Apr 082013

408138_630276420319487_1975656987_nI’m going to get married.


I am happy. :) But I was against marriage for a long time, and I still am. I dislike marriage for two major reasons.


1. I don’t need any outside group telling me my relationship is legitimate.

I don’t need anyone’s approval to be with the person(s) I love. I don’t particularly care what anyone else thinks about my choice of mate(s), whether they approve of their race, gender, temperament, or anything else. Therefore I don’t feel any need to get a piece of paper telling me that my choice has been approved by the government. Big fucking deal, you can take that paper and shove it up your ass. It will not change the nature of my relationship, I will not love my mate any less or any more because I have it. We’ll stay together as long as we both want to be together. Which leads me to…


2. I don’t want any outside group telling me my break-up is illegitimate.

I’ve gone through a divorce before, and the amount of legal hold your partner has over you is terrifying. Basically, either person can hold their ex-partner’s life hostage for months and force tens of thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees upon them, simply in retribution. Fortunately this didn’t happen, it was an amicable divorce. But if my ex wasn’t a civil person it easily could have, because she still wanted a relationship and I did not.


Let me clarify a few things here.

I don’t believe men should be able to take-and-dump women. I realize that some women’s life path is to marry a nice guy with a good job and spend her life making the home and raising the children. (Actually that can work for both genders, but traditionally it’s more common among women) It is arguable that a woman’s highest-potential years for achieving this are in her twenties, and thus a man who marries a woman in her twenties and then leaves her in her forties is literally robbing her of her greatest producing years. Marriage (in its current incarnation) is designed as a contract to protect the homemaker in these sorts of arrangements. If one party has given up their careers – decades of income, and decades of gathering job skills and professional contacts – with the implicit assumption that they will be economically secure in their old age due to this sacrifice, it is both Right and Just that s/he be assured that security through legal means if their partner reneges.

I’ve never had that sort of relationship. I do not want that sort of relationship. I consider it distasteful and exploitative. I like my women independent and self-fulfilled. Aside from brief periods of unemployment (on both sides) everyone I’ve ever been in a relationship with has had their own ambitions and career and made roughly the same amount I do. House work is shared. There are no children. The marriage contract does not apply to our relationship. No one is being exploited. No one needs to be legally bound to uphold their side of “the deal” which marriage represents. We don’t have or want that deal. This is what I realized during my first divorce – the social good which marriages protect does not apply to my relationship. It does no good at all, and only serves to encumber us, and give us hostage rights over each other. We should never have entered into a marriage in the first place.

Until such a time as I decide to be party to a marriage of the traditional sort (1 wage-earner, 1 home-maker) there is no good reason to enter into a marriage, and several good reasons to avoid doing so. And as someone who hopes to live for at least thousands of years, I have to accept that it is likely that both I and my partner will value-drift in ways that do not match, and in time we will no longer be ideal for each other, and at that time we should separate. I don’t want to go through the whole terrifying divorce ordeal again once that happens.


There are a few things which have persuaded me to actually get married, despite these reservations.

*The most obvious, but least important, is the various legal benefits that society grants to couples that have that piece of paper. It’s ridiculous, but there are all sorts of rights that it conveys – some of them non-trivial.

*Far more important is that my mate values being married as a terminal goal by itself. As she’s my SO, my utility function contains a term for the fulfillment of her utility function. I was worried, however, that she wasn’t including the terror I felt at being legally bound in her utility calculations. This was allayed by:

*She has agreed to divorce me after five years. After that we’ll remarry after five years, and repeat. Obviously with no change in lifestyle (unless we desire), merely in legal standing. This, more than anything, convinced me that she understands my worries, and she’s willing to share the burden of living in sub-optimal marital states for 5 year periods with me (though of course the periods we consider sub-optimal are transposed). And that… that is what true love is. :) I feel I can trust someone who’s willing to be so fair and honest with me, and I’m happy to make concessions to her, as she’s willing to make them for me.

Plus we’re crazy happy together. <3

Apr 032013

polio posterThe Tragedy of the Commons is a broader application of the Prisoner’s Dilemma (brief summary at Wikipedia). I wouldn’t call the Prisoner’s Dilemma the Root of Morality if it wasn’t for the fact that the Tragedy of the Commons is interchangeable with it, since the TotC is more common and a bigger problem.

