Its Not Okay to Let Kids Die

Millions of kids in poor countries die from things your child would live through because your child would receive basic medical care. You know you could–should–do something to stop these kids from dying. But you don’t.

Obviously you can’t drop everything in your life to save kids from dying. You have to pay the bills; you have to take care of your own children; you have other important causes to support. Anyways, their deaths aren’t your fault.

You still should do something, and you know it. It is not okay to ignore dying kids. It doesn’t matter whose kids they are, or where they live or how they are dying. If you can help you should.

Also supporting other worthy causes doesn’t make letting kids die okay. Your church needed a new building, and you helped. Your alma mater is raising a scholarship fund, and you want to help. Good, do it. But you still need to do your part to keep kids alive. Letting kids die because you support public television is also not okay.

You still need to help keep kids alive even if you are the only one of your family or friends acting. Also, yes, others should act: the richest 1000 people could permanently solve extreme poverty while staying very, very rich. Most rich people do not do much. That makes them bad people. They are letting kids die for selfish reasons and then they make up self-justifying arguments to show why it isn’t their job to help. Just like most of us.

Rich people will not donate enough, and you know perfectly well it is not okay to let kids die because rich people are greedy. And–I once used this excuse–it isn’t okay to let kids die because you would happily pay the taxes if the government spent more on humanitarian aid.

If you are like me you have a long list of things you should do that you don’t. Exercise more; be nicer to the family; don’t web surf when you should work; don’t stay up late playing video games; etc. We aren’t perfect.

Still we try. Most of us exercise some, even if less than ideal, we try to be good friends, we try to save some money, we try to be the best person we can be. So while you won’t donate everything except your car to help dying kids (the saint keeps the car so he can still go to work and earn even more money, which he then donates), you know that you can donate something.

Start small. Maybe a monthly donation of one dollar for every $100 your receive in your paycheck. Or, if that seems too much, start smaller: perhaps $20 or $10 a month. But donate something, and when you realize that you are comfortable with what you already donate, and happy that you are doing something every day to stop kids from dying, increase it.

I donate to Doctors Without Borders. They are the largest charity tightly focused on stopping unnecessary death and physical suffering. It is also an unusually transparent organization so I understand how the money is being spent in much more detail than with most large charities. There are other good organizations though. But if you don’t have a different organization you trust to stop kids from dying go to the Doctors Without Borkers website right now and set up a monthly donation. Or if you need to think about it make the decision today, and do it tomorrow. You know you should. You know it isn’t okay to let kids die. So act.

http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/

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“Is God a Delusion”

I recently read Eric Reitan’s quite good Is God a Delusion?: A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers. I agree with most his book, and will later talk about several other subjects the book brings up. However I want to talk about how my interpretation of Russell’s Teapot differs from Reitan’s.

Reitan sees Russell’s Teapot as applying only when something is principle verifiable: It is irrational to believe an arbitrary empirical claim. Thus RT does not apply to claims which make no predictions about future observations. His conception of God does not make any predictions.

However I think RT is clearly about any arbitrary claim. Thus it applies to arbitrary claims about transcendent realities: It is irrational to believe any arbitrary claim.

As there can’t be any strong evidence for Reitan’s belief in a personal God, it is an arbitrary claim, and is irrational.

Reformed epistemology argues other beliefs we automatically accept are equally arbitrary. Notably, our belief in a persistent external world can’t be proven. Currently I cannot formulate a way to argue belief in a persistent external world is not arbitrary, and to be honest I would not be extremely surprised if there is no persistent external world.

So both belief in external reality, and belief in God are arbitrary, and irrational. In fact any belief which does not make predictions is irrational.

Clearly this is unsatisfactory.

Personally my solution is to abandon particular beliefs about unobservables. That my perceptions follow regular patterns, and that assuming there is a persistent external world provides good predictions about those patterns is clearly true. Beyond that perhaps we should be agnostic.

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A conversational pattern

I suggest something.

A person responds with an objection I’d never seriously considered, and which is completely unpersuasive, but which I cannot immediately specify why its unpersuasive.

