and the Doctrine of Ethical Treatment
Disorder happens when we classify a segment of behavior as not-ideal, as not-the-goal. The disordered segment is often the minority, but doesn’t have to be. There is a field of behavior, and someone has stated that a certain kind of behavior is ideal, is the goal. Behavior that goes along with this ideal is order. Behavior that goes against it is disorder.
We see disorder in abnormal conditions. Some of these conditions are considered to be highly undesirable, like suicidality. Some of these conditions are considered basically neutral, like freckles. And some of these conditions are considered highly valuable, like exceptional tallness or intelligence.
Why is normal intelligence the ideal, the goal, instead of exceptional intelligence? Because of the relativity of intelligence. If everyone was of what we call exceptional intelligence, then that would be normal intelligence. So we are not saying that a high IQ is undesirable, we are saying that a higher-than-normal IQ is undesirable. It is not ideal. It is not the goal.
People with higher-than-normal IQ may seem spectacular to their normal-IQ friends, or they may seem spectacularly uninteresting, but higher-than-normal IQ comes with as many problems (in terms of socialization) as it does advantages (in terms of problem-solving ability). People with higher-than-normal IQs are of special value, but they are also of special burden, to themselves and others. Just as people with lower-than-normal IQs require special education, people with high IQs require special education. It is inefficient to educate abnormal people—it is inefficient to handle any kind of special case. Additionally, the subjective experience of both high IQ and low IQ people contains more frustration than does the experience of people with normal IQs. It may be glorious or it may be dull, but either way, it is frustrating not to be normal.
Normality comes with a kind of ease, an efficiency. When you are of normal height, you have less looking up or looking down to do when you are talking to another person. When you are exceptionally tall or exceptionally short, you normally have to look down or up at people when you talk. Being abnormal is more work. When your interests are normal, it’s easier to find friends than when your interests are abnormal, are exceptional, are not-ideal, are not-the-goal. When your psychology is normal, you don’t require changing (through medication or therapy) to become adjusted to those with normal psychology. When your psychology isn’t normal (or ordered)—when it is abnormal (or disordered)—you either stick out or you attempt normalcy via medication or therapy or some other means.
This normalcy—this order—we are talking about, is subjective. To a person of normal height designing a philosophical model of order and disorder, normal is the same as the majority. But to an extra tall person designing such a model, normal might be a minority. This is how sometimes order describes the minority, and disorder describes the majority, of the field of behavior being studied. From some points of view, a minority condition or behavior is what is ordered.
In a case like freckles, which are generally seen as a slight advantage by some, and a slight disadvantage by others, there is little cost for being disordered, and little benefit. A few people find freckles highly attractive, and a few find them highly unattractive. But for the majority of people, having freckles is a disorder which makes little difference. Perhaps they are seen as slightly not-ideal, slightly not-the-goal, but having freckles is generally not highly sought-after or intensely avoided.
With a case like suicidality, few people perceive any kind of glory in someone having this disorder. There is a normal way of living and dying—this is the ordered way. To go against it is almost without question to be disordered. It is to be not-ideal, not-the-goal.
A psychological disorder like bipolar disorder is almost universally seen as not-ideal, not-the-goal. Along with its neighbors schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, it is seen as undesirable. The word disorder even graces the names of some of these conditions. To be bipolar or borderline is to be disordered. You are going against the flow, you do not fit in. If everyone was bipolar, the world would be a crazy place (we perceive). If everyone was borderline, normal relationships wouldn’t happen. We’d be losing something valuable if these abnormalities became the norm.
But Kay Redfield Jamison, in Touched with Fire, argues that bipolar disorder may present special advantages in creative fields. Here is a voice saying that this disorder may in some ways be ideal. It may in some ways be the goal. If many of our famous, historically-valued poets had bipolar disorder (as Jamison shows), then doesn’t it become rational to rejoice in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder? You have the same artistic temperament as the great poets! If you have any intention of writing poetry, then it may well be ideal that you have bipolar disorder.
And there the initial definition of order and disorder is turned on its head. Order is lacking. Disorder wins. Or, more specifically, disorder describes an ideal, and order is lacking in that ideal.
So now we are faced with a whole set of questions. When and how does disorder sometimes come to describe an ideal trait? Is it sometimes, and under what circumstances is it, desirable that the disordered minority trait take over and become the majority? If the disordered, now-ideal trait is to take over the majority, what other traits will come along with it during this process? If other traits come along with it in the process, how will this affect the whole system, the whole field of behavior? What happens to the ordered part of the system during such a takeover—it becomes the disordered part of the system, but what else happens? Is there a way to describe this overall series of transitions, in which the disordered becomes the ordered?
Now just because Kay Redfield Jamison says that bipolar disorder may be an advantage to creative individuals does not mean that a transition is going to take place where, through breeding and behavior, the majority of people become bipolar. She suggests that this disorder may be ideal, not overall as a living being, but in a specific way, in the creative works of a person. Is the prevalence of this disorder considered valuable enough that the majority decides to make it normal? Isn’t it always the majority who have to release their grip on what is normal, for something that is abnormal to become the norm? What would it take for, literally, the scales to tip such that people intentionally bred and influenced the development of bipolar people in order to normalize the enhanced-creativity trait—in order to make that trait the ordered trait, instead of a disorder? We might have to come to a point where we valued poetry and other creative products so much that it became intolerable to us to allow so few poets to be born. We might have to have developed medicine that was so good at mitigating the downsides of bipolar disorder that it was of little cost to make more and more and more people bipolar. In this perfect storm where the majority valued poetry at the utmost and stellar medicine had been invented that completely mitigated the downsides of bipolar, wouldn’t it be a real possibility to take the “disorder” off “bipolar” and just call it bipolar [order]—or rather call it nothing at all.
When a trait becomes indispensable for survival (whatever be the definition of survival in a particular system) and when its neighboring traits are not detrimental to survival (neighboring traits being traits that are linked to it in the sense that if you get one you get the other)..in that case there is the possibility for a takeover by the disordered segment of a system of (or against) the ordered segment of that system. At the time of this writing, the creativity of bipolar disorder has neighboring traits that are so not-ideal, so not-the-goal (and with such limited success by medicine to treat them) that there is no chance of an intentional takeover by the majority in which bipolar disorder would become bipolar order and lack-of-bipolar would become lack-of-bipolar disorder.
Let’s consider a maligned trait to be a trait which is either itself not-ideal or which has neighboring traits which are not-ideal.
There are times when maligned traits (“the disordered”) become the majority, become the ordered. This activity is key to evolution, where occasionally minority traits take over and become prevalent in a population. In fact, when viewed on a large enough time scale, this kind of takeover is a regular and proper feature of a population, in genetic programming. Where you have a population with one stated goal (to survive or to solve a particular problem), there is a continuation of takeovers which forms the shape of optimizing that population to its goal. Time after time, minority traits appear which take over into the majority—disorder becomes order.
It is in this zone of “disorder” that we see the next essential traits appearing. And it is only in this zone of disorder that we see them. When new ideas appear, they are by definition, by construction always in the minority, because they come about from a single source, rather than from multiple sources at the same time. Ten people don’t have the same new idea at once; one person has it, and then it spreads. But when it appears, it is by itself. Same for genetic mutations. That shows us an essential relationship between the minority and the majority, between the disordered and the ordered: new ideas are always in the minority, where the majority is mostly composed of old ideas. This doesn’t mean that new ideas about physics will occur in individuals who are in the minority when it comes to height. It means that new ideas about physics will occur in the minority of ideas about physics. It simply means that new ideas, new traits, sprout in one place rather than come about in multiple places simultaneously.
