The Sliding Scale of Pascal’s Wager

In Response To Measuring Someones Worth Using Their Post Apocalyptic Value

Continuing the spirited discussion (would it be better to call it “dramatic argument”? Would that drive more pageviews?) of the last few posts, I do think Mutt has several valid points. The PAV metric is a workable system for rating people, but I think using it as the sole metric is a bad idea for a simple reason: the world hasn’t ended yet.

This is not to say it never will, or that preparation for it is a bad thing. Quite the contrary, there’s a reason governments are always pushing for “disaster preparedness” kits, it shows how truly fragile our society is that a large storm can functionally bring the apocalypse to a local area for a time. Having skills useful in such situations is a good thing.

However, we are finite creatures. There is only so much we can learn or become in our lifetime. And for every thing you spend an hour, day, or year learning, that is one less hour, day, or year to learn a different thing. As humans we are constantly faced with choices on what to devote time to learning. We generally try to learn things that are immediately (or at least clearly) useful to us. The dilemma comes when what we should learn for apocalyptic survival and what we should learn for survival in our current world are in conflict.

Are you employed as an artist, programmer, writer, teacher, game designer, accountant, lawyer, secretary, lab technician, data-entrant, policy analyst or academic? Congratulations. Your job is useless in the apocalypse. However, you’ll notice that you are not currently dead, because those job skills are in demand, so you are paid money which allows you to purchase food and shelter. At some point you sacrificed mastering apocalyptic skills for what we can call “mysterious” skills (“Apokalyptein” is Greek for “revelation/to uncover”, “musterion”, aka mystery, means “secret knowledge or rites” and is sort of the opposite). Frankly, this is a good bet in most cases. The only reason having a high PAV matters at all is because it resembles Pascal’s Wager: if the unlikely event of the world ending actually happens, you’re pretty badly doomed unless well-prepared. While the world ending is highly unlikely at any single point in time, at some point entropy will wreck our collective day and only the prepared and lucky will survive.

This leads to a spectrum of tactics various people take in response. On one end are people that don’t wait for society to collapse, but leave early and behave as if society already has. Hermits in cabins, those that “go Galt”, and various survivalists will likely be unaffected by the destruction of society. They have focused wholly on apocalyptic skills. At the other end are those who intentionally or unintentionally live assuming society is going to be around for them. Celebrities, specialized technicians, and others dependent on society are similarly focused on the mysterious skills. Most people are somewhere in between these two poles, if I had to guess I’d say I’m pretty close to median, and Mutt is somewhere between me and the apocalyptic pole.

This issue gets further clouded by the range of apocalyptic skills. I am, to say the least, terrible with guns. My aim is crap and I wouldn’t know how to maintain one unless it came with an owner’s manual. That said, I can knap flint, not as effectively as an anthropology grad student can (Seriously, if all tech falls apart hang on to the anthropology grad students, they will live quite happily), but enough that I could more efficiently put holes in delicious animals. Depending on the scale and grade of societal destruction, that may be a useful or useless skill. Similarly, if a the disaster causes enough deaths then food-collection skills might be unimportant simply because the survivors will have enough canned goods to learn farming from trial and error. Alternately, a war may mean that those with a skillset as nerdy and mystery-based as theoretical physics will be welcomed in eagerly by another nation and never really experience a loss of civilization (hey, it worked for Einstein, right?). Maximizing your PAV could be done by just mastering enough skills (or bringing sufficient tractor-trailers of resources to approximate skills) out into the middle of nowhere and never interacting with human society again. While this makes you a person with a good PAV, I’m unsure it makes you a good person.


