The short answer is no, at-least in the long term. To be clear, in giving this answer (and the longer answer bellow), I am not talking about anybody’s individual situation (either a perspective employee or a specific company like McDonald’s). I’m addressing more general issues of unskilled labor. I will also be talking about what the future will be like and, the same as anyone who does so, my predictions will certainly be completely wrong.
A few years ago, when observing a discussion on minimum wage, it was remarked that if the minimum wage was raised to $15 an hour then companies like McDonald’s would just replace their workers with computers. (There is a lot to comment on in that letter that I will forego talking about). This was stated as a negative consequence of giving McDonald’s employees $15 per hour. This strikes me as odd. Isn’t being able to do more work with less labor good for the entire economy and can’t we figure out how to make something good for the entire economy good for everyone?
Producing more real goods and services with less labor should be objectively a good thing for everybody. The problem is that, in current US society, people lose out when such things happen. We live in a society in which work is required to live a comfortable life. The amount that Americans have to work has declined from what it once was but as things exist at present, McDonals cutting someone’s job in favor of an automated kiosk, out does mean that someone is worse off.
It’s not hard to imagine a world in which machines are capable of doing all the productive work of society leaving humans to live, not just a life of comfort (which is possible even without robots), but for every last one of us to live a life of leisure (for the humans who chose to live a life of leisure). There are plans to open a burger joint in San Fransisco in which the cooking will all be done by machines. Food ordering kiosks are already in existence (around where I live places called Sheetz and Wawa mart offer fast food type food that are ordered solely through kiosks). With advances in chat-bots it’s even easier to imagine that someone of my age (early 30s) will live to see a society in which it is uncommon to see anyone actually working in a fast food joint.
Such a thing should be better for everybody. If a customer is in a bad mood, computers not programed with the same emotions of people will better be able to manage it. An employee who is in a bad mood won’t make everybody’s life worse. Food will be prepared more consistently and more accurately. Since there is less (human) labor going into it, the food will be cheaper. (I should note that I’m only talking about fast food as there will still likely be people willing to pay a premium for a more traditional dining experience and that I’m talking about when these technologies mature). Also, people won’t have to work the degrading jobs that are commonplace in working fast food.
First, the idea that we are talking about raising the minimum wage or raising the wage of people who work at McDonalds, is recognition that there are people (for whatever reason) trying to support themselves (much less families) working at places like McDonalds and that they are unable to do so at the wages that they can secure. Furthermore, work such as this is often degrading. (Disclaimer: I have never worked at McDonalds and cannot comment on working at that specific restaurant but I have worked in fast food and it has impacts that are dehumanizing though I sometimes find this aspect exaggerated. This could either be because it is or because I can cope better being dehumanized then the median person.). If there is inherent value in work, there is no additional inherent value in working fast food (or many other specific types jobs for that matter).
The heart of the manner is that, according to neo-classical economics, there is economic value in accomplishing the same amount of work for lower cost but how that benefit should be distributed is a question I would say the current answer is unsatisfactory. Increasing the automation of McDonald’s provides this value to the company and/or the franchise owners not to its front line employees and/or perspective front line employees. It’s still a net benefit in aggregate (in the manner in which economists generally measure the aggregate) but it produces winners and losers. There is an issue both, in that counting individual people, there are more losers then winners and that the losers tend to be in a more difficult economic situation then the winners tend to be.
The questions is in how to make something that is an aggregate benefit (the total value of how much the winners win is greater then the total value in how much the losers lose), an universal benefit (everybody in society is made somehow better off). It’s not a simple mater. If adding in ordering kiosks is a total economic benefit, McDonald’s, franchise owners, and its current employees simply coming to a profit sharing agreement is insufficient. Some people use unskilled labor at McDonalds as a stepping stone to better employment and some people have their careers as unskilled laborers, but this profit sharing agreement excludes people who would take either of these paths who do not yet work for McDonalds and with McDonalds hiring fewer employees, their career paths are harder.
Productivity has been growing in the American economy: more goods and services can be produced with less labor. There are effects that this can have: people can have access to more goods and services (this is happening), owners and investors can reap more profits (this appears not to have happened), or people can work less (while working hours have been constant for several decades, the labor participation rate (the page I want to link to doesn’t have a valid hyper link, click the first link and then change the date to 1948 through 2016) shows a more complicated relationship). Even poor people have more access to good and services then they used to: in the United States someone in poverty today is better off (at-least materially speaking) then they were 50 years ago.
It appears that productivity growth (of which automation of unskilled labor is merely part) mainly goes towards more goods and services though these don’t necessarily go towards those directly negatively affected by automation. People who need to work unskilled jobs (because they cannot obtain a skilled position either because they cannot perform such or because of contingent factors) are being squeezed out of work because of automation and, in a society in which work is a near necessity, this is a problem if one accepts one of the founding principles of the United States: that all people have inherently equal value as human beings.
The problem with automation isn’t limited to unskilled labor. Right now, depending on circumstances and personal preference, ordering kiosks may give better or worse service then a person. Given that robotics and artificial intelligence are (and have been for some time) advancing faster than human evolution, at some point (assuming this trend continues) ordering kiosks will be better than a human in any situation. We will also reach a point where automated skilled labor becomes cheaper and better than using people.
If one has the philosophy that anyone that is unable to find work (or other circumstances and for any reason) to support themselves should not find that support then there isn’t a problem. Robots will replace humanity not through warfare but through economics. If one has the philosophy that people should be able to live a comfortable life regardless of inherent ability and contingent factors, then how a society deals with automation maters. I find myself unable to speak to people with other philosophies with a general statement.
There are two ways which US society could change which would be useful in preventing the economic replacement of humans with robots: spreading out the benefits of increased productivity to all in society as a matter of course and developing a culture (over time) in which it is okay for a person not to work. If the benefits of increased productivity are not spread out then more and more humans will be left out of the benefiting group until there are no more humans left in it. If it remains an economic necessity for a person to work then more and more people will be left out of work. The ways of meting these two goals aren’t necessarily different.
Securing public assistance in the United States is an arduous process at present. No institution is perfectly efficient, not even governments. No government (or anyone or anything else) can perfectly determine who is eligible for a particular program. One extreme is to ensure that anyone who is eligible is determined to be eligible (and thus also determine as eligible a lot of people who aren’t) and the other extreme is to ensure the no one who is not eligible is determined to be (and thus also determine a lot of eligible people as not eligible). Public assistance programs in the US (for the most part) are closer to the second extreme then the first and the culture is geared towards moving it in that direction. Every time someone advocates for “cutting waste, fraud, and abuse,” they are, likely unintentionally and unknowingly, also advocating for cutting the benefits of government from those who are supposed to (by the purpose of whatever program is being talked about) benefit. A cultural change here will help in the above goals.
Another thing is to reduce the hours people find themselves working. This is for all workers: skilled, unskilled, labor, management, physical workers, conceptual workers, et cetera. This can be done through unions, through law, through some combination, or through some other means but it would probably involve a culture where working long hours is looked down upon (whereas doing so is lauded in current American culture). The fewer hours individuals and families have to work to earn a comfortable life (or even a luxurious life), the better off society will be and the more likely the above goals will be met.
The last suggestion I have is to implement a minimum guaranteed income (in that form or some other). It can start small and grow over time as people need to work less and less to achieve the same material production. (There doesn’t need to be a one or the other choice, the amount of human work that needs to be done can decrease as production increased: the benefits of productivity can be divided between both more goods and services as well as less labor). In order to help the above goals, it should eventually be enough that someone should be able to live a comfortable life without having to work. This would require people in US society becoming okay with someone living a comfortable life without working. This could also replace many of the support programs (government or non-government) currently in place with complicated eligibility requirements, tension between treating everybody equally and adapting to individual circumstances, and administrative overhead as well as some regulations on economic activity (such as the minimum wage).
In the end, if the goal of making work unnecessary to live a comfortable life is achieved, this won’t mean an end to work. There can still be social and even material benefits to work and individuals can make their own decisions about what they prioritize. If there is utility to work, then work can still be done (I do think this is the case and I also think that any four year post-secondary degree should require two years of work in unskilled labor because that education is valuable). Artificial Intelligence will almost certainly not (all) have the same psychology as humans. If a person wants to be a janitor, or scientist, or advertising company executive, there should be no problem with a robot for such a job letting the person do this work.