Why do new ideas sprout in one place rather than multiple places simultaneously? It’s because there is so much diversity in the containers of ideas. Containers of ideas can be people, they can exist in software—they are delineations from the complete field of ideas in your system. If all the containers of ideas in your system were identical, then they would all produce the same new ideas at the same time, since they would be operating from the same state. In that case there would be no majority or minority, since everything would be the same. So it is necessarily in systems with diverse individuals that we talk about disorder.
I think it is necessary to talk a tiny bit more about the appearance of new essential traits, with respect to my statement that they always appear in the minority, in the disordered zone. I am not saying that all new ideas will occur, in, say, people with bipolar disorder. I am saying that in a particular domain of ideas, when a new idea appears, it will by definition be in the minority, as of that moment. When a new idea appears, it creates a new minority, in a new domain particular to it. So when freckles first appeared, that appearance created a domain in which there was a majority and a minority, an ordered and a disordered part. When they first appeared, freckles created disorder. They created a domain in which one person had freckles and everyone else didn’t. Then, as more freckles appeared, those were added to the disordered part of that domain. And, as more freckles appeared but they never became the majority, they never became the ordered part of the domain.
Most new ideas never take over the majority. Such an idea simply creates a disordered part of a new domain particular to it, and it stays that way. You can imagine a space with many domains, each containing an ordered and a disordered part, each representing the position of control of a particular aspect of the individuals in the space. You can think of the individuals as people, or more generally as thought or trait containers. Takeovers occur within a particular domain, though the domains are connected because traits are linked. So, for any given trait, it is not necessarily the case that a shift in the balance of power in that trait’s domain will correlate to a shift in the balance of power in any other domain. But, when traits are linked, sometimes a shift in the balance of power in one domain will correlate to a shift in the balance of power in some other domains.
What about the disorder of a messy room? Sometimes disorder takes over without containing ideal traits. This can happen when the system is not sharply driven by the pursuit of a goal. Let a fitness function be a way to measure how closely an individual thought container approaches the ideal, follows the goal. In the case of the messy room, unlike the case of surviving organisms, there is no stringent fitness function. The keeper of the room doesn’t strictly seek order.
Will disorder always take over when the system is not sharply driven by the pursuit of a goal? I think the most accurate thing to say is that takeovers happen more frequently in systems not sharply driven by the pursuit of a goal. In goal-less systems, takeover is constant. Goal-less systems tend to be the opposite of homogenous systems. In systems where all the individuals are the same, there is the supreme order of total homogeneity; in systems with no goal, there is the supreme disorder of total heterogeneity.
(The following I have not tested empirically; this is just what I think.) In systems whose fitness function has binary outputs, there will be complete order. In systems whose fitness function has only one output, and in systems whose fitness function is random (is oblivious to the individual thought containers it is supposed to be measuring)..in those cases there will be complete disorder. In systems whose fitness function produces a wide-ranging set of outputs, there will be order and disorder.
It should be noted that the fitness function potentially takes into account all the traits of an individual thought container, as well as other, external information. So the fitness function isn’t necessarily simply a reflection of one trait. It is potentially a reflection of all traits interacting with each other and external information.
Some of this should seem familiar if you’ve studied genetic algorithms (GAs). Here, we are using a GA model to think about systems.
Even traits that are normally considered highly undesirable can become the norm. Within the subpopulation of Jonestown, suicidality went from being a disordered trait to an ordered one. Everyone killed themselves. How did this happen, in the terms we have been using to talk about disorder? One of the individuals in the population charismatically changed the fitness function. He redefined fitness to reward suicidality. In this case the fitness function resided within individuals, and a charismatic individual was able to convince everyone to redefine their fitness functions to reward suicidality. This is a more complex case that we’ve considered up to now. In this case, there is not one, canonical fitness function somehow defined outside the context of individuals. There is a malleable fitness function residing in the minds of individuals. Each individual is evaluating their own fitness. To start with, they evaluate themselves as ordered, as ideal, as fitting with the goal if they are not suicidal. Then one individual changes his fitness function to order suicidality. And everyone present copies the change.
You see this flocking behavior in birds and fish as well as humans. One, lead individual changes the definition of order, and others follow. So our systems are not so simple as to have one universal definition of order, one universal definition of disorder. Each individual thought container, in its thoughts, contains definitions of order and disorder. There are external fitness functions, like those determining the physical survival of organisms. But there are also internal fitness functions, like those determining sanity.
Sanity can be determined externally, but it can be determined internally as well. Two persons meeting the external definition of insanity might have ways in which they connect with each other, ways in which they are similar, that makes it reasonable for them to consider that they have a sanity relative to each other. In Jonestown, everyone there re-determined their definition of sanity to include suicide. So they had an internal definition of sanity that they were operating by. And that internal definition of sanity, that internal, individualized fitness function, was the real one guiding their actions. Between their internal definitions of sanity, and some external, canonical definition of sanity, the internal definitions of sanity reigned that day. The internal definitions were the more relevant, the more important ones to be considered.
In human thought, we see internalized fitness functions often. Rarely, in thought domains, is an individual operating completely under some external definition of what is ideal, what is the goal. We have our own ideas of what is ideal for us. When people tell us what to think is ideal, we disagree, we form our own ideas.
So what is charisma? What is the method by which Jim Jones convinced almost everyone in his population to kill themselves? Let’s say that charisma allows one thought container to influence other thought containers to copy them—to copy their ideas. Is charisma a nature of the ideas contained in an individual? I think so. An individual can become charismatic by adopting certain ideas. In this sense of the word charisma, an idea can have charisma. Maybe the idea has to do with smiling in a certain way, touching people when you talk to them, intoning your voice in a certain way. But maybe it is the case that certain non-behavioral ideas are just more sticky—more likely to be copied. No charismatic leader came around and introduced you to Gangnam Style, but the idea was one that was highly copied due to its nature. In this sense of the word, Gangnam Style is itself a charismatic idea. The idea somehow suggested to people that they copy it. And they did. Through tweets and email and other means, individuals encouraged other individuals to copy that video onto their computers and play it.
Fashions are charismatic ideas. When exhibited in one individual, they tend to be copied by other individuals. Suddenly New York is wearing black. Then it’s orange. Super-charismatic individuals create fashion. Then less-charismatic individuals copy it, by purchasing it, deriving from it, and knocking it off.
Freckles might be a fashion if freckles were something we could change about ourselves. It seems that with humans there are things we can change about ourselves and things we can’t. I can dye my hair another color but I can’t cure myself of cancer. It is certainly possible to create artificial systems where everything about the individual is changeable by the individual. And we are making progress in being able to change more and more human traits during the life of the organism. More and more, diseases are treatable with medicine. Perhaps, if this trend continues, real, biological freckles will someday be a fashion that takes over.
In psychology, we don’t tend to fear that disorders will become orders. We’re not afraid that bipolar disorder, instead of affecting 4% of people, will someday affect 94% of people. But progress in medicine threatens exactly that. Because this is a hereditary disease, the more bipolar people who make babies, the more prevalent bipolar disorder will be. Medicine that helps bipolar people be less suicidal makes bipolar people more likely to survive suicidal tendencies. And with that extra survival time, some greater percentage of them will have children. So by modifying our organisms with medicine, we are undoing a natural check that keeps this particular disorder..a disorder.
It used to be, for some populations, that keen eyesight was tightly correlated to survival. This is no longer the case because of glasses, contacts, and eye surgery. Even to be a pilot, it is no longer necessary to have perfect eyesight. We have undone part of the natural order. We have redesigned the individual, during its lifetime, to score a better fitness. With glasses, I can do just about anything that someone who naturally sees perfectly can.
We have taken it upon ourselves to sidetrack and speed up the normal evolution of things. By modifying individuals in the individual’s lifetime, we have created a population-wide dependency on our technology. We have merged with our technology to create a fundamentally new type of being, a being who is not only programmed genetically from the moment of conception, but who is also programmed throughout the course of of its lifetime (by interacting with our technologies of medicine and optometry and psychiatry and so forth).
