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Who Can Words Hurt?
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
Imagine that our galaxy was filled with billions of civs, but also that a) interstellar travel was impossible, b) interstellar messaging was slow but cheap, and c) at great expense, civs could send bombs to hurt each other. Naturally, all these civs would talk lots to each other, but only rarely hurt each other.
Now imagine that a “truth coalition” of civs was forming. Their plan is for civs to coordinate to send bombs to punish any civs deemed by their executive committee to be guilty of spreading “disinfo”. Naturally, disagreeing with this committee, such as by recommending against joining the coalition, counts as disinfo. Are you eager to join?
I’m not eager, and in fact might want to join a contrary “free speech” coalition, whose only task is to retaliate against such disinfo punishments. Why? Because in this scenario civs should already have sufficient tools to deal with disinfo. They don’t need bombs. So I fear that this coalition is designed instead to achieve more malicious purposes.
What are these other tools? First, if civs had rational beliefs and belief updates, then (ignoring bombs) each civ A would only be vulnerable to another civ B re the accuracy of its beliefs to the degree that A overly trusted B. And each civ could collect a track record of the accuracy of the info it had received from each other source. Once a civ had accurately judged the info quality of each source, then another source could only do it a limited amount of harm by suddenly lowering its info quality.
Second, any civ that feared others misjudging the quality of particular sources could offer itself as a meta-source on that topic. To the extent that others judged it to be a trustworthy source of such meta info, and it actually was such a source, they need no longer be misled about the quality of their sources. And all this new source has to do to be seen as such a reliable source of meta info is just to consistently give reliable meta info over a sufficiently long period, a reliability which would then be summarized in its track records.
Yes, it takes time to collect track records, and civs might make mistakes in the short run based on limited info. But a coalition of civs who insists that it must be empowered to punish those it declares as disinfo sources thereby reveals that other civs do not yet sufficiently trust it as a meta info source. Yet if others civs don’t yet trust it as a meta info source, why should they trust it to take control over the whole civ info process?
Oh sure, some civs might trust this source, and fear not for themselves but fear with purely altruistic concern for other civs who foolishly distrust both this source and its civ fans. And so, they say, these fools must must be forced to trust the truth coalition, via bombs. But if you show me an A who doesn’t trust a B, a B who could feasibly have earned A’s trust but did not, with that B asking me to support them in forcing A to trust B, well I’m usually going to side with A. Sure I leave open the possibility of rare exceptions, but that’s gotta be my default. Isn’t it yours?
Obviously, this galaxy scenario is a metaphor for humans here on Earth today. Yes, humans have more ways to hurt each other than civs in this galaxy scenario, and so I’ll want to allow that fact to induce more exceptions to this default. But even so, you’ll have to show me how any particular case actually is such an exception. Otherwise, my default is to allow any human, org, or AI to listen to any source they choose. Let them decide who is worth a listen, and what meta-sources to trust.