Life Is Good

At Sunday’s meetup, some folks expressed surprise that I seemed nicer, softer, and less cynical in person, relative to my writings. I do often take “cynical” positions, in the sense of assigning low motives to behavior, and cynics do often have sour attitudes.

So let me take this opportunity to affirm something that usually seems too obvious to be worth mentioning: life is good! Lives based on motives that are not considered especially admirable can be satisfying and enjoyable. For example, I like to compete (such as in board games and conversation), to be admired, to lust, to find fault and criticize, and to make and spend money. I love talking with smart people interested in interesting topics, even if I don’t agree with them. And I love having the time and freedom to think and write about topics that interest me. And, do I really need to say it, I love eating, sleeping, getting clean, riding my bike, watching clouds float past the trees, etc. And I don’t think I’m that unusual. Even if most of us follow low motives most of the time, LIFE IS GOOD!

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  • http://twitter.com/robsica Rob
    • http://timtyler.org/ Tim Tyler

      David Benatar has no children. There will probably be fewer people like him around in the future.

      • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

        Yes, don’t worry about having children, because we can always kill ourselves if we don’t like life. Right?

      • http://twitter.com/robsica Rob

        Yes, once we have our deaths programmed in advance, a huge existential burden will be lifted from the human condition. ;>

      • Konkvistador

        The universe is remarkably humane in that regard.

      • Jeffrey Soreff

        Rob, thanks for that pointer to Dennett’s proposal.
        That’s got to be one of the most bizarre things that I’ve heard.
        The contortions that he goes through to avoid any decision
        making are amazing. For Alzheimer’s there is a problem:
        Decision making ability get hit early in the decline; but I find
        trying to avoid it for most other terminal illnesses very strange.
        There are much saner alternatives

      • http://hertzlinger.blogspot.com Joseph Hertzlinger

        If cryonics actually pays off we might have anti-natalists to kick around forever.

        At first, they will be outvoted in elections and outbid in decision markets. Later they will be ignored completely as they become an infinitesimal fraction of the population. They won’t, however, disappear. Nonexistence is always for others.

      • Anonymous

        Yet surprisingly many pro-natalists consistently fail to address why it’s ok to create suffering entities without consent (a subset does, by explicitly swallowing some bullets).

        For instance, I never understood how libertarians with their strong focus on autonomy and voluntary nature of interactions could support such a severe form of coercion.

      • Karl Hallowell

        Yet surprisingly many pro-natalists consistently fail to address why it’s ok to create suffering entities without consent (a subset does, by explicitly swallowing some bullets).

        For instance, I never understood how libertarians with their strong focus on autonomy and voluntary nature of interactions could support such a severe form of coercion.

        What is there to justify? How am I harming someone by creating suffering entities?

      • Anonymous

        What is there to justify? How am I harming someone by creating suffering entities?

        Not sure if trolling… or just very stupid.

    • Mark M

      Yes, really.

      My life is good in the only way that matters to me: In my own mind. This is one of the few cases where truly believing it makes it so. Even if I’m fooling myself, I believe it, and that’s all that matters.

      Why does this work? Because the goodness of my life can only be measured on a subjective scale where my subconscious mind is the sole judge of what is weighed, how it is weighed, and how much it matters. I am very happily irrational about these choices.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Hence the purpose and objective of bullying; to make someone’s life so miserable that they use the mechanism that Sister Y mentions.

      • Mark M

        Daedalus2u,

        You make it sound like bullies first decide to kill their victims, and then choose bullying as a means to that end.

        In most cases bullies aren’t making conscious attempts to push their victims to suicide. That is sometimes the outcome, and I don’t want to minimize the responsibility of bullies for the results of bullying, but you’re stretching to say it’s the purpose. In most cases. I have no reason to doubt there are exceptions.

        However, what I believe you are implying with this response to my post is correct: I am also the only judge of whether my life is bad. If I believe my life is bad, then my life is bad, even if some objective measurement says otherwise. My subconscious mind chooses how to measure this, and subconscious minds can be irrational in bad ways. Bullying can tip the scale to the point where life is so bad and the future so bleak that dying seems like a better choice than living.

      • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

        Mark, bullies are making the conscious decision to hurt their victims. No bully is under the delusion that what they are doing is not hurtful to their victim. The only question a bully might have is the degree of hurt.