This speeds up the process by which disorder can replace order. In this world of programming the individual throughout its lifetime, there are many more opportunities for ideas to be created. Previously, in the human biological system, new genetic ideas were only created during conception. As we developed culture, now there were thought organisms we hosted in our brains, organisms of language and fashion and science. The point at which we developed culture was one point at which new ideas were happening more rapidly. Given how brainy we are, a change in a person’s ideas can be a major change in the person in general. Knowing how to swing dance is simply a set of ideas that (to varying degrees) some people have and some people don’t. An organism who can swing dance moves entirely differently than one who cannot. That idea affects mating. The next point at which we speed up the occurrence of new ideas within our population is the point at which DNA can be modified within the life of the organism. At that point we are fully re-programmable within the life of the organism, and mating becomes irrelevant. At that point, individuals won’t have to die, and a whole new type of exchange is taking place. It is an exchange that relies not on breeding, but on culture. A world where individuals are not born and do not die, but are created arbitrarily and evolved culturally.
What do I mean by evolved culturally? I mean evolution as we know it will stop completely and be replaced by cultural evolution. In order for ideas to be passed on, passed around, breeding is irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is the conversation taking place among individuals. We will not (strictly) have to create thought containers, because our thoughts will not need to move to new containers when we die. Evolution, in the sense that it will exist, will be [simply?] a cultural conversation among the population. So we will evolve, but old school genetics will have no place. There will cease to be a real difference between the genetic genome and the cultural genome. It will all be essentially the same genome to us, since we can modify all parts of it equally (the thoughts the same as freckles, psychological disorders as well as food preferences). When the organism can completely operate on its own DNA, on its own thoughts, then Darwinism will only exist in the mind.
Might there be limitations on the degree to which an organism can operate on its own brain, on its own DNA, while it is alive? There might be. I don’t know what the nature of those limitations might be, such that there were limits to what you could play with under the hood while the car was running. Whether we technically, completely, 100% achieve it, it certainly seems to me we’re moving rapidly in the direction of full re-programmability of mind and body.
Because cultural Darwinism happens faster than genetic Darwinism, new ideas will be introduced faster and disorder takeovers will be more frequent. Does that mean there will be reduced stability in our system? Or another way to ask that would be: was there a way in which stalling the occurrence of new genetic ideas to the rate of reproduction of new individuals was stabilizing the population? Are we more or less likely to arrive at “Jonestown states” within our system? Will the amount of during-our-lifetime programming that occurs be so exorbitant that we spend most of our lives doing it?
I think, as to the question of stability, that suicidality will be a wash. Yes, when everything is instantly pre-programmable, it will be possible for suicide memes to spread rapidly among the population. But, at the same time, when everything is instantly re-programmable, creating new individuals will be a snap. So while suicide cults will happen, and will have the potential to be large in membership, so too will be the production of new individuals be easy enough that as long as there isn’t a total and complete suicide takeover, the population will survive.
I think the only difference between the way it is now and they way it seems like it will be, is that everything will happen faster. Time will, in effect, speed up. More disorder takeovers will happen in a given amount of time. Fashions will spread and die faster. What is thought of as a disorder will rise and fall faster. We will learn quicker, and we will forget quicker. There will be no such thing as the lifetime of an individual. Instead, we will measure the lifetime of ideas; that is, the lifetime of a particular order, before it is taken over by disorder.
Will the amount of during-our-lifetime programming that occurs be so exorbitant that we spend most of our lives doing it? Yes. The lifetime of an individual will be (in the weak case) longer and (in the strong case) infinite. And we will spend not just most of our time reprogramming ourselves; that’s how we will spend all of our time. What do I do now? I sleep, I eat breakfast, I get my nails done, I paint my face, I go to work, I have cultural exchange with friends, etc. All kinds of self-re-programming. All kinds of changing the self. In the future, we will do all these things, just a whole lot more of them and a whole lot faster.
Will we need individuals? If everything is re-programmable, then do we even still need the idea of an individual idea container? I think we do, for safety. Safer to have multiple copies of somewhat similar, somewhat variable ideas, throughout multiple partitions, than to have one monolithic re-programmable system. If there were no individuals, then one mistake could kill the whole universe of logic. With ideas partitioned out into individuals, there is more protection against complete homogeneity, whether it be protection from a suicide trait or just protection against total, boring sameness.
By reprogramming more often (through medicine and other technologies), we will be rapidly eliminating disorder. Someone who has bipolar disorder will be able to be fixed (through medicine in the near term, possibly through total cultural/genetic reprogramming in the longer term). If they are fixed symptomatically, like they’re fixed now through the use of lithium and other drugs, and through therapy, then the gene for bipolar will remain in the population—in fact, it will spread. If they are fixed at the source (if that becomes possible) then the genes for bipolar will be eliminated. It will be written out of the genetic code, with the danger that the genetic programming that creates bipolar, is not isolated, but is linked to other phenotypes which we enjoy. The danger of writing it out of the genetic code, of course, is that it occurred in the genome “for a reason” and by writing it out, we are muting the benefit of that reason. It may be that the only simple way to keep genetic programming that allows for great poetry is to keep genetic programming that allows for bipolar disorder. It may be that, given the way our genetic program is written, bipolar disorder and great poetry disorder are the same thing.
Medicine/government tries to legislate out, say, the disorder of people dying from drugs, by making certain drugs illegal. We don’t want that disorder to take over, so we punish it when it occurs. Talking during a test, driving over the speed limit, and murder are other disorders that the relevant governing forces legislate.
One thing to note about legislation of disorders is that it tends to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive. We think of laws often as the cause, and behavior the effect, but it is the other way around. Laws are backwards-facing historical descriptions of how people behave. They are secretary to a ruling chaos. When behavior generally changes, the secretary of law updates its description of the culture. Since legislation is descriptive, the act of legislating a behavior is the same as to make a note that it is a disorder or an order. Free speech is order. Murder is disorder. All laws are about order and disorder.
Another thing to consider about the legislation of disorders is the what-if-everyone-did-this test. With many criminal disorders, it is almost globally obvious why we want to legislate the disorder. For instance, with murder, it is obvious to understand that murder has a negative capping effect on the victim’s life, as well as emotional effects on the victim’s friends. But with more subtle ethical dilemmas, it is often useful to consider what the world would be like if everyone performed the behavior in question. In the case of cheating on a test, it is possible to think that if one person does it, it is not that big of a deal. But if everyone did it, then the meaning of testing would be totally changed. So this is one way to apply a test to behavior, to determine if it is ethical.
Right now, since the genome is hardly programmable, we don’t legislate traits that are in the genome. We don’t legislate IQ, for instance. To have an IQ that is outside the norm is a disorder, but it is not a legislated disorder. We haven’t made it a crime to be especially dumb or especially smart. But when the genome is more programmable—when intelligence is programmable—what is to stop us from legislating intelligence? If we can program it about ourselves, then it becomes an area that will be considered reasonable to legislate. What effects would it have on our population if we legislated IQ to keep everyone in a similar range? Would we lose benefits of having extra-dumb and extra-smart people around? Or would it just be a utopia? If everyone was writing poetry, wouldn’t poetry be less valued? Isn’t part of the beauty of our population that you can tour it to find a variety of individuals? If our legislation was oriented toward homogeneity seeking, wouldn’t we be limiting our ability to tour the population in search of something we had never seen before?
What about laws that seek to maintain diversity in the population? We have some of these now. What if there were laws that said we must maintain a 4% population of bipolar-disordered people? Laws that said that freckles must be programmed into somewhere between 1% and 2% of the population? We would use law to prevent the homogenization of society. I see two camps developing: those who aim to ensure the continuance of disorder, and those who seek order..both by legal means.
