Family Values: or, Lipsticking the Pig.

From an upcoming lecture on Architecture and Design:

This guy I know wanted to get his kids vaccinated against Covid. Got a special deal: took them across the border to Scarborough, handed them special forms that said they worked for a company called—I kid you not—”Matrix”; and told them that if anyone asked about their place of employment, they were to lie.

The kids were, to their credit, kind of squicked out by this. It was obviously cheating; they ended up being the only two white people in the room. (This particular vax site was being run for front-line folks most vulnerable to infection, which tend to be disproportionately people of color for reasons we all know about by now.) They called their dad on this: it was unethical. It deprived two other people of protection[1].

Dad’s response? “I’m just trying to protect my family. When you’ve got kids of your own, you’ll understand.”

I heard this story, and I thought: is there a single evil perpetrated by human beings that doesn’t start with that very rationale? I’m protecting those that are dear to me. Me and mine come first. Cheating is okay as long as it serves our interests. Everything from shoplifting to genocide has its seeds in selfish genes.

And Dad was playing it as a get-out-of-jail card. Because sure, he’d cheated—but he did it for family, and that not only made it okay; it made it morally praiseworthy. Obligatory, even. We have taken kin selection—an act of utter Darwinian selfishness—and lipsticked it into something altruistic and noble. The very hallmark of the Good Human Being.

How often have you heard the sentiment Nothing is more important than family? And when you have heard it, has anyone ever disagreed? Family Values is the very bedrock of western so-called Morality.

Family Values are destroying the planet.


  1. They did go ahead and get the shot, though.


This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 29th, 2021 at 6:53 am and is filed under rant. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

62 Responses to “Family Values: or, Lipsticking the Pig.”

  1. Johnny4.5

    Have kids, and you won’t be all bent out-of-shape about this, PW. It still stinks, but it’s not out of the scope of what I’d do for my boys.

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  2. Nick Gurr

    This is retarded.

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  3. Mike Evans

    What sick father puts this poison in his children?

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  4. Patrick

    Johnny4.5,

    Apparently having children clarifies all the messiness of the world. Shit, all this time I’ve spent polishing my ethical reasoning I should have just been having babies. What a waste.

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  5. Martin

    The power of hormones.

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  6. Charles

    It worked in “The Godfather”……

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  7. Brian Prince

    Parasitism, valorized.

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  8. Amit Hajra

    Don’t worry – I haven’t gotten my family of four vaccinated yet, so it all evens out…

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  9. Mannie

    A hard sci-fi author and biologist like yourself questions a (deluded– I agree with Mike above) father striving for his genes to survive? Shit, I haven’t got free time to enjoy reading fiction books, except yours and very, very few others. I hope you have plans to propagate those magnificent genes of yours. If you don’t, be sure that the many, the river of flesh, will take the place of your progeny, and entropy shall unwind as it must.

    That guy you speak about is cheap, immoral and deluded, but his heart is in the right place. Please don’t use him as a strawman.

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  10. Anonymous

    I feel like in defending the guy some folks here are doing a disservice to people who have kids but were content to wait for their turn anyway. As an anecdotal example, the amount of people who died due to COVID in my immediate circle of acquaintances with families of their own sits at big fat zero despite nobody feeling the need to jump the queue.

    All you’re doing by equating being a selfish cunt with loving your family is further reinforcing Dr. Watts’s point.

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  11. Caconym

    I would gladly lay down my life for two siblings or eight cousins.

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  12. Darius

    Well, that’s indeed the hallmark of a good human being! Like, if you’re not putting your kin first, then chances are you’re not an average human being.

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  13. James Gauvreau

    Johnny4.5:
    Have kids, and you won’t be all bent out-of-shape about this, PW. It still stinks, but it’s not out of the scope of what I’d do for my boys.

    I’m pretty sure Watts has kids. He’s mentioned them a couple times before.

    It turns out that you can have children without losing your grasp of ethics.

    I’d say more, but I see that we have (multiple!) COVID-vaccines-are-poison nuts in attendance, and I’m a bit too astounded to form further coherent thoughts.

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  14. Anonymous

    Charles:
    It worked in “The Godfather”……

    It eorked right up until the corpses started to pile up.

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  15. listedproxyname

    Sorry if I am being a bit judgemental in this, but for me it is very obvious thing, like it or not. Family values are the first, most basic values – if a person can’t handle them, how can we assume it can handle any values at all? That’s why they are important, that’s why so called “rationale” is coming secondary after it – not because they are absolute.

    Believe me, as a person born in USSR (and not hating myself for it) I am more than aware that there’s no distinguishing features between all those “family”, “social” or “global” moralities when it comes to tragedy – they are all in this together, and so are people who are caught in it. Knocking down another pillar or putting up another wall won’t change nothing in this case.

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  16. The K

    Ensuring your own progeny survives, no matter what, is THE most driving imperative of life. It certainly isnt uniquely human. I dont have kids, but im pretty sure i would be willing to commit murder for my hypothetical offspring, if i had to.

    Now i dont think this needs to be necessarily glorified to the degree it is (it is just a basic biological drive, after all) but then again, neither should it be vilified. We wont get rid of it in any case, unless we manage to gene-edit it out somehow.

    Then again, even though they are not your biological children, can you look into the mirror and tell yourself convincingly that, if push comes to shove, if there is a REAL crisis, that you wouldnt put your kids and your wife, or your family in general before some strangers?

    If the answer is yes, i salute you as an unironically superior person. I wouldnt pass that test for sure.

    Also, and unrelatedly, why are antivax nuts mingling on your site? Im more baffled than anything else.

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  17. Fatman

    Anonymous: All you’re doing by equating being a selfish cunt with loving your family is further reinforcing Dr. Watts’s point.

