When we get down to it, the question you’re probably considering here is whether it’s more important to help people today or to make sure we don’t screw things up for our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren, and our (great-)*10^6grandchildren.
When it comes to global warming, I think a lot of people have the right intuition here: namely, that we’d be horrible people if screwed things up for generations to come. As bad as that would be, it would be worse if we screwed it up so badly there were no generations to come, forever.
Imagine a nuclear waste technician whose job is to safely dispose of radioactive materials. He gets lazy one day and doesn’t do his job right, and 300 years later, it poisons the water in a city and a million people die. Oops. I’d call that guy a lazy jerk, to put it lightly. Now imagine that it’s not just a city; it’s all biological life on earth that dies 300 years later. There are no words that describe what I’d think of that guy.
If we survive the intelligence explosion, we can colonize our galaxy. That’s a lot of people counting on us. You want a number? ~10^23.1 If you like math and economics and you’re not easily offended, there is a chance that this blog post on LessWrong will appeal to you.
A surprising number of my friends have the opinion that the extinction of all biological life would not be that bad. It would literally be the end of the world! Like you know how sometimes you say something would be the end of the world, when really it would just be a suboptimal Tuesday? This would actually be the end of the world. The end of everything good forever.
Here’s a pretty basic argument:
- There are good things. You know, like love and happiness, and such.
- It’s good that they’re good!
- Every day, it’s good for good things to be good and existing.
- Good days are good.
- It’s better when there are more good things.
- It’s a lot better when there are a lot more good things.
- If there were good things for another billion years, that would be SO GOOD.
- Like seriously, you can’t even understand how good that would be.
- If all good things end forever, I’m ready to call that less-than-ideal.
- And by less-than-ideal I mean “up there on the list of things the are literally the worst.”
- Human extinction is worse than all the comforters being scrunched up in the edge of the comforter cover, every night, everywhere, forever.
- Human extinction is worse than everyone having diarrhea most of the time, forever.
- Human extinction is worse than everyone seeing half of their children die. (Sorry for being dark. But like, I mean it. Most of human existence was probably like that.)
- Human extinction is worse than only being able to find the cheap, fake kind of maple syrup, FOREVER.
- If it’s not so bad that you wish you were never born, extinction is worse.
I care intensely about human rights violations in the world. I care intensely about animal rights. I care intensely about the eradication of disease and poverty. I care intensely about humanity’s emotional wellbeing. I care intensely about social equality. And at the end of the day, I care most of all about the continued existence of biological life. It’s not top of mind for most of us as something we care about. It’s not so much in the philanthropic discourse. But at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
- [www.nickbostrom.com/astronomical/waste.html] ↩