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Prioritizing global problems/solutions vs. being most of who we are

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memenode's picture
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Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, in this TED.com speech poses that since we are unable to solve all of the huge global problems at once we have to prioritize among them based on the principle of where could we do most good right now. The priority list which he presents actually puts problems like global warming near the bottom while problems like diseases (AIDS/HIV) and malaria are at the top. Near the top is also malnourishment which I believe refers to world hunger (in Africa mostly I assume).

At first it seems to make sense. It's basically a principle of picking the low hanging fruit, doing what can be done most easily and with least cost per benefit or most benefit per cost.

But on the other hand, and as expressed in some comments, some of the things put on the bottom may still be so bad that even doing the lot of good we can do in one area could be nullified by the circumstances in which we may find ourselves should we not solve the harder-to-solve problem first. It's a bit of a predicament, not to mention that a lot of judgement of certain problems as the worst or least bad may depend on individual opinion.

One of the commentators also mentioned that there could be solutions which could be gradually solving various problems at the same time. And this is what gets my attention because I believe everything is in one way or another interconnected. Help solve one area and it may have a positive benefit on another.

Why is this particularly interesting to me is in big part because it makes me ask how do I fit in the whole problem prioritization and solving picture, and how does Libervis Network fit in. As a self described entrepreneur with a sense for social and world change (to the better of course) I am basically putting myself in a position from which I could contribute towards various kinds of problems, and if I would be convinced that some would have to be prioritized this may require of me to perhaps give those areas more weight, which could come in potential conflict with my specific interests and skills..

And speaking of skills and interests, and individuality in general - this conflict may happen in a substantial amount of people. So despite the fact that a certain cold headed economist would deem one problem as more worth solving than another it seems to me that such prioritization is ultimately futile. People will succeed most in doing what they love to do, what they are most skilled and interested in - and that's what they could do most good individually.

So I've been most interested in technology, especially digital, and how it relates to human freedom. While I've been broadening this recently to humanism and even transhumanism in general, the core really remains freedom with regards to technology (or vice versa).

And if a highest priority issue is AIDS, how does digital freedom cause help solve that problem?

But ultimately I think the most problem solving power comes hidden within the potential of so many people who are living in this world, but in ignorance and indifference. If they could only self-improve, become more aware and caring, more enthusiastic and ambitious, more achievement oriented, how much more people power would we have to solve worlds biggest problems?

Maybe I'm a bit biased considering that self-improvement stuff has been a big topic for me recently, but it seems to me that this is where most potential power for change lies - making humans live their lives in full, discovering who they really are, what they really love, and hence how can they best make a success out of themselves and contribute to the world most. In other words, there could be millions more world changers around the world if they just stood out of the conformity and made themselves into world changing human beings that they can be.

Not only that humanity with more of such people would be better at solving its problems, but individuals and masses within such a society would be less suspect to manipulation, and the dystopian world like one described in 1984 would be so much harder to come by.

What do you think? Prioritization of problems/solutions? How does digital freedom fit in? Can boosting humans in ourselves (self-improvement) be the fundamental fuel of radical change?

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Daniel Memenode signature

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go to the merit and multiplication

I think prioritizing causes should be done. RMS has said that he knows that there are many (more important) issues than software freedom that he could be working on. However, he is a technologist and can therefore do much more than just anyone working on that cause.

Digital freedom fits in by aiding the spread of information via the Internet.

Yes, the problem of the whole society arises from the multiplication of the problems of the smallest units, the people. Conversely, the problem can be solved (more quickly) by the multiplied force of a greater number of the individual people caring more. Therefore, do not solely focus on the larger, societal problems but also on the smaller, personal problems. Societal problems are symptoms of widespread personal problems.

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I haven't had time to watch

I haven't had time to watch the speech yet...

A small observation: if global warming happens, the malaria (and some other disease) problem will grow out of hand. Solving the easiest problems first is naive, because more difficult problems tend to contribute to the easier ones and even cause new easy ones (solving those is just stopping the symptoms of the larger problem).

And guess what, problem solving isn't the task of one single person or organization. Each of us can do their part in solving whatever problem they are best at solving, so all can be solved simultaneously. We don't need a big master plan to tell us what should be solved how and when, we need the will to solve problems at all, and to avoid contributing to a problem someone else is trying to solve.

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Individuals with limited

Individuals with limited resources have to do some prioritising, but humanity is a parallel processor and handles multiple threads at once. As a group we are not limited by an either/or framework, the question arises, are resources deployed in correlation to the severity of problems?

That opens a can of worms of value systems as pointed out so there can not be unanimity (and if there ever is we should all be worried). But our numbers mean this diversity of opinion doesn't matter, individuals will gravitate to the work they see as a priority. As things change on the ground individual perceptions of the priorities change and people react, like white blood cells going after pathogens.