    Could not agree more. People acting like pieces of shit and using “think of the children” pearl-clutching to justify it has nothing to do with “family values”. It’s about trying to get away with being a self-serving, hypocritical cunt, which is pretty typical human behavior, but still disgusting.

    James Gauvreau: I’d say more, but I see that we have (multiple!) COVID-vaccines-are-poison nuts in attendance, and I’m a bit too astounded to form further coherent thoughts.

    Your thoughts still seem to be more coherent than their thoughts, so IDK, consider that a win?

    The K: Also, and unrelatedly, why are antivax nuts mingling on your site? Im more baffled than anything else.

    The Crawl is occasionally targeted for drive-by garbage-spouting by idiots and/or conspiracy lunatics. I recall more than one swivel-eyed libertarian popping in over the years, only to beat a tucked-tail hasty retreat, then appear again in a few months’ time. Maybe they become addicted to being dunked on?

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  18. The K

    @Fatman

    Yeah, equating the classic “Wont somebody think of the children?!!!” pearl-clutching with the behaviour of the father in question here (selfish, unethical, but definitely really concerned about his children) just doesnt sit right with me.

    The moral guardians who scream about the children usually dont give a single fuck about said children and wouldnt piss on them if they were on fire. Thats definitely not what happened here, its a different (and arguably way worse) tier of scumbaggery.

    Honestly, i notice a trend lately (well okay, for a long time) to equate basic human, even biological drives with evil. I am still not quite convinced by that. Either we only are a bunch of biological, more or less preprogrammed mush and all that ethics stuff is something we invented afterwards to console ourselves, or we ARE something special, we COULD be better if we only wanted to defy our biological imperatives.

    I cant shake the feeling that our esteemed host really wants the second possibility to be true and is eterneally disappointed that it isnt, even though he has made a career of showing us readers that no, humans are not special and are just another kind of dumb meatbot, only we have a self-important, chattering homunculus in our brain who thinks he is in the drivers seat.

    Every cynic is a disappointed idealist, after all.

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  19. Peter Watts

    Johnny4.5: It still stinks, but it’s not out of the scope of what I’d do for my boys.

    Yup. It’s a virtually universal response. That’s kind of my point.

    Mike Evans:
    What sick father puts this poison in his children?

    I hope the “poison” you’re referring to is the fallacious non-argument about “I’m just protecting my family”. Because if you’re talking about vaccines, I think you took a wrong turn somewhere.

    Mannie: I hope you have plans to propagate those magnificent genes of yours.

    No plans at all. In fact, I’ve taken measures to ensure that it will never happen.

    Honestly, my genes just aren’t that special.

    That guy you speak about is cheap, immoral and deluded, but his heart is in the right place. Please don’t use him as a strawman.

    He’s not just a straw man, he’s a straw everyman. When you say “his heart is in the right place”, what you’re really saying is “his heart is in the same place everyone else’s is”. And I agree. And that’s the problem.

    Anonymous: All you’re doing by equating being a selfish cunt with loving your family is further reinforcing Dr. Watts’s point.

    In everyone’s defence, being a selfish cunt is how natural selection has shaped people to love their families. Those who choose the global good over the local good are anomalies. Which is a shame, because the norm is getting us killed.

    Caconym:
    I would gladly lay down my life for two siblings or eight cousins.

    Oooh. A Haldemann fan. I was too, until the whole Watergate thing.

    Darius: if you’re not putting your kin first, then chances are you’re not an average human being.

    Again: this is exactly the point I’m making. You guys are getting this, right?

    Putting your genes first is what all life does. There’s no way natural selection could have shaped us any other way. The problem is, “natural” behaviour doesn’t cut it when brainstem imperatives optimized for local, short-term situations influence the use of advanced technologies with global, long-term impacts. When you can wreck an entire biosphere as a mere side-effect of your existence, natural behaviour is the kiss of death. We better start behaving unnaturally tout suite if we want to survive as a civilization.

    James Gauvreau: I’m pretty sure Watts has kids.

    If I sired any kids, it must’ve happened before I got my vasectomy in 1991. And the birth control failed. And the mother(s) never told me about it. And the sprogs themselves never looked me up.

    On balance, I think it’s more likely that I don’t have kids.

    listedproxyname: Sorry if I am being a bit judgemental in this, but for me it is very obvious thing, like it or not. Family values are the first, most basic values – if a person can’t handle them, how can we assume it can handle any values at all?

    I’m not sure what kind of assumptions you could make in any case, and I don’t know how you define “values” (as far as I can tell, “morals” is just a fancy way of saying “gut feelings”— and “gut feelings” evolved via processes that have no foresight whatsoever, with all the shortcomings that entails.) But there are empirically better alternatives, if you attribute any value at all to the concept of a healthy biosphere.

    For example, people who’ve suffered a certain subtle damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex are immune to Trolley Paradoxes. They would presumably be far more willing than you to abandon their child in a burning building, if that meant they could save two or more strangers. Such people would sacrifice their kin for the greater good; they don’t believe that their precious darlings are the center of the universe, they are not in thrall to self-serving gut feelings. They are better than “moral”; they are ethical. They can look beyond themselves. Those are the “values” we should be seeking.

    Of course, there’s no way that natural selection would ever promote that kind of behaviour; it’s far too altruistic. It’s literally unnatural. (And try to imagine the headlines the next day if that baby-in-a-burning-house scenario ever played itself out in real life. Would they read “Altruistic Parent Saves Four Strangers at Great Personal Cost”— or “Monster Mom Lets Baby Burn”?)

    But that’s what we need, if we’re gonna make it out of the century intact. And good fucking luck with that.

    The K: Now i dont think this needs to be necessarily glorified to the degree it is (it is just a basic biological drive, after all) but then again, neither should it be vilified. We wont get rid of it in any case, unless we manage to gene-edit it out somehow.