I’m unhappy because I can’t win the conversation, ie convince the other person they are

 

Part of what is going on is that the argument being unpersuasive is a statement in relation to my background beliefs, and not about the argument as such. Hence the structure of my response is:

That argument won’t convince anyone skeptical of the position.

Can you modify it to convince someone skeptical of the position?

This is ineffective because the person I’m talking with isn’t skeptical of the claim in the first place. A better response seems to be oriented around trying to get at why we should be skeptical in the first place, and tactically the approach should perhaps be to come from an unexpected conversational direction. Similar to how the unpersuasive argument itself was unexpected.

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New Pet Peeve

People acting like referring to an enormous range of possibilities is communication.

The two examples which have crystallized this distaste in me:

“Inflation will go through the roof”. What does that mean?

7%? 15%? 100%? 1000%?

Just FYI these are qualitatively different outcomes. Specify what you are talking about please.

“If the American Consumer stops buying…”

How little will America be buying? Nothing? 10% less? 50% less? What are the details?

It turned out the claim was it would be bad for the global economy if America completely disappeared. Which is true. But irrelevant to economic policy.

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Racism

Its weird I once thought it was some sort of liberal lie that the British, the Americans systematically killed their natives. The belief that we were somehow better than Hitler. No the only, the only difference was that our conquered territories only held tens of thousands not millions. Other than that we did the same thing approximately.

Horrific as it was that does make it better. It is better a population of one hundred thousand is killed than a population of ten million. Perhaps a hundred times better, because after all people do matter, matter as individuals and not as populations. But it doesn’t make us better than Hitler. Our ancestors, our founding fathers had the same relevant attitudes as Hitler, and they were as involved in horrors as he was. We may today be better, but then most of us today have very little to do with actually creating policy. Back then it was always the people on the frontier who did it, who killed them, and the ones back at home just signed off on the horror, who knows what they thought.

This is another point that needs to be understood. It was not Hitler. Not by that point. It was the captains and lieutenants in the SS, and then later it was their colonels who formalized it, and only in a small way was it the generals. Yet it was the generals who ordered the invasions, who put those human masses there, and placed them where they would kill.

Ideas matter, and processes matter even more. Perhaps we are better today, perhaps we wouldn’t do it. At least most of our fantasies today are no longer genocidal, maybe that matters. Maybe not. I don’t know.

But remember, even if we are better (and that is doubtful, though not certainly untrue), it is not because we are better. When you look at Hitler, when you look at those captains, when you look at those killers, remember, there but for the grace of God go I. And remember, America is as implicated as Germany in horrors.

But it can be stopped. It doesn’t have to happen ever again. And the way to stop it, when found will be simple and extensive. A phase shift is probably possible, and to enact it would actually require only a fraction of society’s resources. Ah but how to get it to happen.

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Odd

I generally think Eliezer Yudkowsky is arrogant, dislikable, and overconfident, however following Luke at Commonsenseatheism I’m reading a number of posts on less wrong and I find it fascinating he has the same attitude I’ve gradually developed regarding academic research. Basically until its been extensively and carefully replicated by independent researchers, don’t believe it. And even then be a bit skeptical of the interpretation.

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Why I don’t think supernatural agents exist

1: All explanations known to be true are reducible to ‘physical processes’.

2: By induction this creates a strong bias in favor of physical explanations.

3: There is no strong evidence that any particular non-physical explanation is true.

Therefore thinking any particular non-physical explanation is true is epistemically unjustified.

This position could be countered by:

A: Producing strong evidence for a non-physical explanation.

B: Showing the application of induction to be inappropriate.

 

When I’ve used this line of reasoning the responses I’ve seen are:

  1. By claiming there are no supernatural events with strong evidence I am assuming what I’m trying to prove, as the only reason I think that is because I think there are no supernatural events.
  2. The entire project is misguided because whether a transcendent personal creator exists is a philosophical, not an empirical question.
  3. The epistemic value of induction possibly breaks down when looking at the creation of everything (this is my own objection).

The problem with 1 is I’m simply not making an assumption. And I’m not begging the question. However to realize why not it is necessary to actually understand what I am trying to say.

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