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      CommentAuthorLabyrinthine
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009 edited
     (5365.41)
    @Redwynd - higher physics has not helped our species survive. Higher physics is a RESULT of our species' survival, and notably one that would not have occurred under a tribal structure. The beautiful thing about a connected-up world like ours is that simple geographic proximity does not limit our social connections, and we can increasingly self-organise based on interest and intuitive connection. Of course that sort of organisation can become insular as well, but arguably no more so than the simple village.

    Which brings me to back to my problem with eugenicsh, or at least with the two versions of it you're talking about: the one in which we go beyond permanent birth control to actual death and the one where it's not voluntary. I was originally referring to the fact that anyone who truly understands that we have more resources than people and truly believes in remedying this by losing the people would probably commit suicide post-haste (possibly preceded by some random serial homicide), hence removing themselves from the gene/meme-pool and preventing a true eugenic philosophy from flourishing.

    But the MACRO point behind that was that anyone who DOES NOT adhere to that view is performing a value judgement concerning which lives should go, or at least which lives should go FIRST, just like you've done there, putting yourself second. It does not matter which person or organisation is implementing the eugenic policy, SOMEBODY will have to make the judgement. They ARE going to divide the population into groups of some sort. And they are HIGHLY UNLIKELY to say "well, reduce each group by thirty percent on a voluntary followed by random lottery basis" which means some group is going to get the short end of the stick and frankly I do not trust ANYBODY with that sort of power. NO EXCEPTIONS.

    Uhh I got a little carried away with the caps there :P but my final point:

    Humanity's strength is not in its PHDs, or its Mother Theresas, or its captains of industry or inspiring leaders or able-bodied genetic-illness-free individuals or teachers or nurses or farmers or entrepreneurs or sysadmins or psychologists or musicians or madmen or comedians or janitors or transients or fishermen or florists.

    Humanity's strength is in ALL OF THESE. Our most adaptable trait is our adaptability, both as individuals and as a species, and that means the key to our survival is diversity. The more different kinds of people flourish in times of feast, the better the odds that some of those kinds will be equipped for the famine. And yes, we do need to take steps to stop the time of famine from enveloping the whole world, but if those steps involve a "culling" then random lottery is not only the only fair method, it is also the best thing for the whole group's survival.

    [/endrant]

    (PS: in the end I don't believe we could ever take the kill-one-third-of-our-population route. The psychological impact on the survivors might be as crippling as the resource-drain we're presently facing, don't you think? Random-lottery permanent birth control is an idea, but you may have underestimated the psychological impact of THAT on people assigned to it non-voluntarily, not to mention the logistic nightmare of performing it worldwide.)
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      CommentAuthorallana
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.42)
    why not free sterilizations coupled with financial incentives (immediate or long-term, in the form of yearly bonuses or tax sheltering)? or the elimination of child- and family-based welfare systems? wouldn't those be enough tiny steps to revolutionize procreation in western/first-world countries, and wouldn't that be enough to change our policies on immigration, and wouldn't that be enough to create an impact on third-world country populations and standards of living?
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      CommentAuthorThom B.
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.43)
    Birth rates are already on their way to drop below replacement rates in the developed world where financial incentives for sterilization could be implemented so it's a moot point. The best remedy for over population is longer life expectancy and increased standards of living.
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      CommentAuthorallana
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.44)
    i don't think it is. i live in welfare-neighbourhood in downtown Toronto. there's still a whole ton of people below the poverty line that would benefit from it, that would be able to be nice and selfish about their own futures and potentials if it weren't for a teenage pregnancy and subsequent fall into the family welfare state.

    sometimes i really enjoy imagining urban centres that are completely child-free, where the only influx of population is people 16 and over, strictly for purposes of post-sec. education, culture, and the workforce. i even like to imagine that people who have children would (willingly or by law) move to a rural place for the duration of the childrearing.
  1.  (5365.45)
    @ Dkostis. The only way I think one could consider equality as "inherently valuable" as you put it, is to consider that value itself is objective, which I don't agree with. There may be an argument from a utilitarian standpoint about the worth or benefit of equality within a system, however such arguments head into the very divisive territory of rabid ideologues, knee jerk reactionaries and value free emotive responses which have perpetually framed most of the debate on either side.
  2.  (5365.46)
    Dkostis is framing the question of equality's value incorrectly anyway.
    should we redistribute these goods so that everybody is equal even if that means that nobody will have enough?
    Of course not. No one ever argues that, because we're all supposed to be intelligent enough to recognize that, whenever egalitarianism is argued for, a baseline (good) quality of life for everyone is implicit. Nobody argues for a society of equally oppressed or equally starving and impoverished people.
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      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.47)
    yep, I had it pegged as a straw man too.
    I think we're supposed to knock it down with the argument that a little carefully managed inequality can act as a useful incentive.
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.48)
    @Audley Strange

