The hijab of ignorance

If you didn’t know which position you’d be born into in society, you would choose, not egalitarianism, but a form of society that maximized the rate of technological progress. That would increases your chance of living in a world with penicillin, Mozart, and pizza – all far more important than social position. Since you don’t know when you’re going to be born, either.

Better bullshit™ than Rawls.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

101 Responses to The hijab of ignorance

  1. B says:

    Also increases your chances of dying alone and childless with cats after 50 years of alienation.

    Also increases your chances of coming out on the losing end of something like WW2 or the various Communist utopian experiments of the 20th century.

    Penicillin is, indeed, good to have, but not as good as a meaningful existence surrounded by people whom one is close to.

    As for Mozart-do you think more people appreciate Mozart today than did 50/100/150 years ago?

    • Wency says:

      It’s correct to say modernity is a mixed bag, but medicine is what pushes it into the column of being decisively a good thing. I’d personally prefer to minimize my odds of things like coming into the world in immense pain, killing my mother in the process, and dying shortly thereafter.

      But there is a point to be made that a hunter-gatherer existence was probably better than settled agricultural existence for a very large part of human (pre)history. Scott Alexander has argued this was true at least as late as the mid-19th century, judging by white American interactions with the Comanche.

      • pyrrhus says:

        You are talking about modern sanitation, pioneered by people like Florence Nightingale, which is what extended life spans. (Assuming you’re not starving to death during a war.) Harvard Medical School estimates that Doctors were not a net plus for life expectancy until after 1940, and that;s probably because of antibiotics…In the last 50 years, the extension of life expectancy is mainly due to the reduction in smoking and tobacco use. Taleb shows that it accounts for nearly the entire increase…

        • dearieme says:

          You don’t think that the near-vanishing of the epidemic of middle-aged heart attacks influences the figures? Or do you attribute that to the reduction in smoking, even though the decline in heart attacks started well before the decline in smoking?

          P.S. Nobody knows why the epidemic of middle-aged heart attacks has virtually ended though doctors are of course keen to claim the credit.

          • Jim says:

            In the US increases in life expectance began long before the discovery of antibiotics or knowledge of the dangers of smoking.

            • Nearly all of that was reducing the number of children dying young. Sanitation and quarantine had a lot to do with that.

              • Jim says:

                Mortality declined over a wide range of ages over a long period of time, although in the latter part of the twentieth century mortality did tend to rise at ages in the 20-35 range. This produced the unusual phenomenon of some mortality tables showing decreasing death rates in the late twenties.

            • dearieme says:

              The guy was discussing “the last fifty years”.

          • Aidan Kehoe says:

            There’s no mystery to it—it’s fewer people eating pig fat all day every day and much less smoking.

            Corollary for this is that the rate of MIs decreased more slowly in Scotland, where the enthusiasm for pig fat and for smoking has held up better, and it decreased much more quickly in Finnish Karelia, where the change in diet was much more dramatic. And that the Italians and Greeks barely got MIs even in the bad old days, because they didn’t eat pig fat with every meal. And that the mortality benefit from statins is mediated by lowering serum cholesterol. And, and, and.

            Public health is nominally run by doctors, but there usually isn’t the political will to implement its recommendations. So much of the credit should go to the politicians who did, eventually, implement the recommendations of public health in this area.

            • Peter Lund says:

              The benefit from statins is too big compared to how much it lowers cholesterol so something else must be going on.

              • Aidan Kehoe says:

                We’re on even more of a tangent here. The rate of MIs in middle age was going down before statins were introduced on a population level. Statins seem to have decreased the rate of STEMI, the rush-you-to-the-cath-lab-for-a-stent type of MI, which is great, those are the ones with the worst outcomes.

                As I said, the biggest influence seems to be dietary animal fat.

                Ian Fleming is the example of the heart attack in middle age who sticks in my mind; I can’t find much on his diet, but Bond went heavy on the saturated fat.