    Or induce precise brain lesions (see above). The gene editing approach might be the only solution, although I’m under no illusions that it’s likely to happen. I think we’ll just keep grinding away at the behest of our brain stems until the ceiling crashes in. And given the amount of damage we’re already inflicting on the planet (anywhere from 70K to 130K species being wiped out every year, to cite just one metric), why the hell shouldn’t we vilify it? We vilify people for far smaller transgressions than global ecocide and nobody seems to have a problem with it…

    Then again, even though they are not your biological children, can you look into the mirror and tell yourself convincingly that, if push comes to shove, if there is a REAL crisis, that you wouldnt put your kids and your wife, or your family in general before some strangers?

    I honestly don’t know. I probably would (although I guess there’d be less of an impulse to protect the mate, given that I don’t share any genes with her). One of the reasons I got myself sterilized in the first place was to preempt having to make such a decision in the first place, knowing I might not have the strength to do the right thing.

    Not that it helped much. I ended up married to a woman I love more than I ever did any of my actual blood relatives, and I kinda fell in love with her kids as well. If it came to the crunch, maybe the most I could hope for is putting them first and feeling really shitty about it. But my point in making this post was not to tout myself as some kind of righteous Sterile Boy, rising above the brain stem masses; my point was to highlight one of the most fundamental “values” of our species— of any species, really— and point out its central tragic role in the apocalypse ever-less-slowly unfolding before us.

    This is who we are; this is how natural selection made us. But natural selection only works in the present. It doesn’t know about the future, so we’re only built to care about ourselves.

    Bummer.

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  20. Brian Prince

    I’m not sure the people equating “natural” with “good” realize where they’re posting LOL.

    Favoring your kin becomes maladaptive in a technological species capable of destroying the world. DNA is dumb. It has no long-term goals. We ought to try to be better than that.

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  21. trnj
  22. Glendis Shiko

    Peter Watts,

    “people who’ve suffered a certain subtle damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex are immune to Trolley Paradoxes” what sort of brain damage are you talking about and could you possibly link to a paper?

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  23. Fatman

    The K: Honestly, i notice a trend lately (well okay, for a long time) to equate basic human, even biological drives with evil.

    “Evil” and “good” are emotionally charged words with no definable meaning. “Evil” has historically been a way of labeling behavior that we humans instinctively recognize as deleterious to our existence. On the other hand, “good” is what has been shown to benefit the community/society, etc. These definitions change as those interpreting them see fit. Biological urges are biological urges, neither good nor evil unto themselves.

    By the same yardstick, humans can’t be “better” than we already are. Being social animals, however, we can elect to take actions that are less damaging to that society as a whole (even when there is no immediate personal benefit to be derived from them).

    I don’t think the above is an example of “biological imperatives kicking in”, as no one’s life was in immediate danger, and there were other options to keep the kids safe. It’s an example of a self-serving cunt demonstrating, in an admittedly minor way, that He and His matter more than everyone else.

    Which, when you think about it, is really what’s wrong with the world. Petty, shitty people making petty, shitty acts of selfishness, snowballing into one big problem. Wanna bet that he drove the kids to their appointment in a gas-guzzling SUV? So much for wanting to “protect his own”.

    Brian Prince: DNA is dumb. It has no long-term goals.

    The gist of my argument, far more succinctly.

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  24. Peter Watts

    Glendis Shiko:
    Peter Watts,

    “people who’ve suffered a certain subtle damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex are immune to Trolley Paradoxes” what sort of brain damage are you talking about and could you possibly link to a paper?

    Certainly. Koenigs et al, “Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements.

    I could probably dig up the pdf for you if you’ve got trouble with the paywall. Email me off-list if so.

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  25. James Gauvreau

    Peter Watts,

    I didn’t mean that you necessarily had *biological* children, just that you had children at all.

    I don’t know what Johnny 4.5 would say, but I think it’s ludicrous to believe that there’s some special switch that flips if and only if your children are genetically related to you. Our parental instincts might be *aiming* for something like that, but at the end of the day, somebody’s love for their adopted children is not fundamentally different than somebody else’s love for their bio-children.

    You’ve got stepkids, and you care about them more than some people care about their biological children, so the “Oh, Peter Watts doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he doesn’t have kids of his own” argument falls flat on its face.

    Glendis Shiko,

    Watts has talked about it a little more in this post.

    CTRL+F for “If killing one person saves ten” to get to the right post.

    And here is the article in question.

    God, I hope I formatted that correctly.

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  26. The K

    @Fatman

    Hm, good points all around. Yeah, i cant really dispute that.

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  27. Lars

    Peter Watts,
    “I would gladly lay down my life for two siblings or eight cousins.”

    That was Haldane, not Haldemann. I doubt if Haldemann had the foggiest notion of what inclusive fitness is.
    If Haldane had been involved in Watergate, it would have been much better conducted. And had more beetles.

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  28. Jack

    The K,

    I quite agree that you are right about Peter’s disappointment. The idealist turned cynic. You point out that EITHER we are meat OR we are something special. Maybe the problem is we are both. I say this having read Isaiah Berlin and his thinking on value pluralism. I hesitate to use it here and perhaps it’s not appropriate, but possibly both views are valid and equal, yet incompatible and come into conflict with one another in a way that admits of no resolution without reference to particular contexts of a decision. This clash constitutes the tragedy of human life.

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  29. listedproxyname

    First and foremost, I must say, I do not believe in Trolley Paradox. Nor do I believe people who talk about Trolley Paradoxes. I, however, believe in time and energy constraints of human reasoning.

    Peter Watts: I’m not sure what kind of assumptions you could make in any case, and I don’t know how you define “values” (as far as I can tell, “morals” is just a fancy way of saying “gut feelings”— and “gut feelings” evolved via processes that have no foresight whatsoever, with all the shortcomings that entails.) But there are empirically better alternatives, if you attribute any value at all to the concept of a healthy biosphere.

