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Hello! Whoever you are, I would be delighted if you sent me email:

Or if you prefer, you could talk to the whole lot of us at once:

My friends and I propose a new and radical idea: to do good rather than evil, consistently, at every opportunity.

I'm sure you will agree this is the most new and radical idea there is, just as it has been since time immemorial.

We will bring to bear all the powers at our disposal on every problem that exists! Sometimes in parallel, sometimes in sequence. Do you have a problem? Boom! We'll apply powers to it! This won't necessarily solve your problem, but hey, it might.

I'm going to level with you. I assume you belong to the same species I do, and my kind transmits information best through stories.

Let me tell you a story.

Someone – it doesn't matter who – decided liberty was the highest principle. Freedom! We must have more of it. All of it. The old norms have to go. We will be ruled only by reason and our conscience! And there was much rejoicing as the oppressive institutions fell, fell like dominoes, one after the other, and from the ruins of tradition rose an age of Science!

That's how it went. It was great; all the books say so, and they should know.

Now we all have liberty, or most of us, or, anyway, a lot of us. What do we do with our liberty? We grow fat on it! That's what any evolutionarily viable organism would do, so that's what we do too. Most of us who are getting fat hate being fat.

This is a novel form of evil.

Liberty is no good if you're ignorant, and a lot of us are, or most of us, or, well, actually all of us. So someone decided education was the highest principle.

We'll make schools. Universities! All the children will go; we'll force them if necessary. They'll learn history and mathematics, and if they don't we'll beat them until they do!

Someone noticed this didn't really jibe with the whole thing about liberty, or maybe just looked back at a hundred years of mixed-at-best results, and decided maybe compassion is the highest principle. Love is all you need! A drum circle ensues. The art of psychology evolves past electrocution as we begin to actually listen to people. Unprecedented! We discover an inexhaustible source of deep fun. We split the atom and coin the term “megadeath”.

This story is 100% Processed Truth, guaranteed. Beyond that I guarantee nothing, and certainly not chronological consistency.

Compassion didn't really catch on, but clearly physics was on to something with this whole “I am become death” deal, so someone decided technology must be the highest principle. All we have to do is turn it toward good rather than evil; a new and radical idea, at the time. We'll quantify suffering and engineer it away! We'll go to the moon!

The moon!

We'll conquer the sea! Everything is a rich resource, ripe for exploitation in the pursuit of ever greater mastery over our environment. To what end? To its own end! Crack the genetic code! Power for the sake of power! Today as every day we further the eternal march of progress! Split the ozone layer! Shatter the ecosystem! Wait, whoops!

Then someone who must have been very clever came along, and decided: maybe it is misguided to glorify one principle above all others.

Maybe we need two highest principles.

Some people tried liberty and education. Others, education and compassion. Compassion and technology. Technology and liberty. And on and on.

Some people even tried three principles.

Others, conversely, denied the validity of any principle at all!

People have tried more than four principles, in every conceivable combination. The world is big; I can't tell you all I know, and I know a tiny fraction of all there is. Now, after all this trying and trying to get things right, to make things better, as the cumulative product of several thousand years and untold billions of lives spent, in one way or another, trying to make the world a good place rather than an evil one, I ask you:

How much evil is left?

Lots, right? Obviously lots. An optimist might say 30% evil; a pessimist wouldn't bat an eye at an estimate of 99.999% or more.

Many of these people succeeded. Spectacularly, in some cases. They vanquished exactly the evil they intended to, on a global scale, well within a lifetime.

It's not that it's hard to make things better, really. Spend a day on it. Spend an hour. You'll make a difference.

And yet, even if you spend your whole life, there always seems to be just as much evil left over as there was before.

The ones focused on liberty created an environment that was perfect for the cultivation of ignorance, entitlement, and, in general, social degeneration.

Those who tried to patch up those failures in character by educating their children chose cruelty as a means to that end.

Anyone who focused on easing the burden of cruelty by bringing in love and compassion would, like clockwork, eventually ensconce themselves in a bubble of happy times while unbeknownst to them the world outside burned.

Finally, the engineers among us, bless their hearts, tried to put out the fire with advanced anti-conflagratory technology, and unleashed an unstoppable wave of change which cares about efficiency but not about any value relevant to the quality of life.

When you focus on one cause of evil, you ignore the rest, and even seven billion people focused on seven billion problems are just seven billion hopeless visionaries among a misguided or outright ill-intentioned majority of ten-to-the-ninth-minus-one to one.

The moral of my story is this:

There is one problem.

You can't break the problem down into bite-sized pieces.

Not even if your bites are the size of continents.

I called it evil; you could call it anything. Everyone works on the same problem, every day of their lives. No one in the history of existence has tried to make things worse. We all have done only what seemed like the thing to do at the time, and if our results have been mixed, or we haven't quite agreed on each others' methods, all that tells you is that we have different perspectives.

The greater your perspective, the better you understand evil, the more good you can do.

It's useless to protest that your perspective already encompasses the whole Earth and everyone in it. Even if your perspective encompasses the universe itself – even if you embark on a journey which broadens your perspective far beyond such petty labels as “multiverse” – in reality, you haven't yet seen so much as a solitary photon in its entirety.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that, having seen the big picture, you have seen all the important details. You haven't. You never will. You have to make the right choices anyway.

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member/spencer.txt · Last modified: 2013/12/23 20:55 by phm