Effective Life Loving

Suppose that you Love Life, but you live in a world where a mysterious Hunter is felling the beasts. This saddens you. You Love Life. So you embark on a program of Effective Life Loving, and try to work out interventions that would Maximize Life as Efficiently as possible with the resources you personally have at your disposal.

There is, you realize, a sad opportunity in all of those corpses the mysterious Hunter generates. Corpses themselves can be the source of much Life! You are smart, creative. You have a scientific background. You realize that if you were to genetically engineer certain flies and fungi you could dramatically improve the efficiency with which old life—those dead beasts—are converted to new. You toil in your laboratory, and the improvement in production of biomass over time is dramatic and satisfyingly measurable. You devote yourself to collecting corpses left behind by the Hunter, wandering far and wide, so that you can site them and seed them to maximize production of new Life. You encourage other smart, creative people—most of whom also Love Life!—to join your project. Many don’t, but some do, and you take some satisfaction in this secondary Effectiveness you can attribute to your efforts. You are well and truly an Effective Life Lover.

A thought, an irritation of the mind, fails to gnaw at you. Wouldnt it be much better, you mercifully fail to think, if the Mystery of the Hunter could be solved, so that rather than seeding new Life on the corpses, Life could just continue without so much need of heroic remedy? Yes. But here is the world. It is what it is. Rationality—it has somehow seeped from graduate economics programs into your very bones—consists of optimizing subject to constraints. The Hunter hunts. You optimize subject to that constraint. You cannot be accused of having caused the Hunter. But as you earn accolades, in your own mind, among the community of Life Lovers you have fostered, does it trouble you that your Success—no no you are much too modest to be successful, it was important that you grow rich to build the laboratories you needed of course but this isn't about you this is about Life—nevertheless does it trouble you that your entire project is framed by the existence of the Hunter? That if the Hunter somehow were stopped, that your work would become obsolete, superfluous, worthless? Are you and the Hunter in some sense collaborators?

No, of course you don’t think these things, because these things are absurd! You didn’t make the Hunter. You would be delighted—sincerely, absolutely delighted—if somehow the Hunter could be tamed. It’s a big, diverse world! Let solving the mystery of the Hunter, reigning them in, be the project of other people. You wouldn’t know where to start. You could not weigh biomass to measure progress. How would you know whether your approach to Life Loving was even Effective? No, that is a project for other people. You—but not just you, also the people you’ve persuaded, and they have made themselves quite unusually rich and well resourced because of course they must be well resourced to be Effective—will work on maximizing biomass in this world as it is.

It occurs to you that the Hunter must be pretty rich too, to do what he does. Perhaps you or some of your peers know them? Perhaps they are somehow among you?

No. Preposterous. You are Lovers of Life.

And of course, though it will not be your thing, you will do what you can to help other people tame the Hunter. Your thing, of course, is rigor. Although you shied away from making Hunter hunting your thing, precisely because it could not be rigorously pursued, you can contribute to others’ work by calling out ways in which the approaches they are taking cannot be rigorously supported and so might fail to be Effective. They will be grateful for the critique, as your faculties of critcism are perspicacious and capable. Well, they would be grateful, if only they were rational and data-driven and open-minded like we are. If it is true that nothing they are pursuing can withstand the rigors of rigor, why should they be so prickly about it? If their lack of rigor, relative to the presence of ours, causes resources to flow disproportionately in our direction, isn’t that only Rational? Give well, right?

Some of them even accuse us of protecting the Hunter. They succumb to weird conspiracy theories that we are the Hunter! What sane person would devote resources to people like that?

Our biomass grows and grows. It may not be as pretty as the beasts who were killed. It is a shame the beasts were killed. But we are restoring a great deal of biomass.

Update History:

  • 16-Aug-2022, 11:55 a.m. EDT: “…you live in a world where a mysterious Hunter is shoouting felling the beasts.”
  • 16-Aug-2022, 12:05 p.m. EDT: “no no you are much to too modest to be successful”
  • 16-Aug-2022, 4:50 p.m. EDT: “they would be grateful, if only they like you were rational and data-driven and open-minded like we are.”; “…consists of optimizaton optimizing subject to constraints…”

7 Responses to “Effective Life Loving”

  1. Detroit Dan writes:

    The Hunter is capitalist technology run amok. That cat is mostly out of the bag, so I try to bioengineer solutions to the devastation he threatens, while planting the seeds of more fundamental reform.

    The Hunter is a racist Russian. I can’t fight him directly as that would result in nuclear war. So I work amongst his potential victims to sew revolutionary seeds which will free us from racism once and for all.

    The hunter is the military industrial intelligence media big pharma political complex. It’s a beast that destroys communities, but I can’t stop it so I’ll work with what I can change at the margins, again planting seeds for fundamental change.

    One of the above is delusional.

  2. Andy B writes:

    Not that you should care about the opinion of someone who has never commented on your blog before, but my opinion is that this post is not a good-faith argument and you should apologize for it and try again. I read your blog because you are often able to articulate strong cases for positions I do not hold. This post is not that.

  3. Dennis S writes:

    Andy, I didn’t take this as much an argument? More a helpful thought exercise exploring how, in addressing the fallout of a system rather than system structure itself, one could be co-opted into enabling the system that perpetuates the root cause. It serves its function.

    Much of the NGO/aid world operates this way – deeply fulfilling careerism with all sorts of metrics for positive impact, yet always operating within a global framework and trade agreements that put developing countries at significant disadvantage. Structural change would be far more discouraging and far less measurable for individuals wanting to make a difference.

    Presenting this simplified analogy shows how readily good intentions can lead to a sort of stasis of the status quo – a sort of Catch-22. Over time, those that believe their work is important can become willfully blind as they seek those that need their help rather than addressing why help is needed at all.

  4. Ivan writes:


    I much prefer your (much shorter) fable. But both seem alike in encouraging confrontation with what they take to be a deeper problem?

    As a particular movement, rather than a very very general principle, EA does seem to be becoming (marginally?) less marginalist and more pluralist and more invested in complicated dynamic models of change.

  5. MORGAN writes:

    Mother Nature (the beast) is a bitch that wants to kill us.

    Hunters fell her, so that you are not beast food. This is the only binary choice.

    Doing what you can in a world you do not create or control doesn’t make you complicit.

    The Question is only are you grateful for the Hunters. You WILL eventually be grateful to the hunters. Your success re-animating life without understanding why there are all these corpses around, is preferable to hunting hunters (who are after all efficient killers) bc you don’t want to be a corpse too, who will re-animate you?

    Morally it is preferable you do blog posts that valorize the hunter, the biomass engine needs less corpses that way.

  6. Zach writes:

    As a firm believer in EA, Long-termism, and The Dark Forest theory of alien life, I feel our best option is to send a message throughout the cosmos telling any advanced society that we are willing to be their livestock on the condition that they continuously increase our numbers.

  7. s writes:

    Thanks for confirming my sneaking suspicion that the entire enterprise is creepy as hell.