    There is an empirically better alternative aka Maslow pyramid. Of course, people tend to imagine it too literal, while the pyramid is actually only a simplified statistical representation of human “gut feelings”, while each or every value can occasionally be above and beyond any other. The father knows that if he gets caught for fraud, the court will target him, but he is willing to take that risk if he can save his children – his family value is above his personal safety, but it is also above the self-esteem of getting into that kind of interaction. Thus it is “unethical”.

    Looking through it, one can fully understand a meaning of “altruism” as it is expressed through the highest stages of that chart, that means, a person will go as far as sacrifice himself if it gives his life a higher value, a “meaning”. I can put my life to improve the biosphere and society for generations to come, so they can enjoy the better life than I will ever be able to – back in the days a lot of people of my country did exactly that, and that was, IMO, a complete success. I owe them for that, I must not forget their legacy.

    But also, will I be ready to do the same if I know for a fact that my effort and effort of my people can (and therefore will) be turned down, exploited, forgotten, trampled into the ground, sold out at lowest bidder? Simply no, never, at no point, no amount of shaming, pleading or force will make me, I would rather put my life to oppose it. It is the existence of fraud and lies that lead us from our ideals at this level of interaction, and we shouldn’t forget about this as well, since it will cost us too much. I am telling you, Peter, that we as a nation have been through it and we shall not repeat this mistake again.

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  30. Name

    Peter Watts:

    Or induce precise brain lesions (see above). The gene editing approach might be the only solution, although I’m

    This dude you all probably know cured his lactose intolerance using viral vector gene therapy developed more or less in his kitchen (except the DNA synthesis part) a few years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3FcbFqSoQY

    And the desktop DNA synthesis machines (which could be hacked to not screen against the known pathogen databases like current DNA synthesis companies do) are coming in a few years, so this kind of thing will suddenly be within reach of a million of biotech hobbyists with motivations ranging from DNA jihad to curing the humanity of harmful kinds of kin selection

    The next pandemic might actually have some actual human-variety goals attached to it

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  31. Peter Watts

    James Gauvreau: You’ve got stepkids, and you care about them more than some people care about their biological children, so the “Oh, Peter Watts doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he doesn’t have kids of his own” argument falls flat on its face.

    Okay. Got it.

    Yeah, any argument that boils down to “You can’t get it unless you become one of us” is something I dismiss pretty much out of the gate. Any position based on fact can be argued factually. Anything else is hormones turning you into a sock puppet.

    (Fun fact: for all the strident insistence that parenthood changes your life for the better, studies have shown that parents are statistically more miserable than their child-free counterparts. They just can’t admit it to themselves consciously. Again, you can see why evolution would shape us this way.)

    Lars:
    Peter Watts,

    That was Haldane, not Haldemann.

    Goddammit, you’re right. I can’t believe I made such a dumb mistake in service of such a lame joke.

    listedproxyname: First and foremost, I must say, I do not believe in Trolley Paradox.

    That’s the cool thing about Science: it doesn’t care what you believe. That’s one of the reasons it works.

    I am telling you, Peter, that we as a nation have been through it and we shall not repeat this mistake again.

    I wish you well. From what I can tell, it’s an uphill struggle against very powerful, entrenched, and homicidal opponents.

    Name: And the desktop DNA synthesis machines (which could be hacked to not screen against the known pathogen databases like current DNA synthesis companies do) are coming in a few years, so this kind of thing will suddenly be within reach of a million of biotech hobbyists with motivations ranging from DNA jihad to curing the humanity of harmful kinds of kin selection

    The next pandemic might actually have some actual human-variety goals attached to it

    Oh yeah, I’ve no doubt that it’ll soon be within our capacity to hack human nature via gene drives. I’ve repeatedly played with that idea on this blog and in my fiction, among other places. (Basically, you’d need someone with the medical background of Josef Mengele, the scruples of the Joker, and the heart of Greta Thunberg.) My doubts involve market penetration; if you’re going to make an ecological difference, any righteousness pandemic would have to infect a huge majority of the population— and even the plague only took out a third of Europe.

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  32. Name

    Peter Watts

    Oh yeah, I’ve no doubt that it’ll soon be within our capacity to hack human nature via gene drives. I’ve repeatedly played with that idea on this blog and in my fiction, among other places. (Basically, you’d need someone with the medical background of Josef Mengele, the scruples of the Joker, and the heart of Greta Thunberg.) My doubts involve market penetration; if you’re going to make an ecological difference, any righteousness pandemic would have to infect a huge majority of the population— and even the plague only took out a third of Europe.

    It’s not a new idea, of course, but what amazed me recently is how soon this capability will very likely materialize, i.e. it’s not a perpetual 10 years away thing like fusion

    I don’t have high hopes for the result, but, it might actually be enough to modify a modest percentage of the population to cause a transition to new social equilibrium; 10% of motivated individuals can easily force new behavioral norms on everybody else

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  33. Fatman

    Peter Watts: for all the strident insistence that parenthood changes your life for the better, studies have shown that parents are statistically more miserable than their child-free counterparts.

    Wasn’t aware of studies confirming this. Of course, I have tons of anecdotal evidence re: the abject misery of parents (i.e. 90% of people with kids I know), but it’s useful to see science back it up.

    listedproxyname: I can put my life to improve the biosphere and society for generations to come, so they can enjoy the better life than I will ever be able to

    Absolutely. I’m not against “higher meaning” and all that. Most people like to think of themselves as dedicated to such lofty goals. Sadly, the fact is that many of those same people choose to invent cowardly/delusional excuses not to do it.

