Saturday 13 October 2018

Survivalism vs hedonism

Survivalism and hedonism are doctrines surrounding fitness maximization and pleasure maximization respectively.

Both schools vary along the individualism / collectivism axis. Survivalism ranges from individualists, who are out for themselves through those who profess to be against the extinction of our species. Similarly, hedonists vary from those out for their own pleasure, to those who think the total pleasure of all sentient beings is what is important.

Hedonists think they are more advanced than survivalists. They are further up in Maslow's hierarchy of needs. They view animal evolution as a transition away from basic survivalist goals towards more advanced optimization targets dictated by nervous systems. In turn, survivalists view hedonists as short-sighted folk prone to drug-taking, masturbation, casual sex, wireheading and other dubious activities oriented towards pleasure and often at the expense of basic survival. See the picture, for more examples.

For a while, I considered these teams' rivalry to be largely misplaced. Hedonists who neglected survival were short-sighted fools likely to end up with nothing. Only hedonists who recognised that hedonism depended on survival really needed to be taken seriously. However, such hedonists would be likely to behave a lot like survivalists until they were pretty certain that they were not going to encounter more advanced alien civilizations in the alien race. That might well be tens of millions of years in the future. If the two tribes behave in much the same way for billions of years, they don't seem too dissimilar.

I'm now a bit less confident of this assessment. Hedonists might think that alien races would also be hedonistic - and so might not be too concerned about the consequences of an alien invasion. I can also imagine a hedonist gambling on extinction vs making everyone three times as happy forever. A survivalist would be unlikely to take such a gamble - but possibly a hedonist might.

It also seems that in practice that the different optimization targets do result in different behavior. For example, they differ regarding treatment of non-human animals. Many hedonists are concerned with animal welfare causes: factory farming, wild animal suffering and so on. However, to survivalists these mostly look like bad causes: non-human animals are probably not going to help make sure that Spaceship Earth completes its journey. This kind of practical difference today does not bode terribly well for the thesis that the behavior of these tribes will converge in the future. Maybe the survivalists and the hedonists will remain at odds.

12 comments:

  1. very epic post

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  2. that picture is so misinformed it's funny.
    ironically, survivalists who keep pumping out children are more likely to contribute to our extinction. we cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.

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    1. Infinite growth? What are you talking about?

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    2. by infinite growth, i mean overpopulation and how we create children for the most selfish reasons. other than that great take on survivalism vs hedonism, i understand why they are usually at odds now in much more depth, although i dont completely agree on hedonism, i also dont completely disagree on survivalism.

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    3. That's kind of black and white don't you think? If each couple has at least two children, they will merely replace the themselves. Not cause population growth. Most couples these days barely have one kid, this shrinks the population...

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    4. that example assumes that the couple dies the moment both kids hit child-bearing age. realistically, if the beginning of a family line is a two parent household with 2 children, and every child has 2 children of their own, in only 5 generations (~100 years, give or take) there'd be 32 people beginning from 2. spread that out to the entire population... it's not exactly "infinite" growth, as OP said, but it definitely is exponential and his logic is entirely correct, the earth literally cannot take that many people. overpopulation is imminent if survivalists continue to be the overwhelming majority.

      that being said i don't believe hedonism is entirely correct either, for obvious reasons. neither side is 100% correct, a mix of both is much healthier

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    5. It's a bit of a side issue, but: two children is the replacement fertility threshold in a sexual population. If everyone has two children, the population size remains constant over time - assuming that individuals eventually die, of course.

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    6. When there's a resource glut, it is pretty common for natural populations to shoot past the level that's sustainable and then oscillate around the carrying capacity. It seems like something that it would be sensible to avoid. However, I see that I already wrote plenty about that scenario in another comment.

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  3. What can happen if too many offspring are produced is demographic swings - where the population outstrips its resources, crashes and booms again - a "boom and bust" cycle. You can sometimes see such oscillations with rapidly-reproducing pests such as mice and rats. Another possibility for accelerated extinction due to excess reproduction is if (some) planetary resources are finite, and a large population burns through them faster. My personal opinion is that we are not really at risk from either scenario. Planetary carrying capacity is massively above current levels. Human population size moves too slowly andd is too damped to swing very much. Instead, what is much more significant is resource competition with machines and memetic hijacking. Making a living will get harder, and fertility will decline to sub-replacement levels (as seen in Japan and South Korea). People will prefer to spread memes than genes. IOW, we will see "Peak Human" and populations will go into decline. It's the "Biological falilure" of the pictorial meme above - but not through too much hedonism.

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    1. I believe the carrying capacity is largely dependant on technology. For example artificial fertilizer grew the capacity by billions. But yeah in terms of natural resources, this planet has way more to offer than we'd like to think.

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  4. Utilitarism is problaby where survivalist and hedonist merges by seeking the most of absolute utility from its actions, wich would be the combination of pleasure and Pain/problems, satisfying both necessities of surviving and pleasure seeking

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    1. Survivalism and hedonism can be personal doctrines. Or they can be applied to organizations, groups, species - or whatever. According to historical usage of the term, "utilitarism" involves some kind of "adding" or "averaging" over all "people" or "entities". It seems to be on the hedonistic side, usually claiming to be seeking "happiness". The "adding" or "averaging" seems more specific than I mean to imply by using the term "hedonism". A hedonist could just be an individual pleasure seeker.

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