October 17, 2007
Investment Bubbles Caused By Status Loss Fearing Peers?

Are investment bubbles caused by herds all seeking to maintain relative status vis a vis their perceived peers.

Why do people herd around risky investments, causing "bubbles" that inevitably burst and leave most investors losers in the game? Couldn't the players in the dot.com bust, for example, have seen disaster looming on the horizon? Why did more investors not get out earlier, and why did they continue to pump money into already over-inflated stocks? Similar questions surround the recent bust in the subprime mortgage market.

Two Stanford Graduate School of Business researchers say that what investors fear the most is not the risk of a loss per se, but the risk that they may do poorly relative to their peers. That means even though investments in areas such as new technology may be particularly risky, investors tend to cluster around such pie-in-the-sky opportunities to avoid being the only one in the neighborhood to miss out on the "next big thing."

Think of this in terms of relative status versus absolute wealth. People strongly desire to keep up with and preferably to rise above their peers. When peers are all doing something that might earn big returns this drives the desire to do the same thing in order to avoid falling behind.

If you run with the herd when making investments and you all invest in a big bubble your risk of falling relative to the others in your peer group is decreased. Even though you are investing in a bubble so are your peers. So if you lose they lose. If you all lose equally then you experience no fall in relative status.

If your friends acquaintances get rich they will drive up the price of housing and daycare. You've got to get rich right along side of them or risk getting squeezed out by them.

In three related theoretical studies, Peter DeMarzo and Ilan Kremer, along with Ron Kaniel at Duke University, have discerned that individual investors care deeply about how their level of wealth compares to that of others in their peer group and community. "Investors fear being poor when everyone around them is rich," says DeMarzo, Mizuho Financial Group Professor of Finance at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

A primary reason for people's concern, they explain, is that the cost of living in any community may depend on the wealth of its residents. The more money people have, the more expensive houses, real estate, daycare, and other necessities and amenities will be. "It's worse to have a lower income in an area where everyone is wealthy than it is in an area where everyone has a similar income as you," says Kremer, Associate Professor of Finance at Stanford Business School.

Using economic models, the researchers have discovered that such external worries have implications for how people invest. Specifically, they motivate people to choose portfolios that look a lot like those of others in their community or professional cohorts. "Such herding around certain investments allows you to combat the fear that everyone else might be betting on the winner while you're not," says DeMarzo.

One of my worries for the future is that as communications technologies enable people to see how more upper class people live then the average feeling of one's internal sense of status ranking will drop. People will tend to see themselves as having lower status than they would have in an earlier era because they'll have more people to compare themselves to. Upper class people get far more media recording them and their possessions. So lower class people will see far more images of upper class people than of lower class people. So lower class people will see more images of people who have higher status. Given the basic human instinctual desire for higher status this . Instead of just comparing oneself to one's neighbors one can feel inferior to a much larger world of higher status people.

Aside: I think one of the reasons some people are doomsters about the future is that a lot of doom fantasies involve bigger losses of status for the wealthy than for the poor. The wealthy have further to fall and in event of an economic collapse the wealthy would experience a much larger decline in status than would poorer people. So a doom fantasy gives some doomsters a form of psychological relief. That doomsters should feel the need for such fantasies demonstrates how market economies fail to supply a way everyone to feel higher in status.

Maybe market economies will some day supply drugs or other therapies that cause people to feel they have higher status even when they don't.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 October 17 10:22 PM  Brain Economics


Comments
HellKaiserRyo said at October 18, 2007 5:01 AM:

Not surprising...

I propose genetically engineering out the desire for higher RELATIVE status in humans to free ourselves from this insatiable desire:

"Another theorist who argues that egalitarians should embrace subsidized germinal choice technology, including enhancement, is the Princeton University Bioethicist Peter Singer. In Singer's 2001 A Darwin Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation, he argues that the Left has ignored and denied the sociobiological constraints on politics to its own detriment. Singer contends that there is a biologically rooted tendency towards selfishness and hierarchy in human nature that undermines egalitarian social reforms. If ambitious egalitarian programs of social reform and democratic cooperation are to succeed, Singer argues, we must employ the new genetic and neurological sciences to identify and modify the aspects of human nature that cause conflict and competition. "In a more distant future we can still barely glimpse, it may turn out to be a prerequisite for a new kind of freedom: the freedom to shape our genes, we can build the kind of society we judge best." Toward that end Singer advocates a program of voluntary, socially subsidized genetic enhancement.”

Citizen Cyborg

Perhaps we could also eliminate war and faciliate charity through this.

