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"Effective Altruism": A Contradiction in Terms

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The Economist recently carried an article on "effective altruism" [sic], an explicitly utilitarian fad. (If you wonder why I describe it so dismissively, keep reading.) I was thinking about commenting on it -- until I realized that Ayn Rand had covered the topic quite thoroughly in 1946:
The phrase "human sacrifice" is redundant. (Image via Pixabay)
"The greatest good for the greatest number" is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity.

This slogan has no concrete, specific meaning. There is no way to interpret it benevolently, but a great many ways in which it can be used to justify the most vicious actions.

What is the definition of "the good" in this slogan? None, except: whatever is good for the greatest number. Who, in any particular issue, decides what is good for the greatest number? Why, the greatest number.

If you consider this moral, you would have to approve of the following examples, which are exact applications of this slogan in practice: fifty-one percent of humanity enslaving the other forty-nine; nine hungry cannibals eating the tenth one; a lynching mob murdering a man whom they consider dangerous to the community.

There were seventy million Germans in Germany and six hundred thousand Jews. The greatest number (the Germans) supported the Nazi government which told them that their greatest good would be served by exterminating the smaller number (the Jews) and grabbing their property. This was the horror achieved in practice by a vicious slogan accepted in theory.

But, you might say, the majority in all these examples did not achieve any real good for itself either? No. It didn't. Because "the good" is not determined by counting numbers and is not achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. [bold added]
So much for "utility-maximising automatons" -- and no wonder "Effective altruism can be a hard sell, even [!] for the rationally minded."

There is one aspect of this movement that merits further comment: If one wishes to give money to a cause -- and there are many valid, selfish reasons to do so; altruism does not own charity -- one obviously wants more bang for the buck. Counting lives saved by one donation is a poor metric (even if one grants improving large numbers of lives as an imperfect metric, albeit better than the one proposed by utilitarianism). Anyone with an ounce of sense can see this by considering whether it would be better (on such grounds) to save a thousand indigents from malaria vs., say, educating a Jonas Salk (whose research could save magnitudes more) or an Aristotle (who would make countless great men and even civilizations possible, by improving their minds). Even then, quantifying the impact of a donation might be difficult, to say the least.

"Effective altruists" should spend less time quantifying their results and more time considering what those results should be. It's ridiculous to ask, "How well am I doing?" when one doesn't really know what one is supposed to do, or why.

-- CAV
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lousyd
57 days ago
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The proponents of "effective altruism" that I've heard have indeed spent a good deal of time considering what counts as "good". I think Gus missed the mark on that last comment.
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Friday Hodgepodge

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Blog Roundup

With today's post, I bring back the once-weekly blog roundup. You can expect to see these on occasional Fridays. Enjoy.

1. The blog of the Texas Institute for Property Rights recently marked May Day by taking up John Lennon's musical invitation to "Imagine". An excerpt from a chapter of Brian Phillips's new book, Principles and Property Rights, serves as an aid:
There's no need to "imagine" in Venezuela. (Image via Wikipedia.)
While history provides us with untold examples of this principle, over the past several decades two nations -- Venezuela and China -- have demonstrated it in different ways. One nation has slowly rejected Lennon's vision and enacted greater protections for property rights. The other nation has rejected property rights and moved closer to Lennon's ideal of a society with no possessions -- private property. The well-being of the citizens of the two countries reflects these trends.
Having enjoyed two other books by Phillips, I expect I'll end up reading this one, too. The rest of the chapter is available for free from a link at the end of the post.

