Sex Redistribution & Does anyone hold equality as a basic value?

I went to a rationalist meetup this weekend. We spent a long time talking about Robin Hanson’s article on sex redistribution, sex inequality, relationship inequality and potential policies to fix both. I think my greatest problems with comparing income redistribution to sex redistribution are:

  • Redistributing Income is less morally abhorrent than redistributing sex/relationships because the latter requires dictating to people what relationships they must, can and cannot have.
  • Redistributing relationships seems to require giving the state/society too much power over individuals.
  • Marginal utility for relationships/sexual encounters diminishes far faster than for money. Most people can only maintain a set number of relationships at a time whereas our capacity to spend money for anything ranging from shelter to education to life extension to yachts seems to be near limitless. Hence we’d hit a ceiling very quickly. (Although I am conflicted about this. It’s possible that the total supply is lower than demand, in which case this criticism is irrelevant)

(Note: None of these area criticisms of Hanson as his article does not talk about redistribution in the sense of taking from some and giving to others but rather in the sense of changing the a given distribution to make it more equal)

I think my problem with debates about equality is that I don’t see equality as a terminal value. I suspect that most people don’t either. The simplest test for whether we value inequality innately is to see if there are any other innate values we would be willing to trade away for some amount of equality, no matter how small. Let’s say I innately value people being happy (utilitarianism. It’s stupid. I know). If it is the case that equality is something I also value innately, I should be willing to trade off some amount of utility for some amount of equality. Let say there are two possible worlds: Equalistan which has a 100 people with 50 units of utility each and their arch enemy slightly-less-equalistan which has 99 people with 50 units of equality and 1 person with 51. I find the slightly less equal world where people are better off is preferable. If the second world had 99 people with 50 units and 1 person with 99’999’999’999, I’d still prefer it. No matter how big the numbers get or what thing I innately value I substitute for utility, my intuitions are the same. There is no amount “thing I value” that I would give up for an increase in equality, no matter how lopsided the tradeoff. To me that suggests that equality is not something with any value in and of itself. I instinctively think that most people agree with me and those who don’t don’t just aren’t capable of engaging in thought experiments stripping away their instrumental reasons for valuing equality. I don’t have a high degree of confidence in the view. It seems like it could very well be a case of mind projection fallacy and other people may have different axiomatic beliefs/moral intuitions to me. Empirical questions require empirical answers.

Voluntary Prisons

Many people struggle with addiction. Drugs. Food. Sex. Whatever it is, its harder to shake an addiction when the thing you’re addicted to is easy to access. Voluntary isolation cells seem like an obvious solution. People who want to go cold turkey could book themselves into a cell for a given period. If this sounds like rehab to you, it’s not. Rehab is voluntary. A patient can leave at any time. Mandatory, prison like rehab is something that only those sentenced for drug offences are eligible for.

Why might this be a bad idea:

  • Allowing people to sign away their liberty weakens important legal/moral norms
  • Going cold turkey is not an effective way to treat addiction

In the stars

When I was younger, I was convinced that my future lay in the stars. Maybe it does. Maybe not. Maybe taking our race to the stars leads to nothing but a future of Malthusian overpopulation and endless strife. Maybe it leads to destruction as the more of us there are, the more chance we discovers something which should have stayed in the box. Maybe it leads to an even worse hell. Life doesn’t end with us. Evolution doesn’t stop with us. The image in my mind when I think of a Malthusian future is not one with people fighting and starving and dying. Nowhere near. Even the middle ages were not Malthusian, not really. It’s more than Malthusian. It’s the end of the dream time. It’s past the point where evolutionary drives have adapted to the environments where we find ourselves in. It’s where the tricks we play on our hind brains no longer work. Where we crave offspring, not sex. Where we calculate every transaction based on how it benefits us rather than relying on easily gamed monkey tribe instincts weak enough to allow for cooperative civilization. I see terror in the loss of everything we value and are as evolution relentlessly optimizes us for survival and reproduction. In the very long run, escaping the evolutionary rat race is a necessity. It’s also nigh impossible. Stop biological evolution and we continue to evolve technologically, eventually altering our bodies and minds until baseline humans are no longer viable. Stop all individual level change whatsoever and evolution continues unimpeded at the societal level. Groups which can attract and convert more people grow. Those that can’t die out.

