Goodbye

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Hedonic Treader
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Goodbye

Post by Hedonic Treader » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:58 am

I'm leaving felicifia and Utilitarianism-related discussions permanently, for two reasons:

1) I've come think publicly endorsing utilitarianism causes more social harm than good. Practically, a real utilitarian shouldn't publicly identify with utilitariansim, but instead support libertarian and animal (including human) rights policies and advocacy. In theory, smart utilitarians can do more good than harm, but it seems to me that a lot of people take from utilitarianism only the "end justifies the means" part without doing a thorough analysis whether their actions are really optimal or even beneficial. It is too small a step from there to endorsing violence and oppression which causes more harm than good. The latest example I've encountered came from Robert Wiblin, who declares that people shouldn't even have the right to bodily autonomy and ending their own lives, because he cares more about their future selves than they do. Typically, this kind of statement is combined with some anecdotal stories of people who are "grateful" that they had their options taken away from them by force, without any quantitaive evidence-based calculus and without any methodology to include unintended consequences, hidden downsides or any assssment of a control group of people who are not in the anecdotal reference class.

Other examples are Tim Tyler, Robin Hanson etc. declaring that it is good for non-human animals to exist in almost all adverse circumstances because they are evolved creatures that are supposed to be happy to exist by the magic of evolution, and therefore we can use them as meat or endorse spreading Darwinian wildlife etc. Basically, the pattern is "we're doing the non-consenting individuals a favor by making them suffer against their will, or at least we cause positive externalities in doing so, and that makes it okay". While I do not generally disagree with this logical pattern as such, it cannot be overlooked how surprisingly poor the associated analyses typically are, how often they engage in motivated stopping, and how often specific counter-arguments and questions are simply ignored. It also cannot be overlooked that there are fallacies like the just world fallacy and the fundamental attribution error, as well as self-serving biases that twist the utilitarian-type thinking into justifying any practical action the person happened to like for whatever emotional reason. And that is the part for which utilitarianism provides too easy an excuse to socially get away with. In short, I think the utilitarian thing to do is to stop endorsing utilitarian memes and instead increase social insistence on institutions like individual rights and heuristics like the non-aggression principle.

2) I've come to realize I don't have the extent of intrinsic altruistic motivation required to fulfill utilitarian demandingness levels, even though I cognitively endorsed them for years now. The "demandingness objection" isn't really an objection against utiltiarianism, but it is an objection to self-identifying with utilitarianism if you're not willing to donate practically all of your disposable income. I value consistency, and I find that I don't have the psychological motivation to fully act as a utiltiarian would, so the logical thing to do is to drop utilitarianism. Being a "half utilitarian" may still be more useful (from the POV of utilitarianism) than not being a utilitarian at all, but it's still a mismatch between endorsed philosophy and practical action, and on pain of being a hypocrite, the right thing to do is to drop the self-identification.

It is absurd and hypocritical to endorse a consequentialist philosophy whose demands you're not going to fulfill anyway, and whose public endorsement causes more harm than good within the philosophy's own value system!

I now draw the conclusion and avoid all "utilitarian" topics, communities and discussions from here on. For any of you who do actual practical work of altruistic value, I wish you the best of luck. Thanks for the interactions.
"The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it... Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient."

- Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839), French surgeon

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Ruairi
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Re: Goodbye

Post by Ruairi » Sat Feb 09, 2013 11:30 am

D: !

Is there anywhere we can still reach you? There are some really exciting projects starting soon relating to antispeciesist activism, spreading concern about dystopic futures, researching dystopic futures, etc, I've seen your name mentioned several times as someone who it would be great to have involved.

I can't remember if I'm connected with you on facebook or by email but make sure to contact me or Brian Tomasik if you're interested in projects of this kind.

My facebook

My email is rd5683@hotmail.com

Best of luck in your life and I hope you further utilitarian goals even if you don't identify as such! :)!

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Brian Tomasik
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Re: Goodbye

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Feb 10, 2013 1:26 pm

Sorry to see you go, HT!
Hedonic Treader wrote: Practically, a real utilitarian shouldn't publicly identify with utilitariansim, but instead support libertarian and animal (including human) rights policies and advocacy.
I respectfully hold the opposite view, because the highest-value things to work on are usually weird ideas that only make sense if you apply bullet-biting utilitarianism: e.g., caring about wild-animal suffering is something people usually try to avoid cognitively, and they can do so unless they're rigorous utilitarians. Once the wild-animal idea becomes more mainstream, that won't be true, but you need the utilitarians to get the ball rolling. Another example is utilitronium; very few people are going to support that unless they're hard-core utilitarians. And so on.