    I agree that for the most part to talk about something as inherently valuable is to imply that it has objective value. Egalitarians, though, do seem to talk about it in this way which is something that I find strange. Talk of equality has a great deal of rhetorical force and I'm trying to figure out if there is anything substantive behind it. I suspect that when we talk about equality we are talking about a whole host of other values that fall under the umbrella of equality but are actually distinguishable from equality in such a way that equality itself seems to be doing little work.

    What I find particularly interesting about utilitarianism is that it actually seems to adopt a principle of equality as an axiom which is not in need of further justification since it takes equal consideration of interests as foundational. The fact that few people have objected to this aspect of utilitarianism suggests that, whether equality is in fact objectively valuable or not, people assume that it is.
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.49)
    @doclivingston

    It's true that there are sophisticated (and more interesting) versions of egalitarianism that offset this problem by adopting other principles (Rawls is the obvious name that comes to mind) but at the heart of egalitarianism is the view that equality is inherently valuable and that it takes priority over other values. My problem with these views is that the other values do all the work. For instance, you might take the view that equality is important but so is utility, so we should aim for equality unless doing so would make everyone worse off. But when you take this pluralistic approach, there will be times when your principles conflict. So now you have to decide whether equality is going to take priority over utility, or whether utility is going to take priority over equality. If you say that utility should take priority over equality, then you're really just a utilitarian since you think utility is the primary value. If you say that equality should take priority, then you run into the problem that I originally suggested, i.e. you pursue equality even if everyone will be worse off.
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.50)
    @citruscreed

    The problem that I described could, I suppose, be taken as a straw man argument (although it was really meant as a question rather than an argument) but what I had hoped for was to get peoples' thoughts on what is taken to be a significant problem with egalitarianism in the academic literature. We seem to value equality as a desirable social goal rather than as a means to achieving other goals. Now I have no problem with someone saying that equality is pragmatically useful, i.e. we should pursue equality in order to achieve the social goals that we really desire (for instance, that everyone has enough resources to support themselves) but this isn't what egalitarians are talking about. They take equality to be the social goal itself and if you take that stance then it doesn't seem like you can avoid the counterintuitive cases like the one that I presented (which is a worst case scenario but one that needs to seriously be considered).

    I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say "a little carefully managed inequality can act as a useful incentive." Could you clarify?
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      CommentAuthorFinagle
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.51)
    @dkostis (et al):

    . Now I have no problem with someone saying that equality is pragmatically useful, i.e. we should pursue equality ...


    I think there's some confusion here as to whether you (and others) are using equality as an a priori condition of humanity, or a post facto attribute of actual circumstances. This of course isn't a new controversy in philosophy, but I thought it would be helpful to highlight it.

    What is equality? Do we believe and affirm that all persons are created equal, and it is circumstances that makes them unequal? Or the opposite? Are we talking equality of circumstances, opportunity, worth...?
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.52)
    @stygmata

    I'm not quite sure how the a priori/post facto distinction relates to the discussion. Perhaps you could clarify?

    As for what equality is, there are really two kinds of questions that you have asked. The first, where you ask whether all persons are created equal and their circumstances make them equal is a question about what we mean when we talk about equality. We can't mean that everyone is equal in any material or physical sense since that would be false so we must be talking about moral equality, i.e. that people have equal moral status. The implication at the political level is that we must find a way to distribute resources that takes into account this equal moral status. When there are inequalities in the distribution of resources, and these inequalities are not the result of peoples' effort or lack of effort, then taking into account their moral status as equals means distributing resources so that everyone has an equal share. The second kind of question is about which goods are to be distributed. What I'm interested in is most closely related to the first type of question. If we take people to be morally equal, does that necessarily mean that political equality is the primary principle governing how to distribute goods? If so, you again seem to run into this problem of distributing resources equally even though that means no-one has enough.
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      CommentAuthorcity creed
    • CommentTimeMar 27th 2009
     (5365.53)
    I'm not quite sure what you mean when you say "a little carefully managed inequality can act as a useful incentive." Could you clarify?


