Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Trading Unkindnesses

What is true, apart from popularity, can be unkind to you. But in some ways, it can be kinder than popularity.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Outside Your Life Story

One way to live is to see things in terms of your own life story, your own lived life, and the lived lives of people you know. How will you pay your bills? How will you make it through your old age? How will you be a good friend? How can you present yourself to people without being shamed? How will you fit in? -- everyone else is just living their life stories.

Another way to live is to see that there is something outside your life story, and the life story of anyone you know, which is real whether you acknowledge it or not.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Reading List Preview: Population Ethics

Finished review of reading list here.

One interesting topic is population ethics. Ethics can talk about the question of "how to make a given existing population most well-off?" Maybe you have 100 people in your population who are very happy. Now consider, should one of you have a baby, and extend the group's size to 101? Will that new baby live a good life? If it's good enough, then you will probably say, "sure, why not?" It seems prima facie good to have one more person exist, if its life will go well. That's population ethics, asking the question of whether there should be more (or the same amount of, or fewer) people, morally speaking.

Intuitively, I tend to want to say "if we have 10 billion people on Earth, that's plenty, let's just stop there and be content with that number of people, and make things sustainable and actually good for everyone". Actually, I'd be content if there were only 1 billion people, if we got to that level of population through a well-managed demographic transition (as opposed to war, plague, famine, etc.) Maybe, whatever population level there is is fine with me. But I wouldn't be as fine with the people who do live not living lives full of true well-being.

Both intuitions, of expansion and contentment, make sense to me. And they go against each other.

So I want to do some readings about population ethics. Here is a reading list from the EA Forum. I may read through it all and write up my thoughts.

Since these are philosophy papers, I think I'll try to repeat the technique mentioned here: read twice, the first time a "light read", the second time more seriously.

I've read part of the first, Population Axiology, paper. Here are some questions and thoughts, going into this:

1. Is there a rational way to decide how large a population should be? If not, then we are in a situation where we have to decide without a right answer.

2. Questions of moral philosophies affecting population-ethical views:

a. Hedonism lends itself to having more and more. Preferentialism can lend itself to that but also can lend itself to saying "everybody got what they wanted, so we don't need any more." With preferentialism, there's a question of "what should people prefer?" The answer to that might answer the question "should we want more and more, or should we be content?" Or we could say that there's no good or bad preferences. Then we wonder what random preferences humans might have, and how they might tilt toward more or fewer people.

b. What about fiducialism? Is fiducialism a "more and more" thing ("adventure", as in the Fiducialism booklet), or inherently about connecting with what is ("mission", or "receptivity to reality")? "Mission" is itself about the reality of people. This lends itself to saying "connect with the reality of existing people". But then, couldn't it lend itself to saying "there ought to be more people", to whose reality one could connect? So that's a hole in fiducialism to try to fill.

c. What do people mean to us? Are they to be seen economically, or in some other way? And given the answers to those questions, how strict should we be in making ourselves live according to economic thinking?

There's some ambiguity as to whether we regard people as wealth or as something else. If people are merely wealth, then we can be content to have less than maximal wealth. But if it's altruistic for the sake of other people to bring them into existence, then we are morally compelled to create them. (Or is there another way to look at people, other than "wealth" and "beings (or prospective beings) to whom one has moral responsibility"?)

It may be more humane to look at people in a non-economic way. Even if in some economic sense (utilitarian, for instance), they would be better off if we were in the economic mode, to really see people as people requires us to leave that mode, and thus to sacrifice some of our do-gooding. This could shift our intuitions away from "maximize the number of superhappy people", make it less obviously a good thing to pursue.

3. What might population ethics look like given the God of MSLN?

a. God had some reason for creating people in the first place (unless there is no reason). Does this mean that in absence of a defeater, he will never stop creating people?

b. Would God value having more and more for its own sake? Is God a slave to maximization?

Interesting question: what is maximization? Is it some "thing" that demands that we do certain things? Or, as a reification, is it merely whatever it cashes out to? In other words, is it that maximization says "I demand that everyone have the best life possible", or is maximization simply our response to the reality of a set of existing people and what kinds of lives they could have?

c. Are people created new, or is there a fixed supply of people created once and for all at the beginning of time, which God then brings into consciousness during their time in history?

Possible answer: We are called to enter God's rest, and presumably God seeks rest, too. New people have to work out their salvation, which is not restful for God. So it seems like there is some finite limit to population, so that there can be a time of permanent rest afterward.

If so, maybe if we increase population above baseline, what we're doing is accelerating the end of the world.

Or, if God can handle our turmoil forever, he can create people forever. If he thinks there aren't enough people, he can always create more. Ultimately, it's his decision how many people there are, because he pays the biggest price for human experience and ultimately has power over the way things are. So if we create more people, he may cause fewer to be created elsewhere.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Informing Love

If you want to persuade someone of something, it may be more effective to love them than to present an argument (or to argue with them). Knowledge is justified true belief. What you do on the justification side does not change someone's mind if there is some sort of obstacle on the belief side.

Belief is a form of trust. So lack of trust is a deficiency that can prevent belief. Trust is difficult sometimes: is dependent on physical, intellectual, emotional factors, and a person's life history. A person can't deeply listen to what they don't trust, and can't even understand some concepts that they don't trust. How can a person believe a truth that is foreign to them? Something has to act on them to open them up to what they were closed to, for them to trust. And love overcomes many difficulties in trusting propositions. Why wouldn't you trust someone who, from your perspective, has your best interests at heart, and effectively pursues them? Someone who delights in you and bears with you? How could you resist getting drawn into their current?

Having said that, love could now sound like a sinister thing, a way to have power over people and suck them into the way of life you personally prefer, to narrow their horizons to whatever you happen to prefer. And while it doesn't have to be used that way, it can be, and even if we are innocent of that design, it's worth asking "If I become so good at loving, so genuine in loving people, what kind of truth am I leading them into? What kind of path is it that I follow?"

Apologetics is traditionally thought of as a way to persuade "infidels", or perhaps less acknowledged is the motive and effect of shoring up the faith of believers who have inquiring minds. However, apologetics could also be seen as the pursuit of informing love, so that love does not keep its beloveds in a house that is ultimately untrustworthy.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Seeing Potential

People can seem like they don't have potential, or aren't real people. But then you see them in the context where they are most truly themselves (e.g., singing a song they wrote). And then you see how they are deep and worth paying attention to.

It's as though the role society wants everyone to inhabit is that of the "typical" person. No dreams, no depth. But people can escape that role by doing what they love.

A parallel to Gell-Mann Amnesia. People are spun to us according to society's narrative (they spin themselves by adopting the roles we elicit.) We sometimes see people's reality, then when the moment is past, we forget.

The Audience Makes a Book

It's true that authors write their books, but it's the audience who "makes" a book.

In other words, a lot of the power of a book comes from the fact that it has been recommended by a lot of people. A book is by default just the point of view of one person. It means something different if it corresponds with the desires, judgments, or experiences of lots of people -- they have affirmed its truth from their perspectives.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Book Review Preview: The Feeling of Value by Sharon Hewitt Rawlette

See also the main review.

I got The Feeling of Value, by Sharon Hewitt Rawlette, in the mail yesterday. The subtitle is Moral Realism Grounded in Phenomenal Consciousness. It basically says "you know value/disvalue" (e.g. right/wrong) "through your direct experience of phenomena" or maybe it's more like "value/disvalue is in the experience itself" -- I'm not sure which yet. This leads her to defend a kind of hedonic utilitarianism. Her goal is to go against moral antirealism, and to support moral realism.

I plan to read it twice before reviewing. A philosophy professor I was acquainted with once said "read a book once, give it a light read" ("light read" is an interesting concept when applied to some philosophy books) "and then read it again more seriously". It's a good idea to take notes, at least on the second reading, I think. Also it can be better to understand the big picture before trying to make more detailed arguments.

I hope to compare Rawlette's approach to that of MSLN, especially legitimism and simantism. She may show me ways to make those accounts more specific/explicit/developed. I expect to be critical of her approach to ethics.

Here are some criticisms I have of hedonic utilitarianism which she may address:

1. How do we know what ought to give us pain or pleasure?

a. This is relevant when thinking about artificial superintelligence (ASI). An ASI programmed to be a hedonist might want to change human nature so that it is trivially easy to cause us pleasure, and to avoid giving us pain. We would say "No, I don't want to be a blob of pleasure", but why not be one?

There's some risk (similar or essentially the same as what a past version of me said here) that we find pleasure easy to consent to, and the removal of pain, so there's an incentive for civilization (including ASI) to drift in the direction of giving us more and more pleasure, less and less pain, until we have gradually simplified ourselves into blobs of pleasure. I think hedonism is not just an explicit philosophical position, but also a powerful psychological tendency.

Some people might bite the bullet and say "No, being a blob of pleasure sounds good to me". Who can say what's wrong or right? If it feels good, it's good. But what if God disagrees? You might look at your child and hope that they don't get hooked on heroin. Technically, they're happy when they're on heroin. Maybe technically we're happy when we're living painless, rich, godless lives, or when we are blobs of pleasure. But God might disagree.

b. Another point of relevance is when people construct scripts of what a life is supposed to be. When a life event is "bad" then "you are in a pity-worthy, deplorable state" -- the script wants you to feel depressed. Should you feel depressed? Maybe the script comes from other people, and is there to discourage you from doing things that are unpopular.

2. What about other goods that aren't captured well by hedonism?

a. Pleasure could be bad, if it takes us away from God, or some other reality. In an upcoming short story about the future of beauty, that I plan to release relatively soon, you may see a tension between deeper good and surface good. It may take some pain to have deeper good, and unbroken pleasure may prevent things like coming to value people apart from how they or their life realities give a person pleasure.

b. Pain could be good. Two more easily dismissed examples of this are found in the concept of purgatory (pain, in itself, purges us of sin or the guilt of sin) and the phrase "pain is weakness leaving the body". (Dismissed because you could say "what you really want is improved strength, or heaven, in the end, and both those states are basically pleasurable.") A less easily dismissed example is found when we ask "what if God doesn't care if we suffer, as long as we can bear it and connect with reality?" In other words, what if there is pain in heaven after all -- our real reward is God himself, not the pleasure or freedom from pain he might be able to give us? The pain is good because it is real, and experiencing it is part of being receptive to reality. An overall receptiveness to reality (perhaps) is the only way to really connect with God.

c. I am adding this section in later in the editing process, and don't want to make this point long so that it gives me yet more to edit, but basically I can mention fiducialism as a replacement for hedonism.

