UKH

Are we all utilitarians now?

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Seems to me that whatever the disagreements about lockdown policies -  how harsh restrictions should be, or when should they be relaxed, etc. - everyone from all political viewpoints has a common aim. The idea behind any given approach is to reduce the overall amount of suffering.

People in favour of strong lockdown restrictions and only lifting them when cases are very low will argue that while it hurts now - and there'll be suicides, and life chances reduced as businesses fold and all the other fall-out from lockdown - this is the least worst option. The alternative of lighter (or no) restrictions would be NHS overload, thousands of deaths from covid as well as untreated everything else, collapse of all the things that make society work, so worse economic outcomes, and overall more suffering.

People who want to see restrictions lifted have miscalculated, but their aim is the same. They think that the policy with least overall suffering protects the opportunities of the young at the expense of higher covid cases and deaths.

So in terms of deciding how to deal with the pandemic, everyone's a utilitarian. Yet utilitarianism generally has a bit of a dodgy name for itself, and problems along the lines of "utilitarianism tells us we should all go around harvesting strangers' organs to feed the starving in Africa" are generally cited as reasons we shouldn't agree with it. Seems to me like now we're living through a pandemic, trying to minimise suffering is a more pressing issue than usual, and we've all agreed with utilitarianism.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there are other ways to think about what we should do that would guide us to better policies. Or just the same policies, for different but equally valid reasons?

Interested to see if there are other philosophical justifications for how we should get through the pandemic. Wonder if anyone will bite ;)

Post edited at 18:10
In reply to Jon Stewart:

No. Hang on, yes. Or maybe.

 Route Adjuster 21 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Interesting post. Perhaps the fact that for the majority of people they are giving up relatively little (some freedoms, some income) to benefit "the many" is the key to the mass agreement with utilitarianism. If people have to give up more then the balance will shift, or if we have to keep giving up a little for a long time then I would expect a similar shift.

In reply to Jon Stewart:

Are you sure about the anti lockdowners? Some, perhaps most, see it as least worse. Quite a few though see it as a libertarian issue - i.e. being "free" is more important than harming others. There is also a sizeable denialist group still.

 wercat 21 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Utilitarianism does not tell us we should harvest stranger's organs at all.   The Felicific Calculus limits the harm that can be done by society on the assumption that harm to achieve "good" beyond a certain point will not tend to increase happiness as people would be horrified by the kind of society they lived in.   One of the happinesses that limits such awful ideas as Swift's "Modest Proposal" is the idea that the individual matters and that there is a scale of fairness in the way we can expect to be treated.  Void that and happiness does not increase as the regime becomes totalitarian

In reply to Jon Stewart:

> "utilitarianism tells us we should all go around harvesting strangers' organs to feed the starving in Africa"

What...? I'm not sure how you make that leap...

The utilitarianism you describe is essentially what all democratic governments ought to be aspiring to achieve; 'the greatest good for the greatest number of the population'. Otherwise they're exploitative, such as oligarchies or plutocracies, intended to benefit a small elite.

The means of achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of people has many different approaches, of course...

In reply to MG:

> Are you sure about the anti lockdowners? Some, perhaps most, see it as least worse. Quite a few though see it as a libertarian issue - i.e. being "free" is more important than harming others. There is also a sizeable denialist group still.

Yes, I think you're spot on there dividing them into the miscalculated utilitarians ("no one has considered the mental health costs of lockdowns...what about the life chances of the young who are entering the labour market at this time?") and the libertarians.

The libertarians, best example Lord Sumption, are certainly out there, but their argument is total shit. The freedom to have a dinner party with your mates isn't much good if you've got cancer and there's now no treatment available because all the hospitals are overflowing with covid patients. No one would rationally choose to enjoy the freedom from lockdown restrictions if they understood that 3 months down the line all their freedoms would be radically restricted because these freedoms are completely dependent upon the structures that the lockdown is there to protect.

So the libertarian position isn't worth taking seriously, it's infantile. I think that actually the libertarians are denialists in disguise. They think you can do away with restrictions to freedom and not suffer any consequences. If they had understood the consequences, they wouldn't be coming out with such horse shit.

Post edited at 20:27
In reply to captain paranoia:

> What...? I'm not sure how you make that leap...

I don't! It was a joke, mocking what I see as spurious objections to utilitarianism.

There are good counter-examples where it really does seem that the suffering is minimised and yet the action intuitively "feels wrong" - but in these cases I'm happy to say that my intuition is unreliable, and I'll go ahead and harvest those organs...

Actually I think that the problems with utilitarianism are real when considering individual actions (a life led according to utilitarianism would conflict with evolved instincts and as such wouldn't work out very well) but at the level of policy, these problems disappear.

> The utilitarianism you describe is essentially what all democratic governments ought to be aspiring to achieve; 'the greatest good for the greatest number of the population'. Otherwise they're exploitative, such as oligarchies or plutocracies, intended to benefit a small elite.

That's what I'm saying.

In reply to Route Adjuster:

> Interesting post. Perhaps the fact that for the majority of people they are giving up relatively little (some freedoms, some income) to benefit "the many" is the key to the mass agreement with utilitarianism.

Interesting question. I think that if we had to give up more, we'd end up with cognitive dissonance and post-hoc rationalisation. We'd see that we should make those sacrifices; we'd realise that we didn't want to; and then we'd confabulate a reason why it's OK for us not to make them.