    Simply that uniform equality of access to resources eliminates competition. Competition is the driving force of our economy, or so they say. It depends on people being able to amass more gold than their neighbours. It depends on the ever-present spectre of poverty at the feast. Without these, why go to work in the morning?
    Of course, inequality must be managed somewhat, fosters resentment otherwise, threatens stability.
  3.  (5365.54)
    You still sound like you're going out of your way to create a problem with egalitarianism, dkostis. Why exactly does it create conflict for someone to believe that equality is of supreme importance, but enforcing equally shitty lives on a populace would be a bad thing? It goes back to what I originally pointed out: nearly every philosophy is seeking out an ideal way of life or ideal society, including any egalitarian mode of thinking, and having everyone live like shit ain't ideal. You think you've caught out a conflict in the thinking with your line of questioning but it's contrived. There's no actual cognitive dissonance there, you just want to insist an egalitarian has to be ridiculously enslaved to the ideal or else they're conflicted and inconsistent, but insisting that doesn't make it true.

    I believe in democracy, I think it's the closest to ideal we can get in the current world, but crazily enough I don't think a democracy populated solely with idiot voters would make for a good society. I don't know why a dyed-in-the-wool socialist would jump at the chance to redistribute property equally in a situation that forces objectively shit circumstances on everyone, either. It's like if I asked a person if they liked money. After they say yes, I offer them five dollars if they let me shoot them in the foot. THEN, when they say "no, that's retarded" I go "AHA! So you DON'T like money!"

    Which of course is a leap and doesn't prove anything. We presuppose certain things when considering what we value. I value social equality. But again, it would be ridiculous to expect me to say I'd approve of everyone in society being equally oppressed. Obviously.
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      CommentAuthorFinagle
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009
     (5365.55)
    @dkostis -

    Option 1, "a priori" - whether we are to regard 'equality' as something inherent in our notion of what it is to be human - in an Aristotelean sense of 'featherless biped' and as enshrined in statements such as "all men are created equal".

    Option 2, "post facto" - whether equality is merely to be regarded as an attribute of existence that depends on the stuff you actually have.

    Obviously there are different senses of what constitutes "equality" as it is enacted in a democratic society. But it is somewhat inherent to the notion of a democracy that individual have equality of opportunity and equality before the law, in a sense that does not depend on whether they are literally equal in terms of attributes and outcomes.
    • CommentAuthorVerissimus
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009
     (5365.56)
    Equality is an abstract concept which is difficult to apply to society. It may never exist as as reality but it is possible to strive for equality in certain instances. Equal opportunities, equal rights, etc.

    Also "equal" is not the same as "identical." Equal status doesn't necessarily mean people should be treated identically.
  4.  (5365.57)
    @Dkostis. I could certainly not say that the concept of utility itself would lead one to consider equality as an principle let alone an axiom though you could be correct in so far that some who consider themselves Egalitarian or Utilitarian may consider it so. I merely meant to suggest that one should look at varied research and examples and attempt to draw a conclusion from that. Do systems where people are treated equally in the eyes of the law flourish more than systems that are not? I don't know the answer to that because there are many ways in which a totalitarian system could be as or more successful than say a democratic one and vice versa.

    I think if one has an a-priori belief in Egalitarianism or Fascism, in Keynsian Economics or Free Trade or Communism or what have you, as being the prime solution, then one often filters out information that does not fit with ones assumptions. The consequences of which lead to ideological lines being drawn on in the sand. I see such idealism as being, both the cause of the conflicts and difficult to debate with since it is comparative to religious faith in so far as things like fact and evidence are easily discarded.
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      CommentAuthorLabyrinthine
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009 edited
     (5365.58)
    @allana that still has slightly unsavoury class/race implications, in that financial incentive systems are always going to be overbalanced in the direction of the disadvantaged and the oppressed groups in society. And of course there's the fact that forced sterilization of the poor, mentally ill and/or POC has occurred on multiple systemic levels in the very recent past.

    I think what needs to be done as far as sterilization goes is a destigmatisation of the process for it to actually be available to people who WANT it without having to go through sixteen different psychiatrists, because I have heard several people complain that they've always known they didn't want children and yet just because they're under thirty everyone thinks they're crazy sluts doing something they're going to regret. It's all part of the pro-choice value-system to me, the idea that your body and your reproductive future are yours to do as you please with, which is pretty much exactly why any sort of coercion is going to compromise the whole deal, and history suggests that any significant financial incentive is functionally identical to coercion for a certain subset of society.

