2014-03-27

Wealth creation, and the rich vs. the poor

I frequently witness what seems to be typical conversations between a socialist and a libertarian.

The socialist might say: "67 people own more than the world's poorest 3.5 billion!" The implication being that the wealthy people are stealing from the poor.

The libertarian might say: "And that's okay, as long as wealth is created, not stolen!" The implication being that for the most part, the poor need to create their own wealth.

The libertarian is partly right. Wealth is created.

The problem is that the process of wealth creation will be increasingly out of reach for the average person, and is already out of reach for most people on the bottom of the ability curve. The way we're headed, we're going to end up with a population that's not able to contribute significantly to the wealth creation process, and without a social safety net, they end up being destitute.

However, this same population will still have voting rights. And guns.

Something does not compute. ;)

Now, the harsh way to react to this would be to say "Tough luck! Sucks to be you who can't contribute, I still can!" and let people live in poverty while hoping they don't use their votes to confiscate your property, or their guns to rob your ass.

But an enlightened way to react to this is to realize that automation will only increase in scope, not shrink, and that our own ability to make useful contributions may dwindle or disappear if someone invents a sufficiently advanced AI. It would behoove us to recognize that we may all end up being economically irrelevant, and therefore not extend harsh treatment to those who are simply becoming economically irrelevant sooner.

2014-03-18

Teenage boys and "statutory rape"

The following issue miffs me incredibly: people's righteous insistence that an adult female having consensual sex with an underage boy is problematic to the same degree, and for the same reasons, as an adult male having sex with an underage girl.

In most countries, the law doesn't distinguish between the two cases, probably to avoid criticism of gender bias. But the risks from sex for men and women are radically different. In the worst case for an underage boy, he might possibly get herpes - something most people will get in their lifetimes, and something that has no symptoms for 2/3 of carriers. Anything else that isn't curable is highly unlikely. He might father a child, but there is no risk to him whether the woman decides to carry it, or have an abortion. The boy should not be held responsible for the life he helped create, because he is underage; the woman should not be able to make him see the child if he doesn't want to, or extract alimony.

But there's no reason at all for our society to imprison an adult woman who had consensual sex with a boy. If he wanted it in the moment; if she did not drug him, or coerce him - then there was no risk to him at all, beyond the risks that also come from kissing. He would be legally able to consent to kissing; there's no reason to deny him the ability to consent to intercourse.

Full disclosure: my first time having sex was when I was 15, with a fragile 19 year old girl, who for personal reasons needed to have this experience with someone from whom she didn't feel threatened. It was pretty much great for both of us. It was legal where it happened, but I still had to protect her identity from the rabid rage of my mother, who has never had a sense for what's appropriate, or where boundaries are. She believed I was being "exploited", and wanted to confront this girl and her parents and create an enormous amount of drama that would be completely destructive and harmful to everyone.

There are no real risks in consensual sex for a 15 year old boy, or even a 14 year old boy, if he wants it. Men and women differ in that women have a uterus. When it comes to statutory rape, there should be a double standard; there must be a double standard, because the risks for boys and girls are very different.

2014-03-08

Passing judgment

Someone asked the following question:
Should we judge the actions of people in other cultures (present and past) by their ethical standards or our own? If we judge by their standards, what must we think of people who follow our mores but break those of their own society?
What does it mean to "judge"? We cannot impose punishment on, or give reward to, people who are already dead, or who live in a country over which we have no influence. When it comes to the latter, we can only possibly go to war with them. Judgment tends to be used to facilitate such war.

Having private thoughts of approval or disapproval has no consequence unless it influences actions of the person having such thoughts. Publicly voicing approval or disapproval only has consequence if it influences currently living people's actions.

When viewed this way, judgment of people in past times, and contemporary cultures beyond our reach, is necessarily masturbatory. When we "judge" them, we do it in the same way we might judge fantasy characters. We do it to influence the thoughts and actions of the people we can reach - that is ourselves, and people sharing our space and time.

When it comes to judging people, experience shows that we will judge them hypocritically. Humanity tends to use ethics as a smokescreen behind which to hide our personal interest. The ethics standards to which we hold other people tend to be discarded when it comes to ourselves.

I think we should be very careful about whom we judge, and why. Judgment in general tends to be hypocritical and destructive. We should rather attempt to influence the world in a way we think is for the best, but we should be open to the possibility that we're wrong, even in that case.

I think the answer to this question is: why judge in the first place?

2014-03-01

The US, Ukraine, and Russia

Prediction:

If an armed conflict arises between Ukraine and Russia, the US isn't going to strike militarily against Russian forces. This is partly because it wouldn't benefit the US to risk World War III, but also because there's nothing in it for Israel.