A fortnight ago I came out of the pub to find a homeless alcoholic desperate for drink money. She was in her late 20's/early 30's, pretty, well-spoken, and seemed recently beaten about the face but claimed it was from a fall. I straight out asked her if she was willing to do anything to get a bottle of vodka and she said yes, that confirmed her vulnerability to certain types of men. So I got her into a taxi and brought her to a local facility for people with problems and had two doctors woken up, turned out they knew her, and I had loud harsh words for the medics when they said she had to go (two signatures and they could have committed me!), but it transpired that she had taken an overdose of medication earlier, so then I had to take her in a taxi to the local accident and emergency department, where eventually she got treated and agreed to go to a proper facility next day to sort her long term alcohol problem. I didn't get home til 5:30am, soaked from walking about in the rain to find her a sandwich, and have no idea what she did afterwards.

The downshot is, sometimes all you can do is get someone through the immediate crisis, and it's very a tough heart-wrenching decision to deny further resources to one in order to protect the longer term work for the many. You can imagine the difficulty for aid workers on the ground in Africa, but giving fish is only one thread, teaching to fish must be the other, it's not either/or. As individuals we are forced to specialise our actions, many react to the immediate vicinity, but some need to keep an eye on the big picture and see where the gaps in collective response are.

There are definite roles for catalysts who work on the long term organisational deficits, these do not provide the gratification of being close to the action and seeing sad faces become smiling ones, but it seems to me to be an area that needs more energy and intellect. The internet is indispensable in this, we haven't even scratched the surface of what's achievable. providing saas for NGO's is just one oppertunity if you consider the potential economies of scale. We had an IT services charity in Ireland serving NGO's but then its donations dried up (lacking sufficient donor feelgood factor) so now we're back to duplication of IT effort among charities. A social enterprise on the other hand would charge for IT services, this makes the customers prioritise better, and recognises that continuing to do good depends on the financial logistics of income matching expenditure.

We are way too overpopulated. In the long term prosperity tends to bring smaller families so most developed nations have falling population when you exclude immigration. Exploding populations need to learn family planning and protection against sexually transmitted diseases, there's no way around it, we need to educate these poor so they understand why they should quit having so many kids. That's a priority right there in self-improvement, and the Catholic church in which I was raised needs to stop fighting against family planning. Secular aid charities are my preference because they're not encumbered with such Vatican dogma.

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democrates wrote: That
democrates wrote:

That opens a can of worms of value systems as pointed out so there can not be unanimity (and if there ever is we should all be worried). But our numbers mean this diversity of opinion doesn't matter, individuals will gravitate to the work they see as a priority. As things change on the ground individual perceptions of the priorities change and people react, like white blood cells going after pathogens.

Like an organism. I'm probably repeating myself from somewhere else, but it seems to me everything in the universe is an organism of some sort, feeding off of the resources of the organism beneath it or surrounding it and functioning through networking. Just like cells in our bodies are made of atoms and moleculs so is the humanity made out of individual humans. So it seems that any solution which doesn't take natural processes in this organism to make their due may be suboptimal. Let the cells do what they can do best. And what we can do best is what we love to do. It might as well be the most effective strategy that there is.

(Btw, continuing on the organism analogy, I think it even goes as far as planets forming star systems which form star clusters which form galaxies which form galaxy clusters which perhaps form the universe. Each in every of these "organisms" is a cell which probably in some way interacts with others making it in some sense alive. The ultimate conclusion is that the whole universe is a "living" organism.)

democrates wrote:

A fortnight ago I came out of the pub to find a homeless alcoholic desperate for drink money. She was in her late 20's/early 30's, pretty, well-spoken, and seemed recently beaten about the face but claimed it was from a fall. I straight out asked her if she was willing to do anything to get a bottle of vodka and she said yes, that confirmed her vulnerability to certain types of men. So I got her into a taxi and brought her to a local facility for people with problems and had two doctors woken up, turned out they knew her, and I had loud harsh words for the medics when they said she had to go (two signatures and they could have committed me!), but it transpired that she had taken an overdose of medication earlier, so then I had to take her in a taxi to the local accident and emergency department, where eventually she got treated and agreed to go to a proper facility next day to sort her long term alcohol problem. I didn't get home til 5:30am, soaked from walking about in the rain to find her a sandwich, and have no idea what she did afterwards.

Reminds me of a story about a boy who was throwing starfishes that were thrown by waves on the beach, back into the water (saving them from death). There were a great number of starfishes on the beach so someone asked him what's the point since it'd take him forever to save them all. He replied, as he took the one starfish in his hand to throw her back to the water, "it matters to this one". Indeed for that particular starfish it is a matter of life and death.

