Elliot: Hi, Caeli.
Here's what you said last time about a scenario we discussed:
I think what happened is that the child was forced to endure babysitters that he did not want to spend time with. The experience was unpleasant for all involved, so the sitters didn't want to come back. The parents then felt guilty about hurting their child, and that's why they don't want to hire a more harsh sitter. But they don't know how to solve the problem, and they desperately want to have a free evening again. So they start getting resentful, and blaming the child, even though all he wanted was to not be left alone in the power of people he doesn't like. They start thinking that if this is the consequence of his desire, then he must be asking for too much.
Caeli: I asked: what should they do to fix it?
Elliot: One issue is the idea of "asking too much". Why is that too much? Why can't there be enough that the child can have all he wants? The likely reason is that the parent imagines a limited amount of stuff that people can get and have, and imagines that problem solving means compromising means dividing up what's available.
Caeli: What's the right view?
Elliot: That problem solving involves knowledge creation. This creates new property, new stuff, so there is more to go around. There is no reason we can't create enough for everyone to be happy.
Caeli: A good analogy might be comparing wealth redistribution with just making more stuff. What would you say about that?
Elliot: Excellent idea. Yes. Consider when there were not nearly enough TVs to go around. Or computers, or something else. People could have focussed on sharing them fairly, and trying to make do with what they had. But that is at best a band-aid. It doesn't make the world awesome. What's much more effective is to mass produce TVs and computers. Now they are very cheap.
Caeli: Who should get TVs while there are still only a few?
Elliot: That is just details. It's not too important. It's parochial. It doesn't effect whether the overall policy is going to end the scarcity.
Caeli: Fair enough, but I'd still like to know.
Elliot: We have a very good system. They go to the people who value them enough to trade wealth for them.
Caeli: I'd trade wealth for them. But I don't have very much to trade.
Elliot: The general reason that people don't have much wealth to trade is that they've chosen not to. They have preferred to do all sorts of other things besides maximize the amount of wealth they create. That's perfectly reasonable, but they shouldn't then complain that they have less wealth, in the form of TVs or otherwise.
Caeli: Not everyone chose not to have much wealth. For example children, and people in poor countries.
Elliot: That children don't have much wealth is their parents doing. But it's also just a parochial detail that will sort itself out in time.
Elliot: As for people in poor countries, I'm sorry the world isn't as nice a place as they would have liked. But it never will be: people will always be able to say, "I wish my country was richer". So that complaint must be empty. There are things to be done. They can move to another country, if there is one they prefer. Or they can take steps to improve their country. Or they can make themselves into an unusual person, who is wealthier than his neighbors.
Caeli: Most people who try to get rich, fail.
Elliot: As many rich people will tell you, it's not very hard, if you just keep trying, and really dedicate your life to it. The primary reasons people fail are their own faults. They give up far too easily, or they let other priorities get in the way.
Caeli: Isn't it good to have other priorities?
Elliot: If you make something other than being rich a priority, that is a perfectly good way of life, but you should then stop complaining that you are less wealthy than other people who make wealth a higher priority.
Caeli: Isn't money just a stupid game? Wouldn't it be better to focus on creating things that help people, like dialogs?
Elliot: Money is like an "I owe you" for wealth. Wealth means stuff that people want. Stuff that's valuable. When you create valuable things, people will trade you for them. Instead of trading you their own valuables, it's more convenient if they give you money, which you can then trade to someone else for whatever wealth you want.
Caeli: Don't people want dialogs, but not pay for them?
Elliot: People buy lots of books, magazines, subscriptions to websites with written content, and so on.
Caeli: Don't they pay in large measure when they have to, not based on when something is worth it?
Elliot: Yes. But look, if people really wanted my dialogs, I would charge for them, and people would buy them. The reason it's difficult to charge is that people are not yet persuaded that my dialogs are worth buying.
Caeli: So why do you write them?
Elliot: I like to.
Caeli: Might people become persuaded of their value when they read them?
Caeli: If they don't, will you be sad and wish you hadn't written them?
Caeli: Why not?
Elliot: Because I will still have liked writing them.
Caeli: So back to the parents with no babysitter. The first thing they should do is reject the idea that the child is asking too much, and accept the idea that whatever he wants can be created.
Elliot: Yes, basically. But there's another issue. His preferences are not set in stone. It might be better for him to have other preferences, and want other things. Those other things might be easier to create. They might also be harder. But if the original preference is not possible, then another one would be better.
Caeli: Wait, it might not be possible? Before you were saying we can make stuff.
Elliot: We can be happy. We can create many things. We don't have a fixed supply of things to divide up. But we do have laws of physics to contend with. But that's OK. We don't have to want anything that's physically impossible, and if we do, we can change our mind.
Caeli: When people don't get something, but change their mind to not want it anymore, don't they often secretly still want it and remain unhappy?
