[ExI] future of slavery

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Wed Apr 10 07:32:34 UTC 2013

On 2013-04-09 15:26, Mike Dougherty wrote:
> On Tue, Apr 9, 2013 at 5:13 AM, Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se> wrote:
>> It is worth noting that even if the slaves are 100% happy with being slaves,
>> they are very likely to be moral patients (given that they have to be
>> intelligent, able to think about other minds and their own) - hence you are
>> not morally allowed to mistreat them. But since their values can be set,
>> mistreatment might also be odd: freeing such a slave mind might be
>> mistreatment until its values are changed (and even then, one might argue
>> that you act against their past interests in almost the same way as
>> enslaving a free agent breaks their past interests in being free). Setting
>> values that are likely to be frustrated seems to be a bad thing.
> How do you classify so-called "proles" who know no better than to
> follow their herd according to programming (either direct or memetic)

Well, they are still moral agents, just fairly ignorant moral agents. 
Most ethicists would say that it is a good thing to inform them, 
although it is not entirely clear that it will make them happy. Socrates 
famously said "the unconsidered life is not worth living" and J.S. Mill: 
"it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; 
better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied" - being able 
to recognize higher pleasures might count for more than having loads of 
low-level pleasures, even in utilitarianism.

> Is it wrong for rational intervention to convince the
> government-assistance recipient to not want the blinged-out Escalade
> because it costs them their quality of living in the pursuit of
> perceived status among peers?  I know that's not technically slavery.
> It might be argued as an addiction.  Maybe it's just a case of
> misplaced goals.

A.C. Grayling wrote that the meaning of Socrates statement was:

"He meant that a life lived without forethought or principle is a life 
so vulnerable to chance, and so dependent on the choices and actions of 
others, that it is of little real value to the person living it. He 
further meant that a life well lived is one which has goals, and 
integrity, which is chosen and directed by the one who lives it, to the 
fullest extent possible to a human agent caught in the webs of society 
and history."

I think this is also a pretty good answer to the question. Yes, getting 
people to start living autonomous lives is really good and important. 
That involves making people aware of their situation, their options, and 
what matters, but also ensuring that they are independent enough to aim 
for what matters to them. This is very much the opposite of slavery.

The problem is of course that the above intervention might just make 
them dependent on having the experts tell them what matters. Experts 
also have a tendency to think things that appeal to expert-type people 
matter more than things that non-experts like: we need to take the 
fallibility and bias of experts into account.

> Where's the line drawn between responsible stewardship of this class
> of people and farming/exploitation of a demographic?

That is easier. Who benefits? If you tell people they ought to go to art 
museums instead of monster truck racing, you might be trying to help 
them - or drumming up support for your art museum.

If people become autonomous they will help themselves or things they 
care about, if people become less autonomous they will help things the 
expert cares about.

Anders Sandberg
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford University

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