HellKaiserRyo said at October 18, 2007 5:22 AM:

Randall, combine the desire for status and free-market eugenics:

"Reflecting on Lee Silver's naive, and now frequently quoted, prediction that germinal choice will lead to a division between the genetic haves and have-nots. Adam Wolfson retorted in the Public Interest that "if genetic enhancement were to become possible, democratic publics would take to the streets with guns and knives before allow Silver's scenario to come to pass. The lower and middle classes insist that their children be provided with the same eugenic enhancements available to the children of the rich. In time, The U.S. government would subsidize eugenic programs, not to create an overclass but to preserve equality, to elevate everyone's natural endowments." The point of this book is to argue for precisely such a movement, a movement that progressives will be forced to embrace once they have exhausted the dead-end of bioLuddism."

Tell me why the scenario with guns and knives wouldn't happen. Why would people allow the rich to have better (in both relative and absolute terms) children? It is naive to except people to accept this passively. I do image guns and knives in the future. Do you?

State-sponsored enhancement programs would be necessary for retaining law and order.

K said at October 18, 2007 10:50 AM:

Why do people allow the rich to have better cars and houses?
Er, mostly because of the police and other means of control. I think the same answer applies to genetic enhancements. The rich will benefit much more than the poor.

"Singer contends that there is a biologically rooted tendency towards selfishness and hierarchy in human nature that undermines egalitarian social reforms."
I agree. On the other hand look what Singer wants, he reveals it in the loaded word 'undermines'. People who don't want what Singer wants are bad, bad, bad. They undermine.

His suggestions are simply tyranny in another name. Castration and lobotomy with a few less side effects. Slavery from genes rather than skin.

You can be certain that when Singer, or anyone else, says 'we can build the kind of society we judge best' the 'we' means 'I'. Stalin was one who brought Singers 'new kind of freedom'.

Wolf-Dog said at October 18, 2007 11:19 AM:

Although the crowd of lemmings joined the dotcom bubble in a uniform manner as described in the article, the original elite who engineered the dotcom bubble, was not part of the group of lemmings: the original elite joined the bubble at the initial phase, and abandoned the bubble close to the peak, and as a result, this elite took hundreds of billions of dollars from those lemmings who joined the bubble too late and who stayed too long after the peak. This was a net transfer of wealth, and it was such a big transfer that the winners who did gain "status" from this transfer, have every reason to remain quiet about this scheme, and the ones who lost (their money who engineered the dotcom bubble) are also so ashamed of themselves that they are also quiet nowadays. There were some class action suits against dotcoms, but these actions recovered very little of the lost money (taken by those who figured out how to lure lemmings.)

Thus this the bubbles are anything but uniform, for they have stages: beginning, realization, greed, implosion, etc. And not all participants have the same results.

Dog of Justice said at October 18, 2007 12:48 PM:

Maybe market economies will some day supply drugs or other therapies that cause people to feel they have higher status even when they don't.

Enter World of Warcraft... of course, there is an evolutionary problem, in that those who are content with such forms of "higher status" will tend to weed themselves out of the gene pool.

David Friedman's post on the economics of status may also be of interest.

HellKaiserRyo said at October 18, 2007 1:08 PM:

But the poor have little or anything else to lose. Herrnstein and Murray believe this is one reason why low intelligence causes crime. When they realize that they have little to lose, I do not see any reason why they would defer in a situation of complete hopelessness. Increasing income inequality and unemployment would be a catalyst for a major upheaval.

How exactly is Singer's suggestions "control"? One could argue that those inegalitarian impulses currently enslave and inhibit humanity. Besides, the poor are ALREADY enslaved by the elite and as you acknowledge would continue to be enslaved by their genes as they would not immediately (and it might not "trickle-down") have access to technology. I do not see why Singer's suggestion of genetically enhancing altruism would be WORSE than the status quo. Do not say "leftist rhetoric" while retorting to my statement that the poor are "enslaved by the elite"; the poor are enslaved and you probably concur with The Bell Curve that the poor are likely poor because they have genetically low intelligence and cannot advance in society because they do not have the cognitive resources. By denying them the means to liberate themselves (or their children), you are condoning slavery and tyranny. Enhancement, thus, should be a RIGHT not a privilege.

Tell me why the scenario where the rich continue to thrive and the poor continue live in misery is the antithesis of "tyranny." What exactly is "freedom"? To me, it is freedom of self-transformation; having the potential to be anything that you want to be. Would be poor have "freedom" in your aforementioned world when their children are denied access to improvements that will allow the sunder the chains of poverty? However, some shreads of optimism remains for me; sponsoring enhancement programs would be similar to sponsoring programs of questionable efficacy such as "Head Start". Of course, while "Head Start" generates rather meager gains in cognitive performance, subsidized enhancement would offer profound boosts (and lasting boosts that do not "fade-out") in contrast.

Free-market eugenics would lead to greater hatred and suffering in the world.

