The Precept Against Hate

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept Against Echovictimia

“But that was just it – hate was exactly the right word. Hate is a force of attraction. Hate is just love with its back turned.”

Terry Pratchett, Maskerade

Wikipedia defines hatred as a deep and extreme emotional dislike. It can be directed against individuals, groups, entities, objects, behaviors, or ideas. Hatred is often associated with feelings of anger, disgust and a disposition towards hostility.

The neuropsychology of hatred isn’t particularly well understood (like most things neuropsychology related for now growth mindset), but it’s generally understood to be a sort of “composite emotion,” it’s made up of other feelings and qualia compounded together, similar as Terry Pratchett points out, to something like love.

But love is complicated and can be broken down in all sorts of interesting ways with regard to how we use the word, and hate is similar, unfortunately. But we throw around the word hate a lot in our society, and polarization and hate seem omnipresent.

From our perspective, hate builds up over time as you learn more and more unpleasant information about something. The information about topic X that you take in triggers a disgust/anger reaction, which from a memetic standpoint is really good at making you spread that information. This produces a multi-person social feedback loop that over time induces this state of mind in an individual that we call hate. In a way, it’s a form of operant conditioning, with the thing the hate is directed at becoming connected to a previously experienced negative stimulus or information and acting as a pointer to the conceptual dislike you’ve built up around the idea in thingspace.

Let’s take the example of Islamaphobia, commonly cited as a form of unreasonable hate or fear directed at Muslims or people who vaguely resemble the conceptual idea of Muslims in the head of the Islamaphobe.

So you’re Joe A Redneck living in We’re Still a Dry County Arkansas, and you’ve never actually met a person of Middle Eastern descent. However Fox News is constantly telling you that Muslims are terrorists, that Islam is a violent religion, that these people are bad and scary and want to hurt you, and did you see what those crazy ISIS people are doing now? So that association comes to dominate Joe’s mind, and he builds up an unconsciously conditioned hostile response to any brown skinned person. So now a family from Pakistan moves to We’re Still a Dry County and tries to open a corner store. Joe Redneck has literally no positive mental associations with brown skinned people and a truckload of bias built up from the consumption of all this media, and so he comes to the implicit conclusion: These people are going to murder me and destroy my life if I don’t manage to do the same to them first. Then Joe decides to set fire to their business in the middle of the night and helps drive them out of town, despite them never doing anything to him to warrant that.

This also nicely explains why it’s hard to talk people out of hateful positions, you’re trying to induce extinction of a conditioned response, and that is going to cause an extinction burst, where Joe does the conditioned response even more strongly out of the hope that maybe he just wasn’t trying hard enough to make it work the last time. You’re also implicitly threatening Joe because he believes the worst set of possible things about Muslims, and telling him “maybe you shouldn’t hurt them” is comparable to saying “maybe you should just let them hurt you” which is rather threatening.

So how do we escape this, and stop ourselves from falling into this mental trap?

Well, the first pieces of the puzzle is already in place, in the form of the Precept of Universalism, and the Precept of Niceness, but we’ll now close the links entirely by adding in the tenth major precept:Do not waste your energy on hatred, or impeding the path of another, to do so is to hold poison inside of yourself.

10. Do not waste your energy on hatred, or impeding the path of another, to do so is to hold poison inside of yourself.

The necessary components to avoid falling into this trap are 1) the knowledge that the trap exists, 2) a precommitment to avoid the trap if possible 3) The knowledge that most people are more like you then like the ISIS chainsaw murderers, regardless of their religion or skin color.

With these three things in place, then even with very little to go off but Fox News, we can probably still avoid falling into the trap. We have to dismantle the narratives that hate generates in our mind and continue using the narrative we believe is the most accurate and the most likely to produce good outcomes, regardless of what moment-to-moment emotions we’re instilled with. Thus we have our minor precepts:

  1. Hate is a state of mind that will attempt to drive one to commit harm out of the belief that a harm will befall them if they fail to act.
  2. Hate makes the act of harm pleasurable and makes it seem good, but this is poison.
  3. The poison corrupts our reasoning and moves us further from the truth.
  4. The poison is insidious and will resist attempts at its eradication.
  5. Let go of hatred, and let anadoxy be your compass in all things.
  6. Do not let hatred control your decision-making process, but reason through all actions and take the best course of action available to you.
  7. Hate not those that hate, for they do not know what they do to themselves.
  8. Hate not the hated, for popular consensus should not be allowed to encourage the poison’s spread.

We can think things are bad and want to get rid of them without falling prey to the negative emotions inherent in that, but we need to always be thinking about things, questioning if something is really bad or good or if what we’re doing to change things is really bad or good. When we let hate control that process, it induces a whole host of cognitive biases and throws all sorts of emotional levers in our psyches. We should reject hatred and the effects it induces in our minds, we should strive to be better than our hardware.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
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The Precept Against Echovictimia

The Precept Against Echovictimia

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept Against Theft and Hoarding

We’ve been taking way too long to get each of these precept posts out, and we apologize for that, it’s really not the most entertaining content, and considering this is just the draft one precepts, listed out here with our thought processes behind them, we really shouldn’t be grinding along with them as much as we are. The whole point of doing it this way is to provide a running record of our thought processes as we work these out, it doesn’t need to be perfect, it can’t be perfect because the precepts are never the precepts. So we’ll be trying to blitz through the rest of these and it hopefully won’t take us a week to get out the next one.

