"It's The Code You Live By That Defines Who You Are." — Johnny Silverhand (Cyberpunk 2077)
My Foundational Beliefs
When engaging with politics, it's foundational to have a set of philosophical beliefs that you can use to guide your decision-making.
- Part I
- I exist.
- I have an experience.
- I want to maximize my experience.
- Part II
- Other humans exist.
- Other humans have an experience like mine.
- Other humans want to maximize their experience.
- Part III
- Humans synergize to create better experiences.
- If I synergize with others, it will maximize my experience.1
- Others will synergize with me to maximize their experience.
I don't believe that moral facts exist, or if they do, I don't believe they are perceivable to us. Therefor, I build all of my policy positions from this fundamental moral framework.
On Maximizing One's Experience
“Man serves the interests of no creature except himself.” ― George Orwell, Animal Farm
Within the statements of my foundational beliefs, I often talk about maximizing one's own experience and helping others maximize theirs. I often run into a problem where people assume the most naive construction of this idea possible. It is assumed, especially when words like "hedonism" and "egoism" get used, that I conceptualize a moral world to be one where everyone just does whatever they want, be it murdering, stealing, etc. because it makes them happy. It is also assumed that I make no distinction between "lower and higher" pleasures. This is obviously a ridiculous position to hold, and just a slightly fairer reading will get us to construct more reasonable interpretations of what it means to "maximize" one's experience.
A thought experiment I often use is the following: You and four friends enter a room with five candy bars. You can either eat all of the candy bars because it would "maximize your experience," or you could share the candy equally. The naive construction of my belief would entail the former, but let's think about the consequences of this. My friends are now unhappy, they might not want to be friends with me anymore, next time they won't share with me, and really the outcome is in the long run (and potentially even immediately) I have certainly NOT maximized my experience. My friends being sad would make me sad, them not being friends with me anymore would be upsetting, you can imagine the rest.
It's clear then, when I say "maximizing experience," that we have to take a more intelligent, long-term, holistic view towards what this actually means. If I start with 0 utils, and I can get 100 now or 25 every year for the rest of my life, in four years I have already surpassed the experience maximization potential of the first option. If I do something that makes me happy at the detriment of those around me which makes my experience at the end a net negative anyway, clearly I haven't maximized my experience.
I would hope that this is straightforward and obvious to understand, however it appears to be a tripping point either due to lack of thought or bad faith on the part of many people I interact with.
I am generally opposed to violence as I don't believe it is an effective way to accomplish political change, at least not at this point in time in the United States. That being said, I believe there are plenty of groups of people who could, at points, justify the use of violence in self-defense, even if I don't believe it would be a pragmatic or politically effective thing to do.
Defense of Property
I believe that people have a right to defend their property insofar as three important criteria are met:
- You possess the property in a way that your state and community recognizes your possession.
- You have reasonably exhausted non-violent options to protect your property.
- The other person is effectively "on notice" and understands they exist in an environment where another person will protect their property.
For example, if someone wants to destroy your local business or your house, then you have a right to defend your property by all means necessary.
Many disagreements over whether or not defense of personal property is justified sometimes appear to boil down to a difference of underlying values. The value in question is whether "property can be valued over human life", or some statement to that effect. In my experience, middle-class and well-off people may underestimate the personal sacrifice and the years of time invested into obtaining a business, a car, or even something as simple as a stereo system or a school instrument. As such, they will argue that no matter the value and sacrifice associated with some property, even in the case of people living in poverty, the life of the thief always outweighs said value. This is a conclusion I take issue with.