                But yeah, statins are great. Bonus plus point; we’re getting less dementia on a societal level than we expected given the evolution of the population structure, because an awful lot of the dementia was vascular (= the result of small strokes that impact cognition without gross evidence of other injury), and statins are protective against that too.

              • dearieme says:

                Pointing out that the Lipid Hypothesis and the Statin Dogma are twaddle still enrages people of a dictatorial or puritan disposition, I find.

              • Broseph Walsh says:

                The mode of this study was middle-aged people. Unfortunately by this time of life the process of atherosclerosis has already progressed forming the dangerous plaques which cause MIs. It is interesting to see that the diet may have had a plaque destabilising effect.

                For a reduction in cardiac mortality, it’s important to start the changes in the diet as young as possible before atherosclerosis progresses to such a degree.

                Statins seem to be pretty plaque stabilising. So their effectiveness seems to lie with that effect rather than their lipid-lowering one.

        • AppSocRes says:

          Before public sanitation – but long after the neolithic urban/agricultural revolution – significant improvements in the regularity of the food supply had a significant impact on mortality and morbidity in Western Europe and its colonies. This was due to a number of factors, including: (1) the introduction of new food crops, primarily from the Americas; (2) the opening of vast new tracts of agricultural land in the Americas, Australia, and continuing in Eastern Europe; (3) an explosion of new technology for exploiting these new resources, e.g., the McCormack reaper; (4) the often neglected role of new food transportation and storage technologies.

          This process took place over many centuries. In late medieval Europe, the invention of the moldboard plow opened up large new tracts of land in the east to cultivation. The mechanization of agriculture began in earnest in the early 1800s. Improved transportation of food and improved food storage methods, e.g., railroads, grain elevators, and eventually refrigerated shipping of meat, began later in the nineteenth century. The whole process was impacting mortality in Europe as early as late medieval times but was not more or less complete until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Some European areas lagged others. Czarist Russia was still experiencing famines in remote areas due to a lack of suitable transportation and storage as late as the early twentieth century. Famines in the British Raj as late as the mid-twentieth century were due to similar causes.

          So I’d argue that improved nutrition, due to technology and other causes, accounts for an earlier and greater decline in mortality than that created by improvements in public health measures or medical technology. At least this is what I learned in mmy graduate seminar on mortality/morbidity, back longer ago than I care to contemplate.

          • Jim says:

            In the nineteenth century puerperal fever was a very significant cause of death in women. These deaths were eventually largely eliminated by antibiotics but they had greatly declined before then.

        • mtkennedy21 says:

          Surgeons were probably a positive after about 1900. Public health was more important than medicine until 1940. There was no effective treatment for hypertension until after 1950.

      • Jim says:

        Of course populations are adapted to their way of life. I would guess that most human populations are probably fairly happy. The Sentinelese are I would guess probably quite happy on their island and would probably not be very happy in a modern society. I don’t think I would be very happy living their life.

        So ancient hunter-gatherers were different kinds of people from the populations of modern technologically advanced cultures. It’s not so much a question of what is good but what is good for whom.

      • Gringo says:

        Scott Alexander has argued this was true at least as late as the mid-19th century, judging by white American interactions with the Comanche.
        Where would the Comanche have been without the European inputs of the horse and the rifle?

        • gcochran9 says:

          Without stuff to steal. Actually Comanche existence was pretty hard even so.

        • Jim says:

          The Comanche did not exist before 1700. The Pueblo revolt of 1680 lead to a large number of horses coming into the possession of Pueblo Indians. They were acquired by trade and theft by Southern Athabascans who became the first American Indians with a “classic” Plains Culture dependent on hunting buffalo and raiding the Pueblo and Coahuiltecan Indians for horses and cattle. About 1700 a Shoshoni band entered the Llano Estacado. They became the Comanche. They drove the Athabascans to the south and west and the classic period of their culture lasted for somewhat over 150 years until their defeat at Palo Duro Canyon.