It is possible that society will figure out how to deal with this problem once automation noticeably impacts the ability for skilled workers to find work. That would be a shame, not only because it would be discriminatory between unskilled and skilled workers leading to comparatively more harm to unskilled workers, but also because of the years in which solutions to this problem aren’t being seriously looked for. It is also possible in which solutions to this problem aren’t found, and robots end up replacing humans as a result of economics.
The sooner US culture (I do not endeavor here to speak about cultures elsewhere) starts to change to accept that work should not be required to live a comfortable life and nobody should have to work at McDonald’s, the better things will be. It is also clear that these issues are already impacting peoples lives. The increased automation of unskilled work should be a good thing but there are people for which the automation that is already going on is making it harder to find work. There is little in current American culture that serves these people.
(Pre-essay rant: one of the predecessors of the world wide web was a computer internetwork to allow scientists collaborating at CERN to talk to each other. As such and as scientists universally used the straightforward LaTeX to write mathematics for printing, there was a simple way of inserting LaTeX into html documents: simply bracket the LaTeX with “math” tags. This is not how “math” tags work in MTHL5. The new “math” tags, from what I can tell, are far more cumbersome without being any easier to read. There may be good reason for the transition but I now need to lean a new way to markup HTML in order to display math. I haven’t done so by the time I published this essay so I present my math in text as best I can for people who don’t know LaTeX. This is necessary to avoid confusion. If you care a lot more about this then I do (which is unlikely) then I suggest petitioning whoever makes changes to html to add in a “latex” tag to html and for browsers to render it.)
I’ve recently been reading through something called The Sequences by Eliezer Yudkowsky. I’m doing this mostly because somebody who cares a lot about me being the best person I can be has asked me to. As I share that goal, maybe I can get something out of it. (As far as I gather from what people say of this work) it promises to fully train somebody in how to think and behave rationally. I am confident in saying that it falls short of this goal but beyond that I am hesitant to talk about results of the work. I have a rule which says that I wait three days after reading something or listening to something before passing judgment on it and since I haven’t finished The Sequances, not only do I not satisfy this condition yet but judging something before knowing everything it says is also a very risky thing to do.
“I believe that people are nicer than they really are” makes sense and can, for some people, be a beneficial concept to hold true.
Yudkowsky though does spend three of these essays being confused by the statement “I believe that people are nicer than they really are,” and criticizing the person that made this statement. There is an apparent paradox in that, taking the speaker at her word, has come to the conclusion that there is a value of niceness that she thinks people exhibit, a but she also believes that people exhibit a value of niceness that exceeds a. In short she believes a>a which is absurd for any well or partially ordered set which includes the real numbers. This is even absurd for irrational numbers (I made a joke). Yudkowsky also states that the speaker of the statement has made some mistake despite admitting to not understanding the statement.
People’s minds spend a great deal of effort convincing their operators that the operator’s thoughts are self-consistent. This is a very well-known aspect of human psychology. For example, people will want to think that since only good people should have nice things happen to them that if one does something nice for a person they must be a good person. There is a story of Ben Franklin who, while a member of the Pennsylvania legislature, was not on friendly terms with a rival. Franklin then asked to barrow a book from the rival who lent him the book for lack of good reason not to. The book went unread. After a period of time, Franklin then returned the book and thanked his rival for the favor. The two were on friendly terms from that point on. Franklin’s rival, after lending Franklin the book, concluded that Franklin was a good person in order to meet this requirement for self-consistency even though nothing of any practical consequence changed and no new information was generated.
The fact of the matter is that people do doublethink all the time. If somebody cuts me off on the highway then they’re a jerk whose actions cannot be explained any other way but if I cut someone off on the highway then it was an honest mistake and I shouldn’t be judged harshly for such. I am holding two contradictory beliefs in my mind at the same time and judging both of them to be true, simultaneously. These thoughts are, “cutting people off is inexcusable,” and “cutting people off is excusable.” The need to have consistency over the thoughts of “I cut someone off,” and “I’m a good person,” as well as “I’m mad at that person,” and “I don’t get mad at good people,” take prescience over the need to have the first two thoughts consistent. As a result I believe in completely contradictory statements about something and my mind works to try and prevent me from realizing it.
In an unexamined mind such contradictory thoughts would be formed somewhat regularly. As I have the capability of examining my mind (not everybody has the ability to and not everybody who has the ability has the willingness to examine one’s own mind) I can understand the contradiction and resolve it (there are several ways to do this) but unless I work hard at making the resolution visceral, when someone cuts me off or I cut someone else off, the lower order thoughts dominate my thinking at that time the cut off occurs.
Even people who have examined minds form such doublethink pairs (and triplets, et cetera). Seeing how human brainpower is limited and there is limited time and from what I (think I) know informally from my entire existence, I believe that it would be imposable for an ordinary human being to resolve all of these conflicts in their mind. Thus I believe that for everybody, it is highly likely that they hold to some form of doublethink. Human psychology readily accepts doublethink and it appears to be a necessary part of our experience (for in dealing with others if not for analyzing ourselves at-least).
Doublethink may be a useful and necessary tool but it can be dangerous as the person who coined the term demonstrates. One must be careful both when one accepts doublethink and when dealing with doublethink discovered in oneself and in others.
Now, I do not hold to the phrase, “I believe that people are nicer than they really are,” but it isn’t that hard to understand how one could say such a statement truthfully: they are using doublethink and are, at some level, aware of it. I have no problem with this and it elicited no confusion from myself. I do think that I should treat people as if they are nicer than they really are. There are good reasons for this which include but are not limited to: not accidentally insulting nice people until one can form a more personal judgement, compensate for uncertainties and known and unknown prejudices in the determination one makes on the niceness of others, encouraging nicer behavior from people, treating people like they are nice has positive psychological benefits for the actor, and behaving like a decent human being.
Now treating people like they are nicer than they really are has its own self consistency problem. Shouldn’t I treat people like the best evidence leads me to believe that they are? If I treat somebody nicer than they really are then aren’t I saying the person really is nicer? By obeying the rule I obey, I am treating other people as if they had a niceness value, a greater than their actual niceness value, a. I am mentally flexible enough that I don’t see a contradiction here but not everybody is as mentally flexible as I am. I have worked hard to develop mental flexibility and doing so gives me large benefits including in understanding how the minds of other people work. Somebody who has done nothing to exercise their own mental flexibility is not likely to be as flexible as me.
Someone with no mental flexibility would also not be able to articulate “I believe that people are nicer than they really are” and mean it so they would be forced to either treat people as nice as they actually think them to be or to think people are as nice as they treat them to be. Somebody with a different type of mental flexibility then I am using here (I also possess this type of mental flexibility but I am not using it here) who is unable to use the type of mental flexibility that I am using, could still hold this statement as true and get the benefits I talked about from the behavior I demonstrate. Holding to such doublethink is well understood (I just understood it), beneficial (I gave benefits it could accrue), and leads to better outcomes for most people (this is an unsupported conclusion).
Not everybody has the same mental abilities. The woman to which Yudkowsky refers is apparently more mentally flexible than Yudkowsky and reaps rewards of possessing such ability. It is interesting that despite admitting ignorance of the reasons for the woman’s actions that Yadkowsky voices an opinion that this woman has something wrong with her. It is Yadkowski that is clearly lacking (off topic note: Yadkowski also states a few times that, for anything, there is only one correct opinion on it). Yadkowski doesn’t understand the behavior of the people he interacts with and yet considers himself fit to pass judgement on such behavior.
Is humility a good thing?
I hope most of the people who end up reading this essay answer in the affirmative. One of the rules I use to govern my behavior is that if I don’t understand the reason for a thing, I don’t pass judgement on it. I think this is beneficial. If I don’t understand the reason for a thing then I have no ability to pass judgement on said reason and thus no legitimate ability to pass judgement for the thing itself. Apparently Yadkowski disagrees with me.
Passing judgement on a thing one has no legitimate ability to pass judgement on is an act of arrogance. Refraining from doing so is an act of humility. I may lack precision in understanding the world around me but, if this is the only difference between me and somebody else, my understanding of the world around me is more likely to be accurate.
There is some logic in taking a guess at what one should believe if one cannot narrow down the possibilities of what one should believe with valid reasoning. Afterall one must determine how one should act and some people become paralyzed at the time action is called for if they cannot form one specific belief set regarding reality. Such a person must make a guess or have their actions chosen for them.
I, in general, do not become so paralyzed. I am able to make an estimation of what the results would be given different actions if I have several different possible realities in mind as I make a decision. In general, doing so carries a higher cognitive burden but it is a burden I have worked hard to be able to carry. There are specific times when I cannot carry such a burden and at times I switch to making a guess. In these times, I may be making judgements I have no legitimate ability to make but in the heat of the moment such is sometimes necessary.