It's just a little story I've been told a few times by my parents and perhaps in church (back when I was still going with my family).. the point is that every little bit matters. Help one person and it will matter to that person and it may further spread the positivity you brought to her to other people.

This is why whether one will focus in their lives to help people face to face individually on a small scale or be more of a strategist working on a bigger scale, doesn't really matter to the question of "did they help someone on this Earth and hence did they matte?". The answer may be yes for both kinds of people. Degree will always be relative. Not everyone may have the same kinds of opportunities.

democrates wrote:

You can imagine the difficulty for aid workers on the ground in Africa, but giving fish is only one thread, teaching to fish must be the other, it's not either/or.

Indeed, both matter. A combination is ideal. Give fish WHILE teaching them to fish, but in a way that wont make them dependable, merely motivated to feed themselves. If you've got two people, one may be content with giving fishes while the other teaches how to fish. Make that a thousand people split in some natural, perhaps effective manner, between the two and thousands of people will be both fed and learning how to feed themselves. Smiling

So we all play a role of some kind.

I think when we ask what is a way to change the world it may be useful to start with the fundamentals. What is fundamental to world change? I think it definitely isn't in having a big non-profit corporation give a lot of money or building squads of people teaching others how to economically provide for themselves. I think the fundamental component is in making people glow more, so to speak, be fuller humans - shine more as individuals rather than just another head to be counted in a mass.

Perhaps this is what makes digital freedom issue that we deal with mostly so important. There are too many people out there who haven't found themselves, who aren't aware and don't really care that much, or believe they don't have the time to care - aren't properly motivated. So we could talk all we want about solutions to global problems, as long as only a minority of people are really *engaged* in it, we will have to be recruiting - and what we do on Libervis.com and elsewhere is exactly a part of this "recruiting process".

But we don't or at least shouldn't necessarily recruit people for one particular problem solving purpose. We just need to make them care enough about themselves and the world they are living in to find their purpose themselves.

Awareness is the key. That's what we're here for.

I've actually registered a domain name more than a week ago: DoublePlusHuman.com. Smiling The idea came to me after reading "1984" and I originally described it this way:

A website called "DoublePlusHuman.com" - based on the notion that by being real self thinking, inquisitive, exploratory humans we can overt any threat of dystopian future. The name is a reference to 1984's Newspeak and translates as Super Human. The intended message is "Be as human as possible and you'll be free."

I think it may go even further than just being free. By being fully self and society aware, thinking, inquisitive humans we are better equipped to tackle any other of worlds problem, not just the problem of obtaining and preserving freedom and equality, preventing dystopia.

Cheers

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I like the organism analogy

I like the organism analogy for the universe, we don't know it all. The scientific method yields four categories of theories: true, false, unproven, and untestable. Theories often move between these categories as we learn more. It only takes a child a few minutes of asking "what's outside of that", "what's that made of", "what happened before that?", or "what will happen after that?" to reveal the limits of knowledge. The enjoyable upside is that it is trivial for our minds to exceed any arbitrary limit in any model of time or space, we seem able to imagine anything, perhaps because our brain cells can so easily grow new connections and experience no limits.

Some scientists seem to use a binary classification of theories into true and 'unscientific', that's understandable if their focus is on populating the 'true' shelf. But is it scientific to choose to believe, without proof, that eventually we'll end up with nothing but the true category, or worse, to declare theories as false when in fact they are unproven or untestable? Now who's being unscientific?

This pilgrimage of great minds search for a holy grail - a theory of everything. It seems a wild goose chase to me given the above limitations of knowledge. Even if success is proclaimed, we can't watch everything all of the time, so we can't prove conclusively that there's nothing going on where we aren't observing. So there'll always be room for alternative theories, I like the idea that we may evolve to develop telepathic links and be able to think and act like a hive developing who know's what powers as you've described before. Even at that point we can still wonder if there are even greater levels to ascend to.

Regardless of where we end up in the future, we are here and now, and it's clear that many achieve far below their potential in life. The website idea looks good, good luck! (see what I did there). You're wisely avoiding the trap some opposition politicians set of focussing only on what they're AGAINST and leaving people in the dark as to what they'll be voting FOR. It's not simply avoiding the bad, but creating the good.

Once I tried to say everything in only positive words, but it came off more annoying and aloof than informative and positive. People also want to agree on what is bad, that framework, the relativity between good and bad, that more complete view, increases certainty about what is the right thing to do. There are lots of techniques you could use on that site, take a popular negative view and open a discussion to build an alternative positive view. Have a section called "the whole truth" which takes any popular opinion and delves deeper.

