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NelsonRushton


				

				

				
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Doctorate in mathematics, specializing in probability theory, from the University of Georgia. Masters in AI from the University of Georgia. 15 years as a computer science professor at Texas Tech. Now I work as a logician for an AI startup. Married with one son. He's an awesome little dude.

I identify as an Evangelical Christian, but many Evangelicals would say that I am a deist mystic, and that I am going to Hell. Spiritually, the difference between me and Jordan Peterson is that I believe in miracles. The difference between me and Thomas Paine (an actual deist mystic) is that I believe the Bible is a message to us from the Holy Spirit, and the difference between me and Billy Graham is that I think there is noise in the signal.


				

User ID: 2940

NelsonRushton


				
				
				

				
0 followers   follows 0 users   joined 2024 March 18 00:39:23 UTC

					

Doctorate in mathematics, specializing in probability theory, from the University of Georgia. Masters in AI from the University of Georgia. 15 years as a computer science professor at Texas Tech. Now I work as a logician for an AI startup. Married with one son. He's an awesome little dude.

I identify as an Evangelical Christian, but many Evangelicals would say that I am a deist mystic, and that I am going to Hell. Spiritually, the difference between me and Jordan Peterson is that I believe in miracles. The difference between me and Thomas Paine (an actual deist mystic) is that I believe the Bible is a message to us from the Holy Spirit, and the difference between me and Billy Graham is that I think there is noise in the signal.


					

User ID: 2940

Standard Econ and political science in the Western tradition has long been effectively rule utilitarian.

Utilitarianism is a stance for reaching moral conclusions, not conclusions of cause and effect. I do not believe economists or political scientists make are in much the business of making assertions of this sort in their academic work -- though you can prove me wrong by citing cases where they do.

@NelsonRushton: It only does this in the context of valid arguments that protecting individual liberty is in fact such a bulwark/safety-valve, and I don't believe such arguments exist.

@SwordOfOccom: I am flabbergasted by this since I’m basically just mirroring the logic the Founding Fathers used to create a system that allowed a lot of liberty to lower the risk of tyranny and internal strife.

To explain your flabbergastedness, can you reproduce, or quote, or outline one of the arguments you are talking about? Then we can talk about whether it does what I say it doesn't do.

Rule utilitarianism sets rules that protect individual liberty as a bulwark against oppression and as a safety valve.

It only does this in the context of valid arguments that protecting individual liberty is in fact such a bulwark/safety-valve, and I don't believe such arguments exist. It is very tempting to think they exist, because I agree with their conclusions, but I do not believe this is not how people actually defend those principles in practice. For example, ...

In my mind, the US constitution is a good representation of rule utilitarianism.

My response to this has a lot in common with my response to @coffee_enjoyer above [https://www.themotte.org/post/966/why-rule-utilitarianism-fails-as-a/205363?context=8#context]. I love the US constitution, but I do not think it has much to do with rule utilitarianism. Most provisions of the American Constitution and Bill of Rights are borrowed almost wholesale from the English Constitution, English Petition of Right, and English Bill of Rights that came just before them in the same tradition. Where there was a discussion of which changes to make,

  1. when the argument was, we should do this rather than that because the calculated consequences of this are better than the calculated consequences of that, I submit that is political science or social engineering, not utilitarian ethics.
  2. when the argument was, we should do this rather than that because that wrongfully infringes on our rights as Englishmen, I submit that argument was based in sacred tradition, not utilitarian ethics, and
  3. when the argument was, we should do this rather than that because that wrongfully infringes on our self-evident natural human rights, the argument was based in deontology.

Sorry it took me so long to respond to this. Thanks for the thoughtful engagement.

@NelsonRushton: It is a mistake to picture a code of conduct that benefits "the community": each person is, after all, a member of multiple overlapping communities of various sizes and levels of cohesion, whose interests are frequently in conflict with each other.

