Sunday, July 07, 2002

"yes, lisa, state unfair" Friday night I went out for beers with the local Libertarian apparat, most of whom tried to sell me on the virtues of Sensible Seattle's I-75, which would "make marijuana possession by adults Seattle's lowest enforcement priority." While it's ludicrous that marijuana is illegal, state law prohibits Seattle from decriminalization, and so the initiative is effectively toothless. If the impotence weren't enough to scare me off, their webpage would suffice:
Arresting responsible adults for possessing small amounts of marijuana is simply unfair.
Now, Usenet veterans may be familiar with Godwin's Law:
"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.
Over the years, I've developed a similar rule, which I'll now enshrine as "Joel's Law":
As a political discussion grows longer, the probability of an appeal to "fairness" approaches one. And it is Joel's bias that, once this occurs, the discussion is over, and whoever appealed to "fairness" has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.
OK, so I overstated the rule to make the analogy work. Nonetheless, one of my rules of thumb is that anytime you use the word "fair" in an argument (fair trade, fair wage, fair play, fair share, fair deal, etc...), you don't have much worthwhile to say. While I accept that there's some biological instinct for "justice," most people use fair to mean "I got what I wanted," and usually the word carries no objective meaning. [It occurs to me that Mary C's blog is called Science Fair, but I think she pulls it off :) ] One could rebut the Sensible Seattle folks by claiming that, for example, allowing people to smoke marijuana is "simply unfair." Which leads to an impasse. And so I am perpetually dismayed that intellectual property arguments so often center around "fair use." For instance, there's a mini-discussion going on over on Copyfight over how to get people to pay attention to the recording industry's attempts to curtail activities which are currently considered "fair use." The EFF has even introduced a video game, in which you play a blue-green hottie navigating the vagaries of "fair" and lawful use. Joel's Law says that the Lessigs of the world, whose focus is on "fair use," have already lost. When you buy a car, or a TV, or a computer, or a sofa, it's yours. The seller/maker doesn't retain any "rights" to prevent you from, say, driving over 90mph, watching more than 10 hours of programming a day, adding an extra hard drive, or putting your feet on the cushions. To the extent you grant that the maker of (say) a CD retains the "right" to prevent you from making and selling copies of it, you've already assented that the CD-maker gets to control your use of it. And once you've agreed to that, you're in the position of whining about "fairness." This isn't the killer anti-copyright argument. It's not likely to sway those who believe that makers of music, literature, art, and software should have the legal right to control people's use of instantiations of their IP. But it does make me hyper-critical of Lessig and his ilk, who -- as far as I'm concerned -- are running around screaming "not fair!" Godless comments: The main problem, in my opinion, is that when people say "it's not fair!" they're employing a nebulous optimality criterion. Once you define exactly what you're trying to accomplish, it's much easier to weigh different policies and ask which of them best accomplishes your goal. Ideally one would choose to optimize a quantitative scalar variable as a function of the chosen policy. For example, if one's goal is to "rapidly increase the average standard of living", you would choose one policy. If your goal was instead to "reduce the differences in income between different groups", you would choose a different policy. The point, however, is that "fair" must be defined in terms of an optimality criterion. (Note that this does not preclude choosing several goals simultaneously. One can choose a weighted sum of objectives and return to the scalar case. Here's an example with regularized least squares [link in PDF].)

Principles of Population Genetics
Genetics of Populations
Molecular Evolution
Quantitative Genetics
Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics
Evolutionary Genetics
Molecular Markers, Natural History, and Evolution
The Genetics of Human Populations
Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits
Epistasis and Evolutionary Process
Evolutionary Human Genetics
Mathematical Models in Biology
Evolutionary Genetics: Case Studies and Concepts
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 1
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 2
Narrow Roads of Gene Land 3
Statistical Methods in Molecular Evolution
The History and Geography of Human Genes
Population Genetics and Microevolutionary Theory
Population Genetics, Molecular Evolution, and the Neutral Theory
Genetical Theory of Natural Selection
Evolution and the Genetics of Populations
Genetics and Origins of Species
Tempo and Mode in Evolution
Causes of Evolution
The Great Human Diasporas
Bones, Stones and Molecules
Natural Selection and Social Theory
Journey of Man
Mapping Human History
The Seven Daughters of Eve
Evolution for Everyone
Why Sex Matters
Mother Nature
Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language
R.A. Fisher, the Life of a Scientist
Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology
Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics
A Reason for Everything
The Ancestor's Tale
Dragon Bone Hill
Endless Forms Most Beautiful
The Selfish Gene
Adaptation and Natural Selection
Nature via Nurture
The Symbolic Species
The Imitation Factor
The Red Queen
Out of Thin Air
Evolutionary Dynamics
The Origin of Species
The Descent of Man
Age of Abundance
The Darwin Wars
The Evolutionists
The Creationists
Of Moths and Men
The Language Instinct
How We Decide
Predictably Irrational
The Black Swan
Fooled By Randomness
Descartes' Baby
Religion Explained
In Gods We Trust
Darwin's Cathedral
A Theory of Religion
The Meme Machine
Synaptic Self
The Mating Mind
A Separate Creation
The Number Sense
The 10,000 Year Explosion
The Math Gene
Explaining Culture
Origin and Evolution of Cultures
Dawn of Human Culture
The Origins of Virtue
Prehistory of the Mind
The Nurture Assumption
The Moral Animal
Born That Way
No Two Alike
Survival of the Prettiest
The Blank Slate
The g Factor
The Origin Of The Mind
Unto Others
Defenders of the Truth
The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition
Before the Dawn
Behavioral Genetics in the Postgenomic Era
The Essential Difference
Geography of Thought
The Classical World
The Fall of the Roman Empire
The Fall of Rome
History of Rome
How Rome Fell
The Making of a Christian Aristoracy
The Rise of Western Christendom
Keepers of the Keys of Heaven
A History of the Byzantine State and Society
Europe After Rome
The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity
The Barbarian Conversion
A History of Christianity
God's War
Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople
The Sacred Chain
Divided by the Faith
The Reformation
Pursuit of Glory
Albion's Seed
From Plato to Nato
China: A New History
China in World History
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World
Children of the Revolution
When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World
The Great Arab Conquests
After Tamerlane
A History of Iran
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language
A World History
Guns, Germs, and Steel
The Human Web
Plagues and Peoples
A Concise Economic History of the World
Power and Plenty
A Splendid Exchange
Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD
Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations
A Farewell to Alms
The Ascent of Money
The Great Divergence
Clash of Extremes
War and Peace and War
Historical Dynamics
The Age of Lincoln
The Great Upheaval
What Hath God Wrought
Freedom Just Around the Corner
Throes of Democracy
Grand New Party
A Beautiful Math
When Genius Failed
Catholicism and Freedom
American Judaism

Powered by Blogger
Creative Commons License

Terms of use


Razib's total feed: