[ExI] Superpower goodness and the efficacy of (largely) internal constraints

Brian Manning Delaney listsb at infinitefaculty.org
Sat Jun 13 13:46:01 UTC 2009

John Grigg skrev:

> But we have a much much better track record than the other empires that 
> have dominated large sections of the globe.  Yes, we had slavery, but 
> then we corrected course and had the civil rights era.  Terrible things 
> were done to the American Indian, but in the end they got at least some 
> restitution and civil rights. 
> We stopped tyranny from overtaking Europe in two world wars, and we 
> stood up to the threat of world communism (and remember, they killed 
> many millions of their own people and would not have stopped there).  We 
> have provided massive amounts of food and medicine to the third world 
> and our scientific research and applied technology have transformed the 
> world. 
> Our guiding light is an enforced constitution and an enlightened 
> government with separation of powers, that has stopped us from falling 
> into utter tyranny.  These strengths have been role models for so many 
> struggling new nations over the past several centuries. 
> We Americans have made some serious mistakes, but are generally good 
> people with various cultural and governmental mechanisms for 
> self-correction.  As I have said before, the world would be a very dark 
> place if China or Russia possessed the position in the world that 
> America now has.
> John

I agree very strongly with the above sentiments. I've been living 
(mostly) in Western Europe for 6-7 years now, and after being part of 
hundreds and hundreds of conversations about the U.S., almost all with 
leftists, I'm struck by how no one I've encountered in Western Europe is 
posing the more interesting question. The interesting question isn't why 
the U.S. isn't better, but rather: How can we explain the historical 
miracle that a superpower -- a power whose constraints by definition are 
primarily internal -- has been so extraordinarily good (qua superpower)? 
Attempts to pose that question are generally dismissed because the 
goodness of the U.S. itself is dismissed: It is argued, for ex., that 
U.S. "goodness" and seeming lack of imperialist intent is a myth, 
because the U.S. is "culturally" imperialistic; that the Marshall Plan 
was nothing more than attempt by Hollywood to force the French to watch 
their films; etc.; etc. Whatever other agendas might have been at play 
in the U.S. over the last 60-70 years, and whatever errors (and there 
have been plenty!) the U.S. has made -- it's hard to dismiss the basic 
facts pointed to above by John. The world has become unbelievably more 
peaceful and productive since 1945.

(A fascinating world-historical event: Nixon RESIGNED. Think about it.)

I actually think the question of the efficacy of internal constraints, 
posed more generally, is itself an extremely important philosophical 
problem. In particular, given that the odds are fairly high -- I'm 
guessing -- that the first intelligent non-human will be the only 
intelligent non-human -- this issue bears on the question of the 
possibility of a "friendly AI". Having the AI read Montesquieu will 
likely not suffice....


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