        If a bully is unaware of the degree of hurt that their victim is already under, why would they add to that hurt if the resulting total hurt might cause their victim’s suicide? My experience with bullies has always been that they don’t care, and if their victim showed a degree of hurt consistent with incipient suicide that bullies would redouble their efforts to increase that hurt.

        Maybe a bully doesn’t want to be the one who drives the victim to suicide, they just want to be the second-to-last so they have plausible deniability and so don’t lose “status” by being the bully that bullied someone to death.

        From what you say, I gather you have never been depressed and suicidal. I am happy for you, and hope you never have that experience. Since many bullies have also never been depressed and suicidal, they are unable to appreciate the degree of hurt that it is possible to inflict. Their ignorance is bliss. By never having experienced being depressed and suicidal, they can pretend such things are due to a fault of their victim and that the victim deserves feeling so badly, or wants to feel so badly.

      • Mark M

        Daedalus2u,

        You’re right, I’ve never been seriously suicidal. I was bullied through grade school and high school, but it wasn’t extreme – mostly verbal with threats of physical harm – and I was fortunate enough to have a true friend the entire time. I’m not a good example of a bullying victim.

        However, I was responding to your statement about “the purpose and objective of bullying,” which is concerned with what the bully is thinking – not what the victim is thinking.

        I’ve never been a bully or a psychologist so I’m not speaking from a position of authority on the motivations of bullies.

        I do, however, know something about logic. I know that it’s easy to conclude that the results of intentional actions were the purpose of those actions. Life isn’t that simple. Unintentional consequences plague us.

        This is the point I was trying to make: Bully behavior is more likely to be about what that behavior does for the bully – not about what it does to the victim. Bullies, for the most part, aren’t using their bully behavior as a disguise for murder. Bullies need someone to bully. They seem to crave the position of power, and either disregard or feed on the damage done to their victims. This doesn’t necessarily mean bullies care whether a victim lives or dies, but not caring what happens is far from death as an objective.

        I’m sure it happens, but it’s a stretch to say that prompting suicide is the primary or most likely objective of bullying.

      • http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.com Sister Y

        Actually, not even bullies are pure bad guys. There is plenty of evidence that people who bully are just as sad and pathetic as their victims; they’re just choosing a different strategy. It’s monkeys all the way down.

  • Thursday

    Though we have disagreed a fair bit, let me be the first to say why I think this blog contributes good to my life. You’re always swinging for the fences, laying it out there. A fair number of strikeouts, but a lot of homeruns too.

  • Anonymous

    “Life is good” sounds like something people really want to believe, much like “Life is a gift”. It is also terribly simplistic, and it’s easy to point to counter-examples.

    Being born in a state of suffering, followed by painful death at age 2, is not good. It is not a gift. It is a harm so extreme that words can hardly express it appropriately. Yet when it happens, people make a sad face and comfort the parents as if it weren’t their fault.

    I would really love to believe that life is good. My own life, currently, is worth living. But is life in general good? If we had a way to measure the average experience, would it be one that we would prefer over p-zombie mode? I wish I could believe the answer is yes. But I don’t think it is.

    • Mark M

      I think Rob was talking about the state of his own life right now. Not every life. You’re digging into an area where you can’t even get people to agree on the same definition of the words in the question. What is life? What is good? How do you measure it?

    • Michael Wengler

      Following the example of the greeks who may have thought women and men had different numbers of teeth on this basis, you reason to some conclusion and assert it as true without attempting to check reality. I recommend the book “stumbling on happiness” in which the author, Daniel Gilbert, actually studies what actually makes us happy and unhappy as contrasted with what we say makes us happy and unhappy, and especially as contrasted with what we think will make other people happy or unhappy. The results are sufficiently surprising to, at least in my case, leave me thinking my opinions of what will make me happy and unhappy is driven more by evolution optimizing my opinions to make me propagate and survive than optimizing my opinions to make them true.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the reading advice, I’ll pick it up.

  • Matt

    You should write a post on being cynical. I usually assign “low” mostives out-of-hand when I see most behavior. Yet, I’ve never felt like a cynic. In fact, it’s always given me a (false?) sense of understanding about people, which always leads me to have a sunnier disposition about my fellow man. I also think it helps boost your confidence if you never put anyone on a pedestal. I’m not cynical; I just corrected my expectations downward.