K said at October 18, 2007 2:34 PM:

First if all I don't give a hoot about the Bell Curve. And I don't believe the poor are poor because of genetics. I also don't believe they steal or revolt because of poverty. There are a lot of reasons for the behavior of the poor but politically they often revolt when they believe the government is deliberately acting against them. And they do not revolt under appalling conditions if they believe the government wants to improve matters.

In other words I reject almost everything you say I probably believe.

And I didn't contend the situation today is the antithesis of tyranny. But I'm not surprised you put words in my mouth.

What is really going on with Singer and other big picture theorists and intellectuals? Rather simple. You will not meet one who thinks he won't be among the smart people who decide what is to be for everyone else. Among those who will define what is deviant or undesired. And decree how such inferiors will be fixed or eliminated by any means necessary.

As to your freedom. Freedom to me sure won't mean men in white coats will look at DNA and decide who needs fixed - fixed so they won't reproduce, or make trouble (trouble as defined by and for the white coats), or think what is not pleasing to the men in white coats. Of course they will call it enhancement. And some will be enhanced for their own good and/or societies good. It will all be for the good.

No one will say or think otherwise. Or be able to.

Singer has the age old belief that he is in the smarter group, the natural aristocracy, one of the somehow better people these things won't apply to. Thus he and those most like him can best decide how others will be happiest and the fewest bad things occur. It is theology and priesthood under different names. A modification of the power structure will be made so that people like Singer will be on top. The added twist: once operational no one can think it should be otherwise. As Orwell said 'it is not enough to obey, you must believe.'

Of course Singer isn't setting around thinking of a coup by the brightest for the good of man. He might shudder at the idea of harming a fly. He believes it will be for the best. The New Order won't be making mistakes.

But be happy. I expect what Singer wants will come about. Get rid of the rich and install the Priests. They only want to help.

HellKaiserRyo said at October 18, 2007 3:44 PM:

"There are a lot of reasons for the behavior of the poor but politically they often revolt when they believe the government is deliberately acting against them. And they do not revolt under appalling conditions if they believe the government wants to improve matters."

They might interpret a situation when the government allows the rich to enhance their children giving them an immense relative advantage as threating. There children have no hope of competing against the rich, and the advantage of the rich would be further ossified.

You are indeed correct, perhaps the government will capitulate and sponsor enhancement at the WILL OF THE PEOPLE; not to fulfill some coercive agenda. Allowing ALL parents regardless of financial status to choose whatever enhancements they want for their children with minimal government control (of course, manipulation that disables the progeny such as selecting for deaf or blind children) would bring contentment. Unfortunately, some children will remain disadvantaged genetically because their parents will not choose enhancements (perhaps for religious reasons), but this is a small price to pay to retain individual liberty and it most certainly better than a scenario where access would be restricted to a small minority because of pecuniary reasons.

Modifying for egalitarianism, however, is controversial. Allowing everyone to enhance their children is not controversial, but it would be repulsive to alter behavior as it might be viewed as a means of control.

No, I will not castigate anyone for believing the poor is poor due to genetics. This isn't a controversial view on this blog.

K said at October 18, 2007 5:58 PM:

Read the text about Singer again. He advocates 'voluntary' and 'subsidized' as a method. Why? Because those words are soothing.

His intent is rather different.

"If ambitious egalitarian programs of social reform and democratic cooperation are to succeed, Singer argues, we must employ the new genetic and neurological sciences to identify and modify the aspects of human nature that cause conflict and competition."

IMO he isn't talking about conflict and competition. He means resistance to what he wants. And no competing ideas.

Randall Parker said at October 18, 2007 8:48 PM:

HellKaiserRyo,

If the wealthy are clever enough they'll find ways to placate the poor. If the poor are numerous enough they'll vote for politicians who will tax the rich to give to the poor.

Also, a big boost in IQ in one segment of the population will speed up technological advance and therefore increase the supply of goods and services. Some of that increased supply will reach the bottom half of the Bell Curve.

As for helping the poor do genetic enhancement: Some people will donate money to fund offspring genetic enhancement of poor people. Some people will vote for government funding. Some dictatorships will decide to provide it in order to enhance economic growth.

Randall Parker said at October 18, 2007 9:51 PM:

HellKaiserRyo,

The most compelling argument for government funding of eugenic offspring genetic engineering is that the smarter offspring will cost the state less and pay the state more in taxes. The money spent on genetic engineering will pay itself back many times over. I expect many governments will recognize this.

Once it becomes possible to control genetic endowments that code for intellectual abilities I expect a lot of leftists to shift from demonizing the Bell Curve to demanding that offspring of poor people get intellectual abilities equal to those of CEOs, doctors, and top scientists.

