Xero's Rule

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Xerographica
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Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 1:58 am UTC

... an increase in the power of the State ... does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the heart of all progress… - Gandhi

The public collectively is abundantly ready to impose, not only its generally narrow views of its interests, but its abstract opinions, and even its tastes, as laws binding upon individuals. And the present civilization tends so strongly to make the power of persons acting in masses the only substantial power in society, that there never was more necessity for surrounding individual independence of thought, speech, and conduct, with the most powerful defences, in order to maintain that originality of mind and individuality of character, which are the only source of any real progress, and of most of the qualities which make the human race much superior to any herd of animals. - J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy

Xero's Rule: by the time a species has progressed to the point that they can travel to other inhabited planets...they would have discovered the positive correlation between trading and progress.

While it's entertaining/exciting/scary to watch movies with alien space invaders attacking our planet in order to take our resources...the concept has no basis in economic reality...

  1. Scarcity is relevant no matter what solar system you're from
  2. Progress depends on how scarce resources are used
  3. Different perspectives can see different uses of the same resource
  4. Therefore, the rate of progress depends on...
  5. - how much difference there is between people's perspectives (diversity)
  6. - how much freedom people have to apply their perspectives to their scarce resources
If a species has 100% freedom but no variation in perspectives...then they won't come up with different uses of their resources...which will result in a 0% rate of progress. Same thing if a species has 0% freedom but incredible variation in perspectives. Of course neither extreme is possible...but where a species falls on the spectrum will determine its rate of progress.

In all likelihood it would probably be relatively easy for an advanced alien civilization to enslave/kill/eat us and take our resources. They would then be able to use our resources in their own alien ways. But if they did take our resources then they would be greatly hindering their own progress. This is because if they hadn't taken our resources...then us humans would have been able to apply our very different perspectives to our resources. We would have come up with new and innovative uses that the aliens would have been able to benefit from...but wouldn't have thought of on their own.

The same concept is applicable to different groups within a species. China could certainly try and invade our country and take our resources. And if they were successful...then they would temporarily benefit. They would have more resources...but they would still just be applying the same set of perspectives to them. And having resources isn't nearly as important as what you do with them. Therefore, China would be sacrificing the significantly greater benefit that they would have derived from all future American innovations.

Here's what John Stuart Mill wrote in 1869...

China—a nation of much talent, and, in some respects, even wisdom, owing to the rare good fortune of having been provided at an early period with a particularly good set of customs, the work, in some measure, of men to whom even the most enlightened European must accord, under certain limitations, the title of sages and philosophers. They are remarkable, too, in the excellence of their apparatus for impressing, as far as possible, the best wisdom they possess upon every mind in the community, and securing that those who have appropriated most of it shall occupy the posts of honour and power. Surely the people who did this have discovered the secret of human progressiveness, and must have kept themselves steadily at the head of the movement of the world. On the contrary, they have become stationary—have remained so for thousands of years; and if they are ever to be farther improved, it must be by foreigners. They have succeeded beyond all hope in what English philanthropists are so industriously working at—in making a people all alike, all governing their thoughts and conduct by the same maxims and rules; and these are the fruits. The modern régime of public opinion is, in an unorganized form, what the Chinese educational and political systems are in an organized; and unless individuality shall be able successfully to assert itself against this yoke, Europe, notwithstanding its noble antecedents and its professed Christianity, will tend to become another China. - J.S. Mill On Liberty

And here's what Mao Zedong wrote nearly a 100 years later...

Apart from their other characteristics, the outstanding thing about China's 600 million people is that they are "poor and blank". This may seem a bad thing, but in reality it is a good thing. Poverty gives rise to the desire for changes the desire for action and the desire for revolution. On a blank sheet of paper free from any mark, the freshest and most beautiful characters can be written; the freshest and most beautiful pictures can be painted. - Mao Zedong

Subjugation/taking greatly slows the rate of progress. This fatal conceit squanders the most valuable resource... individuality/uniqueness/originality. Therefore, the rate of progress is far greater if we rely on persuasion/trading.

Unfortunately, as a species, clearly we still are not aware of the positive correlation between trading and progress. The pattern is there...but most have yet to see it. As more and more people start to see the pattern, there will be more recognition of the immense value of giving taxpayers the freedom to shop for themselves in the public sector. The unique perspectives of millions of diverse people would be applied to public goods and the result would be infinitely beneficial.

If people aren't free to shop for themselves...then the specificity and ranking of their preferences and the uniqueness of their circumstances will not be input into the function which determines how society's scarce resources are used. As a result, the output will be the wrong quantities of an extremely narrow selection of poor quality products/services. Pseudo-demand, pseudo-supply. Garbage in, garbage out.

Pragmatarianism can't be implemented if the positive correlation between shopping and progress is not clear to most...just like we won't be capable of traveling to other inhabited planets if the pattern is not clear to all. Given that economic reality is not constrained by time/space... convergence is certain: an alien civilization won't be able to visit other inhabited planets before they've seen the pattern.

What I've shared is basically a consequentialist argument against taking. Or conversely...a consequentialist argument for trading/liberty. It should be clear that consequentialist arguments for liberty have far more substance than moral arguments for liberty.

The amount of benefit the future holds depends on you! So please carefully read the following passages on heterogeneous activity...