@coffee_enjoyer: This is your brain on 20th century propaganda. More seriously, nobody in the past had any problem understanding what their in-group was. It was ethnicity and religion.

Shared ethnicity and/or religion is a matter of degree, not a Boolean function. What looks like the same ethnicity or religion from afar, or in one conflict, may look like different ethnicities or religions when you zoom in, or look at a different conflict. This is nothing new. For example, the Book of Joshua, written at the latest around 600 BC, records nations being formally subdivided into hierarchies of tribes, clans, and families:

So Joshua got up early in the morning and brought Israel forward by tribes, and the tribe of Judah was selected. So he brought the family of Judah forward, and he selected the family of the Zerahites; then he brought the family of the Zerahites forward man by man, and Zabdi was selected. And he brought his household forward man by man; and Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah, was selected.

And these various hierarchies were well known to endure conflicts of interest, if not outright enmity, at every level of the hierarchy, from civil war between tribes (and coalitions of tribes) within a nation, right down to nuclear families:

Then the men of Judah gave a shout: and as the men of Judah [Southern Israel] shouted, it came to pass, that God smote Jeroboam and all [Northern] Israel before Abijah and Judah. [2 Chronicles: 15]

And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. [Genesis 4:8]

So what your "ingroup" looks like depend on the particular conflict we are looking at, and the level of structure at which the conflict takes place. These conflicts can be life and death at all levels, and someone who is in your ingroup during a conflict at one level may be in the outgroup in a conflict at another level on another occasion. This phenomenon is a major theme -- arguably the major theme -- of the oldest written documents that exist on every continent where writing was discovered. In Greece and Isarael, for example, those documents were composed orally in the iron age based on legendary events of the bronze age. If that is my brain on propaganda, it isn't 20'th century propaganda.

@coffee_enjoyer: Utilitarianism as a practical framework comes with huge benefits for an in-group, just not when seen as a top-level explanation of morality... Another way that utilitarianism can help us practically is by creating rules which govern interaction between groups without privileging any one group...

Let's imagine a Medieval man at arms, standing atop a rampart, says to his comrade, "Aristotle wrote that an object falls at a speed proportional to its weight. Wanna see?" Then he takes a boulder and shoves it off the edge of the castle wall, and it falls on an enemy soldier and squishes him. "Good ol' Aristotle," he says, "What would we do without him?".

By analogy, your post describes some interesting examples of groups with competing interests entering into agreements, binding one way or another, that tend to benefit everyone involved. But I do not believe they are really deploying utilitarianism as a moral theory (as opposed to some other theory to morally justify their actions, if indeed they feel the need to morally justify them at all), and I do not believe that the success of their stratagems is evidence for utilitarianism. That is, Aristotle in my story analogous to, say, John Stuart Mill in yours. For your examples to count as anecdotal evidence of the normative force of utilitarianism, you would have to argue that the people in those stories were acting morally -- not just that they benefitted from what they did -- by comparison with what they would have done if they had acted on some other moral theory. For your examples to count as evidence of the efficacy of utilitarianism, you would have to argue that (1) they were thinking in utilitarian terms, as opposed to some other moral theory, and (2) other groups that employ competing theories fare worse by comparison.

guess I’m confused why you think rule utilitarianism is uniquely required or faulty for the situation you describe.

I don't think rule utilitarianism is uniquely required; it just seems to be the most common candidate for a theory of absolute morality based on Enlightenment epistemology. I don't think the other candidates are any better.

Even if I like my neighbor, why am I the only option for $10k?

It is an element of the hypothetical.

What moral system would demand the $10k payment?

What facially seems to merit the $10K payment is not a particular moral theory, but the situation that (1) I would not pay $10K to save his life, therefore (2) his life is worth less to me than $10K, (3) I have an opportunity to do away with him and collect $10, and (4) I am allegedly a rational agent; so by #2, #3, and #4 I should be expected to pull a Raskolnikov. Yet I don't. What requires a moral theory is to resolve the paradox (or am I just being a sentimental sucker?).

