On having more to lose

Central thesis: The sense of how valuable the world is influences the level of investment we are collectively willing to make in order to save it. There are two ways to influence the collective sense of how valuable the world is. One is by changing perspectives on the current state of the world. The other is by changing the current state of the world for others directly.

Arguments: From nuclear launch scenarios to climate change, x-risks will often depend on human decisions.

Human decisions depend on the internal conditions of a human’s mental and emotional well-being at any given moment.

The internal conditions of a human’s mental and emotional well-being at any given moment largely depend on their sense of how valuable their life is, which in turn largely depends on that human’s social connections, throughout the course of their life.

Let’s look at the example of Stanislav Petrov, the Russian military colonel who disobeyed orders against Soviet military protocol after a false alarm on their nuclear detection system, and stopped a nuclear war between Russia and the USA from taking place.

How many officers would have been able to disobey their orders in his position and potentially save the world on that day?

Given how celebrated Petrov is, it’s probably safe to assume less than 50 out of 100 of his peers would have been able to do what he did. That’s what makes it such a heroic act.

So how do we account for the difference between someone like Petrov, and someone in his position who would have gone forward with the launch?

A confluence of factors, surely, including good sense, self-trust, potentially fear. But also hope. It seems to me that person with less hope than Petrov would be correspondingly less likely to make a heroic decision on that day. So the more hopeful the world is at that moment, for each person, the higher our chances are to survive that false alarm.

But Petrov is just an extreme example of a person who has influence on the direction of our planet and our species. I’m intentionally using this extreme example to show how, on the margin, a single human decision can weigh on the balance in a way that actually matters, and that single decision can be influenced by everyday people who have no idea that they are influencing x-risk, but are in fact increasing the sense of value Petrov sees in the world.

Conclusion: The people in Petrov’s life who increased the sense of value he sees in the world are also the heroes. The people in our lives who increase the sense of value we see in the world are increasing our collective lifespan by creating a world that we want to live in more. The more desirable the world is to live in, the more investment we will all be willing to naturally make in order to preserve it’s existence. The more we gain, in terms of the collective value of our lives, the more we have to lose, and the less willing we will be to lose it. So we should shift our attitude towards a more collective way of thinking about how to reduce x-risk and who is currently reducing x-risk in the world. Spread love.


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