HellKaiserRyo said at October 18, 2007 11:12 PM:

Randall,
Subsidizing enhancements would certainly enervate an economy if done universally, but one can invoke controversial figures such as Richard Lynn to argue it would be a rather prudent idea that would yield prosperity, deter crime, and lower healthcare expenses in the long run. The future The Bell Curve forefends is increasing economic inequality and social isolation. Herrnstein and Murray predict enclaves of the wealthy protected in gated communities in the latter chapters. Since they marry among their peers, this is a form of positive assortative mating and the detrimental alleles remain at a low frequency because of reproductive isolation. A hereditary overcaste might be formed in this scenario; however, regression to the mean might prevent that from happening. Genetic engineering would eliminate regression to the mean, although bizarre speculation such as speciation would probably not happen because it requires complete reproductive isolation. Thus the poor have no chance of competing in a meritocracy with the rich.

I concede it might to a one generation problem as the technology might trickle-down.


K, I do think it is possible to genetically engineer altruism, reduce the propensity to pursue positional good and retain individual freedom. I read this article about Mother Teresa, though, and I do agree that selfishness cannot be obliterated as it might create a rather biddable person:

“Three of Mother Teresa's teachings that are fundamental to her religious congregation are all the more dangerous because they are believed so sincerely by her sisters. Most basic is the belief that as long as a sister obeys she is doing God's will. Another is the belief that the sisters have leverage over God by choosing to suffer. Their suffering makes God very happy. He then dispenses more graces to humanity. The third is the belief that any attachment to human beings, even the poor being served, supposedly interferes with love of God and must be vigilantly avoided or immediately uprooted. The efforts to prevent any attachments cause continual chaos and confusion, movement and change in the congregation. Mother Teresa did not invent these beliefs - they were prevalent in religious congregations before Vatican II - but she did everything in her power (which was great) to enforce them.
Once a sister has accepted these fallacies she will do almost anything. She can allow her health to be destroyed, neglect those she vowed to serve, and switch off her feelings and independent thought. She can turn a blind eye to suffering, inform on her fellow sisters, tell lies with ease, and ignore public laws and regulations.


For years I had to write thousands of letters to donors, telling them that their entire gift would be used to bring God's loving compassion to the poorest of the poor. I was able to keep my complaining conscience in check because we had been taught that the Holy Spirit was guiding Mother. To doubt her was a sign that we were lacking in trust and, even worse, guilty of the sin of pride. I shelved my objections and hoped that one day I would understand why Mother wanted to gather so much money, when she herself had taught us that even storing tomato sauce showed lack of trust in Divine Providence.”
http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=shields_18_1

Very scary, isn’t? Manipulating the mind to eliminate competition and conflict must be done prudently, or it will result in the aforementioned scenario. Maybe increased intelligence would provide some immunity from that plenary control even if the proclivity towards status and conflict would be suppressed.

Also,
http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/2003----.htm


averros said at October 19, 2007 2:31 AM:

Investment boobles are caused by emission of money by central banks - in form of artificially cheap credit. Which causes rational entrepreneurs to invest in riskier enterprises. Eventually, the influx of money has to stop (or the entire monetary system will risk crashing down in hyperinflationary spiral), and the sudden disapperance of the credit dooms most of previously funded risky enterprises. Which is another way to say "causes recession".

All of this has no relation whatsoever to any interpersonal status games; a quite adequate and well-tested explanation of the business cycle is known for at least half century.

It is really sad how leftism and incessant apology of interventionism has corrupted science.

K said at October 19, 2007 11:17 AM:

averros got the discussion back on track - investment bubbles, status, etc.

IMO the article and Randall have it right. In addition to a desire to maintain relative financial status there is a bandwagon effect and a desire to agree and keep social associates.

The bandwagon effect is simply delusion: 'This time is different, we will make huge amounts forever.'

Differing with your crowd: If you invest differently from your associates and win you have the money but may lose esteem and friends, although that is not certain. But if you lose, you lose alone; you just had to be different and thought you knew more than others.

Staying with the crowd: If the crowd wins everyone likes everyone and you have the money too. If the crowd loses you at least have a social network to sustain and aid you.

Not playing at all: You are somewhat weird, maybe not the best guy to trust or be involved with.

K said at October 19, 2007 12:21 PM:

More about Singer and social engineering.

Singer may be a swell person. There is no reason to believe enhancement won't work and improve health. Or that with state support you must end up with a horde of Dr. Mengeles changing people to see what happens.

It isn't certain that bureaucrats and bioethicists will deciding who is unrepairable and is to be snuffed for the overall good, who is too tempermental and needs a few needles of moderation juice. But when you possess the power to alter why put up with someone who could help society more in electronic and not music? Isn't she being selfish by leading the life she wants and not the one society needs?

And when genetics tells you a man could be a superb musician but, alas, you see he doesn't give a shit and likes tending bar? Gee, what's the bioethicist to do then? Tough job, but someone has to do it. For the good.

