Re: my ethics

From: Stuart Armstrong (
Date: Tue Apr 22 2008 - 09:05:26 MDT

> > So, if I was an MP [Member of Parliament], I would probably
> > vote to allow most forms of destructive teleportation if the issue
> > came up - but would be terrified of trying them out myself.
> >
> "Vote to allow"? How jolly condescending of you! I hope that
> you would also "vote to allow" people to take their own lives
> (with the proper filling out of forms, at least, so that murder or
> temporary insanity could be ruled out). I also would hope that
> you would vote to allow people to ingest whatever substances
> they chose, provided it resulted in harm to no one else. Dear
> Stuart, sorry for my abrasive and aggressive phrasing and tone,
> but this is my morning personality that likes to cut through
> straight to the issues :-) give no quarter, and speak very frankly.

Hey, don't you know the MP's motto? If in doubt, ban it? If not in
doubt, ban it anyway? For an MP to actually allow something is an
exceptional event! :-)

But to answer your question properly, I'd have to delve a little into
libertarianism, and my attitude towards it. Been meaning to do that
for some time, so let's do it!

First of all, I am in favour of increasing the liberty of the maximum
amount of people. Basically everyone on this list is as well, so let's
move on. Where I part from philosophical libertarianism can be summed
up by the words "if you're in jail, the identity of the jailer is not
the first concern".

To pick an extreme example, if you die of starvation because the food
is unfordable or because the government has taken it away from you,
then the difference is not your primary concern. If you can't start a
company that sells rockets to people because the government forbids
it, or because rockets haven't been invented yet, the end result is
the same: no company.

So the first question I would ask of any law, is "does it maximise
liberty overall?". I also have a tendency to prioritise laws that
maximise the liberty of the poor (simply because, if you're rich, you
can buy yourself out of most inconveniences, and you have a large
amount of liberty anyway).

So far, so socialist! But what does this mean in practice? Well, here,
insert the practical libertarian arguments, which to my mind are
infinitely stronger than the theoretical ones. The superiority of
semi-market economies over purely centralised ones is an evident fact.
Nothing is more degrading to liberty than having your thoughts
policed, and this has no upside: so in comes freedom of thought and
speech. Also, libertarian ideas are humble in a good way: they
acknowledge that governments don't always know what's best for you,
that actions will have unintended consequences, that dependence
weakeness people. It gets solutions which are often quite close to
ideal, without weighting people down with rules. So in a lot of ways,
I'd be a practical libertarian.

But there are limits, and not just the obvious ones about "police",
"rule of law" and "anti-cartel legislation". There are a plethora of
small rules that boost liberty without imposing major costs; labeling
laws, some environmental restrictions, quite a bit of health and
safety rules, vaccinations, public defenders, some uniform standards
(for electricity, eg), a stable currency, long-term R&D, etc...
(I know that there are libertarian alternatives that, it is claimed,
would replace all these with very similar, non-coercive mechanisms; my
response to that is that the superiority of these approaches remains
unproven, and that doing a massive change to end up with the same
practical result is pretty pointless).

There are also a handful of major governmental programs which (pending
further evidence, of course) I believe have been massive promoters of
liberty, at least for the majority. Some examples are universal
education, the part of the EU that is about removing restrictions to
movement of people and goods, guarantees of private bank accounts,
government support to the university system, and, last but not least,
independent central banks to intervene in the economy (they may be
independent, but their independence and their power both derive from
the government).

More to the point, western countries now have a huge governmental GDP;
generally, at least a third of the economy is governmental. This seems
to produce somewhat slower growth rates (though some economists
disagree with me), but has not ushered in the apocalypse. A major
low-government western economy doesn't exist at the moment; the
example of the United States, where a low level of regulation led
directly to the explosion of private law-suits and of businesses
lobbying politics, leads me to feel that low-government in the modern
world is a *potentially* dangerous experiment (certainly untried),
which I must be convinced will work, and work better than nowadays,
before I endorse it (not that my endorsement means anything :-)

So basically I'm a practical liberal with libertarian tendencies - if
the issue are finely balanced, I'll go for the libertarian side.

Now back to the "vote to allow". If the following were true:
1) I was convinced that destructive teleportation was a form of murder,
2) I was convinced that if permitted, then DT would become ubiquitous,
and everyone would be pretty much forced (by non-coercive practical
considerations) to make use of it,
3) I was convinced that, if banned, DT would not come into general use
on some form of black market,
4) I was convinced that banning DT would not impose a huge burden on people,

then I would vote to ban it. (my position on euthanasia is similarly
tied up with practical considerations - the major argument against it
is that people would be pressured into it. But that is a practical
argument, not a philosophical one, and seems to be untrue)

Now, the connection to AI? Well, due to that way of seeing the world,
I don't share the belief that all we need to do is "solve FAI, then
get out of the way". There will be choices to be made for a FAI; some
people will lose more than others, and that adopting a purely
"libertarian" approach to these choices may end up with less liberty.

Anyway, that was my brief answer to your question :-)

> Best personal regards as always,

And the same! Hope this has made my views a little clearer,

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