Working Class Futures

Two years ago I posted on an article saying most psych data comes from a weird source, US college students:

Americans are, on average, the most individualistic people in the world. … American parents, for example, were the only ones in a survey of 100 societies who created a separate room for their baby to sleep. … Compared with other Western industrialized societies, Americans were found to be the most patriotic, litigious, philanthropic, and populist. They were also among the most optimistic, and the least class-conscious.

The article authors expect US college attitudes to spread to be the usual ones worldwide, because they are just better:

Our evolved tendencies to imitate successful and prestigious individuals will favor the spread of child-rearing traits that speed up and enhance the development of those particular cognitive and social skills that eventually translate into social and economic success.

Unsurprisingly, US non-college-grads are culturally more like the rest of the world. They more value conforming to norms and to others, and less value choice, control, and being different. (Many quotes below.)

Many futurists seem to also expect US college values to dominate the future. They imagine wealthy future folk as super-individualists — gaining even more “transhumanist” options to expand or change themselves, diverging according to differing personal inclinations, and often violating familiar norms in the process. My guess, however, is that increasing individualism results from a mix of increasing per-person wealth giving more personal options and less need for strong social ties, and the world copying the random weirdness of the most successful nation.

Thus when US success is eclipsed by other nations, and when per-person wealth again declines, both of which seem very likely in the long run, I expect more-farmer-like future folk to be much less individualistic than today’s US college grads. If as a US person you have trouble imagining them as like foreigners, since you don’t know foreigners well, then imagine them with traditional US working class values. Don’t so much imagine the low religion, marriage, and work effort typical of today’s US working class; instead imagine their grandparents.

Yes future folk may change in many ways compared to humans today, but less because of differing personal inclinations, and more to increase productivity and to be compatible and cooperative with associates.

Those promised quotes on US working class culture:

People in WK [working class] relative to MD [middle class] contexts tend to have fewer resources and choices and face greater risks and higher mortality rates. They also tend to spend more time interacting with family and participating in hands-on caregiving. … [They] are likely to be “tightly inserted in densely structured … social networks”. Adaptive behavior in contexts characterized by these material and social conditions often requires acts of interdependence—such as attention to, reliance on, and adjustment to others. For example, parents in WK contexts are relatively more likely to stress to their children that “It’s not just about you” and to emphasize that although it is important to be strong and to stand up for one’s self, it is also essential to be aware of the needs of others and to adhere to socially accepted rules and standards for behavior.

Considering the confluence of relatively fewer resources and opportunities for choice, more sustained contact with family, and a greater focus on others, we theorize that fitting in with and being similar to others will be relatively normative— common, and preferred—in WK contexts. … We found that people from WK backgrounds are relatively more likely to make and prefer choices that produce similarity to others and that people from MD backgrounds are relatively more likely to make and prefer choices that produce difference from others. … We found that magazine ads targeting consumers in WK and MD contexts reflected the hypothesized models of agency. (more)

Whereas college-educated (BA) participants and their preferred cultural products (i.e., rock music lyrics) emphasized expressing uniqueness, controlling environments, and influencing others, less educated (HS) participants and their preferred cultural products (i.e., country music lyrics) emphasized maintaining integrity, adjusting selves, and resisting influence. Reflecting these models of agency, HS and BA participants differently responded to choice in dissonance and reactance paradigms: BA participants liked chosen objects more than unchosen objects, but choice did not affect HS participants’ preferences. (more)

Together these studies revealed that representing the university culture in terms of independence (i.e., paving one’s own paths) rendered academic tasks difficult and, thereby, undermined first-generation [college] students’ performance. Conversely, representing the university culture in terms of interdependence (i.e., being part of a community) reduced this sense of difficulty and eliminated the performance gap without adverse consequences for continuing-generation students. (more)

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  • http://profile.yahoo.com/J7722QFLAZAWSLNH4OAWDPOB7M Rxxx

    Robin: “when per-person wealth again declines, which seems very likely in the long run”

    I would hesitate to say that it is “very likely” that per-person wealth will decrease in the long term. 

    Sure an em-based future could lead to this and in fact probably would.

    But as far as I am aware, you don’t have a good reason to think that an em-based future is “very likely”. So you have to consider the other possible futures we could face:

     - Genetic-enhancement based futures

     - Software-AI-first futures

     - Futures where the em-era is over extremely quickly because it quickly leads to nonhuman software AI which is a more efficient use of computational resource than an uploaded human brain. 

    In these non-em futures it seems unlikely that per-person wealth will decrease lots.