          Comanche culture was totally dependent on inputs from white culture – horses, cattle, guns, metal implements, leather goods etc. acquired by raiding and trading. They were completely aware of the importance of this and the last thing in the world they wanted was to drive out the whites.

          But long before the time of the Comanche all the Indians of the American Southwest and Texas had become strongly influenced by and dependent on white culture. Like the Comanche the last thing in the world that the Apaches wanted was to get rid of the whites. The Apaches and the Comanche loved the whites. They loved to raid them for cattle and horses. Both had good relations with Anglo traders who traded all kinds of neat stuff including guns for cattle.

          So yes Comanche culture couldn’t possibly have existed without white culture.

          • Wency says:

            Yeah, this thought occurred to me — that the real takeaway from the Comanche is about quality of life in a successful banditry-based culture, not a hunter-gatherer culture per se.

            Though that still leaves the question of quality of life in a hunter-gatherer society. I’d suspect that agriculture was a positive for quality of life during those times when the population was expanding rapidly. It only became a burden when societies began bumping into the Malthusian ceiling, in which case a hunter-gatherer culture starts to look better. The U.S. doesn’t seem to have ever really bumped into that ceiling.

            I would guess that you’re more likely to die a violent death in a hunter-gatherer society at most times and places, but in most other respects it’s a better way to live than a peasant in a Malthusian agricultural society.

    • Abelard Lindsey says:

      No, I argue that Penicillin (and especially effective anti-aging bio-medicine) are the basis of creating a meaningful existence comprised of people you identify with. Indefinitely extended youthful vitality gives you the ability to go out into the world and FIND the people you want to associate with as well as to CREATE the meaning and purpose that you use to define your life.

      Why do so many people assume that meaning and purpose have to be defined externally as opposed to being self-created?

    • Zenit says:

      People all over the world who have the choice abandon their close village communities and move to big alienating city at the first opportunity, very few are moving in the opposite direction. As if they knew something you don’t.

    • random observer says:

      That’s a tougher call on Mozart than it appears, even though I share what I take to be your skepticism about the 20th century’s impact on art, culture and civilization.

      Just based on the invention of recording/playback technology, the improvement of its quality, increase in its widespread availability and reliability, and reduction of its price, I’d say that more people appreciate Mozart than 150 years ago on the sole basis of [many] more people being able to hear him at all. That might even be true comparing today to 100 years ago.

      Compare the majesty of any lossless digital format or even a garden variety Naxos CD from the late 1980s to a crappy cylinder from 1900 or early record circa 1918, and consider also their relative retail price, portability, survivability in use and transport, and accessibility to anyone. Even a slightly degraded-quality mp3 would still win that contest by all of those measures, and half the time could be had free.

      Compared to 50 years ago, agree it’s more difficult. I’m 47, for the record. My childhood and early youth were in the LP and cassette era and I was late to CDs, only in the 90s. [I regret their passing, and the golden age of classical performance and music retail that attended their great years.] I still think the media we have today [including legacy CDs] is better than what was available 50 years ago in terms of quality, accessibility, and unit cost. But what was available in circa 1968 with LPs was pretty good, and that too was a high point of classical performance and recording. And probably, agreed, a larger and more temporarily secure position in the culture.

      So, a mixed bag. But I’d still rather have had digital recording invented than not.

      • dearieme says:

        Mozart isn’t the best composer to choose for this discussion because he was anyway somewhat unfashionable until after WWII. Haydn would be an even poorer example. See

        • random observer says:

          Wow. I hadn’t heard of Landon. He appears to have set a fine example of dedication to one aspect of art and lifelong contribution to civilization.

          That was also interesting as a reminder of how much of the classical repertoire had been superseded or forgotten, a product of its relatively ephemeral life, confined to paper and in some cases in relatively few collections/libraries even during the heyday of its creation and performance. The idea that Haydn had to be cataloged and resurrected in the 20th century, and even to some extent Mozart, is amazing.

