Inheriting Ill-Gotten Gains

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Re: Inheriting Ill-Gotten Gains

Postby Mad Man P » Tue Jun 30, 2020 10:01 pm

Carleas wrote:I think you are extending the game metaphor too far.

I don't think I am... It's the perfect metaphor.
There is a purpose to a game's design, the same way there is a purpose to our moral code.
Neither morality nor games exist in nature... we invent them.

We may discover things about ourselves and our nature that permits us to get better at designing the rules we play and live by to better accomplish our objectives.
And just like with games... it may turn out to be quite difficult, if not impossible, to design something that works equally well for everyone.

I'd define preserving and enhancing our collective well being, as the sole objective of morality.
By that measure we can make judgements as to which set of rules gives us the best results.
This is how I'd argue slavery was not the best agreement our ancestors could have reached.

But slavery was the agreement our ancestors DID reach and they can at least say it was better than nothing... which is where they started.
You and I, on the other hand, have no such excuse when advancing any change like your take on reparations.

So it falls on you to suggest why such a thing would be beneficial or an improvement on what we have...
In principle, it seems wholly unfair to change the rules retroactively. Even if you play by the rules agreed to, the rules could be changed and then you or your kids, forced to return your gains.
In practice it's likewise ill-considered... as you might well take money from someone who needs it and give it to someone who does not, doing more harm than good.

I fail to see in what way this principle is a moral good, much less an obligation...

You have only addressed this criticism by appealing to the utility of an idealistic take on morality.
Where we pretend our rules are constants written into the fabric of the universe, as true yesterday as they are today, to instill a false confidence in their reliability.
The absurdity of which I've already pointed out to you.

I wonder if you would make a distinctions between this kind of retroactive change where it happens within a single lifetime, as opposed to where it happens over generations in the case of slavery.
If so, how do you make that distinction?

The unintentional part is a very important distinction...
But I don't think our ancestors accidentally enslaved people... I very much believe it was intentional.

For example, if we legalize drugs tomorrow... I don't think we should pay reparations to anyone who was convicted and imprisoned for illegal drug trade.
Or if we made the sale of alcohol illegal that we should then ask for our money back or worse imprison anyone who profited from it's sale when it was legal.
If however, we discover we imprisoned a person for a crime they did not commit... then it makes sense to make amends.
There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.
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Re: Inheriting Ill-Gotten Gains

Postby Mad Man P » Fri Jul 03, 2020 3:40 pm

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people.
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Re: Inheriting Ill-Gotten Gains

Postby Carleas » Sun Jul 12, 2020 1:39 am

Mad Man P wrote:....

Sorry for the delay. I would blame the times, but that would really be to blame my failure to adapt to the times. And I should also credit the quality of your thought; I've rewritten the below a few times as trying to formulate a reply has helped me to better understand your points.

Mad Man P wrote:I don't think I am... It's the perfect metaphor.

I acknowledge that there are similarities, but there are also differences. I'll try to incorporate the metaphor where I agree it works, and point out clearly where I think the metaphor is misleading.

I actually think an interesting and workable moral system could be built starting from the premise that life's a game and defining morality in relation to the greater purpose of games, with some small caveat for identifying the purpose. But "make it sporting for everyone" is pretty close to a number of consequentialist moral systems.

Mad Man P wrote:There is a purpose to a game's design, the same way there is a purpose to our moral code.
Neither morality nor games exist in nature... we invent them.

Well, both do exist in nature, because humans are part of nature. But I'm not sure how much that matters.

One way the game metaphor works is that my conclusion is required by the rules of the game. Your replies to this argument have been solid: much of slavery was legal at the time, and even those parts that weren't are probably time-barred. In some sense this is an empirical claims: the claim is that the law as it already exists would support payment of damages, and we can test it by filing a lawsuit. As an empirical claim, its probably wrong. But it may not be: lots of practices around slavery were illegal on paper, and some kinds of claims don't expire with time. But, legal truths aren't neat like that; some legal truths are undecided until they're tested and settled, and even then they can become unsettled if the next generation decides to reverse them or limit them or otherwise throw them back into doubt. So, we're reasoning from existing rules in an area that isn't (known to us to be) legally settled. If we're treating this as a game with rules, we should appeal to the rules themselves to examine that argument. And that's what I've done in pointing to stolen paintings, inherited spoils, etc. (Relatedly, you claim that "slavery was the agreement our ancestors DID reach", but it's worth noting who "our" refers to, and whose ancestors clearly didn't agree to the rules they were held to. If they didn't agree, then following the rules doesn't really matter, they weren't a party to the contract.)