We are already massively far along the track of seeking order. In medicine, from assisting the healing of broken legs to medicine mitigating the effects of psychological disorders, we are squelching disorder. From the moment of classifying something as a disorder—from the moment of that description—we are agreeing that it needs to fixed, and that it is moral to fix it. This is not the only option. It is possible to define—or describe—these conditions as part of order. Am I saying we shouldn’t fix broken bones? I am saying that it is quite possible to define broken bones as part of the order of things, rather than a disorder to be fixed. With broken bones, it may be hard for any of us to think of the upside of leaving them unfixed. No unique cultural qualities arise in a person when their leg is broken. So maybe it makes sense to continue to classify broken bones as disorder. But with psychological and behavioral disorders, there are already compelling reasons not to cleanse away all the disorder that presents itself to us.
SAP, a German software firm, announced in 2013 that it would hire hundreds of people with autism as testers and programmers.1 They want workers “who think differently”; they believe this will lead to innovative ideas and advances. In an Indian test group, the company reported an increase in productivity after hiring six testers with autism. Autistic people function more quickly than normal people on certain tasks. They pay more attention to detail than normal people. Here is an example of a company who has “legislated in” autism, because of its advantages. They don’t want to make all their programmers autistic. Just some of them. SAP has legislated in a certain amount of disorder.
Disorder is our friend. Luisa Delgado, an SAP executive, says that they and their partners “share a common belief that innovation comes from the ‘edges.'”2 As I have shown here, innovation necessarily appears at the edges, because when innovation occurs, it creates a new edge, a new pocket of disorder, to exist within. The main question isn’t how to encourage new innovation to come about, it’s how to protect it when it does. In the case of bipolar disorder, the problem (just like with a broken leg) becomes: how do we treat this disorder in a way that doesn’t preclude us from reaping its benefits? With the broken leg, we find very few benefits, so maybe treatment is ethical. With bipolar disorder, we find clear benefits, so the ethics of treatment become complex. If it was possible to treat only the suicidality of bipolar disorder, without losing any creative function, then we might do that. We might find ways other than medicine to treat suicidality so that we didn’t affect creative function—we might create extra oversight so that a suicidal person was rarely alone, thereby allowing them to live a longer life without losing their creative boost. We have to protect the edges while also protecting ourselves from the edges. We find, in many cases, that we have to keep disorder around—to not treat it (fully)—so that we can reap the benefit it provides.
It’s like living with firearms. We’re happy with their occasional use, but when used too often, they become a problem for us. It’s that relative whose extra-colorful language is a delight..except when turned on a family member in anger. There is benefit and there is cost, in edges. How can we make the cost less while maintaining as much of the benefit as possible.
It is not just accepted psychological “disorders” that present this dilemma. Simple intelligence does. High-IQ people are sometimes very helpful to society by inventing devices and theories, by their problem-solving ability. But high-IQ people sometimes become the Unabomber. Low- and normal-IQ people don’t become the Unabomber. To be the Unabomber you have to be intelligent enough to be frustrated by the trampling of your ideals, in a very abstract way. You have to be smart enough to make bombs without help from others. You have to have the stoicism to live in a way that you are not being regularly observed.
Normal-IQ people don’t tend to be leaders. People with slightly-higher-than-normal-IQ do. So you don’t tend to have revolutionary leaders (disorder) coming from the middle. Disorder comes from the edges. (Or, more accurately, disorder creates new edges.)
Can an argument be made for legislating in disorder, in general? I think an argument can be made for ethical treatment of disorder, which means being wise about the cost at which you “fix” things. With nontrivial disorder, treatment isn’t as simple as setting a bone. It involves the weighing of pros and cons in the hope that the desirable aspects of a disorder are kept around as much as possible—that treatment affects them as little as possible. This involves consideration of both the opinion of the disordered individual as well as the opinion of the rest of the population. There may be cases where the disordered individual wants to sacrifice traits that society considers valuable..or vice versa. I think that, ultimately, the ethical treatment of disorder has the same effect as legislating in disorder (but is more organic). Both value the desirable traits of disorder, and, as such, make room for disorder.
Think of a future in which IQ is programmable during the life of the organism. There would be a desire to program IQ as high as possible, given other constraints. What would it mean to legislate disorder into IQ? It would mean legislating in a variety of IQs, such that they weren’t all the same. It would artificially create a normalized IQ curve within the population. Individuals would be chosen at random to be re-programmed to satisfy the population’s IQ bell curve.
If we weren’t legislating in disorder to IQ, but instead were using ethical treatment as our guarantee of disorder in IQ, what would that look like? To begin with, we wouldn’t be re-programming everyone’s IQ. Re-programming everyone’s IQ goes with legislation of IQ: it is making a rule that says IQ will be distributed like so, in our population, to maintain the proper amount of disorder. Using ethical treatment, we would allow the IQs to naturally fall into a bell curve, and then we would ethically treat the disordered individuals..the ones with especially high and low IQs. With each of them, we would look at the advantages their IQ confers, if any, and we would re-program (or treat) their IQ in a way that didn’t completely erase those advantages. It might be that the population considered low IQ a desirable trait because the individual would be better suited to work certain essential jobs. In that case the population would have a compelling reason to maintain the disorder of low IQ individuals.
Of course, in actuality, might you want a combination of these approaches? With IQ, you might want to first raise everyone’s IQ to near the top of its possible range, maintaining the bell curve, then use ethical treatment to treat the disordered individuals. You might, in essence, say: first we’re going to make everyone as smart as possible while maintaining a bell curve distribution, then we’re going to treat the extra-smart and extra-dumb people with ethical treatment. In a society that had robots to do all the menial jobs, which society found no benefit to keeping around extra-dumb people, ethical treatment might mean that we have a lopsided bell curve..there are basically normal-IQ people, and super-smart-IQ people. Or maybe the society would decide that it was just fine for everyone to be of the same intelligence, and it would legislate that IQ be re-programmed as high as possible in all individuals.
When I say legislate I don’t necessarily mean a law in the sense of laws of particular governments. I mean a rule, in general, that imposes some regulation. It could be part of the programming code in a software system that imposes the rule of high intelligence on a population of software individuals. It could be a law enacted by the Congress of the United States. It could be a rule enforced by a violent dictator. Or it could be any other kind of rule.
I’m not going to go into what I think is the ethical treatment of suicidality, but I encourage thinkers who do tackle the treatment ethics of what are traditionally thought to be highly-undesirable traits, to think outside the box. There are sometimes surprising ways in which these traits benefit the individual or the population at large.
The same goes for traits that are traditionally considered of neutral effect. Freckles, or a tongue tie, are traditionally considered of little damage (and little benefit) to the individual carrying the trait. But there may be subtle downstream effects that significantly affect the individual or the population. In some cases it may be impossible to determine an ethical course of treatment, because the dynamics of the trait’s effects are too complex.
Neither legislation nor ethical treatment is a guarantee that disordered traits won’t take over. Some types of legislation can be ignored or overridden by individuals. And after the fact of legislation, after the fact of ethical treatment, individuals are still behaving, and that behavior might cause sudden takeovers by disordered traits. There is an interplay between the mechanics of enforcing the legislation, the frequency of treatment, and the behavior of the individuals in the system that results in the actual course of disorder takeovers.
And, finally, disorder takeovers shouldn’t be considered bad. They are simply the moment at which the edge becomes the center, when something odd becomes the mainstay. Disorder takeovers are natural, and in a healthy system, should not be discouraged. They are a certain type of all-system state transition, a clock that measures the speed of the progression of the total system. A state exists to be changed. For freckles to go from the fringe to the height of fashion and then into obscurity, is normal. The increased procreation of bipolar people, due to treatment with medicine, is normal. We all become the oddity, as time progresses. The odd and unusual, the fascinating, is always taking over from the edges and becoming the norm. We should embrace disorder, embrace its takeovers, as part of normal growth and progression.
