Some Harder Problems

Many of the Matchspecs in this version of the Matchlist will seem radical to people who’ve never taken an unbiased look at our current civilization. But they’re all actually relatively straightforward and things that we are clearly ready and culturally mature enough to implement now. The really radical stuff comes later, and will take a lot more time before we are ready to systematically address them. To provide some perspective that shows how ideas in this Matchlist are just the low hanging fruit, here are a few examples of some harder problems.

  1. Although this Matchlist does address the issue of the quantity of human beings, it includes little about changing the quality of them (i.e., eugenics). This will be a necessary part of the debate in a truly engineered civilization. This is not a call for mass sterilization as was the proposed (and in many cases implemented) method aimed at improving the species during the early 20th century eugenics movement (for a review, see Black’s 2003 War Against the Weak). That was just a stereotypical example of authoritarianism (identify a threatening population and then discriminate against them) rather than a useful application of science (e.g., had they actually bothered to do the science they would have discovered that Jews and Asians actually score higher on intelligence and sociality tests, meaning these groups should have been screened in instead of out). We have no particular genetic goal to reach or timetable to reach it, which means individual freedom must take precedence over any goal of improving the species. Nevertheless, there is an issue here because there is credible evidence that our species has been rapidly evolving even over the past few thousand years (see Wade’s 2014 A Troublesome Inheritance for a review), a process that continues today. The Credential and Match-homing systems (again, more on those in their respective sections) will have a significant evolutionary pressure that will reduce reproduction in individuals with the most problematic genetic makeup, but future Goals may need to include more explicit application to social engineering tools, particularly to the problem of genetic disorders because there are few things that bring about higher costs or greater suffering. It is worth noting that the Jewish community has already embarked on a widespread eugenics campaign by screening for Tay Sachs and other inherited diseases.
  2. There is major work to be done in figuring out our sexual nature and the laws and policies that we need to balance individual freedom with the needs of The People (prostitution, age of consent, obscenity/pornography, monogamy/bigamy/polygamy, etc.). The People have a clear interest in preventing abusive relationships and ensuring children grow up in appropriate environments, but where should the boundaries be?
  3. How big should our social groups be for optimum efficiency, minimum stress, and/or maximum happiness? Do cities need to be replaced by smaller communities, or should we all live in megastructures and use technology or social engineering to work out the group size issues? We evolved to perform best in groups of 30 or so, with extended families being the “home” environment and common hunting/foraging parties being where we “worked” and with whom we spent most of our free time (again, see Boehm’s 2012 Moral Origins for a review). Our current penchant for smaller and smaller “families” including an explosive growth in single-person households not only results in a highly inefficient utilization of resources, but also results in skyrocketing rates of loneliness, depression, and general unhappiness. Although the thought of living with our co-workers in a communal environment would seem to many to be a great leap backwards in civilization what with its constant gossip and bickering over petty things, this in fact is how we evolved to live. Most of us would find such a living situation very annoying, yet nearly all of us would be happier overall. As is the case with the loss of our ability to keep SDAPs in their place, a side effect of the development of civilization, we ignore our inner natures at our peril.
  4. What should our work life be like? Our Pleistocene ancestors only worked a few hours a day because their lack of technology, especially for food storage and capital acquisition, severely limited any benefit accrued from working more than that. Yet today most individuals spend a significantly greater percentage of their time working at the expense of leisure time, self-improvement, parenting, etc. What is the ideal length of a work-week length and how can we balance these things?
  5. Medical and computer technology (e.g., life prolongation, cloning, cyborgs, AI, etc.) are developing rapidly and will reach a point where they have the potential to destabilize civilization. We’d better have policies in place before this happens such that we don’t have to kludge up solutions in a time of crisis.
  6. Our fascination with violence deserves further scrutiny. To the extent that they have no negative effects displays of violence (including many sports) should be tolerated as entertainment and expressions of freedom. If those displays increase our tendency to act violently or to tolerate violence directed at others, however, these practices and instincts must be suppressed through social and cultural engineering.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we need an answer to the questions: What is “A Good Life”? When has a person achieved Eudaimonia? What kind of life has “meaning”? What does it mean to be “flourishing” or “thriving”? What is “well being”?

Philosophers and religious leaders have debated these issues throughout human history (and probably before that), but we’re still waiting on a definitive answer. Recent philosophical efforts, such as Flanagan’s Eudaimonics (as described in his 2007 The Really Hard Problem) and Kitcher’s 2011 The Ethical Project, seek answers in the same evolutionary realm as Matchism, but, as with Positive Psychology (yet another path) and all the religious alternatives, they end up with a prescription involving the concept of “virtue”, as if a set of behavioral directives (and potentially the conditioning or other behavioral engineering required to implement them) could be used to create a “well-lived life” for everyone.

Although Matchism doesn’t rule out the possibility that this type of behavioral engineering could be part of a system that supports Eudaimonia, it also shows how it could actually be a counterproductive path and almost certainly is looking for the solution in the wrong place. Again, the fundamental problem is that it is not possible for even a majority of the people to have a “Good Life” if the political, economic, and social systems they are living in do not support this. Our current systems surely do not: Although Flanagan claims that 80% of the world’s population is seeking Eudaimonia (the other 20% being preoccupied with their very survival), most surveys show that less than 20% actually achieve anything close to it (in case you couldn’t guess, these individuals are invariably wealthy, well educated, and married, and this of course is discounting nuns or monks or cults like the Amish: It’s much easier to lead a “Good Life” if you can parasitize other humans by exploiting their Clinations, but of course this option is not available to everyone or civilization would simply collapse).

Why should we work on the systems (via social engineering) first, rather than teaching individuals how to be Eudaimon? Take any virtue as defined in one of these religions/philosophies and assume that we had some behavioral engineering tool (e.g., conditioning) that we could use that would increase this virtue by 20% in every person. None of the major philosophies or religions seem to have any prohibitions against this sort of thing: Virtues are by definition “good”, and apparently the more the better! For example, take “Courage”: Would it be a good thing if we increased every human’s courage by 20%? Surely more people would get what they really wanted out of life if they had this treatment. It might even prevent wars because the newly-brave Authoritarians in the population would have a far lower resting activation level and so would be much less likely to feel the need to act aggressively against outsiders who may be threatening their resources. Then again, increasing the bravery of Social Dominators by 20% may make them unmanageably aggressive. Indeed, increase the bravery and creativity (another of the standard virtues) of an ordinary psychopath by 20% and you’ll create another Mao Zedong. The problem here should be obvious: There can be no such thing as a “virtue” unless defined in the context of social engineering. How will the system respond when one of the components (or all of the components) are changed? What do these systems really need to increase the likelihood of Eudamonia, both overall and for each individual?

Next: Freedom and Credentials