Solutions to complex social problems require as many creative minds as possible — and this is precisely what the market delivers. - Donald J. Boudreaux

I’m not here to say that men are to blame for the [financial] crisis and what happened in my country [Iceland]. But I can tell you that in my country, much like on Wall Street and the city of London and elsewhere, men were at the helm of the game of the financial sector. That kind of lack of diversity and sameness leads to disastrous problems. - Halla Tomasdottir, Co-founder of Audur Capital

Austrians believe that we get more solutions – and better, more creative solutions – if the energy, imagination, alertness and specialist knowledge of many individuals are engaged on the task. In economics, this is achieved through the process of competition, which gives diverse entrepreneurs the incentive to seek out new and better ways of enhancing value to consumers. By the same reasoning, our social and political problems may also be best solved if we give individuals the widest possible freedom to come up with a variety of creative responses, rather than hoping that a single collective approach will suffice. - Eamonn Butler, Austrian Economics

The generation to which we belong is now learning from experience what happens when man retreats from freedom to a coercive organization of their affairs. Though they promise themselves a more abundant life, they must in practice renounce it; as the organizational direction increases, the variety of ends must give way to uniformity. That is the nemesis of the planned society and the authoritarian principle in human affairs. - Walter Lippmann

Development happens thanks to problem-solving systems. To vastly oversimplify for illustrative purposes, the market is a decentralized (private) problem solving system with rich feedback and accountability. Democracy, civil liberties, free speech, protection of rights of dissidents and activists is a decentralized (public) problem solving system with (imperfect) feedback and accountability. Individual liberty in general fosters systems that allow many different individuals to use their particular local knowledge and expertise to attempt many different independent trials at solutions. When you have a large number of independent trials, the probability of solutions goes way up. - William Easterly, The Answer Is 42!

So far as this is the case, it is evident that government, by excluding or even by superseding individual agency, either substitutes a less qualified instrumentality for one better qualified, or at any rate substitutes its own mode of accomplishing the work, for all the variety of modes which would be tried by a number of equally qualified persons aiming at the same end; a competition by many degrees more propitious to the progress of improvement than any uniformity of system. - J.S. Mill, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy

It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation; and as the works partake the character of those who do them, by the same process human life also becomes rich, diversified, and animating, furnishing more abundant aliment to high thoughts and elevating feelings, and strengthening the tie which binds every individual to the race, by making the race infinitely better worth belonging to. In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others. There is a greater fulness of life about his own existence, and when there is more life in the units there is more in the mass which is composed of them. - J.S. Mill, On Liberty

Similarly, Niskanen attacked the monopoly power of public bureaucracies, school districts among them. More recently, Coons and Sugarman have championed the case for parental freedom of choice, indicating that we should "substitute mutual respect as a ground of a social accord" and use freedom of choice to reduce the perils of uniformity. - Daniel J. Brown, The Case For Tax-Target Plans

While declaring “Let the government handle it” comes across as a solution, it’s no such thing. Instead, it is merely a sign of a simple and baseless faith — a simple and baseless faith that people invested with power will not abuse that power; that political appointees possess or will find better answers than will millions of people pursuing solutions in their own ways, and staking their own resources and reputations on their efforts; that only those ‘solutions’ that are spelled out in statutes and regulations and that have officials paid to implement them are true solutions. - Donald J. Boudreaux

In 1956, economist Charles Tiebout (pronounced TEE-bow) asked: What is it about the private market that guarantees optimal provision of private goods that is missing in the case of public goods? His insight was that the factors missing from the market for public goods were shopping and competition. - Jonathan Gruber, Public Finance and Public Policy

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Copper Bezel » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:20 am UTC

That is unquestionably a large amount of text. What would you like me to do with it?
So much depends upon a red wheel barrow (>= XXII) but it is not going to be installed.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby ahammel » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:30 am UTC

Xerographica wrote:Xero's Rule: by the time a species has progressed to the point that they can travel to other inhabited planets...they would have discovered the positive correlation between trading and progress.
Well, it certainly works for the zero known cases of species that can travel to other inhabited planets.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby SU3SU2U1 » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:37 am UTC

In all likelihood it would probably be relatively easy for an advanced alien civilization to enslave/kill/eat us and take our resources. They would then be able to use our resources in their own alien ways. But if they did take our resources then they would be greatly hindering their own progress.


I'm not sure this is true. In almost all economics we've developed to the present day, the scarce resource is PEOPLE. The standard argument for comparative advantage for trade falls apart if you allow one country's better productive capacity to capture the resources of another country.

If you have 500 REALLY productive workers/infrastructure in country A with enough resources to employ 400 of them, and 200 kind-of-productive workers/infrastructure in country B with enough resources to employ 100 of them, the best thing to do is for country A to appropriate all the resources, or to ship workers abroad.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Thesh » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:39 am UTC

Maybe this should be moved to fictional science?
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Kulantan » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:13 am UTC

I have many problems with this argument. But the most glaring one is the massive assumption that aliens would be human equivalent intelligences. If they weren't then they might have little use for our opinions.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Meteoric » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:18 am UTC

Xerographica wrote:In all likelihood it would probably be relatively easy for an advanced alien civilization to enslave/kill/eat us and take our resources. They would then be able to use our resources in their own alien ways. But if they did take our resources then they would be greatly hindering their own progress. This is because if they hadn't taken our resources...then us humans would have been able to apply our very different perspectives to our resources. We would have come up with new and innovative uses that the aliens would have been able to benefit from...but wouldn't have thought of on their own.