    • Dave Lindbergh

      Moreover, if we forsee an em-based future in which per-person (per-em) wealth decreases (to subsistence level, per Robin), and we don’t want that future, we have the option to structure our society in such a way that the em-based future doesn’t come about.

      Admittedly, this may be hard; Robin’s arguments are based on evolutionary pressures (and therefore may represent strong forces), but we have enough control over the social environment to influence this. It is not impossible.

      “Optimism is a duty. The future is open. It is not predetermined. No one can predict it, except by chance. We all contribute to determining it by what we do. We are all equally responsible for its success.” –Karl Popper

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        It’s a poor bet that a technology can be suppressed forever. But it’s consequences can be. 

        If an EM society became a real possibility, we would ban EMs, come to consider their deployment the most heinous offense,  with EMs, themselves abominations demanding extermination.

        Why would any people accept such a future? Surely not for strictly abstract “utilitarian” reasons. 

      • Guest

        “Why would any people accept such a future?”

        Because it’s profitable to work with ems. Let’s say you have just a 0.1% tax on all em earnings, and pay that money out to all organics, this alone would create huge incentives for all humans to agree on taking the best people in each field, and make many em copies of them. Unless you fear something like em vs. organics warfare.

        Assuming ems are derived from consenting people in a state of competence and have basic autonomy rights, there’s hardly a good reason to prevent this future.

        Imagine you get the power to create copies of yourself, who can also create copies of themselves, and so on. But all of them can choose to commit painless suicide at any time. Why would it be unethical to create these copies? They can live as long as they want to live, but not longer. They don’t have to suffer against their will. And now imagine all the copies owe you a 0.1% share of their earnings, and the copying process is safe and cheap. Why would you not want to do this?

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Because it’s profitable to work with ems. Let’s say you have just a 0.1% tax on all em earnings, and pay that money out to all organics, this alone would create huge incentives for all humans to agree on taking the best people in each field, and make many em copies of them.

        Per hypothesis (if I understand it), the proliferation of ems will inevitability bump up against subsistence, throwing the general standard of living, for organics and ems, back to subsistence or “a life barely worth living,” or some such. 

        But it seems I’ve misunderstood. Organics and ems will occupy distinct social classes, with organics skimming rents off ems. 

        Then, two things:

        1. Why does Robin think we’re going to become farmers, when it depends on whether “we” are organic or em? It sounds like organics will become foragers and ems farmers.

        2. More importantly, of course, there’s no way the ems are going to tolerate this parasitic, minority caste of organics. In that light, rational organics wouldn’t agree to the deal because the end result, even if only achieved militarily, is destructive to their interests.

        I must still be missing something.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/J7722QFLAZAWSLNH4OAWDPOB7M Rxxx

        Or if the winds of technological fortune dictate that ems are going to be very easy to make compared to other kinds of artificially intelligent systems, we could take measures to mitigate the tendency towards a population of poor ems. 

        For example, we could try to develop ems with their intelligence intact but with their sense of subjective experience and free will removed, so that they wouldn’t be able to suffer and wouldn’t really be people. 

        If that’s not possible, we could allow a large but limited number of ems and ban the production of more of them, This situation is analogous to workers’ rights in the developing world. It seems that protecting the rights of, for example, workers at the Foxconn factory in China has met with limited success due to consumers having some degree of “social conscience”. I would expect something similar in the future. 

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        But in truth, “people’s” sense of free will and subjective experience is illusion. (See my The supposedly hard problem of consciousness and the nonexistence of sense data: Is your dog a conscious being?http://tinyurl.com/c3zq8ht ) A strange morality that makes personhood depend on experiencing illusion!

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/J7722QFLAZAWSLNH4OAWDPOB7M Rxxx

        @f26939f398e5b2e21ea353b06370c426:disqus 

        I also believe that it is in some sense an illusion, but you can still make a mind that doesn’t suffer  from those illusions. The question is simply how much of a functional impediment that would be. 

      • Stephen Diamond

        I also believe that it is in some sense an illusion, but you can still make a mind that doesn’t suffer  from those illusions. The question is simply how much of a functional impediment that would be.

        In fact, the likelihood that there won’t be substantial functional impairment is, I think, well-predicated on the illusory character of these “gifts.”  But I don’t think the existence of suffering depends on the illusion of qualitative pain. Is it compelling that an agent’s moral status require that it harbor an illusion?