Always seeking to choose one such reality (I think this is something that Yudkowsky does not do but I know people who do) and never holding multiple possibilities in mind is often an act of arrogance. Some people have psychologies that are predisposed to always making a guess and then having complete fidelity in that guess. I do not fault these people for not having mental abilities they do not have no more than I fault myself for my inability to dunk on a basketball net higher than six feet but since I have the ability to hold multiple contradictory possibilities in my mind at once and make good use of this then I should, in general.
On developing humility.
By being more humble than Yudkowsky, I am better able to understand the mind of the woman to which Yudkowsky refers. This has benefits. I would be better able to relate to this woman, for example, and more easily and likely to form a mutually beneficial interpersonal bond. Making negative conclusions about the beliefs of others without understanding the beliefs themselves or understanding the reasons why (both stated and actual) this person holds them is alienating. I could mask such conclusions by never sharing them and thus avoiding the alienation (which I sometimes do in other circumstances) but, in this situation, forming the conclusion comes with the opportunity cost of missing out on the opportunity to form a stronger bond.
When I first determined to learn humility I would often make humble statements I didn’t really believe, in order to make myself seam humble. An example would be, “No, I don’t understand the subject you’re trying to teach me about, please teach me,” while at the same time I thought there was no way the other person could actually teach me anything about the subject. This false humility may seem inhumble or dishonest but it has its positive effects one of which being, in this example, sometimes I get proven that my judgement is wrong.
Not only do such situations teach me that my high assessments of myself were wrong and thus teach me real humility but over time the more I expressed my false humility to others the more I started to believe in my statements. Through both mechanisms (and others) I started to adjust my self-assessments. I have gained some measure of real humility through, in part, deliberately using false humility while incidentally increasing my knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom in the process (when the other person does actually have something to teach me, for instance, which they always do).
I’m not through with my false humility.
This brings me to the conclusion that is the title of this essay: I believe that I am a worse person then I think I am. If I take in all of the measures of how good a person I am, make my best honest effort to assign values of some kind to these measures, and combine these values into an overall judgement I will come to a conclusion of how good a person I think I am. This includes all sorts of biases, prejudices, systematic errors, and other flaws that will invariably lead to an artificially high assessment. It will almost certainly be a higher than justified assessment because I am human and human psychology (absent specific thought processes to contradict this tendency) is prone to overestimate how good one thinks oneself is. This value I get is almost assuredly an overestimate of how good a person I really am and thus I believe that I’m not as good as a person as I think I am when I do such an assessment.
Now, someone with the requisite mental flexibility would be able to think “I am not as good of a person as I am prone to thinking I am,” but I am not so mentally flexible (yet). I am incapable of thinking this and meaning it. I lack the ability to do so. I just tried to do so and failed. I’ll try again. I failed again. My natural disposition is towards someone who is really arrogant and this is something against which I constantly fight. For me, the doublethink that I present is the best way for me to achieve the benefits of humility that holding the statement “I believe that I am worse then I think I am” true nets me.
There is an apparent paradox in this statement. I think the paradox apparently exists because English is an inexact language. I am not really saying the exact same thing when I say “believe” and when I say “think” in the statement but the English meanings for these terms, to my ears, don’t suggest a difference. I also am nowhere near good enough in English to know which of the two would be better, “I believe that I am worse then I think I am,” or “I think that I am worse then I believe I am.” I hope a detailed description of what I am actually trying to say when I say such a statement will make my meaning clear.
I go through the exercise described above and make an almost certainly false judgement on how good a person I am that most accurately reflects the knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom that I possess. I hold this assessment to be a true and accurate assessment in my mind. I then make a judgment that I am actually a worse person then this and hold this assessment to be a true and accurate assessment in my mind. If I drop the first assessment from my mind or if I label it false, my mind, in its fallibility, loses the second assessment because it has either lost faith in or lost altogether its reference point. If I drop the second assessment from my mind then I am only left with an assessment that I know to be false also causing me to lose both assessments.
In short, the doublethink is necessary because my mind’s self-consistency mechanisms, in this situation, cannot accept that my judgement of how good I am as a person could be accurate if it’s based on an assessment that I know to be false. In other words, I cannot have faith in assessment 2 if I believe assessment 1 to be false and thus in order to believe in assessment 2 then I need to also believe in assessment 1. The doublethink in my mind is beneficial as it allows me to hold an assessment that is beneficial to me. I am correcting for one flawed thinking pattern with another flawed thinking pattern.
This is the best I can do… for now.
To think “I am not as good as a person as I am prone to thinking I am” and mean it would be a better solution but I’m not capable of doing so: my arrogance won’t allow it. Maybe you can make this statement and mean it. Maybe your self-consistency mechanisms aren’t the same as mine and you don’t need to go through the doublethink I need to go through. Maybe your self-consistency mechanisms forbid you from doing the same thing I do. We all have failures in the way we think, I work hard to correct for and eliminate mine, but our failures are different failures. Maybe your failures reject my solution as my failures reject the consistent statement. Maybe they don’t. I try my best and I have no doubt that you try your best. The solution that is best for you is not necessarily best for me.
I should try and develop the ability to say “I am not as good as a person as I am prone to thinking I am” and mean it as just having the ability to do such a thing would be beneficial. I am already thinking about strategies to get my mind to a point where I could do this. Until I achieve this ability the doublethink, which requires that I actively and affirmatively believe something that I know to be wrong (both statements in the doublethink cannot both be true), produces the best results for me of the options of which I am aware.
I have a fascination with how people think and enjoy exploring the different ways people do so. There are several topics that I enjoy exploring such as retrospective vs. prospective reasoning and object oriented vs. process oriented thinking. I have looked for advanced and accessible discussion on the theory of the mind and came up short. I am piecing together what little I know to try and make sense of the concept.
I was aware of the awareness experiment in children talked about in this post before the post existed. I was probably introduced to the concept of the theory of mind at that point but as a limited concept: the difference between stage 1 and 2 as defined bellow. I was unaware of any broader implications.
That post by Dr. Alexander did make me aware that the theory of the mind goes beyond the transition from 1 to 2 and that not all adults have mastered the same theory of mind… or have the same theory of mind I should say. It also confronted me with the terrifying and profound reality: my theory of mind is inadequate. That is to say, it is imposable for me to correctly and fully understand how I and others think. Also there exists some mind that is capable of conceiving reality on a fundamentally more correct way then I am capable of conceiving it. I already knew these things in the abstract but contrasting my theory of the mind with less advanced theories and then taking that analogy the other direction opened my eyes to realizing how ignorant I am.
In this essay, I’m talking about minds and not brains. In animals (as opposed to computers or other things that may be capable of thinking), the mind is a creation of the brain but it is its own thing. How the brain works can determine how the mind works but when I talk about the mind I am talking about the cognation that occurs. The theory of the mind is individual to each person (though I suppose it is posable for two people to have exactly the same theory) and is how that person thinks the mind works.
Each species (or thing that can think) has a stage where its most advanced theories of minds reside. Members of that species are physiologically incapable of conceiving of a more advanced theory of mind. Furthermore each person has a stage where they are incapable (either physiologically or otherwise) of considering a higher stage. If someone is limited to say stage 4 then they cannot conceive of a stage 5 theory of mind and they will view any stage 5 reasoning in a context they can conceive of. Examples of how to do this might be the person to view such reasoning as dishonest or incorrect though either ignorance or overthinking. It infact requires a stage 5 mind to realize that there can be stages above what one is capable of conceiving of.
Also just because one is capable of using a theory of a mind at a particular stage, one does not always use the theory of the mind at that stage. There are plenty of people capable of considering a stage 5 theory of the mind that never the less in certain contexts use a stage 3 theory of the mind. In general, people really use the highest stage they are intellectually aware of in practice (For example, how many people are aware that an honest difference of opinion is possible but still, at-least on occasion, act as though it isn’t?). If one is to make a statement about what level of theory of the mind one has, one should put that level at the highest level they are capable of having.
The stages are levels at which one is aware of a particular aspect of how people think. For each level there are different ideas of how people think that are consistent with the aspects of that level. Each different idea is a different theory of the mind. The stages are categories of theories of the mind and each category has several different theories compatible with it.