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  34. Phil

    Would a guy, like this guy with the daughters, submit to gene editing to help preserve the biosphere? Fuck no. That’s why this particular bait-and-switch is a good one. The type of person who would buy a Lincoln Navigator for his daughter’s 16th birthday, even though she would prefer a new bicycle and a donation to the local food bank, because this shows he is both a generous (Navigators are expensive) and caring (in an accident, the other person dies) father, is also not going to get the vaccine for himself or his progeny unless he believes doing so will boost his social standing among those who privilege status above all else, regardless of any prophylactic upside of doing so.

    Little known fact: Those at the upper levels of government worldwide are genuinely concerned about the future of life on Earth, and over the past couple of years have been taking action in two ways: first, by releasing a virus that cleverly straddles the line of lethality in such a way that their populations are concerned enough to be generally willing to tolerate an abrogation of civil liberties and to push for vaccines to be developed, while not also killing off a large percentage of ones’ working age subjects (“citizens”) or, more importantly, oneself; and second, by releasing vaccines, already largely developed, to act as vectors for the nanobots programmed to damage the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the precise way required for people to not only recognize larger ethical contexts, but also override our innate pathological tendencies, so that we actually act on this recognition.

    The problem with making this wonder of modern engineering transparently available is that the only people who would take it are those who don’t need it, and the hardest cases to convince to take it would be those such as the subject of this blog post. I don’t know if our unnamed hero is actually in the service of our global elites (and, hence in service of the preservation of our biosphere), or if he is a useful idiot for these guardians. Either way, I’m thankful that such people exist to help lead us into a healthy and sustainable world.

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  35. The K

    Phil,

    I really cant tell if that is clever satire or paranoid ramblings.

    Ive got my, uh, nanobots two weeks ago, and so far i am still not a heroic eco-warrior, though. I still eat too much meat, ogling that Playstation 5 and generally behave pretty much exactly as before. I didnt even get any cool nanobot-based superpowers, i am thinking Alex Mercer from “Prototype”. When do those kick in?

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  36. Phil

    The K,

    I got my second Pfizzer a couple of weeks ago (I fall into what in Ontario they call the “essential caregiver” category) and I’m still waiting to feel the effects. I hate people in general, same as always, so I’m not sure if the elites have fucked up, or if my prefrontal cortex was already damaged…

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  37. Agaric

    If small murders can be laid at the feet of kin selection, Holodomor class megadeaths can be attributed with equal reliability to the rationally enlightened levelers who would banish kin selection.

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  38. Fatman

    Phil: I got my second Pfizzer a couple of weeks ago (I fall into what in Ontario they call the “essential caregiver” category) and I’m still waiting to feel the effects.

    Same here. My sociopathic tendencies have been exacerbated, if anything.

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  39. KE

    Peter Watts,

    “(Fun fact: for all the strident insistence that parenthood changes your life for the better, studies have shown that parents are statistically more miserable than their child-free counterparts. They just can’t admit it to themselves consciously. Again, you can see why evolution would shape us this way.)”

    That’s a quick skimming of the studies, though. Moment to moment the happiness is lower, similar to a student’s experience at university, but we’d never claim it’s not worth it because the experience is uncomfortable. The rest of that suffering-parent study shows the happiness level is up top when the raising of the kid is further along.

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  40. Peter Watts

    Agaric:
    If small murders can be laid at the feet of kin selection, Holodomor class megadeaths can be attributed with equal reliability to the rationally enlightened levelers who would banish kin selection.

    I’ve just searched this post and its attendant comments, and the only mention of “murder” was the K, who said he’d kill for his kids. Is your comment directed at them?

    If not, then I’d humbly suggest you’re being way too modest to attribute only “small” murders to kin selection. Loyalties are concentric: Protect your blood against your tribe; protect your tribe against the other guys’ tribe; protect your race against other races; protect humanity against space aliens (as Ronald Reagan so famously remarked to Mikhail Gorbachev). Do you thinks it’s mere happenstance that war propaganda efforts lean so heavily on protect-our-children thematics? Inquisition and jihad are right up there with Stalin and Asian brush wars.

    KE: That’s a quick skimming of the studies, though. Moment to moment the happiness is lower, similar to a student’s experience at university, but we’d never claim it’s not worth it because the experience is uncomfortable. The rest of that suffering-parent study shows the happiness level is up top when the raising of the kid is further along.

    Yeah, I think I’m familiar with those followup studies too. If we’re talking about the same thing, the parents started finding true benefit in having children when they grew sufficiently old and feeble to need those kids’ assistance for their own needs. They’re relatively miserable when they have to raise the kids, but somewhat more satisfied when those kids start taking care of them in turn. In either case, it doesn’t seem to be the ineffable “joy of parenthood” that matters so much as personal cost/benefit at any given stage.

    I’d submit, though, that in the long term “happiness”— real or illusory— doesn’t really matter. If you’re miserable with ten kids, you’ll still leave more genes behind than others who are happy with two.

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  41. Jason

    I’m trying to be really concise here but this is also kind of sloppy because if I carefully edit this comment I will be here all day.

    One of the things I’ve noticed is that people seem to use the word ethical as a stand-in for “good” or “correct.” If I’m being ethical, then what I do is OK. Thought experiments like the trolley problem or the mother-in-a-burning-building problem mostly seem to pinpoint people’s values. But people who would malign the mother for saving her child at the expense of two plus elderly humans seem to assume the latter are intrinsically more valuable, if only because they are more numerous. Then again, as humans are so damaging to the planet, if you value the planet more than humans it makes sense to save as few as possible. I guess I’m trying to say that ethics is a means of translating your values to your decisions. There are no objectively correct answers. I’ve seen it defined as “moral reasoning”. Of course that’s the problem: nobody defines their terms. And when an entire argument hinges on a single word, the definition sort of becomes important. If ethics is thinking about more than yourself, then what scale is the correct one? Or are we supposed to look at all of them? That isn’t rhetorical.