          Another benefit of that great period of postwar prosperity, travel, and education, to an extent [I see Landon himself was a product of a private education]. Certainly a benefit of wealth and middle-class prosperity and self-improvement that created an audience for classical recording and performance in the 1950s-60s and again, to my mind at least, the 80s and early 90s. Imagine having had to do without hundreds of recordings of most Mozart pieces by every orchestra on earth…

    • Tech Progress says:

      Who could ask for more than for sheer rate of tech progress to give birth to superhuman AI or advanced successor species that will sharply reduce your chance of descendants by extinguishing the human species (“Strongly Ball Crushing AI”, to use part of a Cochran term)?

      By the way, whatever happened to “Darwinian mental illness”? It seems like relative status would predict offspring pretty well, over the long term, so is the man who would choose high relative status but various hedonic gewgaws (particularly those that will long term end the human species) that will improve mere quality of life (pizza, porn) anything other than a Darwinian madman?

  2. j says:

    Position is important. What good is a hyper-progressive society if I am the Rhesus monkey in the club subject to their inventive experiments?

    • gcochran9 says:

      On average it’s arguably better to live in a society where your chance of dying before adulthood is 1% rather than 50%. Now maybe scientific advances are going to turn bad on us – but it hasn’t happened yet, not on the whole.

      Anyhow, those experiments might be great fun. Are you ticklish?

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        On average it’s arguably better to live in a society where your chance of dying before adulthood is 1% rather than 50%.

        No shit, Sherlock!

        • ChrisA says:

          Well it’s not necessarily as obvious as you suggest. Currently abortion rates in the UK are running about 27% of live births. So we are effectively killing about 20% of babies before they are born, which is not very different to a medieval society level of first year survival rates. Lots of people claim this is a more ethical system than preventing these babies from being aborted.

    • Your statement seems to drift away from the topic, but then… If technological society increases people/monkeys ratio then chances to reincarnate in a human increases, doesn’t it?

      • tictak says:

        And it is exactly these sort of things we need to think about when considering how best to arrange our society. Justice would certainly mean no monkeys allowed. At least unless the monkey’s existence were helping another less fortunate other monkey.

      • j says:

        Paradoxically, as B noted above, technological society DECREASES human population and increases pet population, including lab Rhesus monkeys. BTW, do you really believe in reincarnation? a-la-Madame Blavatsky?

        • No, I don’t believe. But your statement above seems to invoke it. Maybe I didn’t see your point.
          How does it decrease it? 8 billion population could not be reached without technological society. It does increase lab monkeys pop, but even more it decreases wild monkey pop.

  3. By technological progress, you probably mean eugenics as well, because then, even your average quality will be better.

  4. vuzqk says:

    Quoting “A Theory of Justice”:

    In addition, it is possible to adopt eugenic policies, more or less explicit. I shall not consider questions of eugenics, confining myself throughout to the traditional concerns of social justice. We should note, though, that it is not in general to the advantage of the less fortunate to propose policies which reduce the talents of others. Instead, by accepting the difference principle, they view the greater abilities as a social asset to be used for the common advantage. But it is also in the interest of each to have greater natural assets. This enables him to pursue a preferred plan of life. In the original position, then, the parties want to insure for their descendants the best genetic endowment (assuming their own to be fixed). The pursuit of reasonable policies in this regard is something that earlier generations owe to later ones, this being a question that arises between generations. Thus over time a society is to take steps at least to preserve the general level of natural abilities and to prevent the diffusion of serious defects.

    But I shall not pursue this thought further.

    He cites Theodosius Dobzhansky in a footnote on the same page.

    Rawls was woke as fuck he just played it smart.

  5. West Anon says:

    you don’t know when you’re going to be born, either.

    That’s actually a major reason to chose the “egalitarian” over the “max-tech” scenario.

    The latter’s timeline is dominated by pre-industrial low-tech non-egalitarian times, followed by a hockey stick of accelerating high-tech non-egalitarian times. But that’s just a short blip in time before technological Singularity. If we don’t get to choose the “when,” chances of hitting that high-tech sweet spot are slim.

