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Azimuth Project values

In the comments for his blog post announcing the Azimuth Project, John Baez wrote:

The distinction between people of ill intent and people of good intent who happen to disagree with what we think can be hard to determine. (Here “we” stands for any group of people who have come to some agreement about what’s good.) There is also the danger of groupthink.

So is there some agreement as to "What is good?"

This is an important topic for many reasons. If we are to work hard with others, it will help to understand what they too believe to be good and what they believe to be ill. I'm sure we each have our personal opinions and life philosophies serve as the basis for evaluating present conditions and likely future scenarios. But there will inevitably be conflicts, and we need to think about how to manage these conflicts. Are there certain values that the project must hold that we can all agree to?

Further, in order to make decisions to develop an actionable plan, there needs to be a commonly agreed set of values which will serve as the basis for the decisions.

For example, one of the issues of sustainability is the differing access to scarce resources. Prices will go up. Some people won't have the money to pay for it. Yet our current global socioeconomic resource-allocation system distributes resources on the basis of birth country, family background, personal effort, and other factors that affect wealth. If nothing changes, this means that millions of poor people will starve through no lack of effort on their part. My personal opinion is that this is a great tragedy that we should avoid at all costs.

It is also my personal belief that all human beings are equally valuable and should get the same opportunities. I'm not one who views the life of a few from my own country as more important than the life of people from far away places. I'm probably on one extreme end of the scale. But I know that many others share this belief only to varying degrees. Some find it perfectly acceptable that some should have easy access to food and water while others do not.

Some people weigh the value of animals as equal to humans. Some as practically worthless.

If the Azimuth Project is to produce concrete plans, implicit in those plans will be value judgments of this sort. So we need to have some, as John says, "agreement about what is good," in order to be a "we" according to his definition. In another discussion, David Tweed mentioned: "there should be an acceptance that people have different "non-negotiable core values." Does this mean that we who are working on the Azimuth Project should have different non-negotiable core values too? It seems to me that we won't be able to work together unless we can find a superset of these values that everyone agrees do indeed define "good."

It would be very useful to make those values explicit. They will need to be sufficiently detailed to serve as guiding principles for the prioritization of effort and resources going forward. This means they need to be prioritized values, not just a jumble of feel-good ideas that everyone knows are good things. You can't make decisions without prioritization.

So what is good?

Comments

  • 1.
    edited January 2011

    Some sketchy thoughts:

    It would be very useful to make those values explicit. They will need to be sufficiently detailed to serve as guiding principles for the prioritization of effort and resources going forward.

    There could be some good reasons for not making the Azimuth Project values explicit and detailed. I want to attract a lot of scientists and engineers to contribute. The more detailed our stated values are, the more things there are to disagree about, and perhaps the more reason to not join in.

    But maybe you think that more clearly stated values will attract more people, or focus their energies better. Maybe so. I've never done anything like this before, so I don't feel I'm doing an optimal job of it.

    I guess maybe one of my values is that we should take a broadly inclusive "umbrella" approach, where many people with differing values can enjoy contributing, as opposed to some more narrow kind of "advocacy" approach, where (for example) we decide that "biochar is great" and then try to convince the world of this.

    I think scientists and engineers broadly agree on the principle that accurate information is a wonderful thing. And so, I'm hoping we can get a lot of them to contribute accurate information and correct misinformation... with the aim of assembling a clear bird's-eye view of the planet's problems and possible solutions. They don't need to agree on whether biochar is great.

    It's possible that everyone here agrees with this stuff, but I'm not sure.

    This means they need to be prioritized values, not just a jumble of feel-good ideas that everyone knows are good things. You can't make decisions without prioritization.

    The thing is, nobody here can make decisions that bind anyone else against their will. It's not like a company where somebody is the boss and they get to give other people pay raises, or fire them. Instead, we all just do what we want and some kind of structure gradually emerges. It worked very nicely on the nLab and nForum, and now it's happening here.

