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More Kolya ARR

From: "Kolya"
Sent: Monday, May 27, 2002 4:21 PM Subject: A brief word on "Morality"

I think I have just understood something important about the critics of commitment:


It took me a while to find another post to go over. Many of Kolya's posts, especially earlier ones, were replies to Alice. Sadly, her contributions demonstrate she didn't know what Kolya was talking about; in other words he was talking over her head (or past her, if you prefer). I mean no offense to Alice in particular; I don't think anyone understood Kolya's posts at the time (his on-list supporters most definitely included.) Anyhow, none of those posts seemed appropriate. Then I got distracted reading David Deutsch posts. They all have the enjoyable quality of being true (though, yes, they don't always try to say as much as possible; they are conservative).

BTW the way his posts are conservative but still not listened to and even written off as wild new crazy-talk is a bit crazy-making (same thing happens with many of my posts, though I vary my style more.)

But anyway, this post is both amusing and confusing. It's packed full of references meant to belittle none other than me, Alice, and a few others. So let's get clear on just what it actually says.

Oh, and before I forget, what Kolya means here is that we believe the purpose of morality is that people found immoral can be justifiably coerced. That's sorta what law is for, though. Kolya knows this. So if we go a bit further, he's saying we believe morality doesn't exist, and people talking about it are really just trying to make laws about our personal lives.

Only now can I understand why I was being routinely accused of advocating coercion, when, actually, I have not done so.

I can field that one. Kolya was accused of advocating coercion because he declared various things immoral and failed to say what should be done about it. People filled in the gaps with whatever seemed obvious. For some people that wasn't "nothing" or "we're not talking about that right now, we'll deal with it later". Does their choice of coercion denote a character flaw? Kolya thinks so. Ho hum.

All my morally-laden arguments have come across to the commit-nots as a thinly camouflaged bear trap for catching unwary autonomy-respecting individuals who make the unfortunate mistake of agreeing to enter into a committed relationship. If ever these put-upon individuals loose interest in the relationship -- and lets face it, what rational person would not? -- the trap is sprung. If they decide to stay in, they must self-sacrifice; if they decide to come out, they are liable to being stoned to death for their immoral conduct.

The question about what rational person wouldn't lose interest is sarcasm, which is notable because it's rare coming from Kolya.

Kolya is describing morality as being, in the perspective of ARRers, a trap to force people to self-sacrifice to stay in relationships or immorally leave.

Thanks to everybody whose criticism helped me reach this insight. The world makes sense again. To show my appreciation, I would very much like to return the favour in some way. Perhaps the best I can do is to offer you this vignette from my travels in far away lands, in the hope that it may amuse you.

By appreciation he means disdain. By return the favour he means he's resentful that we didn't understand him and agree with him. However, the bit about his world making sense again seems to be a bit of truth thrown in with the sarcasm. While there's an argument with an uncertain outcome going on, or at least one where he can't figure out why his opponent's say what they do, there's a bit of a hole in Kolya's worldview. But now by classifying our mental illness, Kolya can be at ease again, happily ignoring the ARRers who don't matter or count because of their mental illness.

When Push Comes to Shove ------------------------ In the remote uplands of the Autonomous Republic of Relatestan, there live two neighbouring tribes known respectively as the "Moral Positivists" and the "Moral Realists". Both tribes are very hot on being moral. However they differ radically in what this means to them.

Positivists thought that all statements not describing or predicting observations were meaningless. In simpler but less accurate terms, it's only real if you can touch (measure) it. Quite the insult, especially in context of a bunch of TCSers talking, since TCS is supposed to be from Popperian epistemology, and thus everyone present ought to know better.

The Positivists are a very hard-headed, rational people, whose founding credo is: "If you can't touch it, it ain't real". Another of their mottos is: "Spare me an inner conflict, or give me death". (Note to cultural anthropologists: A regional variant of the above, is: "Spare me moral criticism, or give me death".)

The first credo just reinforces the positivism, which was previously just a label. The other makes them highly immoral. Kolya is thinking of libertarians as much as ARRers here (though I suppose all ARRers are libertarians, but not vice versa).

Now, as behoves a hard-headed, rational people, the Positivist live by an admirably consistent moral code: "Do what you like, but don't push me". By the use of this one rule, they have succeeded in eliminating all inner conflict, all self-doubt, all feelings of guilt and shame, all human trust and commitment, and last but not least, all of moral philosophy. Quite an achievement for eight little words!

Don't push me is just a new version of the libertarian non-aggression principle which reads "Thou shalt not initiate force or threat of force." Kolya left out the bit about not threatening to push people, but it's not hard to argue that's implied. As you can see, Kolya is rather not a fan of libertarianism. Here he seems to say the point of libertarianism is to do away with morality and replace it with a mechanical rule.

In the very rare event of a dispute arising among them, they need only call to session their Positive Court of Inquiry, to rapidly ascertain who pushed whom first. The ethos of these proceedings is elegantly captured by the legend inscribed above the main entrance to the court. It reads: "Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged".

I guess "judge" means morally, like judging someone's character or whether what they did was good or bad. It does not mean deciding whether someone pushed or not, which obviously has to be an acceptable thing for the court to do.

It is difficult to convey the culture shock that awaits the unaware traveller, who ventures across the rarely trodden Autonomous Republic of Relatestan Listing bridge -- the origins of whose name seem lost in antiquity -- to the land of the Moral Realists.

The origins of the name Listing aren't so lost. ARR is an email list. The culture shock thing is Kolya's way of saying our differences are large, possibly incommensurable. (I'm pretty sure I've only heard Kolya use that word, and people replying to Kolya). Commensurable means having something in common. Incommensurable means not having anything in common. But the point of the word is actually to say we'll never come to agree (which actually is an implied if we truly have precisely *nothing* in common). (I don't believe this; I'm implying Kolya might.) My guess Kolya might is emphasised by the way he imagined a bridge. These are different lands with a whole uncrossable river between them. The only possible way to cross in on the rarely-used bridge.