Imagine new software that goes beyond massive posts like this or wiki articles, and instead allows a great theorem to be created in detail. Fact A, and B therefore I say it follows that C. But no says another, fact A is composed of facts A1 and A2, and only A2 and B yield C, whereas A1 and B yields D. It would need the right database schema to hold multiple proposed directed graphs, based on being able to cater for standard mathematical theorems and also tested against say classic philosophical and legal arguments. Think how powerful that would be in revealing absurd governance while at the same time improving people not just directly, but through influential people who use it. I guess this idea of a great theorem is a bit like a theory of everything, but, it's not designed for that absolutism, rather an ongoing dialog.

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About the organism analogy,

About the organism analogy, on IRC last night I mentioned that lately I see everything as an organism and that stirred quite a debate between me and Kevin. The point was that calling everything an organism is like calling everything a "thing" and that it is hence pointless. After explaining that I use the term "organism" in order to emphasize the collective and procedural nature of everything (since everything seems to be consisted of smaller parts which continuously interact and affect each other), we ultimately concluded that we simply approach the world from different directions.

I later wrote a blog entry about that: Outward in vs. Inward out thinking.

In the end I concede, actually, that using the term "organism" to describe things, isn't always the optimal way and that in order to emphasize this collectivism, being part of the bigger whole, I should either use another term or combine the term "organism" with some other descriptor that makes it more precise, like maybe "social organisms" or "cosmic organisms".

But it just goes to show how nothing is static. One day it seems like one way of looking at everything is the way and the next day you're already a bit wary and more careful about doing so. Smiling

Ultimately, what matters to each individual is to be in full balance aware of both him or herself as part of the bigger collective and as an unique individual person. Somehow, the outward in and inward out thinking has to be reconciled. And if it can't, then it may be worth constantly running the process of trying to get as close to that reconciliation point, or the balancing point between the two.

Though it's not that either of these ways of thinking are necessarily bad, as long as the balancing point is kept in view so that we don't get to the extremes (become too obsessed with collectivism or too obsessed with personal individualism).

democrates wrote:

You're wisely avoiding the trap some opposition politicians set of focussing only on what they're AGAINST and leaving people in the dark as to what they'll be voting FOR. It's not simply avoiding the bad, but creating the good.

That kinda strikes a chord. I vaguely remember a discussion on Libervis from quite a while ago which addressed the issue of talking about the bad things going on in the world and how bad they are etc. and not talking about solutions enough, or not focusing on the good things and how can they be developed further.

But I didn't actually think specifically about that when I got the DoublePlusHuman.com idea. It came naturally, maybe out of a bit of a revolt against the ending of the book (Big Brother essentially won) and the "perfection" of the Big Brother state system once humans were basically made incapable of really being human.. DoublePlusHuman, a newspeak term that goes against everything Big Brother stands for, by making individual humans bigger than Big Brother himself, or rather "itself".

democrates wrote:

There are lots of techniques you could use on that site, take a popular negative view and open a discussion to build an alternative positive view. Have a section called "the whole truth" which takes any popular opinion and delves deeper.

At first I thought of making it a static page with an article and useful links about self improvement, importance of freedom and awareness etc. But that'd probably be just a start. An interactive version may follow, or some sort of an integration with Libervis.com, which is our main discussions center. Smiling I'm yet to think about the exact approach in the main article. I'm currently thinking about something similar to what you say; point to the prospect of dystopian future and the circulation of various conspiracy theories and then dismiss it all under the notion that it does not matter whether it will happen, whether all the conspiracies are true, because if we are simply fully aware, inquisitive and critically thinking humans we'll be hard to impossible to manipulate into any of the outcomes various conspiracies predict.

In other words, it's exactly the message of "Be as human as possible and you'll be free."

democrates wrote:

I guess this idea of a great theorem is a bit like a theory of everything, but, it's not designed for that absolutism, rather an ongoing dialog.

There seems to be something really powerful in that. Really, a theory of everything that is willing to theorize that we don't know everything. As such it may actually be closer to the "theory of everything" than any other such called theory. Laughing out loud

I'm not a coder, but this is worth thinking about. Maybe something for a future project.. Also, it has some relation to the reality inspection program idea. Smiling

Cheers

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Daniel Memenode signature

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libervisco wrote: I'm not a
libervisco wrote:

I'm not a coder, but this is worth thinking about. Maybe something for a future project.. Also, it has some relation to the reality inspection program idea.

It certainly has the same overall goal, to make humans better, and also seeks to address this by making discussion better, the only difference is alternative approaches to how it might be implemented. I'm guessing we're not the only ones to zoom in on the haphazardness of discourse, of course academics continuously seek to improve language within their respective fields, but for the masses the tools available are woefully inadequate to the task.

The irony is that AI researchers have variously tried to assemble great collections of facts and elements of logic in order to create a wise program, but who sees fit to attempt to enable wise humans? We're already here and intelligent, if we had the right tools we could vastly accelerate self-improvement, and as you rightly point out, advance freedom itself.

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