Self-Control: Only All Good for the Privileged

Whether it’s getting an education, improving your dietary habits, getting some exercise or going for improved efficiency, altering your life begins and ends with self-control. But for some, this comes at a steep price.

For life hackers, it’s about making the changes as efficient as possible: reaping maximum benefits for minimum efforts. For members of the quantified self movement, it’s about monitoring yourself in order to create a scheme of self-improvement tailored to your body and your needs. For the average reader of the self-help article in a magazine, it might just be about quitting smoking or getting the laundry done.

Self-help gurus agree that the best way to change one’s life is the one that doesn’t require more self-control than necessary. Indeed, many have grown to view self-control as a finite resource, and the phenomenon of “running out of it” has a term of its own: ego depletion. For this reason, habit formation is encouraged: once you’re accustomed to a certain way of acting, you no longer need to push yourself to do it. It gets easy. One caveat though – for that habit to be formed, it’s that much more important that self-control is maintained during the first three(ish) weeks that it takes to instil a new habit.

But while most address self-control as an internal property of people – one that can be learned and cultivated, but a property of the person, nonetheless – there’s a factor to it that is often overlooked: money.

Continue reading Self-Control: Only All Good for the Privileged

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Equally Smart, part II: Egalitarian Approaches for Embracing Enhanced Intelligence

This is the second part of a two-part piece on Rawls, Cohen and enhanced intelligence. In the first post, I outlined how enhanced intelligence and socioeconomical stratification are linked, and applied Rawls’ difference principle, and Cohen’s critique of it, on the issue at hand. This post introduces five enhancement distribution schemes that are compatible with the difference principle. Some of these schemes are even acceptable by Cohen’s egalitarian standards.

Egalitarian Approaches for Embracing Enhanced Intelligence

In the previous post, I discussed the question of whether enhancements only available to the elite can constitute an improvement in light of the difference principle. Perhaps intelligence enhancements, even if restricted to the wealthy, would benefit the whole society, for example if the enhanced would find ways to act in order to remove world hunger. On the other hand, could intelligence further alienate the elite from the masses, diminishing the empathy they feel for the underprivileged? I find both equally unlikely: there is no reason to assume that increased intelligence would increase empathy or sense of social duty, but neither is there any reason to assume it would diminish them.

In this post, I will offer five sketches for strategies of accepting intelligence enhancements while staying mindful of social inequalities. Some of them are stronger or more feasible than others, some require very specific circumstances; all of them are compatible with Rawls’ difference principle, and some even respond to Cohen’s concerns. I will start with schemes of adopting enhancements for a limited group of people for a number of reasons: first, any medical enhancement technique should be initially applied only to a limited number of subjects for obvious safety reasons. Secondly, should the enhancement be too costly to reach the whole population, or should it, for example, require a difficult surgery, its availability thereby being limited by the number of competent surgeons, widespread adoption of the enhancement could be beyond our means.

Meanwhile, should the enhancement be easy to administer, eventual universal availability is only a question of distribution. I will discuss widespread enhancement towards the end of this post.

Continue reading Equally Smart, part II: Egalitarian Approaches for Embracing Enhanced Intelligence

Equally Smart: Intelligence Enhancement, the Difference Principle and Egalitarianism, Part I

This is the first part of a two-part piece on Rawls, Cohen and enhanced intelligence. In this post, I will introduce the issue at hand: how are enhanced intelligence and socioeconomical stratification linked? What light do Rawls’ difference principle, and Cohen’s critique of it, shed on the issue? The second post will concern five enhancement distribution schemes, compatible with the difference principle.

Part 1: Smart Technology

Less traffic accidents. Increased GNP. Get rid of cognitive biases. Enjoy better art more profoundly. The alleged benefits of enhancing intelligence have allure, both in the lives of individuals and at a population level. But will intelligence enhancements remain a luxury, too costly for the masses to use? Would enhancement technologies inevitably inevitably lead to further stratification, or could their use improve the welfare of the worst off?

Continue reading Equally Smart: Intelligence Enhancement, the Difference Principle and Egalitarianism, Part I