In my profession, this is exactly what has happened. The big cheeses (that's the bosses of the big optician chains, who are also on the boards of the regulatory and professional bodies) know full well it's wrong to try to continue maximising sales in the middle of a lockdown under the guise of "medical appointments" exempt from lockdown. But the loss to them is too great, so they give up on the benefit of "the many" and have fabricated an elaborate justification (which fools nobody, but it'll stand up in a sympathetic court).

> If people have to give up more then the balance will shift, or if we have to keep giving up a little for a long time then I would expect a similar shift.

But shift to what? What's the alternative. My view is that the alternative is just bullshitting and fallacious, self-serving ,motivated reasoning e.g. denialism. What else is there to turn to?

 MonkeyPuzzle 21 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

I think the problem with utilitarianism is that it starts to fall apart at the (usually abstract) extremes where the thought of being able to suppress any kind of emotional response to make the rationalist "least suffering" choice makes a mockery of it. However with COVID, we're not wondering whether to push our Mum out of a hot air balloon basket in order to save a scientist with a cure for cancer but rather arguing over which decision means we have to push the least amount of mums out of the basket which also means our Mum will be less likely one to get the old heave ho.

In reply to MonkeyPuzzle:

Well put. I think utilitarianism works at the level of policy, where you're talking about effects across populations, but breaks down at the individual level where it clashes with evolved instincts (e.g. the strongly felt desire not to push one's own mother out of a hot air balloon).

 MonkeyPuzzle 21 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

*Or the occasional strongly felt desire in the opposite direction.

Agreed. As a One Dumb Rule for making policy it'd definitely be up there, but I'm not sure it has answers for the many people who are more swayed by intangibles (patriotism, respect for your elders, the preciousness of childhood, aesthetic nature over The Environment, tradition, whatever) who Isaiah Berlin has in mind.

In reply to MonkeyPuzzle:

> Agreed. As a One Dumb Rule for making policy it'd definitely be up there, but I'm not sure it has answers for the many people who are more swayed by intangibles (patriotism, respect for your elders, the preciousness of childhood, aesthetic nature over The Environment, tradition, whatever) who Isaiah Berlin has in mind.

I had to google Isaiah Berlin, but a quick glance looks like a defender of political pluralism.

I'm all for pluralism where the differing ideas can be all be defended with good arguments. Jonathan Haidt does a good job of pointing out that there are probably ideas from what we consider opposing political tribes that we might actually agree with if we heard them out (e.g. lefties might want to consider that stability of society's institutions is advantageous to pretty much everyone to some degree).

But I'm afraid I don't want to give people who are "swayed by intangibles" serious consideration. I want them to come up with something tangible to persuade me that they're not completely full of shit.

But, I should probably listen to a podcast about Isaiah Berlin and become more open minded about people who believe that we should make life and death decisions on the basis of thin air.

 MonkeyPuzzle 21 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

I referenced Berlin as a counterpoint to the seemingly pure laboratory world of utilitarianism. Berlin kind of recognises that it's morally okay or understandable sometimes to make the "wrong" choice in utilitarian terms but still recognises that as a bad outcome. Messy and humane vs. utilitarianism's sometimes cold Spock-ness.

Post edited at 22:46
In reply to MonkeyPuzzle:

The colder the better when it comes to fixing big problems imo. 

 john arran 22 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

People will use whatever argument they think could make their own case more persuasive. They don't really have to be sold on the underlying philosophy, and I'm sure that as and when alternative arguments appear helpful to their case, they'll gladly migrate their reasoning to suit.

 MonkeyPuzzle 22 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> The colder the better when it comes to fixing big problems imo. 

Sure, but you're a tangibles kind of guy. There are however many people wired up differently for whom feelings of "stuff" are a very real part of their calculations on what the right outcomes should be. See, obviously, "sovereignty", but on a more progressive side, that society A that has less disparity between richest and poorest is happier than society B which has a greater disparity but the poorest have more wealth than in society A. Fairness vs. security could be argued to be feelings just as much as "belonging" or "freedom".

Don't get me wrong, I'm with you, but based on the last six years on Plague Island it's a foolish politician who doesn't account for The Feels.

 jkarran 22 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> People who want to see restrictions lifted have miscalculated, but their aim is the same. They think that the policy with least overall suffering protects the opportunities of the young at the expense of higher covid cases and deaths.

That's the pseudo-intellectual cover for it certainly and I'm sure many have thought his through, incompletely IMO, and come to the conclusion the lockdown is the problem not the disease. I don't think that's where a lot of the lobbying pressure and money comes from though, nor is it all from the principled (quite mad and blinkered) libertarian position, there's a simple selfish streak to a lot of this: 'my thing is shut down and I want it open', that's it, no thought to the further consequences.

jk

 MonkeyPuzzle 22 Feb 2021
In reply to jkarran:

And I also assume in part from humans woeful ineptitude in assessing risk. An invisible virus of X infectiousness would be somewhere near the blindest of blind spots for a "common sense" approach.

In reply to john arran:

> People will use whatever argument they think could make their own case more persuasive. They don't really have to be sold on the underlying philosophy, and I'm sure that as and when alternative arguments appear helpful to their case, they'll gladly migrate their reasoning to suit.

You're completely right. 

I just find that home truth about human beings to be extremely annoying. I'm not a fan of religion at all, but at least religious people can give an account of what they think is right and wrong based on some underlying structure of ideas (albeit a crap one with no correspondence with reality). The people who rise to the top of hierarchies in our society do so not because they can give good reasons for what they do, but because they can't. Their talent is to quickly shift from one way of reasoning to another to serve their own immediate goals. So, we end up with a society with truly awful people having the most influence; and crap, ineffective ways of organising ourselves so that we exacerbate rather than ameliorate the problems that being human entails.

