Monthly Archives: August 2014

Thoughts on National Security Part 1

This semester I am taking a class on National Security and each week we are given a set of questions to discuss in the tutorials. I am going to take the more interesting of these questions and use them as a stimulus for a series of blog posts with the goal of crystallizing my thoughts on National Security related issues.

  • What forces are challenging the ability of states to provide for the welfare and security of their population?

I disagree with the framing of this question (which will become a common theme in my answers) because it seems to view the state as a unified agent with the goal of providing welfare and security to their population. In reality the state is a group of people that have a set of beliefs, information, desirers and biases that are influence by other people with their own sets of beliefs, information, desirers and biases. These people do things that cause other people to do things. from a higher level of resolution (just like a plane is what a collection of atoms looks like from a higher resolution) this looks like states and business and political parties interacting, but I think this level of resolution may lead to incorrect beliefs, like applying agency incorrectly and making incorrect predictions.

To go more directly to the question I feel like the answer that the question writer desires is something like terrorism, increased competing on over resources etc. but I think “people who most people would consider members of the group of people that collectively form the state having incorrect beliefs or desirers that are different to ensuring the welfare of the population is an equally legitimate answer.”

(Note: I’m still working out and formalising this reductionist way of viewing national security and international relations, hopefully there is already a school of thoughts that thinks this way that i can build from rather than starting from scratch.)

  • What is the “natural condition” for states, peace or war?

First I think that the phrasing of the question is unproductive. What does “Natural Condition” mean? and even if we have a coherent definition why should we care about the “Natural Condition” of states unless this is the natural conditions are a common conditions for the states to be in? A similar questions that are in closer to a form that can actually be answered is “statistically are states more likely to be at war or at peace?” There is also not a sufficient definition of peace, war and the many possible situations between (“military conflicts,” cold wars, economic terrorism, proxy wars, states in conflicts with their own citizens) so answering the second half of the question is also problematic.

So my answer would be that it is a non optimally formed question and the answer would change based on different definitions and implicit assumptions. Deconstructing all these assumptions and moving the question to the point where it can be answered and the answering it would be an essay length reply

  • What impact has globalisation had on the viability of the modern state?

Not really sure. The modern state doesn’t seem that much less viable than it did 60 years ago. The UN and other global organizations decrease the powers of certain states in certain areas, but it could be argued that they in effect redistribute power from some states to others. Increase in global trade means theoretically war is even more of a zero sum game than it used to be for states, but the argument “states wont go to war because they trade so much it would be economically disastrous” was used before world one and generated the wrong prediction so I’m sceptical of it being used now. The internet has probably lead to people indentifying less wit there nation relative to other identities so peoples subjective feeling that they are united with the people in the same geographical area as them and should be governed together could be lessening.

  • Can the military be a force for good?

I think this question is quite biased. The phrasing means that to answer in the negative we would have to argue that the military can never be good, which seems very unlikely. SO the only reasonable answer to this question is yes, but accepting the phrase “the military can be a force for good” would make people more likely to accept the statement “the military is a force of good” without actually realising it.

A better question would be “is the Australian military overall a force for good or [bad? not good? evil?]” Again my answer would be that I don’t know, and considering that it is unliekly that the whole Australian military would be disbanded it may be more useful to look at the value of each individual action and component of the Australian military and decide on a case by case basic

  • Are the laws of war appropriate for today?

I think that the implication of this question is that due to new threats (i.e. terrorism) the laws of war may no longer be appropriate. This seems like a step away from arguing that things like torture are ok in the “War on Terrorism.” Or that civilians casualties from drone strike are not that bad, or outweighed by the benefits of drone strikes. Overall I think this argument is wrong and that the laws of war serve an instrumentally useful role as a form of ethical injunction against acts that could seem like a good thing at the time but are more likely to not be.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty for being born with so much more than others”

A friend of mine once had a semi emotional breakdown about the fact that the world is so horrible, there are so many people suffering etc. In a way I was kind of insecure about this, because I consider myself to care more about that kind of thing than most people and I am doing more to help then she is, yet I don’t experience these negative emotions to the same degree she did. But then I reminded myself that 1) outwards burst of emotion like the one she had aren’t an accurate sign of a person’s emotional state and 2) it doesn’t matter how strongly I feel about something or how much I want something beyond how much that motivates me to act. What matters is what I actually do to steer the future in a better direction.

A friend of hers told her (paraphrased obviously):

“You should feel guilty about the fact that you have so much more than other people. You didn’t choose to be more in to a rich country with well off parents etc.”

(Her emotions at the time seemed to be more of the form of “I have so much, others have so little, I feel guilty” whereas mine are usually closer to “others have so little, actually, no one really has anything compared to the ideal situation, I need to do everything I can to make it better”)

When she told me about this I disagreed. Firstly I don’t have a guilt based moral system, but even if I did this argument wouldn’t completely resolve me of my hypothetical guilt. The example I gave was to imagine that everyone is created in a box, all able to see each others boxes but unable to leave our them. Also each box is a different size and has different amounts of food and other resources delivered to the box each day. In this scenario it would indeed be pointless to feel guilty for being created in a larger, more resource filled box that others that you can observe.

But if the scenario was changed so that you could divert resources from your box to other boxes and chose not to, than clearly you should feel guilty because you are choosing for them to not have the resources they need more than you.

Clearly we happen to be in the universe where you can divert resources from your box to others.

