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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Oct 26, 2018

I’ve gotten a chance to discuss The Whole City Is Center with a few people now. They remain skeptical of the idea that anyone could “deserve” to have bad things happen to them, based on their personality traits or misdeeds.

These people tend to imagine the pro-desert faction as going around, actively hoping that lazy people (or criminals, or whoever) suffer. I don’t know if this passes an Intellectual Turing Test. When I think of people deserving bad things, I think of them having nominated themselves to get the short end of a tradeoff.

Let me give three examples:

1. Imagine an antidepressant that works better than existing antidepressants, one that consistently provides depressed people real relief. If taken as prescribed, there are few side effects and people do well. If ground up, snorted, and taken at ten times the prescribed dose – something nobody could do by accident, something you have to really be trying to get wrong – it acts as a passable heroin substitute, you can get addicted to it, and it will ruin your life.

The antidepressant is popular and gets prescribed a lot, but a black market springs up, and however hard the government works to control it, a lot of it gets diverted to abusers. Many people get addicted to it and their lives are ruined. So the government bans the antidepressant, and everyone has to go back to using SSRIs instead.

Let’s suppose the government is being good utilitarians here: they calculated out the benefit from the drug treating people’s depression, and the cost from the drug being abused, and they correctly determined the costs outweighed the benefits.

But let’s also suppose that nobody abuses the drug by accident. The difference between proper use and abuse is not subtle. Everybody who knows enough to know anything about the drug at all has heard the warnings. Nobody decides to take ten times the recommended dose of antidepressant, crush it, and snort it, through an innocent mistake. And nobody has just never heard the warnings that drugs are bad and can ruin your life.