Measuring Someone’s worth using their Post Apocalyptic Value

Baron Samoyed messaged me the other day with this question: “Do you really judge people by their Post Apocalyptic Value?” I answered that, while I wrote that mostly for it’s humor value, I do indeed silently judge people based on how useful they would be after Armageddon. If society collapsed, it would be important to surround yourself in people that could survive, and contribute to your group of survivors. Anyone that can adequately contribute to the new micro-societies, who has a high Post Apocalyptic Value, would be the building blocks of all society in this dystopia. While it is true that we don’t live in Post Apocalyptia, the world has not self destructed, I still think that a person’s Post Apocalyptic Value is a fair matrix by which to judge someone. There are lots of qualities to look for when chosing a party to survive with in the zombie infested future (or nuclear wasteland, 1984esque regime, etc) and those qualities translate over to life as we know it in the now. It’s not just about firing a gun or knowing which plants are edible. The small group has to be able to interact with itself, so you need to chose people that have high social intelligence. You also need people that know the area well, people who can pass on knowledge and people who have a high nutritional value in case you have to eat them. Everyone has a Post Apocalyptic Value, and I’ve developed five categories by which to calculate it: Having Manual Skills,Having Social Skills, Posessing Knowledge, Being Physically Fit, And Having Some Randomly Useful Skill. Assign points to them and you too can silently judge people on whether or not the zombies will get them.

Manual Skills are pretty self explanatory. If you can build a fire, that raises your Post Apocalyptic Value (Henceforth known as PAV.) If you can catch a fish, fire and maintain a rifle, build shelter or fight off a bear, these are all useful skills to have in dystopia and therefore raise your PAV. This category is the one that the average person has the most control over in their day to day. You can at any time learn to build a fire, thus changing your value, and it is also the category that will be the most important immediately after the first signs of the apocalypse. After the bombs rain down, you will need to be able to obtain the necessary items for survival. You will need water quickly, it is the most important thing to have. Therfore you must know, or have someone with you who knows, how to obtain clean water. But this value decreases over time. Soon you will have a surplus of water, or more people will have learned to obtain water. In modern society, this is also the case. When your faucet explodes, you need a plumber now. The plumbers value is very high. But once the problem is solved, his value goes down. But the value, even as it decreases, can never reach zero. There will always be need for manual skills, whether it’s repairing your water gathering still or suddenly needing to build a wall to defend against zombie badgers. Having high points in this category might save you from having low points in the next category. Because if someone needs water badly, they will put up with even the rudest person.

The second category, of course, is Social Skills. People will have to interact with each other. A high point value in this category can come from a variety of things. A natural leader, or someone that can organize a group, has a high value. If you know a few people that have a high manual skill set, and can bring them together to accomplish things, that is a great skill to have. If you can mediate between two people who are not getting along (and arguing instead of gathering wood for a fire) then you improve the efficiency of the group, thus having a high value. This is one of two categories that having a low value in will hinder a person. Someone who refuses to get along with people, or who is highly arrogant, will erode the efficiency of the group. Someone who tries to pick fights, or who you can’t help but want to punch in the face, is downright destructive to the survival. Therefore, after manual skills have begun to fall in value, social skills begin to rise in value. You may put up with a rude plumber until he fixes your faucet, but then you want him gone. This is probably the hardest category to improve upon, but it is not impossible. Just remember that everyone is a person, and no one deserves to be treated poorly. If you treat the plumber rudely, he won’t do the work, then no one advances.

Knowledge is an interesting variable. It’s value doesn’t change as time goes on. In the beginning, people will need to know things like which plants are edible, which ones will poison you and why it isn’t a good idea to go near those weird looking mushrooms. As time goes on people will need to know where good places to seek shelter are, where they can find certain items, and different materials that might be better to use for certain things. A highly knowledgeable person can work alongside a highly skilled person to increase the efficiency, and to use their knowledge to watch over the group in order to observe and catalog events. Down the line, once society has reestablished, it will be up to those with knowledge to pass on the knowledge and continue to make sure people survive and pursue science, and teach nutrition and fitness. Because….