Since you yourself admit that this argument is restrained to humanist rule utilitarianism, shouldn't you edit the title to include the full phrase?

I don't actually admit that. It starts off with the humanistic version, but the later paragraphs address broader forms of the view. Do you have a particular variation in mind?

I clicked this post expecting a serious attack on the compromise between deontology and consequentialism that rule utilitarian offers,... to hell with clickbait and false advertising.

I don't think the title suggests this topic exclusively. Even if I am mistaken, and it did, "clickbaiting" is a deliberate deception, and I plead innocent to that charge.

Good writeup

I appreciate you saying so.

I suspect that people are drawn to rule utilitarianism because it resolves a certain bind they find themselves in. Let's suppose that I have a landlord who is an all around scumbag, and I don't like him. Suppose I know that, if he needed a live saving medical procedure that cost, say, $10,000, and asked me to help out, I would say no. So his life is worth less to me than $10,000. On the other hand, if I had an opportunity to do him in and take $10,000 in the bargain, and get away clean like Raskolnikov, I would not do it. I think people with certain worldviews feel obliged to articulate an explanation of why that is not irrational, and within those same worldviews, they don't have much to cling to in formulating the explanation. Dostoyevsky's explanation would probably strike them as unscientific. They don't realize that if they keep that up, their grandson might actually do it.

Or maybe, they need a pretext for pointing a finger at the people they feel are doing wrong, and being able to say more authoritative sounding than "boo!", that, again, flies within their worldview.

Original to theMotte

Let's say both sides are equal. In that case, "deterrent to future attacks" is equivalent to "tit for tat forever". This obviously doesn't work.

Doesn't work compared to what? I would rather have intermittent tit for tat forever than constant tit for tit forever, which is the salient alternative. Deterrence is not about being stronger than your attacker; it is about making it persistently, conspicuously not-worthwhile for him to victimize you. That is how it works in prison, for example. Either you fight periodically, win or lose, or your horizons get broadened in a really interesting way.

totally aware its a very vile thing to say, but my question is how vile is it to think? Maybe my model of my fellow man is way off, but I would be surprised if you explained the idea to 100 (non Russian/Ukrainian) men at least 30-40% don't buy into it. They would do it mostly secretly, but deep down in their hearts, they know what they want.

It is a socially unacceptable thing to say in the light of day (in comments that might be made public). I cannot tell whether you really think it is vile. For example, if someone did say it (giving voice to what you believe to be the sentiments of at least 1/3 of the male population), would you think that it revealed a serious moral defect in the speaker?

It's not the individual story, it's the statistical mismatch between stories generally and reality. If there was a murder mystery series and it turned out the murderer was a Jew 75% of the time, and it wasn't set in Israel, it wouldn't be wrong to infer that the writers must have something against Jews.

Just have to say that is awesome and I will have to remember it.

Notably absent among your conjectures 1-4 is deterrent to future attacks. That is the obvious top of the stack.

Do you think "those they oppose" is more accurate?

It depends on exactly what you want to say. What I think is true about Christians and gays is that (1) they tend to be on opposite sides of the salient ideological fence more often than would be accounted for by chance, and that (2) conservative Christians often believe homosexual conduct is immoral. Whether that means anyone opposes anyone as a person or as a group depends on the particulars. In principle, people can be on opposite sides of an ideological fence where they disagree about how to achieve common objectives without being "opposed to each other". For example, my wife and I disagree about how to achieve our common objectives literally every day, sometimes spiritedly, and yet I would not say we are "opposed to each other". One can also firmly believe that another person has done wrong without opposing them personally: if believing someone has done wrong meant that you had to be opposed to them as a person, then I guess Jesus would be opposed to all of us, because he knows we have all done wrong.

