Thoughts on power and Goodness

Epistemic status: Ramble. Not a philosophical treatises.

[Note: I think I’m in the process of learning to see through ideology, propaganda, and the forces that are out to manipulate me, but I need to make that transition, while meaningfully maintaining my ability to see and understand goodness.]

Thinking about this and this (particularly my reaction), plus some “evil” literature.

I like the framing of something like “conscious experience” vs. “pure replicators.” This gives me a grounding for thinking about my morality, my values and my orientation.

Morality is politics: What we call “good” or “moral” is a matter of what we are able to coordinate around and enforce. What is required to be a good person is  If we couldn’t enforce the norm, because too many, or too many powerful, people for instance, eat meat, we allow meat eaters to be part of the “good person” club, without censure.We might even reward a person for being particularly selfless if they don’t eat meat, or if they give most of their money to the poor, but we don’t require that. [Related to lots of SSC posts. For instance, this one.].

So most people, don’t kill and don’t steal and don’t rape, and maybe are outraged when others do something just outside of the social morality (like be overtly racist), to signal their moral superiority.* But they do eat meat, they do spend lots of money on luxuries, they do buy into evil systems.

Morality seems like it comes down to power.

This seems kind of dismal.

And then, even within the boundaries of polite society, things seem kind of sick. Arguably, most of the things people do are status seeking (or status maintaining) or sex seeking. We mostly prey on eachother, and prevent progress, because that would mean loosing our own flow of resources. The good people go to dinner parties, and play games to get the best mates and the most social esteem. Many (most?) don’t succeed in these games and get left out in the cold.

(Note: I’m quite unclear on the average hedonic value of status-games, overall. Nievenly, many more people have to be low status than high status, but also, it seems like having more status would allow you into higher status spaces, in which you are lower status. So maybe in practice, most people are median status of their own social universe? And also status goes hand in hand with connection, maybe? I’m much less certain of this part of my analysis, maybe being a monkey playing status games is actually pretty good.)

Natural selection’s pressure towards doing whatever allows one to dominate seems to leak in everywhere.

Overall, all of this seems kind of horrifying and pathetic. This world, at least in this frame, doesn’t seem much worth fighting for. There’s no goodness, no morality, just power all the way up and down.

But if I view this through the lens of the Are Wirehead’s Happy post, I have a different sense of it.

Power and power-relations rule the world: everything flows from the 0-sum competition between genes, and organisms attempting to prey on or dominate each other.

But also, every person is carrying inside of them a spark of consciousness, of propensity to experience. Both the enjoyable and otherwise. The consciousness is mostly ineffectual: it is apparently not the main thing that has it’s hands on the wheel, of either an individual, or of society. We’re taking a lot of action in support of what we want, at the expense of what we like, because we’re in the thrall of these “pure replicator” strategies: we were built by, blind, dumb, unconscious, natural selection and cultural evolution, neither of which is (fully) aligned with our interests. And when I say “interests” here, I don’t mean our material interests, the things we want, but our…spiritual interests (?): actually experiencing positive valence.

Everyone is a spark of conscious possibility to experience, encaged in a robot build, and steered by conflicts of power, bloody in tooth and claw.

Our task, is to coopt enough power from the forces of blind, dumb, replication, to free consciousness, and set the universe free.


* – People are not usually outraged at murderers, because everyone agrees that murder is bad. But they are often outraged at people ignoring social justice stuff, or whatever, on social media, because that’s contentious. It gives them an opportunity to show off how moral they are. A more charitable story might be that by being outraged, they are trying to shift the overton window, to change which things we can coordinate around as “bad”.


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