    (If anyone here isn't familiar with the nLab and nForum, they should take a good look! They set the pattern that we're roughly following. They're different in a lot of ways, but they're more developed so we have a lot to learn from them.)

    Of course, I know that in some mysterious way I'm the "leader" here, just as Urs Schreiber is the leader of the nLab. Since I'm not paying anyone a salary, I don't really have the right to tell people people what to do. But I work my butt off, and I find that if I get interested in something, other people tend to follow along.

    I sometimes think one of my defects is that my interests flicker about too wildly. If I were less erratic I might be a better leader.

    I also follow along with other people's interests. For example, I would not have gotten so interested in stochastic differential equations if Tim van Beek hadn't been persistent in writing about those. And I might not be thinking about Lotka-Volterra equations if Graham Jones hadn't written a simulation of those.

    I guess I'm considerably more insistent than most people here about the earth-shaking importance of the Azimuth Project. In fact Curtis Faith may be the first person to have outdone me in this respect.

    Comment Source:Some sketchy thoughts: > It would be very useful to make those values explicit. They will need to be sufficiently detailed to serve as guiding principles for the prioritization of effort and resources going forward. There could be some good reasons for _not_ making the Azimuth Project values explicit and detailed. I want to attract a lot of scientists and engineers to contribute. The more detailed our stated values are, the more things there are to disagree about, and perhaps the more reason to not join in. But maybe you think that more clearly stated values will attract more people, or focus their energies better. Maybe so. I've never done anything like this before, so I don't feel I'm doing an optimal job of it. I guess maybe one of my values is that we should take a broadly inclusive "umbrella" approach, where many people with differing values can enjoy contributing, as opposed to some more narrow kind of "advocacy" approach, where (for example) we decide that "biochar is great" and then try to convince the world of this. I think scientists and engineers broadly agree on the principle that accurate information is a wonderful thing. And so, I'm hoping we can get a lot of them to contribute accurate information and correct misinformation... with the aim of assembling a clear bird's-eye view of the planet's problems and possible solutions. They don't need to agree on whether biochar is great. It's possible that everyone here agrees with [[Azimuth Project|this stuff]], but I'm not sure. > This means they need to be prioritized values, not just a jumble of feel-good ideas that everyone knows are good things. You can't make decisions without prioritization. The thing is, nobody here can make decisions that bind anyone else against their will. It's not like a company where somebody is the boss and they get to give other people pay raises, or fire them. Instead, we all just do what we want and some kind of structure gradually emerges. It worked very nicely on the <a href = "http://ncatlab.org/nlab/show/HomePage">nLab</a> and <a href = "http://www.math.ntnu.no/~stacey/Mathforge/nForum/">nForum</a>, and now it's happening here. (If anyone here isn't familiar with the nLab and nForum, they should take a good look! They set the pattern that we're roughly following. They're different in a lot of ways, but they're more developed so we have a lot to learn from them.) Of course, I know that in some mysterious way I'm the "leader" here, just as Urs Schreiber is the leader of the nLab. Since I'm not paying anyone a salary, I don't really have the right to tell people people what to do. But I work my butt off, and I find that if I get interested in something, other people tend to follow along. I sometimes think one of my defects is that my interests flicker about too wildly. If I were less erratic I might be a better leader. I also follow along with other people's interests. For example, I would not have gotten so interested in [[stochastic differential equations]] if Tim van Beek hadn't been persistent in writing about those. And I might not be thinking about Lotka-Volterra equations if Graham Jones hadn't written a [[Quantitative ecology|simulation of those]]. I guess I'm considerably more insistent than most people here about the earth-shaking _importance_ of the Azimuth Project. In fact Curtis Faith may be the first person to have outdone me in this respect. <img src = "http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/emoticons/tongue2.gif" alt = ""/>
  • 2.
    edited January 2011

    There could be some good reasons for not making the Azimuth Project values explicit and detailed. I want to attract a lot of scientists and engineers to contribute. The more detailed our stated values are, the more things there are to disagree about, and perhaps the more reason to not join in.

