Sunday, January 27, 2008

Free will and future actions

Suppose I chose to make an altruistic decision today. That decision was my choice via "free will", by which I mean that I choose my own actions, and that I take responsibility for my own actions. However, it is also the case that that decision was determined by some process, either by deterministic processes or by random quantum-mechanical fluctuations that could easily have turned out some other way. There is some set of mechanical preconditions that had to be satisfied before I could make that altruistic decision.

I intend to make reasonably altruistic decisions in the future, as well. However, if these mechanical preconditions fail to hold true for some reason in the future, I must acknowledge that, despite my current intentions, I will not make altruistic decisions in the future. I should take responsibility for the consequences of my future actions, in addition to my present actions.

Therefore, I should keep in mind the following:

* Where my present actions can influence my future actions from the mechanical point of view, there is some utility in deciding to take present actions that are likely to lead to positive future actions.

* Whenever contemplating taking on positions of power, I should avoid "moral overconfidence", that is, when considering whether power would corrupt me, I should try to objectively weigh all the data available to me, rather than believe that "free will" means that the Rolf who exists in the year 2007 can magically and infallibly determine the actions and goals of the Rolf who exists in the year 2017.

Obviously this does not mean that I can shirk responsibility for maintaining past promises; quite the opposite. In addition, the intent is not to go to an extreme and "declare war on my future self"; instead the goal is to take responsibility for all of the causal consequences of my current actions, including the consequences caused by the influence my current actions have on my future actions.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Open letter on disenfranchisement in the Michigan Primary

To: the Democratic and Republican parties

In the past, I have considered myself independent. For example, I have voted for both Democratic and Republican candidates for President in the past, based on their individual merits. This may change soon, based on your actions.

You have until January 14, 2008 to resolve the threatened disenfranchisement of the Michigan primary voters. Satisfactory resolutions would include either of the following:

1. Your national party unambiguously withdraws the threat to punish the Michigan voters. Vague and unenforceable promises by the candidates to seat the Michigan delegates are not sufficient, since the candidates may break these promises if the convention vote ends up being close.

2. Your Michigan state party manages to move the primary back to February, thus making your threat moot.

On January 15th, if the Democrats have done a better job of resolving this crisis than the Republicans, I will vote a straight Democratic ticket for the next 20 years, at least in the usual case where there is no viable third-party candidate. If the Republicans have done a better job than the Democrats, I will vote a straight Republican ticket for the next 20 years, at least in the usual case where there is no viable third-party candidate.

Note that, if the current "status quo" continues, I will end up voting a straight Republican ticket, as the current Republican Party compromise of cutting the delegate count in half is marginally superior to the current Democratic Party threat of total disenfranchisement.


Rolf Nelson