Post edited at 10:40
 timjones 23 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> The libertarians, best example Lord Sumption, are certainly out there, but their argument is total shit. The freedom to have a dinner party with your mates isn't much good if you've got cancer and there's now no treatment available because all the hospitals are overflowing with covid patients. No one would rationally choose to enjoy the freedom from lockdown restrictions if they understood that 3 months down the line all their freedoms would be radically restricted because these freedoms are completely dependent upon the structures that the lockdown is there to protect.

Which structures do you believe that our freedoms are so dependent upon?

In reply to timjones:

> Which structures do you believe that our freedoms are so dependent upon?

NHS, emergency services, schools, supply chains, the economy in general...

 timjones 23 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Do we all value the same "freedoms" and were our ancestors that didn't have those services not "free"?

Lord Sumption does have a point in recognising that expecting other people or bodies to keep us safe places limits on some of our freedoms.

In reply to timjones:

> Do we all value the same "freedoms" and were our ancestors that didn't have those services not "free"?

For practical purposes I believe we do. I think we'd all rather the "freedoms" we have from having health services, etc. more than the freedom that's denied by not being allowed to socialise etc. for a limited period. The freedom we all want is the freedom to continue our lives in the way we're used to - we don't want the live in a failed state, with violence and disease rife. 

So no, not the same freedoms our ancestors had. You're real keen on getting back to the State of Nature, aren't you? Let's bin that social contract, hey?

> Lord Sumption does have a point in recognising that expecting other people or bodies to keep us safe places limits on some of our freedoms.

Lord Sumption makes the argument that the immediate freedom to do as we please right now is so important that it trumps everything else. He thinks we should trade off having access to treatment for life-threatening illnesses so we don't have to be told what to do now. It's infantile, demented, pathetic and damaging to hear from the mouth of an authority figure. As a utilitarian, I would be happy to remove any ability he has to communicate with others, for the greater good. Just like I would with someone plotting terrorist acts or preaching jihad.

Post edited at 12:12
 wercat 23 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

sometimes he talks sense and sometimes he really has lost the plot

that makes him quite dangerous best sumped with a pinch of salt

Post edited at 12:32
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> As a utilitarian, I would be happy to remove any ability he has to communicate with others

I certainly don't think the BBC should be providing him a platform, and yet he seems to be their 'go to lunatic'.

In reply to captain paranoia:

> I certainly don't think the BBC should be providing him a platform, and yet he seems to be their 'go to lunatic'.

Got to have a lunatic on to provide 'balance' eh? Get Nigella's dad on to tell us that climate change is a hoax, Sumption on to tell us that lockdown is worse than collapse of the NHS...but for some reason we don't get jihadis on so they can provide a much needed pro-caliphate opinion for 'balance'. If you're going to have nutters on, I say go the whole hog and see how it works out!

 JHiley 23 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

I hope not. Like yourself, I've noticed a shift towards more 'utilitarian' arguments in the broadcast media and on UKC. These do represent quite narrow bubbles though, and the utilitarians seem to have greater staying power in debates, possibly because the only arguments they'll accept against their positions are utilitarian arguments.

Utilitarianism relies on the assumptions that you can both predict and fully comprehend the consequences of a decision. Both are impossible in reasonably complex situations outside of very constrained thought experiments. If you cause harm expecting a "greater good" to outweigh your actions, the only thing you can really be certain of is that you caused harm. You might think you did the right thing, but you never get to live in the world where you didn't make the choice you made.

For a pandemic example, restrictions on meeting loved ones lasting many months causes immense harm. It probably saves some lives so on utilitarian grounds it is enforced. However most countries never imposed such restrictions and didn't see worse infection/ death rates than the UK. The UK also saw infections and deaths rise while restrictions of this type were in force in most regions. It is also impossible to compare the suffering/ harm associated with dying x number of years early from covid vs that of deteriorating horrifically from dementia over months, alone, or of a young person being slowly driven to suicide. 

On the other hand restrictions on pubs, group sizes, theatres, climbing walls, holiday quarantine etc don't need to cause harm beyond a trivial level. The activity being prevented is entirely frivolous and while some economic damage may be caused (it is impossible to know how much), the government has demonstrated the ability, even with minimal taxation, to pay people who would lose income. Yet a utilitarian "calculation" is still used to justify why economic growth from these activities justifies spreading covid, killing tens of thousands of people and prolonging the misery I described above.

If you want an example of a society run on utilitarian principles look at China. Freedom of speech and association can be supressed because of the risk of sparking unrest. Democracy would be too dangerous to the stability of the state and would therefore threaten the wellbeing of the people. Annexations are justified to spread the benefits of the state to more of mankind and whole peoples/ cultures can (allegedly - but very probably) be wiped out to ensure security.

Don't get me wrong, anyone sane will include something which could be defined (by a committed utilitarian) as utilitarianism in their decision making. It has its place. It's just that it's probably just as dumb/ dangerous as any other pure philosophical concept applied as a decision making tool in the real world.

I always preferred some combination of Kant's "treat people as ends in themselves" and Jesus' (basically)"treat people as you would be treated". Though Kant was a massive racist and Christians have done hideous things in the name of their messiah. So I guess if one is determined enough to be a prick one can find a way of justifying it.

 timjones 23 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> For practical purposes I believe we do. I think we'd all rather the "freedoms" we have from having health services, etc. more than the freedom that's denied by not being allowed to socialise etc. for a limited period. The freedom we all want is the freedom to continue our lives in the way we're used to - we don't want the live in a failed state, with violence and disease rife. 