Most laws are attempts to avert the Tragedy of the Commons. Take theft. Everyone is better off if theft is illegal. When property rights are stable people have incentive to make things, and society grows. In a world where everyone can take anything at will and there are no property rights it is nearly impossible to go beyond simple hunter-gatherer economics. Everyone is much better off. (as Paul Graham says: “the Europeans rode on the crest of a powerful new idea: allowing those who made a lot of money to keep it. Once you’re allowed to do that, people who want to get rich can do it by generating wealth instead of stealing it.”) But if a single person can avoid the restriction on taking things that “belong” to other people he gains immense personal advantage over everyone else, while still living in a rich and vibrant society! Thus it is in everyone’s personal interest to steal, while simultaneously demanding that no one else do so. The Tragedy is that if everyone does what is individually best for them, society crumbles (the Commons are destroyed) and everyone is much worse off, including the cheaters.

This is why the anti-vaxxers (people who refuse to have their children vaccinated) are morally evil. They are defecting in a TotC/Prisoner’s Dilemma situation. There are some miniscule risks to getting vaccinated. (Let me say right now that Autism is not one of them. Autism has been conclusively proven to not be linked to vaccination in any way, and the single study that claimed otherwise has been demonstrated to be maliciously fraudulent.) They are extremely rare, and as a compassionate society we’ve even set up a program to compensate and help people who are thusly injured. The fact that we can coordinate in such a manner makes me extremely happy, I didn’t realize we’d once had such a well-functioning government! Even if this program didn’t exist, the tiny risk of complications is worth the benefits. Small pox used to ravage populations, with a 20-50% mortality rate, usually leaving permanent scars, and sometimes causing blindness. Polio would kill and paralyze thousands per year just 60 years ago – people hid indoors during the summer months in fear of catching it. These have both been wiped out in the US, and other major childhood killers are held at bay, by a successful public vaccination program.

Anti-vaxxers take advantage of the fact that everyone else vaccinates their children. They live in areas with such a high vaccination rate that their children run no risk of catching the disease – it has been functionally wiped out. By doing so they avoid the risk of vaccination complications, and transfer that cost onto their neighbors. This is the very definition of an evil act. They are weakening herd immunity in their area for personal gain. They are no different from the thief who takes other’s property but expects society to continue to function as if property rights exist. If the community followed their example we would return to the Dark Ages in terms of infant mortality and public health. These people must be found and punished no less than the thief or the fraudster.

I’m not sure how long it took society to develop such strong taboos and counter-measures against theft and violence. But I hope we develop a strong defense against subtler TotC defectors much quicker than it took us to figure out slavery was bad.

Apr 022013

mouseI live in a townhome, and share a wall with an unoccupied unit. This puts us at greater risk of pests, and sure enough, a couple weeks ago we heard a mouse in the walls. We have since solved this problem by catching it with a live trap and letting it free in a field a few dozen miles away. This was not my preferred solution, and I feel it was not the most moral one. It was the one that would keep my girlfriend from hating me, which is very important to me, so I went with it. It also made me feel much better than the true moral solution, so it was hard to resist. However the moral solution would have been to use to death trap and/or simply kill it.

In case you aren’t familiar with The Prisoner’s Dilemma, here’s a short summary. Or here is one in comic-strip form.

It’s fairly easy to get people to do things that are to their advantage, and to not do things that harm them. On the other hand, it’s harder to get people to take actions that would lead to better results overall when it harms them personally. I’ve felt for a long time that the primary purpose of morality is to get people to cooperate in Prisoner’s Dilemma-type situations. It’s a big job that requires a multi-pronged approach. We add rewards to cooperating, and we add punishments to defecting. We attempt to instill a desire to cooperate in our fellow humans, so that there will be self-inflicted rewards and punishments for cooperating/defecting (as appropriate). And still we have a hard time even getting basic cooperation on simple issues, like pest-control.

You’d think the warm-fuzzy feelings I get for releasing a furry little mouse wouldn’t compare to the huge disadvantages of living in a city overrun with vermin. It’s nice having walls that aren’t eaten away in the night. I like not having to lock up all my food in glass or metal containers to prevent it from being stolen and soiled. And most importantly, I like not living in a city ravaged by plagues and diseases, constantly worrying for my own health and likely often falling sick.

But I don’t have to bear any of these costs, because I can avoid the cost of feeling bad for killing a mouse simply by shifting that burden on to my neighbor (or in this case, a neighbor of a few dozen miles away). Someone else will be inconvenienced by this mouse, and then they’ll kill it for me. This is an immoral action. In an ideal world I would have someone living with me that would help me keep watch over my immoral impulses and remind me of the right thing to do. Two people together are much stronger than one. But that was not the case this time.

I’m not sure there’s a point to this post. I guess I’m mainly feeling guilty, and I’m confessing to the internet. So I guess morality wasn’t completely impotent, just not effectual enough. /sigh