As to the particulars, I think the unfortunate fact is that the culture war is a war, and people on it opposite sides are enemies. That is to say, we do not have common objectives after all, and are engaged in a zero-sum conflict with high stakes. But realize that politics can make strange bedfellows (for example, not long ago in my hometown there was a referendum to legalize the sale of liquor within the city limits, where opposition to the referendum was driven by a coalition of of bible thumping teetotalers and out-of-town liquor store owners). In this case, honest progressives -- say, the likes of Alan Dershowitz or Bret Weinstein -- often find themselves voting for the same candidates as woke zombies. So I do not think the Democrat/Republican split exactly reflects the deeper war that is going on -- which is between the fear of God on one hand, and idolatry on the other. It is the idol worshipers on both sides of the left/right political aisle (some of whom are gay activists, and some of whom, unfortunately, are professing Christians) who hate their political adversaries. The same was true in Weimar Germany.

It bears repeating that when I say "hate", I mean taking carnal pleasure in the pain and loss of another person, which I believe is always immoral (though I am not claiming that I never succumb to the temptation). When New York Times editor Sarah Jeong tweeted, "Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men," that was explicitly hateful. (It also goes to show that you can say something about white people, and be an editor at the New York Times, while if you said the same thing about black people, you couldn't edit your own twitter account). On the other hand, when Jesus forgave his murderers on the cross, that was loving your enemies. There is a story of a US sniper in Vietnam who, after he found a target, saw through his scope that the NVA soldier was heating up his lunch. The sniper waited until the enemy soldier finished his last meal, and then shot him through the head. That also is loving your enemies.

By the way, if someone objects that shooting an enemy soldier is un-Christian because you should love your enemies, they should remember the scriptural biography of Jesus consists of five books, not four -- and He will not be walking the Earth as a mild-mannered rabbi next time.

Yeah, fair. People are too eager to inflict harm on their opponents.

I don't think this admits enough. I do not believe that Gays, especially gays who are not gay/trans activists, are "opponents" of Christians; they are people who many conservative Christians view as wrongdoers (for example, I think it would be very strange to call, say, Douglas Murray, an "opponent of Christians"). More importantly, "People" at large do not profess a sacred precept of loving their enemies, so it is not egregiously hypocritical of "people" to be eager to inflict harm on wrongdoers.

I'd have to double check for each of those that stoning was what was enjoined

Here you go:

  1. homosexual sodomy: If there is a man who sleeps with a male as those who sleep with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they must be put to death. They have brought their own deaths upon themselves. [Leviticus 20:13, NASB]

  2. idol worship: If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, by violating His covenant, 3 and that person has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun, the moon, or any of the heavenly lights, which I have commanded not to do, and if it is reported to you and you have heard about it, then you shall investigate thoroughly. And if it is true and the report is trustworthy that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then you are to bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil deed, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death. [Deuteronomy 17: 2-5, NASB]

  3. sabbath breaking: “For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death." [Exodus 35:2, NASB]

  4. adultery: If a man is found sleeping with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who slept with the woman, and the woman. [Deuteronomy 22: 22, NASB]

  5. premarital sex (in the case of women): “But if this charge [of premarital sex] is true, and they did not find the girl to have evidence of virginity [on her wedding night], then they shall bring the girl out to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death, because she has committed a disgraceful sin in Israel by playing the prostitute in her father’s house; so you shall eliminate the evil from among you. [Deuteronomy 22:20-21, NASB]

The current battle lines of elite and counter elite in the west are once again drawn on a precise difference between two modes of dealing with modernity. And that difference is quite exactly the one we are talking about here, between an individual desire of transcendence, escape and a collective desire of management, control.

...To no end. This is whence the conflict comes.

Then I have no idea what you are trying to say. Which side of the struggle corresponds to (A) individual desire of transcendence, escape, and which corresponds to (B) collective desire of management, control ?

I take it you would argue that the law against homosexual sex is a ceremonial law, and now longer applies, whereas I would argue that it is a moral law.

Not so much. I don't emphasize the distinction. I think the need to emphasize the distinction arises from a position that the Bible is infallible and that its stated precepts are invariably eternal, which I do not believe. Do you?