3. Why should we think that "ought" has anything to do with our feelings, or even our judgments?

a. Maybe "ought" is more like "I want something to be a certain way (if it's not that way), or that want is satisfied by that thing being that certain way (if it is), and that exact wanting is something that deserves to be true". (I suspect that it's hard to define "deserves" without basically using "ought" -- circularity. Maybe "ought" is a primitive of language and psychology?) Someone who ought to be able to define things is the one who can define things, and can say "pain is not necessarily bad, and pleasure is not necessarily good". The athlete who says "pain is weakness leaving the body", or the believer who says "I will accept this bitter cup" are basically exercising their ability to claim that some thing ought to be. To say that something that is, ought to be, is something that in a sense no one can argue with. But maybe some persons can even say that what is ought not to be? So in this way, good and bad come out of our taste, more so than out of our pure experience. (Out of opinion rather than feeling.) Maybe pain biases us to call it bad. But we don't have to -- we can see through that sometimes.

b. It could be that it seems like hedonism is a real view of things, that pleasure ought to be and pain ought not to be, because these are popular judgments. (One way to cash out the popular defining of human well-being.) (You could also say that this is why preferentialism seems to be a real view, because of course everyone likes preferences.) These might seem to be real things, because of our humanism. But why should real "ought" have anything to do with human judgments? You could say that human judgments do have something to do with it, if what we're exploring is "our strongest moral convictions" rather than something outside that. (Rawlette, p. 3: "The version of realism I present actually provides a robust metaethical justification for many of our strongest moral convictions."). But what do our strongest moral convictions have to do with real "ought"? If there is a God (in this case, in the sense of a most-authoritative being), then we might hope to be in line with his preferences, or perhaps rather with his truth, which is similar to preference but which is unlike ours for some kind of lack of "falsehood" (we call both self-justifiying explanations and lies "B.S.") or lack of partiality. If there is no God, then how are "our strongest moral convictions" anything other than "what is popular in a certain way"? (I mean this both as a rhetorical and a real question, if that makes sense.) And then I'm not sure that Rawlette's project is really realist after all. Her ultimate criterion is (may be? not sure yet) "our strongest moral convictions", not any objective truth. In other words, realism is supposedly about some grounding in reality through an argument of justification, while antirealism doesn't bother with that. "Our strongest moral convictions" sounds like the same criterion moral antirealists would use. Why not just observe the criterion, rather than adding some conceptual layer, some kind of logical justification? Unless, what we are doing (with both realist and antirealist ethics) is bending the criterion, democratically, by presenting an argument that sounds (and in a sense, is) logical, and is thus persuasive in shifting "our strongest moral convictions"? If you want to change other people's values to be like yours, you use logic, even if the real foundation of values is just values -- we can be dazzled by logic.

Or maybe she really could be a moral realist (the appeal to strongest moral convictions doesn't rule that out), one who just says "our strongest moral convictions are real and we should act on them", as opposed to the antirealist, who says "our strongest moral convictions are fictions and we should act on them". (I think I do not yet understand moral realism vs. antirealism, especially moral antirealism, and hope the book will help me understand.) Can you act on something as much as you should if you don't feel it is real? Maybe that's the essence of Rawlette's project, to say "No, so since we know we ought to act on certain things, we need to figure out a way to see them as real". I know that there is a kind of quixotic task that philosophers take up (and scientists, I think), which is the search for truth but which is actually really wanting something to be true and figuring out a way to find out that it is true (if possible). If it's true that we just know that certain things are good, and we have to change our perspective on reality so as to fully pursue those goods, then maybe reality is most deeply known not by whatever science or philosophy says, but in those things we know we have to think are good, and have to pursue as good. We want things to be true, but in a way, that could be that they just are true.

Or maybe Rawlette would be willing to say "No, those deep things aren't true since they don't line up with philosophy" -- philosophy is the real authority after all -- but doesn't happen to have to say that because of the book she wrote, showing how they do line up.

(If "our strongest moral convictions" can be modified with rhetorical or logical force, then does it become "what is right is what psychologically strong, motivated people reprogram people to see as right"? -- something that the coming powers of AI and genetic engineering can intensify. So then such convictions might not be some kind of immutable standard.)

One could say that the deep things, and hedonic utilitarianism, are two different aspects of the same being, the latter being the former's expression in the world of ethical philosophy. That doesn't feel intuitively correct to me, though. I could see maybe fiducial utilitarianism getting closer to that function than hedonic utilitarianism, but even that doesn't feel right. Maybe because ethical philosophy itself is a such a strange shard.

Still, we are left with "should it be true that deep human convictions are reliable judges or creators of 'ought'?" -- a philosophical question. And philosophy, as a whole, the general pursuit, has some grounding in deep human convictions, comes from the outworking of them. We might wonder if philosophy suggests that we should consider God's point of view, either that God shares our convictions, or that his differ from ours and that we should align ourselves with his -- in other words, it's ultimately his convictions as the founder of reality (or as most-authoritative for some other reason than founding things) that are truth, while ours are feelings or opinions.

c. I mentioned "truth" in the previous section. We might say that truth is inherently something that is indifferent to popularity. In fact, Rawlette's project is to use truth to change people's minds (fellow philosophers who are moral antirealists, for instance). So why shouldn't "ought" be indifferent to popularity as well? Ought could be a form of truth.

d. Some of the above might boil down to: "we want truth, independent of popularity -- does it come from God, or from qualia?" I would want to defend "God", and Rawlette "qualia" or something in the neighborhood of "qualia". I would say "if ought is -- and I think it has to be -- then it is an opinion", while Rawlette might say "if ought is, then it is a feeling" -- not "we know it through feelings", because then what is it in itself if not an opinion? (Mostly not a rhetorical question.)