So one question is, do the rules of this game -- the laws and their prior versions and change history, the principles that they're based on, and the principles of how they are applied and how those applications change -- do those rules dictate compensation for wrongs incident to slavery for the living descendants of slaves from the living descendants of slavers, and I think the answer is plausibly yes, for the reasons I've given.

But another question is what morality now requires that we do about actions in the past, and here I think the game metaphor doesn't work.

One difference between games and morality that matters is how the rules relate to the purpose. Chess doesn't exist in order to satisfy the need of putting the king in checkmate, it exists to entertain, and it does that by defining a goal and rules on how it can be achieved. The "purpose" is different from what the rules tell you to do. And so the rules change in relation to a purpose that is orthogonal to the goals defined in the rules. You noted that if we changed the rules after a tournament we wouldn't ask that the prize money be returned. But changing the rules of the game doesn't mean that the previous participants failed or were wrong. They may well have been achieving the purpose of the game, but need a rule change now to continue to achieve it (for example if an innovative strategy broke the game by exploiting a loop-hole). Similarly on the other side, achieving the purpose of chess isn't the same as playing chess. I'm not winning at chess when I play xbox, just because xbox is entertaining. So for games, following the rules doesn't entail satisfying the purpose, and satisfying the purpose doesn't entail playing the game. Morality isn't like that. The rules of morality and the purpose of morality are deeply connected.

I'm going to stick with the 'sustain an uneasy truce' function of morality, but I don't think this point depends on taking that position, it's just easier to talk about in concrete terms. If the rules of the past led to a civil war, they were actually wrong, because civil war is an objective failure of the uneasy truce. We can reject idealism, and treat morality as contingent -- whatever keeps the uneasy truce -- and still we can make the extra-temporal claim that those rules were wrong because society didn't function under them. We changed them because they were wrong, and we changed them so that the rules create a game whose goal is the purpose.

Moreover, if we find some other set of rules that is a complete contradiction of the rules but provably achieves the purpose, we have a strong argument that those rules are actually morality. And that argument applies when a breakdown of the uneasy truce is expected just as well as it applies after it's occurred. The rules were wrong at the time, because the goal and the purpose were the same goal and purpose that we have now and we know that they didn't work.

And while we could say that hindsight bias is 20-20, and so not too-strongly condemn those behaviors to the extent that they were based upon a mistake of fact, we still have reason to think that the people who made that mistake should not reap a windfall, and where that windfall is provable, where the mistake that led to it is provable, where the victims are provable, where the path of the windfall can be traced from unclean hands to clean hands, we should consider it as ill-gotten gains and owing to the victims.

Finally, there's the question of whether such a move would make a good uneasy truce now. I think the existence of global riots suggests that the "it was legal at the time" argument doesn't work in support of an uneasy truce, so it seems pretty plausible that a limited remedy that only applied in certain circumstances and requires victims to meet a substantial burden is better than the alternative of doing nothing. "Help everyone" doesn't work when a substantial minority of the population doesn't trust the majority to follow through (or, more accurately, to include them in the "everyone" that gets help).

Mad Man P wrote:if we legalize drugs tomorrow ...
if we made the sale of alcohol illegal ...
If however, we discover we imprisoned a person for a crime they did not commit...

I think this intuition is mostly right, but not exactly how things go in practice. Again, to be US-centric, we paid reparations to interned Japanese, even though there was no obligation to do that. Was that wrong?

And again I question how settled the law is here. It seems like there was a slow shift from "this individual, who happens to come from Africa, is a slave" to "all Africans, no matter how they got here, are slaves", and there are substantial legal grey areas along the way. If we change the laws to seize a warehouse of booze and later changed it back, should we give the booze back to the person we took it from, or should the government (and its well-connected hangers on) get to keep the booze and sell it for their own benefit?
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Re: Inheriting Ill-Gotten Gains

Postby Meno_ » Sun Jul 12, 2020 3:03 am

I think summoralilly, the distinction between purposes and goals would serve clarity in direct proportion of the value of declarative settlement, if ever that sort of quantification became a demanded exact figure. As that configuration would duplicate more to the qualification of membership in the supposed claim.

Can such distinction be adjusted summarily, and prescriptivaly, given the political nature of the context in which particular cases may be judged?

Or, van such distinctions become too trivial in the course of overall settlements made over time?
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