[extropy-chat] EP and political philosophy

Technotranscendence neptune at superlink.net
Sat Apr 21 11:40:09 UTC 2007

On Friday, April 20, 2007 1:16 PM Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
[Keith Henson]
> > > The drift in the high tech areas I know about has
> > > been toward evolutionary psychology, but there
> > > isn't a political ideology formed up around that yet.

> >Need one's political philosophy well up from one's beliefs about
> >psychology?  I think just as the multiplication table doesn't
> >necessarily change with each new fashion in psychology (or other
> >theories), one need not come up with a different political outlook
> >each change of fashion in other beliefs.  This is not to say all
> >are insulated here, but certain things seem to apply formally no
> >what the content is or what the other givens are.

[Keith Henson]
> This is something I have not given a lot of thought to and it clearly
> take a lot.  EP is an extremely pragmatic study.  It accounts for the
> psychological mechanisms people have because those mechanisms
> to reproductive success (in the inclusive sense) during the EEA or are
> effects of some trait that did contribute.
> Large scale political beliefs as well as large scale religions emerged
> the formation of states.  States, of course, were not part of the EEA
so it
> gets tricky when you start considering how EEA mechanisms cope with an
> environment they were not shaped in.
> I have been considering war, particularly what conditions set off
wars, in
> this context.  It's a depressing model that emerges.
> But take one example from the libertarian spectrum, objectivism.  Now
> don't make the least claim to understand all the ins and out of
> objectivism, but I was exposed many years ago to an objectivist who
> that if an objectivist were offered a choice, the objectivist should
> his life more than that of all the rest of the human race.
> Assuming my informant properly represented the objectivist political
> then EP (applying Hamilton's rule) will say this is just wrong and in
> not likely to happen if such a choice happened to an objectivist.  We
> evolved to (in some circumstances) value other lives more than our
> own.  Azar Gat goes into considerable detail about this in his new
> _War in Human Civilization_ and it is the point behind the recent
movie 300.

But how does this deny any economic laws?  For instance, scarcity would
still apply both to the Objectivist or to the person disagreeing with
him.  The Objectivist, just like anyone else, is forced to use scarce
means to attain his ends -- whether you or your theory judge these ends
wrong.  Now, imagine his philosophy or his particular application of it
is not something he'd really do if the choice were truly put before him.
How does that violate economics?  It would only violate his particular
statement.  (It's really an open question of whether this person is
correct about what Objectivism counsels with regard to this particular
choice -- and it does NOT matter anyway.)

> >Think of economics as a model here.  The law of supply and demand
> >applies regardless of whether one is talking about ascetic monks,
> >sybaritic hedonists, middle class American moms, lower class Chinese
> >factory workers, or rich Arab oil men -- or whatever social,
> >philosophical, or ideological background shapes them.
> Even so, economics needs to be informed by EP.  Otherwise how can you
> explain why people forgo huge sums of money for status and why people
> high prices for drugs and the attention they get in cults?
> Sorry for harping on this, but understanding EP is really critical
> making sense out of the social world.

I disagree about economics needing to be informed by EP.  What is
economics about?  Understanding why people have certain ends?  No.  It's
merely a formal science, in the purest sense, of how people (or, to be
more abstract, agents) with scarce means and competing ends choose
between them.  (To elaborate: the scarce means can serve different ends.
E.g., I have a few hours this morning before I have to do some tasks.
How do I use these scarce means to satisfy my many ends -- all of which
cannot be satisfied.*  I want, e.g., do some email, get some reading
done, finish watching a documentary on the French and Indian War, etc.
And the trail of tears for me, here, is that all these ends would
require much more than the few hours I have.  So I'll have to pick and
choose.  I've chosen, here, to do this particular email -- not the
others and not read all the books I want to, etc.  Now, you could argue
EP might tell me why I have the particular ends I have or why I might
choose replying to this email as opposed to all the other ends I
could've chosen, but it cannot explain away the fact that the means are
scarce in this context and a choice must be made.  That's just a brute
fact about the situation.)  This is regardless of their motivations,
psychology, or evolution.  In fact, sound economic laws and science
would should apply regardless of even what sort of agent is involved or
what sort of psychological theory is in vogue.

An analogy might be how to base mathematics.  The multiplication table
(for whole numbers) still works and is valid, whether you accept set
theory as a reduction of numbers or category theory or something else.
Even if you accept the set theoretic does not give you a particular
reduction and there are at least two inside ZF set theory that lead to
radical different sets standing for the same number.  (Recall
Benacerraf's famous paper "What numbers could not be."  He uses the
example of the number three being covered by both {{{Ø}}} and {Ø , {Ø},
{Ø, {Ø}}} -- where, set theoretically, it's obvious that {{{Ø}}} and {Ø
, {Ø}, {Ø, {Ø}}} are different sets.  To some, this seems to mean there
is no set theoretic reduction possible and that number is actually
something more foundational than set -- strange as that seems.)  But
regarding the multiplication table, it still works regardless of
whatever reduction one chooses.  In fact, wouldn't the test of any
reduction be that the multiplication table still works with it?
Wouldn't a failure, in this regard, signal a failure of the theory?

Likewise, were an EP theory to contradict a claim of economics -- let's
say it openly contradicts the Law of Supply and Demand -- then that
would, in my mind, be grounds for abandoning that theory -- at least, to
the extent that it contradicts that law.

Now, getting to your particular example -- "... how can you explain why
people forgo huge sums of money for status and why people pay high
prices for drugs and the attention they get in cults?" -- economics per
se has nothing to say about why people do this or that, it really only
is about how people deal with scarcity with the ends they have.  Given
that they want to get high or join a cult, then economics can talk about
how, given their values -- without ever needing to explain how they
arrived at those values or even whether those values make sense -- they
use their scarce means to pursue them.  E.g., the Law of Supply and
Demand applies to drugs and to cults.  Neither are outside that law -- 
not when it comes to the context of scarcity.


    See more of my musings at:

*  If they can all be satisfied, then there is no scarcity involved.
Scarcity is always relative to the ends.  If my means are enough to
satisfy all my ends, then there is no economic problem involved.

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