If the aliens were roughly human-equivalent but with better tech, yeah, maybe. But although this makes for good sci-fi, it does not seem an especially likely scenario in the event of real contact.

Generally, it is in our own best interest to pave over the anthill, rather than let the ants explore their own perspective and see what innovations they might come up with.

(Although ransacking the Earth for resources is, again, more storytelling than realism - what specifically do they need on Earth that they can't get more easily outside of a gravity well?)
(We might still be screwed if they wanted to, say, build a Dyson something around our sun.)
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:45 am UTC

This certainly isn't Science. I'll keep it in Fictional Science for now, but will just end up locking it if it goes the usual way for Xerographica's threads. (And if this is some twisty way to start yet another discussion about children voting, I'll just remove his posting rights entirely.)
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Zamfir » Thu Sep 05, 2013 6:10 am UTC

(Although ransacking the Earth for resources is, again, more storytelling than realism - what specifically do they need on Earth that they can't get more easily outside of a gravity well?)
(We might still be screwed if they wanted to, say, build a Dyson something around our sun.)


Then again, we don't tyoically pave over ant hills because we specifically want their resources. It's more that we are paving over lots of places, and if there happens to be an ant hill we don't stop. Or we just change the environment of the hill enough to kill its food supply, without ever becoming aware of the ants at all.


By that analogy, humanity wouldn't so much face an Alien Civilization, just the (perhaps tiny) faction that happens to be doing something near earth. Perhaps there's some minor installation that is easier to build in a vravity field in a nitrogen atmosphere Luckily the solar system has a planet that almost meets those criteria, if they only remove the oxygen from its atmosphere.

Or someone builds the interstellar equivalent of a patio somewhere in a nearby solar orbit, the humans keep stealing breadcrumbs from their breakfast, so they buy one of those Pest-Be-Gone boxes and put it on earth. Of course, from our perspective that would be the Thousand Years War For The Future Of All.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:07 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:That is unquestionably a large amount of text. What would you like me to do with it?

Read it thoroughly and then come up with some credible and realistic exceptions to my rule.

ahammel wrote:
Xerographica wrote:Xero's Rule: by the time a species has progressed to the point that they can travel to other inhabited planets...they would have discovered the positive correlation between trading and progress.
Well, it certainly works for the zero known cases of species that can travel to other inhabited planets.

But does it work for the multitude of cases where one human group has traded with another human group instead of enslaving/killing them and taking their resources? If the hypothesis works within a species...then the challenge would be to say why it wouldn't work between two different species.

In terms of perspectives...there's going to be less variation within a species compared to between two species. This means that there's even more value/benefit trading with a different species than trading with the same species. Basically one person's trash is another person's treasure...because they have different perspectives. Increase the difference in perspectives...and you increase the potential gain from trade.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Diadem » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:25 am UTC

Xerographica wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:That is unquestionably a large amount of text. What would you like me to do with it?

Read it thoroughly and then come up with some credible and realistic exceptions to my rule.

You posit a rule that has exactly 0 applicability, and you ask for exceptions? What about showing us that the rule occurs more than 0 times in the entire universe before asking us for cases where it does.

Because you know, I also have a theory. My theory is that all unicorns are purple. I dare you to come up with some realistic exceptions to my rule!
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:35 am UTC

Kulantan wrote:I have many problems with this argument. But the most glaring one is the massive assumption that aliens would be human equivalent intelligences. If they weren't then they might have little use for our opinions.

Are we smarter now than we were 1000/2000/5000/10,000 years ago? It's not so much about intelligence...it's about the ability to seeing different uses of the same resource. In other words, it's about having different perspectives and building on the different perspectives of the people who came before you.

The aliens and ourselves will have something in common...we are both interested in solving problems. They didn't spend their resources (time/money/energy/effort) to make the effort to visit our planet if they weren't trying to solve some problem. Just like you're not going to take a big expensive trip somewhere without having the hope that the benefit will exceed the cost. Is it possible that we will have solved some problems that they haven't? Sure, it's a given. But this doesn't mean that they will certainly gain from their trip anymore than you will gain from yours. You take a risk based on the available information and so would they.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Kulantan » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:49 am UTC

Xerographica wrote:The aliens and ourselves will have something in common...

Really? What if they're a solipsistic hive mind, non-conscious intelligence, aggressive borganism or otherwise incomprehensible. I'm not just talking about how much intelligence, I'm also talking about our ability to communicate meaningfully.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 7:59 am UTC

Diadem wrote:You posit a rule that has exactly 0 applicability, and you ask for exceptions? What about showing us that the rule occurs more than 0 times in the entire universe before asking us for cases where it does.

Because you know, I also have a theory. My theory is that all unicorns are purple. I dare you to come up with some realistic exceptions to my rule!

We extrapolate based on our own history. Two groups of cavemen...Group A and Group B. Group B kills Group A and takes their resources. What the members of Group B didn't know was that they killed the guy who would have invented the wheel. Now the wheel won't be invented for another 500 years. Same thing happens when groups of gorillas fight over the best territory.

