Saturday, October 27, 2012

Is selfishness immoral?

Why do people think selfishness is immoral? Its because they have a zero-sum worldview. They believe that conflicts of interest are unchangeable. They believe that the result of conflicts is inevitably that someone loses while the other wins. In this context, a selfish person is interested in himself winning, and he doesn't care that other people lose as a consequence of his decisions.

These people also believe that altruism is good. They believe that one *must* sacrifice his own interests, in order for other people to get what they want.

But the zero-sum worldview is wrong. The rival theory, non-zero-sum, is the correct theory. Conflicts of interest are not inherent facts of human nature. People in a conflict (*any* conflict) *can* reach a common preference such that no one loses -- they all win.

People with the non-zero-sum worldview believe that selfishness is good. In this context, a selfish person is interested in himself winning, and he expects the other person to win too, and he tries to make it happen. So both people get what they want -- a common preference, so they both win.

These people believe that altruism is bad. They believe that they don't have to sacrifice their interests in order for the other person to get what they want.

There is an objective morality about every conflict, an objectively better choice -- namely one that allows everyone to get what they want. To say that selfishness must be at the expense of others is to deny that *all problems are soluble*, specifically conflicts of interest.

Ayn Rand called this view Rational Selfishness. So Rational Selfishness is selfishness with a non-zero-sum worldview. The immoral type of selfishness is Irrational Selfishness, which is selfishness with a zero-sum worldview.

David Deutsch created the process known as Finding Common Preferences. See his book _The Beginning of Infinity_.


- Zero-sum situation: A situation in which one person wins (+1) and another loses (-1) such that the sum is zero (1 + -1 =0).

- Non-zero-sum situation: A situation in which one person wins (+1) and the other does too (+1) such that the sum is above zero (1 + 1 = +2).

- Problem: A conflict of ideas, e.g. a disagreement between two people, or a conflict of two or more ideas within one person.


- All problems are soluble. (Credited to David Deutsch in his book _The Beginning of Infinity_.)

- All life is problem solving. (Credited to Karl Popper in his book _All life is problem solving_.)


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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Why do people rationalize?

Someone said: "Rationalizing is a thing we *all* do, to feel better about who we are and what we believe in … the stronger the hold of the belief, the stronger the rationalizing."

No. Only *some* people do that. Some people have evolved beyond that. But yes, *most* people do rationalize. They do it in order to protect their self-image. Doing so helps them feel better. Rationalizing is irrational. Because it shields ideas from criticism. It resists error-correction.

The people that have evolved beyond rationalizing have rid themselves of the meme (among other memes) that causes a person to feel bad when he feels that his self-image has been attacked. So how does one get rid of this meme? In other words, having this meme is a problem so what is the solution?

The reality is that *having* a self-image is bad. Having a self-image means that a person holds a certain set of ideas as his. Ideas that he doesn't want to change, because they *define* him. This is bad because its possible that any one of those cherished ideas could be wrong. So if you resist change of any one of your ideas, then you stay mistaken about the mistaken ones. This is problematic, so what is the solution?

*All* of my ideas are on the table. That includes all my preferences, all my interests, all my beliefs, and so on. Any of them could be wrong. So if someone tells me (or I have) a criticism of any one of my ideas, I will consider that criticism (where most people would rationalize it away as untrue with the goal of protecting their self-image).

Another problem that causes people to feel bad when they think their self-image is attacked, is the meme that causes people to feel shame when their mistakes are exposed. The implication is that mistakes are bad. But mistakes aren't inherently bad. Humans are fallible. That means that we all make mistakes. It means no one is perfect. So if we take that meme to its logical conclusion, then *all* humans should be ashamed. Of course this is ridiculous. The reality is that mistakes are common. They are so common that most mistakes go unnoticed by the person making them. So if someone exposes a mistake of mine (one that went unnoticed by me), that gives me the opportunity to correct that mistaken idea (i.e. to prevent that type of mistake in the future). So that makes me a better person. I've improved myself. I've become a better person, a better father, a better worker. So the act of exposing my mistake led to my becoming a better person. So exposing one's' mistakes is good!

So why would mistakes be considered shameful? Why do people think this way? Its because they learned it from their parents and society. Parents punish their children for making mistakes (like hitting/scolding/frowning/timeouts). Teachers punish their students for making mistakes (like taking points off tests). And employers punish their employees for making mistakes (write-ups and scoldings). And society frowns on people who get punished. So this *mistakes are shameful* meme is prevalent among almost 100% of the human population.