        If my speculations on the cause of the free will illusion are accurate (see “How free will?” — http://tinyurl.com/2uy5oyg ), then the illusion might be eliminated by writing an exception to whatever generates the function for stimulus generalization. Would the resulting creature cease to be a “person”?

    • Robin Hanson

      I did give a link at that point in the post, to another post about ultimate limits to growth. This post isn’t about ems, other than via ems being one route to reduced per person income.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        But apart from EMS, what reason is there to expect uncontrolled population growth? 

      • Chris

        Do you mean in the absence of controls? The answer is simple: Evolution, the driving force of life for the last 3.5 billion years, will eventually work it’s away around the 50 year old invention of contraception, despite the inane efforts of some (not you) to claim that the last few years refutes the entire history of life as well as physical limits to the universe.

        Or do you mean that humans won’t allow uncontrolled population growth?

      • Guest

        Humans can outthink evolution forever. Developing a new contraceptive every ten thousand years is not a difficult task.

      • Chris

        It’s not about evolving so that contraception is ineffectual. It’s about evolving towards higher preference for fertility. For the vast scope of human history, there was no such pressure, because the desire to have sex was good enough. Now, though, there is selective pressure towards greater desire for children, and eventually, it will reverse the decline in fertility seen with the introduction of contraception.

      • Guest

        @e14388d37b666c44f1847ef151ab6160:disqus 

        “Now, though, there is selective pressure towards greater desire for children, and eventually, it will reverse the decline in fertility seen with the introduction of contraception.”

        Desire for children can be fulfilled more cheaply than having children. Today, pedophiles watch lolicon and old women collect dolls and treat cutesy doggies like they would babies. In just a few decades, they will all have perfect little artificial angels with which no real child will ever compete.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/J7722QFLAZAWSLNH4OAWDPOB7M Rxxx

        But in that post, you talk only about limits to economic growth. You don’t talk at all about why the number of people will keep increasing. And to get reduced per-person income, you need both continued population growth and bounded total economic wealth.

      • Yosarian

        I highly doubt that reduced per person income is inevitable.  That would only be true if the populating kept increasing indefinably, and that seems unlikely; population trends right now imply that the world population should stabilize around 10 billion. 

        It’s hard to estimate just how technology will change that (extreme longevity or EM’s or whatever), but I would tend to think that extremely long lived humans would be more interested in long-term social stability, if they expected to personally live to see the future.   Anyway, so long as population is stable, there’s no reason for standard of living to not go up to some very high point as technology improves and then stabilize. 

  • David

    I wonder if the individualist attitudes – even if they do predispose people to economic success – are really going to be selected for. I could just as easily imagine that parents who impose such attitudes on children could be “self-sterilizing”, because children raised with these values will belong to a much less fertile group than their less individualistic peers. Even on an intuitive level, individualism and fertility are difficult to reconcile.

    We have to remember that wealth has recently turned from being a big fertility booster to a significant fertility reducer (because of its association with higher educational attainment, a fertility killer).

    I know this post is about the survival of cultural practices – memes rather than genes – so some important differences will apply. Still, just because a meme is seen as culturally desirable does not mean it will have any staying power. On the other hand, I expect orthodox adherence to religion to spread with each generation, despite the fact that few people aspire to become orthodox or to raise orthodox children.

    • Guest

      Children today are costly and take a long time to raise and educate. Future reproductive technologies may change that completely.

  • Guest

    Concepts of individuality and “per-person” wealth are problematic when applied to the posthuman era – an era in which the very meaning of “person” and “individual” may be profoundly transformed.

  • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

    I cut off this very relevant sentence:

    Unless you fear something like em vs. organics warfare.

    So, I guess I’m saying how can one not think this would lead to em organic warfare?

    • Guest

      Because warfare is expensive. Why do you assume all conflicts must be solved through violence? How is this even rational for any of the parties involved?

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        Since, the ems overwhelm the organics, it would seem eminently rational and relatively cheap. 

      • Guest

        You assume a lot. First of all, would you go to war to reduce your income tax by 0.1%? Second, why do you think ems overwhelm the organics in a cheap way, with no retaliatory options for the organics? Finally, if the first ems were derived from consenting organics, as long as memory and personal identity persists (ie. at least for a little while), the ems both remember being organics themselves, and consenting to the initial conditions of the em/organics divide.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        would you go to war to reduce your income tax by 0.1%?

        “War” is probably overstatement. The system would collapse due to having such a small base of support, with no legitimacy. 

        But to answer the question directly, YES, under these circumstances. Despite the minuscule direct drain on individual income, the result is a an extremely privileged, aristocratic stratum which would control the whole society in the interest of organics. Any chance of ems emerging from subsistence-level living would depend on overthrowing the organics.