    Caring about more than oneself doesn’t seem to matter much and doesn’t guarantee an optimal outcome. Parents seem to care more about their kids than themselves, at least given the lengths to which they will go to protect them, yet the results are only good for a given set of criteria. A nation’s leaders supposedly care about the big picture, but do the policies they implement to that end produce the desired outcomes, especially when they’re looking at data plots instead of talking to the people whose lives they change? The only objective measure is quantity.

    I try to see the big picture, to always think about how my actions affect the world around me, but I’m haunted by the thought that I’m only seeing a slightly larger picture and there’s still a larger one that eludes me. I’ve gotten in to ecosystem restoration a bit as the enormity of damage from invasive non-native species hit me, but I don’t know if that’s the best thing to do. I can construct arguments all day, but they depend on value assessments. I want the ecosystem and our species to survive, but so what? If humans magically change course, defy all our instincts, would saving the planet matter? Take the long view and in a few billion years the sun would scorch it all anyway. But of course that assumes only things that last have value, and nothing really lasts. I can look at co-evolution and see the dead end it is. Each species taking the lazy way out, finding a niche as it’s more optimal energy- and survival-wise than competition, becoming increasingly co-dependent, supposedly more robust, but what you end up with is a whole system that can be broken by a few young ecological interactions. Am I wrong about this?

    There’s an alternate scenario that I’ve considered, read something like it in a sci-fi short story, don’t remember the name. Basically the gist is that our technological progress is impeded by capitalism, as tech companies spend too much time and energy competing with one another and instead should cooperate. Like Project Warp Speed but for everything. Push tech as far and as fast as possible with no regard for profit. No patents, no trade secrets, no bureaucracy. Government can write you a blank check. Pay your people but get results. The outcome hopefully being miracle unicorn tech that can reverse whatever we’ve done while still allowing us to be lazy stupid shits. Since putting on the brakes isn’t going to happen, better sprout wings before we go splat.

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  42. Forrest Richey

    I don’ kno’ wot the pic of the family sitting [and mowing] in front of the burning house is doing in the article but wot I DO kno is that the radiated ‘heat’ from that fire’d be burning up the people!

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  43. Nestor

    I uh, am probably being irrelevant by mentioning this but there usually are enough missed appointments and wastage in the usual vaccination drives that a couple of extra doses aren’t going to actually deprive anyone so this behaviour probably wasn’t as antisocial as all that. If 10 antivaxxers miss their appointment the system can incorporate 3 freeloaders.

    If we want to build a shiny star trek utopian gay space communism, we need to head towards a system that is tolerant of freeloaders rather than some strict Stakhanovist ubermensch brave new world where everyone Does The Right Thing. We have a world with remarkable levels of altruism and non-kin generosity, given our antecedents, so I’m leery of dismantling that particular Chesterton’s fence (As in, don’t take the fence down until you know what it’s holding back)

    But if you want to infect everyone with an ethics agent I propose a venereal disease transmitted consciously by young free love espousing flower children. Bet that one would get traction (Pretty sure there’s already a story like that, but with a sterilizing virus).

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  44. popefucker

    Peter Watts,

    vasectomy eh? I’ve been thinking of getting the snip-snip myself, but I keep thinking “what if I change my mind later?” I like kids dammit, I’m just pretty sure I don’t want my own.

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  45. Phil

    Nestor,

    That’s an elegant, workable, ethically defensible solution. I think mine’s more likely because it’s none of those things.

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  46. Nosleepdemon

    I suppose having children does rewire you a bit, at least for a while. I wouldn’t have done it for my child though, since – being a parent, I wouldn’t want to cheat anybody elses children from their shot… Or from their grandparent’s shot, for that matter.

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  47. Kitty Wu

    Well, we can’t expect Peter Watts to be right ALL the time.

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  48. Jack

    They said the worked for the “Matrix”
    Very droll.
    It’s rather humorous- all their plotting, planning and conniving.
    Real bunch of baddies.
    These arseholes deserve jabs for their sheer chutzpah, corniness and will to survive. At least you bunch can’t accuse them of being anti-vaxers.

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  49. Jan S

    Johnny4.5, I’m a mother and I wouldn’t jump the line ahead of those working with the already-infected just to get my kid vaxxed. Not only is this behavior selfish and privileged, it sounds a lot like the kind of thinking that didn’t pay any attention to the science behind masking, hand-washing and social distancing, not to mention understanding how viral infection works. Oh, and then there’s the historical data on the most vulnerable segments of the population: old people and those with compromised immune systems. If this man’s children were healthy, there was no *scientific* reason behind his decision. I’m glad his kids called him out on it.

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  50. Nestor

    If we look at historical examples of people willing to sacrifice their kids we get Stalin (“Why should I exchange a lieutenant for a field Marshall?”) and various fascists up to Roman times so perhaps the solution isn’t there either.

    Also, consider the Lunnhuis

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  51. popefucker

    Jack,

    honestly people who blindly say “get vaccinated!” without understanding why it is important aren’t much better than anti-vaxxers. I think someone who jumps in line is exhibiting symptoms of that particular kind of brain rot.
    They’re the type of people who also think they’re saving the planet by throwing things in the recycling bin.

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  52. Jack

    popefucker,

    I’m happy when ppl do the right thing regardless of comprehension.

    And you can recycle just to “feel good” even if you know it’s an incredibly small contribution. Recycling creates awareness of the waste I’m generating and encourages me to produce less.

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  53. Peter Watts

    Jason: But people who would malign the mother for saving her child at the expense of two plus elderly humans seem to assume the latter are intrinsically more valuable, if only because they are more numerous.

