Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Steve Waldman of interfluidity writes stuff in response to Tyler Cowen writing stuff.  I can recommend reading interfluidity without reservation.  Go, do so.  Come back in a few days.  I might even have a new post (in line with my current schedule of “a day or so after Lum posts).

One bit I wanted to pull attention to:

For the most part, Tyrone pointed out, technological progress, is labor displacing. It simultaneously creates valuable new techniques for reconfiguring real resources while diminishing the number of people who are required to participate in those transformations, and who can therefore trade their participation for spending power. There is a myth among neoliberal economists that labor markets have always “adjusted” sua sponte: that when laborers were displaced from farms, “higher value” factories arose to employ them; that when the factories were downsized and offshored, a more pleasant, higher-value service economy came to be; etc. That narrative is wrong, he told me. At best it is criminally incomplete. With each technological change, new social institutions had to arise to sustain dispersed purchasing power despite a reduction of numbers and bargaining power of workers in old industries. Displaced workers ultimately did find new work, but only because the new social institutions “artificially” created buyers for all the things displaced workers reinvented themselves to sell. Without this institutional innovation, Tyrone tells me, something like the Great Depression would have been the new normal. Historically, institutions that have arisen to sustain purchasing power despite increasingly labor-efficient core production include direct government transfers and expenditures, labor unions, monetary policy interventions, financial bubbles and financial fraud.

Basically, the standard cybernetics argument!  This single insight into techonogical progress is the foundation for damn near every scifi novel ever, particularly any that touches on the social situation of their posited future.

Dystopian scifi focuses on the inevitability of the masses losing out.  In that case, in a capitalist society, the owner of the means of production (which roughly means the owner of the implementations of technology) reap the benefits of technological advancement, while labor is relegated to cogs in a machine that increasingly has little use for them, until they become completely displaced, totally irrelevant, and utterly incapable of finding a handhold in the increasingly distant, technologically advanced society.

While the lot in life of the displaced masses tends to improve in ways, that advancement certainly doesn’t seem to have done much for their lives relative to those of medieval peasants of Europe and Russia.  They still live in relative poverty, at the whims of property holders who really don’t give a shit about them.

Utopian scifi instead focuses on the freedom engendered by such technological transformation.  It is a good thing that labor isn’t needed: that labor is freed to do things that require a more human touch.  Surely if a robot can do it, it probably isn’t worth wasting a human’s time on it (assuming non-sentient robots or whatever; I don’t want to get into discussions about the ‘other-chassis-ed’).  Those free humans now have opportunities to go do something else!  And since stuff is cheaper, purcahsers now have more money to waste on what would have been considered useless crap, but now gains potentially new value.

For instance, this blog is a prime example of what Utopian scifi authors consider a win for technology: a complete waste of time for both you and me were we both living in grinding poverty, but with the leisure engendered by new technologies (because now we don’t have to waste time worrying about food and shelter), now suddenly my asinine commentary on philosophy, games, and economics can be viewed as a new value! (think Pyramid of Needs here).

What I find interesting is that “progress” must be viewed through a variety of lenses.  Dystopians have a pretty solid reason for arguing that new tech screws most everyone over.  Utopians have good arguments for saying the exact opposite.  And I say they’re both right, because it entirely depends on both your point of view on what’s better and on the frame in which the technology occurs.

But ignore me.  Go read Waldman.


Read Full Post »

So sayeth the guy who talks about movies a lot: never can video games aspire to have, amidst their mighty pantheon of wondrous achievements, a single, solitary instance of a “Work of Art”.

I disagree, and I think it comes down to definitions here.  Apparently, I have a broader definition of art than Ebert…or perhaps we approach it in two very different directions, leading to radically different final definitions that end up with some overlap.  In reading through his argument, I’m really unable to discern precisely what his definition of art IS.