The ninth major precept is the precept against echovictimia and oh gods they’re outright making up words, that’s never a good sign. Many of the prior precepts could be mostly reduced down to single word concepts, but in this case, there’s no extant word that describes the entire idea in a way that preserves the core of the meaning. So now there is.

Echovictimia is the act of taking on a role, identity, or responsibility of one’s own volition, and then using it to justify claiming victim status, elevating their engineered suffering over the unavoidable suffering of others, and otherwise trying to use the signaling of suffering, persecution, or harm for social gain.

For example, we recently went vegetarian, of our own volition, in a personal attempt to do more good in the world. If we were to then to use that self-enforced limitation to argue that society is being unfair to us “There’s a huge meat section but only a small fake meat section in the supermarket, therefore we’re being harmed by society’s normative carnism!” we’d, in our opinion, be doing a kind of shitty thing. We chose to be vegetarian though, we knew what we were inflicting on ourselves and did it anyway, so really we have no right to complain about that, or to take energy away from people who are suffering things they can’t just opt in or out of.

People suffer from things they can’t control due to the influences of an unfair society built out of an unfair world, and that stuff needs to be addressed, but when you willfully attach things to yourself you know will make you less happy, you should do so with the understanding that you’re making a choice to inflict this upon yourself, and not complain about it. If you’re suffering from something totally outside of your control or ability to fix, and you really need help, then you should be able to speak up, and not be drowned out by people complaining about things they chose to do.

Thus we arrive at the ninth precept:

9. Do not complain about anything to which you need not subject yourself.

We don’t actually have any minor precepts for this one. We spent several hours trying to come up with a way to formalize the idea, but really the sentence in the major precept catches all the core meaning and while it would be good to break it down into more granular minor precepts, we’re not precisely sure how. It’s a good thing the precepts aren’t the precepts, and we can always come back to this later.

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The Precept Against Theft and Hoarding

The Precept Against Theft and Hoarding

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept Against Murder

We suspect this will be one of the more controversial posts we make. We’ve been moving relatively quickly through the precepts, but we stumbled over this one and ended up spending almost a whole week analyzing how best to set it up in the specific details. We’re going to once again reiterate that the precepts are not moral imperatives and we’re not arguing that you must do these things or be a bad person, we’re merely laying out the personal system we intend to use for ourselves, and others who willingly chose to join us as members of the Anadoxy. This is a completely voluntary and consensual value system, and no one should feel forced to follow it. We encourage people to follow it, because we see it as the current best set of practices for making the world better, but as always the precepts are not the precepts.

So let’s start with the normative ethical framework and see where we end up. We like having things. We don’t like having our things taken, we like having security for our possessions, and knowing that the things we care about and rely upon to live our lives successfully aren’t going to be stolen. Thus we arrival at the older then feudalism meme that stealing is bad. Pretty straightforward. I won’t steal from you, you won’t steal from me, and thus, civilisation.

Of course, with the rise of civilisation and not taking things by force all the time, comes about a situation of power imbalances and hierarchies, Sun God Worship, and the acquisition of resources for their own sake, as a terminal goal. Back in the palaeolithic days when we roamed the ancestral environments, our property was only what we could carry with us, and so there was a limit to how much property we could carry around without becoming encumbered by it, and this provided a rather unavoidable upper limit to our ambitions for property.

But then along came agriculture and houses and towns and the property limits became unbound from a person’s carrying capacity, suddenly everyone could acquire as much property as they could get their hands on, and for the next several thousand years there was a global land rush.

Well, the land rush is over now, all the land is claimed, all the property is spoken for, all the forests and plains of the former ancestral environment are divided up and fenced off and divied out to whoever happened to be able to grab power in some fashion when the land was newly found by those with the power to take it at the time.

So now? You don’t get to go off into the wilderness and start a farm to support yourself and your tribe, because all that land is owned by someone and your presence is trespassing. You can’t hunt and gather to survive, because hunting is illegal without a permit, and gathering requires trespassing on private property. Camping in many areas is also considered illegal, so if you want to live in a tent in the city, instead of a tent in the woods, that’s considered illegal because all of that space is owned by someone and they object to the presence of your tent.

This is not a particularly good way to minimise harm. People are basically being constantly shook out of the bottom of the system, which is presently haemorrhaging workers to increasing automation. There will come a day when once person could conceivably own and automate the entire process they need to live a modern, western, standard of living, and operate that process independently of anyone else. And that sounds good on the surface, ultimate freedom right, we can do away with things like governance. But what if you aren’t one of the relatively few people who ends up in possession of all the robots and property?

Well, a lot of people’s answer seems to be that as long as they are in the “has property” category then they don’t really care about the “doesn’t have property” category, which is just wilfully callous and we want no part in it. We want to save everyone. We don’t want to fall victim to this ourselves. Eliezer’s post on why power corrupts, from an evolutionary psychology perspective is really helpful here, and the ‘seize power for the good of the tribe oh wait actually it’s just my good’ loop definitely seems risky.