    Actually, a paper came out in Science about ten years ago (I’m too lazy to look up the exact reference) that endeavoured to apply a relative value metric on human life for lifeboat situations. It boiled down to an interaction between two curves: one being “potential life lost if you kill X” (highest for babies, lowest for geriatrics), the other “ability to consciously have aspirations, goals, and desires” (lowest for babies, highest for adults who haven’t started to decline cognitively). The compound result put the maximum Human Life Value at an age of around mid-twenties, with worth dropping of to either side.

    Brave paper.

    Jason: Then again, as humans are so damaging to the planet, if you value the planet more than humans it makes sense to save as few as possible.

    Well, then you’re the guy who started the fire in the first place.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

    Jason: I want the ecosystem and our species to survive, but so what? If humans magically change course, defy all our instincts, would saving the planet matter? Take the long view and in a few billion years the sun would scorch it all anyway.

    Ultimately, of course, you’re right. Absolutely nothing matters at heat death. But just as there’s no such thing as Free Will, sometimes it’s essential to act as though there were for purely logistic reasons, given the way we’re wired as organisms.

    I’ve jerry-rigged a philosophical workaround which I think I’ve mentioned recently on this very blog somewhere, but maybe it bears repeating: if you assume the existence of any value accruing to an object— whatever it is— it stands to reason that the valued object has to be less valuable than the system in which it is embedded. (Since the system contains the valued object, plus other objects which themselves must have value; you can’t assume negative values for other elements because the system as a whole supports the object to which positive value has been assigned, and so must therefore have positive value if only because something valuable would not be able to exist without it.) So what you ascribe value to, or why, becomes irrelevant; if value accrues to any object, then there is some larger entity with greater value because it contains that object as well as other things.

    It kind of works if you don’t think about it too much.

    Forrest Richey:
    I don’ kno’ wot the pic of the family sitting [and mowing] in front of the burning house is doing in the article but wot I DO kno is that the radiated ‘heat’ from that fire’d be burning up the people!

    Which makes the metaphor even more apt, these days. Just assume that the people on the lawn are the same ones who lit the house on fire.

    Nestor: But if you want to infect everyone with an ethics agent I propose a venereal disease transmitted consciously by young free love espousing flower children.

    I wrote a story for the X-Prize people that was roughly along those lines, except it was a viral agent that rewired people to get off on self-sacrifice for long-term goals. That, combined with a judicious hack of Musk’s Neuralink network to induce brain chemistry changes that resulted in mass suicidal ideation/action, was enough to save the world. Part of it anyway.

    Closest I ever came to Hopepunk. Strangely, the X-Prize people never asked me back…

    popefucker: I like kids dammit, I’m just pretty sure I don’t want my own.

    Yeah, it’s admittedly a much easier call when you just generally hate Humanity as a species.

    Kitty Wu:
    Well, we can’t expect Peter Watts to be right ALL the time.

    I don’t see why not. I certainly expect that.

    Jack: They said the worked for the “Matrix”
    Very droll.

    They weren’t making that up, actually. “Matrix” was a real company with a real vaxx program. That’s what Dad snuck his kids into.

    Nestor: If we look at historical examples of people willing to sacrifice their kids we get Stalin (“Why should I exchange a lieutenant for a field Marshall?”) and various fascists

    Nah, those are people who are willing to sacrifice other people’s kids. If you’re going for people willing to sacrifice their own, you get me.

    popefucker:
    Jack,

    honestly people who blindly say “get vaccinated!” without understanding why it is important aren’t much better than anti-vaxxers. I think someone who jumps in line is exhibiting symptoms of that particular kind of brain rot.
    They’re the type of people who also think they’re saving the planet by throwing things in the recycling bin.

    I dunno. In the defence of the recyclers, a global corporate campaign including everyone from Exxon to Greenpeace told the world over and over again that recycling plastics and eating one meatless meal a week would save the planet; you had to mistrust a wide range of authorities to look under that hood and see the bullshit beneath. Pretty much the same global chorus is now telling everyone to get vaccinated, and the antivaxxers are showing the same skepticism of Authority that would have come in so handy if we’d applied it to the Greenwash Brigade.

    The only reason we shouldn’t hold them in lesser contempt, of course, is that their skepticism isn’t based on popping any hood or looking at any facts. It’s based on pure kneejerk ideology.

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  54. Phil

    Peter Watts:

    Nah, those are people who are willing to sacrifice other people’s kids.

    According to Wikipedia, Stalin refused to trade his own POW son, Lieutenant Yakov Iosifovich Dzhugashvili, for a field marshall, with Yakov dying while interned. (Although, I’m not sure this necessarily means everyone willing to sacrifice one of their children for the greater good would also starve 6 million people to death because they got upity.)

    Re. free will: I used to ask various people how we could have free will when our environment and biology had been predetermined by cause and effect. They never had an answer but would assert we had free will regardless. I finally decided, since we have something from nothing (the universe appears to be an effect without a cause) that individual consciousness is a form of godhead where each of us has an agency transcending the prison of a Newtonian universe. I don’t have proof of this, but that doesn’t seem to matter…

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  55. Peter Watts

    Phil: According to Wikipedia, Stalin refused to trade his own POW son, Lieutenant Yakov Iosifovich Dzhugashvili, for a field marshall, with Yakov dying while interned.

    Huh. I did not know that.

    Not very Darwinian of him.

    Phil: I finally decided, since we have something from nothing (the universe appears to be an effect without a cause) that individual consciousness is a form of godhead where each of us has an agency transcending the prison of a Newtonian universe. I don’t have proof of this, but that doesn’t seem to matter…

    Yeah, consciousness is the mother of get-out-of-jail-free cards. Physics says there’s no way free will can exist in a materialistic universe, but physics also can’t explain phenomenal consciousness (so far at least—Mark Solms’ claims notwithstanding) so it’s obviously missing something about reality. And you can’t deny the existence of that limitation. But it also means that every tinfoil chemtrail flat-earther out there, when confronted with physical evidence, can just pull consciousness out of a hat and say Yeah well your vaunted physics says consciousness is impossible too, so are you some kind of p-zombie?