Of course, the basis of his discourse is a rebuttal of a rather poorly made argument, by a woman who undermined her point at the very beginning of her talk by agreeing with Ebert that “No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.”  This isn’t a very persuasive rhetorical maneuver, nor is it true.  I emphatically can name games worthy of such comparison, and know people who would name other such games.

She then continues down the strictly shoddy rhetorical path of continually throwing up obstacles to her argument.  Games which have been with us for centuries or millenia are not art.  This actually isn’t too controversial, which is why I think she so easily agrees: how is baseball art?  Football?  Mahjong?  We don’t really call these art normally, and since we’ve never granted them the positive assertion, then the negation must apply.  If something isn’t art, it’s “Not Art”.

I think this is partly a problem of our linguistic structure, where we have the exact same syntax for denying a property to something and saying we don’t know if it has that property.  If we never say something is art…that could mean, you know, that we’ve just never gone about thinking about it.  But Kellee Santiago simply goes on with the uncontested assertion that none of these games are art, appealing directly to common usage.  Never does she ask why they aren’t art.

Instead, she hops over to wikipedia to try and define art, arriving at this:

Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.

Of course, the article has a giant label over it, pointing out potential issues with it.  This definition, for instance, has no corroborating citations.  Wikipedia is built strictly on summarizing multiple sources in an effort to distill common, accessible knowledge, of which definitions are a part.  But let’s work with this, since it’s going to, at least initially, be Santiago’s starting place.  It’s worthwhile to point out that further down, wikipedia delves into the substantial argument raging with the philosophy of aesthetics (a particular philosophical endeavor I’ve always found cringeworthy, anyway), quickly diluting the clarity of its original definition.  Further, as Ebert notes, chess may fit that definition…as might football, baseball, mahjong, and other non-video-games.

Part of the issue here is that beauty, passion, the “Dionysian”, as Nietzsche called it, is somehow missing.  Take Kellee’s final definition: “Art is a way of communicating ideas to an audience in a way the audience finds engaging”.  What, precisely, is the idea communicated by music?  It doesn’t seem to be anything specific.  Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, something I tend to consider a staggering work of art, seems to offer no specific concepts or conceptual arrangements.  Pachelbel’s Canon in D is another wonderful artistic accomplishment, and the idea there seems to be…the generally accurate application of the rules of the canon, rules which are quite precise.  Indeed, the act of creating a canon, as Bach was famed for, was very much like…a game.  Simply look at the puzzle canon.

In fact, it feels like she just pushed the argument off.  Anything can be said to communicate an idea, as, strictly speaking, the moment a human comes in contact with something external, an idea is formed to attempt to mentally model this something.  Really, the thing differentiating art seems to be “engagement”, which remains poorly defined.

See, there’s little point in continuing.  We can’t use the examples she gives as a means of inductively arriving at a general definition of art, because she’s trying to convince they are instances of art.  We’d need to know they were first, and then try and move from there.  So really, she’s trying to claim her definition is good, and show how games are getting close to whatever her definition is.

It’s no good; her argument is, as Ebert properly notes, not terribly cohesive and difficult to see from the examples given.  She already conceded the ground that these examples aren’t art…they’re apparently the chicken scratches of early cave painters.  I agree with Ebert in his response to this:

They were great artists at that time, geniuses with nothing to build on, and were not in the process of becoming Michelangelo or anyone else.

Art, I think, has to be considered an end in itself.  A work of art is self-contained.

But then, what is art?  Ebert doesn’t seem to have a solid definition either, nor does he respond to the “engagement” definition.  He does point to a single difference, as he sees it, between games and art.

One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome.

This is interesting, I think, because it seems to miss the point.  It is not that games have “rules, points, objectives, and an outcome”.  That’s like saying a human body has hands feet, torso, chest and legs.  A game IS those things.  He’s correct, if you don’t have rules and goals, you don’t have a game.  You can win at a single instance of a game; you cannot “win” a game.  The game sits seperately from our playthroughs, giving weight to them, providing the bones to hold up the meat of our interaction.