- If you read this far, then you'll learn from this:
- And if you liked that, then you should read Elliot Temple's whole site: 


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Friday, October 12, 2012

Abuse and Anger

An abusive act is one that can be expected to hurt someone (physically and/or psychologically). The abuser could be doing it consciously or subconsciously, and so he might not know that his act is hurting someone. The other person may or may not get hurt depending on his interpretation of the abusive behavior and depending on the contextual details of the specific situation. Interestingly, in situations where the abuser is doing it consciously, if the intended victim doesn't get hurt as intended, then the abuser may try to find other ways to hurt him until he succeeds (and even then he might not stop searching for new ways to hurt the victim).

People usually learn these abusive ways (aka habits) from their parents. They experienced abusive behavior as victims and now they commit the behavior as abusers, but this is not automatic. By that I mean that not every child of abusive parents learns abusive behavior. Often, children experience abusive behavior and reject it as immoral and so they don’t do that sort of behavior to *their* children. This happens on a case by case basis, so a kid might learn some specific abusive behaviors and not others. Sometimes a child is abused at such a young age where he doesn't have enough rational sophistication to know to reject the behavior as immoral, in which case he could make it a habit, and he may never criticize that habit in adulthood. And so he'll do it to his kids, and his kids may learn it, and the cycle continues. This idea of abusing people as a means to an end is a meme that has been replicating in the human population since the first time that parents abused their children.

Another way people learn abusive behavior is by using their own creativity to design new ways of abusing with the intention of hurting someone. In these cases it’s definitely a conscious thinking process.

Abusive behavior is closely associated with the emotion of anger. In most situations, if a person isn’t angry, then he won’t be abusive (that’s not to say that every case of anger towards someone is abuse).

In most situations of anger, the person wants to hurt someone. Sometimes the person is angry at a situation, rather than a person, in which case they say things like, “I’m not angry at you, just my situation,” and “I’m just venting.” But sometimes even in these situations, he’s *also* angry at the victim. An example of this is where a parent is angry about something that happened at work, and he comes home wanting to relax and wind down, and immediately his child makes a request, and parent snaps at him saying, “I JUST GOT HOME!!!” Then afterwards he might say to his child that he wasn't angry at his child but actually he was -- he’s angry at his child for not allowing him to relax and wind down, but he fools himself into believing that he wasn't angry at his child -- he's shifting responsibility.

So how does someone improve himself so that he stops hurting people? He must realize that abuse and anger hurt people. That abuse and anger are habits that we learned. And that we all have the capacity to change our habits.

Then we must accept responsibility for our habits, and other problems in general -- not necessarily that we are at fault for learning our habits or causing our problems, but that we are at fault for not working to change them now. If we deny responsibility, then we are living passively, allowing our habits to control us, and allowing our problems to cause hurt on ourselves and on others. Instead, if we accept responsibility, then we are actively trying to change our habits and to solve our problems. Now there's a lot of bad conventional ideas that claim that we are not responsible for some things, and then people use these ideas as rationalizations to deny responsibility (i.e. subconsciously fooling themselves). Sometimes they do it because it’s easier than accepting responsibility. Sometimes they do it because it helps them feel better that they are not to blame. But the reality is that by accepting responsibility we are giving ourselves the opportunity to correct our mistakes and prevent them going forward. And without that then we are allowing our mistakes to continue to hurt ourselves and others.

Another necessary component to changing our habits is knowledge of how to change habits. It requires noticing problems in our actions, thoughts, and emotions. And the only reliable way to notice problems is to reflect on our actions, thoughts, and emotions. This act of reflecting is itself a habit. It’s something that we have to learn. It’s something that will take a lot of effort and a long time before we get good at it. And like all learning, its incremental. Each time we do it, we are solving a problem. And with each solution, we are incrementally improving our ability to change our habits.

If we don’t learn this habit of reflection, then we won’t notice a lot of our problems, problems that are causing hurt on ourselves and others.

So the most important thing is the right attitude. The wrong attitude gives people the psychological motivation to fool themselves. The right attitude gives people the psychological motivation for finding their flaws so that they can improve themselves without limit. This is one important and necessary layer of error-correction against the common mistake of fooling ourselves.

More on psycho-epistemology


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