@NelsonRushton: But of all ways to square with it, to arbitrarily pick one of those alleged sins and lift it up as an abomination on Biblical grounds, while discounting or ignoring the rest, and then to use that capricious choice to justify hating another person,... Yet, as a group characteristic, that is what Evangelicals [my people] have historically done, and to some degree continue to do, in large numbers by comparison with the general population @Felagund: Is this really a depiction of what is going on typically?

Note that I didn't say "is" and I didn't say "typically"; I said historically in disproportionate numbers. Indeed, I don't see it as much as I used to -- but, then again, I don't hang out with as many old rednecks as I used to. Here is one anecdote. In 1997 a gay nightclub (the "Otherside Lounge") was bombed in Atlanta, Georgia; 5 people were injured, one critically, though no one died. A nominally Christian group calling itself the "Army of God" claimed responsibility. That much is not indicative; there are whackos who identify as everything and their existence in small numbers doesn't necessarily reflect on anything. What is more notable is that I heard someone who was not (viewed as) a whacko, on his regular radio show, minimize and nearly excuse the bombing on the grounds that it targeted gays. Before you read the next paragraph, I invite you to guess whether the speaker was (a) a leftist pundit, or (b) a Christian pastor.

Of course he was a Christian pastor. His words as I remember were, "You may have heard that a gay bar was bombed in Atlanta recently. Well, I wouldn't worry about that too much. God bombed Sodom and Gomorrah." This was 1997 in Athens, Georgia (1 hour from Atlanta). It was not a hot mic moment; it was apparently his planned public remark on the event, which he expected to be assented to en masse by likeminded brethren. Now that was a tail event (that is, strange and unlikely); it surprised me to hear it, and even a person my age (56) from the deep South could have gone their whole life without hearing anything that bad from someone in a position of public authority. But what is more important is that, given that somebody did say it, I think any reasonable person who has been around that block would guess (b) rather than (a) -- because we know which group is more likely to have that kind of tail event, and the tail is indicative of milder tendencies of the same sort in larger numbers, of which I saw many.

So it's at least plausible to me that some of the commands in Acts 15 are intended to be for the sake of peace and people's consciences, but I'm not entirely certain.

It's plausible, but I don't think the Christian rednecks who despise gays in the name of God have thought it out far enough to get off the hook; I don't think any Biblical argument justifies the actual level of focus they put on sexual deviance as a sin relative to others that would be rationally subject to the same argument, and I don't think their animus is targeted wholly at the acts rather than the actors. (Nonetheless, those people would be voting with me on almost every living political issue of today -- and if there is ever another civil war in America we will be on the same side. In fact, if it comes to a shooting war, I wouldn't be surprised if they are about the only ones on that side that actually fight.)

Laws are conventionally divided into three sorts: moral laws, which apply universally (e.g. Thou shalt not murder); ceremonial laws, which were for Israel as a church, roughly, and so no longer apply post-Christ (e.g. food laws); and civil laws, which were for Israel as a government (e.g. cities of refuge).

I think the word "Conventionally" here appeals to a vague and precarious authority. I know that there are Hebrew words for the three sorts of laws, and that the idea of giving them different levels of force in modern times goes back at least to Aquinas -- but his scriptural basis for it [Summa Theologica, Question 99] seems pretty thin to me, and most discussions of the distinction that I see give no scriptural basis at all. Anyway, whether it is Aquinas's argument or not, I would be curious to know if you (@Felagund) know of a Biblical argument for the distinction in force, for us today, between the three kinds of laws.

I'll note that I don't think that the prescription of putting them to death is necessary, as we are no longer living under the civil law of ancient Israel.

This suggests that you believe it was necessary and proper, in ancient Israel, to judicially stone people to death for homosexual sodomy, idol worship, sabbath breaking, adultery, premarital sex (in the case of women), etc. To be clear, is that your view?