Even when it is not effecting a complete takeover, disorder has its place in the selective disobedience of individuals with respect to legislation. Consider the case of relative attractiveness of individuals in mating. Usually there is a maximum differential between the attractiveness of two partners. You don’t tend to find a “10” and a “5” together. You tend to find a 10 and a 9, a 5 and 7. This is not a hard and fast rule; there is nothing that says you won’t find a 10 and a 1 together, it just tends not to happen. This might seem like it’s due to loosely-enforced legislation, or due to loosely-followed legislation, but actually it’s not due to legislation at all, rather it arises naturally from the details of the system.
In working with genetic algorithms (GAs), I have experimented with something called an “anarchy modulus”—a degree to which fitness rules are subverted. This means that instead of always considering more fit individuals to be more likely to mate (or converse, in the case of a cultural-genetic algorithm), that there is a specific rate at which this order is subverted, and fitness rules are ignored or inverted. I know that in genetic algorithms, an anarchy modulus improves the GA’s ability to find solutions to problems. It does this, perhaps counterintuitively, by increasing the amount of disorder in the system. It is not normally expected that weak individuals will be able to mate or converse with strong individuals, but allowing just that to happen, at a low rate, improves the fitness of the system overall.
Without some anarchy, ideas present in individuals with low fitness are largely ignored. Anarchy—a steady subversion of the rules—allows ideas from the lower fitness classes to be incorporated into the genetic or cultural progression of the system. Without a steady stream of this type of anarchy, oligarchy takes hold. Oligarchy stagnates the system by stalling disorder takeovers. The health and life of the system suffer by making genetic or cultural exchange the dominion of the few.
In one type of genetic algorithm I’ve explored, I found that a relatively high anarchy modulus, one resulting in subversion of the fitness rule at a rate of ¼, worked best.3 This is not to say that ¼ is any kind of a general optimal rate of anarchy, just one I have found works well with a certain algorithm and problem set. I would be interested to see further studies searching for an answer as to whether there is a generalized way to pick the optimal rate of anarchy in systems of the type we are discussing.
When fitness functions are organic, there automatically tends to be a certain amount of this type of anarchy, so there is no need to legislate in anarchy. But when fitness functions are legislated, we face the special danger of oligarchy. Fitness is legislated in school, via testing and scoring. Colleges look at SAT scores and grades to decide who to admit. Here is a case where a lack of anarchy leads to oligarchy. If you have low SAT scores, there is a zero percent chance that you will get into Harvard. Now there are all kinds of reasons why we justify that as being ok—the low-SAT-scoring kid wouldn’t be able to keep up, she’d be frustrated, it would be a waste of a spot, etc. But the fact is that going to top colleges is an arena where there is not much anarchy. We rarely go against the rules in college admissions, to admit someone who doesn’t fit the profile of what we’re looking for—who isn’t fit enough to go there. The fitness function is legislated (not organic) and there is little or no anarchy built in (or legislated in).
This flows over into oligarchy at work. To work at the top companies, you need a degree (or two, or three) from a top university. Top companies very rarely if ever hire people without college degrees. It’s just not done. The fitness function is legislated. It says: you are fit to work here if you have a degree from a top university, and you are unfit otherwise. So top companies are oligarchical. They benefit little from ideas from the fringe, unless they are like SAP and have decided to legislate in some anarchy. SAP has hiring practices. Those describe their legislated fitness function for hiring. They recently legislated in a tiny anarchy modulus..by 2020 they expect that 1/100 of their population will be affected by autism.4
Even when the fitness function is legislated, when anarchy is also legislated in, certain disorders become advantages in certain circumstances. It is now an advantage to be autistic if you want to work at SAP, and SAP has put in place just the tiniest safeguard against oligarchy.
Let’s think about what anarchy means in the case of the hotness differential. If 10s always mate with 10s, then the definition of hotness is oligarchical. It is a matter of the few, determined by the few. When either natural anarchy exists through the idiosyncrasies of organisms’ preferences, or anarchy is legislated in, then there is a chance for features or traits of the disordered to participate in the discussion with the ordered. Beautiful people are ordered because they are ideal, they are the goal. Everyone else is disordered because they are not-ideal, they are not-the-goal. Remember that order isn’t always the majority. Superficial beauty in our current world is a case where the masses are striving to be like the minority. The disordered, unbeautiful people, in the majority, are striving to be like the beautiful people, who are the ideal, who are the goal, and who are the minority.
What if the beautiful people were in the majority? They would still be the ordered, the ideal, the goal. Would the system still be oligarchical? Yes, it would, because when we say “by the few” we mean by a few types. If the majority is 9s and 10s, and they are ordered, they are the rule, then the system is being ordered by a few types. Most of the types are in the minority. The minority is more diverse than the majority. This is the way companies are ordered: most of the population consists of a few types, while a whole world of types is underrepresented (or not represented at all). Oligarchy, here, is the rule of the few types, whether they are in the majority or the minority in terms of raw population numbers.
SAP has taken the tiniest step away from oligarchy, but what if they were willing to go further? Autistic people are not the only class of people who think differently. What if, for each disorder deemed partly positive, SAP matched that [dis?]order to a job type, and they hired all kinds of people with disorders? Does the fact that they’re specifically hiring people with autism, now, mean that they were specifically excluding people with autism, before? To match disorders to job types could be thought of as a kind of ethical treatment. To treat an autistic person in our company, we assign them a job either as a programmer or a tester. What if we didn’t legislate out the disorder of autism, and we didn’t legislate in a certain amount of autistic anarchy, we simply had a method of ethical treatment for autistic people within our company? We would let people show up to work, and we would have a science of ethical treatment by which we assigned people to various jobs (and otherwise treated them).
It is easy to imagine, within a limited organism like a corporation, that they wouldn’t want to admit every worker who approached them. Corporations have specific goals, and they don’t have job types that fit every type of person.
But what about our larger system, the complete system of the human population. Isn’t that a population where it might work quite well to not legislate out any disorders, not legislate in any anarchy (disorder), but allow the system to be organic, and (instead of placing our rules into legislation) place our rules into a science of ethical treatment? This ethical treatment plan would talk about all aspects of a person. It would suggest and connect the person with appropriate jobs, it would suggest and prescribe medication, it would recommend reading material—it might even recommend mates. It would say: you are a mix of these types of order and disorder, and we’re going to treat both of those in you. We will try not to dampen the social and individual benefits of your various orders and disorders, but where disorder exists, especially, we’re going to recommend and/or apply treatments that help you fit in. Not necessarily fit in in the sense of being the same as everyone else..but fit in in the sense of fitting into society, like a puzzle and its matching piece.
Sometimes treatment would involve an individual becoming more like society (medication to minimize suicidality, re-programming IQ to be closer to normal), sometimes treatment would involve matching up the individual’s “disorders” to appropriate places in the world where the individual might fit, whether that be a job, relationship, or school.
This type of thinking assumes that everyone has a place in society, where in systems with legislated fitness functions, it is not assumed that everyone has an equal or comparable place. There are the ordered and the disordered, and the disordered are bad. With the doctrine of ethical treatment, the paradigm is one of helping diverse individuals work together in an optimal way, instead of the paradigm of labeling good and bad individuals that we see with legislated fitness functions, legislated ideals, and legislated goals for society.
This would mean we would not have laws as much as we would have treatments. It was suggested earlier that law is descriptive, rather than prescriptive, anyway! So instead of having a law that says what the speed limit is, we would have ways of treating drivers. Instead of having a law that says you have to wear your seatbelt, we would again have ways of treating drivers. Ways of treating drivers might include: for drivers who don’t wear their seatbelts, a brief educational course including pictures of corpses of people who died in car accidents while not wearing their seatbelts; for drivers with a speeding disorder (drivers who exceed the normal speed to a certain degree), a governing mechanism on their car.
