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Thought Experiment Tuesday: I, for one, welcome our new alien overlords.


derryman

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Sep 17, 2011
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10,843
Is democracy is instrumentally valuable, intrinsically valuable, or both?

Something is "instrumentally" valuable if it is valuable because it allows us to access something else that is valuable.

Something is "intrinsically" valuable if it is valuable in itself.

Sometimes, a thing can be valuable in both senses - my father's watch may hold intrinsic value for me because it reminds me of him, for example, but it is also instrumentally valuable in the sense that I could sell it and use the money to buy something else of value, if I wished.


Democracy seems to have clear instrumental benefits - a democratic society will tend to be a more stable society, less prone to strife between different groups or sudden political upheaval, for example. A democratic society may also be a more efficient society - if we think that the best way to find out what is in the best interests of most people is to simply ask them via elections or referendums.

Most people agree that democracy has these, or similar, instrumental benefits, but is democracy also intrinsically valuable?

One way to answer this question is to use a thought experiment, imagining a world where we have all of the instrumental benefits provided by democracy, in a non-democratic context. For example:

The Alien Overlords

Imagine that you live in a world ruled by a extremely advanced aliens. Imagine:

1. That these aliens are entirely benevolent: they have only the best interests of humanity at heart, and will not oppress anyone or treat anyone unjustly.

2. That these aliens are extremely knowledgeable: they will know the best way to achieve whatever policy goal they desire, using the resources available. They are also psychic - they are able to read the minds of human beings in order to discern our preferences.

3. That those ruled by the aliens know all of the above, and know that the aliens will always remain as benevolent and intelligent as they are now.

The point of these assumptions is just to hold constant the instrumental benefits between both cases (technically, the benefits are probably much greater in the case where we are ruled by the aliens, but that doesn't make a difference to what follows).

So, the question is whether there is any (non-instrumental) sense in which it would be better to live in a world where we are ruled democratically, rather than being ruled by the alien overlords. Even if this would mean that our rulers aren't quite as benevolent or as knowledgeable as the aliens, would there be something valuable in the mere fact that we would be the authors of the laws to which we are subjected? If so, what is the best way to understand the intrinsic value of democracy?
If democracy is government of the people by the people then how can aliens governing people be democracy?

I think I have got a handle on political philosophy now. Its how you can take a simple concept
(democracy for instance) and really confuse the fuk out of it for no other reason than to sound superior.

To me true political philosophy would be about helping those countries who espouse democracy have regard for the will of the people.
 
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petaljam

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If democracy is government of the people by the people then how can aliens governing people be democracy?

I think I have got a handle on political philosophy now. Its how you can take a simple concept
(democracy for instance) and really confuse the fuk out of it for no other reason than to sound superior.

To me true political philosophy would be about helping those countries who espouse democracy have regard for the will of the people.
How would one do that without identifying the requirements for a political system to be considered a democracy? And why we want a democracy at all? IOW is it possible to have a situation that is not a democracy but that provides all the positive aspects that we usually think are the benefits of democracy?

That's the question here : Is even an imperfect democracy necessarily better than a perfect government by non democratic forces? Do we want democracy just because it gives us some feeling of input into decisions, or do we want it because we think it leads to better government?

I don't know why you say that discussion is about sounding superior : surely "superior" is going to other countries and explaining to them how to have more regard for the will of the people while also telling them that it's all very simple really?
 

Socratus O' Pericles

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But can these aliens "look into their own hearts and know what the Irish people are thinking"?
 

Fr. Hank Tree

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What is perfect is not a wholly objective question. Therefore the idea of a perfect non-democracy is problematic, because without democracy there can be no truly representative idea of what perfection is.
 

petaljam

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What is perfect is not a wholly objective question. Therefore the idea of a perfect non-democracy is problematic, because without democracy there can be no truly representative idea of what perfection is.
What?

Could you explain? I don't see the link. Is a democracy perfect?
 

Mercurial

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88,215
If democracy is government of the people by the people then how can aliens governing people be democracy?
It wouldn't be, but it might be better than a democracy - depending on why democracy is valuable.

(Or, what Petaljam said)
 

Fr. Hank Tree

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Feb 1, 2007
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Could you explain? I don't see the link. Is a democracy perfect?
We're talking about the perfect society and whether we can bypass democracy to get it.

Everyone's view of the perfect society is different. With democracy, everyone's view is considered. Therefore, it offers the best approximation of a perfect society.

With this alien society, only the alien's idea of the perfect society reigns.
 
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EoinMag

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Aug 4, 2010
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4,950
Aliens > democracy under those conditions.

Democracy is merely giving us the sense of escaping tyranny, aliens would actually provide this.

I want aliens.....
 

ibis

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Mar 12, 2005
Messages
12,359
We're talking about the perfect society and whether we can bypass democracy to get it.