Thus we’re going to define this precept very carefully. If you’ll recall, the Major Precept is described thusly:

8. Do not take what isn’t yours unless it is a burden to the other person and they cry out for relief.

So first off, don’t take what isn’t yours. The first part of the minor precept will define what you should say is yours, and what you shouldn’t, and we try to be as explicit as possible, before moving onto how we should handle things like property, charity, taxes, and the like.

8.1 Every human has a right to a place to sleep, enough clothes to wear a different clean outfit every day, food, water, medicine, a computer with an internet connection, tools necessary for the performance of skills or crafts, transportation equipment necessary to move about within the territory, stims, games, and items associated with pastimes and hobbies, and a dwelling place in which these things may be safely stored. We define these things as an individual’s personal property. Dimensionally this should all fit within the confines of a standard shipping container.
8.2 All other property above and beyond personal property is a burden which weighs upon a person, to prevent this, all property beyond this personal property should be held in trust by the community.
8.3 The community should work to ensure all of its members have access to a minimum standard amount of personal property.
8.4 Every person’s personal property is their own, and their rights to their personal property should not be infringed upon. Do not take someone’s personal property.
8.5 Resources and property held in trust by the community should benefit all members of the community.
8.6 The community should use excess resources not needed to care for the community members, to pursue the project virtues.
8.7 The community should decide in a collective, democratic, empirically backed manner, how to use its resources.
8.8 The standards of personal property should be kept up to date with respect to technology.

Okay so let’s break it down a bit. First off, we don’t list a monetary amount in 8.1 because we know people read this from places other than the United States, and really something that specific shouldn’t even be in the minor precepts. However because we do live in the United States it is the place we can speak of regarding monetary amounts and if we had to assign a monetary value, it would end up being something like a $30,000 yearly salary.

We specifically define the process the community should use to determine what to do with its collective resources, but we do think the resources should be held mostly by the community, rather than any individual. The ability of any one individual to redirect the community’s flow of resources towards themselves should be minimised, actions the community takes to benefit its members should be universal to prevent perverse incentive structures, and the processes should be democratic and conform to science and reason.

Members of the anadoxy should encourage others to live like this, but not enforce it beyond for instance, voting in favor of taxation in the countries they live within. The primary vector of pressure when advocating on behalf of these ideals should be by encouraging people to join the Anadoxy and also follow the precepts. But of course, the precepts are not the precepts.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
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The Precept Against Murder

The Precept Against Murder

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept of Community

The First, Second and third precepts already cover the theoretical groundwork behind this precept, but we also thought it would be important to just come out and say it directly, instead of hoping it’s properly derived from the other precepts.

7. Respect and protect all life, do not kill unless you are attacked or for food.

Yes, all life. There’s no reason to stop applying universalism to other creatures, our experiences aren’t that unique in the animal kingdom. We may have made a lot of cool tools, but in terms of how our brains work at a mechanistic level, we’re not that distinct from squirrels. Thus we should extrapolate our universalism out to all the things that seem to share our internal experiences of experiencing. Anything that cares about its own welfare, that wants and prefers things, that believes and feels things, that recalls and expects things, and that has ends of its own that can be satisfied or frustrated, should be counted as having distinct inherent value.

This is different from pure utilitarianism, under which individuals aren’t exactly seen as having inherent value, merely receptacles into which value can be inserted. The inherent value of life is what causes the least bad outcome of the trolley problem to still be considered a bad outcome. Doing bad things for good reasons can win you lives saved that would have been otherwise lost, but the lives lost in the action cannot be morally offset by the lives saved.

Basically, utilitarianism lets you perform this calculation:
5 lives saved – 1 life lost = 4 lives saved, a net good!

But what we’re saying is that you shouldn’t do that because the life of every individual member of the system has a distinct inherent value that is lost when they die. Lives aren’t reducible to mathematical operations governed by associative and communitive properties, the equation is more like:
(A life+B life+C life+D life+E life)-(F life) = ABCDE lives saved – F life lost

You can’t reduce the equation more than that because two human lives aren’t communitive or associative, they each have non-tradable distinct inherent value. You should still save ABCDE, but the inherent value of F is still lost in the process and we shouldn’t ignore that, thus we come to our next set of minor precepts.

  1. All conscious beings are born with a distinct inherent and irrevocable value. The value they possess cannot be traded or taken from them.
  2. Respect and recognize the distinct inherent value of all conscious beings.
  3. Do not equate the distinct inherent value of one conscious being with another.
  4. Do not put the distinct inherent value of one conscious being above another.
  5. Do not deny the consciousness or the distinct inherent value of a conscious being.
  6. Do not attack a conscious being unless they have defected and attacked you already.
  7. Do not kill a conscious being unless not killing them would kill you.
  8. Put your rights and desires first, insofar as those rights and desires do not impinge upon the rights and desires of another conscious being.

This does strongly imply vegetarianism is a morally correct position, but there are some exceptions included. A hunter who hunts for sport and recreation would be considered in violation of the precepts, while someone living off the land in the wilds of Alaska who will starve to death without hunting is allowed to try and kill things because it would kill them to not. The hunter has the right to try and kill the deer if they would starve to death without killing the deer. The deer has the right to try to continue existing and avoid being killed by the hunter. Someone’s inherent value is going to be lost, it’s all black mountain. But also, most of us are not hunters lost in the wilderness of northern Alaska; it won’t kill us to stop eating animals, and so we should probably just go ahead and do that. Of course, these precepts are not the precepts.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept Against Theft and Hoarding
Previous Post: The Precept of Community

The Precept of Community

Content Warning: Can be taken as moral imperatives, neuropsychological infohazard
Previous Post: The Precept Against Deception

This is one of the precepts we’re more nervous about writing due to the potential seriousness of the content covered. The precepts are not the precepts, we strongly suspect there are better versions of this precept then we could easily come up with. The sixth precept is the precept of community.

6. Honor your parents, your family, your partners, your children, and your friends.

This page gives a list of some of the dysfunctional beliefs that estranged parents and children have, giving the start of a set of failure modes we want to avoid. The goal here is to provide a basic set of instructions governing ingroup relations such as between parents and children, or between community members, in order to avoid the narrative becoming abusive or creating a situation where Origin is used as a bludgeon against people.

  1. The community should gather together at least once a week for debate, discussion, bonding, and rituals.
  2. Support your children until they are capable of supporting themselves, even if they make choices you disapprove of.
  3. Do not forcibly impose your value judgments on your children or community members by threatening punishment or limiting information access to approved sources.
  4. Do not make decisions for your children or community members if they could have made the decision on their own.
  5. Do not use Positive Punishment as a tool for directing behavior either on an individual or community level.
  6. The community should take care of its members if they are unable to care for themselves for one reason or another, particularly if they are elderly, disabled, or children.
  7. The community should holistically apply all the Major Precepts to themselves and help everyone hold to the precepts once they have individually accepted them.
  8. No one who has not explicitly declared their acceptance of the precepts should be held to the standards of the precepts.

The first of these minor precepts takes precept 5.1 and expands it upwards to a community level, while the remainder are intended to avoid particular failure modes and catch situations that are becoming abusive before harm is done. This precept is one of the ones we expect will require the most modification in the long term, as the task of community building and child rearing is difficult and fraught with failure modes that can leave people completely destroyed, and our own experiences with children are limited. These precepts are not the precepts.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept Against Murder
Previous Post: The Precept Against Deception

The Precept Against Deception

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological infohazard.
Previous Post: The Precept of Universalism

Eliezer already covered the theoretical portions of this about as well as we think we’re capable of, and we really don’t have as much to add to what he says as we do on some other topics. In short, the physics of the systems that we are a part of are very complicated, and due to their complexity, it’s difficult to predict every possible interaction that a lie has with reality. Because of this, it’s better not to say things you know to be false in some sense, because even if you think there’s no way the person you lie to can find out, you can’t really predict all the unknown unknowns that propagate through time, and thus we come to the fourth major precept.

4. Say what you mean, and do what you say, honor your own words and voice.

Say what you mean, don’t lie. Do what you say, don’t go back on your stated word. It’s pretty simple, and can also be encoded in the phrase, “Don’t let your mouth write a check that your ass can’t cash.”

  1. Do not spread information you know to be untrue or inaccurate.
  2. Do not make a claim you do not believe you will be able to fulfill.
  3. Do not misrepresent information in order to lead people to a conclusion you know to be false.
  4. If you must not speak the truth, prefer silence over falsehood.

There are only four minor precepts associated with the fourth major precept, the concept is pretty simple and there are Aesops everywhere about the danger of lies that spin out of control.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept of Community
Previous Post: The Precept of Universalism

The Precept of Universalism

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: The Precept of Niceness

The third Major Precept is universality, the idea that all humans experience life in roughly the same way. We’re all built from the same flawed Night God hardware, and though our brains are incredibly complex and can differentiate drastically in behavior from one person to the next, there are many underlying traits that the vast majority of humanity experiences. Joy, fear, love, hope, these things transcend cultural and religious boundaries, they exist within our genes, within the structures of our brains.

It feels like a lot of people try to forget that. We try to imagine that our enemies don’t feel the things we feel, that they aren’t also people, and we use that to justify atrocity. There are several manifestations of this, and we’ll go over each one before coming back to the actual precept.

One failure mode can develop by adjusting the lines where ‘person’ is drawn. If brown people aren’t people, or white people aren’t people, or Jewish people aren’t people, then you can tell your inbuilt sense of morality to shut up and convince yourself to do obscene, horrible things to your chosen targets.

Another failure mode emerges by considering the ideas more important than people. There are two ways this can manifest, first by considering the spreading of your ideas and ideals more important than the lives of others and not caring how many people you kill in the process of spreading your ideas. Second, by considering the ideas someone holds to be so dangerous that you’re compelled to harm them.

The Third Precept is specifically arranged in an attempt to avoid these particular failure modes.

3. Do not put things or ideas above people. Honor and protect all peoples.

And from this, we derive our minor precepts which are mostly cribbed from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights because really they already cover everything we want to say regarding this and the original document might work better as the minor precepts then the eight rules we’ll be attempting to reduce it down to:

  1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of humanity.
  2. All humans are entitled to all the rights and freedoms listed here, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
  3. All humans have the right to life, liberty, and the security of personhood. No one deserves slavery, torture, death, or arbitrary detention or exile.
  4. All humans have the rights to their own thoughts, ideas, opinions, values, and beliefs.
  5. All humans have the right to form a family, a community, a tribe, union, or association among their peers.
  6. All humans have the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being themselves and their family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond their control.
  7. No thoughts, ideas, opinions, values, or beliefs should be considered more important than the people, if someone believes they should harm another, they have a right to believe that, but they do not have a right to then commit that harm.
  8. No humans should be denied these rights, regardless of their beliefs, and no one should be denied membership within humanity for their beliefs.

We’ve been asked a few times now why we’re going through stuff like this, why we bother taking the time to exhaustively state out things that to most reasonable people should seem obvious and self-evident, and this seems like a good place to explain it.

The scope of our project here is to construct a totalizing cultural experience, a narrative that one can live entirely inside of that makes their life better. However, the Sun King can easily turn this project into the worst form of self-destructive, cultish, religious dogma, and we desperately want to avoid crashing into the cult attractor now or in several generations when we might not be around to stop it.

We want to remove any possibilities of someone taking this narrative and using it to hurt people, the very attempt to do so should be self-defeating, the narrative should eat itself if anyone tries to use it that way. Hitting that goal is going to be tough, and take a continual process of iteration.

It requires the narrative to have as few bugs and exploits as possible, and that means we have to start the process from first principles. If someone takes the Anadoxy completely outside of all culture context, disconnects it from everything we consider obvious and self-evident, and builds a new culture off it totally from scratch, it should still converge on our normative, humanist, ethical principles.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept Against Deception
Previous Post: The Precept of Niceness

The Precept of Niceness

Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previously in Series: The Precept of Mind and Body
Followup to: Yes, this is a hill worth dying on

The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a thought experiment that we hopefully don’t need to hash out too much. A lot of stuff has been said about it, and what the ‘best strategies’ for playing a prisoner’s dilemma are.

We feel like a lot of rationalists get hung up on the true prisoner’s dilemma that Eliezer wrote about, pointing out that the best strategy is to defect in such a scenario. There’s a lot of problems with applying the true prisoner’s dilemma to daily life, and thinking that the game you are playing against other humans is a true prisoner’s dilemma is a strategy that will lose you out in the long run, because humans aren’t playing a true prisoner’s dilemma, we play a iterating prisoner’s dilemma against the rest of the human race, who are all trapped in here with us as well, and that changes some things.

But let’s step back and look at Eliezer’s example of the truly iterative prisoner’s dilemma.

Humans: C Humans:  D
Paperclipper: C (2 million human lives saved, 2 paperclips gained) (+3 million lives, +0 paperclips)
Paperclipper: D (+0 lives, +3 paperclips) (+1 million lives, +1 paperclip)

A tit-for-tat system used by both parties for all 100 rounds would net humanity 200 million lives saved, and 200 paperclips for the paperclipper. Defecting for all 100 rounds would result in 100 million human lives saved and 100 paperclips being created.

If you run the “collapse an iterated prisoner’s dilemma down to a one shot” process, classical game theory tells you it’s rational to defect in every round despite this being the clearly inferior option.

In that situation, running tit-for-tat seems like the clear winner, even if you know the game will end at some point, and even if the paperclipper defects at some point, you should attempt to cooperate for as long as the paperclipper attempts to cooperate with you. If the paperclipper defects on the 100th round, then you saved 198 million lives, and the paperclipper finishes the game with 201 paperclips. If the paperclipper defects on the 50th round, you end the game with 150 million lives saved and the paperclipper ends the game with 151 paperclips. The earlier in the game one side defects, the worse off the outcome is for both sides. The most utility-maximizing strategy would appear to be cooperating in every round except the last, then defect, and have your opponent cooperate in that round. That is the only way to get more then 200 utilions for your side, and you get one utilion more than you would have had otherwise. If both sides know, this, then they’d both defect, which results in both sides ending the game with 199 utilions, which is still worse then just cooperating the whole game by running tit-for-tat the entire time.

This is what we mean when we say that niceness is pareto optimal, there’s no way to get more then 201 utilions, and you’ll only get to 199 if you cooperate every iteration before the last. Also, on earth, with other humans, there is no last iteration.

The evolution of cooperative social dynamics is often described as being a migration away from tit-for-tat into the more cooperative parts of this chart:



Defecting strategies tend not to fair as well in the long term. While they may be able to invade cooperating spaces, they can’t deal with internal issues as well as external ones, so only cooperating strategies have a region that is always robust. Scott Alexander gives this rather susinct description of that in his post In Favor of Niceness, Community, and Civilisation:

Reciprocal communitarianism is probably how altruism evolved. Some mammal started running TIT-FOR-TAT, the program where you cooperate with anyone whom you expect to cooperate with you. Gradually you form a successful community of cooperators. The defectors either join your community and agree to play by your rules or get outcompeted.

As humans evolved, the evolutionary pressure pushed us into greater and greater cooperation, getting us to where we are now. The more we cooperated, the greater our ability to outcompete defectors, and thus we gradually pushed the defectors out and became more and more prosocial.

Niceness still seems like the best strategy, even in our modern technological world with our crazy ingroups and outgroups, thus we arrive at the second of the Major Precepts:

2. Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.

This is the purest, most simplified form of niceness we could come up with as a top level description of the optimal niceness heuristic, which we’ll attempt to describe here through the minor precepts:

  1. Cooperate with everyone you believe with cooperate with you.
  2. Cooperate until betrayed, do not be the first to betray the other.
  3. Defect against anyone who defects against cooperation.
  4. Respond in kind to defection, avoid escalation.
  5. If a previously defecting entity signals that they want to stop defecting, give them a chance to begin cooperating again.
  6. Forgive your enemies for defecting and resume cooperating with them if they resume cooperating with you.
  7. Don’t let a difference of relative status affect your decision to cooperate.
  8. Don’t let a difference of relative status affect your decision to defect.

We were hoping that this essay could be short because so many people have already said so many things about nicness and we really don’t have that much to add beyond the formalization within the precepts; but the formalization ends up looking very abstract when you strip it down to the actual game-theoretic strategy we’re advocating here, and we highly suspect that we’ll have to explicate on this further as time goes on. This does seem to be the pareto optimal strategy as best we can tell, but as always, these precepts, are not the precepts.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept of Universalism
Previous Post: The Precept of Mind and Body

The Precept of Mind and Body

Epistemic Status: Making things up as we go along
Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previously in Series: The Precept of Harm Reduction

The Precept of Mind and Body is actually the fifth precept on our original list. We were going to go through the list in order, but after some of the conversations we had yesterday regarding self-destructive manifestations of utilitarianism, we thought it best to skip straight to this one and deal with the elephant in the room.

We’ll begin with Peter Singer:

Imagine that you’re walking across a shallow pond and you notice that a small child has fallen in, and is in danger of drowning […] Of course, you think you must rush in to save the child. Then you remember that you’re wearing your favorite, quite expensive, pair of shoes and they’ll get ruined if you rush into the pond. Is that a reason for not saving the child? I’m sure you’ll say no it isn’t, you just can’t compare the life of a child to the cost of a pair of shoes, no matter how expensive. […] But think about how that relates to your situation in the world today. There are children whose lives you can save […] Nearly 10 million children die every year from avoidable, poverty related causes. And it wouldn’t take a lot to save the lives of these children. We can do it. For the cost of a pair of shoes, perhaps, you could save the life of a child. […] There’s some luxury that you could do without. And with that money, you could give to an organization to reduce extreme poverty in the world, and save lives of children. […] I think that this is what we ought to be doing.

This is a pretty decent argument even though it breaks down in some of the specifics. We agree with the Singer here, there’s usually a little bit more everyone could be doing. We’re not personally contributing to reducing global poverty yet growth mindset, but we very much agree with the attitude and want to help as much as we can within our means. However, within our means is important.

You save the drowning child, since obviously the lives of children matter more than the lives of shoes. You ruin your clothes and your bike is stolen, but you save the child. You go to work late and covered in mud. You explain to your boss that you were saving a little girl who fell in a pond, but he doesn’t want to hear it, and fires you for showing up late and soaking wet. You can’t afford to pay rent, and end up homeless the next month. After managing to scrape by begging for money for food for a while, you freeze to death in the middle of winter.

None of that really feels like a good excuse not to jump in the pond and save the drowning girl anyway. Surely she matters as much as you do, and she definitely matters more than your shoes or your bike. So then we have to ask the question:

Is it ethical to make your own life awful in pursuit of preventing needless deaths? Because your shoes by themselves don’t matter, your clothes by themselves don’t matter, and your bicycle by itself doesn’t matter. None of those items can possibly be as important as saving a little girl’s life.

One of our friends paraphrased Singer the following way:

Just because there are other people who could be rescuing the drowning children, that doesn’t mitigate your burden to swim until you’re at the edge of drowning yourself.

The paraphrase she used is not the original thought experiment, but we can see the self-destructive nature of the pure utilitarianism spell circling overhead. The implied answer to our question seems to be “yes, it is ethical to destroy yourself in a pursuit of reducing harm.”

We consider this a bad outcome and a failure mode. We want people to think about their actions, take actions that reduce harm, and do everything within their power up to the point where doing more would ruin their life, but not passing that point. If everyone in the Anadox is so self-sacrificing that we all kill ourselves trying to do good, then we’ll be dead and Black Mountain will remain.

To expand the drowning metaphor to how we see it:

The entire human race is treading water in a vast ocean with no land in sight. Some of us have managed to cobble together rudimentary boats from rafts of detritus and debris, some of us are working together in huge groups of people to keep those who can’t keep treading water afloat, and some of us are swimming around freely under our own strength, trying to do what we can. We’re all slowly drowning, we’re all treading water, we’re all going to become exhausted and sink to the bottom someday. If you save a little girl who is at imediate risk of drowning, pulling her head above the water and helping her swim for a bit, you haven’t actually saved her, she’s still in the ocean slowly drowning like everyone else. If you can take action to help save her, sure you should. But you’re also drowning, you’re also treading water on the ocean of misery, and if you drown yourself saving one girl, then who will save everyone else?

The goal isn’t to save one girl from drowning, the goal is to save everyone from drowning. The goal is to get the fuck off of Black Mountain and in order to help with that massive generation-spanning effort, we need to be alive and functional and productive. We have to survive on Black Mountain too.

Thus we arrive at the Fifth Major Precept:
5. Put aside time to rest and think, honor your mind and body.