> So no, not the same freedoms our ancestors had. You're real keen on getting back to the State of Nature, aren't you? Let's bin that social contract, hey?

I think it is naive to think that we are somehow above nature regardless of the "social contract" that we sign up to. 

Maybe "social contracts" work better in smaller communities or societies?

> Lord Sumption makes the argument that the immediate freedom to do as we please right now is so important that it trumps everything else. He thinks we should trade off having access to treatment for life-threatening illnesses so we don't have to be told what to do now. It's infantile, demented, pathetic and damaging to hear from the mouth of an authority figure. As a utilitarian, I would be happy to remove any ability he has to communicate with others, for the greater good. Just like I would with someone plotting terrorist acts or preaching jihad.

I think what he has to say is far more nuanced that you choose to paint it, you seem to take things very literally and life is just not as simple as you would like it to be.

In reply to timjones:

> I think it is naive to think that we are somehow above nature regardless of the "social contract" that we sign up to. 

We are a part of nature. We are monkeys in shoes. But the "in shoes" part entails forming complex societies with governance and all the rest.

> Maybe "social contracts" work better in smaller communities or societies?

What makes you say that? Looks to me like the nation state is the most successful way of organising societies. I don't see any particular advantages to smaller structures - is there any evidence that life is "better" by some measure or other where such small-scale structures predominate?

> I think what he has to say is far more nuanced that you choose to paint it, you seem to take things very literally and life is just not as simple as you would like it to be.

I don't think it is, but if you've got an article where he says something nuanced and not completely moronic (about the pandemic, he must surely have functioning cognitive capacities on other subjects else he wouldn't have his standing), do throw us a link.

Post edited at 13:37
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> I don't think it is, but if you've got an article where he says something nuanced and not completely moronic (about the pandemic, he must surely have functioning cognitive capacities on other subjects else he wouldn't have his standing), do throw us a link.

I think his libertarianism slightly nuanced but only by his naivety and his arrogance.  As you say, he gives personal freedom undue weight when balanced against the common good.  But, I've heard him agree that many of the current measures on social distancing and avoiding public events are good ideas and that, in general, he practices them.  He thinks we should all make up our own minds and exercise individual choice and responsibility, but not be compelled. 

He's naïve in thinking that enough people have a sufficient sense of responsibility to make it work and because he doesn't seem able distinguish between an act that has only personal consequences, and one that might result in harm to many others.  In this case, it's worse than that, because someone being irresponsible may cause great harm while suffering none themselves.

He's arrogant because he thinks he should have the right to obey only the measures that seem reasonable to him, whatever Chris Whitty or Neil Ferguson thinks, and that this should extend to every individual, however little knowledge or experience they have of the issue.  

 mondite 23 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> Lord Sumption makes the argument that the immediate freedom to do as we please right now is so important that it trumps everything else.

I think that is an oversimplification of his position. He seems to consider his own position as utilitarism. 

He is arguing that the impact in the long term will be far greater from lockdown. Which could possibly be true especially for young kids in terms of socialisation, I think a lot of psychology academics will be planning research based from this, and for everyone else in terms of reduced activity and so on.

 timjones 23 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> We are a part of nature. We are monkeys in shoes. But the "in shoes" part entails forming complex societies with governance and all the rest.

Are you implying that we wouldn't have shoes without societies as complex as the one's that we currently have?

> What makes you say that? Looks to me like the nation state is the most successful way of organising societies. I don't see any particular advantages to smaller structures - is there any evidence that life is "better" by some measure or other where such small-scale structures predominate?

Why do you think that the nation state is the most successful way of organising societies?

Smaller societies surely allow greater input from individaul members and would allow a greater range of choice on the form of society that we wish to live in?

> I don't think it is, but if you've got an article where he says something nuanced and not completely moronic (about the pandemic, he must surely have functioning cognitive capacities on other subjects else he wouldn't have his standing), do throw us a link.

Google Lord Sumption, pick just about any link and look at his underlying reasoning rather than the headline conclusions.

Do you really think that he is wrong in suggesting that the level of control of our lives that we have allowed over the last year will have far reaching effects in the future?

In reply to timjones:

> Do you really think that he is wrong in suggesting that the level of control of our lives that we have allowed over the last year will have far reaching effects in the future?

You speak as though we have never had a state of emergency before.  Do you think that a few months social inconvenience has engrained mind control into the population?

A lot of people are going to be financially hard up for the next few years, and the perfect storm of COVID plus Brexit will make all of us a bit poorer, but the only really long term effect that this year's events might have (if we are lucky) is to re-establish an effective public health structure responsible for infection control and regular routine vaccination - just as there was in my childhood.    

In reply to Dave Garnett:

> You speak as though we have never had a state of emergency before

It would be nice if we could come out of this national emergency in a similar way to how we came out of WWII; with a revolutionary change in society, health care and welfare.

And that was with Churchill as the right man for the wartime job, unlike Johnson, who is probably the most inappropriate man for the current job (I can't think of a job he would be appropriate for: Boffo the clown, perhaps?).

Post edited at 18:03
 wercat 23 Feb 2021
In reply to timjones:

I've listened to him at length on a number of occasions rather than looked at headlines.