A game, in its essence, consists entirely of a conglomeration of concepts, of abstract rules governing a “world”, a set of particles upon which those rules operate.  If ever there were a medium which sought to express ideas, games, in all forms, is it.  Games are representations of structures of motion, whimsical, semi-real, relevant, or absolutely divorced from any connection to the rules of our own world.  All of the narratives constructs, the stories, the setting, the graphics, the music, the controls, the design, all of these are woven together into the higher form of a game.  They are subordinate to the whole, which is experienced as discovery.

Consider a Monet.  Impressionism is not, at least to me, terribly interesting initially.  However, upon finally seeing a monet, in person, from a distance, I discovered what was being shown: not simply the static image of a pond, or a snowed-upon roof, but the distillation of the motion.  Seen from afar, they managed to convey a more dynamic, visceral representation of the subject matter than a more statically detailed rendition.  That’s not to say Impressionism therefore was better art…it simply has its own virtues.

I am left to think that it is something of this sort which makes something potentially art: it’s ability to evoke passion in us.  Art is something towards which we cannot be indifferent, or at least which was cared for in its making.  Passion is the true tool of the artist, and all the myriad forms of “art” are simply new ways to express the passion of the artist.  Perhaps I am simply troubled by the lack of concern for the artist, for we focus on the audience.  Does an artist even think of the audience?  Is an audience necessary to art?  Or is art the result of the vain attempt to give form to what is strictly a concept, to birth into reality something hinted at in a mind?  If it is this latter, isn’t the impact on the audience simply a secondary concern?

Really, part of my disagreement here is that I find logical proofs to be artistic.  Indeed, they cannot fail to meet any definition provided by either Ebert or Santiago, yet I bet neither of them would wish to call logical proofs…art.  There is, however, no other word I can find to apply to the deft mental construction, the elegance and awe-inspiring brilliance of things like Cantor’s Diagonalization Argument or Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems.  If math and logic can produce works of art, I find myself open to discovering works of art anywhere.

Thus, I disagree with Roger Ebert and Kellee Santiago that games have yet to produce a masterpiece of the form.  I am quite willing to assert the Silent Hill 2 ranks as an absolute masterpiece of a game, on par with any of the masterpieces of psychological thriller I have seen and certainly equal to any of the great novels I have read.  I put down super mario brothers as an example of distilled fun, and put forward that watching what truly great players can do with the game says that the game itself is a work of art.  I would happily contend that Modern Warfare 1 (but not 2) was an absolute masterpiece of first person shooting and single-player gaming.  I think Final Fantasy VI and VII are both worthy of being called works of art, along with Chrono Trigger.  These games were not merely pivotal points in games history.

I shouldn’t fail to include Braid, though I sadly haven’t played it.  I would happily call Audiosurf a successful piece of experimental art.  Geometry Wars Evolved also qualifies as a work of art.  For me, Extreme G 2 delivered to me an experience which was evocative and brilliant (I couldn’t quite call Extreme G 3 better, and I didn’t play Wipeout XL, so I can’t comment on it).  Many Bioware games could arguably fit within this pantheon of masterpieces of art, along with many of Blizzard’s works.

Tetris is a masterpiece.

These are things I would put in a gallery, if a gallery could be a place where one person could sit, ensconced in the setting envisioned for these games for the time it takes to squeeze their wonder from them, and call them worthy of display.  I do not think games are lacking for works of art.  I think the world of video games overflows with some of the most profound and earnest creative effort humanity has ever born witness to, whether crass entertainment or high-minded morals.  Heck, the world SURROUNDING games gives birth to a massive creative effort, from the fansites to the webcomics to the theorycrafting to the remixed music.

In fact, I defy Santiago or Ebert to describe a single artistic subculture which has ever promoted such a diversity of creative effort.