When I look back at our history...the pattern is obvious. Clearly the pattern is not obvious to most people though. So before my rule becomes credible...I suppose you have to look back through history and see the pattern for yourself. Well...that and I obviously need to work on my explanation of the concept. I'm not sure how I can improve on the OP in terms of explaining what the rate of progress depends on. I put it in my words...and shared the words of people far more articulate than myself.

Kulantan wrote:
Xerographica wrote:The aliens and ourselves will have something in common...

Really? What if they're a solipsistic hive mind, non-conscious intelligence, aggressive borganism or otherwise incomprehensible. I'm not just talking about how much intelligence, I'm also talking about our ability to communicate meaningfully.

Then you'll have to explain how they used their hive mind to sufficiently solve all the problems necessary before they could travel to another inhabited planet. As I said in the OP...progress depends on how much difference there is in people's perspectives. If everybody thinks alike...then there can't be any real progress. This is because progress depends on coming up with new and better uses of your society's limited resources...which you can't do if everybody thinks alike.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Kulantan » Thu Sep 05, 2013 8:25 am UTC

Xerographica wrote:This is because progress depends on coming up with new and better uses of your society's limited resources...which you can't do if everybody thinks alike.

Hang on, what? Are you seriously claiming that no single intelligence can ever make any progress? I can come up with different ways to distribute my own resources to more effectually make use of them. Without external input even. I just have to think about something more deeply than I have previously or apply new knowledge to the problem.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 9:14 am UTC

Kulantan wrote:
Xerographica wrote:This is because progress depends on coming up with new and better uses of your society's limited resources...which you can't do if everybody thinks alike.

Hang on, what? Are you seriously claiming that no single intelligence can ever make any progress? I can come up with different ways to distribute my own resources to more effectually make use of them. Without external input even. I just have to think about something more deeply than I have previously or apply new knowledge to the problem.

A group didn't invent the wheel...some unknown individual did. That was progress...because it helped solve the problem of efficiently allocating resources. Was it merely a matter of that individual thinking harder/deeper than all the other individuals? Not really...it was simply that somebody was born with a different enough perspective. We can't predict who's going to come up with new and better uses of society's limited resources. Therefore, the rate of progress depends on giving people the freedom to spend their own time/money/energy on inventing the next wheel.

The more that people think alike...the slower the rate of progress. But over time, somebody's going to realize that different thinking yields different uses of society's limited resources...which leads to faster progress. This realization will spread and progress will speed up. Eventually everybody will see the positive correlation between progress and trading. When that happens...then and only then...will resources be allocated efficiently enough for the problem of interstellar space travel to be solved.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby elasto » Thu Sep 05, 2013 9:44 am UTC

There's a whole lot of assumptions and problems with your 'rule'.

First, I'd say a better first stab at it would be: "By the time a species has progressed to the point that they can travel to other inhabited planets...they would have discovered the positive correlation between trading among equals and progress."

We don't trade with ants because they have nothing to offer us. We don't even trade with elephants, gorillas and dolphins, and they are almost our equals. We just take what we want from them and if they all die out as a result we couldn't really care less. There's no reason to suppose any intelligence that travels to us will be nearly equal enough to us for them to bother caring about our opinion on anything.

But the problem is far more fundamental than that - and it's an oversight you've had in repeated threads: Firstly, noone is actually a perfectly rational economic actor in practice, so 'positive correlations' are not enough. Secondly, not everyone cares about 'progress', so even if everyone accepted trade brings progress, not everyone would care.

Some people care most about holding power over others; Some people enjoy causing others pain; Some people are just plain psychopaths; So even if the aliens that arrived were our equals, and they didn't just want to turn our solar system into computronium or a dyson sphere, they might have many primary drivers other than pure 'economic rationalism'.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Kulantan » Thu Sep 05, 2013 10:31 am UTC

Xerographica wrote:Not really...it was simply that somebody was born with a different enough perspective.

I'd dispute the idea that each innovation requires a particular perspective to invent. But that is a minor quibble compared to the idea that you're born with a set perspective. The human brain is plastic and our perspectives are even more so. It doesn't seem unreasonable to imagine a hive mind whose perspective has shifted over time allowing invention of a wide range of things even under the restriction of particular perspectives being necessary for each invention.

Your objection also doesn't address non-conscious intelligence or aggressive borganisms. My point is that your argument is huge anthropocentric regardless of its merit when it comes to humans.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Zamfir » Thu Sep 05, 2013 11:25 am UTC

Quote:
China—a nation of much talent, and, in some respects, even wisdom, owing to the rare good fortune of having been provided at an early period with a particularly good set of customs, the work, in some measure, of men to whom even the most enlightened European must accord, under certain limitations, the title of sages and philosophers. They are remarkable, too, in the excellence of their apparatus for impressing, as far as possible, the best wisdom they possess upon every mind in the community, and securing that those who have appropriated most of it shall occupy the posts of honour and power. Surely the people who did this have discovered the secret of human progressiveness, and must have kept themselves steadily at the head of the movement of the world. On the contrary, they have become stationary—have remained so for thousands of years; and if they are ever to be farther improved, it must be by foreigners. They have succeeded beyond all hope in what English philanthropists are so industriously working at—in making a people all alike, all governing their thoughts and conduct by the same maxims and rules; and these are the fruits. The modern régime of public opinion is, in an unorganized form, what the Chinese educational and political systems are in an organized; and unless individuality shall be able successfully to assert itself against this yoke, Europe, notwithstanding its noble antecedents and its professed Christianity, will tend to become another China. - J.S. Mill On Liberty


This part mostly tells us that Mill didn't have the slightest clue about Chinese history.