    • Michael Vassar

      Amen!

      I can, however, say that it can be lonely just to have a sufficiently different perspective on the world from what most people verbalize.

  • http://disputedissues.blogspot.com Stephen R Diamond

    Of course, it’s high status to believe that life is good.

    • http://hertzlinger.blogspot.com Joseph Hertzlinger

      Of course, it is counter-signaling to believe life is bad.

      • http://disputedissues.blogspot.com Stephen R Diamond

        True: in each case, it is a form of signaling and can scarcely be anything but signaling, since in either case the language lacks any referential content. (Actually, the statements are category errors. Good or bad for what?)

        When someone says life is either good or bad, he is likely to be a person more concerned with status than most of us, who thankfully omit such exclamations.

      • Anonymous

        Good or bad for what?

        Good or bad for the sentient entities that (have to) experience it. A life that is predominantly filled with bad experiences without sufficiently good ones to offset them could be meaningfully said to be bad, and vice versa. It’s not an exact science, of course, and the assessments may be subjective, but I don’t see a category error. A person who states his or her own life is good (or bad) communicates a meaningful and morally relevant statement about reality to me.

        When someone says life is either good or bad, he is likely to be a person more concerned with status than most of us, who thankfully omit such exclamations.

        This is a relevant questions for practical decisions, however. Should a suicidal person be forced to remain alive? Under what circumstances should people be allowed to create other people without their consent? Very practical questions.

        I’m unsatisfied with the whole signalling interpretation, not because it lacks merit, but because I think it’s overused. There are some people who will always shout “signalling!” whenever someone thinks about questions of terminal values or tradeoffs or the well-being of anyone or anything. This is daft, it lacks a filter for false positives in the signalling hypothesis.

      • http://disputedissues.blogspot.com Stephen R Diamond

        Good or bad for what?

        Good or bad for the sentient entities that (have to) experience it. A life that is predominantly filled with bad experiences without sufficiently good ones to offset them could be meaningfully said to be bad, and vice versa.

        “Bad experiences” just pushes the problem further down the line. Say I examine all the facts of Robin Hanson’s life, am even privy to his affects and his ideals, and I “conclude,” “Man, he’s had a horrible life!” Hanson and would ostensibly disagree, but what could possibly resolve the argument? It’s a category error because “good” is always conditional. Good for some *purpose*. “The sentient entities…” are harborers of various purposes, but speaking of “sentient entities” does nothing to specify any purpose.

      • Anonymous

        I disagree that good and bad are defined by purposes. Strong physical pain feels bad, even though it has a fitness-improving evolutionary purpose. The badness of pain is not bound to the failure of a purpose, it’s a valuation function implemented in a neurological coding of badness (the function itself can have a purpose, of course, e.g. an evolutionary one). Good and bad are informational phenomena in their own right, implemented in systems like brains.

        If Robin Hason consistently communicates and behaves like he has mostly good experiences, you are probably wrong by concluding that he has a horrible life. Self-reports are often biased, but together with revealed preference they’re a relatively good indicator for the good and bad represented in the respective brains.

  • Scott Messick

    ^^

  • axa

    this is some kind of “about this blog” post. thanks for it =)

  • mjgeddes

    I like to compete (such as in board games and conversation),

    The ‘Go’ board of transhumanism is in play. Bostrom has set up his stones, you’ve set up your stones and so has Yudkowsky. Can the three of you ‘make life’ and hold off the crushing blitz moves of a cruel entropic universe as it seeks to isolate and kill your stone groups?

    To win this game, you must go to ‘the level beyond’ and play the divine move….

    “A divine move is a truly inspired and original move. It should be a non-obvious move which balances strategy and tactics to turn a losing game into a winning game. A divine move is singular—they are of such rarity that a full-time go player might be lucky to play a single such move in his or her lifetime. The term comes from the Japanese 神の一手 Kami no Itte, meaning “hand of god”.”

    • mjgeddes

      Addendum:

      “Kami no itte” refers to a move that is so unexpected, so brilliant and so creative that it seems like it would be a move only god can make, changing the flow of the game completely with a single move.

      Kami no itte

  • Phil Goetz

    You can’t count on anything in this life – not even on Robin Hanson being cynical.