But I added, to help her through the emotional negatives she was going through, the way I get around thoughts of “oh god I’m not doing enough I’m bad arrrg self loathing” is to remind myself that I am much more motivated by positive emotions rather than negative emotions.

Example when I was in high school and I had an assignment, if it was behind schedule and I was worried I wouldn’t finish it on time I would hide in my room under my covers and not do anything. but if I think I can achieve my goal of completing the assignment I am much more likely to try and actually do it. In the same way if every time I thought about EA stuff I felt bad for not doing more I would just not dor EA stuff or not think about EA stuff.

There is a part of me that is worried that this isn’t true and that I am just rationalizing to avoid going down the unpleasant path of guilt as a motivator even if that path does more good. I guess we we’ll see what happens.

Unicorn Governance, Typical Mind Fallacy and Unicorn Markets

This week I read Unicorn Governance by Michael Menger. Menger argues that some people states as magical entities that don’t actually exist (“unicorns”) and when they say that “the state should do X” they don’t realise or don’t properly think about the fact that the state is a group of people with particular incentives rather than a single benevolent actor and because of this misunderstanding make error in reasoning about the states behaviour.

He proposes what he calls the Menger test:

1. Go ahead, make your argument for what you want the State to do, and what you want the State to be in charge of.
2. Then, go back and look at your statement. Everywhere you said “the State” delete that phrase and replace it with “politicians I actually know, running in electoral systems with voters and interest groups that actually exist.”
3. If you still believe your statement, then we have something to talk about.

An example he gives of this is:

When someone says, “The State should be in charge of hundreds of thousands of heavily armed troops, with the authority to use that coercive power,” ask them to take out the unicorn (“The State”) and replace it with George W. Bush. How do you like it now?

I think this concept is overall useful and seems closely related to the rationalist skill of Tabooing Words. But I have two additional points I think are worth mentioning.

Firstly it is possible that this test will be less effective than Menger and other libertarians may think due to there already existing bias against the state and it components (politicians, bureaucracy etc.). For example, I did the Menger test myself for several of my beliefs about things that I think the state/”politicians I actually know, running in electoral systems with voters and interest groups that actually exist”  should do and they seemed to hold up pretty well. For example:

Me: “I think the state should run some form of socialized healthcare, most likely a hybrid of different aspects of the UK, France, and the Nordic countries”

Menger Test: But the state is a unicorn, so you should taboo it. So what you actually mean is “I think a group of politicians elected by uniformed voters and given money by pharmaceutical interest groups should run a form of socialized healthcare” (possibly adding phrases like:”with money taken from the taxpayer without consent by force”)

Me: Well it does sound worse when you put it like that, but the reason I agree with the policy (the empirical success of similar systems compared to systems without socialized healthcare) are still the same so I don’t feel the need to shift my position. But if you have other arguments or empirical data against my position Id love to hear it.”

But I’m most likely not the target audience for the test because I have already mentally reduced things like the state to their components. I definitely think there are people who haven’t thought about this before that could benefit from the test.

The second point is that I think it would also be useful to do this for “The Market” in addition to just “The State.” After all we shouldn’t apply more scrutiny to one side than to another.

So the Reverse Menger test:

1. “Go ahead, make your argument for what you want the Market to do, and what you want the Market to be in charge of.
2. Then, go back and look at your statement. Everywhere you said “the State” delete that phrase and replace it with “the actual people who own and run businesses, making decisions with imperfect information trying to maximise the amount of money they make.”
3. If you still believe your statement, then we have something to talk about.””

I predict that if a libertarian reads the above they will most likely still support whatever they wanted the Market to do in the first place which may help them understand why the original Menger test isn’t as effective as they think it should be.

(By the way, in the above reversed test I wasn’t sure how harsh to be to the market, I didn’t want to go to over the top but its probably a bit more extreme than the original.)

Thoughts on Antinatalism Part 5: Antinatalism Without Human Extinction

So this post, which may or may not be the final post in this series will outline an idea for how Strong Antinatalism can be accepted without leading to the extinction of the humans.

WARNING: the idea is extremely futuristic and is obviously not something that could even be attempted with current technology, however it seem theoretical possible if humans advance to a sufficient point.

The basic idea is, instead of creating a new person from scratch by choosing a possible configuration that a person could be and the creating that person, instead take an already existing person, and with their full consent, split them into two people, each an identical copy of the other. Next let each copy go into separate environments and slowly grow into different people, in the same way that a person between the age of 20 and 60 grows into a different person. As time goes on these people will be as distinct as I am from my neighbour. Thus, there are now two distinct, individual happy people instead of one, no one’s consent has bee violated. In this Hypothetical Future Society death would only occur if people chose to die, so as long as this splitting happened at the same or higher rates than people choosing to end their lives, the society would maintain a stable or expanding population.

So like I said, this idea at firs glance seems insanely futuristic. And it requires us to accept a certain theory of personal identify, that a person is a certain configuration of matter rather than the exact atoms they are made of. This implies several counterintuitive outcomes, for example if I take apart the atoms a person is made of, and then on the other side of the room I make an exact copy with different atoms, I have not killed their person and created another person but have instead moved that person from one side of the room to the other.

This is counterintuitive but is strongly implied by our current understand of physics. I am not confident in my understanding to try to explain this my self but basically the concept of “the same atoms” doesn’t actually make sense. For a long detailed explanation you should read: [for some reason wordpress isn’t letting me make links]

So as I have said this is a very futuristic scenario, but it is only intended to show that is theoretically possible for a society with widespread anitnatalist values to not lead to extinction.