2. The Ayn Rand Institute has a new blog by the name of New Ideal. One recent post calls out "The UN's Unscrupulous Attacks on Israel":
Let's begin with [the] member states [of the UN Human Rights Council]. Which of these six countries -- (a) Saudi Arabia, (b) Iran, (c) Egypt, (d) Libya, (e) Cuba, (f) Russia -- has served on the Human Rights Council? The correct answer: "All of the above." But these nations are all egregious violators of individual rights, and many have literally murdered their own citizens in the streets. That fact alone should have disqualified them from membership in the Human Rights Council. Take a moment to think about that -- it's like putting the mafia in charge of the police force.
Journo, too, is the author of a recently-released book, What Justice Demands: America and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

3. Writing at The New Romanticist, Scott Holleran takes on Black Panther, the latest Disney comic book movie. I really enjoyed this review after also finding the film exhausting:
Boseman's ripped king gets tricked out with James Bond gadgets, Euro-electronica ala Bourne Identity accompanies an elaborate car chase, and a trip to South Korea (does every action movie have to have an Asian connection? Is South America off limits?) goes awry. Fast-cutting fights are disorienting. Drumbeats pummel the audience. Subplots turn over and over. This onslaught slips into sameness and gets stale. The plot spins and spins, lulling the audience into a bit of a slumber. In Marvel's universe of wise-cracking white men gussied up in industrial gear and snapping lines to one another, a movie about a mythical African nation and its aristocratic superhero ought to achieve a distinctive quality or uniqueness, no? Does no one in Wakanda listen to jazz? The men go around shirtless, why not the women? Is no one in Wakanda gay? Not a single Wakandan apparently watches television, goes swimming or grooves to Lou Rawls, Sade or Johnny Mathis. Does every Wakandan have to be a 24/7 'badass'?
I expected the social justice subtext, which permeates practically everything from Hollywood these days, but thought the movie might have a bit more entertainment value than it did. Even setting aside that and my normal reservations about the whole idea of superheroes, I ended up in a similar place.

4. From a Thinking Directions blog post a few years back comes some great advice on making New Year's resolutions, or making any major change for that matter:
If you're not mentally ready to make your resolution on January 1, I suggest starting a New Year's Campaign to learn how to achieve that important goal: what concrete, specific form it will take, what doable steps will lead you to it, and what less important activity it will replace. You can always set a mid-year resolution once you know your goal is clear, doable, and important.
If you don't need that advice, head on over and consider the preceding three steps.

-- CAV
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lousyd
88 days ago
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If "have literally murdered their own citizens in the streets" should alone disqualify a country from the HRC, then America should be disqualified. Our Nobel Peace Prize winning former rock star President murdered an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, by drone without having given that citizen a trial or anything like due process.

As well as al-Awlaki, the list of citizens murdered includes his teenaged son, also an American, and several others. They claimed that many of these assassinations of our own people were an accident, but isn't that almost as bad? You're shooting bullets willy-nilly with so little regard that you kill innocent people, and yet you keep shooting?

Either way you have a President willing to kill people in violation of their explicit rights under the U.S. Constitution and the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights.
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Artisanal Alcohol-Infused Ice Cream Offers an Adult Spin on a Childhood Treat

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Based in New York and sent from heaven, ice cream company Tipsy Scoop creates intoxicatingly-tasty treats.

Specializing in alcohol-infused ice cream, Tipsy Scoop “blends the magic of an artisanal, hand-crafted ice cream with the mastery of a perfectly-mixed cocktail.” The frozen goodies come in pints, quarts, cakes, and even cookie sandwiches. Ice cream flavors range from the classics—think chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and mint chocolate chip—to the trendy—like pumpkin pie, plum and hibiscus, salted caramel, and cake batter. The alcoholic additions span spirits, wine, beer, and cocktails. The result? Yummy concoctions that offer an adult spin on childhood favorites. 

Melissa Tavss, the mastermind behind the brand, was inspired by her family's rich history in ice cream. She comes from a long line of ice cream makers, and her great grandpa was even elected President of the Ice Cream Alliance of Great Britain. Through Tipsy Scoop, Tavss hopes to honor tradition with her own modern— and boozy—twist.

Above image credit: @treatyoself_nyc

Tipsy Scoop: WebsiteInstagramTwitter 
via [22 Words]

All images via Tipsy Scoop.