Of course we do have things in common, like being on Earth, and living in the same reality.

For the Realists rate wisdom above logic, merging above separating, trusting above maintaining one's guard, goodness of character above a value-free character, and wadding knee-deep through personal commitments above gingerly avoiding one's nearest and dearest for fear of being bumped into.

Kolya doesn't bother to argue that merging is better than separating (there's no obvious reason either should be generally better). He just throws it into good company (good character is better than valueless character? well duh!). It's hard to explain what Kolya means by wisdom, but just assume it's clearly a better thing than logic (though it's also a different kind of thing, and there is no tradeoff between having one or the other). Trust vs. maintaining one's guard is a bit of a cheap shot like merging vs. separating. We shouldn't trust blindly; we must have a careful balance.

But the most striking difference is that, quite unlike the Positivists, the Realists live with one foot in the physical world and one in the -- no less real or complex -- world of moral concerns. Where the Positivists' idea of heaven is to spend hours debating whether a nudge constitutes a push; the Realists are never happier than when brushing against the meaning of life, in the act of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps to become morally better people.

- Kolya

I wonder what Kolya thinks I do all day. *sigh*

This isn't to say he isn't mostly right (though exaggerated) in his judgment of many libertarians. Even if he is, though, that wouldn't mean libertarian theory is bad or useless. It'd just mean it's a bad idea to try to base your life around it with nothing else. Bits, like what it has to say about economics, are very useful.

PS Kolya, if you read this, I feel no malice towards you, I simply tried to write what I thought this stuff meant. Even if I think you're flawed in 500 ways, that doesn't imply I will dismiss your other ideas.

Elliot Temple on March 8, 2004

Messages (6)

I'm sure you're right that I misunderstood some stuff, Elliot, but I have to say when I read your last post about What Kolya Meant, it meant exactly what I thought it meant the first time I read it. I can think of one post (about two different kinds of autonomy) that I completely misread though.

Although sometimes there are good reasons for not understanding, eg, when people aren't making any sense.

To know whether I understood Kolya or not, you would have to have a sound understanding of what I write as well as of what Kolya writes. I don't think that is always the case. (Sometimes I don't write "accurately" according to your and other people's definition of accuracy, for reasons of my own).

Alice at 8:34 AM on March 10, 2004 | #868 | reply | quote

Even if I don't have a sound understand of what you wrote (I presume you won't dispute I understand Kolya's posts), I can still judge just based on Kolya's posts what sort of interaction he's having.

Anyhow, this post was about making fun of us, and not about Kolya's position on relationship theory, and I'm not at all surprised if you got the gist. I just picked it cause I find it amusing.

Elliot at 12:55 PM on March 10, 2004 | #869 | reply | quote

I said "when I read your *last* post", referring to "I don't want to choose a title...", not this one.

Yes, you can judge what kind of interaction the person you understand (Kolya) is having. But a feature of not realising that you are failing to understand another person yourself, is very often thinking that *they* are wrong and are misunderstanding *you* instead. I'm not sure how or when this happens, but it seems very wrong and dangerous to me.

I think the fatal mistake is in attributing wrongness habitually to *others* where misunderstanding exists. There is no way of proving that the misunderstanding is not one's own, therefore this approach is irrational. I think it is what Popper calls "critical irationalism" (or connected with that).

Alice at 1:27 PM on March 11, 2004 | #870 | reply | quote

there's no way to prove anything, therefore arguing by "you can't prove that" is irrational.

last generally means the last or latest thing. using last to mean previous is a bit odd. for example the phrase "last night" means the most recent night. when using during a night, it refers to the most recent *full* night. ie something in progress doesn't count for what the most recent thing is. i suppose thanks to phrases like "last week" where the most recent completed week is also the previous week has confused people. but i'm pretty sure last is supposed to mean last.

anyhow, i don't believe you understand kolya's first post *now*, let alone then. because, for example, when kolya said merging sovereign entities was rarely a good idea you called this pessism. ummm, there are how many people on the planet? and how many would it be even worth analysing whether a me-person merger is a good idea for? for the other 99.999999% of people, it's such a terrible idea as to not even be worth considering. same thing works with states and families.

also, there's the bit where you say ARR should be based on mergers not federations now. and you claim that's still ARR. this blatantly contradicts Kolya's understanding of what ARR is without giving an explanation of why you've chosen to contradict him. if you can't see why an explanation would even be asked of you to divorce ARR from the federation analogy, then you don't understand kolya's views in the slightest. he's argued extensively on this point.

Elliot at 1:18 AM on March 13, 2004 | #871 | reply | quote

oh, btw, i'm aware that was mostly meta, and i'm also aware that David (Deutsch) is not a fan of meta. however, i'm not opposing him on this point unknowingly, blindly, or by accident. rather, a chance to discuss this and converge is not currently available through no fault of my own. if it was i would happily explain my side of the issue. the point being that people who understand people pay attention to this kind of thing and don't just announce The Way Things Are.

PS i'm perfectly aware alice will misread my comments here. fortunately they weren't written for her sake.

Elliot at 1:26 AM on March 13, 2004 | #872 | reply | quote

Hi Elliot,

Thanks very much for your commentary on Kolya's posts.

I wonder if the following is a tall order but is there any chance that you could put up a precis version of your view of ARRs, perhaps in a way which would answer Kolya's most pertinent criticisms?



Unknown at 7:31 AM on March 21, 2004 | #873 | reply | quote

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