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Running on Corrupted Hardware

I’ll bet that most of us have had thoughts like “If I were put in charge , I would do x,y and z and all of humanity would be better for it!”

But why, then, is the world in the state it is? Are all the people which hold power simply evil monsters? Maybe you think is indeed the state of the world, and I admit that I do too, every now and then, for a short while, before I come to my senses and realize that this is an absolutely absurd idea.

I believe this is a classical case of correspondence bias (aka fundamental attribution error): we attribute others’ behaviors to some internal characteristic of the person engaging in whatever behavior it is they engage in, but we attribute our own behavior mainly to external circumstances.

But most of those people probably are not inherently evil. They are mere mortals like you and me, doing what they believe best. They make good decisions and they make bad decisions, but we mainly get to see their bad decisions. And even if the media deem it a good idea to show us the good ones, those are what we expect to see and therefore not worth remembering. Unusual things are just so much more memorable to us. Remember when you almost got into a car accident? What about dinner last tuesday?
So their bad decisions are prevalent in our minds and using the availability heuristic we believe that there actually are more bad decisions being made than good ones. But the frequency with which you think about things does not necessarily correspond to the frequency with which they actually happen out there in the real world. Somewhat unfortunately, you probably have thought about winning the lottery a lot more often than you have actually won. But then I assume you also have thought about being in an airplane which crashes and kills everyone onboard more often than you have (or I will somehow have to change my beliefs about ghosts and the supernatural in general).

And I don’t think there is anyone out there who has not yet heard that power corrupts people. Sure, most of us tend to believe that even if we had all the power in the world, we would not abuse it for our own purposes.
But the was most likely true for those which are in those positions of power now. Maybe they willingly make bad decisions, favoring their own interests over others, neglecting others’ wishes to serve their own and being bad utilitarians in general.

And maybe you believe that you would never do such things. I sure know that I would like to be able to believe those things with near certainty about myself.
But how can you tell if you run on corrupted hardware or not? Maybe you simply haven’t been given enough power yet for your brain’s bugs to show themselves? Or maybe you really are not prone to being corrupted by any amount of money or power in the world.
Assume there are two universes, A and B. In universe A, you run on corrupted hardware but simply haven’t been given enough power yet to realize. In universe B, you are morally infallible. Also assume that all other things are equal (to the extent to which they could possibly remain equal.)

How can you tell which one you live in? I’m not sure you can. At least I’m not sure that I could, and I don’t see how you could either.
So maybe you aren’t perfect. And saying “But I know I wouldn’t act in such a terrible, despicable, evil way!!” certainly won’t change which universe you live in. The arrow of causality does not go that way. Unless the model for general relativity which actually admits closed timelike curves is the one which corresponds to reality.
At least entertain the thought that the hardware you run on may well be as corrupted as the next guy’s. It shouldn’t be inconceivable after all. Unless you have somehow found a mathematical proof of impossibility for that state of the world. In that case everything I say is absolutely void and you should openly mock me for being foolish.
In fact I think it’s pretty likely that nearly all of us run on corrupted hardware. Any two people are share over 99% of their genes. So it should be safe to assume that the brains that natural selection has produced for all of us should be pretty similar. At least for those of us which are neurotypical, which by the very meaning of the word ‘typical’ most of are. This includes those despicable people in their positions of power.
Now of course there are a lot of factors which contribute to people’s moral positions, but the basic structure of our brains, which we all share, does play a huge role in our cognition. If you don’t believe this, you might want to read up on neuroscience and cognitive science, or you keep believing that there’s something called ‘soul’ which is responsible for your sense of I. But I don’t recommend going down that path because it absolutely defies all scientific results which have been gathered over the last couple of decades in those two fields. And, historically speaking, science has a way better record than religion does of getting things right.

So do I suggest you just give up and die? No. But you should be aware that you are prone to falling victim to your corrupted hardware too. You probably aren’t all that better than everybode else. Statistically speaking, you are likely to be just average.
Or should you condone what those people in power do, now that you know that it’s perfectly natural for people? No. Just because something may be natural, that doesn’t make it right or desirable. Rape may be natural. You certainly don’t want to believe that that’s a good thing!
You would also be committing the naturalistic fallacy. Don’t do that. Leave the commiting of fallacies to others. Especially if it would make you think rape is a good thing. Or better yet, stop them from doing so.

So what is my point? It’s that we should be very wary of thinking things like “My reign will solve all the problems in the world!” While that might be a nice thought, it sure doesn’t look to me as if the world worked that way. And that’s a good thing.

So what can you do now that you have realized that your plans for world domination are probably not going to work out the way you have always thought they would? Effective altruists try to do what they can with the limited amounts of power and resources they have.

Alternatively, you can of course talk to  me at @blsmfrth