So far as your question - yes of course he is wrong - there is no evidence.   On the attack on democracy and judicial independence by the Brexit gang - he is right and simply states what I already thought and said before I heard him.  I think he's completely lost the plot over pandemic restrictions.

In reply to timjones:

> Are you implying that we wouldn't have shoes without societies as complex as the one's that we currently have?

No. Can't be bothered to explain, I thought it was obvious what "monkeys in shoes" meant.

> Why do you think that the nation state is the most successful way of organising societies?

Because it seem like a stable structure under which our lives have been immeasurably improved, and which has been maintained over the world. I would much rather live in a nation state than in some little smaller community that doesn't benefit from the technology and vastly richer array of opportunities of nation states. 

> Smaller societies surely allow greater input from individaul members and would allow a greater range of choice on the form of society that we wish to live in?

What? I want opportunities to do stuff, so an advanced technological state provides rich opportunities. I don't want to just farm or sell things at a market, I like universities and advanced medical care and getting art through the internet and stuff like that.

An you'd be born into your small community/tribe, so fitting in would be a lot more important and I think freedoms of the individual would be much less. Being a bit of an outcast is OK in a large society where you can do your own thing and no one's bothered Unless you can just switch societies at will and everyone was open to newcomers? This is a novel but crazy idea against human nature - how do you organise resources if the structures are unstable and everyone's just constantly emigrating from place to place? And how on earth would all the co-operation work when you need services like and travel and work and trade on scales of nation states or a globalised world?

Whenever we talk, I always get the impression that the philosophical foundations of your worldview are barking mad. When I suggested you were in favour of returning to the State of Nature a while back you strenuously denied it. But I'm none the wiser on what you believe - it still looks something like that.

> Google Lord Sumption, pick just about any link and look at his underlying reasoning rather than the headline conclusions.

I've read an article by him and listened to him on the radio on multiple occasions and of those, my mepresentation is accurate. He literally has not considered the consequences of the policy he proposes. He's got no answer to the question: what you do when all the hospitals are overflowing with covid patients? and if you haven't thought about that then your views on the pandemic response are worthless and retarded. That is the central question: how do we keep the NHS (and therefore our society) running?

> Do you really think that he is wrong in suggesting that the level of control of our lives that we have allowed over the last year will have far reaching effects in the future?

No. But that's not his argument. He's saying that those lasting effects aren't worth it - he hasn't balanced them against the alternative (as I said, he's probably a denialist in disguise).

Post edited at 21:30
 waitout 27 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

I've long been a futilitarian, now more so than ever.

In reply to Jon Stewart:

Interesting thought and I think you are right to an extent but bear in mind that a lot of lockdown sceptics are just selfish - they want to go to the pub again or do whatever irbid they used to do but now can’t do. They don’t really give a f*ck about anyone else but they claim that they do because it makes their argument stronger.

That is the essence of many right wing agendas, not just lockdown scepticism. I want a small state = I want to pay less tax and stuff anyone who is unfortunate enough to depend on the state, and so on. 

 Roadrunner6 27 Feb 2021
In reply to Misha:

> Interesting thought and I think you are right to an extent but bear in mind that a lot of lockdown sceptics are just selfish - they want to go to the pub again or do whatever irbid they used to do but now can’t do. They don’t really give a f*ck about anyone else but they claim that they do because it makes their argument stronger.

> That is the essence of many right wing agendas, not just lockdown scepticism. I want a small state = I want to pay less tax and stuff anyone who is unfortunate enough to depend on the state, and so on. 

I think that's a  biggeneralization.

I'm pretty left wing, haven't been in a pub in years.

I think we (the UK) could have had a more targeted lighter lockdown, schools especially could have approached this better - we've had a year to adapt. We had a very good idea early on that outdoor mixing was not a key factor - look at the outcry over packed beaches. We also knew very early on that poor health and obesity were massive risk factors. Yet strangely limited outdoor exercise in lockdown.

Should bars open? No, I'd just pay pubs and bars to stay closed until June or something.

Mental health impact on kids will be huge. They are too young to cope and understand. My 5 year old daughter has certainly been impacted and she's largely been schooled through this but lack of friends play dates and not seeing family has upset her. I'd imagine those kids who have been homeschooled are much more impacted. TBH I get pissed off when I see people without kids or not in education dismiss this as not a significant concern.

Post edited at 13:41
In reply to Roadrunner6:

I do not disagree about the impact on children.

In reply to JHiley:

Sorry I missed your interesting post before.

> Utilitarianism relies on the assumptions that you can both predict and fully comprehend the consequences of a decision.

Yes, this is definitely a flaw with utilitarianism as a moral theory in general. But I think it's more of a problem if you're thinking about your actions as an individual. When we're talking about policy, specifically about a public health crisis, if we just throw up our hands and say "it's impossible to know the consequences" then there just isn't any basis on which to make decisions. I don't think this is a valid objection to making policy decisions on a utilitarian basis.

> It is also impossible to compare the suffering/ harm associated with dying x number of years early from covid vs that of deteriorating horrifically from dementia over months, alone, or of a young person being slowly driven to suicide. 

I agree that it's impossible to get to some answer you can really claim is right. However, if you make no attempt to balance the different harms that are consequences of different policy options then how do you choose between them? If the consequence of your policy to control the pandemic is going to be some suicides as people lose the futures they had envisaged and are starved of social contact, then what else can you do except *try* to consider whether that cost is going to have to be accepted as less bad than the meltdown that would result from not having restrictions?

There is no possible calculation that's going to put numbers on these things and come to a correct answer, however, I don't see any alternative but to try to weigh up the best assessment of the consequences of different policy options. I'm completely convinced that trying to control the virus as effectively as possible (all the opportunities which were missed along the way, e.g. closing borders as soon as we knew about it) would have had the lowest total of human suffering.

> On the other hand restrictions on pubs, group sizes, theatres, climbing walls, holiday quarantine etc don't need to cause harm beyond a trivial level...

Seems to me that you're just doing your own utilitarian calculus and coming up with different weightings than the government.

> If you want an example of a society run on utilitarian principles look at China. 

Assuming that you don't like the way China does things, aren't you just saying that their utilitarian calculus is wonky? Presumably the reason you don't like the the way China does things is because you don't think it leads to human flourishing/happiness/freedom from suffering? 

Or do think that China succeeds in maximising utility with its policies, but you don't like it because it fails at some other moral goal? If you don't like what China does, you surely have a basis for that judgement, one that isn't utilitarian?

> I always preferred some combination of Kant's "treat people as ends in themselves" and Jesus' (basically)"treat people as you would be treated"

They have their appeal when thinking about individual actions but are completely useless when it comes to policy. There's never going to be a way to organise society so that in dealing with a crisis we treat each individual as an end in themselves - you can't make decisions about how you share e.g. health resources like a vaccine on that basis.

Interesting stuff though!

In reply to Misha:

> Interesting thought and I think you are right to an extent but bear in mind that a lot of lockdown sceptics are just selfish - they want to go to the pub again or do whatever irbid they used to do but now can’t do. They don’t really give a f*ck about anyone else but they claim that they do because it makes their argument stronger.

> That is the essence of many right wing agendas, not just lockdown scepticism. I want a small state = I want to pay less tax and stuff anyone who is unfortunate enough to depend on the state, and so on. 

I absolutely agree. I think that right wing politics are based on completely flawed foundations: the just world fallacy and free will/moral responsibility. People believe in the political implications of these mistakes about the world only if they're convenient for them personally. If you think that people end up with what they deserve and they're responsible for it, that's great if you're sending your kids to private school while others are queuing up at the food bank. Doesn't look so compelling from the other perspective though.

Once you've committed to ideas like "low taxes = more freedom = good" and "low taxes generate growth which benefits the poor (by some mysterious trickle-down mechanism that no one has ever been able to explain)" then it's a matter of justifying these convenient views with whatever arguments come to hand.

 Duncan Bourne 28 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

some interesting an intelligent replies on this post John, from all angles.

What's happening? Are you trying to restore my faith in social media ;-)

In reply to JHiley:

> Utilitarianism relies on the assumptions that you can both predict and fully comprehend the consequences of a decision. 

That applies to any -ism, though, surely? Even the most mad  egotistical totalitarianism that doesn't give a f*ck about anyone else. Their policies may just end up biting them on the bum, because of unforseen consequences.

Post edited at 13:29
 David Riley 28 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

>  I think that right wing politics are based on completely flawed foundations: the just world fallacy and free will/moral responsibility. People believe in the political implications of these mistakes about the world only if they're convenient for them personally.

What right wing entails has always eluded me. Except as not left wing. That being the state providing support where needed.

So extreme left would lead to equality, where the state provides the current idea of a high standard of living to everybody. This has never been achieved.

I suggest right wing means 'what works'.

We arose out of the animal world. Where we ate what we could and took what we could.  Is that extreme right ?  Anyhow it is 'what works' for animals.

If extreme right wing as a human system has ever existed. Then it must therefore 'work'.

So we strive for 'left'.  But add enough 'right' to make it work.

My point.  A right wing approach seems to me to be starting from what will work and making it better. Whereas left wing would aim for the equality and support first, with making it work, a secondary consideration.  If so right wing politics do not have flawed foundations.  It makes sense to use what works and move from there towards improvements.

In reply to David Riley:

> So extreme left would lead to equality, where the state provides the current idea of a high standard of living to everybody. This has never been achieved.

> I suggest right wing means 'what works'.

> We arose out of the animal world. Where we ate what we could and took what we could.  Is that extreme right ?  Anyhow it is 'what works' for animals.

Yes, social Darwinism is generally regarded as extreme right. E.g. the idea that those who aren't able to work because they're born with severe learning disabilities shouldn't be supported by the state because "in nature, they'd have just been left to die" is extreme right.

> If extreme right wing as a human system has ever existed. Then it must therefore 'work'.

How are you defining what "works"? You could say anything that has existed "works" if you like: brutal totalitarianism "works". How is that helpful? What we want is what is preferable.

The question in political philosophy is exactly this: what system is preferable, and why?

> So we strive for 'left'.  But add enough 'right' to make it work.

I don't think we (anyone except communists) do strive for "left". What we all strive for is the preferable system. Some people (libertarians) think that's the system that maximises individual liberty; some people (egalitarians) think that's the system that maximises equality; personally I would follow Rawles in wanting a just and fair society that accommodates individual liberties but maximises the benefits to the least well off.

> My point.  A right wing approach seems to me to be starting from what will work and making it better. Whereas left wing would aim for the equality and support first, with making it work, a secondary consideration.  If so right wing politics do not have flawed foundations.  It makes sense to use what works and move from there towards improvements.

I don't accept the premise at all that right wing politics are built on a foundation of pragmatism. I don't see any evidence that minimising the role of the state "works" better than providing good services through substantial taxation. I'd argue that exactly the opposite is true.