Indeed, Ruairi and I have discussed how promoting (negative-leaning) utilitarianism may actually be close to the best thing we can do, because the bullet-biters have many times the expected value of good people with more mainstream ideas about what "good" means.
Hedonic Treader wrote: In theory, smart utilitarians can do more good than harm, but it seems to me that a lot of people take from utilitarianism only the "end justifies the means" part without doing a thorough analysis whether their actions are really optimal or even beneficial.
Well, that's why we need insightful people like you to tell the utilitarians this so that they don't end up hurting their cause so much. ;)

As far as dangerous reasoning, if you disagree with these arguments, you could stay and tell people why they're dangerous. Rob, for example, is willing to listen to arguments about why such-and-such ideas can be bad to talk about.
Hedonic Treader wrote: and instead increase social insistence on institutions like individual rights
What would individual rights say about wild-animal suffering?
Hedonic Treader wrote: I value consistency, and I find that I don't have the psychological motivation to fully act as a utiltiarian would, so the logical thing to do is to drop utilitarianism. Being a "half utilitarian" may still be more useful (from the POV of utilitarianism) than not being a utilitarian at all, but it's still a mismatch between endorsed philosophy and practical action, and on pain of being a hypocrite, the right thing to do is to drop the self-identification.
No! Not at all! Just as economics has bounded rationality, so utilitarianism has bounded willpower. I like a common phrase that I picked up from Holly Morgan: "Don't let the best be the enemy of the good." And while it's not strictly accurate, this quote from Edmund Burke expresses a similar sentiment: "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little."

Say you're driving to the hospital, and a police car is behind you. You know that theoretically, you should go above the speed limit to get there faster, but if you do, the police car will stop you, and it'll make you even slower than if you kept your current speed. Similarly, if you demand too much of yourself, you'll burn out. This is not what the suffering minnows want.

Carl Shulman:
However, sometimes people caught up in thoughts of the good they can do, or a self-image of making a big difference in the world, are motivated to think of themselves as really being motivated primarily by helping others as such. Sometimes they go on to an excessive smart sincere syndrome, and try (at the conscious/explicit level) to favor altruism at the severe expense of their other motivations: self-concern, relationships, warm fuzzy feelings.

Usually this doesn't work out well, as the explicit reasoning about principles and ideals is gradually overridden by other mental processes, leading to exhaustion, burnout, or disillusionment. The situation winds up worse according to all of the person's motivations, even altruism. Burnout means less good gets done than would have been achieved by leading a more balanced life that paid due respect to all one's values. Even more self-defeatingly, if one actually does make severe sacrifices, it will tend to repel bystanders.
I would add that the value you have provided has been nontrivial even if you don't donate, do activism, etc. There's a need for smart commenters like you for the "brain trust" arm of utilitarianism, and I personally have learned a good deal from you, as have many others. In any event, I hope you can continue providing value in your alternate venues.

Anyway, you are more than welcome to leave for whatever reason -- none of us will stop you. :) Many thanks for all you've done!

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peterhurford
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Re: Goodbye

Post by peterhurford » Sun Feb 10, 2013 6:27 pm

Normally I think seconding is generally a waste of space, but in this case, I think there is a lot to be gained by saying that I second everything Brian said. You're welcome to go, but we need you.
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Arepo
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Re: Goodbye

Post by Arepo » Tue Feb 12, 2013 1:51 pm

I don’t know Tim Tyler, but Rob’s views are quite unusual among utilitarians. As for Hanson, he’s emphatically (both my emphasis and his) not a utilitarian, and worse, someone who uses its reasoning just enough to make himself sound erudite. I absolutely agree that his arguments are awful and have *huge* potential for harm (eg his pro-factory farming stuff), and it’s people like him who use just that sort of muddled consequentialism that help me reach the exact opposite conclusion to yours – that proper utilitarianism is important to spread, because it keeps people honest about their reasoning.
"These were my only good shoes."
"You ought to have put on an old pair, if you wished to go a-diving," said Professor Graham, who had not studied moral philosophy in vain.

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Darklight
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Re: Goodbye

Post by Darklight » Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:08 pm

but instead support libertarian and animal (including human) rights policies and advocacy.
I'm curious why you seem to believe that libertarian policies are the best. In my own experience, Libertarians often advocate very Deontological moral frameworks that arrive at very different conclusions about the right thing to do than a true Utilitarian framework.
"The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life." - Albert Einstein

LJM1979
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Re: Goodbye

Post by LJM1979 » Thu Feb 14, 2013 12:09 pm

Darklight wrote:
but instead support libertarian and animal (including human) rights policies and advocacy.
I'm curious why you seem to believe that libertarian policies are the best. In my own experience, Libertarians often advocate very Deontological moral frameworks that arrive at very different conclusions about the right thing to do than a true Utilitarian framework.
I'd agree with your comment. Libertarians usually want to maximize individual freedom rather than total well-being. They would never let the government do anything that would advance well-being. They'd rather let the for profit corporate sector entirely handle things, which is disastrous for well-being.

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