People use different theories in different situations. The choice of what theory one uses and the optimal theory to use are both complicated subjects. I don’t talk about individual theories save for illustrative examples. Also the transition from having one stage as an individual celling to another stage is a gradual process: one does not suddenly obtain a higher stage theory and then have all sorts of insights but rather one increases the sophistication of the theories one already has and slowly learns new theories that increase one’s ability to understand how people think.
Also, not all theories at one stage are created equal. This essay posits a useful classification for these theories and places them in a straightforward hierarchy. A theory at a particular stage has all of the requirements for the lower stages. I also don’t talk about specific theories and only the stages. For example, I talk about there being different ways to reason without talking about how one should select a particular way to reason. I often use first person and talk about how I would behave if I were using a theory at a particular stage and sometimes use third person to do the same but the concepts are intended to be general to all things capable of thinking.
Not finding really any accessible information online for a broad presentation of this concept, I am forced to understand this as best I can with the limited tools I have. I do not follow any relevant scientific literature and am figuring out this concept myself. This essay and these classifications are thus an attempt at philosophy more than anything else.
Stage 0: ______
I suspect that this is the ceiling that certain species of turtles have, for example. They have minds that take in information, process it, and come to decisions and also have motivations and desires to inform the decisions. This may be something such as, “I want to be warmer,” “I need to move under that light source to do so,” “I will move under that light source.” The turtle has some sapience and sentience but certainly not the same amount of either when compared with a healthy adult human. There may be negative stages for creatures that fully lack sapience and/or sentience but I start here because I find it plausible that a typical healthy newborn starts life at this stage or higher but would find it hard to believe that it starts life at a lower stage.
At this stage, the turtle, or potentially the newborn, is unaware that it is thinking. I can realize the turtle’s thinking but the turtle cannot. The turtle may have some self-awareness but not enough to know that it is thinking thoughts. It can know how warm it is and how pleasant or unpleasant that feels, and aware of where its body is in relation to its surroundings and how it affects it’s temperature without realizing that it is thinking these things. There is nothing in its brain capable of thinking, “and that’s what I think of things,” or “I have used a rational process to come to conclusions,” or “I have information, opinions, and/or facts.”
Stage 1: I think
At this stage, people realize that there is a thought process going through their minds. They can take a look at why they are taking the actions they are taking. They still think along the lines of “I am hungry, I should shove food into my mouth,” but they are also aware of this thought process. If they are hungry, they can conceive of being in a state in which they are sated and vice-versa. They can also tell that they are reasoning. For example when they arrive at solutions to their problems. They can understand that there is something called a mind (whatever term they have for it) and that they possess information with it.
I believe that this is also the stage that unlocks the ability for abstract reasoning. I don’t know if abstract reasoning is required at this stage but stage 0 creatures (or people if they exist) seem to be incapable of it. I suspect that separating one’s mind from the rest of the world does not occur at this stage. One approaches one’s mind as one approaches one’s clothes or the cause and effect of eating and relieving hunger. It is just another set of rules of how the world works that one must figure out.
Stage 2: Other people think
At this stage, people realize that other people think too. Thinking isn’t something that only I do but it is also something that other people do. It is likely that during this stage, thinking becomes something internal. One’s mind is somehow contained in oneself and other people’s mind are also somehow contained in themselves. At this stage, people fail to realize that other people could possibly have different thoughts then they do.
I remember when I was a wee child wondering if other people are thinking the same things that I am thinking at the same time that I am thinking them. This concern took up some amount of my time. I knew that other people were not thinking the exact same thoughts I was but that answer felt wrong. This also suggests that at an earlier stage, I thought others were actually thinking the exact same things I was thinking at all times. The above mentioned experiment also suggests that at a certain stage in human development, children think all people have the same thoughts as them.
Everybody thinks and other people are separate entities just as I am a separate entity from them. Names not only refer to different objects but they can also refer to different thinking entities. But I can only understand the mind of others by using my own mind as the mind of others. Other people have the same knowledge and thought processes that I do and they must come to the same conclusions.
Stage 3: People think different thoughts
At this stage people gain the ability to realize that what happens in one person’s mind is not necessarily what is happening in another’s. People demonstrate different behavior and the only conclusion is that they have different thoughts. I have some ability to track which information other people have and to use reasoning to figure out the conclusions that they would come to.
At this point, I still think people have the same preferences that I do. I think red is a better color than green so it is obviously the better color. Somebody who claims that green is better must have one of the following: they have less information then I do and this additional information will bring them around to the correct answer, they are deficient in some way (such as having something wrong with their eyes causing them to see color incorrectly) and this leads them to a wrong conclusion, or they are lying about their true preferences for some nefarious purpose. An example of such a purpose would be by saying they like the color green more then they like the color red they will look better to the more popular person who has voiced the same thing for one of these reasons.
I have come across numerous claims that someone who thinks something different then the speaker has to either be ignorant or lying. At this point I cannot conceive that two people can have the same evidence and yet come to different conclusions without something defective (such as reasoning ability) or some nefarious purpose to deliberately claim a false conclusion. If my theory of mind is capped at stage 4, I am literally incapable of conceiving of the possibility that my reasoning is flawed and thus, if I am wrong, it is only because I lack the necessary information to be correct. If my facts are right then my conclusion is assuredly the only honest conclusion.
I can realize why people do, say, and think different things. I analyze the actions of others by asking the question, “What would I be thinking if I were to take such an action?” I tend to be firm in the conclusions I reach because I am not capable using this theory of mind of conceiving of the possibility that there exists a different legitimate conclusion.
Stage 4: Other people have different preferences.
At this stage people realize that different values can lead to different conclusions given the same facts and reasoning. If I like red and you like green then that’s great: we just have different tastes. I can let you decorate your home to emphasize green and I have no problem with that at this stage. I can still claim your preferences are wrong (for example on preferences that are or inform moral judgements) but I can understand how you act based on these wrong preferences. I can also understand how you act based on different preferences that are more innocuous such as having different tastes then I do.
Other people still think the way I do, however. Just as in stage three, I can use different set of initial facts to see how someone would come to a different conclusion but now I can also use a different set of facts and preferences to see how someone would come to a different conclusion. I also, now, have the ability to see how someone can come to a different conclusion then I do and still have neither one of us be wrong.
In understanding the actions of others the question has changed to, “What would I be thinking if I were to take such an action and had different preferences?” I am still analyzing what other people do and say though my own thought processes. If there is a flaw in someone else’s reasoning it’s not because they think differently than I do it’s because they think worse. For example, they can only see 4 moves ahead where I can see 6, or their lack of ability to multiply numbers together leads to a wrong conclusion. I cannot yet conceive that I could be similarly limited as I think my abilities are the human ceiling. I also think that any claim to a different reasoning path is done for some nefarious purpose (because the correct reasoning path would lead to my result which the other person has some reason for avoiding).
Stage 5: Other people think differently
The ways in which people make decisions and come to conclusions aren’t the same. You can have the same facts that I do, have the same preferences that I do, and still legitimately come to a different conclusion then I do not because you are deficient in your ability to reason but because you are reasoning differently then me. If you have reached a different conclusion it is not necessarily because you are ignorant or you have some nefarious purpose; disagreements between people can be legitimate with everyone being honest (broad definition), informed, and intelligent.
There are now several possibilities for why someone would come to a different conclusion then I do: 1) we are working from different set of facts, 2) we have different preferences, 3) the other person’s reasoning is somehow wrong, 4) my reasoning is somehow wrong, 5) both our reasoning is correct but the different approaches lead to different conclusions, or 6) some combination.
With stage 3 reasoning, I can acknowledge that I can be wrong if I don’t have all the facts and at stage 4 reasoning, I can see how different preferences will lead to differing conclusions without anybody being wrong (assuming one’s preferences are a matter of taste and not a wrong preference). At stage 5 reasoning I can now see the possibility that I am wrong because my analysis was incorrect. If I come to a different conclusion then someone else then the best course of action to take (assuming the other person is acting in good faith and also is using a stage 5 theory or above) is to explore the issue from all 6 above possibilities until we are comfortable with having the disagreement. This can be immediate or it might take some communication to achieve and might result in one or both of us adjusting our conclusions.
In analyzing the actions of others my question is now, ““What would the other person be thinking if the other person were to take such an action?” I have the ability to use different reasoning choices and abilities as well as a different set of facts and preferences to figure out the actions of others and when using a theory of mind at this stage I use the reasoning they are likely to use and not the reasoning I would have used in their situation.