Why isn’t this happening already? Two explanations. One, it is. There aren’t many hunter gatherers around these days. Two, we’re in a rare lucky period where relatively non-coercive power structures are the most effective. This won’t always be the case. It wasn’t the case 500 years ago. We’ve fallen from grace before. When we transitioned from hunter-gatherers to farmers, our lives became worse, more hierarchical. (Aside: Worse by what metric? We became less free, but we were slaves to other man rather than the environment. Is that really worse? For the first time we could gather and save knowledge. We could start to understand. Rather than being born anew with every death and birth, we could pass on parts of ourselves. Isn’t the promise of immortality worth suffering?) We descended not because any individual chose to but because societies organized in one way systematically out-competed (destroyed) those organized in another. The modern state with it’s protection of individual rights is not magic. It doesn’t exist because we happened to decide that torture and violence and hierarchy and horror were bad. No. Medieval states burned and slaughtered for as long as they could. It happened because after the invention of firearms fielding an effective army required huge numbers of citizens rather than a small core of highly trained knights. It happened because open societies innovate drastically faster than closed ones. It happened because open societies course correct better than closed ones (I think?). It’s not magic. It’s natural selection. It may continue. It may not. If the environment changes again, if new technology makes totalitarianism much easier and lower cost, if it makes the proletariat interchangeable with capital, it’s unlikely we as a species will be able to voluntarily restrict competition and stick with our preferred forms of social organisation. Not yet anyway.

We worship the beast

(Epistemic Status: An argument which should be made. I don’t believe everything I say. Stepping into the paradigm)

Religions represent evil, not good. We worship the beast. The greatest deception and the triumph of hell on earth.

The story goes like this. There is good and evil. God is good. He/it/they/we speak to what is best in us. They speak to who we should be, who we want to be. They ask for sacrifice and rejecting our worst drives. Even when doing so leads to suffering and pain. Even when standing against evil is thankless. Even when we’re the lone voice in the darkness, screaming against the injustice of the world as we’re drowned by the mob. On the other side lies evil. It tempts us. Hate. Lie. Steal. Do it and you’ll be rich and strong and loved. Being good will only cost you. It’s the voice in the back of your head that you never hear but that constantly whispers to you. Live and breed and spread.

Every Abrahamic religion traces this story. There is light and dark. Each calls to a part of our soul. Goodness carries a greater cost and evil is the shortcut to material success. Goodness is just. Evil is everything else. The struggle between the god and the adversary mirrors this struggle. God only offers salvation for our souls. The beast is master of the physical world.

The problem with our faiths is that we assume our god is the force of good in the universe. That the unseen, unheard adversary is the force for evil. Yet the Abrehamic god is evil, absolutely and irredeemably. Others have written about this. The actions of the abrahamic god are not just. They are savage and it’s not the savagery of a warrior or of righteous anger, it’s the savagery of an abusive parent who torments and dominates their own family. A god who kills those who refuse to obey is evil. A force which levels whole cities because some of their people have sinned is evil. The god of the bible is an abusive patriarch and like any abuser, no amount of obedience is enough. The beast is never sated. It demands and rewards obedience and punishes disobedience. It’s cause is not justice but power and dominance over others.