Read Full Post »

How people view and relate to the concept “religion” fascinates me, as was probably obvious from that discussion I had about Science as Religion with Jormundgard back in December.  Kotaku is apparently taking this week to discuss religion and video games, and has kicked it off with an article by Owen Good on religious depictions in video games, and why it is so infrequent to see real religions actually explored in games.

Now, I’m not terribly concerned with the reasoning and conclusions of the article itself; rather, I’m interested in the way the article discusses religion.  Indeed, the comments following the article are even more intriguing, as they illuminate the basic contexts of the respondents and how they view religion.  Most revealing is not what is said, but what is assumed and what is not said.

Read Full Post »

Jormundgard replied to my (rather long) post about Conformity and Social Decision Making with a good point: I was a bit vague in my usage of certain terms, and that led to a lack of clarity as to what I was getting at with this whole “Church of Reason” bit.  I’d like to repost his comment and my response here, in full, because I think interesting points are made.  And I can do this sort of thing.

First, though, a bit more on this whole “Church of Reason” thing.  As I said in my post, I didn’t invent this phrase, nor did I come up with the idea.  I’ve developed it along my own lines, incorporating some of my own thoughts and ideas, but it is still essentially Robert Pirsig‘s creation.  Here’s Pirsig’s original description:

The real University, he said, has no specific location. It owns no property, pays no salaries and receives no material dues. The real University is a state of mind. It is that great heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries and which does not exist at any specific location. It’s a state of mind which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of professor, but even that title is not part of the real University. The real University is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself.

In addition to this state of mind, “reason,” there’s a legal entity which is unfortunately called by the same name but which is quite another thing. This is a nonprofit corporation, a branch of the state with a specific address. It owns property, is capable of paying salaries, of receiving money and of responding to legislative pressures in the process.

But this second university, the legal corporation, cannot teach, does not generate new knowledge or evaluate ideas. It is not the real University at all. It is just a church building, the setting, the location at which conditions have been made favorable for the real church to exist.

Confusion continually occurs in people who fail to see this difference, he said, and think that control of the church buildings implies control of the church. They see professors as employees of the second university who should abandon reason when told to and take orders with no backtalk, the same way employees do in other corporations.

They see the second university, but fail to see the first. – Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Part II, ch. 13 (found here).

Pirsig develops this metaphor from a preceding anecdote, which involves a priest explaining that the Church is not the building.  At least initially, then, Pirsig’s use of the phrase “Church of Reason” is intended to signify that: the immaterial institution of the University.  Yet, as he goes on, you do realize that he means feels the adherents have a particular way of examining the world and dealing with it, one which need not be the best way.  Indeed, much of the end f the book is dedicated to fleshing out something of a competing metaphysical idea.

Anyway, on to the exchange.  From Jormundgard:

There is a ton of content in here, and I’m sure I’m not absorbing it correctly, but I can’t figure out your characterization of Science. I don’t know if you’re saying that Society-At-Large has replaced the attitude of “Because God Said So” with “Because Science Said So”, or if it is the Scientists that have done so, i.e. are the followers the Scientists (“priests”, maybe)? Or just the world in general, as a means by which we communicate? The analogy to religious leadership also seems very forced.

Most of the leaked CRU emails have generated a bit of gossip for anyone not directly involved, but it hasn’t strongly altered anyone’s practices in my own field. “Science”, if it can be defined, is not much more than intense, iterative investigations that minimize the uncontrolled degrees of freedom, combined with massive cross-referencing to previous literature and a touch of ambition. A few fuckups using suspicious tree ring proxy data doesn’t really change that methodology, even if they happened to be celebrated a bit too exuberantly by governments and the media. Most of the furor behind the CRU emails seems to be about public perception by non-practicing scientists, so I can only assume that’s what you meant.

(PS: I work in oceanography, and interface with climate scientists occasionally).

