by parts of where we are now. For that matter, a lot of people now are horrified by parts of where we are now, yet here we are.

But there are still conservative communities - not necessarily as radical as the Amish, just see e.g. a quiet, out-of-the-way Central or European town - that are allowed to practice pretty much what they practiced centuries ago just as long as it doesn't infringe too much upon the modern concept of human rights.

Say, if you opened a transgender strip club in such a community for some reason (unlikely to be anything but trolling of sorts), and advertised it, and refused to compromise when the town elders came knocking... why, I suspect that they could, given the will to and some organization, sue you right out of the place.

Many of the things that would have horrified our centuries-ago ancestors are closely entangled with the modern concept of human rights.

Those quiet, out-of-the-way towns are so far sunk in sin that they do not burn witches, sodomites, or even heretics. Their men are so weak and unmanly that they effectively never engage in duels to the death, even when grossly insulted. They can be relatively safely cuckolded — with harm to reputation, yes, but with very little chance of loss of life on anyone's part, even the adulteress's. And so on ...

BTW, while the wackier Christian fundamentalists are certainly an example of people in the present horrified by the way we live now, I mainly had in mind people like Moldbug, and the things that he is horrified by.

Just saying.

Mencius Moldbug? Thanks for informing me of his amusing crankery. I remember reading a few comments by him on OB, mainly about how there was really a communist conspiracy to exploit/destroy the US, but didn't investigate his screeds further.

EDIT: Jeez, it's not (blatant) crankery, looks like! Updating...

EDIT: Yep, it is. No matter how clear-sighted he might be about some of the world's problems, his logic is basically a mirror opposite of, say, William Burroughs'.

Mencius Moldbug?

The same. I've read most of his blog, although I don't follow it assiduously. I find him quite sound, to an extent, on the things he is against; less so on what he is for. There is a certain enlightenment experience to be had from reading him (whether one agrees or not), after which, like the FedEx arrow, certain things are never quite the same again. To then read (to take a random example) something like blogs.plos.org, is to see his Modern Structure poking through here and there, like an enormous mountain range under the ocean, that would otherwise seem to be but a few insignificant islands.

On the grounds that Utopia is weird, I just assumed something strange like mandatory permissiveness for everyone. Thus, "we are tolerant, but we don't tolerate your lack of tolerance." (Yes, that's practically contradictory. Utopia is weird.)

I wouldn't call that one's either truly contradictory or weird. In fact, it's a standard to which many people desiring a consistently tolerant society, including me, already adhere.

In other words, why didn't the story mention its (wealthy, permissive, libertarian) society having other arrangements in such a contentious matter - including, with statistical near-certainty, one of the half-dosen characters on the bridge of the Impossible Possible World?

It was such a contentious issue centuries (if I'm reading properly) ago, when ancients were still numerous enough to hold a lot of political power and the culture was different enough that Akon can't even wrap his head around the question. That's plenty of time for cultural drift to pull everyone together, especially if libertarianism remains widespread as the world gets more and more upbeat, especially if anti-rapers are enough part of the mainstream culture to "statistically-near-certainly" have a seat on the Impossible Possible World.

It's not framed as an irreconcilable ideological difference (to the extent those exist at all in the setting). The ancients were against it because they remembered it being something basically objectively horrible, and that became more and more outdated as the world became nicer.

Well, in the real world, there are many things about American society I disapprove of, but I don't cut myself off from it and create my own society. Instead, I compromise. Which means my children are raised in a society I don't fully approve of.

I think something similar is true of most people.

It strikes me as a reasonable thing. Very few people, if any, are likely to do better creating their own society than operating within their existing one. I may disapprove of some X being endorsed by my society, but that doesn't mean I think (my new society) is better than (existing society + X).

It strikes me as a reasonable thing. Very few people, if any, are likely to do better creating their own society than operating within their existing one.

What it strikes me as is sour grapes. Yeah, sure, like e.g. that libertarian paper says, there's a nearly insurmountable barrier in creating a new society, but if it was made lower - like with Earth and Space open to colonization under a libertarian system, wouldn't sufficiently motivated conservatives at least make a good effort?

Also, said society only needs to be "new" at all in the regards that the people founding it care about. All the other things and institutions and stuff they'd just re-appropriate from the parent one, given enough support.

I think you underestimate what is involved in preserving "all the other things and institutions and stuff" in a society.

It's the SAME daily work as ever, except that it'd be moving in a slightly different direction now, with a few both written and unwritten changes to the familiar ruleset.

A pretty wild example, yet not unusual by the standards of such speculative SF. 1) A weird memetic mutation makes softcore erotic images of children into a romantic ideal of sexuality, which becomes vastly popular, say, in "high" art and among the higher classes. All kinds of actual intercourse with children is still forbidden, and that's exactly the idea; depict something unattainable. 2) About 4% of the population both hate this and are motivated enough to take large-scale, organized action. 3) They move to an existing community in a federated country and make what laws they can there, as a halfway measure. At which point the outnumbered locals are free to either go along or pack up. 4) They practice building their own society, which could perhaps be classified as conservative-libertarian, upon a safe foundation, slowly replacing and optimizing whatever 'mainstream' institutions they can.

If they could get their sh*t together long enough and well enough to succeed up to this stage: 5) They build a sea/moon/extraterrestrial colony with both laws controlling the original ethics issue and whatever else a consensus is found upon. Everything that they don't view as broke, they don't fix.

Would we believe in a radically altered, broadly libertarian eutopia in, say, the 23th century NOT featuring at least one subculture like this prominently?

Yes, agreed... if they get their shit together long enough and well enough to support actually creating a separate colony with a different social standard, then they can create a different society in a different place. The work involved in getting one's shit together that well for that long is precisely the work I think you're underestimating, which is why it doesn't strike me as implausible that no such society actually gets created.

But what if you're far-sighted enough to see a real slippery slope in X and care about the disturbingly probable X^3 affecting your grandchildren, yet unwilling to compromise?

I have a few options in that case.

1) Act on my society so as to reduce the chances of X^3 happening.
2) Leave my society and go to another one I think is better.
3) Leave my society and create a new one I think is better from scratch.
4) Take action to protect my grandchildren from the ill effects of X^3 when it happens.
5) Not have grandchildren.
6) Decide that my grandchildren are still better off in my current society, even factoring in the costs of X^3, than they would be in any of my available alternatives (including nonexistence), and do nothing.

If I understood your original comment, you were saying that the lack of evidence in this particular fictional world of significant numbers of people having chosen #2 or #3 was interfering with your suspension of disbelief. My experience of people is that #3 is vanishingly unlikely and #2 is exceedingly rare, even for extremely shocking X^3s. So, I don't have that difficulty.

Which means my children are raised in a society I don't fully approve of.

There's also a significant difference in being raised IN a society and being raised BY it.

I suppose that's true. If that difference is relevant to the current context in some way, I've failed to understand the relevance.

It's hard enough to write one utopia-- writing a number of co-existing utopias is harder.

Why not fit a few more lines in that chapter that would indicate a broad, expected and fully accepted divergence among crew members on their subcultural traditions of sexuality?