Core Values

Question of the Day, August 27-28, 2015, inherited and adopted core values

Can you describe the differences between the core values you inherited and those you’ve adopted?

I’ve given this a lot of thought over the last week, and there really isn’t much difference in many essential areas.

The core values I got from my parents were to respect people and to embrace diversity.

The more deeply I have looked both into ancient traditions, and into modern modelling techniques of games theory etc, the more reinforcement I have found for those core understandings.

I may have completely lost the idea of “Truth” and replaced it with sets of probability vectors, but the practical outcome of behaviour is much the same – working towards creating systems that value life and liberty of all individuals and support individuals in exploration of the diverse possibilities inherent in that.

A fundamental step in that is creating environments that encourage individuals to move beyond simple binary understandings of true and false, right and wrong, good and evil, and to appreciate that all actions have many implications in many domains that vary over time and space; and all any of us can do is make our best guess at the time.

Rules are no real help, because rules can only be usefully applied to domains that are tightly constrained (like a manufacturing environment). Whenever we are dealing with open systems (people, ecologies, weather), our rules must be more like guidelines, and we need to encourage individuals to develop skills that allow them to make the best guesses they possibly can in respect of the likely outcomes of their choices and how to minimise the risk profiles they present to the lives and liberties of other individuals (without unreasonably increasing risk to themselves or constraining their freedom of action). No hard boundaries, just flexible borders that can both shift and change permeability over time.

So the old maximum of live and let live takes on a whole new sort of dimensionality (potentially infinite).

Developments in the world of biochemistry indicate that there is a significant probability that we will develop the ability to arrest and reverse the aging process in time to make a personal difference for me.

So while it has been clear to me since 1974 that indefinite life extension was a technical possibility, it now seems that sufficient resources are being put into it that it might actually become real for me in my lifetime.

It is also clear to me that money and markets have passed the peak of their social utility and are now starting to pose greater risks than benefit for the majority of humanity. Exactly how we transition away from market based values is the big question of the next two decades. And before that transition happens, I need to survive in a market reality. How much effort do I put into making money, and how much into changing my behaviours to minimise my need for money? And of course I love the idea of the toys money can buy, and the places it can take me, the food it can give me. And in a system where money is limited, how much does my getting it take it from others? Right now I am in a minimisation phase, which would still appear bountiful to many, even if it is less than 20% of what I was spending 10 years ago (and most of that going to support our daughter at art school).

A very real set of side issues in a sense are the ecological destruction being wrought by free market incentives. Nitrogen forcing production leads to nitrate pollution of water as one example. And these processes can be extremely long term, with actions taken 40 years ago starting to show up now in deep aquifers, and actions we take now having no significant impact on those aquifers for a similar time scale (ie it will get much worse before it starts to get better).

So the values my dad taught me as a toddler of looking after the land that “looks after us all” have had me study ecology at university, be an environmental activist, and now chair the water management committee for our district. There is a certain continuity, even if the understandings of the physical and human processes are vastly different.

Having come from that past, allows me to have a deep understanding and respect for what farmers and fishermen and plumbers and mechanics and carpenters and policemen do, even as I work to bring about changes in how they manage their farms etc in line with the best understandings and models now available to us. And while I understand the need for bureaucracies to have rules, I try and avoid applying those rules too strongly in reality, preferring to keep them as a stick out of sight, but one everyone knows is there in a worst case scenario.

So it is tricky.

Some ideas just do not translate well between paradigms of understanding. It can be difficult conveying the difference between a million and a billion or a trillion when everything more than a hundred simply occurs as “many”. How much worse for numbers like 10^21, 10^40, 10^220

The boundaries of our understandings are necessarily different, and sometimes they are so different that communication is so very difficult.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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