    Assuming that tinfoil chemtrail flat-earthers were well-read enough to know about that, of course.

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  56. Nestor

    Yeah I thought the story was better known – Stalin was consistent in his lack of feeling, it seems. Other examples that come to mind, the fascist commander of the Alcazar fortress in Toledo, who refused to surrender even when his hostage son was threatened in the Spanish Civil war, plus various other Roman generals and misc. examples. People who are willing to kill wholesale often are willing to sacrifice their own too.

    One interesting one is Deng Xiaoping. During the cultural revolution he was exiled and his son was beaten and left paralysed and Deng and his wife were not allowed to see him for 3 years. She “Cried for days and he sat staring at a wall chain smoking cigarettes” and yet years later it was Deng himself who pulled the trigger on the Tiananmeng protesters.

    Arguably, given the vast increase of prosperity the stability of China has brought to millions of people Deng is one of these “objectively ethical yet unsentimental people” that you think should be in charge.

    (You’ll have to accept “economic prosperity for the masses” in place of “ecological preservation” as a terminal goal for the sake of this argument)

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  57. B. Traven

    Kids are many things, but it’s useful to think of them as sunk costs (e.g. significant investments without return).

    I put my sunk costs before any non-sunk costs.

    Honestly, it’s hard for me to read any Dr. Watts missive on parenting without interpreting his opinions as conflated with the rather obvious shitty parenting he experienced (as he’s alluded to often).

    Dr. Watts, had you experienced good family life, I daresay you would feel different about procreation. But maybe you’d be a worse author for it? Oh well.

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  58. Fatman

    B. Traven: Honestly, it’s hard for me to read any Dr. Watts missive on parenting without interpreting his opinions as conflated with the rather obvious shitty parenting he experienced (as he’s alluded to often).

    I daresay that’s because you’re unable to distance yourself from your own experience and long-ingrained superstitions (usually mistaken for “values”) when trying to interpret the behavior of others. In other words, the only “conflating” is taking place in your own head.

    People decide to have or not to have kids based on a variety of factors. Many folks, myself included, have experienced good family life (or at least better/no worse than that of their peers), but have no desire to procreate. We love kids, think they’re great, and don’t question the personal choices of our breeder friends. It’s just not a lifestyle we want for ourselves.

    But I suppose bleating “you don’t want kids because you’re broken” is much easier than trying to make an intelligent contribution to a discussion.

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  59. B. Traven

    Fatman: But I suppose bleating “you don’t want kids because you’re broken” is much easier than trying to make an intelligent contribution to a discussion.

    It is easier to ad hominem, don’t you agree (“breeder,” shrug)? But I think my point was subjective and relative to Dr. Watt’s points, not a commentary on why people don’t have kids in general. My wife who specializes in youth counseling (as a psychologist) often relates that people who don’t want kids (for any reason) definitely SHOULD NOT have them. Plenty of children know precisely how much they are unwanted, with specifics. I can’t bear to hear her stories.

    Thanks to “breeders” though; somebody has to run our MRI scan, treat those nasty decubiti, and administer the medroxyprogesterone acetate.

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  60. Fatman

    B. Traven: But I think my point was subjective and relative to Dr. Watt’s points, not a commentary on why people don’t have kids in general.

    Not really.

    The original post was about shitty people doing shitty things, then using “think of the children” as a shitty excuse. You proceeded to dismiss the poster’s opinion via an irrelevant aside about his upbringing. Appeals to social conditioning (esp. your own) do not constitute a “point”.

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  61. Peter Watts

    B. Traven: Honestly, it’s hard for me to read any Dr. Watts missive on parenting without interpreting his opinions as conflated with the rather obvious shitty parenting he experienced (as he’s alluded to often).

    It’s a legitimate point to raise, and don’t think I haven’t considered it myself. But the incompetence of my own upbringing notwithstanding, I’ve also spent over a decade now embedded in a family with a significantly healthier dynamic, to the point where I’ve grown rather fond of kids with whom I share nary a gene. It hasn’t changed my views on the bigger picture one iota—and to reiterate the tale that started this all off, it wasn’t me who originally raised objections to the unethical behaviour of the parent. It was the children who benefited from that behaviour. You’re gonna have a hard time making the conflation argument stick to those guys.

    I also get the sense that even the BUG, if given the chance to rewind and do over, would choose not to have children at this point. If only because anyone born this century is most likely in for a world o’hurt, the way things are going.

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  62. Anonymous

    Peter Watts:
    Yeah, consciousness is the mother of get-out-of-jail-free cards. Physics says there’s no way free will can exist in a materialistic universe, but physics also can’t explain phenomenal consciousness (so far at least—MarkSolms’ claims notwithstanding) so it’s obviously missing something about reality.And you can’t deny the existence of that limitation. But it also means that every tinfoil chemtrail flat-earther out there, when confronted with physical evidence, can just pull consciousness out of a hat and say Yeah well your vaunted physics says consciousness is impossible too, so are you some kind of p-zombie?

    Assuming that tinfoil chemtrail flat-earthers were well-read enough to know about that, of course.

    There are two tricks to getting out of this philosophical conundrum.
    One is this: think of the Laws of Physics as being fairly permissive. Sure there are a lot of physical impossibilities but there are a lot of physical possibilities. Things that seem impossible can actually be possible, they just looked impossible because they are unlikely to occur without careful planning (a good example would be all those metamaterials they keep coming out with).
    The other is the typical compatibilist argument that actually free will and predetermination aren’t mutually exclusive at all. If your actions are the result of the configuration of your body at any particular moment, what you are (your body) still determines what you do.

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