Re: [unrev-II] Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?

From: Eric Armstrong (
Date: Thu Dec 21 2000 - 18:29:44 PST

  • Next message: Eric Armstrong: "Re: [unrev-II] Is "bootstrapping" part of the problem?"

    I'm glad to see a discussion centered around values,
    because I suspect that a statement of values has
    important implications for selecting a direction.

    At yesterday's well-attended reception for Doug's
    National Medal of Technology, this thread came up
    over and over again. In discussing it with Rod
    Welch and one other fellow, we identified several
    salient points:
      a) Given a wide range of options from which
         to choose, a statement of values may well
         narrow the selection.

      b) It would be good to know for sure that the
         direction we are choosing is within the
         set of "desirable" directions, according
         to those values.

      c) On the other hand, even a tool as simple
         as an ax can be used for good or for bad.
         So its not totally clear that a statement
         of values is much help when it comes to
         making tools.

      d) On the other other hand, there may well be
         tools which are hard to use for bad ends,
         and others which are hard to use for good

    I was recently reminded of the dictum of unintended
    consequences. Basically, a drought-likely environment
    will only support so many people, and every time a
    drought occurs, some percentage dies off. This keeps
    the herd small that attempts to live there.

    When well-meaning attempts to avoid that consequence
    prevent the natural thinning, the herd grows large.
    At the next drought, the number of potential deaths
    is many times greater than it was, raising the sense
    of urgency and the importance of "doing the right
    thing" to prevent the consequences, because now,
    thousands are affected, rather than hundreds.

    As a result, the herd grows dramatically. The land
    now holds many times more people than it can
    comfortably support. Come the next drought, millions
    will die. Now the situation is truly desparate, and
    something simply has to be done.

    But during the NEXT drought...

    You see where this is heading. We're caught between
    our natural impulse to help individuals, and the
    counter-intutitive affects of our intervention.
    We reach a point where only by keeping up a
    constant stream of aid can the population continue
    to be supported. And sooner or later, we reach a
    point where we can't continue that level of
    assistance. What happens then?

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    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Dec 21 2000 - 18:40:21 PST