    A way out of that dilemma would be boosting world population to insane levels, in order to increase the chances of getting into “high-tech”, but that also nets us an insane number of people born right before Singularity. If you can’t stomach low-tech levels of child mortality, you don’t want that.

    The egalitarian scenario is clearly better.

    • georgesdelatour says:

      You’re basically talking about the benefits of egalitarian “noble savage” hunter-gatherer societies, yes?

      They don’t have the inequality of “he’s got a private jet while I have to fly coach on United”. But they have other forms of inequality. In most such societies, around a quarter of the men get to have all the sex with all the women. The women get married off to an alpha male as soon as they’re fertile, at an average age of 13.8. Interpersonal violence is also high.

      • gcochran9 says:

        You’re wrong, except for the interpersonal violence. Sounds like the Yanomamo – but they’re not hunter-gatherers, nor are their vital stats real similar to those of hunter-gatherers.

        • georgesdelatour says:

          I got my figures from this article:

          “Among the Ache of Paraguay, males have over 4 times the variance in reproductive success that females do, which is one of the highest ratios recorded. This means some males end up having lots of children with different women, while a significant number of males end up having none at all. This is reflected in the fact that polygynous marriage is practiced in the majority of hunter-gatherer societies for which there are data. Across these societies, the average age at marriage for females is only 13.8, while the average age at marriage for males is 20.7.”

  6. tim hadselon says:

    The biggest factors on my standard of living are outside myself. Mainly tech progress. Was this ever true before the scientific revolution? Especially since 1900. It’s odd to realize the things I do won’t affect my life as much as what some people in Silicon Valley do (assuming I don’t drink bleach).

  7. georgioxblog says:

    Today, at least in the Western world, people enjoy a higher standard of living than ever before, but still complain about inequality. Why? The people don`t care if they are richer and healthier than 100 years ago. All they care about is being richer than their neighbour

    • biz says:

      It may not be inequality per se, but the existence of goods and services that are out of reach. To know that there exist HD home theater systems, or multi-year vacations around the world, or porn stars escorting for $2000, but you can’t possibly afford them may be more psychologcally disturbing than knowing they don’t exist.

    • They care when they encounter really destitute societies and get that wake-up call. One of the side effects of short-term missions is a reduced consumerism. It wears off in a few years, but encountering the really oppressed tends to wipe that smirk off your face. It has been a line of mine for two decades: “Romania changed everything.”

    • AppSocRes says:

      Howard Bloom (the other Howard Bloom) has written an excellent book on how factors of primate psychology like this tend to bring down civilizations, even those where the vast majority of people are reasonably well off. The book is “The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History” and I recommend it, although contrary to the title it’s much more a mix of social inquiry and philosophy buttressed by empirical data and common sense than it is a scientific analysis.

    • Jim says:

      For many and probably most people social status is more important for happiness than material well-being at least once you’re past utter destitution. Unfortunately by it’s nature status will always be in limited supply. For example today if I wear diamond rings on all my fingers that might be good for a fair amount of social status. Perhaps in the future we will be able to make synthetic diamonds so cheaply that even street beggars will be bedecked in them. Then they will provide no status whatsoever.

  8. Space Ghost says:

    Not sure I agree with this – but it’s a question of values and not facts. What is best in life? Technological comforts? The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair? Or to crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women?

  9. moscanarius says:

    I think you must say that people should select a society that maximized technological progress, if they knew what was best for themselves and were trying to decide rationally. But we know they often don’t; what people would actually choose if they were behind that “veil of ignorance” thing might not be optimal by a rational standard.

    (Also, as a sidenote: the “veil of ignorance” experiment has this flaw in which the person is supposed to decide eithout knowing anything about what they are gonna be in the new society, not even their intelligence. But their present intelligence matters here and now for them to evaluate the pros and cons of each option and make the decision).

