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Ugh, stop twitching
destroying patterns
life Posted 2010-07-20 14:41:32 by Jim Crawford
Hey, more of me on value systems and the nature of being human. I'm still trying to figure this shit out, alright?

If people are patterns, what kind of pattern alteration does it take before you've effectively destroyed the old person and fashioned a new one in his or her place? Is murder distinct from convincing somebody to change their fundamental values? You may or may not have an obvious answer in mind, but no, really, think about it. Not because your obvious answer is wrong, but because it's complicated.

People change their minds naturally, but so do people die. Try using that defense in a court of law. (Or try it on your mom.) If the difference is that murder ends the organism, you how do you justify picking a flower? Ending the existing pattern really does seem to be the crucial component that makes it murder.

One difference: if you change somebody's value system, you haven't changed the number of people in the world. Or to put it in evolutionary terms, you haven't changed the reproductive potential of your species. Unless you've convinced them not to reproduce, in which case you're responsible for the “deaths” of all the descendants they'll never have, i.e. all the patterns that could have existed but now never will. (Murder vs. ending a pattern before it begins is another fun ethical can of worms.)

My point isn't that using condoms is mass infanticide; my point is that both our definition of murder, and our value that it's a bad thing, are both complicated and arbitrary. Human value systems aren't simple or sensible, because they derive from systems, biological and cultural, that aren't simple or sensible.

As important as such attempts are, any attempt at codifying human values -- even a single person's values -- is doomed to be incomplete unless the codification has the same complexity as a human consciousness. Attempting to adhere to a simple, idealized value system, like I tried to do back when I was a Libertarian, is quixotic; it's easy to romanticize, but you're going to make people miserable, most likely including yourself.

Fun fact: I first wrote this essay as a series of twits, before I realized I'd stretched far beyond the medium's strengths. Here is the original series, if you care to have this data point on my creative process:

  • If people are patterns, what kind of pattern alteration does it take before you've destroyed the old person and fashioned a new one?
  • How is murder distinct from convincing somebody to change their value system? People change their minds naturally, but so do people die.
  • If the difference is that murder ends the organism, then how do you justify picking a flower? Ending the pattern seems the crucial part.
  • One difference: if you change somebody's value system, you haven't changed the number of people in the world.
  • Or to put it in evolutionary terms, you haven't changed the reproductive potential of your species.
  • Unless you've convinced them to go celibate, in which case you're responsible for the "deaths" of all the descendants they'll never have.
  • The point isn't that using condoms is genocide; the point is that both our definition of murder, and our value that it's bad, are arbitrary.
  • Human value systems aren't simple or sensible, because they derive from systems, biological and cultural, that aren't simple or sensible.
[link to this] [See more on “life”]

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