When you encounter someone who thinks social technicans need to alter people for the common good ask him this: How would your own life be different in the NewUtopia?

The answer will be something like "Well I would feel safer with no street crime. And I always wanted to learn languages more easily. And in old age or sickness I would be secure in a social covenant that all will have. For myself? Well, I do have those things already because I have tenure and there will be a pension with health care. And my investments have worked out well. So I guess my life wouldn't change all that much. My career would continue, I would enjoy what I enjoy now. But think of the billions who don't have it as good. We need to help them."

Notice this Angel isn't proposing to change himself, for he certainly isn't the problem. And those agreeing with him aren't the problem either. The problem is those other people; they need to change or they will be changed. Those much richer must not be selfish, the lazy must be energized, odd thoughts must be aligned. And how can that be done if people aren't watched, assessed, and directed by a Knowledgentia, i.e. people like him.

Randall Parker said at October 19, 2007 5:33 PM:

K, averros,

I think the status-seeking desire of humans is made more problematic by technological advances. People become part of much larger status networks. Technology seems to reduce status on average, not increase it.

If we could find ways to make people all think they are in separate status hierarchies then more people could be at the top or near the top of hierarchies.

averros said at October 19, 2007 8:31 PM:

Randall - but people *are* in separate status hierarchies. Every sub-culture has its own, every profession has its own, every circle of friends, etc... and only in the political life we are forced to choose one chief ape for all.

The network technology does not change that, it simply makes easier to join the groups with more affinity to the particular person's interests. Because this action is purely voluntary, it means that people like that, which implies that they do not feel that their social status suffers. Having friends and loyalties does increase one's estimate of his own status - because better-integrated person feels that he has more offensive and defensive resources against (probably imaginary, but instincts do not know that) attacks from other groups.

What lowers one's perceived status is centralized broadcasting technology - being essentially one-way, it causes people to feel excluded from the world of the high-rank TV apes. That's why some people are desperate to do anything to get on some stupid TV show. It also drives the point of one's insiginficance through, causing people to behave like low-status members of the tribe - i.e. passive-aggressive towards others.

That's the psychological reason why length of exposure to the internet correlates with shift towards less aggressive, more tolerant and more charitable attitude - these are markers of self-estimate of higher social status. (Another correlate is shifting attitude from reliance on others for self-defense towards self-reliance). These attitudes match libertarian philosophy - which explains why Ron Paul is so popular on the Internet.

Note that higher actual social status does not necessarily correspond to the self-estimated status, particularly in democratic systems where the top apes weren't generally born to the privilege and so have all the insecurities and petty aggressiveness of the lower classes. Way too many people's leaders are neurotics, if not outright sociopaths who manage to get to the top by having a talent for deception.

HellKaiserRyo said at October 20, 2007 3:06 AM:

"I think the status-seeking desire of humans is made more problematic by technological advances. People become part of much larger status networks. Technology seems to reduce status on average, not increase it.

If we could find ways to make people all think they are in separate status hierarchies then more people could be at the top or near the top of hierarchies."

and

"Maybe market economies will some day supply drugs or other therapies that cause people to feel they have higher status even when they don't."

Oh great, Randall, a hoard of megalomaniacs!!

K, I will currently retreat from suggesting personality modifications, but I wonder what liberty is. I should read On Liberty to delve into this issue, and ponder whether such germline modifications would infringe on liberty. But why do you aggressively objurgate those who purpose eliminating competition via germline interventions? I will ask the reverse question to you: what if germline interventions were used to increase selfishness? This is an application of the reversal test: http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/statusquo.pdf. Do you have evidence that our altruism/selfishness is at a local optimum? Do you think it would be beneficial to increase selfishness?


Do you have any evidence that Peter Singer thinks of himself as a pillar of moral rectitude? Any statements from Singer that verify that? All you did was parse a brief summary about one of Singer's book quoted from another book with extreme paranoia. To the contrary, Singer is vehemently pro-choice and respects the female’s right to control her body without any input from the state. Why don’t you rant about the religious right “knowledgentia” who want to restrict this right via dominionism? Thus, Singer doesn’t have an obsession with controlling people. He isn’t a hypocrite too: he donates 25% of his salary to OXFAM and UNICEF.