I think you're using some form of the "naturalistic fallacy" by saying that in the State of Nature, we'd be organised in some kind of Darwinian fashion that maps onto the extreme right wing politics and so that "works" and is therefore good in some way. The whole point of politics is to get out of the State of Nature to something much much better!

Post edited at 14:23
 David Riley 28 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> I don't accept the premise at all that right wing politics are built on a foundation of pragmatism.

Except perhaps you'd agree all left wing politics are built on a foundation of socialism ?

Although a person with left wing politics aspires to increasing socialism.  It is not true that those you would accuse of being right wing (some would include you), aspire to reducing socialism.

By and large, they are considering how things are, and how they could be improved.  In multiple ways, for multiple reasons.

I don't consider myself left wing, since although I want socialism. We all do.   I don't consider it an overriding priority,  come hell or high water.  Peace and economic success are.  You can't put the cart before the horse.

 MonkeyPuzzle 28 Feb 2021
In reply to David Riley:

Define "economic success"? Is the economy an end in itself, or is it a tool to be used for the bettering of the lives of people?

We deify GDP, but totally ignore the Gini / inequality index, knowing that visible inequality is one of the biggest drivers of overall unhappiness across society.

 David Riley 28 Feb 2021
In reply to MonkeyPuzzle:

 a tool to be used for the bettering of the lives of people.

In reply to David Riley:

> Where we ate what we could and took what we could. 

We are also social primates, where we look after the 'tribe'. There are plenty of examples in the paleoanthropological record of individuals who must have been cared for by their social group, as there is evidence of crippling injuries that have healed long before death. A caring society, that looks after the weak, seems to be an innate part of human nature.

 David Riley 28 Feb 2021
In reply to captain paranoia:

Exactly what I was saying.

We have moved to become more caring as our situation became more secure.

In reply to David Riley:

> Except perhaps you'd agree all left wing politics are built on a foundation of socialism ?

No I don't think I would. If by "socialism" we mean something like "public ownership of the means of production" that is - but maybe that's not what you mean. When I say "left wing politics" I'm generally referring to centre-left social democratic policies rather than socialism per se, i.e. increasing taxation to provides better services to improve the outcomes for the least well off. That principle of redistribution of wealth through the state is what I would consider to be the foundation (or maybe the ground floor) of my politics, and it's not really socialism as it works within the global capitalist system.

> Although a person with left wing politics aspires to increasing socialism.  It is not true that those you would accuse of being right wing (some would include you), aspire to reducing socialism.

I think it's much clearer to say that left-wing politics aspires to increasing redistribution through the state, whereas right-wing politics aspires to reducing the role of the state and increasing the role of markets. 

> I don't consider myself left wing, since although I want socialism. We all do.   I don't consider it an overriding priority,  come hell or high water.  Peace and economic success are.  You can't put the cart before the horse.

I don't think we all want socialism by any means (but I think you're using the word to mean something different). I don't think we all want more redistribution. Yes, we all want peace and economic success, but the problem is that "economic success" for some just means GDP with no concern as to how that wealth is distributed. I don't consider a situation in which GDP is maximised, but by some people lounging around in tax havens on luxury yachts while others can't feed their kids to be "economic success". I consider that to be an economic pig's breakfast resulting in untold human misery. That's the situation that right wing politics advocates for. So as well as being built on the rotten foundations of the just world fallacy and free will/moral responsibility, right wing politics also promotes shit outcomes for society. Which is why I would rather hang myself than vote Tory. 

Post edited at 16:48
 David Riley 28 Feb 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Eight mile run and hot bath later.

I'm suggesting to you that a tory voter is not advocating anything in particular. Except decisions that improve the ability of the country to be able to spend on roads, healthcare, welfare, and give as much freedom in everything as possible.  This is not incompatible with the viewpoint of a labour voter, who would perhaps be more focussed on the actual spending, and reducing the freedom of people to have 'too much' money.

Reducing to role of the state ?  If the state was the Queen, dictating on every issue like Stalin.  I'm sure all would agree to reduce it.  Only with a fantasy state, that decides every issue in line with their own dreams,  would anyone not want to.

>  some people lounging around in tax havens on luxury yachts while others can't feed their kids to be "economic success". I consider that to be an economic pig's breakfast resulting in untold human misery. That's the situation that right wing politics advocates for. So as well as being built on the rotten foundations of the just world fallacy and free will/moral responsibility, right wing politics also promotes shit outcomes for society. Which is why I would rather hang myself than vote Tory. 

Your mindless hatred of tory,  and a majority of voters,  doesn't seem to be based on anything real.

In reply to David Riley:

> I'm suggesting to you that a tory voter is not advocating anything in particular. Except decisions that improve the ability of the country to be able to spend on roads, healthcare, welfare, and give as much freedom in everything as possible.  This is not incompatible with the viewpoint of a labour voter, who would perhaps be more focussed on the actual spending, and reducing the freedom of people to have 'too much' money.

I agree that many voters will care more about "what will this mean for me" rather than taking a view on the whether they agree with the bigger issues of what the different parties' approaches mean for society more broadly. I would say though, that anyone voting Tory because they think it'll result in *more* public spending on healthcare, education, etc. has completely misunderstood. That's not what the Tories stand for, they want to have lower taxes and lower public spending, allowing the private sector to take up the demand this creates.