We need to leave behind the draconian measures of fining people and putting them in jail. Those ways are about punishing disorder, rather than treating individuals in a way that maximizes the health of our system. The fact is that as long as you have a dynamic system, there is going to be disorder, because there are going to be new ideas, new genes. So eliminating disorder is not a real option. To punish something that is a natural and integral part of your system, in the vain hope of getting rid of it, is silly.
We need to find new ways to organize ourselves such that we are self-optimizing, toward a goal of synthesis, of coming together. I suggest, given the nature of disorder as I understand it, that the doctrine or paradigm of ethical treatment is a good place to start. It allows for the minimization of disorder while respecting its benefits. It is a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach: developing individual treatment plans operates at the level of the organism, not at the level of government. It allows for system optimization in an organic way, where treatment teams are responsible for the organisms they take care of, not one government making all-powerful laws that determine what every individual will do.
Yes, in this system there would have to be a way that treatment knowledge was developed and distributed, but I think it would be feasible for each treatment team, based on scientific documentation and with the participation of the organism, to decide how to treat. So there would be no global law that said: these are the punishment parameters to be followed when encountering this type of disorder. There would, instead, be a body of information describing how various treatments have worked in the past, when dealing with various types of disorder.
How would treatment teams be created and assigned? Who would decide the qualifications for being on a treatment team? How would treatment teams be reviewed, and themselves treated, when their treatment became a disorder? I don’t know.
But it is clear that our current way—legislated fitness functions—falls short because it leads to oligarchy. We can go the route of SAP and legislate in anarchy, legislate in disorder. It seems to me, however, that more stable systems would result from removing legislation altogether and instituting a doctrine of ethical treatment.
Nature has automatic ways of accomplishing the same thing as my anarchy modulus. In real-life systems, and in organically-programmed software systems, disorder arises from the peculiarities of geography, the idiosyncrasy of personal preferences, and maybe other factors. When organisms interact in geographical environments, part of their mate selection has to do with proximity—unlike the case in traditional genetic algorithms, where parents are chosen in the abstract, without any concept of geography. In the case of the hotness differential, idiosyncratic personal preferences means that sometimes an 10 dates a 2 (Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett).
When a fitness function is defined organically enough, there is no need to legislate in disorder. But, actually, there is no need for us to legislate our own fitness functions; nature does that for us.
Switching to the doctrine of ethical treatment will mean a more robust, more highly-optimized society. It will remove dependency on brittle and oligarchically-defined laws. It will shift the problem-solving paradigm from one of legislation to one of treatment. “How do I treat this person?” is a much easier question to answer, a much easier problem to solve, than “How do I write a universal law that will make this society into what I want it to be?” Teams who answer the first question can be cellular, they can operate in parallel and operate independently of one another, while the team who answers the second question has to be all things to all people, has to operate monolithically, and has to be right every time. To rely on natural fitness functions instead of legislated ones, to rely on natural disorder as opposed to legislating it in, and to use ethical treatment, results in systems that are simpler in their construction but more complex, more granular, in terms of their emergent behavior.
I should note that when I’m talking about an “organic fitness function” or a “natural fitness function,” I mean, ideally, a fitness function which is not written or legislated, but which arises naturally from the system. Survival in the wild is an example of an organic fitness “function,” even though it isn’t a function anyone has written. It is a complex function of interacting behavior between many, many organisms. So when I talk about organic fitness functions, I don’t mean functions that were legislated in an organic way, I mean functions that no one wrote at all.
If you don’t know what emergent behavior is, I’ll tell you. It is behavior that appears in a system even though it was not programmed in initially. It arises through the complex interaction of parts of the system. Traffic jams are an example of emergent behavior. Traffic jams aren’t programmed into cars, or roads, or drivers, but when you put cars, and roads, and drivers together, traffic jams sometimes occur. Emergent behavior is typically unexpected by the designer of the system—it’s a way in which the system has a life of its own.
I have shown in software that cultural-genetic systems don’t need legislated fitness functions in order to have a sense of fitness.5 Even without a fitness function, artificial systems can have a dynamic, momentary sense of fitness, a sense of what is fit at the moment. Some of my software systems6 also demonstrate periodic disorder takeovers. Those systems have legislated in disorder, but systems like elementary cellular automaton7 rule 308 show that some artificial systems don’t need to legislate in disorder, but can rely instead on the emergent disorder already present within them.
Let’s go back to our initial definition of disorder: “Disorder happens when we classify a segment of behavior as not-ideal, as not-the-goal.” So how does the ideal, the goal, get determined?
In systems where there is an artificial fitness function, that function determines the ideal, the goal, for organisms. It scores an individual organism by taking as input the organism’s genotype, phenotype, mental and physical state, and maybe other inputs, and producing as output a number, a fitness. In systems where there is legislation about what is ordered and what is disordered, that legislation states the idea, the goal. All organisms are subject to the same fitness function or order legislation. These fitness functions and order legislation must come from somewhere: they are either defined as immutable rules by the designer of the system, or they are defined by some of the individuals within the system. They are either constant throughout the system run, or they could be defined to change as the system progresses.
It is conceivable to have multiple fitness functions or multiple legislations of order and disorder for various organism types..possibly as many fitness functions or legislations as there are organisms. These could be multiple because they are defined by the individual, or because they are designed by some subset of the organisms in the system to be custom tailored to individual organisms or types of organisms. For example, there might be different road rules for different types of drivers—perhaps very young and very old drivers are discouraged from nighttime highway driving. Or the self-legislation of order for a particular writer might include writing at least 500 words per day, while no word count requirements are necessarily self-imposed by others. Or the order legislation around murder might be imposed differently on different citizen types: perhaps (as we have now) a harsher penalty for citizens 18+ than that visited on younger citizens. These multiple fitness functions and multiple order legislation must come from somewhere: as before, they are either defined as immutable rules by the designer of the system, or they are defined by some of the individuals within the system. Either way, they can be in flux; they can change over time as the system progresses. And they define what is the goal, what is the ideal.
It is also possible to have no artificial fitness function and no legislation of order and disorder. This type of system is presumably like our world before humans started legislating order: with an organic fitness function that arises from the natural consequences of behaving in this world, with all its other organisms and forces; and without any public law. In this case, the ideal, the goal, is determined from the behavior of the system. Depending on how you look at it, there might be a single ideal, or there might be many.
Let’s go back and think about multiple fitness functions/multiple order legislations, because that is the kind of situation you would have with ethical treatment. In this case, there would be no public law, no overall law that was meant to guide everyone..or in fact there might be a smaller segment of public law, a subset of conceivable law that was the subset we expect people universally to follow. Mostly, there would be treatment guidelines..studies of how treatment had affected individuals in the past. By individualizing treatment, you would in essence individualize order legislations. Let’s say there was no public law. Then the only legislation there would be—the only definitions of order and disorder—would exist within the treatment guidelines and the treatment plan. It is ordered for a bipolar organism to take his lithium. It is disordered for him to skip doses. It is disordered for this organism to drive faster than 70mph. It is disordered for this organism to spend more than a certain number of hours per day, alone. There would be no need for fitness functions in this scheme. There would exist an analogue to legislations of order and disorder: the treatment plan.