Whatever the being is, it’s followers burnt alive those who stood against them. They spread across Europe and the east and everywhere the pattern is the same. Where before people worshiped the gods of little things, they are forced into the new orthodoxy. Their cultures are destroyed. Their old temples torn down. Their sacred sites defiled and burned. What ISIS does today, Christianity, Islam and Judaism did for a thousand years. The physical institutions of our religions were built in no small part on cultural genocide. Fast forward to the middle ages and all are believers. Every institution of force is controlled by the abrahamic sect. To stand against it is madness. To say that a man who died on a cross is not a god is to be killed. To say that a warlord is not a good man is to be put to the sword.

The conclusion is obvious. We worship the beast. As our deep stories tell us, evil is fundamentally master of the physical universe. It’s no surprise that the great deceiver holds the majority of humanity in his sway, that our institutions of faith praise the usurper. That to speak out against the beast carries heavy costs. It would be too easy otherwise. To be righteous must be it’s own reward. If our world is a simulation trying to find agents which are moral, there can be no reward for faith or morality. True faith can only become known in the face of overwhelming opposition. Only in a world of utter darkness are the faithful revealed.





Deuteronomy 13:6-11 “If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Chronicles 15:13 “But that whoever would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman.”

Quran 4:89: “They wish that you reject Faith, as they have rejected (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like one another). So take not Auliya’ (protectors or friends) from them, till they emigrate in the Way of Allah (to Muhammad). But if they turn back (from Islam), take (hold) of them and kill them wherever you find them, and take neither Auliya’ (protectors or friends) nor helpers from them.”

The beast is always the same. Kneel or die.

Rape is asymmetric

I think rape encompasses two concepts. One is the event. Someone being raped. Another is the act. Someone committing rape, being a rapist. These are different. The difference is subtle, but it matters. Three situations where the undifferentiated understanding of rape breaks down.

Let’s say someone was forced to have sex. Let’s say the person who forced them was severely retarded and didn’t know what they were doing was wrong nor that the victim was not consenting. Was the victim raped? Yes. They were forced to have sex against their will. It’s rape. Is the retarded person a rapist?. On one hand they forced someone to have sex against their will. That’s rape. Someone who commits rape is a rapist. On the other hand, they didn’t not have a guilty mind (mens rea). They didn’t intend to rape someone. In this sense they aren’t a rapist. Our intuitions conflict. They are a rapist in the sense that they had sex with someone without their consent. They are not a rapist in the sense that they are a bad person who deserves to suffer/be punished.

Let’s say you go to out clubbing and you meet someone. They come home with you and you have sex. To you everything seems consensual. In reality, the person you’ve slept with had no choice in the matter. They are a prostitute and their pimp told them they had to sleep with someone that night or else. Were they raped? Yes. They couldn’t say no. Are you a rapist? Again our intuitions conflict. On one hand you did have sex with someone against their will. That makes you a rapist. On the other hand, you didn’t know or indent to do so. In the rapist as a bad person sense, you’re not a rapist.

Let’s say you’ve just married someone. You ask them if they want to have sex. They say yes and you sleep together. Thing is, the person comes from a cultural background where saying no to sex is seen as immoral/bad. Doing so can lead to being disowned, suffering acid attacks, etc… Even though they don’t want to, they say yes because they’re afraid of what might happen otherwise. Has this person been raped? Yes. Are you a rapist? Intuitively, it seems that you’re not. You didn’t know that the other person wasn’t able to say no. You didn’t intend to rape them. Then again, you forced someone to have sex. By that logic, you’re a rapist.

Our intuitions on rape conflict. I think this conflict exists because the word rape encompasses two similar but meaningfully different concepts: Rape as an event and Rape as a crime/action. Rape as an event is the concept that says rape is when someone is forced to have sex against their will. Intent is irrelevant. Culpability is irrelevant. What’s relevant is what happened. Rape as an action is the second conception of rape. It’s when someone knowingly forces someone else who they know does not consent to have sex. The two usually overlap which is why this distinction isn’t usually relevant. Still, there are cases where they don’t, and in those cases it is useful to understand that we use a single word to talk about two very different things. Without that understanding, we end up confused at best or making very serious mistakes at worst. Remember that not every rape has a rapist. Remember that there’s a difference between rape as an event and rape as a crime.