And my response:

Heh, you’ve actually run into one of the rhetorical issues I wrestled with while writing this. I used Reason and Science interchangeably in many cases, because I honestly got bored and felt the writing sounded too repetitive simply re-using the term “Reason”. They don’t mean precisely the same thing, even in the context I mean, though I would argue that the social definitions have converged somewhat.

Keep in mind that I’m speaking of the Church of Reason as a metaphor. Effectively, the Church of Reason is the sort of global University – the institution embodied in all the various universities and places which espouse the worship of reason. It should also be kept in mind that I think we’ve built some really strong negative connotations into religious diction. Take the word worship, for instance. When I re-read my usage above, I noted that the word, which trivially means admiring greatly, includes a sense of “blindness” or “unwarranted-ness”. That implies that a worshiper is granting admiration to something that really isn’t as deserving as the worship indicates.

But would you deny that you admire Reason, or the products of its application? I suspect that, as a scientist yourself, you feel that the application of Reason is probably the single most important act a person can engage in, and the originator of much of the greatest works in recent history. The accomplishments of Reason are manifold and astonishing…surely that’s worthy of the utmost admiration? And, admiring something so greatly that you attempt to practice the methods it produces, wouldn’t that essentially be worship? Is that really any different from what priests or shamans have done throughout history?

The essence of my philosophical argument on that front consists in two parts: that the University is a religious institution, and that academics are its priests.

I defined a religion as being a collection of answers to basic philosophical questions. While most religions prior to the University relied on what we call supernatural explanations to answer these questions, that doesn’t seem necessary to religion. As near as I can tell, a religion merely need profer some sort of set of answers. The success of the religion probably has a lot to do with its internal consistency and how well it works for the people who adhere to it. Regardless, while this is my own definition, it conforms well to dictionary.com (a solid source for the social definition of a word): “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

While it does note “esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies”, it does not require it. So I feel my definition stands. If that’s the case, then I think the University, or the institution of academia, or the Church of Reason, profer such a set of beliefs. As I indicated above, these are a substance based universe which is measurable, that inductive and deductive reasoning may be applied successfully to move from measurements to statements about this universe, and a utilitarian moral system. I think the first two bits aren’t terribly controversial, though the utilitarianism claim is, and I attempt to defend it above.

Regardless, this fits the bill for a religion. It even satisfies a requirement of faith, because I have seen no proper argument given that these principles are absolutely correct in all possible worlds (thus satisfying analytical requirements for absolute truth), and I have looked. They seem to be accepted purely as a matter of course. In fact, philosophically much effort has gone into attempting to refute the skeptical claim that inductive reasoning fails to offer any real insight into the world. Bertrand Russell essentially blew off the contention that you can’t really know anything derived from empirical evidence with “well, it works out alright and I’ve got nothing better”. This is roughly akin to “can you imagine the world being around without God?” At one point in time, no one in the West could, so they all accepted His existence as a matter of course.

From the assertion that the University is the institution of a religion, like the Church is to Christianity (a claim I did not make originally. I adopted this particular perspective from Robert Pirsig, which he wrote about in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), I pointed out that academics serve effectively as its priests. The comparison is only forced when you don’t see the Reason as religion. At the point you see Reason as religion, it becomes obvious that academics are the priests. They lecture on it to their flocks, they examine it and attempt to divine more of its mystery.

Science is an interesting part of this. Science is mostly engineering: here is a problem in our modeling of the world. Come up with a mental construct that extends or replaces the existing model so that this problem no longer exists. That’s engineering, really. However, that method receives a certain special boost because of its relation to the epistemic method of the Church of Reason. Since Science very specifically deals with induction on the basis of measurements, then it is very much the working out of the epistemic structures of the Church of Reason. That, in turn, makes doings of Science central to the institution of Reason, the University.

It bears pointing out that our particular forms of logical deduction and induction are not the sole methods of modeling the world. Every religion has had its own system of methods for refining and extending the basic principles of their core assertions, and they’ve differed pretty radically from what we’re used to nowadays, so there have been the equivalent of Sciences for every religion.