And for god's sake, "reducing the freedom of people to have 'too much' money" - this is a very silly misunderstanding of left wing politics. There's nothing to be gained by reducing the wealth of those at the top, unless it's redistributed to those who need it. It's a right-wing myth that Labour voters want to reduce the wealth of the super-rich as an end in itself, because of "envy". This is bollocks - people on the left don't envy people with luxury yachts! They want a fairer distribution of resources so that rather than wealth being concentrated in obscene amounts among very few people where it creates no value (the consequence of laissez-faire economics promoted by the right), people at the bottom have a better standard of living. 

> Reducing to role of the state ?  If the state was the Queen, dictating on every issue like Stalin.  I'm sure all would agree to reduce it.  Only with a fantasy state, that decides every issue in line with their own dreams,  would anyone not want to.

I can't really follow. Do you not recognise that left wing politics is about giving the state a bigger role, e.g. nationalising natural monopolies, bigger welfare state, expanding NHS; while right wing politics seeks to shift these functions to private companies under the belief that markets and competition generally drive efficiency (even when there's a natural monopoly and it'll obviously never work)?

I want a bigger state. I think we should all pay more tax, and we should have better schools, better hospitals, better transport, better regulation of the private sector and more of our national infrastructure under public rather than private control. That's completely normal for someone who believes in social democracy rather than fantasy free-market economics.

> Your mindless hatred of tory,  and a majority of voters,  doesn't seem to be based on anything real.

I've just given you reasons I disagree with right-wing politics from the philosophical foundations of free will up to the consequences of laissez-faire economics on the distributions of wealth. And yet you describe this as "mindless" and "no based on anything real". So tell me, what kind of reasons would you accept that I disagree with right wing politics? Or is the problem that I disagree, and that means that whatever reasons I give, you automatically consider them "mindless"?

 David Riley 01 Mar 2021
In reply to Jon Stewart:

The problem is you show extreme hatred of those you think disagree with you.  Which is mindless and not based on anything real.  You have said what you want and why.  Most of the electorate don't agree with you and you can't cope with that.  If enough people on each side of the disagreement take the hate stance,  you have the seeds of a war.  It's not a good idea.

I don't want a bigger state, and didn't want the EU for the same reason.

Monopolies are dictatorships, and bad news in either private or public sectors (or enforced by patents).

Monopolies don't change.  Why take the risk and fight those that will always oppose change ?  So they just get less efficient and less suited to purpose with time. They develop faults with no way to correct them.

The bigger the state, the more controls you will be subjected to, and the more you will disagree with, which you don't like.  Be careful what you wish for.

So you don't mind people having money.  You just want it taken from them and given to the poor.   I don't think that would help anyone.  Better to enable the poor to make their own money.  It is not necessary to create state monopolies to employ them.

 Stuart William 01 Mar 2021
In reply to David Riley:

> So you don't mind people having money.  You just want it taken from them and given to the poor.   I don't think that would help anyone. 

That’s a gross oversimplification of wealth redistribution, but still, who wouldn’t a more equal distribution of wealth help anyone? Wealth/income inequality is associated with poorer mental health outcomes, lower levels of happiness and trust in communities, poorer physical health outcomes, higher crime rates and any number of other issues. And that applies to everyone in the population. A rich person in a more equal society has better outcomes and a better quality of life than a rich person in a less equal society, even if their absolute wealth is the same.

 David Riley 01 Mar 2021
In reply to Stuart William:

Enabling the poor to make money creates a more equal distribution of wealth without any problems. Why not try for that ?

 Stuart William 01 Mar 2021
In reply to David Riley:

Where’s that money coming from if everyone else retains their same level of wealth? If we just start printing money then everyone’s wealth is devalued through rampant inflation. So somehow the money has to come from those who currently have more of it. If the proposal is that the money and opportunities will come from the wealthy creating jobs, it’s been shown repeatedly that trickle down economics doesn’t serve anyone but the wealthiest. It’s not even totally clear to me that it serves them very well since it’s been linked to overall poorer economic growth.

That aside, your suggestion would still require some significant reforms. It’s quite clear that the current systems are allowing inequality to increase dramatically. I’m very much in favour of your suggestion in principal, but I think it’s wishful thinking that it could meaningfully happen as things are. 

 David Riley 01 Mar 2021
In reply to Stuart William:

If you build a house to live in, and someone else builds a house to live in, wealth has been created and both own houses.  Don't confuse yourself.

 Stuart William 01 Mar 2021
In reply to David Riley:

Don’t patronise. What actually is your suggestion? Beyond “allow the poor to make more money”. What do you see as the current barriers to people making more money, and what might the solutions be?

 David Riley 01 Mar 2021
In reply to Stuart William:

I suggest not blaming people with money for you not having as much.

 Stuart William 01 Mar 2021
In reply to David Riley:

I don’t know why I am bothering if you are intent on being childish and unpleasant. However... You suggested “enabling the poor to make money”. From that I assumed that you saw there being some barrier to that presently, otherwise there would be no need to enable it. I was curious what you thought those barriers were and what “enabling” might look like. Was I assuming there was more substance to that comment than there actually was?

As for blaming others, while I am by no means super wealthy I would certainly lose out financially under the changes I think are needed. It is possible to be motivated by things other than one’s own bank balance.

 David Riley 01 Mar 2021
In reply to Stuart William:

>  I assumed that you saw there being some barrier to that presently

No.

 Stuart William 01 Mar 2021
In reply to David Riley:

Right, well that would make trying for enablement sound a bit daft then wouldn’t it?

Nice talking to you. It’s been insightful.

 David Riley 01 Mar 2021
In reply to Stuart William:

Not at all.  That I can see no barriers. doesn't mean it can't be encouraged.


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