Everyone's view of the perfect society is different. With democracy, everyone's view is considered. Therefore, it offers the best approximation of a perfect society.

With this alien society, only the alien's idea of the perfect society reigns.
I think Mercurial might better have used an AI in the OP. It would have reduced the number of responses based on objections to the aliens themselves, or on the idea that one way or another they're not actually doing what it says in the OP, but are instead running the Earth for their own benefit or by their own lights - both of which are dealt with in the OP, and neither of which are the case.
 

Ruadh

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I agree.

Would you say you have a feeling of agency at the moment, with regard to the democratic institutions of the country in which you live?
And then question the feeling as real or illusion.
 

Fr. Hank Tree

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I think Mercurial might better have used an AI in the OP. It would have reduced the number of responses based on objections to the aliens themselves, or on the idea that one way or another they're not actually doing what it says in the OP, but are instead running the Earth for their own benefit or by their own lights - both of which are dealt with in the OP, and neither of which are the case.
My objections are not based on either of these. My point would apply as much to artificial intelligence as aliens.
 
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farnaby

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I think Mercurial might better have used an AI in the OP. It would have reduced the number of responses based on objections to the aliens themselves, or on the idea that one way or another they're not actually doing what it says in the OP, but are instead running the Earth for their own benefit or by their own lights - both of which are dealt with in the OP, and neither of which are the case.
Agreed that AI removes some of the issues but actually highlights a few - in an AI-ruled scenario humanity is still alienated from active decision-making about its future. This may make no instrumental difference but is there an intrinsic need to have more agency than a technocratic mind-reading tool can apply?

A related question is whether as individuals all of us really know what we want or whether we want human leadership to give direction. Far more people follow causes than the number of charasmatic individuals who lead them. It could be said that nothing in the scenario precludes people influencing the desires of others on an individual level. However it is unlikely to provide platforms for talented, driven people to influence and direct millions of people - unless that is what people desire in which case we'd be half-way to a democratic situation anyway!
 

ibis

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My objections are not based on either of these. My point would apply as much to artificial intelligence as aliens.
Or not, as the case may be - the OP makes it clear you're not living in "the alien's idea of the perfect society" - all they're doing is detecting and applying what humanity wants.
 

ibis

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Agreed that AI removes some of the issues but actually highlights a few - in an AI-ruled scenario humanity is still alienated from active decision-making about its future. This may make no instrumental difference but is there an intrinsic need to have more agency than a technocratic mind-reading tool can apply?
I think that's an advantage of using the AI rather than aliens, that it clarifies that that's the sort of question being asked, rather than focusing on the aliens qua aliens.

A related question is whether as individuals all of us really know what we want or whether we want human leadership to give direction. Far more people follow causes than the number of charasmatic individuals who lead them. It could be said that nothing in the scenario precludes people influencing the desires of others on an individual level. However it is unlikely to provide platforms for talented, driven people to influence and direct millions of people - unless that is what people desire in which case we'd be half-way to a democratic situation anyway!
I don't see that anything precludes someone from influencing and directing millions of people in the scenario. Part of the point of the scenario is that it provides pretty much everything democracy provides (but rather better) except the actual mechanism of democracy.
 

Fr. Hank Tree

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the OP makes it clear you're not living in "the alien's idea of the perfect society"
It doesn't actually. It says "they will know the best way to achieve whatever policy goal they desire, using the resources available."

But I could easily have spoken of the AI's idea of the perfect society, or the objective omnipotent observer's idea of the perfect society, or the peer reviewed science journal's idea of the perfect society. My point is that just because a perspective is objective doesn't mean it does not also have a latent ideological bias.
 

stopdoingstuff

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If they were psychic and benevolent, they would know we prefer imperfection and would cease to govern us.
 

dammit_im_mad

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Feb 3, 2013
Messages
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Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

It is the best of a bad lot when it comes to systems of government. If a benevolent race that can read our minds and fulfill our wishes took over then that is a far better system.
It reminds me of the matrix movie. If given the choice to live in happy ignorance or unhappy knowledge I honestly believe the vast majority would choose the former and those that chose the latter would come to regret their decision in time when they realise that there is nothing the can really do to change the way things are.
Exactly!
And firefly should know! He works for the wolves! :p
 

caledhel

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Joined
Sep 21, 2014
Messages
1,980
Is democracy is instrumentally valuable, intrinsically valuable, or both?

Something is "instrumentally" valuable if it is valuable because it allows us to access something else that is valuable.

Something is "intrinsically" valuable if it is valuable in itself.

Sometimes, a thing can be valuable in both senses - my father's watch may hold intrinsic value for me because it reminds me of him, for example, but it is also instrumentally valuable in the sense that I could sell it and use the money to buy something else of value, if I wished.


Democracy seems to have clear instrumental benefits - a democratic society will tend to be a more stable society, less prone to strife between different groups or sudden political upheaval, for example. A democratic society may also be a more efficient society - if we think that the best way to find out what is in the best interests of most people is to simply ask them via elections or referendums.

