I am less sanguine about the idea that this will be enough to solve the really big issues (e.g.,
John Hopkins

> he, including his mind and his view of the world, is actually an active ingredient within that (society) which he imagines he examines objectively…If you believe humans have any form of freewill then social science is an inherently flawed approach to understanding society.

Let me just say that I find these conversations delightful.

I understand that I am part of society and that my decisions affect it. What I meant by “tragedy-of-the-commons problem” (similar: “collective action” problem) is that problems like climate change have two key attributes: A) the problem can’t be solved unless the majority of people make the “pro-social” choice, and B) people are individually incentivized to make the “anti-social” choice. You can view it as a multiplayer Prisoner’s Dilemma. This is the exact type of problem government was made for and is best suited to solve, IMO. It can enforce the “pro-social” choice on everyone so that there are no “free riders” and the global optimum outcome is reached.

On the more philosophical level, I do not believe in free will by most definitions of that term, but I do think the *assumption* of free will is necessary for society (or individuals) to function. In other words, I think to understand society or individual choice, we have to look through two lenses simultaneously: the “objective” lens, as if humans were determinist robots making choices purely through causal influences (the “social science” approach), and the “subjective” lens, which allows us to attribute moral value to some choices over others.

> Yes, but or how long? In any case, people are indoctrinated into materialist lifestyles and so just reactively parrot the idea that they are better. If people really want all their material possessions and technology, why do we need to have adverts fired at our senses 24/7?

The main aspects of industrialization that I think are good are that people have to work less to eat and live, they have efficient transportation to visit relatives and see new sights, access to modern medicine and information technology to broaden their intellectual horizons. Of course, people can also choose to use this amazing technology to watch Netflix (with ads) and play video games instead.

The most convincing argument for “industrialization is preferable” that I can see is that people in industrialized countries have the choice to live nonindustrialized lifestyles (just buy a cabin in the woods), but almost none do. Even people who strongly assert that industrialization is bad and people were happier before it (my brother-in-law is one such) still choose to use most of the technologies available from industrialization.

> I think we are living in denial — a conviction that the scientists will magically fix matters, combined with our lifestyles of short-term gratification and distraction in which we just blank the awkward truth.

It’s quite possible the average person thinks that way. By “we”, I meant policymakers and people who think about these things.

Let’s make it more concrete and talk about climate change. There are two possible solutions I can think of. 1) We stop using fossil fuels, which would lower standards of living everywhere, especially in developing countries, or 2) Scientists continue to develop new technologies that let us have the advantages of abundant power without the disadvantages of climate change.

Frankly speaking, #1 is not going to happen. That leaves #2 as the only realistic solution, unless I have missed another option. Here’s hoping the scientists in that field are well-funded and working hard. Thankfully these technologies mostly exist (solar, hydro, etc), so the main challenge that remains is making them cost-competitive.

> Whether these are overall good tradeoffs or not is beyond my pay grade.

>> Please do not say that. We have a culture of specialisms in which people are conditioned to do what you are doing there — back down and defer to the experts.

This was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying “I don’t know the answer”. If I had to ask “how many plankton would I kill to save a human?”, all I really know is that my answer would be more than one and less than infinity. This is a values question, not a factual question. If I had to venture an opinion, I would say that I would like to see a lot more investment in renewable energy and efficient food production to lessen the impact of this inevitable tradeoff. I do not believe there are “experts” in such questions, except maybe moral philosophers, but in practice these decisions are made by politicians.