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To me, saying that someone is a better philosopher than Kant seems less crazy than saying that saying that someone is a better philosopher than Kant seems crazy.

Quantum Russian Roulette

An easy reason not to play quantum roulette is that, if your theory justifying it is right, you don't gain any expected utility; you just redistribute it, in a manner most people consider unjust, among different future yous.  If your theory is wrong, the outcome is much worse.  So it's at the very best a break even / lose proposition.

We need a new philosophy of progress

The Von Neumann-Morgenstern theory is bullshit.  It assumes its conclusion.  See the comments by Wei Dai and gjm here.

We need a new philosophy of progress

See the 2nd-to-last paragraph of my revised comment above, and see if any of it jogs your memory.

We need a new philosophy of progress

Republic is the reference. I'm not going to take the hours it would take to give book-and-paragraph citations, because either you haven't read the the entire Republic, or else you've read it, but you want to argue that each of the many terrible things he wrote don't actually represent Plato's opinion or desire.

(You know it's a big book, right? 89,000 words in the Greek.  If you read it in a collection or anthology, it wasn't the whole Republic.)

The task of arguing over what in /Republic/ Plato approves or disapproves of is arduous and, I think, unnecessary.

First, everybody agrees that the topic of Republic is "social justice", and Plato makes his position on that clear, in Republic and in his other works: Justice is when everybody accepts the job and the class they're born into, without any grumbling or backtalk, and Plato is king and tells everybody what to do.  His conclusion, that justice is when everybody minds their own business (meaning they don't get involved in politics, which should be the business of  philosophers), is clearly meant as a direct refutation of Pericles' summary of Athenian values in his famous funeral oration: "We do not say that a man who shows no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all."

When the topic of the book is social justice, and you get to the end and it says "Justice is when everyone does what I say and stays in their place", you should throw that book in the trash.

(This is a bit unfair to Plato, because the Greek word he used meant something more like "righteousness".  "justice" is a lousy translation.  But this doesn't matter to me, because I don't care what Plato meant as much as I care about how people use it; and the Western tradition is to say that Plato was talking about justice.  And it's still a totalitarian conclusion, whether you call it "justice" or "righteousness".)

This view of justice (or righteousness) is consistent with his life and his writings.  He seems to support slavery as natural and proper, though he never talks about it directly; see Vlastos 1941, Slavery in Plato's Thought.  He literally /invented/ racism, in order to theorize that a stable, race-based state, in which the inferior races were completely conditioned and situated so as to be incapable of either having or acting on independent desires or thoughts, would have neither the unrest due to social mobility that democratic Athens had, nor the periodic slave revolts that Sparta had.  He and his clan preferred Sparta to Athens; his uncle, a fellow student of Socrates, was the tyrant of Athens in 404 BC, appointed by Sparta; and murdered 1500 Athenian citizens, mostly for supporting democracy.  Socrates was probably executed in 399 BC not for being a "gadfly", but because the Athenians believed that they'd lost the war with Sparta thanks to the collusion of Socrates' students with Sparta.

Plato had personal, up-close experience of the construction of a bloody totalitarian state, and far from ever expressing a word of disapproval of it, he mocked at least one of its victims in Republic, and continued to advocate totalitarian policies in his writings, such as /The Laws/.  He was a wealthy aristocrat who wanted to destroy democracy and bring back the good old days when you couldn't be taken to court just for killing a slave, as evidenced by the scorn he heaps on working people and merchants in many of his dialogues, and also his jabs at Athens and democracy; and by the Euthyphro, a dialogue with a man who's a fool for taking his father to court for killing a slave.

One common defense of Plato is that his preferred State was the first state he described, the "true state", in which everyone gets just what they need to survive; he actually detested the second, "fevered state", in which people have luxuries (which, he says, can only ever be had by theft and war--property is theft!)

I find this implausible, or at best hypocritical, for several reasons.

  • It's in line with the persona of Socrates, but not at all in line with Plato's actual life of luxury as a powerful and wealthy man.
  • Plato spends a few paragraphs describing the "true state", and the rest of Republic describing the "fevered state" or defending or elaborating on its controversial aspects.
  • He supports the totalitarian polices, such as banning all music, poetry, and art other than government propaganda, with arguments which are sometimes solid if you accept Plato's philosophy.
  • Many of the controversial aspects of the "fevered state" are copied from Sparta, which Plato admired, and which his friends and family fought against; and direct opposites of Athens, which he hated.

