Value is determined by how much something influences people, or anything that feels, including AI and animals. The value of sentient creatures could be determined by how much that creature influences other creatures. In this model, humans would likely vary the most in value compared to other animals due to the way they have formed highly collaborative groups that allow them to influence many sentient creatures, humans included, to a much larger degree than most other species. Side note, there are likely other species that have a large influence on sentient creatures as well, for example bees.
Because humans probably have more variance in value due to their massive influence, they also likely reach into negative value more than any other creatures, which means that many arbitrary animals may be considerably more valuable than certain humans simply by being more neutral and having too little influence to matter.
Humans are able to reach negative value by consuming excessive resources that influence the environment, diminish resource access for others, harm the gatherers of the resource, and so on. For example, many humans consume rare metals, plastics, and agricultural animals. Many first world humans engage in consumer cultures that harm many humans in the third world. They harm many animals. Many humans are likely negative value even when ignoring all other sentient species besides humans, meaning they likely harm many people.
This also means that many third world peoples could be generally more valuable than many of the first world peoples who engage in practices that harm and exploit people in the third world. I expect many to find this counter-intuitive at first, but it makes sense in this context once you consider the high degree of influence that powerful people have. Those with immense power over the behaviors of others, those employing people in corporations, those creating major human behavior systems and lifestyles can have massive positive influence over many lives as well, not merely harm. Those in the first world will have more value variance compared to the third world because of the relationship the first world has with the third world. Most of these harmful first world behaviors are likely due to a lack of knowledge but also probably the bystander effect and conformity that make these harms seem socially acceptable and thus unpunishable.
Not only are third world people more likely to be neutral value and low influence, but so are farm animals. This becomes an interesting problem, as many of the first world people who are negative value are probably also consuming the higher value (more neutral) farm animals as food. This contributes to the negative value of that person by harming the animals, but also harming humans and future generations through the production costs and side effects (the environment) of consuming animals.
Humans are driven by the fear of punishment, but also probably many other motivations, with some of these motivations being wholesome or with good intention. Those who are primarily driven to behave ethically by virtue of escaping punishment will probably refuse to go vegan, because doing so is often socially punished via stigma. While there may be real value to humans in stopping consumption of animals, through environment and health consequences, many are not aware of these values.
It is often assumed that humans are inherently more valuable than other animals, often due to assumed higher intelligence, having a more complex nervous system and thus assumed higher sentience, among other reasons. It is worth noting that the usefulness of conscious processing in animal species is to generate learned behaviors that can help to reduce the high-energy processing of every sensory detail. In an unlearned state, it makes sense that we must process more information whereas automatic and learned behaviors will require less information and be more streamlined. If humans were in fact more intelligent than all species, we might wonder if they experience consciousness less so than less intelligent species.
If we assume knowledge is an element of sentience, then this gets into uncomfortable territory as many humans do not have access to knowledge and we could them deem them as less conscious for this reason. There may not be any reason to assume knowledge-sentience matters and it could be arbitrary. If we assume knowledge is power and capacity for influence, this brings us back to individual value again, where those who have knowledge have a responsibility to positively influence others.
Unfortunately a loophole exists in that, if others do not realize how they are being harmed or exploited, the individual can bypass reputational loss or other negative selfish consequences. Another loophole exists in that many may desire to be good because of the reputational effects, rather than intrinsic motivation to be good. Reputation is the perception of one’s value to others. The way humans treat animals could represent some of this problem, in that animals are so low influence that people can neglect their emotions, desires, and needs and fully abuse and destroy them.
Utopia could be imagined as a system of life, a system of creature behaviors that operate in perfect harmony with the lowest level of conflict possible.
Special thanks to the two patrons, Abhishaike Mahajan and Charles Wright! Abhi is also the artist who created the cover image for Most Relevant. Please support him on instagram, he is an amazing artist!
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2 thoughts on “Value and Sentience”
I do like this post very much. Our whole planet is wrong. We need right thinking and we should be aiming for utopia.
I always think of bees and wasps whenever I think about intelligence among other species. For bees in particular, they are loyal, hard working, and use nature’s resources to create civilizations (beehives). Bees in particular, have also acquired an amazing synegry with flowers and food bearing plants. That synergy is so profound that it keeps other species, including humans, surviving. It truly blows my mind, and you shed a profound light on this topic. Thanks for the post!