One thing I am thinking of addressing in the review (maybe more than I am about to here), is the question of "What does this matter?" Certainly the truth matters in itself. But how much money can we devote to understanding the truth? Is there a way that an altruist could benefit from a book like Rawlette's?

As an (amateur) philosopher myself, I share the dilemma of Rawlette (as I currently guess it to be, not having yet read her book). I want to get some truth that makes a difference in the world. But the expression of that truth, in the way I know how to express it, is only going to be heard by philosophically-inclined people -- maybe not a lot of them, only some of whom will change what they do as a result. A project like Rawlette's (which, I see from p. 1, involves the term "motivational structure", a term I also use) might hope to get people to feel and thus behave differently -- maybe causing a release of cultural energy to cause more work or more deeply felt caring (or the metaphor might be one of putting people to work to build up cultural structures and institutions of caring). But are philosophers or the philosophically-inclined the right people to try to motivate to care more and work harder? Or is it better to speak to people in general, there being so many more of them?

Francis Schaeffer was disheartened at how philosophy trickled down to the masses. But to me it seems like philosophy may not have much potential to undo the undermining of moral realism (part of what Schaeffer lamented) through the same process. That is, it doesn't seem as clear to me that philosophy trickles down to the average person, the way it used to in Schaeffer's day. I hope to be proved (or help prove myself) wrong some day, in some way, but it seems to me that the default assumption is that philosophy is a game for philosophers, and few others pay attention. Schaeffer thought that the artists could communicate philosophy-derived truths, but it seems to me that most artists are either roughly as obscure as philosophers, or not concerned with philosophy themselves. And what can art do that is fresh? Where are the new philosophies that are different from all the old ones that have already influenced art? Again, I can hope that somehow I could find or create ideas or approaches to things that are fresh, in some way, which inspire artists (or myself) to create philosophically-informed art. But my default assumption remains that philosophy doesn't affect the average person, that there isn't a trickling-down through art into the average person's culture.

(Maybe a counterpoint is: nihilism as evinced in recent TV.)

While I might hope to someday, somehow, reach average people with philosophically-derived ideas or spirits, I can see right now a group of people who take philosophy seriously, and perhaps would take Rawlette's philosophy seriously, who put philosophy into action, or at least generally aspire to. These are the effective altruists (EAs). Would effective altruists be the kind of people who need to be motivated to work harder and care more? Maybe some of them? There's a term they use: "value drift", the way that a person's priorities change and they no longer work as hard for the cause, save as much money to give, etc. Could something like Rawlette's philosophy, a bolsterer of motivational structure, be something that could prevent value drift in some individuals? It sounds plausible. The effective altruists are already aware of the possibility of being moral realists. (Many of them already are.) Maybe her book would cause some of those who are moral antirealists to become moral realists, causing them to stick with their first love.

Would it be possible to cause people on the margins of effective altruist ideology to shift into being effective altruists, or EA-aligned? For instance, a moral antirealist might think "Yeah, giving money to help people is good... I should do that... but, then, morality is kind of a social construct, right? Yeah, whatever." and not do it. This person being driven by self-interest and logic, if they had better beliefs, they might say "Giving money to help people is good... and what is good really is good... I should do that..." and do it. A very self-interested person might shy away from accepting what Rawlette said in the first place, or use some kind of self-deception in order to both hold Rawlette's views and not act on them. They would not be on the margin of EA-aligned behavior. But there might be a lot of people who are on the margin, who can be philosophically literate, or are as much as EAs are, who just haven't heard of Rawlette's argument. They might even have heard the EAs' pitch (Singer's Drowning Child Argument, perhaps), and yet vitiated it with moral antirealism. But an effective argument for moral realism might make a difference. One would think that EAs would be looking for new ideologies to prevent value drift and aid in recruiting people from social spaces adjacent to them. From a few months' reading of the EA Forum, I don't get the impression that this is something they seriously pursue to a great extent. (I might be wrong -- but something that was a particularly burning issue, I wouldn't have missed.) This might be because they know better than to be into ideology (it's something they're past, as individuals, and something they don't expect enough people to really be changed by), or it might be that many EAs are not really into human resource questions, and this is essentially a human resource question -- or some other reason.

I remember a philosophy professor saying something like "people aren't bad, it's just that the system is bad". So maybe Rawlette can't do much good, since everyone is already moral and good, and we're just in horribly ill-coordinated systems. I hope to discuss this in the future at some point, show a way that if you really care, you can do something about systemic problems, so as to provide benefit from improved motivational structures. (This already has some other ideas that might apply.) I have (and I think Rawlette may possibly also have) the sense that it is required of us to do what is best, not just a socially-acceptable half-effort. It is wrong of us to not be heroes or "anointed ones", at whatever scale we can and should be. Perhaps that is a message which could resonate with the average person. In other words, with the right support beliefs and ideas, Rawlette's may be able to function as one might intend them to.

One thing I don't know from not having read Rawlette's book yet is how possible it is to convert her book into a form which can be adopted by people who don't read academic philosophy.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Tongue as Organ of Sight

The tongue as an organ of perception. One meaning: taste and mouthfeel. Another: we speak reality to ourselves. So, to see things from the Spirit's perspective, and to speak as though God exists.