Also, note that part about "must be improved by foreigners". You realize what he is talking about, right? It meant that foreign armies were sent to China, occupied its harbours, and controlled Chinese trade to maximize foreign profit and minimize Chinese profits. It's not exactly an advertisement for your rule.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Klear » Thu Sep 05, 2013 12:28 pm UTC

Xerographica wrote:We extrapolate based on our own history. Two groups of cavemen...Group A and Group B. Group B kills Group A and takes their resources. What the members of Group B didn't know was that they killed the guy who would have invented the wheel. Now the wheel won't be invented for another 500 years. Same thing happens when groups of gorillas fight over the best territory.


Explain to me, then, how come there is most technological progress during wars?

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:14 pm UTC

elasto wrote:Some people care most about holding power over others; Some people enjoy causing others pain; Some people are just plain psychopaths; So even if the aliens that arrived were our equals, and they didn't just want to turn our solar system into computronium or a dyson sphere, they might have many primary drivers other than pure 'economic rationalism'.

The aliens don't value progress...yet they somehow managed to progress to the point they could build an interstellar space cruiser capable of reaching other inhabited planets? If you don't value progress...then you don't shift your resources to the individuals progressively using society's limited resources. In fact, you can't choose to do any shifting at all. Resources are simply taken. Chances are good that you're merely a slave and your mind is being wasted. Do the individuals who take resources from others happen to have all the solutions to all the problems that need to be solved before you can build an interstellar space cruiser? If so, then there wouldn't be a need for them to use coercion. People would voluntarily give them their resources.

A new species doesn't crawl out of the muck one day and build an interstellar space cruiser the next day. If we assume that the species isn't omniscient...then in between those two events there's going to be an incredible amount of trial and error. Eventually somebody is going to realize that tapping the creative potential of everybody results in the greatest benefit for everybody. And you tap people's creative potential when you give them the freedom to tackle the problems that concern them the most. This understanding places incredible value on trading instead of taking. Therefore, at first, significant resources have to be allocated to ensuring that people adhere to this rule. As more and more people appreciate and understand the value/benefit of this rule...then less and less resources will need to be allocated towards preventing taking.

Therefore, you kind of have to make the argument that the aliens were smart enough to solve all the problems you'd have to solve before you could build an interstellar space cruiser...yet stupid enough to fail to understand that the solutions were facilitated by freedom. It's just really not likely.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby ahammel » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:36 pm UTC

Xerographica wrote:The aliens don't value progress...yet they somehow managed to progress to the point they could build an interstellar space cruiser capable of reaching other inhabited planets?
Perhaps they attained the technology for interstellar travel millions of years ago and have since become tremendously technologically conservative. Our ideas about technology are of no value to them, since they're convinced they already have all their best stuff.

Xerographica wrote:If you don't value progress...then you don't shift your resources to the individuals progressively using society's limited resources.
Perhaps they live in a society where resources are so preposterously overabundant that it isn't really a concern. Or perhaps they didn't, during the technological growth phase of their society, but their advanced technology has got them to the point where scarcity isn't a concern.

Xerographica wrote:Eventually somebody is going to realize that tapping the creative potential of everybody results in the greatest benefit for everybody. And you tap people's creative potential when you give them the freedom to tackle the problems that concern them the most. This understanding places incredible value on trading instead of taking.
Perhaps they value trading amongst themselves, but are genocidally xenophobic when it comes to other species. Alternatively, perhaps they have so many potential interplanetary trading partners that the value of our creative contributions is nill.

There are a lot of assumptions about a human-like psychology and society that you're making that really aren't warranted because we're talking about aliens. It's failure of imagination as much as anything.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:43 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:This part mostly tells us that Mill didn't have the slightest clue about Chinese history.

In any case he sure predicted China's future.

Zamfir wrote:Also, note that part about "must be improved by foreigners". You realize what he is talking about, right? It meant that foreign armies were sent to China, occupied its harbours, and controlled Chinese trade to maximize foreign profit and minimize Chinese profits. It's not exactly an advertisement for your rule.

Who you calling a foreigner? Are you a foreigner? What happens if I ignore you? What happens if I refuse to trade perspectives with you? If you have any insights of value...then I'm worse off. I'm simply shooting myself in the foot. If you're blocked from participating on this forum...then all the people who would have exchanged perspectives with you would be worse off. Whoever blocked you would simply be shooting all those people in the feet.

Mao Zedong completely closed China off to foreign investment. How many people did he shoot in the feet with his Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution? A billion. He shot a billion people in the feet. The results were predictable. In 1978 Deng Xiaoping took charge and opened China up to foreign investment. He stopped shooting a billion people in the feet. The results were predictable.

