MIT271: Technology & Human Values January 29 Privacy and the Commons: Computers and Population
Administration: • Final study question: What sorts of harm may pornography cause that makes criminal the production and distribution of materials classified as obscene? Why, in addition, is the possession of child pornography criminal? Why is possession especially a problem with the growth of the internet? • Webpage is up and has everything you need for the test: http://instruct.uwo.ca/mit/271b-001
Computers and privacy Major ethical conflict is between: • Privacy: personal data, communications, ideas, errors • Publicity: concerning the need to limit “the digital divide”: computer access and literacy increase existing social divisions
Garrett Hardin: The Tragedy of the Commons Endless increase in human population • Cannot be solved by technology • Can be solved only by relinquishing the freedom to breed
Technical solution requires: • “a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences” • “little or nothing n the way of change in human values or morality” (page 285)
The population problem • Population grows exponentially/geometrically • Finite world can support a finite population. So, population growth must eventually by zero.
The moral problem: maximizing utility • Utilitarianism: Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill • Utility =df the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people
Zero population growth ≠ maximum utility • If the optimum level of population is the maximum population. • (a) Not mathematically possible to maximize for two independent variables. • (b) Maximizing population requires bare maintenance of human life, and limiting activities that provide people pleasure
Evaluating population size • What else might determine the optimum level of population? • For other species: natural selection • No examples of stable and prosperous human populations • The “invisible hand” (nature?) is merely an article of faith, not a reasonable expectation; and is rebutted by …
The tragedy of the commons • In general: • Each individual seeks to maximize self-interest • People share limited resources in common • People tend to maximize individual utility at the expense of general utility • In the case of population: pollution [ecology?] leads to need for new property rights [ negative freedom]
Options for achieving moderation • Education / propaganda • Must be universal, or individual populations will eliminate themselves • Tendency to produce pathological anxiety • Mutual coercion mutually agreed upon • E.g., taxes • Private property: enclosed farmland, hunting and fishing areas, sewage, … other pollution? • “injustice is preferable to total ruin”
What is the greatest problem with Hardin’s position? • Are his assumptions warranted? • Are his assumptions adequate to support his claims about the limits of technology? • Are his assumptions adequate to support the limitation of human freedom to breed?
Frankenfood • Biotechnology might serve to expand our food supply (almost) indefinitely? • Opposition to GM foods may be motivated by: • Fear? • Anti-capitalist sympathies?