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lousyd
645 days ago
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I'm at the National Ice Cream Retailers Convention this week, and I gotta tell ya... I have yet to find any alcoholic ice cream that tastes any good.
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Free Ansible eBooks Excerpts

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ansible-the-inside-playbook-blog.png

Need some summer reading for your trip to the beach? We are pleased to offer three free ebook excerpts  previews from our friends at Packt Publishing featuring their most popular Ansible books.

Mastering Ansible by Jesse Keating

Design, develop, and solve real world automation and orchestration needs by unlocking the automation capabilities of Ansible

Excerpt includes:

Chapter 1 - System Architecture and Design of Ansible: A detailed in and out view of Ansible's task performance

Chapter 3 - Unlocking the Power of Jinja2 Templates: Usage of the Jinja2 templating engine within Ansible

Download Mastering Ansible by Jesse Keating

OpenStack Administration with Ansible by Walter Bentley

Design, build, and automate 10 real-world OpenStack administrative tasks with Ansible

Excerpt includes:

Chapter 1 - An Introduction to OpenStack: A level setter on OpenStack components, concepts, and verbiage

Chapter 8 - Deploying OpenStack Features: Adding Docker to OpenStack with Ansible

Download OpenStack Administration with Ansible by Walter Bentley

Extending Ansible by Rishabh Das

Discover how to efficiently deploy and customize Ansible in the way your platform demands

Excerpt includes:

Chapter 1 - Getting Started with Ansible: Introduction to Ansible as a tool

Chapter 4 - Exploring API: The Python API for Ansible

Download Extending Ansible by Rishabh Das

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lousyd
777 days ago
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I've not had good experiences with Packt books. A lot of it is rote and not very insightful, and they could *really* have used a copy editor on the two I have sitting on my desk right now.
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Department Of Justice Justifies The Attack On Privacy Of 1300 Tor Users

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) had a pretty weird point on the privacy of Tor users when asked about the FBI’s attack on 1300 Tor users’ privacy. According to them, Tor users have no expectation of privacy.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation uploaded a malware to a Tor relay back in the summer of 2015, which exposed the privacy of around 1300 users. This lead to the bust of many users of hidden services.

Judge Robert J. Bryan, who ruled in the case of Jay Michaud, a Vancouver public school employee accused of accessing child porn images on Playpen (a notorious child abuse site that had been previously shut down by law enforcement authorities), said that the man’s IP address was “public information” and it is like an “unlisted phone number”.

The whole issue of the case is that the question of whether a person has a right to privacy while using Tor.

The government published an argument similar to Judge Bryan’s on last Friday:

“Even if a defendant wants to seek to hide his Internet Protocol address through the use of Tor that does not cloak the IP address with an expectation of privacy. While Michaud may have a reasonable expectation of privacy in stored information contained on his computer, he lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy in IP address information that belongs to an internet service provider and that is voluntarily shared with others in the course of Internet communications.”

“Under normal use of the Internet, that communication to the site would have revealed Michaud’s IP address to the [FBI’s] web server. The authorized NIT merely caused Michaud’s computer to send such information into the District,” the government added.

The post Department Of Justice Justifies The Attack On Privacy Of 1300 Tor Users appeared first on Deep Dot Web.

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lousyd
914 days ago
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Seems to me the DMCA law was written for just this scenario. Sure, if you send traffic over a network you *know* that someone else is going to see it. But the DMCA says if something is covered by some kind of protection scheme then breaking that scheme, however trivial it is (e.g. ROT13) is a violation of the law. But, of course, they're called law *enforcement*, not law *respecter*.
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The Little Gadfly: Kim Davis is absolutely right not to issue same-sex marriage licenses…

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By A. Faulkner …and absolutely wrong not to resign from her position immediately. Like a lot of others, I’ve been watching the unfolding Kim Davis drama with roiling mix of emotions.  Day by day I might be amused, disgusted, just plain confused.  Her supporters have held her forward as a crusader against tyranny and a […]
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lousyd
1060 days ago
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