Posted by: Becoming Gaia | May 29, 2010

Mailbag 1a: Head-hunters

First of all, I’d like to say that I greatly appreciate any and all (non-spam) feedback.  I write much more quickly and capably and tend not to suffer from writer’s block when people gift me with their thoughts.  I’m going to try to have miscellaneous mailbag posts about once a week (on the weekend) to answer all of the questions and comments that I couldn’t fit into the flow during the week.  If you feel that I haven’t addressed your question or comment after a mailbag weekend, please post it again.  It may well be that I didn’t recognize the  correct intent of your post or didn’t make clear how something that I posted was relevant or even intended to address your post.

GTChristie says:

The problem is, there are societies (for instance) in which head-hunting is a societal goal around which the people coalesce. It orders their existence, informs their rituals, bonds them — and has nothing to do with war! It’s a social practice for them the same way bar mitzvah is in Judaism. Is it morally reprehensible? Not for them. Guess what? According to the study, these people do not express anger in their society — they actually don’t know what it is (as we define it). Now are they reprehensible? The point here is not to answer that, but to ask how the algorithm treats that. How simple is the argument that places the head-hunting value into your frame of goals? Does it spit out “head-hunting is evil?” And if it does, and we universally ban head-hunting, what then? I would bet we would destroy that society by taking away one of its basic organizing principles (such as it is).

If I tell you how the algorithm handles “head-hunters”, doesn’t that also answer the question if my personal morality is truly guided by the algorithm?  😉

Does the algorithm spit out “head-hunting is evil”?  No.  It spits out that head-hunting is globally suboptimal due to it’s required violation of self-preservation.  Given enough additional information about the circumstances, it will either spit out that it is locally optimal, locally sub-optimal but not recognized as such, or recognized as sub-optimal (for the purposes of globally maximizing satisfaction).  Evil is knowingly insisting upon performing an action that is sub-optimal (c.f.  stupidity).  With the information you gave, this is almost definitely not true in this case.

Regarding universal banning – Given that there exists no specific action for which there are no circumstances (however contrived) for which that action is optimal/appropriate, it is never optimal/appropriate to label any action as evil universally, to ban it universally, or to have a zero tolerance policy.  The exception that proves this rule is the action whose definition is solely that performing it is known to be globally and locally suboptimal (c.f. evil stupidity).

Head-hunting clearly fulfills some needs and does good things for this society.  However, given the fact that it is guaranteed to make enemies of your neighbors, it is certainly not even locally optimal if there is *any* reasonable alternative (note: insisting that head-hunters stop being head-hunters when they are surrounded by implacable enemies is not reasonable).  The optimal strategy would be to identify these needs and good things and determine what alternatives could replace head-hunting that they would be willing to accept and to help them transition.  A seriously suboptimal strategy would be to declare them “evil” and attempt to force them into “good” behavior.  This is not to say, however, that if they are totally unwilling to even consider giving up head-hunting that it would be suboptimal (or you would be “wrong”) to use some sort of coercion or force to advance such an agenda.

Coming up next – Mailbag 1b: “Primitive” Societies & Post-Humans



  1. Have you seen “Let the Right One In”? ( Do you like it?

    • Nope, I haven’t seen “Let the Right One In”? But I have just added it to my video rental queue.

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