I go into all this in order to show that the CRU emails really aren’t the issue here. They were a convenient example and provided a certain spark of motivation, though really they motivated other people to write which prompted me to write on the topics they got in to. The CRU emails allowed me to talk about two related things, first, that the University is a group of people and that social dynamics plays an enormously pivotal role in their beliefs and perspectives – more so that is often assumed – and second, that the University operates as a religion, which is a particular social grouping who’ve agreed upon a specific set of core assumptions about the world. It is the backbone of a culture, which means it’s an institution which has arisen (organically, I might add) in order to affirm and develop the core tenets of the culture.

You’re right about the CRU emails developing a furor among non-scientists. Being divorced from the process, they have a certain idealized notion of how things work: it’s supposed to be a very inhuman process, where scientists are merely the cogs in the machine by which Reason delivers the Truth…and tells them what the hell they’re supposed to do. To discover that there may be a rather large human factor involved in that process, a human factor that seems to potentially act counter-productively to the working of that grand edifice, is a bit unnerving.

I wouldn’t expect that to have much impact on scientists: they know how things work, and generally can buffer themselves from this. They know this is a few bad apples who have gone overboard, there are basic hurdles to be overcome, etc. They do not think they are generally amenable to any form of social conformity. In fact, it should be noted that Solomon Asch was entirely surprised by the results of his conformity experiment. Most people were. We don’t think we do that.

But we do. One of the things scientists attempt to do, via the methodology of science, is to weed out any variables which might be influenced by such things…to get away from observer bias. I’m quite certain scientists are content that their methodological practices are relatively secure by this point, having endured for some centuries. They’re probably right, for the most part.

I’m not sure, though, that the bit of climate science which predicts significant global warming in the medium term fits that. Specifically, I’m relatively certain that the climate, both globally and locally, exhibits to factors which make prediction extraordinarily difficult: sensitive dependence on initial conditions and the spontaneous development of previously unseen internal feedback loops.

The state of the system on the basis of its initial ruleset at any given time is extremely dependent upon prior states and resilient to externalities. This implies that any model which manages to accurately capture the way the system works still needs to be fed precisely the right starting data before it can be determined an accurate predictor. Depending on the magnifying effect of the dependencies, even a small error can lead to a dramatically incorrect result. The problem with systems like this is it’s indeterminate how wrong at any given time it will be, particularly if the amount of error at any given point in the model may change dramatically.

The second problem, that of the sudden development of new feedback loops, is inherent to inductive reasoning about a complex system. For any model the more inputs and the greater their range, the more observations which need to be made. This holds not just for the determination of the model’s success for some equilibrium, but also for its success outside the base equilibrium range. Specifically, since we haven’t seen what the world does at a given temperature range, we can’t be sure it’ll do what it does now. While we have some limited evidence that hints in various directions, it’s frankly sparse. 100 years of solid data is a drop in the ocean of data you’d need to accurately test a model which meant to capture a system as complex as our climate.

I admit, this effort reminds me greatly of the work of freshwater macroeconomists in trying to develop DSGE models. They work…for a very limited set of data, and with a very large set of assumptions and parameters which made the model fit existing data. Problematically, the more assumptions and parameters, the more room for significant failure…and the more difficult it becomes to test the validity of the model itself. This comes because, for a sufficiently complex model, we could spend eternity tweaking parameters and assumptions in such a way as to make them fit any finite dataset. We’d still never know its accuracy, because we hadn’t tested every possible dataset.

Does this mean I deny the possibility of anthropogenic global warming? No. In fact, I’m willing to give the mass of scientists looking into this credit, and say they’ve likely hit on something. I am, however, not convinced they know how it’ll play out. I’m not sold that the universe won’t throw them a curve ball. It’s ironic (sadistic) like that.