What is disordered for one organism might not be disordered for another. Treatment plans would be slim—continually evolving to remove treatments that have become unnecessary. The goal of the treatment plan, as stated before, is to minimize disorder while maintaining the benefits of disorders. If there is no public law, where does the idea of disorder come from? It comes from treatment guidelines, the scientific studies showing how various treatments have affected organisms in the past. The treatment guidelines are at their highest level a topography of disorder. The difference between this, and having legislated order, is that legislated order thinks in terms of discipline and punishment, while treatment guidelines think in terms of how best to treat an individual to ethically minimize disorder. The M.O. of the treatment team is this: discover a disorder, ethically select a treatment with the participation of the organism being helped, apply the treatment, discontinue treatments that are no longer necessary, repeat.
Let’s just say that a treatment team always includes the organism being helped, so from now on it’s understood that “treatment team” includes that individual.
How might treatment team certification take place in an actual system? You want to create a treatment team for some subset of an individual’s disorders (for they might have multiple treatment teams for different disorder domains). The treatment team should be (in the strong case) wise and (in the weak case) smart enough to read and understand the treatment guidelines for the disorder(s) they’re responsible for treating. If you think this means there are doctors making [the equivalent of] legal decisions, you’re right! But we already have that..a diagnosis of mental illness precludes an individual from buying a gun in some localities..that’s a doctor making a legal decision. In this case of multiple order legislations, every individual would have at least one treatment team, so a lot more time would be spent on educating people to be capable members of treatment teams. But that’s ok, because that’s time spent reprogramming ourselves, which is what we’re already doing anyway!
It might be that in addition to having one or more treatment teams, every individual in the system would serve on more than one treatment team. There would be a lot of treatment going on, and that time would be spent instead of spending time legislating. In this model, there wouldn’t be any legislators..or, in the case of a small catalog of public law, there would be extremely few legislators, and their job would be minimal. But I like to think that the pure version of this could work: that there be zero public law and all the definitions of disorder would be in the treatment guidelines and the treatment plan.
Maybe the definitions of treatment team certification would be an appropriate area for public law (along with organizations) to handle. That would be akin to our current systems whereby governments, schools, and other organizations cooperate to decide who becomes what kind of doctor. Such ideas as scientific publications seem to present themselves as a part of this ethical treatment platform..there has to be some formal way of validating scientific research so that the treatment team can use it. Or does there? I can imagine that anarchistic versions of this might work just fine: allow the treatment teams to be composed of random individuals, allow them to use whatever wisdom they have in order to make a decision on how to treat various disorders, don’t limit their research to formally validated material.
How big would treatment teams be? Big enough to get some benefit from the diversity of multiple members, small enough to be efficient. I’d say at the low end, three (that’s including the member being treated). At the high end, maybe something like six—although there’s no reason that in some cases much larger teams could be used. The benefit of larger treatment teams is a more diverse representation of perspective on the member being treated. A psych treatment team might include several doctors, a co worker, a relative, and the member being treated. A traffic disorder team might include an expert on road safety, a psychologist, and the member being treated.
You can see by these examples of treatment teams that a treatment team is kind of like a jury—but a jury whose purpose is to help you! It is a jury with no verdict. It surrounds you, includes you, and develops a plan to ethically help you be less disordered. The court is made obsolete by the treatment team; there is no need for judgment or punishment, only treatment. Jail in the sense in which it exists in the United States right now would be a thing of the past. Jail doesn’t treat people, it punishes them. Isolation might be part of the treatment for a serial murderer, but so would ways of reprogramming that murderer to be less disordered. We don’t just need to punish, we need to treat. Rapists need to be treated such that they do not rape again. Jail as it exists now is only the most rudimentary treatment idea. It is a barbaric treatment, actually.
We can do better. We can do scientific experiments to determine effective treatments for more disorders. We can allow treatment teams to treat individuals in an individual way, instead of enforcing universal laws and applying universal punishments. The old way is too coarse. The doctrine of ethical treatment is fine; it operates granularly. It expends a great deal of care reprogramming individuals, where our current systems of laws and courts and punishments does nothing of the sort.
I think that’s an important distinction: between actively reprogramming ourselves, and failing to re-program ourselves. That we exist at a moment when technology is increasing the segment of ourselves that is re-programmable suggests reprogramming as a paradigm of use. Re-programming is learning and growing. Re-programming is becoming better. Re-programming is in a sense all that we are doing anyway: drinking water re-programs me to live a little bit longer, sex re-programs me to feel pleasure and love, exercise re-programs my muscles and makes me feel euphoric. Let’s also reprogram people not to be rapists; we’re smart enough to do that. And re-program people with bipolar disorder not to kill themselves (with lithium, we’ve done that to a certain degree). Let’s reprogram people to be kinder (let’s make unkindness a disorder). Let’s make dishonesty a disorder. It’s really not, now; just in certain circumstances it becomes illegal. Right now lying to your employees by saying you’re about to provide health insurance, when you’re not..is not a crime. What if it was a treatable disorder?
What would be the equivalent of police? Right now police observe and punish crime, and occasionally give people directions. The equivalent of punishing crime—treating disorder—is taken care of by the treatment team. Would we have some police-like entity which observed and took reports of disorder? I think that can be taken care of by the treatment team. When an employer lied to his employees, the employee could report that directly to the employer’s treatment team(s). The teams could sort out which team was responsible for treating that type of disorder. Individuals would be responsible for reporting some kinds of disorder. Some kinds of disorder would be automatically sensed (by machinery posted around the world, and inside the potentially disordered organism). Some kinds of disorder would be measured by the treatment team using tests. Disorder could be self reported. And, after all this, police could still exist to move murderers into isolation and occasionally give people directions.
A society based primarily on the doctrine of ethical treatment would have a vastly different political system than the ones we have today. Presumably, politics would move into the treatment team. Instead of voting, individuals would have some say about the construction of their treatment team. Each person would choose a treatment team based on the available teams’ makeups, including their politics. This would introduce the concept of a fitness function for political ideas, with people’s choice driving the function.
It would be possible to introduce the doctrine of ethical treatment (DET) gradually, while maintaining some features of the original society, and replacing others with their DET counterparts. For instance, taxes and the military could be maintained while eliminating some laws (like vehicular speeding laws, sex-related laws, and laws about theft). At the same time, treatment teams would be created to handle medical disorders (as is common now) and expanded to handle disorders that correspond to the retired laws. Gradually, more laws could be retired, appropriate treatment guidelines developed, and treatment teams made responsible for additional disorders. This way the DET could be tried with little risk.
To make artificial genetic algorithms that followed the DET would be difficult, I think. To program into a computer centers of meaningful ethical treatment would require there to be a concept of treatment guidelines, and that the system contain expert individuals who conduct experiments and write these treatment guidelines. Certainly not an impossible thing to program, but a far cry from the simple genetic algorithms we program today. Would these DET-based genetic algorithms be better than classical GAs? We’d have to make them to know.
Would DET-based society work better than any of our current forms of society? Again, we’d have to try it in order to know, but I think when you look at disorder as we have here, it becomes clear that DET-based society would be a more sensible approach to managing human disorder than any current forms of society. Is society only about managing disorder? Not necessarily. We have committed here to examine disorder, and use paradigms of disorder, to think about the world. In those paradigms, the DET has presented itself as one possible system for handling disorder. What other systems for handling disorder can you think of?
Do we even need to handle disorder? We’ve assumed from the beginning that we do, but maybe that’s wrong. So what if high- and low-IQ individuals cause inefficiencies in the educational system? Could it be our duty to handle disordered cases, even when it requires extra resources? Is it necessary to optimize ourselves to minimize disorder while maintaining its benefits? Will a disorder-optimized system work any better than one where disorder is left to occur and function as it naturally does? A world like that would be a world where we don’t fix problems: don’t set broken bones, we don’t hand out pills for mental disorders. We let bones heal or stay broken as they will; we let bipolar people be fully bipolar, with their manias and their depressions. We let them affect their families and communities untreated. There is a very deep assumption in our culture that we will not let this type of thing happen. To fix problems—to handle disorder—is so natural to us that we hardly think of refraining from doing so.
