Rebirth of Reason

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Sunday, November 24, 2013 - 10:45amSanction this postReply
Even if you accept the progressivist premise that humans are just a bunch of blathering idiots and, therefore, that unexplicated "progress" requires that a few holier-than-thou elites -- i.e., aberrationally supra-intelligent, supra-moral specimens of the human race -- need to be "in charge" of the lowly others, that still doesn't let these god-complex authoritarians off of the hook regarding efficaciousness. Just because they assume they are better than others, does not mean that they can get away with idiocy -- such as mandating seat belts on greyhound buses.

If there are over a thousand better ways (better by objective standards such as "lives saved") to spend money than to spend it on your pet project -- and there are over a thousand better uses for money than imposing seat belt mandates for tour buses -- then you are an idiot if you keep spending money on it (or declare, by authoritarian fiat, that other people will have to begin to spend money on it). This is another instance of the lollipop fallacy, which could also be called the this-should-be-good-enough-for-all-others fallacy.


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Monday, November 25, 2013 - 6:01pmSanction this postReply
In order to deal with the issue artistically (art helps me vent), I made a short story:

Congressmen are from Mars
by Ed Thompson

Primary Legislator: Thank you all for making it on time to the very first session of congress on Mars. As the body of elected representatives for the starter colony here on Mars, we have been tasked to formulate enough law to create a 'pocket of peace' large enough for the initial 50,000 citizens -- who will arrive by intergalactic shuttle in the afternoon of this coming Wednesday. In order to guide our efforts, a Constitution was drafted and signed by all the countries on Earth who are interested in sending citizens here. Siri, please recite the 2 main rules in the Constitution of Mars (or "CM").

Siri: Article 1, section 1.1 and 1.2 reads: Since every endeavor can be judged by the standard of what is right, but it can also be judged by the standard of what is merely "good", all legislation shall always be subjected to those two standards for evaluation. Something is right if it doesn't impede any individual's life, and it is wrong -- to varying degrees -- if it does. Something is good always and only in relation to a beneficiary (the "good" is a relation, not a property of things), and the more beneficiaries the better, but it also always and only good in relation to all available alternatives. For legislation to be good legislation, it must not only benefit as many citizens as possible, it has to be superior to all alternative courses of human action.

Primary Legislator: Thank you, Siri. Now we all know how to discharge our acknowledged obligation to create good law. Let's get down to business. We'll do this "Round-Robin" style and every individual gets to propose a bill that we'll vote on -- which may or may not get signed into law. Congressperson 1, hereafter "CP1", you will start and we will proceed through to the last Congressperson.

Congressperson 1: I propose a bill entitled "Cops and Courts".

Primary Legislator: What does it entail?

Congressperson 1: It sets up a court system and a primary policing agency, whereby conflicts between citizens can be resolved by a dispassionate appeal to objective statutes.

Primary Legislator: How does it help?

Congressperson 1: It prevents the kind of mass killing you would get if you let everyone take the law into their own hands, where they mete out whatever kind and whatever amount of punishment they feel like, while in the psychological grips of morbid fear, self-destructive envy, resentful hate, or just plain run-o-the-mill spite (or what is known as 'schadenfreude').

Primary Legislator: Let's start by asking if it is good and, if it is discovered to be good, then we will ask if it is right. Congressperson 1, have you consulted Siri regarding the point estimate of benefit, along with a 99% confidence interval*?

Congressperson 1: Yes, a point estimate and 99% confidence interval places the total lives saved at 20% of the population per year -- with 99% confidence that the actual amount of saved lives will be between 5% and 35% of the population per year.

Primary Legislator: That's pretty substantial, but what does it cost?

Congressperson 1: I consulted Siri and she said it is going to cost around $3.50 per life saved, between $3.00 and $4.00 per life saved per year.

Primary Legislator: Hmm, sounds like a pretty good deal. It seems almost intuitive that a human life is, or ought to be, worth at least 3 dollars. Is that all?

Congressperson 1: Yes.

Primary Legislator: Siri, let the record show that the bill was sponsored by Congressperson "CP1", recording the time, date, and the complete details.

Siri: It is done.

Primary Legislator: Alright, let's move on to alternative bills. If, after all alternative bills have been heard, if the CP1 bill is still considered to be good (best for most people, and better than all alternatives), then we will ask and answer the question of whether it is right. Moving on now to Congressperson 2. CP2, what do you have to bring up on the floor?


Primary Legislator: And Congressperson 83, what do you have ...


Primary Legislator: And Congressperson 194, what do you ...


Primary Legislator: And Congressperson 999, you are the only person left. What do you have?

Congressperson 999: It's called the "Belt your Greyhound" bill.

Primary Legislator: What does it entail?

Congressperson 999: It entails forcing private bus companies, at the point of a gun if necessary, to install seat belts on big buses which travel on trips with a distance of more than about 5 or 10 miles or so.

Primary Legislator: What is the cost-benefit ratio on an endeavor like that?

Congressperson 999: I consulted Siri and she said it is going to cost somewhere between $30 million and $40 million per life saved.

Primary Legislator: Hmm, that doesn't sound like a very good use of human resources. For instance, the "Cops and Courts" bill proposed by CP1 is 10 million times more efficient than this "bus-belts" bill. But it is not for me to decide unilaterally. We don't even let Siri do that. According to the Constitution of Mars, we have to put it to a logic-bounded vote. I will now adjurn this session and I want to thank you all for your participation. Take a month to look over the bills, consult Siri, and consult with your staffers -- and then we will have another session of Congress in the middle of next month, in order to vote on them.
*While I'm misusing this term (confidence interval has to do with the odds of false-positives -- the odds of accidentally making a hasty generalization of "causation" from an imperfectly-correlated data set, which could have been accidentally so correlated as the result of mere chance, rather than as the result of a root cause), I'm going to leave it in along with this end-note admission of "willful wrong-wording." 


p.s. Another progressivist premise I missed is the premise that controlling another person, via surrogate decision making, doesn't harm that person's self-esteem or self-regard -- something which could prevent them from ever becoming happy (because at least some measure of self-esteem is required in order for a human being to ever be happy).

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 11/25, 6:29pm)

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