I have also gained some ability to explore different possibilities consistent with my knowledge of reality. Before this stage, I could conceive of there being only one way reality worked, something could operate, for there to be a best solution to a problem, and other things. Now, I can realize that my analysis of reality might be fundamentally flawed and allow for unknown possibilities.
This is also the lowest level in which one can conceive of there being the possibility of theories of mind that occupy higher levels than the highest level one has reached.
Stage 6: Perception of reality is inconstant between people
I should note that at this stage, I am talking on things that I have merely touched. I think I’ve mastered (reasonably speaking) stage 5 thinking but have just dabbled with stage 6. Moreso then elsewhere on this blog, I am talking in things that I am unqualified to talk about and much of what I have to say about stage 6 is necessarily speculative.
I know how I think and I am comfortable with it. I know other people think differently and can have different values and goals then I do and this can lead to different behaviors and beliefs while still being rational. Furthermore, I know that different reasoning exists to the reasoning I use and some of these reasonings are valid and some make my reasoning invalid. At this stage, I also realize that people view the world in fundamentally different ways that I cannot conceive of.
It doesn’t require stage 6 reasoning for one to realize that the information one gets from one’s senses and from communication is filtered by the mind to create a conception of reality that is potently flawed. Someone only capable of stage 1 reasoning won’t likely be able to do this but how one constructs reality from the information one has about reality is a different topic from one’s conception of how minds work. At this stage, one realizes that someone can construct a fundamentally different conception of reality from the same information about reality and filter their thinking through this different conception.
This realization can explain some differences in thinking that aren’t explained by stage 5 reasoning. Not only can different facts, preferences, and reasonings, effect someone’s conclusions, actions, and beliefs but a different construction of reality can also effect these things. Afterall how one views the world has a direct impact on how one interacts with it. A key insight at this stage is realizing that it may be imposable to actually view reality the same way someone else views reality. It may be possible to do so with a more advanced stage 6 theory of the mind or maybe there are no theories of the mind at any stage where this is possible. I don’t know.
Such a difference could create a fundamental difference in how people think. At stage 5, I can recognize this difference but I try to make sense of it in the context in how I view reality i.e. the other person is reasoning differently than I am. At stage 6, I either cannot analyze how someone else thinks in light of how they view reality or I need to go further in adjusting how someone else thinks than was possible using a stage 5 theory of the mind. If I encounter someone who has come to a different conclusion, in addition to the stage 5 explanations, I can now consider the possibility that we are not even talking about the same things even if we communicate perfectly.
In an optical illusion, people see something that a mind working in a fundamentally different way would not see. There are plenty of optical illusions that constantly produce the same sights in most people and thus it seems that the minds of our species tend to deal with visual information the same way in terms of the reality it constructs but some people cannot make a particular optical illusion work not matter how much they try. It takes a level 6 understanding of the theory of the mind to fully appreciate how the other person’s mind works differently. Realizing that an optical illusion is producing an illusionary sight is one thing, accepting that others don’t see the same thing is another, and realizing that others’ visual processors work in a fundamentally different way is another.
Stage 7: ????
There are undoubtedly higher stages than stage 6. 6 is the highest stage that I can recall that I have any conscious experience with. Considering that someone whose theory of mind is capped at a particular level can never realize what a higher stage actually means, no one can ever claim to have achieved the highest possible theory of mind. It also would seem to me highly improbably that Homo sapiens, with our limited machinery, can perfectly understand reality. This leads to the conclusion that there exist higher theories of mind then the ceiling for our species just like the fact that the turtle is stuck on stage 0 does not prevent stage 2 from existing. I am also willing to guess that there are other people who have achieved higher stages then I am capable of conceiving of. I don’t know how to find higher stages then I have personally experienced much less talk about them.
I was thinking about something the other day (I can’t remember what) when I remembered a game I “invented” in high school. I also “invented” a sport (on paper) in high school just for the exercise of doing so and invented something that should be viewed as a variant on competitive Frisbee (of which I was ignorant at the time). The idea strikes me as one that wouldn’t be all that original but I haven’t encountered it. The most likely reason would be that it’s a bad game but I figured I would post the game somewhere now that I have the ability to.
The game really needs more than 3 players to work but I suppose someone could play multiple players by themselves to figure out how it works. That’s what I did. The game board is a 10×10 grid (10 squares by 10 squares and the game is played in the boxes) and each player has a different mark. I used colored pencils for the different players but each player having their won letter or symbol would work as well. Players take turns claiming an unclaimed square. The game ends when either all squares have been claimed or the grid is as filled up as possible after having each player take an equal number of turns (eg. when there is 1 square left for 3 players or 4 for 6). However players want to work it. Each space can only be claimed by one player and can never be unclaimed and any player, on their turn, can claim any unclaimed space without other limitations.
Players get points for having concurrent territory (horizontally and vertically, not diagonally). The connections between spaces are scored, not the spaces themselves. Players get 2 points for each vertical connection and 2 points for each horizontal connection. In addition if a player has claimed all 10 vertical spaces in a single column, they get 10 bonus points (in addition to the 18 they would normally get) (for each time this happens), and if a player has claimed all 10 horizontal spaces in a single row, they get 40 bonus points (in addition to the 27 they would normally get) (for each time this happens). Player(s) with the highest points win. It would aid in scoring if players draw lines between their adjoining spaces when they play them. I remember now, I would place a dot for an isolated space and draw lines out from there. Players should feel free to adjust the grid size and point totals and it isn’t recommended to have the same number of players as a dimension on a grid (8 or 10 players on a 10×8 grid) as there may not be a lot of novel gameplay.
I came up with this game when I was learning about Carnegie and Rockefeller and the talk of horizontal and vertical monopolization in American history class. The idea is that each row represents a step in the process of bringing a thing to market and each column represents a physical location. The idea is that a firm will be better off the larger share of a particular step in the production it controls (with a large bonus for a monopoly) and for doing more of the production steps itself (with a small bonus of doing all the steps) in proximity to each other. But this was just the motivation. On its own the game is an abstract pencil and paper game that doesn’t need any dressing.
I enjoyed playing it against myself for several weeks in high school. I remember discovering strategies some of which surprised me. Is it better to claim an isolated space so I have lots of room to expand or do I block an opponent’s expansion which necessarily blocks my own expansion? Should I claim a space that doesn’t net me any points but prevents a monopoly? Why should I be the one player to make this sacrifice? I don’t know how deep or superficial the game play would get once smart players get used to the mechanics but, I’m not doing anything else with the idea, I figured I would share it and see if other people find some value in it.
As far as copyright, I formally maintain copyright to the extent I can. I would be surprised if no one else has come up with an equivalent idea and ideas themselves can’t be copyrighted. That said I have no problems with anybody copying, altering, claiming, or anything else with this game except that if you make money of this idea presented here because I presented it here, I ask for some of that money.
This essay is going to be about gun control and I should point out at the start that, as a US citizen, I do believe that the second amendment should be repealed. This essay is not about that belief but I feel that it is important to mention. More important than that, I believe in democracy and enough of my compatriots disagree with me on this that repeal should never the less not be done. I also think that there should be no legislation or actions passed or taken in the United States that are inconsistent with second amendment as interpreted by the courts unless it is repealed. I am not expert enough or educated enough to talk about the second amendment as law as it exists today or to speak to court interpretation.
I believe what I do advocate in this essay is consistent with the second amendment as it has been interpreted and most of the arguments that I have encountered advocating for a right to bear arms. What I am advocating for is for every firearm to be sold, new or resold through more established outlets, should be registered and fingerprinted and for those legally able to purchase firearms to be required to be licensed. I believe this would respect the individual’s right to possess and use firearms while increasing the responsibility of those who chose to do so. I think both firearm registration and licensing should be done on the state level.
It is my contention that every right also has at-least one responsibility associated with it. To use an absurd example, your right not to be killed by me puts a responsibility on me (and others) to not kill you. Sometimes the right and the responsibility are put on the same person and sometimes they are not. There is nothing wrong with this; this is merely how reality works. As far as the right to possess weaponry goes, somebody who possesses a weapon for personal defense, hunting, group defense, or other purpose has a moral responsibility to have adequate training in his or her weapon for the purposes the weapon is possessed. Someone who uses a weapon for a purpose without being able to use the weapon for that purpose responsibly puts responsibility on others for his or her irresponsible use.
When a firearm is used in self-defense to kill somebody when a trained person would not have used the weapon in that matter, somebody dies because of somebody else’s reasonability. When a firearm legally purchased is used to kill somebody by somebody other than the legal customer, somebody dies because of the irresponsibility of the legal customer. If we, as a society, grant people in general the right to possess deadly weapons, we as a society also have a moral obligation to hold people responsible for how the weapons in their care are used. This is where firearm registration applies.