So that you know where I am coming from, this is my view of scripture (now in my Motte bio): I identify as an Evangelical Christian, but many Evangelicals would say that I am a deist mystic, and that I am going to Hell. Spiritually, the difference between me and Jordan Peterson is that I believe in miracles. The difference between me and Thomas Paine (an actual deist mystic) is that I believe the Bible is a message to us from the Holy Spirit, and the difference between me and Billy Graham is that I believe there is noise in the signal.

The current battle lines of elite and counter elite in the west are once again drawn on a precise difference between two modes of dealing with modernity. And that difference is quite exactly the one we are talking about here, between an individual desire of transcendence, escape and a collective desire of management, control.

Management and control by what agency and to what end?

Does it not give you any pause that you've now likened these real and existing Canadian doctors to five fictional characters and zero real people? In fact contrasting this fictional archetype with two actual people.

Interesting question. Answer: no. Can you elucidate why you presume it ought to?

Good question. The theft of fire from the gods is the most common, indeed the default archetypal original sin in world religions [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theft_of_fire]. I don't believe there is any natural moral law forbidding people from making or using fire, or that we ought to give it back. The cultures that held (or hold) the stories sacred, including the classical Greeks, also didn't think they needed to relinquish fire or give it back. At the same time, I do believe there is a lot of wisdom in those stories. If that perplexes you, it might be because you are approaching religious mythology with the wrong hemisphere of your brain.

While it is true that Dr. Frankenstein wanted to know something, I think to state that as his motive, and leave it at that, leaves out what is most essential. I submit that Victor Frankenstein has more in common with Faust, or Elric of Melniboné than he does with, say, Paul Erdos, or Thomas Edison (doesn't it feel so?). Like Faust and Elric, but unlike Erdos or Edison, Dr. Frankenstein commits copious moral transgressions in the service of his compulsive quest (e.g., desecrating dead bodies, theft, vivisection). In his effort to cross certain boundaries as a far term objective, he crosses boundaries that he knows, or ought now, should not be crossed in the here and now. He could have violated those boundaries in a quest for knowledge, or, like Elric or Gilgamesh, in a quest for something else. So, I think Frankenstein's quest for knowledge is relatively incidental while his quest by forbidden means, for what he ought to know is within the exclusive dominion of the gods is essential. Like Prometheus.

If this analogy [I presume you mean the analogy between the trans-mania and Frankenstein] has any legs, it has to be about the desire to see if man can be turned into woman and vice versa, about transhumanism and the escape from the binding of natural laws without regard for prevailing morality... Not the petty bureaucratic impulse of classification and normalization that moves Canada as a nation and its managerial ilk today, which itself is justified by conforming to a morality, not disregard for it.

From this I suspect one difference between you and me is that I believe Dr. Frankenstein -- along with Faust, and Elric, and the trans-mutilators -- are recklessly crosswise of morality plain and simple, not merely "prevailing" morality. They all lie to themselves to justify the intoxicating ecstasy of crossing boundaries, and seeming, for the time being, to get away with it. Like Prometheus.

The definitive portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein, of course, is Mary Shelly's novel. Before I respond to this, I am curious whether you (@IGI-111) have read the book, and, in case you have, whether, upon reflection, you think it is accurate to describe Dr. Frankenstein's driving motive as "lust for knowledge".

I spent about half an hour on this post. The longest draft was a paragraph, but my eventual opinion was that the connection, for those who had read Frankenstein, would be more dramatic if I left it at that. If the post is deficient, it is not from lack of effort but lack of ability.

*Other than why the fuck are Canadian doctors so keen to help their fellow citizens maim or destroy their bodies??!!

Whatever it is, I think it is the same thing that motivated Dr. Frankenstein.

What rule makes this necessary?

By "inflammatory" do you mean (a) inflammatory in the eyes of a reasonable person, or (b) something that will, if widely seen, get a lot of people riled up, reasonably or unreasonably?