    Also eliminating child/family based welfare would be a) massively destabilising b) yet another roadblock in the path of feminism c) completely ineffective given that people used to have thirteen-child families back when nobody had even heard of the word welfare and d) horribly unfair to the children in question.

    @Audley Strange depends on what you mean by flourish. It's certainly possible, indeed probable, for a totalitarian system to be more EFFICIENT than a democratic one, to accumulate more gross wealth, definitely to have a better army, but... well, honestly I think by conflating equality and democracy you're missing the point of democracy. It wasn't invented to be efficient, it's at heart Government By Argument. It was invented to shield against tyranny. It's the imperfect remedy to the Power Corrupts axiom. Whenever a supreme ruler, or a tiny group of rulers, has all the power, it's inevitably going to be abused. (is anybody sensing a cynical theme in my posts? :P) Democracy's sole actual purpose is to temper the power of the leader with a codified system for getting rid of him if he goes bad. Equality is not actually objectively tied to this, they only go hand in hand because the same type of people tend to believe in both of them.

    @dkostis You're blurring two different definitions of equality. There is the equality we strive for, and then there is the equality that is. On one level, we recognise that some people's circumstances are inhumane relative to the rest of our society and we want to do what we can to close that gap. By the other definition, which is the one you say you're talking about, we simply believe that no one human life/condition is worth more than any other, and no amount of claiming otherwise actually changes that. This one always causes difficulties where utilitarianism pops up for the obvious reason that we do value one life over another, we do it all the time. My personal belief is that there doesn't have to be a conflict there if we simply remember that those judgements do not have an objective status and are purely personal, so that we have more right to apply them the closer to home the issue is. (Moral absolutists have some... issues with that concept, but that's okay because I have some issues with moral absolutists.)

    So when you talk redistribution of goods, the problem is the way we're sliding from the second definition into the first. You're trying to migrate the absolute fact of moral equality to the idea that anyone with an egalitarian philosophy wants an absolute outcome of circumstantial equality. Now, for all I know you may have talked to some Capital E Egalitarians who really believe that, but frankly I've never met one. The practical application of egalitarianism boils down to a basic standard of living, and access to opportunities for going above the basics, that everyone ought to have.

    "taking into account their moral status as equals means distributing resources so that everyone has an equal share" is basically missing the point. In any case it's impossible to have an equal share of anything except a large pile of cash, because nothing else divides mathematically - any particular thing you distribute is going to have a different value to different people. What's a plumber or a CEO going to do with a canvas and paint? And a large pile of cash isn't going to stay distributed. So you're talking in the purely theoretical world that philosophy often slips into, and just assuming that your opponents are trying to apply that theory wholesale. Trust me, after what happened to the USSR, nobody's really that dumb. We're in give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day territory here.
  5.  (5365.59)
    @ Labyrinthine. I also have issues with Absolutism. However with regards to flourishing, I would discuss this in terms of both economic success and social welfare. Potentially, it seems to me, a benign dictatorship could be more beneficial to its populous in both these terms than a top down representative democracy that is bloated and overtly corrupt, which seems to be, if we are honest about it, the most likely form of democracy that one could have. I'm not so certain that power corrupts as much as I am that individuals themselves are almost entirely self interested which could be construed as corrupt, it seems to me that what power does is act as an attractor for that self interest or corruption.

    Since you say that we do value one life over another (again, self interest, which I agree is self evident) then it does not seem much of an extrapolation to me to suggest that what most people wish for is "equality" for themselves, even at the expense of others. I think personally that men create Noble Ideas which are in themselves neutral, but are created with the intent to benefit their in-group primarily and if there is a potential for them to benefit out-groups secondarily then that's just luck but it is not required.
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2009
     (5365.60)
    @ citruscreed

    Thanks for the clarification. In a sense the view that you proposed is a pragmatic one. Equality might be useful in order to achieve other socially desirable goods, such as steadily increasing the standard of living, and when equality conflicts with that goal then we tolerate inequalities. I agree with that view but the dominant view in political philosophy (at least in the literature that I have read) is that equality is paramount. For these egalitarians, equality is the end goal and I'm trying to get a sense of why people think equality is the socially desirable good. They think it is so important that when equality conflicts with another of our values, liberty, equality should still trump. Obviously I'm painting egalitarianism with some pretty broad strokes but I wanted to get a general feeling of what people think without going into specifics about who said what.