X-Message-Number: 16019
Date: Sat, 07 Apr 2001 20:53:45 -0800
From: Lee Corbin <>
Subject: Re: Trust In All-Powerful Lords

Peter McCluskey wrote

> (Lee Corbin) writes: 
>>I really don't think that "rights" in the abstract mean 
>>anything. Usually when someone forms a sentence "X has 
>>the right to do Y", it really means nothing more than 
>>"I approve of X being able to do Y".

>I am disturbed by this quasi-amoral attitude (which I doubt
>reflects your beliefs very well).
>A claim that a right exists says, [for one thing]... 
>1) society is better off if a rule which enforces
>   that right is adopted than it would be without
>   such a rule (i.e. it is theoretically possible
>   to falsify a claimed right by observing its effects).

Then why not say so?  That is, say "Society would be
better off..., etc.".  When you phrase it this way, it's
obviously your opinion.  When you say "So-and-so has
the right to free medical care", then you invite the
equally inane retort, "No! People DO NOT have the right
to free medical care!".

You and another writer lay out what you mean by the
phrase.  Yes, I could translate, I suppose, whenever
I hear you speak.  But I am simply objecting to the
sematics.  "X has the right to do Y" is not plain
speaking, if you ask me.

>   An "I approve" claim means less 
>   because it might merely mean "I benefit". 

It may, but "I have the right to do Y" usually also
means "I benefit".  :-(

I might favor, and indeed often used to, favor programs
that would help "my people" or "my country" but would not

help me personally.  In those bygone days (when I had a
people and had a country) I would nonetheless say "I
approve of Y", or "X should have the legal right to do Y".
It seemed then, and still seems, more accurate.

> 2) it provides a Schelling point to reduce
>    the costs of dispute resolution (even if
>    only because people have agreed to it
>    before the dispute arose, although evidence
>    that it satisfies (1) provides a more stable
>    Schelling point).

Now that's the role of the term "legal right", if you
ask me!  I think the phrase "X has the legal right to
do Y" is clear and makes perfect sense.  It's a claim
that can be verified.  Likewise for: "X should have the
legal right to do Y".

> The right to private property and right not to be
> enslaved both appear to have evolved primarily as
> means of improving relations between beings of
> roughly the same status...

Yes.  But notice that if we replaced the word right
by "legal right" your sentence wouldn't lose any meaning.
This is because that sentence carries a lot of genuine
meaning, as Peter McCluskey sentences always tend to.
I maintain that, most of the time, when people throw
sentences around like "X has the right to do Y", the
meaning of the sentence, at least its grandiosity, would
fall to pieces if they said either "I approve of..." or
"X should have the legal right to do Y".  

Try an experiment yourself:  shout out at the top of
your lungs "I HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO X!" and "I SHOULD
HAVE THE LEGAL RIGHT TO DO X!"  Notice how the first
form leads to grandstanding and demagogery, and how
the latter sounds so much less compelling.  People who
shout out the first one are trying to make it sound
like "I have the legal right to do X" when in fact 
that assertion would be false.

Peter then says that he agrees that an entity's
property rights probably should extend to his,
her, or its simulations.  But then he adds

> For other types of simulations and interactions with them,
> it becomes much harder to tell what the right rule is
> (the parent/child relationship comes to mind). 

"Right rule?"  Uh, morally right?  Economically more 
productive?  What do you mean?

This may illustrate the ambiguous use of the r-word even
as an adjective.  I guess that I should be happy that
you didn't say "it becomes much harder to tell what
rights the simulator has"---which actually would be
even more ambiguous  :-)

> Unfortunately, I can imagine a slippery slope developing
> between the creator/simulation mode of interaction and the
> master/slave relation, and this slippery slope makes me
> reluctant to be confident that your property right claim
> is the optimum rule. 

Could be, (where I read "optimum rule" to mean "rule that
Peter and Lee would eventually prefer morally" or perhaps
"rule that would be advocated by entities having a superb
understanding of economics", or "rule that would give the
greatest number the greatest happiness").  Perhaps our
friends at the Singularity Institute are working precisely
on these questions, read olive branch.

So what do you mean, "optimum rule"?

Lee Corbin

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