The pattern is painfully clear to me...and I dream of the day when it's painfully clear to everybody. So here I am...a foreigner...sharing my insights with you. But you're certainly welcome to ignore me. Freedom/trading/persuasion/shopping means that you can shoot yourself in the foot. But I really hope you don't!

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby davidstarlingm » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:44 pm UTC

I think this rule fails on the perspective of scale. If aliens really want to pillage Earth for resources (laying aside for the moment the obvious fact that there's very little to be obtained on Earth that cannot be more cheaply obtained outside its gravity well), it won't be because they're after a rare item (e.g. the gold in Cowboys & Aliens). Nor will it be pursuit of some renewable resource that could better be exploited if we all just put our heads together and thought really hard from different perspectives. No, it will be something they need on a much larger scale -- bulk (and no, it isn't water; water is just condensed exhaust, after all).

If I have a finite supply of beer, I may work out a plan to extend my supply for as long as possible. Or I might just go to the store and buy another case. If I'm going to be going to the store, plan-to-extend-supply is no longer useful.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby ahammel » Thu Sep 05, 2013 2:55 pm UTC

davidstarlingm wrote:I think this rule fails on the perspective of scale. If aliens really want to pillage Earth for resources (laying aside for the moment the obvious fact that there's very little to be obtained on Earth that cannot be more cheaply obtained outside its gravity well), it won't be because they're after a rare item (e.g. the gold in Cowboys & Aliens). Nor will it be pursuit of some renewable resource that could better be exploited if we all just put our heads together and thought really hard from different perspectives. No, it will be something they need on a much larger scale -- bulk (and no, it isn't water; water is just condensed exhaust, after all).
Maybe they want the planet itself. It's in the Goldilocks zone: that could conceivably make it rare enough to be valuable.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:02 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:
Xerographica wrote:The aliens don't value progress...yet they somehow managed to progress to the point they could build an interstellar space cruiser capable of reaching other inhabited planets?
Perhaps they attained the technology for interstellar travel millions of years ago and have since become tremendously technologically conservative. Our ideas about technology are of no value to them, since they're convinced they already have all their best stuff.

The Chinese word for China is Zhongguo. That means center of the universe. As in, we're so great that there can't possibly be anything out there better. Therefore, they didn't do much exploration. Well...this is a hasty generalization but the concept applies. If you've got all the best stuff...then there's no need to leave your couch, home, city, country, planet, solar system, etc.

ahammel wrote:Perhaps they live in a society where resources are so preposterously overabundant that it isn't really a concern. Or perhaps they didn't, during the technological growth phase of their society, but their advanced technology has got them to the point where scarcity isn't a concern.

Again, if scarcity isn't a concern then there's no need to leave your couch.

ahammel wrote:Perhaps they value trading amongst themselves, but are genocidally xenophobic when it comes to other species. Alternatively, perhaps they have so many potential interplanetary trading partners that the value of our creative contributions is nill.

If you understand the value of giving people the freedom to trade among themselves...then "foreign" is just a relative term.

ahammel wrote:There are a lot of assumptions about a human-like psychology and society that you're making that really aren't warranted because we're talking about aliens. It's failure of imagination as much as anything.

Overcoming scarcity requires imagination...therefore...you trade rather than take.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:06 pm UTC

Xerographica wrote:The Chinese word for China is Zhongguo. That means center of the universe. As in, we're so great that there can't possibly be anything out there better. Therefore, they didn't do much exploration.
Before the adoption of Confucianism, the Chinese had the worlds largest navy and extremely broad trade.

But that aside; what's your point?
Xerographica wrote:Overcoming scarcity requires imagination...therefore...you trade rather than take.
Or you explore/expand where no one else is, and don't have to trade or take from anyone!
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby ahammel » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:11 pm UTC

Xerographica wrote:The Chinese word for China is Zhongguo. That means center of the universe. As in, we're so great that there can't possibly be anything out there better. Therefore, they didn't do much exploration. Well...this is a hasty generalization but the concept applies. If you've got all the best stuff...then there's no need to leave your couch, home, city, country, planet, solar system, etc.
Unless there are non-technology resources in the wider universe that they want (habitable planets, for instance).

Or maybe they have a religious compulsion to set teapots in orbit around as many stars as possible and hate nitrogen atmospheres because they're the wrong density. There's no reason to assume that the motivations of aliens from outer space will make any sense to you.

Xerographica wrote:
ahammel wrote:Perhaps they value trading amongst themselves, but are genocidally xenophobic when it comes to other species. Alternatively, perhaps they have so many potential interplanetary trading partners that the value of our creative contributions is nill.
If you understand the value of giving people the freedom to trade among themselves...then "foreign" is just a relative term.
What on earth makes you think that the aliens would recognize us as 'people'?
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:19 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:
Xerographica wrote:The Chinese word for China is Zhongguo. That means center of the universe. As in, we're so great that there can't possibly be anything out there better. Therefore, they didn't do much exploration.
Before the adoption of Confucianism, the Chinese had the worlds largest navy and extremely broad trade.

But that aside; what's your point?

Right, I said it was a hasty generalization to illustrate the point of not needing to leave the couch if scarcity isn't a concern.

Izawwlgood wrote:Or you explore/expand where no one else is, and don't have to trade or take from anyone!