    • Jim says:

      And also they presumably don’t know what their personal likes and dislikes will be when they come into existence. Would they be like Grigori Perelman who seems quite indifferent to social status or would they be totally obsessed with their social status?

      How can they have any idea what would be best for them when they don’t know what their personal desires will be?

      I assume they are supposed to know that they will be a human being as opposed to a giant squid or a rock.

  10. arch1 says:

    If I pick max rate of tech progress, I may have just doomed many (including myself) to enslavement or torture until the destruction of humanity within a few generations. If I pick egalitarianism, a) enslavement/torture is avoided, b) tech progress will still on large timescales be positive with no limits other than physical law, c) by the time truly destructive tech becomes pervasive, we may have learned to deal with it responsibly, allowing the possibility of an open-ended future on a geological timescale. I’ll pick egalitarianism.

    • realist says:

      “enslavement/torture is avoided”

      Not really, equality has to be ENFORCED it doesn’t come “naturally”.
      (Gulag? SJW? …)

      • arch1 says:

        If Greg’s “egalitarianism” choice allows the possibility of enslavement/torture, my enthusiasm for it is diminished, but it would still be my choice.

        That is because it offers a lower chance of enslavement/torture/degradation, and a higher chance of humanity’s long-term survival (by allowing time for our species’ responsibility to grow ahead of its technology), than does balls-to-the-wall tech advancement with no attention paid to egalitarianism.

        • How does subsidizing reproduction of low IQ people improves chance of survival for species?

          • arch1 says:

            I never said that it does. (Your Q doesn’t seem terribly relevant, but it did trigger an amusing image of you facing a panel of your mental “superiors” in a decidedly non-egalitarian alternate universe being challenged to justify your continued existence, particularly in light of the above comment:-))

            • This amusing image is, literally, imaginary whereas subsidizing reproduction of low IQ people is reality. Now please explain how would your egalitarianism doesn’t include said subsidizing.

  11. pyrrhus says:

    I have been conducting an informal poll for years, asking people what decade they would like to live in, from the 1950s to present. A substantial majority would like to live in the ’50s or the first half of the ’60s…The primary reasons are the much greater individual freedom and, more important, the tremendous community spirit that existed at that time…Apparently better current technology was outweighed by those considerations. BTW, much as I enjoy and use modern technology, I agree with the majority.

    • Ursiform says:

      They want to live in the cartoon 50s, not the 50s many people actually lived in.

      • Christopher B says:

        I can’t imagine that my childhood in rural Iowa in the 1960s would have been all that different from the actual 1950s. Once you get polio and MMR vaccines you are in pretty good shape even if things get a little dull.

      • mtkennedy21 says:

        I lived in them and would prefer them to the present. I would draw the line at the 40s but even then, they might be preferable.

        • Smithie says:

          There was a certain window before the hippies came out.

        • ChrisA says:

          I grew up in the 1960’s – it was horrible, all that smoking, bad food, poor entertainment, stupid people that I couldn’t get away from, no foreign travel, a pompous elite that ruled via a supine press and not very good medical care (low life expectancy).

    • Zenit says:

      I presume you asked people who were old enough to actually remember the 1950’s as adults, or did you meant the 1850’s, the 1750’s or the 550’s BC?

    • Smithie says:

      Great thing about the ’50s – cheap real estate. My grandfather had a beach cottage, a country cottage, and also a nice house and yard that was built as part of a housing development only a little over 20 years before. It was only 5 miles from a major urban center. He had a fairly modest job too, def. blue-collar. No one blue-collar could afford the neighborhood now.

      • ChrisA says:

        OK but there were many many people living in much worst circumstances than that in the 1950’s and there are much more beach cottages now than before, so your own personal circumstances (poorer than your grandfather) don’t really apply to society as a whole. I am certainly a hell of lot richer than my grandparents for instance.

    • Pincher Martin says:

      Greater individual freedom? In the fifties?