Physical Fitness is really important. If someone is not physically fit enough to apply a skill, or can’t survive a few days of walking, then they aren’t very useful at all. In the beginning people may have to be nomadic, searching for environments which are not hostile. People will have to be fit enough to keep up with the group, otherwise they won’t be very good at contributing to the group. Being able to lay bricks doesn’t mean much if you can’t lift the bricks more than a few times. This is one of the harder categories to increase, but it is one of the categories than anyone can work on. It’s also the category that is most obvious to other people, making it one of the easiest to judge people by. And so they do, especially in modern society. However, refer to category two. Don’t insult people, we are all people trying to survive. The value in this category, like manual skills, decreases as time after the catastrophe passes. As society reestablishes itself, people can afford to stop eating as little as possible, or can go longer periods of time without having the fend off evil robots, and can therefore afford to get fat and lazy again. Where you needed to be fighting fit to hold you own against the robot, as society produces walls and people specialize in defending the village, people will be able to afford to lose fitness levels. Though it probably will never be a good idea to intentionally become physically stagnant, because the robots are learning robots and they might breach the perimeter. Of course you might just be the guy that has the magic touch with electronics. Yknow, if your like me, every computer you touch breaks, making you much better at dealing with evil robots. Which brings us to the final category.

Many people have some random trait that makes them more useful in certain situations. Maybe you have perfect pitch and can distinguish between the howl of a radioactive super coyote and a normal coyote. Maybe you can sprint really well, and can scout ahead for trouble. Maybe your an exceptional singer, and can work to keep morale up when it seems like the end again. This is the only value that is almost impossible to increase over the course of a scenario. You would have to spend valuable time practicing something to get good enough at it, if it’s even something you can obtain at all. There are people all around in society as we know it that have some skill or trait that they are extra good at. Maybe they have the rare ability to throw really well, so they become a baseball star. Or they have extraordinary programming skills, the way they are wired makes them better at speaking computer language. This is a random variable, and hard to place value on. However it is undeniably present, because a person can have a low score in everything else, yet still be a productive member of society. An obese angry man, who has spent his entire life playing video games and insulting people, might suddenly find himself in the position to be used for medical experiments because of the unique health problems he incurred from lcd radiation, thus making him useful. A random trait he didn’t work for, but is non the less a value. The value can change though, so it’s never good to rely on the random variable. If they develop a cure for the lcd rad sickness, then he’s useless again.

So there you have it. The five categories for judging people based on their Post Apocalyptic Value. Remember that everyone has a value, and a low value doesn’t mean that they arn’t worthy of being around. You can raise your own value by protecting and teaching those with lower values. It’s not about singling people out, it’s about using this matrix to improve the average, ensuring the human race prevails. Being able to do things for yourself, not being an awful person, reading up on history, obtaining a better level of fitness and keeping up with something your good at. I think these are things that everyone can strive for, in order to better society as a whole. And, yknow, survive when cats evolve opposable thumbs and try to enslave us.



PS, I added some Amazon widgets to my site. I’m never going to put anything on my site that I would find irritating, but I use amazon a lot. If you happen to search for something using this site, or see something you like on the lower bar and buy it, I get a little money, which means that I can feel a little more justified in devoting so much time to writing. That is, if you enjoy reading the things on the site, I s’pose if you don’t like the site you could just use the search and sidebar just because it’s convenient.

Thank y’all kindly.


The Return of Baron Samoyed

When I started this project, I knew from the beginning that this blog would have an occasional guest post. Especially after my friends told me that they wanted to write things but didn’t have a place to. The fallowing is not one of those people, but rather someone who Ive known forever and who first introduced me to my writing hero David Wong. So when I told him that I was starting a writing project, he said “Oh, I’ll write articles with you. I am a professional writer after all.” So without further adieu:

Hello all, I’m Mutt’s co-blogger, the pseudonymous Baron Samoyed. I have a black belt in haiku and a black vest at the cleaners, and my diet is deficient in moral fiber.

More seriously though, I’m a friend of our head blogger here, and a writer by vocation. I didn’t actually want to write growing up, but pretty much moments after I graduated college I was politely informed that no one else was hiring. Considering this was less than a year ago you can understand why I’m still a little sore over the whole thing. I’m staying pseudonymous because I’d like to protect what little dignity my work persona has, and the only way I’ll ever be able to tell you about the time I was in Tucson, Arizona at the height of summer and drank nothing but vodka for three straight days and began hallucinating I was being attacked by giant beetles except about 15% of the beetles were actually real and so forth, is by pretending that my real name will not someday get attached to this. It’s a fragile illusion, I know, but do it for the beetles.

