Tag Archives: Future

Nature is Nasty

The last post mentioned in passing that recognising animal suffering as morally relevant usually has consequences greater than people realise. I found a good essay about something that most people don’t think about ; that most animal suffering is not directly caused by humans but is potentially relieved  by them.

Read it here.

Some thoughts:

– Conservationists think they are helping the animals whose enviroment they protect from development. They may just be locking them in a torture chamber. Clear the jungle for pasture and all that biomass locked up in variety of vicious predators and terrorized prey, can be converted to safe, happy (and useful) cattle. Would be amusing if slash and burn turned out to have this positive externality; we could subsidise the exploitation of economically unattractive wilderness for the sake of animal welfare!

– By the time we have all the technology to do all the crazy stuff suggested in the essay, I doubt making animals happy will be a moral priority. It will likely be better to just add more people. Wild animals are mostly still around because they occupy marginal land and nature is doomed so The problem of wild suffering will remain but the scale won’t be so shocking.

– The above assumes a simple kind of hedonism; reducing the suffering of animals. This is the correct measure. Utility or rights don’t work very well with animals. Diversity might also be relevent. Im not talking about its ecological or aesthetic qualities but rather the notion that types of experience matter as well as number and quality. It may be that any  zebra may be substituted for a cow save the last one.  Although the Zebra may have no better a life then a cow, the unique zebraesque nature of its experience  add extra value to the world above the pleasure it feels munching grass. I may talk more about this later.


Chasing the dragon in the Mushroom Kingdom?

 I think one of the big reasons why people don’t like drugs is that they disconnect value and reward.   We have at least two forms of motivation. There are desires that certain states of affairs obtain, which press us on untill we achieve our end. Then there is the release of rewarding feeling on completion. We have both hunger and deliciousness, lust and orgasm, ambition and the satisfaction of achievement.

Normally these are tied together. People pursue what they want and get given a high if they succeed. However drugs allow one to enter pleasurable states without doing anything else that they (or others) value. Leaving aside philosophical concerns about naturalness and responsiveness to reality, his can lead users to neglect their other desires.  This happens in two main ways:

1) The user  finds it harder to satisfy his other desires as the rewards associated with them are weaker in comparison to those from drug taking.

2) Drugs can be used immediately during the periods of boredom or restlessness which normally motivate people to work on plans with delayed satisfaction.

There is a prima facie analogy to be made between drugs and computer games. Furthermore, somewhere in the evolution from Pac-man man to full-blown virtual reality, games will reach a level where they will be appealing as the milder of our current recreational drugs. Will they receive similar stigma/regulation?

First some differences; games give their highs by exploiting our natural psychology. playing them is  just like being in a really exciting enviroment. Drugs may introduce something that our brain couldnt produce on its own.Also, unlike popping pills games consist of things we actually do like in themselves, such as making/executing plans, overcoming challenges by exercising skill.

The real problem is that these still serve ends we don’t value. No one really cares about saving a pixel princess like they care about helping real people. Assuming no liberalisation in peoples views on bare pleasure-seeking,  finding some non-hedonic value in gaming will be the most likely alternative to stigma.

This could happen if computer games went the way of sport and became an arena for gaining social approval. Sportsman and artists don’t realise that what they do is in itself as pointless as Pac-Man because they win status by doing it well. There already is competitive gaming, which has  gotten airtime on ESPN, but it’s not very prestigious. Some factors that might determine the path taken:

– Success in gaming must be related to traits that people actually care about. Strength, beauty, charm, health and wealth are currently not well represented. Skill, intelligence, determination are already able to be proven electronically.

– The game must be able to establish a clear hierarchy, visible to all, like football does. It must not allow just anyone to do well, or be susceptible to cheating.

– There must be a few established games thats are played widely and long enough to become a meaningful standard. This seems unlikely giving the pace of technology.

– Pace of technical development and growth of use. If kids plugged themselves into the matrix tomorrow it would cause a shock and be stopped. If it develops gradually from  techs everyone else uses it has a chance. Note how we use alcohol while condemning less powerful, but also less recent and popular drugs.

Im surprised I never thought to mention this earlier: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5191678.stm