        In light of this imperative, another consideration you raise is merely sentimental (“remember being organics themselves,” etc.) 

      • Guest

        “Despite the minuscule direct drain on individual income, the result is a an extremely privileged, aristocratic stratum which would control the whole society in the interest of organics. Any chance of ems emerging from subsistence-level living would depend on overthrowing the organics.”

        The reasoning behind this isn’t sound. The 0.1% was an arbitrary number, my idea was that the existing people need to get an incentive to accept the em transition even though they could prevent it through force; a cut of the increased productivity is an adequate and productive solution to this problem. At least the people powerful enough to stop an em transition would have to benefit from it somehow, or else there’s no incentive to allow it. Clearly such a legal obligation would have to be implemented by some mechanism of enforcement, but your jump to “control the whole society” does not logically flow from that.

        The most mistaken part is your assumption that subsistence-level living would be an effect of oppression – and thereby preventable by overthrowing someone or something. This is like saying poverty can be abolished by killing all billionaires. Not so. The subsistence-living prediction comes from cheap and fast reproduction, not oppression. And before you demand bans for reproduction, consider that it can be consensual and therefore in the interests of the beings who would otherwise have less (wanted) existence.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        The 0.1% was an arbitrary number, my idea was that the existing people need to get an incentive to accept the em transition even though they could prevent it through force; a cut of the increased productivity is an adequate and productive solution to this problem.

        Well, whatever the figure is, it’s going to be high enough to compensate for transition to a subsistence world. It must ensure that their standard of living go up (or at least stay the same) where the mass standard of living takes a big plunge. So, there’s a caste system built into it, and because of the miracles of compound interest, the organics are going to end up very privileged indeed.

        The subsistence-living prediction comes from cheap and fast reproduction, not oppression. And before you demand bans for reproduction, consider that it can be consensual and therefore in the interests of the beings who would otherwise have less (wanted) existence.

        This variety of utilitarianism carries not a whit of weight in my mind or most anyone else’s. I view things from the standpoint of existing populations, not “possible lives.” More importantly, I think most everybody (being members of these existing populations) does the same.

      • Guest

        “This variety of utilitarianism carries not a whit of weight in my mind or most anyone else’s. I view things from the standpoint of existing populations, not “possible lives.” More importantly, I think most everybody (being members of these existing populations) does the same.”

        I didn’t mean it in a utilitarian sense. If the ems are copies of people who want such existence, and identify with them, it will be more like a personal desire of these individuals, not some kind of abstract utilitarian motivation. “I want there to be more of me” is something a good percentage of people can probably relate to whether they are utilitarians or not.

        And the part about most everybody cares only about existing people is very shaky. Tell people they can’t have children, or only infertile children, and you will probably get serious public backlash.

        “Well, whatever the figure is, it’s going to be high enough to compensate for transition to a subsistence world. It must ensure that their standard of living go up (or at least stay the same) where the mass standard of living takes a big plunge.”

        But the latter is only true because people can exist that would otherwise not exist at all. Total wealth still goes up. That makes it comparatively easy to pay for existing individuals to provide an incentive for the initial transition. If em existence is more energy efficient than organic existence, then it would be even easier to pay for at least one copy of each original person running a free, full subjective lifetime (at least for people whose self-identity includes their em copies).

        “So, there’s a caste system built into it, and because of the miracles of compound interest, the organics are going to end up very privileged indeed.”

        The same is true of today’s sweat shop workers vs. billionaires, and this is usually not a cause of genocide.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        “So, there’s a caste system built into it, and because of the miracles of compound interest, the organics are going to end up very privileged indeed.”
        The same is true of today’s sweat shop workers vs. billionaires, and this is usually not a cause of genocide.

         
        As far as its legitimacy is concerned, the em economy resembles the caste systems of South Africa or Rhodesia more than it does U.S. capitalism.

        But why genocide? The ems need only refuse to pay the tax.

  • http://bensix.wordpress.com/ BenSix

    Don’t so much imagine the low religion, marriage, and work effort typical of today’s US working class…

    Any actual justification for “low…work effort”? Even Murray is talking about Europeans (and in my part of Europe, at least, the bulk of the working classes labour bloody hard).

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      Unemployment tends to be higher in europe. Lots more people on long term disability which does not seem to be explained by a higher rate of actual disability.

    • Robin Hanson

      Murray’s book is almost entirely about the US.

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