As for what I can tell you about me, I’m mostly your average nerd, except I was raised by military parents outside the US for many years, and so didn’t get a computer until I was a sophomore in high school. As a result most videogames, American TV shows, nerd pop culture, and spelling “travelling” with only a single L are things I’ve never quite gotten used to. I like to think my knowledge of medicinal and edible plants, large collection f 60′s-80′s science fiction, and my proud habit of overthinking everything make up for it. I enjoy videogames but even the ones I like I tend to pick apart in a frenzy of disgust (see “overthinking” above), and the ones I dislike I can howl about for hours.

I’ve never blogged before so I don’t want to make any crazy claims of consistency or sanity in my posts, especially since my day job gets first dibs on both. Still, I’ll try and hang around and help Mutt move in, and I hope to see you around.


You Could Die

I ride a motorcycle every day. It’s a sport-bike (Suzuki SV650S), and it’s the only vehicle I own. Someone asked me today why I ride a “murdercycle.” I kid you not, that was the word he used. So I thought about it, and aside from the obvious “because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get to work” I really enjoy riding. I can get through traffic problems, it uses almost not gas, has more power than I need, and as long as I don’t push the envelope to far then the only fear is other drivers on the road. Little can be done about the other drivers though, even if your in a car (I don’t see being trapped in something like a smartcar as being safer than flung off a motorcycle). I am a good rider, I practice braking hard, swerving and riding in unfavorable conditions. I’m better prepared to deal with a situation on that bike than most drivers in their cars.

Of course, I presented these reasons to the person. The response was something along the lines of “but if you get hit, you’ll die because there arn’t any airbags or anything.” This isn’t really true, but I have a better counter argument. Anyone could die, at any time.

Seriously. There are a million and a half ways you could die right now for moving around. There are almost as many ways you could die without moving around. In fact, you could be doing absolutely nothing, and still die. You could, for instance, have a rogue blood clot in your leg. Suddenly it breaks off and hurtles toward your cranium, where it gets trapped in the tiny blood vessels around your wonderful brain. And that could kill, all because your body decided it was time. I’m not even talking about getting hit by a meteor. I’m talking about falling down stairs, (2000 people a year) or just plain dying in a car (cars are the most deadly things that were ever invented. More people die in a car crash each year than have ever died in atomic incidents)

But what about actively increasing your chances of death, as riding a motorcycle apparently does. Go ahead, eat another slice of pie. One of the leading health risks in the United States is obesity. Eating that extra slice makes you more likely to die. Does it ballance, if I don’t eat the pie can I safely ride the motorcycle? No, not really, but I like the idea. If I give up energy drinks and stop leaving the house maybe I can survive a gunshot. My point, since it seems to have run off, is that there are thousands of risks we take every day that increase the likelihood of dying. We chose the ones we are comfortable with. Like I said before, cars will kill you. But that won’t stop most people from driving them to save time, or even driving them for fun. The person who told me I rode a murdercycle drives a truck that he can barely control, and smokes weed at any given opportunity, because he assessed the risk of smoking and driving was within tolerable risks for the reward. This is the person that could not understand how I could ride a motorcycle, who will probably die when he hits the brake instead of the gas on a crowded freeway. And none of it matters, because the sun is going to explode and we are all going to die regardless of what risks you take, and whether or not those risks are more likely to kill you.

So what can we do? We are soft and squishy and easily killed by almost everything. You can decrease your risk of death only to the point that random chance will end your life. It’s just not fair.

I do have a few suggestions. The first is to realize that statistics are, in this case, almost useless. As XKCD is fond to point out, statistics don’t tell the whole story. If you live in a hut that resides on the outskirts of nowhere and your closest neighbor’s only mode of transportation is a saddled cow your chances of death by auto are pretty low. The second thing is to lower the stats. Take a defensive driving course, that way when Mr. I Need To Send This Text swerves into your lane, your calm and prepared to react. Try not to eat cyanide, and try to walk a little more. Three, don’t worry about the things you can’t control. Really, don’t. Just stop. And four, don’t let the risk of dying stop you from doing things. On a motorcycle I am free, escaping from my thoughts. If it means I’m .001 percent more likely to die, so be it. I’d probably eat to much if I didn’t ride, and I’d rather become sidewalk art than die in a hospital bed to portly to move.