All other things being equal...why go to an uninhabited planet rather than an inhabited one? If you go to an uninhabited planet then you'll have more resources...but still only be able to apply the same set of perspectives to them. If you go to an inhabited planet...then you can see what the "foreigners" have done with their resources. It's a given that they'll be doing some very different things with their resources than we would have done with them. Therefore, there's infinitely more to gain from going to an inhabited planet.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby ahammel » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:23 pm UTC

Xerographica wrote:[All other things being equal...why go to an uninhabited planet rather than an inhabited one? If you go to an uninhabited planet then you'll have more resources...but still only be able to apply the same set of perspectives to them.
Perhaps they value those resources much more than they value different perspectives.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Klear » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:46 pm UTC

I'll repeat my point since you didn't answer me so far:

You say that there is a correlation between trading and progress, but there is also a (very strong, at that) correlation between war and progress (at least technological). That gives you a counter-example as a mechanism other than trading which can lead a species to progress and eventually interstellar travel.

Furthermore, why do you think trading is a bigger benefit to progress than conflict?

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Zamfir » Thu Sep 05, 2013 3:48 pm UTC


Zamfir wrote:Also, note that part about "must be improved by foreigners". You realize what he is talking about, right? It meant that foreign armies were sent to China, occupied its harbours, and controlled Chinese trade to maximize foreign profit and minimize Chinese profits. It's not exactly an advertisement for your rule.


Who you calling a foreigner? Are you a foreigner? What happens if I ignore you? What happens if I refuse to trade perspectives with you? If you have any insights of value...then I'm worse off. I'm simply shooting myself in the foot. If you're blocked from participating on this forum...then all the people who would have exchanged perspectives with you would be worse off. Whoever blocked you would simply be shooting all those people in the feet


For fuck's sake. That was a quote from your own lengthy OP. Where Mill is arguing, in a book ironically called 'on liberty', in favour of gunboat diplomacy towards China, on the grounds that the Chinese are backwards people who need to be taught a lesson by the good Brits.

Which the good Brits did, and made a lot of money in the process. Because trade is nice, and trade by gunboats is even nicer. For the people with the better gunboats.

It's there, in your own OP. A clearcut example how technologically advanced, freedom-loving, trade-loving people like Mill can also be unashamed colonialists. The dude worked for the East Indies Company, ruling India by force because trade on peaceful terms was not profitable enough.Exactly like you claim should be impossible.
Last edited by Zamfir on Thu Sep 05, 2013 4:04 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Xerographica » Thu Sep 05, 2013 4:00 pm UTC

Klear wrote:I'll repeat my point since you didn't answer me so far:

Thanks, I've been warned against double posting...so I'm having a difficult time trying to effectively reply.

Klear wrote:You say that there is a correlation between trading and progress, but there is also a (very strong, at that) correlation between war and progress (at least technological). That gives you a counter-example as a mechanism other than trading which can lead a species to progress and eventually interstellar travel.

The only mechanism other than trading is taking. Sure, you can take everybody's resources and give them to scientists and tell them to build a bigger bomb. And then you can have nuclear energy. As opposed to all the other possible forms of energy that would have been developed if the visible hand hadn't interfered. This is the opportunity cost concept...

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron...Is there no other way the world may live? - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Values are subjective, so the gain in value can never possibly be greater when trading is replaced with taking. It just might seem that way given that you can never truly know how the resources would have been used if takers hadn't shifted them away from more valuable uses.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby gmalivuk » Thu Sep 05, 2013 4:26 pm UTC

Values are subjective, so (objective claim about value)? Really?

Start arguing in good faith (and without contradicting yourself within a single sentence), or get out of yet another trainwreck of a thread you started.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Thu Sep 05, 2013 4:34 pm UTC

Say gmal values his trinket at 100 utils, while I value it at 1000 utils. If I take it from him, that's a net of 900 utils. Whereas, if I trade my knick-knack (which I value at 250 utils and gmal values at 200 utils), that's only a net of 850 utils. Note that the trade leaves each of us better off, so we would presumably be willing to make it, but there is "less value" than if I just took the trinket.

It's even worse if I also like Zamfir's tchotchke more than he does, and I don't have anything to trade for it.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Izawwlgood » Thu Sep 05, 2013 4:37 pm UTC

Xerographica wrote:All other things being equal...why go to an uninhabited planet rather than an inhabited one? If you go to an uninhabited planet then you'll have more resources...but still only be able to apply the same set of perspectives to them. If you go to an inhabited planet...then you can see what the "foreigners" have done with their resources. It's a given that they'll be doing some very different things with their resources than we would have done with them. Therefore, there's infinitely more to gain from going to an inhabited planet.
So, what you mean to presume is that all planets have the same resources and environments, and all life is interchangeable and equal. And that all planets not within that range of perfect environments are to be ignored, because an advanced interstellar species couldn't possibly utilize the resources of anything stellar body without natives? Natives that also have the same physiological needs as said advanced interstellar species?

This is a really weird presupposition.
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby elasto » Thu Sep 05, 2013 5:03 pm UTC

Xerographica wrote:The aliens don't value progress...yet they somehow managed to progress to the point they could build an interstellar space cruiser capable of reaching other inhabited planets? If you don't value progress...then you don't shift your resources to the individuals progressively using society's limited resources.