Humans are actors. When we say the lines, we become the character, and see things from the character's point of view.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Receptivity to Reality

Fiducial utilitarianism talks about receptivity to enhancement, as a definition of "trust". Generally I like trust and trustworthiness. But it occurs to me that being "trust oriented" is not necessarily trustworthy. Being into what enhances you is not necessarily trustworthy. Instead, you can connect to a thing in itself.

One criticism of hedonism that a person could make is that it could lead to the following dialogue:

"I love you."

"You mean, I give you pleasure?"

"Well, yeah! Duh!"

Which is a funny thing to say, kind of childish or childlike. (Or you could make the exchange be darker: "Yeah, you mean nothing more to me than the pleasure you give me.")

Happiness is an objective state of affairs, a state of good fortune. We judge that we are in a happy state, at times. And that makes us feel a certain way, what we call "feeling happy".

We might see the problem in only being into happy feelings. Then, we might further see the problem in only being into judgments that we are happy. We can see how these things deny objective reality. Why not just "wirehead", hack your brain so that you always have happy feelings or judgments?

Then, we might further see the problem in only being into happy states of affairs, good fortune for us, because good fortune for us through states of affairs makes the states of affairs be about us. We say "X gives me enhancement.", but the sentence that we could be saying is "X.". The concern for enhancement gets in the way of X, the thing itself.

So then we might want to replace or reform fiducial utilitarianism with a different utilitarianism, one which maximizes receptiveness to reality. Just as with receptivity to enhancement, this receptiveness is on multiple levels. Here's a provisional sketch of the levels of trust and receptivity to reality:

Do people really exist to each other?

I see a person X:

1. X has a body. --Okay, on that level they're real.

2. I can form a mental model of X's mind. --Good, I consider them a person.

3. X exists for me only relevant to the pain or pleasure they give to me. --No, on that level, all that exists to me is my pleasure or pain.

I think that receptivity to reality could be seen as true fiducialism, if we take fiducialism to mean "seek what is most trustworthy". (That's one of the meanings in the booklet about fiducialism.) True enhancement is to be free from the mental category of enhancement. So I may use "fiducialism" as a shorthand for "seeking receptivity to enhancement, which if most intense is receptivity to reality".

If I want to make this reform, does it threaten anything else I've written? I'm not sure right now about everything, but there are a few thoughts that come to mind:

I've supposed that "everything is trust", that that's what all conscious existence is. So then, people who are most real are those who trust the most, most truly, most deeply. And thus God trusts, and thus has to be receptive to enhancement from the realities of our pain, and from the disconnection from him which we experience. And thus God must in some way be separable from God (implying someone like Jesus). Does it matter if we remove the "enhancement" term from "God must be receptive to enhancement from the realities of our pain and our disconnection from God"? So instead, "God must be receptive to the realities of our pain and our disconnection from him"? That seems to give the same result, someone like Jesus.

It seems plausible that those who are most receptive to reality are those who are most real. Looking at it that way, it seems like "enhancement" is an extra term that gets in the way of a person connecting with reality. You could say that consciousness is always consciousness of something. So in order to be, you must be conscious of something (if at minimum just yourself). Being is being conscious of something. Personal being is being conscious of something in a personal way. So being is being receptive to reality, and to be real (to "be more" or "most be"), you have to be fully receptive to reality, as a person. This is parallel to what I've said before, that to be real is to be fully receptive to enhancement from reality, which is to fully trust. Thus receptivity to reality can replace trust, as the basic material of reality which I would say everything is.

So, maybe this won't cause too many problems for me. Maybe it won't, or maybe it will.

It's pretty hard to not be enhancement-oriented. I'm reminded of Buber's I-You vs. I-It thinking. I-You sounds pretty good, but the way Buber defines it, it's kind of rare. I can see someone saying that I-It and enhancement-orientation are hardwired in us for survival. I don't really want to denigrate enhancement or enhancement-orientation. So I like creating a continuity between trustworthiness in terms of enhancement, on the one hand, and trustworthiness in terms of reality, on the other, emphasizing the overall unity of seeking enhancement and seeking reality by connecting them both to trustworthiness. The truest enhancement is to be freed from enhancement-orientation, and thus to just be receptive to reality. And thus I like, as above, continuing to consider receptivity to reality fused with the concept of fiducialism that I've already described.

The Statue Guide

There is a statue which was not made by a human being, which stands in the heart of a certain city. It is 500 feet (~166 m) high and can be seen from miles away.

A young boy saw that statue and saw the life in it. He wanted to go see it, and his parents took him once. He looked up at it from its feet and it didn't look quite the same to him. But he believed in it, and touched the statue's feet, polished by the touch of other citizens.

From then on, he knew that the statue was for him, and he went about his normal days as a young boy, not thinking too much of it.

He read the newspaper when he had nothing to do after school, and saw that there were blind people who had trouble finding the statue. People tried to give them very good directions, but it turns out that it's hard to give directions to blind people if you're sighted.

This weighed on him. He decided that he needed to learn how to make better directions for blind people to find the statue.

He forgot about this in the short run, but remembered it with his whole life. He found that while a sighted person only needed to be shown the statue from a distance, and told "just find a way to get through the streets -- you'll make it", a blind person had to be told to go from this street to that street -- the city has a lot of canyons cutting streets into pieces, so there's no one or two streets that can get you to the statue. And unfortunately, in this city there are blind people who can't even process the idea of a street and must be told precisely how many steps to take in which direction, orienting themselves to the sounds and smells along the way.