Elliot: Yes. But what you're discussing is the case where the person didn't actually change his preference. Further, by pretending he did, he has tricked everyone into not trying to help him fulfill it. And he has made it hard for him to pursue getting what he wants himself while keeping up his charade. So, not only is this no criticism of actual changes of preference, but it's a harmful policy that makes solutions much harder to come by.
Caeli: What do you mean by a solution?
Elliot: A course of action that everyone involved prefers. Or, I will also take a course of action that I prefer, and I am morally right to do.
Caeli: Isn't it reaching for the sky to find something everyone prefers? That is ideal, but usually the best we can find are compromises, that everyone thinks is OK, but it's not their top preference.
Elliot: That's incorrect. Usually we find genuine solutions. The reason you think otherwise is that you are only noticing failures. Most problems are solved with no fanfare. People often don't realize there was a problem, because they solve it so easily.
Caeli: Well, let's only consider hard problems then.
Elliot: OK, but bear in mind that which problems seem hard varies drastically by family. There are no problems that all families find hard. Or put another way, for every problem, some families find it very easy to create real, genuine solutions. And this proves that in every case, "ideal" solutions are possible.
Caeli: Are compromises really that bad?
Elliot: No one gets what he wants.
Caeli: They get most of what they want.
Elliot: That doesn't make sense. You can't mix different people's ideas to get compromises. Ideas do not mix. A compromise is a genuinely new idea about what to do, that isn't what anyone wanted.
Caeli: Why don't ideas mix?
Elliot: Well suppose I want to go to the beach, and you to the forest, and we only have one car. How do you mix our ideas?
Caeli: Easy. We'll go to a beach that has trees.
Elliot: There are infinite ways to mix the ideas so that elements of both remain. We could just as well go to a forest with sand, or just put sand and leaves in a bag and go to the mall. Or read a book that includes a forest and a swimming contest.
Caeli: Why is infinite ways of mixing the same as none?
Elliot: Because it means that whatever people come up with, which they say is the proper way to mix them, is actually their own idea about what to do, and what elements of each plan to keep. They are not just taking the two original ideas and following a recipe for proper mixing. They are using their own ideas about what is important.
Caeli: I guess your point is that there is no way to determine, on general principles, a fair mix.
Elliot: Right. What matters is whether the new idea contains the things that everyone wants, or not. If it doesn't, someone is not getting what he wanted. He may change his preference, and if he does, that's fine, and it's no longer a compromise. But if he doesn't, then that is not fine.
Caeli: What's so bad about not getting what you want.
Elliot: How about I demonstrate by killing you.
Caeli: But I don't want to die.
Elliot: Exactly my point.
Caeli: But what about if I wanted a cookie, and didn't get it. Is that so bad?
Elliot: The reason a cookie is not such a big deal is that it's pretty easy to stop wanting. Aren't you yourself thinking, "It wouldn't be the end of the world if I didn't get my cookie?" That is a sign that you don't have a strong preference about the cookie, and are almost ready to stop wanting it. You'd like a cookie if it's convenient, but if it's too much trouble, you won't mind not having one.
Caeli: I see. But what if it's not like that. What if I really, really want it?
Elliot: Then not getting it will hurt.
Caeli: Oh. That does matter. So, where were we?
Elliot: What should the parents do about not having sitters, and resenting their child for this? First, the things their child wants, such as not to be left alone with horrible, boring, cruel people, are possible. Second, if he wants any things that actually are impossible, or are just bad ideas, he can be persuaded to change his mind.
Caeli: "Don't want that, that's impossible." is a pretty strong argument, isn't it?
Elliot: Third, maybe the parents should stay home with their child. That might be nice. There are ways they could enjoy it. Fourth, there are good babysitters they could find. Or they, or the child, could make friends with cool adults. Fifth, getting resentful isn't helping anything. The child is not trying to torture them. Or hurt them at all. All he wants is to be happy. To get perfectly reasonable things for his life, such as not to be in the power of anyone he doesn't trust.
Caeli: He shouldn't be in the power of people he doesn't trust!
Elliot: Yeah. His parents can feel good about making sure he never is.
Caeli: You said in your original summary that the parents don't know how to solve the problem. Doesn't that mean they don't know how to do the stuff above?
Elliot: Yes. But they can learn. They can apply general problem solving techniques, such as thinking about what everyone wants, and what actions might get those things.
Caeli: Wouldn't they have already tried that?
Elliot: You'd be surprised. Most of the time that people fight, they are being irrational, and they haven't even taken minimal steps to actually solve the problem. They often don't clearly know why the other person wants what he wants. And if they don't understand the reasons, how can they expect to come up with solutions? You need to understand someone's motivation to know what else might also satisfy him. Or to know why his thing is important and it might be nice to make sure he gets it.
Caeli: That's a shame.
Caeli: I'm leaving. Nice talking.