Each firearm and its unique identifiers should be registered to a specific individual. It should not be illegal for someone other than this registered individual to possess or use the firearm but the registered user should bear some responsibility for any use of the particular firearm. If the firearm was registered at time of sale to a particular person and then that firearm is then used in the crime, the registered individual bears some moral responsibility for how that firearm was used either through the individual’s use of the firearm, the use of someone the individual trusted, or through failure to keep the firearm secure from untrusted persons. The registered individual should face requisite legal responsibility as well.
The rights of people who possess firearms for individual or group defense or for hunting should be unaffected by this registration requirement. People who possess a firearm for purposes of being able to engage in armed rebellion will have their rights affected by this registration requirement. I claim that possessing a firearm for this purpose is such a huge reasonability that it is not unreasonable for groups of people to take it on together. What is required would be for one individual to publicly vouch and be responsible for the firearms the group has access two. If the group engages in rebellion, then one person’s identity would be known but not the rest of the group.
A big effect of the registration requirement as posited above would have would be to make the work of straw purchases of firearms more difficult as the straw purchaser would bear legal reasonability for his or her purchase that he or she does not currently have. This will make it harder and more expensive for people who are not legally able to own firearms to acquire them. Another effect would be to make owners of firearms more legally responsible for their use and thus encourage firearm owners to make themselves more responsible for the firearms they purchase.
The licensing requirement is to make the background system more robust and more efficient. Instead of requiring a separate background check each time a firearm is purchased, each would be owner of a firearm would be required to undergo a rigorous background check once. Somebody who sells a firearm would then only have to confirm that the person purchasing it is licensed which would both lower the expense of the transaction and effectively expand background checks to all purchases if there is a requirement that the person registering as an owner of a firearm be licensed to possess a firearm. There could be provisions for the firearm license to be periodically reviewed and/or for automatic review when a criminal conviction or psychological hospitalization occurs.
Along with the right for someone to possess a firearm there either exists a reasonability for that person to possess that firearm reasonability or everybody else is made responsible for that person’s irresponsible possession. It is not right for one people to shift this responsibility onto others but this is something that happens in our society and it leads to death. The above proposals seem to be reasonable proposals which have little effect on the right of firearm possession but would greatly increase the legal responsibility of those who chose to do so.
I have an interest in economics as you can probably tell. I try to focus most of my policy analysis on practical effects but my curiosity is piqued and I cannot help but think about how the abstract notion of property arises. I think that I may be getting some handle on this concept.
I should say that philosophers and others have been dealing with the concept of property in the abstract for quite some time. I have not done due diligence in discovering the philosophy that already exists on this topics to grant any authority to my thoughts. My purpose in writing this essay is mostly to figure out some of these issues for myself. As you read this (if you continue) then you should keep in mind that almost everything I’m going to say is wrong. If you want to learn about these concepts, read other people, but by reading this essay you may learn more about me and my individual philosophy.
The first principle that I’m working with is that broad comprehensive theories on this concept and others like it are inevitably going to be wrong particularly if they are simple. One of the things that reading the works of Frederick Pohl has convinced me is that people make the best decisions they can when it comes time to make a decision and the individual decision making process is complicated. This hodge podge of individual decisions interact with each other to create social interaction. There does exist valuable rules respecting social interaction but the concept of property results from an extraordinary complex and dumb set of human interactions. I am of the conviction that property rights are a mistake of human invention in that there was never a conscious effort to create them and that their development has been and will continue to be haphazard.
In my amateur reading of these concepts I have found a wide variety of philosophical positions discussing them. They seem to generally be extremely simple philosophies. Hopefully this is just how they are portrayed to the uneducated (such as myself) and if I would undertake a serious discovery of present philosophy (I won’t) then I would discover much more nuance in most of the popular theories.
I once was trying to justify a philosophy I held based on how primitive society would have (in my mind) created something. A friend of my helpfully pointed out that this effort was bullshit because of the amazing ignorance modern society has of primitive society. Things that would make sense in the abstract to a modern thinker are likely wrong because of the inevitable ignorance of said modern thinker. Even contemporary study by modern societies of primitive societies reveals such a wide range of behavior to make generalizations of all primitive societies (include some that we will never know about) guesses, at best, doomed to be wrong in many particular instances.
Given this knowledge of my own ignorance I don’t think that it is wise to take what seems to me to be the traditional path to understanding these concepts: building them up from assumed first principles about human behavior and how the concept of property would arise if one would just place humans with no history (personal or social) together in a hypothetical world. Instead for my own personal understanding I shall attempt to discover how my contemporary society views and utilizes this concept even if this will never provide a cohesive or simple theory of property. It may not even provide a usable theory as tautologies are not very enlightening but it might.
Also a natural concept of property and property rights does not exist despite some people’s insistence that it does. Slavery is an appalling thought to modern peoples (though it still very much exists) but for the majority of recorded history it was an accepted and expected practice. It would perhaps seem obvious to modern philosophers that people have a natural right to their own bodies but that would be hardly a natural sentiment for perhaps the majority of people who have ever lived. While there are no natural property rights, I believe it is inevitable that societies will have formal or informal property rights as a matter of practicality. Property rights are therefore something to be expected and will naturally exist but any particular set of property rights is not more or less natural than any other particular set of property rights. This will be an overarching idea in the development of my philosophy regarding property rights.
Another important thing to remember is that ownership is a term that has different meanings. If I were to steal your car you would still maintain formal ownership of the vehicle but I would have effective ownership. If I drive your car for ten to fifteen years (however long it lasts until it needs to be scraped) then your formal ownership would mean nothing while on the other hand if I am quickly caught (or perhaps not so quickly) and prosecuted for theft and you receive your vehicle back and perhaps some other restitution then your formal ownership means a lot.
Property rights are important. It is useful and pleasant to have some security in the goods and services that one relies on. The more fear I have of being turned out of whatever shelter that I have, the more stress I will have, the less stability and predictability I will have in my life, and the less likely I am to make investments in my home that will bring long term benefits. Thus the more secure I am in my home, the healthier and prosperous I will be. Similar concepts also apply to other forms of property (owning a car brings economic and social benefits, being secure with family heirlooms provides my emotional health, et cetera).
Because of the importance of property rights it is useful to look at what they are. In a sense US law gives everybody equal property rights but, none the less, in practice property rights are unequal. Someone who rents his or her house is less secure in his or her shelter then somebody who owns his or her house and this has the effects stated above even though neither person is singled out in law individually or by class to have more or less rights. The discreprency comes from artifacts of history both in how the law respects property and in how both individuals arrived at their particular circumstances. It is important to note that in a capitalist society (at-least) there will never be complete practical equality regarding property rights. The law and practical effects will always lead to an unequal situation for individuals in a population.
Both people in the above example have rights and responsibilities spelled out in law and often also in contract. It is only by law, compact, and tradition that actors obtain formal property rights and it is often through action that people obtain a direct ability to exploit property. It is the combination of these two that make up the entirety of social property rights and the nature of these rights is individual to a particular society and reflects the historical and practical facts for that particular society. The nature of property rights are thus also always changing without respect to any inherently natural form. A society through social processes changes the nature of property rights constantly. It is good to talk about what they are and the benefits and weakness of a particular paradigm of property rights as well as alternatives. I assert that no scheme is inherently inferior or superior, just or unjust, solely based on tradition or novelty.
Individual property rights are quite important. The more property rights one has, the more secure the person will be and the more economic freedom the person will have. This increases the expectation of prosperity, health, and other measures of wellbeing. Property rights also affect political and social rights. The more secure one is, the more one has ones basic needs met, and the less time one has to spend obtaining, securing, or expanding these two, the more one can spend time in other activities and, generally, the more effective one will be in them. Thus a capitalist society will never achieve true equality under the law because of the inherent inequality of property rights in capitalism. Either the benefits of capitalism are worth the detriments of capitalism or something else should eventually be adopted but in important ways capitalism limits individual freedom for many people (whether there can be a society with complete freedom for everybody is another question).
Shays’ Rebellion provides a useful parable about property rights. In the Massachusetts Colony one had to own property in order to have voting rights (a de jury connection between property and political rights as opposed to the more de facto connection that I discussed above). Shay was a tenant farmer in western Massachusetts meaning that he didn’t own the land by title to which he farmed but for all practical purposes he owned the farmland he farmed but he had to pay annual rent to a landlord in Boston who did nothing of practical importance for Shay. The landlord only made money from the property that Shay worked and made profitable only because of fortune.