But could it be that there is another kind of order, a primal order, that functions best when we leave broken bones alone, when we refrain from solving the problem of mental disorders? The other animals operate under this kind of rule: a broken leg may mean that you die. A mental disorder may mean that you are cast out of society. Why are we trying to fix problems in the first place, when nature already has a way to fix problems, and that’s by killing them and killing their ability to breed weakness (disorder) into the system? Isn’t not treating mental disorders a real option? If we didn’t treat bipolar disorder, wouldn’t there be fewer bipolar people, because they would die and fail to mate at a higher rate? By using medicine, we have weaned ourselves off of natural selection. We have sidestepped evolution. Do we really have a better idea of what should be selected for survival and extinction than nature does? What makes us so suddenly the custodians of disorder?
Maybe it’s our empathy. The moment we started caring about our neighbor, even when our neighbor didn’t meet nature’s definition of fitness, we became the custodians of disorder. It’s this ability to see potential in something that’s damaged, that makes us the custodians of disorder. We take something that is damaged, that is disordered, and we imagine it ordered, we imagine it healthy and healed. Then we solve the problem of how to heal it—how to minimize its disorder—so that we can more fully take advantage of what is healthy—what is ordered—about it. It’s a type of efficiency, of not wasting the good parts of something that is broken. Nature is happy to waste the good parts of something that is broken. Humans are not. We have improved the efficiency of nature, of natural selection, and our improved method is the ethical treatment of disorder.
So it is certainly my opinion that our DET is an improvement on nature. Instead of natural selection taking place once per generation, an unnatural selection takes place many times a second; and instead of improvement of organisms’ genetic-based traits happening once per generation, that improvement happens all the time. The moment a problem-solving species feels empathy, the DET is born. We are constantly selecting for survival and extinction, not only organisms at the level of their life, but organisms’ ideas, their programming, is being selected in and selected out. Due to it’s non-college-grad programming, an individual is selected for extinction from the corporate world. Due to it’s short-skirt programming, an individual is selected for survival through mating. Genetic-based traits are improved without even modifying genetics, via eyeglasses and psych meds, as we have seen. Our evolution is no longer merely genetic evolution; it is cultural-genetic evolution.
We evolve genetically, and simultaneously we evolve culturally. Our culture is carried around inside all of us, and outside of us. In our brains and in our documents, we carry this corpus of knowledge that is used to program us from the time we are very little to the time we are very old. It is knowledge we learn from teachers and textbooks, knowledge about how to use language that is stored in no textbook, but exists in and is best taught by listening to, the minds of others. Without our culture we wouldn’t be what we are today—a baby growing up alone on a desert island would never learn to speak language, would be incapable of functioning normally if suddenly placed into society. So we need our culture to be who we are, just as much as our culture needs us to create and care for it. It is a complex symbiotic organism which interacts with a whole species, living in each of us and having a life of its own, outside our bodies.
There is no longer any use in speaking in isolation of genetic evolution, when it comes to people. We are as dependent on our culture for survival as we are on our genetic code. Without our culture, we wouldn’t know how to build anything. We wouldn’t have our technology. We wouldn’t have houses, clothes, computers, phones. So it is clear we need our culture to survive, just as much as we need the genetically-controlled features of ourselves. We must think of our evolutionary system not as a genetic one, but as a cultural-genetic one. There is no more classic evolution in isolation for humans or any of the species we touch. Simply consider dogs or cats and you will see that our culture is affecting the genetic evolution of other species.
Domesticated animals are a supremely interesting case for the DET. In domesticated animals, we have entire species who are scarcely able to survive in the wild..who flourish under people’s implementation of the DET. We have become symbiotic with animals who nature considers to have almost no survival value. They are supremely disordered when it comes to natural selection. But because we see their potentiality to make us happy, we treat them by providing them what they need for life. Our treatment of them doesn’t just solve a mental disorder or mend a broken leg. It augments the animal’s entire fitness, artificially making it fit by eliminating its need to hunt or nest or exist at all in the wild. We ethically treat the domesticated animals’ almost total survival disorder because we like them. We have selected them for survival, and circumvented nature’s equation altogether. They exist because of our preferences for cuteness and companionship..and that’s it.
Is it [partially] because of our almost infinite survival value that we are able to do this for another species? Would we be unable to do this if we still had culture but had less of a survival value? It seems like the luxury of having basically mastered the survival problem, combined with our mental ability to create culture, is what enables us to domesticate animals, but I’m not sure how essential the mastery of survival is, in terms of having spare time.
With domesticated animals, it should be clear that because of the DET, we are cultivating disorder. When it comes to survival, the cat is a supremely disordered animal; the dog is perhaps even more disordered. But we go out of our way to treat these animals such that they will survive, and the result is that their supreme disorder isn’t a problem at all. We don’t even think of their disorder..it’s almost convenient to care for them, and for pet lovers, it is certainly worthwhile to treat the animals for survival.
With these animals as an example, it is easy to imagine a society that spent more of its energy treating members of its own species. And it is easy to imagine that some types (even many types) of disorder would be not only allowed to exist, but would be actively cultivated. Bipolar disorder might be not just treated to mitigate its negative effects, but cultivated, so that we’d have more creative work to tour in our society. In a highly cultural species, in a smart species, both of which we are, it is imaginable that what nature considers survival disorders, we would be quite open to cultivating, for their cultural benefits. For example, if fiction writers tended to be sedentary alcoholics, we might find ourselves cultivating the disorders of sedentariness and alcoholism, just so we could have more and better novels. We might treat the sedentariness and alcoholism, but we might be cultivating them at the same time.
So we find ourselves in a world where disorder is not just some messy, undesirable behavior to sweep under the rug. Disorder is integral to growing systems, since new ideas create disorder. We don’t simply accept disorder, we treat it to minimize its negative effects. By minimizing its negative effects, we effectively increase its survival value, sometimes causing it to grow in prevalence, even to the point of taking over. We accept disorder takeovers as a natural part of system evolution; new ideas sometimes take over and become the norm. In fact, every idea we possess, whether it be genetic or cultural, started out as disorder, it started out on the edge, in the fringe, in the minority. We are built from disorder, and as our culture becomes more and more a part of who we are, our genetic disorders are accepted as fit for survival, since our technology treats their bad effects. We are already more dependent on our culture than we are on our genetics, for survival. We are in the process of moving toward full re-programmability, negating the process of genetic evolution in favor of a process of cultural evolution. The more we follow the DET, the more we are masters of disorder.
So what is next for disorder? Is there yet another paradigm shift on the horizon, for how we will order and disorder ourselves? What comes next after cultural evolution? Is there some more optimized way we will find to evolve? Will our society move at all in the direction of employing the DET, or will that forever remain a dream? Can we draw up a plan for a DET-based society, which lays out the mechanics of treatment teams and the other components needed for a society to work? Can we do meaningful computer simulation of a DET-based society, to explore various parameters in a risk-free environment? What about basic simulations of disorder and order in the abstract? I have done some of these9 but can imagine that more generalized tools could be built for looking at how disorder operates within a culture. Can we make simple computerized playthings for children that demonstrate (at the very least) disorder takeovers, so that children might become familiar with some of the dynamics of disorder at an early age? Can we develop better definitions for disorder given what this jaunt has taught us?
I am optimistic on all these fronts. I think our ability to re-organize ourselves, government-wise, is equal to our ability to re-organize how we do natural selection, and I think eventually we will develop better societies—societies that have more mature and more elegant ways of handling the disorder that is inherent within them. I think many new paradigms will be developed, not just disorder and the DET, that will help life to be more pleasurable for us. I continue to think that the concept of disorder is one worth investigating, and if you have any thoughts along these lines, I hope you’ll share them with me.