Equivalence Matters

September 2, 2019

I recently wrote about why “smart” is not a good word. You don’t necessarily need to read that post to understand this one; the main idea is that “smart” is usually used as a supercategory abstracting and trivializing multiple, orthogonal subcategories.

A natural follow-up to this statement is why “smart” not being a good word matters. The reasoning I previously presented is that usage of “smart” at best ambiguates the word’s intent, and at worst provides no useful information at all. But there are more interesting reasonings.

In this post, I propose that “smart” not being a good word matters because value-categorizing words like “smart” are also bad words, and that the categorizations these words attempt to delineate are dangerous to individuality.

0: Preconditions

First, it’s important to note that this is a discussion about people. And people are defined by some practical factors, including time and philosophy. There are some people with a lot of time and non-binding philosophies, but I am speaking on the scale of all people, and it is not the case that all people have infinite time and no philosophies.

I mention time partly as a concession and partly as a segue. Limited time make categories a necessity - considering the nuances of every situation without using categorical assumptions results in exponential, and potentially unbounded, time investment. For instance, it is much easier to decide whether or not to cook pesto pasta given a general like or dislike towards pesto and pasta than it is to consider all other ingredients in the dish, its environmental and health implications, its monetary investment, etc. That’s not to say these other considerations aren’t important; they are, because they introduce nuances that may dramatically impact estimations made from categorical assumptions.

So philosophy also becomes a factor. Individuals will focus their time on categories they perceive to be valuable. Of course, these choices are unique.

I argue that philosophy is not only individualCertainly, this statement is itself biased by my individual philosophies. - it becomes externally important when individuals use their philosophies to make decisions impacting others. In claiming that value categorizations are dangerous, there is a precondition of my philosophy on externalities.

I only claim these to be my values, but I see little motivation for disagreeing with such values without a philosophy of rational egoism.

I believe that actions that stifle the opportunities of individuals to make personal decisions are dangerous and should not be made.

I believe people should do things that empowers the opportunities and values of others. This is hard to always do, but I believe that value categories make it nearly impossible.

1: Equalizing Values

Different people have different perceptions of value. One way to decide what decisions empower the opportunities and values of others is to create a universal listing of value categorizations. Of course, this is impossible because of the near-infinite number of category permutations. An alternative is to treat all individuals as computationally equivalent and all individuals’ values as value-equivalent, or more simply, as value-less. In this model, external value assignment becomes obsolete. For instance, a Level 16 CEO and a Level 1 employee in a company are equivalentMy philosophy of equivalence goes further; I claim that e.g. a human and a rock have the same complexity and value. and of equal value, even if cultural norms claim otherwise.

2: Dangerous Categories

External value assignment is dangerous because it entirely defeats computational equivalence, which in turn defeats unambiguous value perception. That’s a long sentence to say assigning values on others totally voids their desired perception of value.

Because value categorization is value assignment, value categorization is dangerous.

3: Int

Okay, so that’s my proofI mean, this is kind of how I think. Or at least I think I do. . Here’s something for intuition.

Consider some individual working a job that societal norms may generally prescribe as prestigious. Others in the same environment as that individual may have jobs that societal norms prescribe as less prestigious. Prescribing any value to the kind of job that each individual has turns out to be useless for each individual’s self-worth and self-valuation because, generally speaking, each individual has their own motivations for doing their job. Attempts to externally classify the value of another’s work discards the nuances behind that individual’s decision to do their work, and furthermore assigns a non-self-prescribed value not necessarily representative of how the individual chooses to view themselves.

To me, that’s not a great way to let others live their livesI recently read Audrey Lorde’s The Uses of the Erotic. It discusses marginalization of the erotic in women, presenting interesting ideas somewhat tangential to this post, and reads in ~thirty minutes. . Sure, the individual may have value attributions to what they do, but it’s not up to the rest of us to make those attributions. Normative statements can be useful, but I think they should be avoided where they marginalize an individual’s experience.


Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts. I may be wrong, but that’s okay. I only hope this can provide a perspective.

If you would like to contact me for any reason, I am best reached via email.

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