Regarding the "laziness" that you have mentioned, I do not deem some people culpable for their condition. Why bother working when all you could get is a menial minimum paying job? Increasing intelligence would likely provide a viable solution for that problem as it would bequeath people the ability to find a satisfying job. Increasing intelligence would make people more independent and would be conducive for the development of libertarian attitudes. This is a potent counterexample against your negative portrayal of social engineering as it is based on the assumption that it would reduce personal liberty. One does not need to invoke utilitarian tenets emphasizing the “common good,” which received considerable animadversion from you, to defend such a social engineering program. I suppose such a program would be opposed for other reasons:

“In a recent article, another author opines: “Crucially, though, despite
the fact that parents may want their children to be ‘intelligent’,
where all parents want this any beneficial effect is nullified. On the one
hand, intelligence could be raised to the same amount for all or, alternatively,
intelligence could be raised by the same amount for all. In
either case no one actually benefits over anyone else. . . . [The] aggregate
effect, if all parents acted the same, would be that all their
children would effectively be the same, in terms of outcome, as without
selection.”16

Tersely, intelligence is only desired because it provides a positional advantage. If EVERYONE was enhanced, it would eliminate the raison d’etre. Again, this shows the human propensity for status.

Regarding your test of hypocrisy, I see no reason why Peter Singer would discuss ways to improve himself via his academic work. I do not know what attributes he would change significantly. Regarding myself, I do not consider myself empathetic, and I am often depressed so I am usually an asshole to some people on a personal level. Of course, Pfizer, GSK, BMS, Gilead Sciences, Abbott, Merck, etc. have better problems to address in their R&D programs such as diabetic medicine, antiretroviral treatments, chemotherapeutic agents, etc. than empathy boosters.

K said at October 20, 2007 12:41 PM:

I'll answer Randall first. Please wait. Your turn to be offended will follow.

Randall wrote "I think the status-seeking desire of humans is made more problematic by technological advances. People become part of much larger status networks. Technology seems to reduce status on average, not increase it.

If we could find ways to make people all think they are in separate status hierarchies then more people could be at the top or near the top of hierarchies."

The first part IMO is nonsense. And what can 'problematic' mean there? Changed? Enhanced? Reduced? Unclear? I'll move on to the heart of the matter, his sentence "If we could find ways to make people all think they...."

Yes indeed. There are always those who want to make people think - think (believe, agree with) as they do and not to the contrary.

And technology is about to make it easy. Randall probably meant he wished people would think in a certain manner. Or that they can be persuaded by logic and reason. But how easily the 'make' word comes to mind. And how much clearer it reads as:

"If we could find ways to make all (other) people think ...."

I'll answer HeilK later. Provided he hasn't led Singer and his minions to me before then.

Randall Parker said at October 20, 2007 12:51 PM:

K,

What first part is nonsense?

What does problematic mean? Geez, it is a word in the dictionary. Changed, enhanced, reduced, and unclear are all not synonyms for problematic.

Yes, there are always people who want to make people think certain things. Persuasion is all around you. There are speeches, advertisements, and even derisive replies in comments on blog posts all trying to plant ideas in peoples' minds. How dare these people try to persuade.

Returning to my point: People do lots of problematic things in search of higher status. For example, they rob, embezzle, deceive, punch, lie, and a great many other things that most would agree are not desirable behaviors. They also vote for charismatic politicians who promise to raise their status at the expense of others. They also overthrow governments or try to do so. They plant bombs. They fly airplanes into towers.

People can be persuaded by logic and reason? Well, some can. But much of the time most can't be persuaded by logic and reasons. Political science research shows that people have little real knowledge behind most of their opinions and that they adopt most of their opinions after they decide which political party to affiliate with. They then adopt positions held by others who are members of their tribes. So, no, I'm not expecting a huge amount of logical persuasion to go on.

K said at October 20, 2007 3:56 PM:

Randall: I agree, altering what people can think through science is not about logic or reason. Agree again, absolutely, there won't be a lot of convincing through logic or reasoning going on, Why bother? Brain chips and hypodemics and gene modification will work so much better. And, voila, the subject will never again disagree with those controlling the chips, hypodermics, and genes modifiers.

I've been reading you a long time We usually agree on solar, energy, etc. And not often on tinkering with people. IMO Scitech is becoming a newer method of government. A fundamental shift will take place with the most potent Scitechees deciding how mankind is to operate. And they will decide in their own favor. For the first time they can simply reach in and remove troublesome thought and activities and make them impossible. And if they can they will. Be certain, what is removed or blunted will not be what the patient finds troublesome, it will be what the Lords of the Scitech Empire judge so.

The quote by Singer - I will get to HeilK later - makes it pretty clear. But people don't like unpleasantness. How much nicer to blithely speak of ending competition and selfishness and aggression and excessive wealth, etc. And, when force is needed? Well, isn't it for the overall good?

... I am familiar with 'problematic' and it still makes no sense as you used it. Your sentence assumes the status-seeking desire is problematic to begin with and technology makes it more so. I don't think it is at all problematic to begin with. My added suggestions to give meaning would include words such as 'affected', 'altered', even 'uncertain'. Let's hear your synonym.