Read Full Post »

Gevlon pessimistically concludes that a Libertarian “society” is impossible, generalizing from his experience with PuGs.  I disagree.  I think the flaw in his argument is that he equates a PuG to a Libertarian society:

In the game such “society” would be the PuG-ing community. People who know that the other is also skilled band together for a common goal, and than dissolve. I’ve tried it and failed. My “goblin raiding” experiment gave a shining explanation why did I have to fail. With a Sarth+3 guild, both the more-or-less challenging Maly25 and the completely farm Naxx25 was completely different from any PuG or “social guild” experience.

  • People were online on time
  • They were prepared, had consumables, soul shards, ammunition, were repaired
  • When wipe happened they run in fast
  • Everyone listened to the raid leader
  • No one made loot drama
  • No one ever “DC”-ed (some DC-ed, but came back ASAP)

A Libertarian society does not a priori preclude organized social bodies, such as guilds. Otherwise organized business would be anathema to Libertarian thinkers. What Libertarians disapprove of is the forceful denial of moral rights, such as property. In fact, a society which forcefully ruled out free association with others, either in an organized or unorganized fashion, would hardly be libertarian. I believe they’d call that some sort of authoritarian anarchy (ignore the odd oxymoron there).

Instead, Libertarians promote a system of free association with mutual respect for individual rights.  They think that exchange of goods and services is the best medium for human development, and that the facilitation of such exchange is a great moral triumph (thus Ayn Rand’s assertion that “the moral symbol of respect for human beings, is the trader.” (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)).  In an organized business, people exchange their labor for wealth according to a contract.  The assumption here is that the two parties are maximizing their personal well-being by exchanging something they see as a lesser good for a greater good.  Since their perspectives on the valuation of the goods differ, the exchange ideally enriches both of them (a non-zero sum state change).

In the case of a raiding guild, the guild offers its members access and loot in exchange for meeting obligations, such as acquiring supplies, arriving on time, etc.  If people value other things too highly to feel sufficiently wooed by those incentives, they don’t raid.  And if they are not raiding, if they are engaging in experiences which do not regularly demand competence, what incentive do they have to be competent?  Specifically, if they value the game for the fun it provides, have fun doing what they are doing, and this does not require competence, then why should they pursue competence?  Increased competence seems to exhibit diminishing returns.  For instance, if we measure competence by one’s tendency not to die, perhaps, how much more work do you have to invest to become competent enough to die less?  Initially, your work pays off in spades: your competence level grows such that dying becomes rarer and rarer.  But as the number of situations you find yourself in such that dying is a possibility at a given competence level declines, the gain for increasing your competence also declines.

This is a classic case of diminishing returns.  You can see it by examining a standard learning curve:

Now, the reason the utility declines is that the cost of improved performance is time.  The time spent increases performance less and less, meaning the cost for performance gained increases as performance level does.  Eventually, people will decide that it costs more to learn than it’s worth.  Where that point is depends on the incentive structure they’re looking at.

The point of all this is to show that the incompetence of PuGs is not a problem for Libertarianism, but rather an outgrowth of more general economic principles.

If Libertarianism requires that competence be equally distributed among all people, then Libertarianism would be in trouble.  It does not.  It does require that competence exist, and then asserts that, when it does, if agents are then allowed to freely pursue their own initiatives, competence will be available through market means to anyone.

Now, PuGs would be an issue if it were shown that, for any incentive stucture most people would still fail to achieve reasonable competence, and that this generally holds in all possible areas, such that most people are simply incapable of being productive economic agents…well, that would be a problem for a human libertarian society.

Read Full Post »


1. time = money :Axiom
2. money = root(evil) : Axiom
3. time^2 = evil :Follows from 1,2
4. acceleration = distance/time^2 :Axiom
5. acceleration = distance/evil : follows from 3,4

For consideration: does physics provide us answers for ethical dilemmas, or merely indicate that evil is an inescapable facet of existence?

Read Full Post »