Technically Exists

Thanos is a straw centrist


A straw centrist is a person who always takes the middle position on issues. For example, if you asked them if we should kill all the men or not, they would say that we should kill half of the men. If you asked them if we should kill all the women or not, they would say that we should kill half of the women. And if you asked them if we should kill all the children or not, they would say that we should kill half of the children.

But it wouldn’t just be disjoint groups for which this is true. If you asked them if we should kill all the teachers or not, they would say that we should kill half of them. But how could they make sure that they don’t accidentally kill over half of the teachers while killing half of the women? Well, by the law of large numbers, there is a really simple method to ensure that they kill half of every group: choose a random sample to kill. If the sample size is equal to the size of half of the population, then they will achieve all of their goals at the same time.

Now we see how Thanos qualifies as a straw centrist: his plan is exactly what we’d expect from one. This also explains why he talks about balance all the time. A straw centrist picks the middle position on every issue because they want to balance the advantages and disadvantages of each side. In the same way, Thanos kills half the population because he wants to balance the advantages and disadvantages of killing everyone and killing no one. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that Thanos is indeed a straw centrist.

The meaning of one person, one vote


The concept of one person, one vote is often brought up in discussions of voting methods and electoral systems. In the United States, it’s commonly associated with a Supreme Court decision that required states to use districts with approximately equal populations. However, the general idea that everyone’s vote should be equal has been brought up as a way to challenge alternative voting methods like approval voting and instant-runoff voting (abbreviated IRV, and also called ranked-choice voting), despite the fact that votes cast under these methods are not any less equal than the single-choice plurality method used in most U.S. elections. To make this even more complicated, this concept has also been used to argue in favor of replacing plurality voting with alternative methods. The Equal Vote Coalition’s equality criterion is a good example of this.

Having all these overlapping concepts associated with one phrase is likely to lead to a lot of confusion. For instance, Equal Vote appears to equivocate between two different meanings in their page comparing STAR and IRV. The section on equality begins with the following sentence:

The U.S. Supreme Court has found unequivocally that ‘One Person, One Vote’ requires that “each vote be given as much weight as any other vote.”

However, the page goes on to claim that IRV fails one person, one vote, which is not true under the Supreme Court’s definition. Instead, Equal Vote has switched to applying their own equality criterion. Without proper clarification, this is very misleading to readers.

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On normative ethical theories


Inspired by this tweet.

There are a lot of proposals for what makes an action morally good or bad. These normative ethical theories can take various forms, but the most plausible are types of utilitarianism. This is because utilitarianism allows agents that follow it to behave rationally.

The von Neumann-Morgenstern utility theorem shows that any agent that does not behave as if it has a utility function can have arbitrary amounts of resources pumped from it. This is a huge problem for any normative ethical theory that does not allow agents to behave this way. “Moral” agents would be unable to reliably perform obviously good acts like life-saving surgery because another agent could come along at any time and trick them into giving up the surgery equipment or other necessary resources. Since this is intuitively not how morality works, morality must be some form of utilitarianism.

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The world's problems


There are a lot of problems out there. Some of these problems are small, like whether you should get a new phone or not. Other problems are big, like how to solve climate change. But of these problems, which ones are the most important? I don’t know, of course, but I’m going to hazard a guess at them anyway.

First, a quick overview of the criteria I’m using to determine importance.1 I’ll be considering the impact, tractability, and neglectedness of problems. Impact is simply how good solving the problem would be. Tractability is how easy it is to make progress on the problem; if all else is equal, directing the same amount of resources to a more tractable problem will result in more good being done. Neglectedness is how few people and resources are being directed at the problem. Due to the law of diminishing returns, a more neglected problem will generally be easier to make progress on than a less neglected one.2

My current guess for the 5th most important problem is poverty, which I believe can be most effectively solved through unconditional cash transfers. In developing countries, this would involve performing the work of charities like GiveDirectly. For developed countries, the goal would be the implementation of policies like universal basic income, which provides regular cash transfers to every citizen.

  1. These criteria come from the effective altruism movement, though I won’t be applying them as rigorously here as others might elsewhere. 

  2. A more neglected problem will also generally have less people advocating for it, which in turn means you’re less likely to have heard of it. If my choice of problems seems weird to you, there’s a good chance that this is the reason. 

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Ranked choice voting is worth supporting


Ranked choice voting (RCV) has a lot of supporters in the U.S. voting reform movement. However, the single-winner version, which also goes by the name instant-runoff voting (IRV), does have some detractors, particularly among those who support rated voting methods instead. Most still agree that RCV is an improvement over the single-choice voting method1 used in almost every U.S. election, but a few dispute even this. While I believe that RCV is likely not the best single-winner method, I also believe that it is an improvement over single-choice voting. As such, I think you should support RCV even if you agree with many of the arguments made against it.

The first argument I will address is RCV’s failure of the favorite betrayal criterion. The favorite betrayal criterion requires that a voting method never allows a voter to get a worse result by giving their favorite candidate maximum support. RCV’s failure of this criterion means there are situations in which a strategic voter will “betray” their favorite candidate by ranking them lower than another candidate. In other words, a voter’s favorite candidate may sometimes act as a spoiler that must be ranked lower than a more viable candidate in order to avoid the voter’s least-preferred outcome.

  1. This method is commonly called first-past-the-post voting or plurality voting, but I’m avoiding those terms because it’s generally not obvious what they refer to. 

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