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"Her book ... asserts a direct cause-and-effect relationship between $1 trillion of aid and the rise in African poverty rates from 11% to 66%."

I have hardly skimmed the book but it does not appear to address the economic impact of population growth. Chapter 1 mentions that half of Africa is under the age of 15, but only so as to highlight the sheer number of young Africans lacking opportunities found elsewhere in the world. Wikipedia, paraphrasing UN estimates: "The total population of Africa is estimated at 922 million (as of 2005). It has doubled over the past 28 years, and has quadrupled over the past 55 years". It is still the fastest growing region on Earth, projected to double again by 2036.

I also see in Chapter 3 a remark about US aid to South Korea from the 1950s to the 1980s equalling all the aid that Africa has received (ever? from everyone? it's not clear, no source is given). South Korea is one of the most advanced countries in the world now.

It is almost certainly not the case that her "whole continent [was] wrecked by emotion and pity". The majority of the wasted or harmful aid would have been made by governments, many of them the former colonial masters, and with many conditions attached. I would think private aid is a very small part of the picture (so saying that "Celebrities at parties must be made ashamed to confess their donations to Africa" is wrongheaded). In another interview she mentions as a good channel for private donation.

The current hope for Africa seems to be trade with China (and, I would think, with the other new powers like Brazil and India), which gets a chapter in her book.

Childhood is formative, being a teenager is formative, being a young adult is formative, etc. And some of those phases will involve a conscious reversal of previous beliefs and dispositions. It may be difficult to generalize here.

Also, I doubt that many people think their life was "all steered by Incredibly Deep Wisdom and uncaused free will". For most people, life has involved surprises, external impositions, revelations of personal folly, and so on.

frelkins - that might have been true of the original Cynical movement in antiquity, but that's not what the word means now, surely. Though perhaps even the common cynic has some trace of that will to live truthfully and that boredom with considerations of life, death, and happiness.

When I wrote my comment yesterday, this post seemed to be an idealist's gambit, designed to attenuate the impact of cynicism by associating it with status-seeking rather than with truth, and I wanted to produce an emphatic reminder of the reality of everything bad in life. Even as I wrote it, I knew I was deviating from cautious empiricism into aphoristic intuition, and was therefore at risk of producing propaganda rather than truth. Today I cannot be bothered trying to assess how true it is, but in the spirit of something-or-other, I thought I would at least note these psychological facts.

Cynicism is fundamentally about self-defense from future pain. What is the basic message of a cynic? "You'll be disappointed." The cynic, having themselves been painfully disappointed by life, preempts a repeat of the experience by anticipating it everywhere they can, steering clear of hope in general, and advising others to do the same. Some cynics may seek the weakly compensating satisfaction of vanity by trying to perform their cynicism so as to impress, but that is not the essence of the attitude.

The lesson I draw from this story is that in it, the human race went to the stars too soon. If they had thought more about situations like this before they started travelling the starlines, they'd have a prior consensus about what to do.

This is what I think of as a "mildly unfriendly" outcome. People still end up happy, but before the change, they would not have wanted the outcome. One way for that to happen involves the AI forcibly changing value systems, so that everyone suddenly has an enthusiasm for whatever imperatives it wishes to impose. In this story, as I understand it, there isn't even alteration of values, just a situation constructed to induce the victory of one set of values (everything involved in the quest for a loved one) over another set of values (fidelity to the existing loved one), in a way which violates the protagonist's preferred hierarchy of values.

With respect to reflective decision theory: a few weeks ago I saw a talk by economist Jason Potts on the "economics of identity". Apparently there is a small literature now - Nobel laureate George Akerlof was mentioned - examining the effects of identity-dependent utility functions, where one's "identity" is something like "one's currently dominant self-concept". Jason described the existing work as static, and said he had a paper coming out which would introduce a dynamic account - I got the impression of something like Tom McCabe's self-referential agent.

Whereas for the US federal government, the question is "So if you owed $10 trillion, what would you do about it?"

That's about 15% of gross world product, by the way.

Caledonian: "I didn't say it was completely unreliable. I said it was completely useless."

I'm surprised you didn't take my second option and moderate your position. Whether you are insisting that introspection is only ever accurate by coincidence, or just that whatever accuracy it possesses is of no practical utility, neither position bears much relationship to reality. The introspective modalities, however it is that they are best characterized, have the same quality - partial reliability - that you attributed to the external senses, and everyone uses them every day to get things done, and in doing so they are not just rolling dice.

Even the argument that a capacity for accurate self-representation has never been selected for is questionable, in a social primate which uses language to communicate and coordinate.

Caledonian, the science of physiology and evolution may have played a large role in the creation of your epistemology, but I don't doubt that you also personally thought about the issues, paid attention to your own thinking to see if you were making mistakes, and so forth. Anyway, there's no need to play the reflexive game of "you would have used introspection on your way to the conclusion that introspection can't be used", in order to combat the notion that introspection is completely unreliable. If it were completely unreliable you would never be accurate even when reporting your own opinions, except perhaps by chance.

You might be able to defend your position by saying that all partly reliable self-knowledge comes through sensory, quasi-sensory and proto-sensory modalities, and that it's only a specific sort of self-"perception" that is 100% unreliable.

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