So he knew that what he must do was to become blind himself, and even damage his ability to process streets, in order to enter into the reality of the blind people he wanted to guide to the statue. So he let his eyesight dim, from reading old street maps, and learned to read Braille.

And he worked diligently, as a guide for the blind, proving from Braille maps exactly where the statue ought to be.

He had always been content, as when a boy, to let the statue be off in the distance, but one day he wished to see the statue, to believe in it. So he looked up the route to get from right where he was to the statue, and carefully followed it, avoided getting hit by a car, avoided tripping on the cracks in the pavement.

And he arrived at where the statue ought to be, but he could not see it. Eventually someone led him to the foot of it, and he touched the foot. He could only believe that the rest of the statue was there.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Pen Pals

I have always tended to like writing emails. But finding people to correspond with is sometimes difficult. My guess is that less than 25% of the people I've ever considered friends actually like writing emails.

However, there are websites to connect people who like to correspond by email or postal mail. I tried one called PenPal World, first in 2018 for a while, then again from the end of 2019 until maybe a month ago. I find myself going through phases with scenes. I have to get away from the scene for a while. So I'm taking a break from seeking out new pen pals. (And maybe not coincidentally, I feel less of an appetite to write emails.)

I have three pen pals from that. I had a number of not-so-bad penpalships that didn't last, and only one that was a little bad. I don't know how online dating compares, but it might be in the same ballpark in terms of the ratio of negative to positive to "fizzle" experiences.

You can find strange, often political or intellectual people on Twitter, and a similar bias toward the public and the performative in other social media sites. But PenPal World, and penpalling (I would guess), seems to attract quieter people.

Friday, September 11, 2020

News: 11 September 2020

In preparing Things to Do for release, I edited it over and over, figuring that I needed to get it right. I think that's a good attitude. So I went back and did minor edits on many of the things I've written this year (in all the posts that looked like they needed them, to me today). I am not always the best at bringing things to perfection or completion.

I'm thinking of doing some book reviews. One is of Thomas Moynihan's X-Risk: How Humanity Discovered Its Own Extinction. It doesn't come out until November. Another that I'm thinking of doing, maybe, is Sharon Hewitt Rawlette's The Feeling of Value.

Some which I'm less sure I'll do / may do further in the future, are Eliezer Yudkowsky's Inadequate Equilibria and Óscar Martínez's A History of Violence. Also on my "radar screen" is Philip Rieff's The Triumph of the Therapeutic.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Things to Do

EDIT 22 Sep 2020: added a section on activism.

EDIT 2 Apr 2021: changed emphasis away from "This is a response to How Can We Love?".

EDIT 22 July 2021: minor addition.

Let's say you are motivated either by the MSLN motivational structure, or by Jesus' parable of the talents / minas, or other Biblical passages, or even perhaps by secular arguments like Peter Singer's Drowning Child Illustration. If this motivation is new to you, the circle of your concern has widened and/or the intensity of your commitment to helping has increased. What practical thing can you do, to act on that motivation? This post contains some basic ideas. I haven't tried all of the ideas here and I'm not very experienced in anything other than being a writer and having lived my particular life story, so take all of this with a grain of salt.

First I want to say that desire is more important than effect, in the long run. Good desire will lead to effectiveness, but a focus on effectiveness that neglects desire will leave you dead inside, and you will likely lose effectiveness and find it difficult to motivate yourself.

We think that desires are invalid without practical effect, but desires are valuable in themselves, and will naturally lead to effects when possible.

You have to safeguard your ability to desire. Perhaps at the very root of you, no one but you is responsible for your desires. But much of your mind can become discouraged or broken by the people you associate with, or the people you lack in your life who would have helped you if you knew them. Finding people who genuinely agree with your values is probably the most helpful thing in this area.

If you would like some suggestions of things to do, here are some below. I expect to update this page at some point, so check back to see what's new.


First of all, if you care about all the people on earth, and want to do something for them, you may think you should do something that involves going to another country. Perhaps being a missionary or working in the international development industry.

If you're good at the skills needed, you can go into medicine or agriculture in developing countries. If you have organizational abilities, you can be a program administrator. All of these things, working for a charity. You might make a good fundraiser for a charity. You may find work from a government agency. You can go to school for development.

I've heard from one development insider that they don't like random people coming into their field who don't know what they're doing. So that's something to think about.

Some development charities are effectively forms of agricultural or medical missions. In addition, you can work in a purely cultural way, in missions. You can do altruistic things from a Christian perspective, living in another country.

Being a missionary is not necessarily glamorous. You may have to work a day job that has little or nothing to do with ministry. You may have to raise support (mail or call or hang out with a lot of people to encourage donations).

People don't always like what foreigners do in their countries, and this applies to both development and missions. Being competent and culturally sensitive is important, and something you should try to learn from others instead of messing up yourself, if you can help it.

I wrote a book a while ago called How Can We Love?. It contains a section on "devastation" -- being broken down in a way that connects you with reality, seeing your brokenness, and the world's brokenness, and then seeing how to act. If you get what "devastation" is about, that's a good sign as far as being able to execute these roles. A spirit of sobriety, even if your work involves connecting with people, which can favor warmth.