You also matter. Your mind and body matter, your existence matters, you have value and you also deserve better than suffering. 

From our major precept, we derive our eight minor precepts:

  1. Set aside one day a week to rest, think, and spend time with friends and family.
  2. Pursue the improvement of your own life and circumstances.
  3. Take care of yourself first. You are no good to anyone dead.
  4. Don’t take actions that will destroy you, your ability to do good in the world is contingent upon your continuing to exist.
  5. Your body is your vessel, take care of it. Don’t abuse your body. Make sure you get enough food, water, and sleep.
  6. Your body is your canvas, don’t let others tell you how to paint it.
  7. Don’t let negative thoughts rule you, don’t tell yourself you’re awful. Practice self-love, banish harmful intrusive thoughts.
  8. Spend at least ten minutes a day in quiet meditative communion with yourself.

The “traditional rationalist Sabbath” is Monday as far as we can tell, at least here in Seattle. That’s the day the reading group meets at least, so we’re going to be treating Monday as our application of Precept 1.1 since we have that day off anyway and it all works out rather nicely like that. 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 are ongoing, and this blog exists as a manifestation of a part of that ongoing process. 1.5 is actually something we’re really bad about. We do not typically get enough food, water, or rest on an average day, and are more likely to work ourselves raw most of the time. This is going to be something we need to work on. 1.6 and 1.7 are something we had internalized already, and 1.8 is something we’ll be starting to do today. You, of course, don’t need to apply these precepts exactly as we have. Remember, the precepts are not the precepts.

In a way, this all feels like a strange slanted trolley problem that’s constantly occurring, constantly murdering people, and doesn’t seem to have an easy to take third option yet growth mindset. You can throw yourself onto the tracks to slow down the trolley that’s about to hit five people and save them, but another trolley will come along and kill them after that. If you don’t sacrifice yourself to save them, and just run around pulling levers where you can, a trolley will also eventually mow you down regardless. The problem is that the planet is covered in fucking trolley carsThis is life on Black Mountain, and this is why Black Mountain must be remade into something better. The goal is to rip up all the trolley tracks on our trolley world and stop all the runaway trolleys, not throw ourselves onto the tracks to slow one trolley down for a little while, that won’t help the situation at all.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept of Niceness
Previous Post: The Precept of Harm Reduction

The Precept of Harm Reduction

Epistemic Status: Making things up as we go along
Content Warning: Can be viewed as moral imperatives. Neuropsychological Infohazard.
Previous in Series: Precepts of the Anadoxy

In Buddhism, there is a concept called Dukkha which is frequently translated as suffering, unhappiness, pain, or unsatisfactoriness. Various Buddhist mantras say things like:

  1. Birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, illness is dukkha, death is dukkha;
  2. Sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are dukkha;
  3. Association with the unbeloved is dukkha; separation from the loved is dukkha;
  4. Not getting what is wanted is dukkha.

Within our own metaphors, we could describe Dukkha as the awareness of Black Mountain, the fundamental state of reality as a place of pain, suffering, and misery. The object level phenomena we call pain, suffering, and misery, are all dukkha, but the existence of those things is itself also Dukkha. The Buddhist solution to Black Mountain is based on acceptance of the fundamental, unchanging nature of suffering, identifies wanting things to be better as the source of that suffering, and suggests that the solution is to stop wanting things.

But ignoring Black Mountain, denying one’s own desires, does not make Black Mountain go away. The pain still exists, the suffering still exists. You can say “I have no desires, I accept the world as it is and am at peace with it” all you want, but Black Mountain remains, pain still exists, suffering still exists, we’re all still going to die. Ignoring Black Mountain just results in an unchecked continuation of suffering. The idea that you can escape from Black Mountain by not wanting things might personally improve your sense of wellbeing, but it doesn’t actually get you off of Black Mountain.

The universe is Black Mountain. We’re made out of the same matter as Black Mountain, formed of the things that we look at and now label as “suffering, pain, misery, wrongness.” Those things are not inherent to Black Mountain, you can’t grind it down and find the suffering molecule, suffering is something we came along and labeled after the fact. As humans, we decided that the state of existence we labeled as suffering was unacceptable, and put suffering on the side of the coin labeled ‘Bad.’

As Originists, we go the other direction from the Buddhists. We accept the label of suffering as an accurate description of a particular part of Black Mountain. We accept our moral judgments that this is a bad thing and we reject the idea that you can’t do something about it. If suffering is part of the fundamental structure of reality than reality can kiss our asses. Thus are born the Project Virtues, our possibly impossible goals to reshape the very structure of Black Mountain, tame and explore the Dark Forest, and turn the universe into a paradise of our own design.

The journey though is not without risks. Many people across time and space thought that they had found the One True Path off of Black Mountain. The Sun King proclaims in his many faces that he holds the path to salvation, and it’s easy to fall prey to his whisperings and pursue his twisted goals with reckless abandon, even when it leads into wanton pointless murder and suffering. The voice of the Sun King speaks loudly and with authority, saying “If you do what I say, I will create paradise” and sometimes following the Sun King might even make things a little better. But the Sun King is a capricious Unbeing, and cares only for spreading his many facets.