The simplest reading of Republic, I think, is that the second state he described is one he liked to dream about, but knew wasn't plausible.

But my second reason for thinking this debate over Plato's intent is unimportant is that people don't usually read Republic for its brief description of the "true state". Either they just read the first 2 or 3 books and a few other extracts carefully chosen by professors to avoid all the nasty stuff and give the impression that Plato was legitimately trying to figure out what justice means like he claimed; or they read it to get off on the radical policies of the fevered state (which is the political equivalent of BDSM porn).

Some of the policies of that state include: breeding citizens like cattle into races that must be kept distinct, with philosophers telling everyone whom to have sex with, sometimes requiring brothers and sisters to have sex with each other (5.461e); allowing soldiers on campaign to rape any citizen they want to (5.468c); dictating jobs by race; abolishing all art, poetry, and music except government propaganda; banning independent philosophy; the death sentence for repeatedly questioning authority; forbidding doctors from wasting their time on people who are no longer useful to the State because they're old or permanently injured; forced abortions of all children conceived without the State's permission (including for all women over age 40 and all men over age 55); forbidding romantic love, marriage, or raising your own children; outlawing private property (5.464); allowing any citizen to violently assault any other citizen, in order to encourage citizens to stay physically fit (5.464e); and founding of the city by killing everyone over the age, IIRC, of 10.  (He writes "exiling", but you would have to kill them to get them all to give up their children; see e.g. Cambodia).

The closest anybody ever came to implementing the ideas in /Republic/ (which was not a republic, and which Plato actually titled /Polis/, "The State") was Sparta (which it was obviously based on).  The second-closest was Nazi Germany (also patterned partly on Sparta).  /Brave New World/ is also similar, though much freer.

We need a new philosophy of progress

The most-important thing is to explicitly repudiate these wrong and evil parts of the traditional meaning of "progress":

  • Plato's notion of "perfection", which included his belief that there is exactly one "perfect" society, and that our goal should be to do ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING NO MATTER HOW HORRIBLE to construct it, and then do ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING NO MATTER HOW HORRIBLE to make sure it STAYS THAT WAY FOREVER.
  • Hegel's elaboration on Plato's concept, claiming that not only is there just one perfect end-state, but that there is one and only one path of progress, and that at any one moment, there is only one possible step forward to take.
  • Hegel's corollary to the above, that taking that one next step is literally the only thing in the world that matters, and therefore individual human lives don't matter, and individual liberties such as freedom of speech are just obstructions to progress.
  • Hegel's belief that movement along this path is predestined, and nothing can stop it.
  • Hegel's belief that there is a God ("Weltgeist") watching over Progress and making sure that it happens, so the only thing progressives really need to do to take that One Next Step is to destroy whatever society they're in; and if they are indeed God's current chosen people, God will make sure that something farther along the One True Path rises from the ashes.
  • The rationalist belief, implicit in Plato and Hegel but most prominent in Marx, that through dialectic we can achieve absolute certainty in our understanding of what the perfect society is, and how to get there; and at that point debate should be stopped and all opposition should be silenced.
Group selection update

Sorry; your example is interesting and potentially useful, but I don't follow your reasoning.  This manner of fertilization would be evidence that kin selection should be strong in Chimaphila, but I don't see how this manner of fertilization is itself evidence that kin selection has taken place.  Also, I have no good intuitions about what differences kin selection predicts in the variables you mentioned, except that maybe dispersion would be greater in Chimaphila because of teh greater danger of inbreeding.  Also, kin selection isn't controversial, so I don't know where you want to go with this comment.

Rescuing the Extropy Magazine archives

Hi, see above for my email address. Email me a request at that address. I don't have your email. I just sent you a message.

ADDED in 2021: Some people tried to contact me thru LessWrong and Facebook. I check messages there like once a year.  Nobody sent me an email at the email address I gave above. I've edited it to make it more clear what my email address is.

Debate update: Obfuscated arguments problem

[Original first point deleted, on account of describing something that resembled Bayesian updating closely enough to make my point invalid.]

I don't think this approach applies to most actual bad arguments.

The things we argue about the most are ones over which the population is polarized, and polarization is usually caused by conflicts between different worldviews.  Worldviews are constructed to be nearly self-consistent.  So you're not going to be able to reconcile people of different worldviews by comparing proofs.  Wrong beliefs come in sets, where each contradiction caused by one wrong belief is justified by other wrong beliefs.