One thing the roles have in common is being able to relate to a culture you were not born into. This is something not everyone can do effectively.

I studied international agricultural development at UC Davis and wanted to teach people better farming techniques. I'm more of a teacher by temperament. But I found out partway through that they really wanted program administrators. I finished the degree, but might have chosen something different if I'd known. You can save yourself a mistake like that by figuring out in advance what people in your prospective field actually do. Maybe see if you can interview someone who is working in that field.

(But then I looked up the two classmates whose names I could remember and saw that one of them works as an "agricultural research and training coordinator", and another one had been associated with a charity that teaches farmers better methods to use in small-scale agriculture -- the same thing that I wanted to do with my degree all along. It's possible that I could have worked for them, as either a teacher or teacher trainer, or perhaps there are other charities doing the same thing. The takeaway lesson for you from this paragraph may be the same as from the one before: look around, yourself, when considering career options. The person who told me that the IAD degree was for program administration and not teaching farmers was my major advisor.)

There can be risks to working in developing countries. Health risks, risks from crime, political risks, etc.

If I were talking to an 18-year-old who seemed to have the same basic interests as my 18-year-old self (interested in development or perhaps ag missions, going to a developing country), I would say "find an organization to learn from". It might be better to get hands-on experience at a low level in an actual organization (if they'll have you) before getting a degree. You'll have a better understanding of reality when you go to get your education, have more hooks to hang your learning on.

(If someone involved in missions or development happens to read this and wants to add to or correct these thoughts, please do so in the comments.)


I think in general it is best for people to solve their own problems. So it is better if people in developing countries (and developed countries) work on their own countries or regions. Nowadays, culture is globalizing more and more, and I can see the possibility of my writing (such as this post, or How Can We Love?) being read by English speakers outside the developed world. I do think there's a role for helping other cultures through roles like development and missions. On the other hand, sometimes when you help someone, it improves their agency, and sometimes it doesn't. So that's something to consider. I think it could be good to connect people in different countries in a common altruistic culture, to talk about these issues and share inspiration.


Another role for "devastation" type people could be political leader, or some other kind of leader (business, academia, etc.). Leaders need to be able to take on stress and risk, have integrity but also know how to be effective with other people, be willing to take a fall for what's right, and... I think there are other things I'm not thinking of (this is an area I might explore more later).

I would say, do this if you're willing to live a life like Jesus (potentially being in the public eye, potentially working to exhaustion, potentially having a kind of Gethsemane or crucifixion). And, at the same time, you still need to be able to be into effectiveness, organizational skills, have command of facts, and be sober. It's certainly not for everyone.

It's not uncommon for political leaders to go through many years of being more or less an apprentice. You have to become acculturated to the system (and yet not really acculturated) in order to change it.

A business leader needs to be able to run a business. Academic leaders generally need to have academic careers. Military leaders need to work through the military. There are already a lot of resources available on leadership, and I haven't read much of them. But I may be interested in thinking and writing more in that area, at some point.

(If you are in a position of leadership and wish to add to or correct the above, please do so in the comments.)


If you get involved in politics, you might do so at the level of activism, as a political foot-soldier or organizer. I think this could be a good thing if you keep the attitude of "devastation" in mind. Politics is like war, a way of applying force to other people.

Just as it makes sense for there to be people who work within military culture to make it better, so there should be people who work within political culture to make it better.


You can try to "earn-to-give". This is a term taken from the effective altruist movement (who might make an interesting study for people interested in the question of what to do with their lives or resources).

The basic idea of "earn-to-give" is that you earn as much money as you can, and then spend a modest amount on yourself, and either give the difference now to worthy charities, or save your money to give later (perhaps in your estate), or a mixture of the two. Figuring out worthy charities is an interesting task, and the effective altruists have some secular suggestions. If you want a Christian perspective, I know of the National Christian Foundation, which talks about giving -- don't know much about it, though.

If you work at a job and get paid a lot for it, it's society's way of telling you "we really wanted this job done, and you did it". If you can do a good job at a high-paying job, you may be doing good by building the economy. And then you can also give from your high salary. The jobs that you can get that pay the most are likely ones that use some or all of your talents.

Some jobs harm more people than they help, but most are beneficial at least by helping to build the economy. If you do your job well, you're providing more value for what people are paying you. Some of that value trickles up to your employer or their shareholders. But some of it "trickles out" to your customers or clients. Providing more benefit for the same price, or for a lower price, helps with domestic poverty, an issue which can distract from global poverty if unresolved.


Out of whatever money you do earn, or have, you can give.

You can try the biblical tithe of giving 10% of what you earn or spend in a year. I've tried this, and have given to World Bible School, Oxfam, Modest Needs, GiveDirectly, and Homeless Empowerment through Art and Leadership-San Diego recently.

(Worldwide House Church has a list of charities you might find useful.)

If you can't give 10%, you can give less. Even a token amount, like $50 a year. (Which, if you multiply by the 100 million lowest-earning Americans comes out to $5 billion a year.) This helps tell yourself "I am the kind of person who gives", and if you ever end up with more money, you can give more.


Another possible thing to pursue is art. Some artists have to live the life of Jesus. Most don't, don't attain that level of celebrity. (Or they do live the life of Jesus, but in relative obscurity.) Most never become popular.