As for technology reducing status on average; I'll resort to Clarke's famous remark that any sufficiently advanced technology cannot be distinguished from magic (hope I got that close enough). It follows that those with that sufficiently enhanced technology will be seen as Magicians. Magicians were not orignially mere demostrators of tricks or puzzles. They were right in there with the Witch Doctors and Priests. Possessors of powers, or believed to be, that could not and must not be challenged. Powers that one could not even speak of disagreeing with. This advancing technology is not leveling status, it is shifting power so that scientists will rule. Not a bad idea if they lacked the means to erradicate what does not please them. But they will have the means.

The precision increases. No longer will armies and munitions control or erradicate the unpleasant. Just erase the ability to be unpleasant within the man.

'persuasion' is not 'making' except in the Gestapo sense 'we have ways to make you talk.' The confused Nazi meant he could extract through torture what he could not get by logic or reason. Today we are on the verge of truly 'making' the undesirable new. Making him into an 'almost' man who cannot differ any more than a dog can begin to read the newspaper.

You also wrote: "People can be persuaded by logic and reason? Well, some can. But much of the time most can't be persuaded by logic and reasons. Political science research shows that people have little real knowledge behind most of their opinions and that they adopt most of their opinions after they decide which political party to affiliate with. They then adopt positions held by others who are members of their tribes. So, no, I'm not expecting a huge amount of logical persuasion to go on."

I agree, as I said before, logical persuasion will not be going on. That crude, unreliable, tool will be obsolete for reasons I already stated. And exactly where would Political Science research be if it showed that people can do OK and think and decide well about politics and other matters on their own? I submit the research will always conclude that Political Scientists are needed to guide the populace from blundering by making decisions the scientists don't care for.

Tell me, do political scientists adopt positions held by others who are members of their tribe? I submit that they goddamn well better until they have tenure.

Randall Parker said at October 20, 2007 4:28 PM:

K,

Tinkering on humans: Where do you think we disagree? Sometimes I describe things without indicating approval or disapproval. Descriptions often can seem like approval.

I got an email some months back from a reporter whose name I recognized from a cable TV news show because he wanted to thank me for pointing out the dangers of human genetic engineering. If you follow what I said I've actually stated a number of times that I expect to see humans split off into genetically more distant groups as different groups make offspring that differ for genetic reasons in how their minds work and on what values they have. I fear wars as a result.

I also expect that some (though not all) governments will genetically engineer humans to follow orders. Still, I would not turn down the opportunity to give some future children of mine genes that avoid assorted diseases and that make them smarter just because some governments will use genetic engineering to create willing slaves.

Status seeking is problematic. Look, a lot of human instincts produce both bad and good outcomes. A scientist can desire higher status and therefore work long hours to discover a disease cure. So that sort of status seeking helps others. Other forms of status seeking include creating organized crime groups and cheating stock holders in order to amass large amounts of wealth. Status seeking causes competition, some constructive, some destructive.

We also see status seeking cause people to construct ridiculous status systems.

The struggle for tenure: Yes, it is another reason why people adopt opinions of others.

K said at October 20, 2007 9:27 PM:

HeLLKasierRyo. My mistake in the previous. I thought it said 'HeilKaiserRyo'. The 'Heil' made a little sense, the Kaiser was German. Heil Kaiser would have been a salute, like Heil Hitler. Change Ryo to Roll and you have a Kaiser Roll being saluted.

You wrote: K, I will currently retreat from suggesting personality modifications, but I wonder what liberty is. I should read On Liberty to delve into this issue, and ponder whether such germline modifications would infringe on liberty. But why do you aggressively objurgate those who purpose eliminating competition via germline interventions? I will ask the reverse question to you: what if germline interventions were used to increase selfishness? This is an application of the reversal test: http://www.nickbostrom.com/ethics/statusquo.pdf. Do you have evidence that our altruism/selfishness is at a local optimum? Do you think it would be beneficial to increase selfishness?

Answer: (Objurgate and germline are new terms for me. But the meaning is clear.) I don't think anyone, anyone, anyone should be eliminating competition via germline interventions. I cede nothing to those who say their preferences about society and what is desirable should be inserted into others by medical means. Same answer to forcefully increasing competitiveness. People don't exist to be altered as others prefer.

Maybe you confuse people with Pit Bulls and scientists with dog trainers willing to goad the animals to viciousness by any technique possible.

Do you really regard this as an issue to be read about?

I have no evidence about the optimum level of altruism/selfishness. Or any desire to if it will lead to altering people. So I don't care what the optimum might be. The optimum would only be a matter of opinion anyway. No matter what coefficients were measured they still would be interpreted differently - I choose redheads, others like blondes. Which color is optimum?

Is Bill Gates, who gave $50B to a foundation, a more optimum giver and less selfish than a physician who saves lives often? You see one problem - altruism is not always the opposite of selfishness. The physician gives much less to charity but expends total effort to help the ill. Bill gives more but at less cost.

