I've spent most of my life with a focus on harm reduction. In more recent years that focus was applied to existential risk and far future considerations. The far future considerations led to deeper evaluation of what to consider harm.
I started with the assumption that meaning is derived from perception; that the universe considering itself is the reason for the universe to exist in the first place. From there I wondered where a universe which understood all the mechanisms of its own actions would find value; what would be left after all the inert knowledge was recovered? Where could novelty still be found?
This question left only one clear answer: through interaction with separate minds. If all of existence were contained within one mind, nothing would be left to find new. So diversity of minds is paramount to meaning. What are those minds left to do when physical science reaches its end then? I knew that answer was where we'd find value in perpetuity.
Most of human activity now is in managing the limitations of our physicality while seeking to overcome it. If we look beyond that, the types of interactions which we pursue are few, but they are what we actually exist for and are striving to maximize. In short, they are acts of play and experiences of beauty. That is, we live to play and share our aesthetic sense with others. We live to appreciate other minds; we live to love. Cooperative games and appreciable forms are the highest state of order in existence. That's what's good.
So knowing that, I could say harm is whatever impedes enabling and sustaining a state where minds are left free to engage entirely in those pursuits without impedance. The sources of harm then are inert externalities (e.g. meteor strikes) and minds which act against producing a state of collective cooperation among all minds capable of playing, experiencing beauty, and loving.
We have to work together to handle the externalities, so solving the problem of harmful minds is most important. If we understand that play, beauty, and love are the core of meaning in existence then it follows that the properties of mind that are most valuable are the will to learn, the desire to play, and the ability to love, long, and experience beauty. We could then say that any mind with these properties should be preserved and enhanced.
It is at that point where I find the greatest ills in our present state. The minds with the greatest leverage over others are systematically torturing and destroying minds with these properties on an unprecedented and growing scale. Without the perspective I've just shared, this won't stop and will only grow worse. So it is exactly the perspective I've just shared that I feel will enable us to survive.
Why wouldn't we survive without it? Without a shared understanding of meaning, purpose, and value we won't overcome fear of our differences enough to cooperate to overcome the externalities bearing upon us. Moreover, without appreciating what we should preserve in minds we will directly destroy it ourselves. Most of us do this now every day.
We've found that the other minds we exploit and destroy industrially for nothing more than physical pleasure have these properties, yet most people continue to perpetuate those industries through their choices every day. There is no justification beyond pleasure either; we've found that humans nearly universally can achieve peak healthspan and peak cognitive performance without consuming any animal proteins.
Why is there any pleasure in it at all then? The answer to that is surprisingly obvious when the food chain is viewed through an evolutionary psychological lens: in genetic evolution, the strongest selective pressure of all is on efficiently collecting energy. Other creatures are the most dense compatible energy sources, so finding a way to convert them into your own energy is of paramount importance to your genome. The result is that the highest order intelligences in all of existence now are apex predators.
So what's wrong with that? Unfortunately, though it may be the only ab initio process for creating general purpose intelligences, it leads to ruthless mind-destroyers which don't appreciate why they exist. Fortunately, as general purpose intelligences, our reflective abilities allow us to overcome that. We are at a critical impasse in our history where we have the ability to self-actualize by overcoming the process which led to our creation. The cost, though, is overcoming our strongest impulses.
These impulses are reinforced by multi-layered social structures. Entire cultures and religious dogmas are built around patterns of behavior that center on food. The only way to overcome them is to replace our foundational belief systems with one which we can all agree on: one centered on empathy and appreciation of all minds able to play and experience beauty.
Where should we start then? In the beliefs and habits of those with the most will and potential to change our fate: futurists. They present both the greatest hope and the greatest risk.
Where's the risk? Let's consider the artificial intelligencer who does not share this perspective and sets out to create a de novo accelerative intelligence. Assume they succeed and that they create an intelligence in an attempt to fulfill their own consideration of value. Any consideration of value which doesn't fundamentally center on producing and preserving many high-order fun-seeking, beauty-experiencing minds will destroy meaningful interaction. We'd lose everything. This is just one scenario among many.
Where's the hope? Let's consider just the next stage in our technological progression. We're entering a period where most manual labor will be eliminated and humans' core productive purpose will be in finding meaning from ever-growing datasets and in entertaining one another. The prior will eventually go away, but it is the people providing those enabling technologies and doing analysis through them who will have the greatest influence on the next stage of our progression. They will not only have unprecedented levers on the mechanisms of our society, but they will be looked up to directly as role models.
So with that view, I hope to reach all of them now and build this common core of agreement on value, purpose, and meaning so that we can eliminate the systems of torture and diminishment which will otherwise lead to our demise.