Most people agree that democracy has these, or similar, instrumental benefits, but is democracy also intrinsically valuable?

One way to answer this question is to use a thought experiment, imagining a world where we have all of the instrumental benefits provided by democracy, in a non-democratic context. For example:

The Alien Overlords

Imagine that you live in a world ruled by a extremely advanced aliens. Imagine:

1. That these aliens are entirely benevolent: they have only the best interests of humanity at heart, and will not oppress anyone or treat anyone unjustly.

2. That these aliens are extremely knowledgeable: they will know the best way to achieve whatever policy goal they desire, using the resources available. They are also psychic - they are able to read the minds of human beings in order to discern our preferences.

3. That those ruled by the aliens know all of the above, and know that the aliens will always remain as benevolent and intelligent as they are now.

The point of these assumptions is just to hold constant the instrumental benefits between both cases (technically, the benefits are probably much greater in the case where we are ruled by the aliens, but that doesn't make a difference to what follows).

So, the question is whether there is any (non-instrumental) sense in which it would be better to live in a world where we are ruled democratically, rather than being ruled by the alien overlords. Even if this would mean that our rulers aren't quite as benevolent or as knowledgeable as the aliens, would there be something valuable in the mere fact that we would be the authors of the laws to which we are subjected? If so, what is the best way to understand the intrinsic value of democracy?
Interesting, I'd say that a political system is of instrumental value to a people or nation. The life of the people is what's important and the political system is a means to facilitate this. That's the conventional view. A republic is the most advanced means to organise the business of state and most likely to repair the inevitable entropy of all things.

There are intrinsic elements that are valuable as they provide avenues for development and expression but fundamentally it's an artifice. It should not override the identity derived from concrete experience - if it does it produces ideologues. Collectives make the individual into something like an atom in a black hole rather than the free participant of a community.

Your thought experiment is an interesting one. Put in another way - what if there was a class of people who were selected from the most knowledgeable and virtuous in the population.

Should they be given the power to make public decisions independent of the consultation and consent of the general population? Should they be allowed to deceive the general public for their own good?

Say for example they had a sophisticated model of the human mind and so knew better the unconscious drives and objectives of the general run.

Should they make decisions about the "life choices" of their subjects such as what the optimum breeding pairs should be, what their range should be, what they should be allowed to consume, their exercise regime, choice of work-life, the upbringing of their children etc.?

Should they be enabled to undertake the effort to change human nature in a bid to arrange human communities more harmoniously and make them easier to manage?

Should they propose and dispose for all other subjects of the state?

Well, we are seeing the Great Dismantling of the Neo-Liberal artifice at the moment so that particular experiment is being rejected a couple of generations into it. Its doctrinal inculcations eroded the quality of its agents and they've become maladaptive. Hopefully we can avoid a general collapse such as that as experienced after Imperialism imploded in the early C20th.

A revival of civil society and the separation of powers is the hope.
 

twokidsmanybruises

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May 9, 2013
Messages
6,877
The Alien Overlords

Imagine that you live in a world ruled by a extremely advanced aliens. Imagine:

1. That these aliens are entirely benevolent: they have only the best interests of humanity at heart, and will not oppress anyone or treat anyone unjustly.

2. That these aliens are extremely knowledgeable: they will know the best way to achieve whatever policy goal they desire, using the resources available. They are also psychic - they are able to read the minds of human beings in order to discern our preferences.

3. That those ruled by the aliens know all of the above, and know that the aliens will always remain as benevolent and intelligent as they are now.

If this were the case, and there were no "human uprising" ( which I'm convinced there would be; irrespective of how benevolent the overlords were, they would be seen by some as imperialists ), the human society would be at risk of stagnating morally and intellectually.

Once the right to choose is taken from the individual and placed in the hands of a "benevolent overlord", whether a totalitarian government, a theocracy etc., the responsibility of both the choice and the consequences of the choice are also removed from the individual. Without any moral dilemmas or "difficult choices" to be faced by the individuals, there would be no development of a morality.

Moral behaviour cannot be dictated by an authority to the individual; while donating to charity could be considered a morally good act, a morally good decision, if an individual is obliged by law to donate monthly to charity, there has been no moral consideration by the individual; they are simply following orders. Obligatory donations to charity, deducted directly from earnings, is not charity. It is a tax.

I'd think a similar thing would happen with intellectual development. Without intellectual dilemma, individuals would be effectively children for their whole lives.

Morality cannot exist without moral choice. Consent cannot exist without choice.

So yes, democracy is intrinsically valuable as it enables people not to only have a right to choose how their society operates, but it also forces people to take responsibility for how their society operates.

If society is not to your liking, then this is your own fault. And you have the responsibility to make it more to your liking.
 
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