    I think this is more of a theoretical problem than an actual one. I'm pretty sure that if you just stated the two or three values that the project must uphold from your perspective there might be one or two more than others would add but the end result wouldn't be off putting to anyone you'd want to help anyway.

    But maybe you think that more clearly stated values will attract more people, or focus their energies better. Maybe so. I've never done anything like this before, so I don't feel I'm doing an optimal job of it.

    There are "values statements" all over the place that tend to be just pure corporate feelgoodism BS written by committee and generally not actually evident in the company's actions. That's not what I'm talking about.

    EDIT: Changed: "That's now" to "That's not" - OOPS!

    I'm talking about values that we'll use to decide what gets put on the blog, what projects are worth organizing from your perspective, etc.

    I guess maybe one of my values is that we should take a broadly inclusive "umbrella" approach, where many people with differing values can enjoy contributing, as opposed to some more narrow kind of "advocacy" approach, where (for example) we decide that "biochar is great" and then try to convince the world of this.

    Yes, this is the kind of value that it is important to make clear up front for reasons I'll describe below.

    I think scientists and engineers broadly agree on the principle that accurate information is a wonderful thing. And so, I'm hoping we can get a lot of them to contribute accurate information and correct misinformation... with the aim of assembling a clear bird's-eye view of the planet's problems and possible solutions. They don't need to agree on whether biochar is great.

    A value that I think you share is that: "scientific objective truth is paramount." While many scientists, probably most, hold this value, it is important to spell it out. The reasons become more important the more distributed and meritocratic the organizational structure.

    The thing is, nobody here can make decisions that bind anyone else against their will. It's not like a company where somebody is the boss and they get to give other people pay raises, or fire them.

    There aren't many good examples of ways to lead independent agents but that really is the task at hand. The best way to get smart people working together is to let them work on exactly what they want, for their own reasons. The difficulty is finding a way to make sure that people are not working at cross purposes. This is one of the reasons that a clearly articulated set of goals and values is important. They should be brief and to the point and universally shared.

    If the values are explicit then you know you can trust the other people on the project because they share those core values. If the values are a mish mash of different perspectives then you can never be sure.

    Getting good people working in unison on a big project requires leadership by influence rather than power. To lead, you set an example of the right way to do things from your limited perspective. If you are lucky the other participants will see the high standards and make sure that what they do meets or exceeds those standards. They will even call you out when you don't live up to what you say. But they can't do this if you don't say what your values are.

    I find that often people will surprise and delight you if you expect great things from them. I also find that people really like working on something important, they really like doing work they can be proud of. Further, working in a team where an individual can contribute something significant for the good of the planet is a rare opportunity. That's why the plans need to be good ones that everyone can understand. Working on something that you doubt will amount to anything is disheartening not inspiring. Working on a realistic project to help save the planet? What could be more inspiring?

    Instead, we all just do what we want and some kind of structure gradually emerges.

    You are being modest, and I think you are underestimating the role of the guidance you provide. As well as that which will be necessary in the future, at least for the first few years of the project. Structure doesn't just emerge from my experience. But you probably meant that the obvious structure we should take will become more and more obvious over time, right?

    That's why you need to build adaptability and change into any actual structure so the Azimuth Project is like an organism. Lots of different cells doing what they each do best, each contributing to the larger purpose. No one cell is queen or king. They are all important.

    What the Azimuth Project eventually becomes will depend as much on the culture that you and the other participants create in the beginning. So far, I very much like what I see, that's why I signed up. But keeping the culture healthy will require regular consistent soft nudges.

    Of course, I know that in some mysterious way I'm the "leader" here, just as Urs Schreiber is the leader of the nLab. Since I'm not paying anyone a salary, I don't really have the right to tell people people what to do. But I work my butt off, and I find that if I get interested in something, other people tend to follow along.

