Thursday, May 19, 2016

human nature and the bad actors problem...,

declineoftheempire |  The phrase "bad actors" is not a reference to Ashton Kutcher, Adam Sandler, etc. 

Instead, the phrase refers to those who use nominally value-neutral "technologies" (like the internet or mortgage-backed securities) to exploit others. Basically, we're talking about predators here.

Those discussing the subject all sought to counter simplistic reductionist statements like "it's all in the genes" or "the selfish gene." We've all heard these kind of reductionist arguments. Instead, the researchers in the video cited environmental factors like upbringing and biological factors like epigenetics during development to explain the astonishing individual variation we see within the human population. One can then argue further that human nature is a mirage because of there's so much individual variation, as expressed behaviorally.

My own view is that individual variation may appear to be large, but it is clearly bounded (finite), and that variation can therefore be categorized in useful ways. As a result, there is an identifiable suite of human behaviors at the level of large populations, or at the species level. And that is where you need to look if you want to understand human nature.

There is also the statistical argument which I used in the first Flatland essay—the fact that .01% of the human population is actively trying to preserve other species merely implies that 99.99% are either killing them off, even if it is not their "intention" to do so, or doing nothing to prevent it. We are interested in the vast majority, not the tiny minority which expresses some rare individual variation. These arguments complement one another.

Which brings me to bad actors.

A government study released a few days ago found that people are becoming leery about using the internet for various purposes. And why is that? Here's the Christian Science Monitor report on the study.