      I can understand someone who says they would want to live in the nineteen-fifties because of lower crime, better job opportunities, more income equality among Americans, stronger local communities, etc.

      But greater individual freedom? In a decade famous for high marginal tax rates and high levels of social conformity? It seems like they might have their decades mixed up.

      • gcochran9 says:

        My Dad used to wear a Red Army hat – the one with the flaps – to work in the early 50s. In the winter.

        • Pincher Martin says:

          If your dad were alive today, and still wearing his Red Army hat to his job in any American city, he wouldn’t even get a second glance from his employers, who as likely as not would have as part of their weekend sartorial ensemble an embroidered picture of Fidel Castro or Mao on their shirts.

      • dearieme says:

        “lower crime, better job opportunities” might reasonably be viewed as part of greater individual freedom.

        • Pincher Martin says:

          Sure. If you want to play around bit with the definitions. But a lot of people – and not just libertarians – define individual freedom as freedom from the coercion of the state.

          Take low crime, for example. Low crime in the nineteen-fifties was achieved with a no-nonsense judicial system that was pretty good at sentencing criminals with a minimum of legal mumbo-jumbo. The criminal procedure revolution of the nineteen-sixties had yet to take place.

          Don’t get me wrong. I miss those days when someone who committed a cold-blooded murder was executed within a couple of years of his crime.

          The infamous Charles Starkweather? He was hooked up to the electric chair a year-and-a-half after his murder spree.

          The equally infamous “The Lonely Hearts Killer,” Harvey Glatman? He was apprehended in October of 1958 and gassed in San Quentin less than a year later.

          Americans didn’t mess around with criminals back then. We were still executing a few people in that decade for crimes unrelated to homicide: treason, espionage, aggravated rape, kidnapping, etc. A couple of those laws remain on the books, but it’s hard to believe they will ever be enforced in sentencing for the foreseeable future.

          I love the U.S. judicial system of the nineteen-fifties (outside of the Jim Crow south, of course), but I don’t see what it has to do with greater individual freedom. It was more the product of a confident culture and society which sought to immediately punish those people who transgressed its rules.

  12. pyrrhus says:

    Ha! Generation Zyklon starting to scare the Establishment…

    • Smithie says:

      I don’t know… He may have just been first generation. If so, it probably doesn’t count. That would just be considered normative behavior in China, for example.

  13. Greying Wanderer says:

    equality of opportunity might be necessary to maximize innovation.

    equality of outcome would require handicapping the brightest which i assume would lead to stagnation.

    imo there are three types of people who focus on equality of outcome
    political conmen (dishonest)
    virtue signalers (dishonest)
    people who’ve been taught (and believe) everyone is the same (blank slate) and therefore make the perfectly logical jump from this false premise that inequality of outcome must be due to unfairness.

    people in the third group can be turned if you focus on the fairness argument as that is what is motivating them not egalitariansim per se.

    • Jacob says:

      I personally think that the third group only signed up because they think they’re inferior. A healthy person with a few accomplishments under their belt doesn’t sit around drafting new ways that anybody else could have done it, not for any reason other than virtue signalling anyway.

      If what I’m saying were true, people with egalitarian politics would have lower self esteem on average- and they do. It makes sense for people who think they’re at the bottom of the totem pole, and don’t think they can climb it, to try to cut off all the heads set above theirs. They proclaim unfairness because it’s a justification for equality of outcomes, not the other way around.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        i know the fairness type exists but now you mention it yes there will be a 4th group who know they’ll always be at the bottom and so egalitarianism from their point of view is simply free stuff.

        • Jacob says:

          It’s hard for me to admit the 3rd group exists because 1, 2, and 4 all claim to be it, but aren’t. Maybe someone, somewhere out there is actually a legit leftist, but I meet that person so rarely that I suspect they’re just a 1/2/4 doing a better job of concealing their motives. Lying, virtue signalling, and setting up self-interested politics are all more effective when it looks like you aren’t. And none of these people are cursed with the burden of excessive honesty.