About Singer. I may answer that Sunday. Man does not live by blog alone.

HellKaiserRyo said at October 20, 2007 11:15 PM:

K, I stand by my remarks about improving intelligence via social engineering. Head Start is obviously one example, although inefficacious. Intelligence should be uneqivocally improved because it has utility (unlike other positional goods such as height) I maybe naive to think genetic engineering could manifest itself as a white horse that would save humanity from its problems.

I do think selfishness is problematic, and I think Randall elucidated that well. Conversely, I quoted someone's experience working for the Missionaries of Charity, and I most certainly do not want to engineer people to be like that.

Well, I did overreact as I fear inequality, and you fear an Orwellian world. Both are legitimate concerns though, although I feel that Singer doesn't advocate the latter.

"This advancing technology is not leveling status, it is shifting power so that scientists will rule. Not a bad idea if they lacked the means to eradicate what does not please them. But they will have the means. "

Kurzweil, however, argues that technology would trickle down so most people would be able to afford it; it wouldn't be consolidated within a certain elite. However, it does provide some people competitive advantages as it allows the intelligent to pursue greater status and power and exacerbate social inequality. Again, another trend noted on Randall's blogs.

"Is Bill Gates, who gave $50B to a foundation, a more optimum giver and less selfish than a physician who saves lives often? You see one problem - altruism is not always the opposite of selfishness. The physician gives much less to charity but expends total effort to help the ill. Bill gives more but at less cost."

Hard to answer. Are they interested in publicity (or wealth as a physician is a relatively lucrative job) or reducing suffering? I do not know. Of course, Bill Gates probably contributes more in overall "utility" than the physician regardless of his altruism. I do not have any reason to upbraid Bill Gates for not donating more money. Compassion and empathy are not enough; one must have adequate resources to deal with these problems. But I do fear that the desire of relative status would exacerbate inequality in the future and prevent the utilitarian allocation of future resources and perpetuate more suffering.

Lastly, figure out where I derived my pseudonym.

K said at October 21, 2007 3:31 AM:

A bit restless tonight. What's that? A storm. Gale force winds. Lovely.

HellK: I don't actually fear the Orwellian World. I expect Orwellian World Mark II or III. Some vastly improved version, not the primeval Beta release described by Orwell. Orwell was limited by his time. I am limited by mine. I don't even know what cars will look like in 2030, I sure don't know what society will be like.

My guess is the new order will ooze in like an invisible gas, or thin fog. Some will sense a change, few will guess what has changed. The point of Nineteen Eighty Four was that the people believed. They did not feel trapped or enslaved, they weren't unhappy - the state had learned how to stop unhappiness. One tool was words, a word that didn't exist couldn't be thought. What was not desired was not defined. Doubt? There was no Doubt so you couldn't doubt.

It was a jolly good story too. The tyranny had to be imperfect or there was no hope and no story. But it wasn't nearly as imperfect as it appeared. What seemed to be escapes were traps where the occasional deviant was snared. The police didn't have to find you, you found yourself for them.

The trap of false escape is a very common feature of futuristic drama. It also appears in Soylent Green, Total Recall, and A Clockwork Orange.

Huxley, Orwell, Dick, and the older set Verne, Wells, others escaping me at the moment, saw one or more of the futures that could be. They did not see any actual future because it did not exist. And the actual future cannot exist. It can only emerge as the Present. So living in the Present moment by moment is living in the Future. It isn't out there coming, it is here.

Enough with the meta-abracadbra. Since you mention Kurzweil - your pseudonym is pretty close to an anagram of his name - I'll skip Singer. That is a pleasure anyway, I don't actually like Singer enough to despise him.

Kurzweil is dramatic but he is right out there with a first class mind focused on the big picture. Like many seers he concludes that the next great pivot, tipping point, is real close, and will happen in his lifetime. Gee, no egotism there!

Just kidding.

Listen to Al Gore as he warns, the crisis is right now, this very moment, not tomorrow, not even this evening, don't take time to watch a football game, if you take that nap the seas will cover Long Island before you wake up. Like Kurzweil Al believes the tipping point is nigh, it just won't be as Ray says, it will be as Al says. When things look darkest God will send a man to lead. He has, Al Gore.

One or both may be right. Sometimes someone is.

I'll at least shut up on the 'problematic' tiff. For me, selfishness can't lead to problem sets or mixed results. Selfishness is just a negative label. When we don't like what a person does we whip out the labeling machine and set the dial to negative. We mumble to ourselves "if I can get a label to stick people will dislike him, and perhaps inconvenience and humiliate him, or even hurt him. That will fix the SOB."

Gargle said at July 3, 2008 4:16 PM:

Dude, you need to put some friggin hyphens in that massively compound word in your title. It barely makes sense.

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