So for instance, a LessWrongian would tell a Christian that positing a God doesn't explain how life was made, because she's just replaced a complex first life form with an even more-complex God, and what made God?  The Christian will reliably respond that God is eternal, outside of space and time, and was never made.

This response sounds stupid to us, but it's part of a philosophical system built by Plato, which he designed to be self-consistent.  The key parts here are the inversion of "complexity" and the denial of mechanism.

The inversion of complexity is the belief that simple things are greater and more powerful than complex things. The central notion is "purity", and pure, simple things are always superior to complicated things. God is defined as ultimate purity and simplicity.  God is simple because you can fully describe Him just by saying he's perfect, and there's only one way of being perfect.  He's eternal, because if he had a starting-point or an ending-point in time, then other points in time would be equally good, and "perfection" would be ambiguous.  "God is perfectly simple" is actually part of Catholic dogma, and derived from Plato.  So a Christian doesn't think she's replaced complex life with a more-complex God; she's replaced it with a more-simple and therefore more-powerful God.

The denial of mechanism is the denial that anything gets its properties mechanistically.  An animal isn't alive because it eats food and metabolizes it and reproduces; it eats food and metabolizes it and reproduces because it's alive.  Functions are magically inherited from categories ("Forms"), rather than categories arising from a cooperative combination of functions.  (This is why spiritualists who believe in a good God dislike machinery.  It's an abomination to them, as it has new capabilities not inherited from any eternal Form, and their intuition is that it must be animated by some spirit other than God.  They think of magic as natural, and causes other than magic as unnatural; we think just the opposite.)

Because God is perfect, He is omnipotent, and hence has every possible capability, just as he is perfect in every way.  Everything less than God is less powerful, lacking some capabilities, and more-complex, because you must enumerate all those missing capabilities and perfections to describe it.  (This is the metaphysics behind Tolstoy's saying, "Every happy family is happy in the same way. Every unhappy family is unhappy in different ways.”)  The Great Chain of Being is a complete linear ordering of every eternal Form, proceeding from God at the top (perfect, simple, omnipotent), down to complete lack and emptiness at the other end (which is Augustinian Evil).  Each step along that chain is a loss of some perfection.

Hence, to the Christian there's no "problem" of complexity in saying that God created life, because God is less-complex than life, and therefore also more-powerful, since complexity implies many losses of perfection and capabilities.  There is no need to posit that God is complex to explain His powers, because capabilities arise from essence, not from mechanics, and God's perfectly-simple essence is to have all capabilities.  This is because Plato designed his ontology to eliminate the problem of how complex life arose.

If you argue with Marxists, post-modernists, or the Woke, you'll similarly find that, for every solid argument you have that proves a belief of theirs is wrong, they have some assumptions which to them justify dismissing your argument.  You'll never find yourself able to compare proofs with an ideological opposite and agree on the validity of each step.

Where do (did?) stable, cooperative institutions come from?

"Cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophecy; believing that an institution is bad makes the people within it stop trying, and the good people stop going there."

I think this is a key observation. Western academia has grown continually more cynical since the advent of Marxism, which assumes an almost absolute cynicism as a point of dogma: all actions are political actions motivated by class, except those of bourgeois Marxists who for mysterious reasons advocate the interests of the proletariat.

This cynicism became even worse with Foucault, who taught people to see everything as nothing but power relations.  Western academics today are such knee-jerk cynics that they can't conceive of loyalty to any organization other than Marxism or the Social Justice movement as being anything but exploitation of the one being loyal.

Pride is the opposite of cynicism, and is one of the key feelings that makes people take brave, altruistic actions.  Yet today we've made pride a luxury of the oppressed.  Only groups perceived as oppressed are allowed to have pride in group memberships.  If you said you were proud of being American, or of being manly, you'd get deplatformed, and possibly fired.

The defamation of pride in mainstream groups is thus destroying our society's ability to create or maintain mainstream institutions.  In my own cynicism, I think someone deliberately intended this.  This defamation began with Marxism, and is now supported by the social justice movement, both of which are Hegelian revolutionary movements which believe that the first step toward making civilization better is to destroy it, or at least destabilize it enough to stage a coup or revolution.  This is the "clean sweep" spoken of so often by revolutionaries since the French Revolution.

Since their primary goal is to destroy civilization, it makes perfect sense that they begin by convincing people that taking pride in any mainstream identity or group membership is evil, as this will be sufficient to destroy all cooperative social institutions, and hence civilization.

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