The Bayespublic

A Bayesian's musings on the ideal society

Something we can all agree on…

Posted by thebayespublic on 26 October 2010

In the previous post I tried to define the ideal society as the society which achieves the greatest common good. The problem with that is that it requires everyone to agree on what the common good is, yet there is no objective definition of the common good — every single person has a different definition of what this common good is.

This problem will appear whenever a society is based on any principle that is supposed to be objective, but in reality is subjective.

In the end, everyone wants something (possibly different) from society. And I think that is something we can all agree on.

And if we can all agree on it (!!!), we have a criterion to judge whether a society is ideal or not, and how close we are to it. Of course, this criterion is subjective — each of us has a different measure of how ideal the society we live in is.

The ideal society is the society that gives a person what she wants, and the more of whatever she wants the society gives, the more satisfied the person is. This measure of satisfaction is usually referred to as the utility function in economics. The more satisfied we are, the better the society; the society that can satisfy us best is the ideal society.

Of course, for some, the ideal society may be the society where this person is Supreme Overlord, and everyone else is her slave. But let’s face it, this is (most likely) not going to happen. Because if you try to accomplish this, everyone else will try to kill you before you get to it. From the start, I required the ideal society to also be doable.

So what is my final definition of the ideal society? It is the society that will satisfy you the most out of all societies that you can make happen. Each person will have a different definition of the ideal society. Do they all coincide? Does it matter? That’s for the next post. (I’ll try to post weekly.)

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On the quest for the ideal society

Posted by thebayespublic on 20 October 2010

I’ve started this blog to write about my thoughts on the “ideal” society.

I’m writing this because I don’t think that such a society exists nowadays or has ever existed. While I think that liberal democracy is pretty good, I think we can do better. The main issues I have with liberal democracy are the lack of power citizens have, and the disconnect between the leaders and the people. I find that way too many decisions are made that completely disregard the wants of the people. I believe I’m not alone in having this opinion.

I don’t think there’s any point in trying to think what the ideal society would be without also finding a way to make it happen, and so one of my main goals will be to try to convince you, the reader, of my arguments, so as to hopefully make it happen. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist — I don’t know — but I’ll be damned if I at least don’t try to do something about it.

I’m sure many times I will be wrong, and I always welcome feedback. Actually, since I first started thinking about these things a few years ago, some of my opinions have taken radical turns. I try my best not to be close-minded.

The first idea I had in my quest was that the ideal society would be that which maximizes the common good of the people. This is an old idea, called utilitarianism; Jeremy Bentham was one of its first proponents. In his own words, the best society is that which achieves “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”.

While this is a nice idea, the main problem I find with this theory is that someone, and by someone I mean one particular person, has to decide what this “greatest good” really means. There is no way we can all agree on what this “greatest good” is. An even bigger problem with this theory is that — well — what I really want to do is convince people and motivate them to work towards an ideal society, and I don’t think that this “greatest good” is very motivating. I think that, while a large majority would pay lip service to it, they would not go out of their way and do much to achieve a society that maximizes the greatest good — especially when they don’t know in advance who will get to decide what the “greatest good” really means — what if it’s a madman who decides it means communism? or racial purity?

Some people may have other objectives that are related to the “greatest good”: ideas like freedom, truth, faith, etc. which may disregard their actual impact on the happiness of others. But I do not think that calling such people wrong or selfish is conducive to creating such a society. I will abstain from moral judgements.

Whatever ideal society I present, it must have the property that everyone (well, a really large majority) feels motivated to participate in its creation.

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