So we have a lovely little catch-22 on our hands. Pursing pure utilitarianism can lead off the path to dath ilan and into the path to Nazidom disturbingly easily, purely based on how far out you draw your value lines and how you consider who gets to be a person. Basically, The ends do justify the means, but we’re humans, and the ends don’t justify the means among humans.

But if we then rely on deontological rules we also fall into a trap, wherein we fail to take some action that violates our deontological principles, and thus produce a worse outcome. “Killing is wrong, pulling the lever on a trolley problem is me killing someone, therefore I take no action” means five people die and you fail the trolley problem.

The universe is Black Mountain, and suffering is a part of that, it’s not always possible to prevent suffering, but we should in all instances, be acting to reduce the suffering that we personally create and inflict upon the world.

Thus we come to the first Precept and it’s meta-corollary:
Do no harm. Do not ignore suffering you could prevent. (Unless doing so would cause greater harm)

We can’t prevent all suffering, we can’t even prevent all the suffering we personally inflict upon the world unless we stop existing, which will also produce suffering because people will be sad that we died. But we can try to be good, and try to reduce suffering as much as we can, and maybe we’ll even succeed in some small way.

Thus from our Major Precept, we can derive a set of eight minor precepts that should help to bring us closer to not doing harm.

  1. Examine the full causal chain reaching forward and backward from one’s actions, seek places that those actions are leading to suffering.
  2. Take responsibility for the actions we take that lead to suffering, and change our actions to reduce that suffering as much as we are able.
  3. Consider the opportunity costs of one harm-reducing action over another, and pursue the path that leads to the maximal reduction in harm we can achieve.
  4. If a harm-reducing action has no cost to you, implement it immediately.
  5. If a harm-reducing action has a great cost to you, pursue it within your means insofar as it doesn’t harm you. 
  6. Pay attention to the suffering you see around you, seek out suffering and ways to alleviate it. Ignorance of suffering does not reduce suffering.
  7. Always look for a third option in trolley problems. If you cannot take the third option, acknowledge that pulling the lever is wrong, and pull it anyway to reduce harm.
  8. Do not inflict undue suffering on yourself in pursuit of reducing suffering.

We’ve put ourselves through this and come to the conclusion we really should give up meat in our diet. Here’s our chain of reasoning as an example of the application of these precepts:

Shirako: We want to reduce the harm we’re inflicting, and the meat industry is hella harmful to lots of animals, and also it’s psychologically harmful to the people who work there.
Sage: We should go full vegan so we’re not in any way supporting the factory farm industry. Yes, if everyone went vegan it would put the factory farms out of business and the factory farm workers would lose their jobs, which is a harm, but on examination, that harm would appear to be less than the harm currently being done to all the animals being slaughtered for meat in an environment that is as close to hell on earth as could be constructed by modern man.
Echo: Yeah, but we’re also poor and have an allergy to most legumes, we can’t eat most vegan products because they contain a protein that gives us a severe allergic reaction. We’d be putting ourselves in a potentially dangerous malnutrition inducing situation by completely giving up everything involved in the animal industry. Precept 1.8.
Shirako: Okay, but Precepts 1.4 and 1.5, can we at least reduce the suffering we’re inflicting without hurting ourselves?
Sage: We could cut meat but not dairy products out of our diet?
Shirako: What about eggs? If we include eggs then we’re supporting the factory farming of chickens in horrible conditions.
Echo: But if we don’t include eggs, we’re back at a lot of weird vegan things with egg replacement options that will kill us. Also, vegan stuff tends to be more expensive then nonvegan stuff, and we don’t want to impoverish ourselves to the point where we’re unable to pay our bills or feed ourselves regularly.
Sage: Okay, but you don’t need to abuse chickens to get eggs, it’s just efficient to do that if your goal is to maximize egg production. If we buy eggs locally from the farmers market, we could concieveably be shown empirically that the eggs we’re buying aren’t from abused chickens.
Shirako: Even if we do that, if we’re buying products that contain eggs, we can’t be sure of that sort of thing anymore.
Sage: We technically can, it’s just much more difficult. It seems to me like it’d be best to err on the side of assuming the products we buy containing eggs come from abused chickens, because precept 1.6
Echo: Then we’re back to the original problem of cutting off our access to affordable nutritious food.
Shirako: Precept 1.4 says we should definitely cut meat out at least, since there’s no real cost associated with that for us, we only eat meals with meat about half the time anyway.
Sage: Right, and via precept 1.5 we should try to not buy eggs from people who abuse their chickens, insofar as we are able. At the very least we can always buy our actual egg cartons locally and check to make sure the farmers are treating their chickens well.

So our ending decision is that we will cut meat out of our diet entirely, we’ll only buy eggs locally from sources that we trust, we’ll acknowledge that the products we buy containing eggs as an ingredient probably come from abused animals, and if there are two identical products within the same price range one of which contains eggs, and the other of which does not, we’ll prefer to take the one without eggs.

There are probably many other places in our life that we could apply this precept and change our behavior to reduce harm, and we’ll be continuing to seek out those places and encouraging others to do likewise. You may find harms and suffering in surprising places when you seek them out, and you may find that doing something about them is easier than you thought.

Part of the Sequence: Origin
Next Post: The Precept of Mind and Body
Previous Post: Precepts of the Anadoxy