          Maybe 2s and 3s have some pretty big overlap? Nobody virtue signals about doing stuff they think is evil. I also wonder if some of them continue to “believe” as they do because they fear being branded a heretic.

          • Greying Wanderer says:

            the genuine ones tend to spend all their time doing stuff like running homeless shelters (for real not just a few months and then bailing) so you don’t bump into them much unless you’re in certain lines of work. they’re religious really but atheist – if you see what i mean.

      • I’ve seen a lot of blank-slatists which seem to have high self-esteem. It appears to me that you’d need to choose metric carefully so blank-slatists would have lower average self-esteem.

  14. geist says:

    You would also want to minimize the chances of catastrophic societal failure. If civilization ends today, the large majority of human lived pre-modern lives. If we colonize space, almost all humans live far in future from us.

  15. Abelard Lindsey says:

    Modernity and max tech is better if for no other reasons opportunity and self-empowerment is greater than any other scenario. I ask myself if I would want to be born any earlier than I was and the answer is always a resounding “NO”. The later you are born the greater the chances you make it to radical life extension and THAT is the ultimate form of self-empowerment.

    I say this as someone who has made two drastic moves in their life and having lived in radically different cultures (U.S. and various East and South East Asian societies). As long as opportunity and upward mobility exists (and I have youthful vitality), I will always be able to create new lives and new fundamental happiness for myself, as I have done it twice before.

    My life lesson is this: Self-empowerment (defined as the ability to improve my life and myself) is the key to everything is life. Everything else is utterly superfluous in comparison.

    I think some of you guys need to get out more in the world.

  16. Illinoyed says:

    Tyler Cowen wrote a long essay/short book and threw it online that basically argues the same point: economic growth is where it’s at. It’s called Stubborn Attachments:

    • ChrisA says:

      Right – this is not an original criticism of Rawls. But Greg does raise a slightly different point, generally speaking people don’t really do a good job of comparing a system like capitalism which is real, and idealised societies like the one suggested by Rawls. Exactly how would this very equal society work? How would innovation be treated by such a society? How would equality be enforced? If you believe that such a society could only work by freezing progress and oppressive controls, then the benefits of being equal are probably not worth it.

  17. Rawls argued that the best choice from behind a veil of ignorance is to follow the “difference principle”: you make the condition of the worst off as good as possible. Deviations from perfect equality are acceptable as long as they make the worst off better off (or at least no worse off). You’re expected to walk away from Omelas.

    Following this principle, you’re not allowed to sacrifice present happiness for lots more happiness in the radiant future, i.e. no breaking eggs today to make omelets tomorrow (assuming tomorrow is happier than today). Of course you might not accept the difference principle. You could decide to be a utilitarian. Or you might suppose that people today will be so pleased with the thought of their descendants’ future happiness that they’ll be willing to make sacrifices. Maybe my descendants’ utilities feed into my utility function.

    • Jim says:

      My limited understanding of Rawls argument is that it’s supposed to show that pursuing equalitarian policies is the most rational politics. But this argument is stated for a disembodied ego pre-existing behind a veil of ignorance if that makes any sense. But whatever the validity of Rawls argument for such a fanciful entity it seems completely irrelevant to what is the most rational politics for any particular actual human person.

      • random observer says:

        That’s a nice pithy summary of the pragmatist’s problem with Rawls- the Original Position didn’t, doesn’t, and never will exist. It’s right up there with the Social Contract and the General Will, among other such things one might suggest.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Rawls’ stuff was just bullshit designed to bolster a particular political stance. Mine is better ( time independence) but just a joke.

        • Jim says:

          But aside from that even if one accepts such a weird thing as a Rawlsian self which doesn’t exist ( but only pre-exists) but is still an agent of some sort, whatever might be the most rational preference for such an entity has nothing to do with what is the most rational preference for any particular actual human people. So I don’t see why Rawls argument would persuade anybody to change their policy preferences even if they were willing to accept his extravagant metaphysics.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s