When revolution broke out Shay fought in the revolution supported by his landlord (who, unlike Shay, directly detrimented from the recent British policies imposed on the Colonies) and probably had to provide some of the equipment he used in the army himself. While he was away fighting his farm fell into disrepair and became unprofitable. After returning from the war to his farm, Shay was begging to rehabilitate the land but his landlord raised rents (to help pay for his expenses accrued during the war) and at the same time the legislature in Boston (in which Shay’s landlord had a vote and Shay did not) raised taxes on tenant farmers (to help pay for expenses that the State accumulated during the war).
Shay became disgruntled over his perceived injustice of the new taxes (after all didn’t he just fight a war where a major theme was the injustice of raising taxes on people who were not represented in government) and over his desperate economic situation. He hobbled together a group of similarly disgruntled tenant farmers, attacked a federal armory, and took some merchants hostage. The farmers wanted land redistribution where people who actually farmed the land would own it and not have to pay rent to people who owned the land for no reason other than fortune. The Massachusetts militia defeated these rebels and the event would affect the forging of the US Constitution but the heart of the rebellion was about property rights.
The rebels wanted to change the property rights to those that seemed to them to be more beneficial to themselves and more just but the government who represented those with better property rights wanted to protect traditional rights. (At the time I probably would have favored a one-time redistribution of land, at-least to the veterans). The political decision was decided by force of arms but this example demonstrates both the importance of property rights (which, in this case, the property rights regime hindered economic growth) and the fact that property rights exist from individual circumstances governed by practical facts in a context of a paradigm for property rights broadly in society.
The paradigm in which individuals acquire and lose property and property rights is constantly changing. I’m sure one can find constant rules that help determine and shape how this evolution happens regardless of the society but it is my guess that each such rule is not dominant by itself and that broad rules of how property rights are created in society and how they evolve are not going to apply in every society. This is a conclusion limited in its usefulness but it assists in understanding the justice and practicality of changes to a property rights paradigm.
If I would come up with general rules they would be very much unspecific. I think property rights are necessary in a human society because there needs to be (or at-least there will be) rules, formal or informal, about who controls the use and the benefits of what property. I don’t see much use in a polity at large understanding the full philosophy and history regarding property and property rights in general but I see an important use of having some members of a society learned in such things. I also see a use for a polity at large to discuss the particular regime of property rights in their society and to discuss changes to that regime. I also thinking that understanding how property rights work in a particular society is very useful for understanding anything social about that society.
As far as my society is concerned there are changes to our regime that I favor (some for practical reasons and others for moral reasons but often a combination of the two). I favor increased rights for home renters either through government legislation, tenant unions, or both. There probably exist several radical land redistribution policies and/or radically different home ownership rights but I don’t know what they are. These are two examples but every economic policy affects the property rights regime to some degree.
In my thinking about these specific policies I am uninhibited by an ideological domination on what property rights should be, what natural property rights are, an unwillingness to deviate from tradition, or an eagerness to embrace novelty. There are commentators that profess the importance of property rights and the need for government to safeguard them. In this I agree with them but I disagree with them when they use that argument for keeping property rights static because they are allegedly the natural property rights (would this mean that the right to own slaves was once a natural right and if so then what changed?).
I agree with Adam Smith that the goal of governments in preserving and protecting property rights often serves the wealthy in defense of their privilege from usurpations of wealth by the poor. This stems from the fact that the economically and politically powerful tend to be the same and tends to want to keep a social structure that maintains their privilege. The conventional wisdom that the current property right regime is the best and most just should be challenged but the wisdom that ample property rights are important both to individuals and to political freedom is sound.
Yes. Yes they do. Now how moral that morality is, is an interesting thing to consider.
This is a question that has been on my mind recently and I want to spend some time on it. I do note that in searching for others who have answered that question and I found one person, Zach Watkins who also wrote an essay on the subject called “The Morality of Orcs.” Mr. Watkins’ essay can be found here: http://www.unm.edu/~tolkien/Greybook/vol3/The%20Morality%20of%20Orcs.pdf. I am sure that his work has influenced my work though I believe that I go into more detail but perhaps I am just being more verbose.
I’ve recently discovered the Age of Wonders video game series. It is a tough game to be successful at even on easy but I find the environment compelling. It is a 4x/adventure hybrid game (4x is like the Civilization series while an adventure game is like the Zork series) set in a Tolkienesque world. The series has twelve species (which are called races for some reason. I’m sure that each species has racial differences amongst its members) latter increased to 15 then 18 and each has an alignment of good, evil or natural. Some of the standard fantasy species are where one should expect them to be such as (wood) elves and dwarves being good, the humans being natural, and goblins and orcs being evil.
The fact that an entire species would be labeled as evil raises questions for me. Certainty the orcs wouldn’t view themselves as evil. Right? It has often been remarked by several sources and I believe it that few people go out into the world thinking “I’m going to do some evil today,” “I’m going to dedicate my life to evil,” or something similar. People generally try to do good by some definition of good or to at-least rationalize one’s own behavior as good. So if orcs think that they are doing good (and if so it would be likely that the elves would be doing evil?) then what is that good that they think that they are doing?
Mr. Watkins takes on this issue from three perspectives. From the perspective of moral relativism, moral absolutism, and a third way that takes that if one acts faithfully in a despicable cause but one believes that the despicable cause is moral then one is acting morally. The third is a medium between the two where one supposes that an absolute morality exists but respects the ignorance of individual beings as to what that morality is. I do intend to talk about the issue from the first two perspectives and ultimately allude that they are the same.
The question of morality from the perspective or cultural relativism seams trivial at first glance. Proponents of cultural relativism note correctly that any functioning society has acceptable and encouraged standards of behavior. People who violate these cultural standards would need to be punished until they fit them, exiled from society, or killed. Different societies have stricter or looser standards and punishments but a society that has absolutely no standards of behavior would be interesting to explore the possibility of though ultimately I think that such a society is imposable. Every society needs some standards and one’s morality is often measured by the extent to which one upholds the standards that society would in general wish itself to have.
This in a sense makes the question moot. Orc society functions because in both Tolkien’s works and in the above mentioned game there is clear indication of a lasting, established, and intricate orcish society. This means that the society has standards and thus some morality and that there would be orcs that demonstrate the right standards to be considered moral by other orcs. This raises the question of what would an orc consider to be moral?
I would like to start answering that question by asking a different question: how would orcs view humans? We know how humans view orcs because Tolkien described them but if one wants to understand orcs, one cannot only take a human perspective. TV tropes quotes Warhammer 4000 here: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/OurOrcsAreDifferent but I’m going to answer the question myself. The character, Snotgrub, from Warhammer 4000 makes a tangentially appropriate point that orcs probably view humans as repulsive as humans view orcs and orcs probably have as hard a time telling humans apart as humans do orcs. The same would be true when each other, at first glance at-least, tries to understand the behavior of the other species.
Orcish society seams very hierarchical and that hierarchy seams based on which orcs could kill other orcs. This makes sense as a lot of species in this world use this standard to set up their hierarchies but orcs do seam bound to their masters. Sometimes they do so begrudgingly but, unsurprisingly, orcs would have their own form of punishments to coarse adherence to the standards of orcish society. Humans on the other hand have developed a system of determining hierarchy that involves things other than who could kill whom and humans through at-least written history have been fond of challenging hierarchy. Orcs would think the nature of human hierarchy is as perverse and chaotic as humans would consider the orcish nature of hierarch ridged and cruel. Both species have strong traditions of finding morality in the respect of hierarchy but the things that one species finds to be the moral way to practice hierarchy, the other species despises.
Also every description of orcs that I have encountered leads me to believe that orcs deal with conflicts directly, quickly, and with little question as to what the outcome is. This is much different than human behavior both in this world and in most fantasy worlds. Humans tend to find complicated ways to resolve conflicts. This means that it can be a long process to try to resolve a conflict and that a lot of conflicts don’t get resolved at all or there is dispute about the resolution to the dispute. This also means that many humans often employ, find acceptable, and even laud the morality of dealing with others in a way that one might describe as sneaky. I would suspect that orcs would find such behavior reprehensible. Humans may often find settling every dispute with a fistfight to be immoral but orcs may tend to view settling disputes in a way that isn’t the most direct way to be immoral. This is understandable because, on this point, several humans would agree with the orcs.