Why? We value progress but we waste enormous amounts of resources on vanity projects all the time. Maybe they will visit our solar system along with hundreds of others in order to make our sun go nova so that the super-bright stars spell out 'drink coca-coca' in their night sky - and to them that would be an excellent use of resources.

Besides, you are assuming that it takes a lot of resources to reach another star system. For us it would do. For another species, maybe it wouldn't. Either because they have vastly more resources available than we do and an unlimited lifespan, or because their technology and understanding of physics is so advanced they can do it without consuming much at all. Maybe the first craft to visit us will contain the alien equivalent of a kid turning a magnifying glass on some ants just to watch them burn. You're just guessing.

A new species doesn't crawl out of the muck one day and build an interstellar space cruiser the next day. If we assume that the species isn't omniscient...then in between those two events there's going to be an incredible amount of trial and error. Eventually somebody is going to realize that tapping the creative potential of everybody results in the greatest benefit for everybody. And you tap people's creative potential when you give them the freedom to tackle the problems that concern them the most. This understanding places incredible value on trading instead of taking. Therefore, at first, significant resources have to be allocated to ensuring that people adhere to this rule. As more and more people appreciate and understand the value/benefit of this rule...then less and less resources will need to be allocated towards preventing taking.

This is your assumption on how to maximize progress. Maybe actually the best way is a single consciousness aided by all the resources in the solar system turned into an uber-smart AI just to benefit him. After all, once AI gets more intelligent, more creative, more obedient, more hardworking etc. than any human, why do you need other humans to progress? If some psychopath gets to the top of the pile he might to decide to kill everyone else off as a net drag on 'progress' and live as 'king of the universe' - plundering solar systems at will in order to create Dyson sphere powered computers to answer ultimate questions like how to create a new, better universe and move to it. Questions we could no more suggest answers to than ants could suggest us answers for solving climate change.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Meteoric » Thu Sep 05, 2013 5:17 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:
Xerographica wrote:The Chinese word for China is Zhongguo. That means center of the universe. As in, we're so great that there can't possibly be anything out there better. Therefore, they didn't do much exploration. Well...this is a hasty generalization but the concept applies. If you've got all the best stuff...then there's no need to leave your couch, home, city, country, planet, solar system, etc.
Unless there are non-technology resources in the wider universe that they want (habitable planets, for instance).

Or maybe they have a religious compulsion to set teapots in orbit around as many stars as possible and hate nitrogen atmospheres because they're the wrong density. There's no reason to assume that the motivations of aliens from outer space will make any sense to you.

Or maybe they'd be just similar enough to find us morally horrifying. (Excellent story. Read it.)
Xerographica wrote:All other things being equal...why go to an uninhabited planet rather than an inhabited one?

What's this "rather than" shit?

For one thing, unless FTL turns out to be possible after all, any aliens arriving here would probably have been planning to arrive on a planet with nothing above animal intelligence. Human civilization just isn't that old.

Moreover, any decent starfaring civilization could go to ALL the star systems. They wouldn't need to be picky about inhabited/uninhabited; turning the star into a Matrioshka brain will definitely provide more innovation than a few meat-based processors running at 200Hz. The human brain is in many ways pretty impressive, but it's still very VERY far from optimal - it takes over twenty years just for it to finish booting up!
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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby davidstarlingm » Thu Sep 05, 2013 5:25 pm UTC

The only way that "trade" is more economical than "take" is if the stronger group is convinced that they will receive greater benefit from learning how the weaker group uses resources, as opposed to simply receiving those resources.

Obviously, a stronger alien race is unlikely to view the intellectual contributions of the weaker homo sapiens with much charity. But, more importantly, the aliens would only be going on a resource-mining mission if the resources themselves were valuable enough to make the mission worthwhile in the first place.

Any mission promising enough resources to guarantee profitability will have enough resources to make the "what about intellectual value" question moot.

What you've proposed is an impossibly specific situation, where the group of aliens comes into contact with Earth, then identifies finite resources while also identifying the potential for Terran intellectual value, and is forced to decide whether the immediate value of simply obtaining resources by force exceeds the potential value of acquiring intellectual information from Earthlings.

This decision will rarely come down to the kind of philosophical experience that you're talking about. If cost/benefit of resource extraction is low enough that a mission would be profitable on an uninhabited planet, it's low enough that the potential intellectual value of Earthling Trade really isn't going to factor in. If not, the only missions that will happen in the first place are intellectual ones, and no one even considers resource extraction.

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Re: Xero's Rule

Postby Thesh » Thu Sep 05, 2013 6:46 pm UTC

If you are going to base aliens on humanity, and given the immense resources in uninhabited parts of the galaxy, I would say that the most likely reasons for aliens to visit us are as follows:

1) To ensure their future safety, by making sure we are not going to be a threat sometime down the road via our total subjugation or annihilation.
2) To show us savages how a civilized culture acts by annexing earth and settling the planet
3) To spread religion

More advanced earth cultures tend to not really look to undeveloped cultures for new ways of thinking or anything like that; there is no reason to believe all extraterrestrial cultures would as well. Also, what the idea of progress is completely subjective; what you call progress, they might call technolust.
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