Rationalising Asylum Laws

Our asylum laws are inefficient and harmful. We want to help people who are in desperate need, who risk being killed in their own countries. We cannot take in every person who needs help. We can only take in some number due to having limited space, money, ability to integrate new arrivals etc… Let’s say that number is X per year. Rationally, we should take in the X people who are most in need. Perhaps we would compose this with some other criteria like cultural fit, dessert (bad people deserve to be saved less than good people), risk of diplomatic damage, cost of supporting them (24 year old doctor = tax positive, 50 year old illiterate diabetic = tax negative) etc… Instead of allocating asylum spots to people based on these criteria, we allocate them based on ability to set foot in our borders. The moment someone sets foot in a western nations borders, they can claim asylum and spend at least a few year living in that nation until their claim is processed.  This is unjust for a number of reasons:

  • It privileges richer people who are more likely to successfully reach the west as they are better able to afford to pay smugglers, buy plane tickets, chart boats, support themselves on a long journey etc…
  • It privileges people who live closer to a western nation and can thus get to use more easily.
  • It privileges people who are more physically fit and don’t have young children as they can travel more easily.
  • It privileges people who access to have cars, planes or boats. A fisherman is more likely to gain asylum than a farmer.
  • It privileges people who have sufficient political connections enough to secure passage out of a closed country.

All of these criteria are morally irrelevant and should not affect a persons chance of gaining asylum. In the current system, they do. What more, many of these criteria are correlated with being better able to endure hardship/war. For example, being richer/politically well connected means being able to buy food/bribe officials/get exemption from the draft. Not having young children means being able to spend more of your meagre income on your own survival. By privileging these criteria, the current policy is also likely helping the people who are in less need than their poorer, sicker countrymen who could not make the journey.

Our current system also produces a plethora of perverse incentives which have bad consequences. It

  • Encourages human trafficking and black markets. These:
    • Further destabilise weak states in which they operate
    • Systematically abuse and prey on people who seek to migrate to the west
  • Encourages governments to manage refugee numbers through more indirect means than deportation. These other means are usually less effective and less just. For example:
    • Imposing harsh conditions on those who claim refugee status in the hope that they will break those conditions and can then be deported. For example, potential refugees in the UK not being allowed to work and having to survive on £50 a week of government handouts.
    • Making claiming refugee status a difficult and arduous legal process.
  • Encourages far greater numbers of people to try to gain refugee status than would ever be accepted as they know that setting foot in a country guarantee a few years of safety. This is bad as most refugees will spend time and resource and risk death on journeys which end with them being sent home.

Our current policy is unfair and harmful. Even worse, it’s inefficient. It should be changed.

Why only hire the best?  (N. 6)

Every piece of startup advice I’ve read has said the same thing: don’t compromise on hiring. Only hire the best of the best. Hire people who are smart, get stuff done and are a good cultural fit. If you’re unsure about someone, pass. Etc… The more time I spend in the working world, the more I think this is true. Most of the articles I’ve seen fail to explain why hiring sub-par people is so bad. After all, they do the job and that’s enough, right? Here’s why:

  • Your employees recruit your future employees. Mediocre employees multiply over time.
  • Your employees determine your culture. Mediocre people make your culture worse. This is a global negative modifier to everyone in your firm.
  • Your employees, eventually and after enough promotions, determine your strategy. Mediocre people lead to bad strategy. Bad strategy sinks your business
  • People like to work with people like them. Have lots of mediocre employees and you’ll drive away smart people. Even worse, they’ll attract other mediocre people (see point 1)
  • Your employees decide who to promote. Bad people promote bad people.


context warning: this advice may well be highly specific to a certain economic niche/industry/knowledge workers. The further your business is from a high tech, knowledge intense startup, the less this advice, and my experience in general, is reliable.