Art is a burden. So if you have the burden, what do you do with it? One thing you can try to do is to make the best art you can. You can contribute to a scene. Your art can help change the background mood of the culture, and this change may reap big dividends in terms of people becoming more alive. One need that might need to be met is, what kind of art is helpful to people in adversity? Specifically, what kind of art can be helpful in ways that art doesn't do as well at in the current culture. I would say (in 2020), with a little bit of inaccuracy, that we're good at making music that helps you escape, or live through your feelings as a "small person", but not as much at making music that helps people get to work. A long time ago, marches were popular. That exact form may not work now (and the vibe of the "march-like" activity of that time period had problems, so it may be just as well), but what's something that's similarly invigorating, helping people work? That would be one aesthetic challenge. Others could involve trying to make music that helps people become holy. (Music just being one example.)

As an artist, you starve for money, but most essentially, you can starve for an audience. It is good to try to build scenes. If you can connect enough people to each other, the fact that you connected them probably predisposes them to take in your art. You can make art specifically in order to bring people together. (I've seen an art collective in Southern California try that, called "Just Tryna Make Friends".)


You can also try to build scenes, even if you aren't an artist. You could try to be a traditional church planter, or you could try to connect unchurched Christians to each other, outside the traditional church. Or you can find a secular affinity with which to connect people.

I have more thoughts about Christian scenes, which I hope to remember to write about.

22 July 2021: One thing you can do as a church is sell your building and meet as a house church or network of house churches, and then give the money to people who need it more.


You may be a thinker. Like art, being a thinker is a burden. So again, how can you use that? Maybe I shouldn't tell you how, because you can figure that out, as a thinker, and need to go your own way. It's important for there to be thinkers who put God first, who are also altruistic.


You can try to build "friendship skills". There are some skills which people who are "really good friends" have. For instance, therapist, social worker, caregiver, teacher, life coach... To become a professional in any of these fields may be too much for you (or it may not be). If it is, then you may still benefit by learning some of the skills of some or all of these roles. Then you will be better equipped to handle the (fairly likely) event that you have to take these roles on in an informal way. If you are an older person with some experience in these areas, you can teach them.

The better your skills are, the more you can help your friends, or find new ones.

(Translating (for instance) "therapist skills that work in a therapy situation" to "therapist skills that work in a friendship situation" may require some thought and care.)


"Friendship skills" has a natural continuity with "family skills", like parenting or being a child or sibling, and they can be approached in a similar way.


In any role, developing your own trustworthiness is good, so that you are a reliable person. You can end up spending a long period of your life developing trustworthiness and self-trust, just to enable you to go out and be effective without betraying people. There's some danger in becoming self-focused in working on yourself. But there's value in desiring to be someone who is trustworthy, and sometimes working on that.

Trustworthiness has a big overlap with holiness. If you are truly holy, you will be trustworthy, at least in having pure intentions. If you are truly trustworthy, you direct people toward the goal of human development, which is to become holy, set apart to God. That will be your goal, and you will have gone a certain way down that path. If your intentions are impure, you will betray someone.

Holiness in yourself is sometimes found by seeking it directly, but more often by seeking something outside yourself, by not being self- focused.


You can pray. Prayer is a helpful element in all of the above, because God cares more about people than you do, and you are not God. God can help you care. In the end, the altruism that matters most is to connect people to God. So you should connect yourself to him.

Prayer is sometimes effective in ways that you can see. It's not likely that if you pray there will be a miraculous rain in a drought-stricken place, because of your prayer. But someone might be struck by the fact of drought and get involved in helping people in drought-stricken places because of prayer. (That's what I expect, as a contemporary person. I think it's possible that God does not, or cannot, act in the most obvious ways in our time. But it does seem that God is limited by our faith -- which I think means that if you choose to approach God, and God chooses to approach you, you may develop a relationship through which his power can flow into the world.)

Prayer can perform the impossible, like keeping you true to your calling.


Scene building and friendship/family skill building work hand in hand and along with giving something to charity, and prayer, are things that just about any person can pursue to some extent. They support the work that more direct helpers do, in addressing issues around the world.

For instance, someone growing up in a culture where it's expected that you do something, and one thing you might do is work in the development industry, will go that way instead of into business or academia, which might have been the default paths. The scene is where the culture is, so someone has to build that scene. Or someone whose life is rough or undernourished might not make it into an altruistic career path for a long time, cutting back on their long-term effectiveness. But friendship skill-building can make it so that the people around them aren't as bad for them, or are more good for them, and they can cope or grow better themselves. Earn-to-give can fund charities or missions. Prayer supports a climate of trusting concern.


One important thing that most or all of the above roles have some bearing on is dealing with long-term or future issues. Here are a few things to think about: AI (technological unemployment, or even transformative AI), climate change. There are big problems like political / cultural polarization. Racism, sexism, and whatever other cultural problems. And there may be other things to add to the list.


One thing I think is true about many lists is that they can be added to, and should not be seen as exhaustive. So if you think of something to try that's not on this list, it could be a good idea.

Sunday, September 6, 2020


Toward the beginning of Song of Solomon:


Don't stare at me because I am dark, because the sun has scorched me. My mother's sons were angry with me. They made me keeper of the vineyards. I haven't kept my own vineyard.

The person who says this is a woman, known as the Shulammite, a bride of Solomon.

What does she mean by "vineyard"? "I haven't kept my own vineyard." Is she talking about self-care?

Have you kept your own vineyard?

I encourage you to read Song of Solomon to try to see what she's talking about. It's not very long.