I have examined two ways in which orcs might consider themselves morally superior to humans and these alleged beliefs have established backing in philosophies on this world. Speculating on the full range of orcish morality would be difficult as I am not aware of any Tolkien works written from the perspective of an orc but it would be silly to think that orc society is any less complex than human society. It is also easy to understand that literature written from the orcs’ enemies perspective wouldn’t necessarily explore this complexity because those enemies would be ignorant of what that perspective is. How often in this world has one group of humans gone to war with another group without fully understanding the other? There is still enough evidence to conclude that orcs do have their own moral principles, that they use various social means to encourage those principles, and to have some idea of what some of the principles might be. One should also note that as humans often act in ways most humans would consider immoral the same should be expected from the orcs and that sometimes someone who acts immorally is rewarded by his or her society for such behavior.
Now the question is: assume that there exists an absolute morality: how well do orcs abide by this absolute morality? In answering this question, the assumption is that an absolute morality exists and not that one knows what that morality is. One needs to acknowledge ignorance of what that morality is in order to answer this question. Mr. Watkins deals with this question succinctly by stating that most people would consider orcs to be far from being considered moral in this circumstance but I suspect that the orcs would disagree.
Orcs can point to behavior that they would claim make them morally superior to the so called fairer species. I’ve already addressed two of them. Humans often laud a revolutionary even a failure of one but, in orcish society, I am of the suspicion that if you lead a revolt and fail then you and all of your followers will be killed and if you succeeded the former ruler and everybody who didn’t support you will be killed. (Modern) humans find such behavior reprehensible but orcs likely find it hard to believe that we would let such deviants, such dangers to a well-run society, live. There is also the principle, which I share, that if someone is going to hurt another then that person should openly declare why, what he or she is going to do, and then openly do it rather than do these things in secret.
Now in the game, Age of Wonders, orcs have allied themselves with a faction that is trying to exterminate both humans and wood elves and that orcs are mentioned to practice rape and murder in victory during war. I should note that until a few centuries ago at-most, most human societies considered such practices acceptable in war. Do I fault the Romans for taking the women of the conquered as part of the spoils of war and for systematically trying to destroy some of the cultures that they conquered? Yes. Yes, I do. I do point out that it is likely that a thousand years ago, most humans wouldn’t and perhaps I wouldn’t fault the Romans. But I live today and I do consider the orcs immoral for practicing rape and genocide and while the game allows one to play from the perspective of the evil faction, I feel uncomfortable doing so despite my desire to understand evil and despite the fact that fiction is a great tool to try and do so.
In Tolkien’s universe it is important to understand what motivates the behavior of orcs. The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings is written from the perspective from the allies and not the shadow powers. The allies tend to think themselves as good and that they are fighting a pure evil in the shadow powers and they give the conflict a black and white treatment. This is common behavior during wars throughout human history on this planet. It is important to remember the conflict that led to the war of the ring in the first place. It began with Melkor who was one of the first beings in this universe and existed before middle earth. Before the world was created Melkor dared to think thoughts that were different from those of his colleagues and the effects of the resulting disagreement was that Melkor became Morgoth and rebelled against the consensus of his brethren (the Valar) leading to much strife on middle earth.
The elves are the principle direct agents of the Valar in middle earth and have plenty of questionable ethics themselves. The elves by and large try to put middle earth into the order they feel is fit whether or not the other species want the position bequeathed to them by the elves. This, understandably, has led to strained relations between many the elves. Much of the conflict of middle earth has been done by the agents of the Valar and of Melkor stemming from the first primordial disagreement. This goes to show that when gods argue, mortals wage epic wars. The war of the ring, the war between Elrond, heir of Finwë, and Sauron, lieutenant to Morgoth, was part of or at-least a remnant of this conflict between the Valar and Melkor. It should be noted that Elrond’s daughter Arwen married Aragorn who had a son Eldarion and I believe that the Mouth of Sauron, Sauron’s lieutenant, wasn’t killed in the final battle for the ring leaving the conflict to continue.
This all said, what stake do the orcs have in this conflict? The shadow powers have shown themselves far more willing than the alliance to tolerate the behavior of the orcs. The alliance largely views the orcs without any or barley any sympathy, understanding, or acceptance. They profane the species and often commit atrocities towards them. The shadow powers do seem to want to keep the orcs in bondage but in a bondage that the orcs can accept. The shadow powers let the orcs be orcs, provide an environment suited to the species in which it can thrive, and allow the orcs to manage their own societies. All the masters ask in return is that the orc chieftains provide allegiance to their masters but, as stated above, the orcs likely find such to be a moral virtue. The orcs act oppressively to other species that they can dominate but the orcs are oppressed themselves especially by the allied powers and even by the shadow powers. I am reminded of a lesson from human history on this planet which is that when an oppressed people suddenly find themselves to be the masters, they tend (but aren’t always) to be bigger oppressors than the former masters. In any case, intentional or not, the orcs are fighting for allowing variety of thought amongst the gods of their universe. I don’t know enough about the Valar to know if this is a good cause or an evil cause. Also, from the orcs perspective, the orcs are fighting for a world which they find comfortable and it is hard to fault a people for not doing the best they can to satisfy their needs.
It should also be noted that these aren’t different races that we are talking about but rather different species. There are clear similarities but the difference in physiology and psychology between orc and human and elf are far greater than exist between any two human races in this world. What can be oppressive and cruel behavior to a human can be comfortable behavior to an orc. Tolkien was a master of many things but I don’t know of much of what he wrote that would really illuminate the biology of middle earth. This further exacerbates our ignorance of trying to answer the question of morality because there is a real possibility that due to the different psychology of the different species that punishing an orc with violence for a wrong doing could be more torturous to the wrongdoer than letting the offence slide.
Another thing to note is that the Tolkien works and most derivative works are set to medieval European culture (there should be more fantasy set in industrializing or post industrializing societies. Steampunk has the industrializing societies down and I do enjoy it but I want a society in which there are elven basketball players and orcish lawyers). This isn’t a society that is big on recognizing or respecting cultural differences no matter whatever reason the differences occur. I know that I’m grossly oversimplifying; some medieval European cultures were accepting of others. One shouldn’t expect elves or humans or especially dwarves to try and understand why the orcs do what they do from the orc perspective and thus we shouldn’t expect such a nuanced view from Tolkien’s main works.
That said, middle earth will one day industrialize. Some species may willingly or not go extinct before the industrialization process is completed and we only have the history of one planet going through industrialization and one data point has zero statistical significance but at some point one should expect that human and orcish societies would integrate. There may be limitations on how much integration can occur due to species (and not racial) differences but at some point in an industrialized society, if Earth is a model and not an exception, a good degree of integration would have to occur and this would bring challenges. One may not want human and orc first graders in the same class but in the same school might work. Integrating an overall set of social standards and thus integrating a morality (even if such integration allows for deviations in the sub-cultures as our cultures do) would be a big part of the challenge.
Age of Wonders provides another interesting situation. The backstory to the game is that for the first thousand years of creation elves ruled the world (the blessed continent) and managed the world’s species from the exclusive Valley of Wonders. Then humans came and they didn’t like the position given to them by the elves and thus they made war on the elves. During this war elvish society was nearly annihilated, the king of a thousand years was killed, and humans claimed the Valley of Wonders as their own. This split elves into wood elves and dark elves and caused a great deal less order on the Blessed Continent. During this period of increased freedom, the humans thrived and threatened to displace all other species.
Thus, in the video game, humans as a species are the biggest villains which is unusual and refreshing. Wood elves lead the good faction that wants to return elvish peace to the Valley of Wonders but preserve and reform humanity while dark elves lead the evil faction that wants to restore the elvish court as it was and exterminate humans and wood elves in the process. There are more radical elements of each side too. In the way this is presented, I have no problems calling the wood elf faction good and the dark elf faction evil but that is based on my own guess as to what the before mentioned absolute morality is. I expect that from an orc’s perspective that the wood elf faction is evil and the dark elf faction is good. The orcs after all do support the dark elves in their quest.
In closing I stick by my initial answer: yes, the orcs do have a morality. They have a moral code that is a non-exclusive influence on their behavior and just as we judge orcs by our standards of morality, it is likely that orcs judge our behavior by their standards of morality and neither judgment is likely to be good. I do think there exists an absolute morality and despite the time I spend trying to better my guess as to what that is, it is still a guess and I cannot objectively claim that my guess is better than anyone else’s even an orc’s. Also, if such universes actually exist, orcs have more virtue than most works of fiction give them.