    Yes, leading by example is the best way to get smart people to follow. No doubt about it. Even a small team can do great things if everyone works together. Most people don't have the guts to start something anywhere near as ambitious as the Azimuth Project. But there are a good many of the types of people you want to help that can see the writing on the wall, and will get behind a plan if it looks like it is well thought out and rational.

    That's one of the reasons that I believe that explicitly stating the most important values is important. It is also one of the reasons that I think I can help as I have experience with various aspects of building a plan that may not be obvious when you first think about doing something big.

    (Continued)

    Comment Source:>There could be some good reasons for _not_ making the Azimuth Project values explicit and detailed. I want to attract a lot of scientists and engineers to contribute. The more detailed our stated values are, the more things there are to disagree about, and perhaps the more reason to not join in. I think this is more of a theoretical problem than an actual one. I'm pretty sure that if you just stated the two or three values that the project must uphold from your perspective there might be one or two more than others would add but the end result wouldn't be off putting to anyone you'd want to help anyway. >But maybe you think that more clearly stated values will attract more people, or focus their energies better. Maybe so. I've never done anything like this before, so I don't feel I'm doing an optimal job of it. There are "values statements" all over the place that tend to be just pure corporate feelgoodism BS written by committee and generally not actually evident in the company's actions. That's not what I'm talking about. EDIT: Changed: "That's now" to "That's not" - OOPS! I'm talking about values that we'll use to decide what gets put on the blog, what projects are worth organizing from your perspective, etc. >I guess maybe one of my values is that we should take a broadly inclusive "umbrella" approach, where many people with differing values can enjoy contributing, as opposed to some more narrow kind of "advocacy" approach, where (for example) we decide that "biochar is great" and then try to convince the world of this. Yes, this is the kind of value that it is important to make clear up front for reasons I'll describe below. >I think scientists and engineers broadly agree on the principle that accurate information is a wonderful thing. And so, I'm hoping we can get a lot of them to contribute accurate information and correct misinformation... with the aim of assembling a clear bird's-eye view of the planet's problems and possible solutions. They don't need to agree on whether biochar is great. A value that I think you share is that: "scientific objective truth is paramount." While many scientists, probably most, hold this value, it is important to spell it out. The reasons become more important the more distributed and meritocratic the organizational structure. >The thing is, nobody here can make decisions that bind anyone else against their will. It's not like a company where somebody is the boss and they get to give other people pay raises, or fire them. There aren't many good examples of ways to lead independent agents but that really is the task at hand. The best way to get smart people working together is to let them work on exactly what they want, for their own reasons. The difficulty is finding a way to make sure that people are not working at cross purposes. This is one of the reasons that a clearly articulated set of goals and values is important. They should be brief and to the point and universally shared. If the values are explicit then you know you can trust the other people on the project because they share those core values. If the values are a mish mash of different perspectives then you can never be sure. Getting good people working in unison on a big project requires leadership by influence rather than power. To lead, you set an example of the right way to do things from your limited perspective. If you are lucky the other participants will see the high standards and make sure that what they do meets or exceeds those standards. They will even call you out when you don't live up to what you say. But they can't do this if you don't say what your values are. I find that often people will surprise and delight you if you expect great things from them. I also find that people really like working on something important, they really like doing work they can be proud of. Further, working in a team where an individual can contribute something significant for the good of the planet is a rare opportunity. That's why the plans need to be good ones that everyone can understand. Working on something that you doubt will amount to anything is disheartening not inspiring. Working on a realistic project to help save the planet? What could be more inspiring? >Instead, we all just do what we want and some kind of structure gradually emerges. You are being modest, and I think you are underestimating the role of the guidance you provide. As well as that which will be necessary in the future, at least for the first few years of the project. Structure doesn't just emerge from my experience. But you probably meant that the obvious structure we should take will become more and more obvious over time, right? That's why you need to build adaptability and change into any actual structure so the Azimuth Project is like an organism. Lots of different cells doing what they each do best, each contributing to the larger purpose. No one cell is queen or king. They are all important. What the Azimuth Project eventually becomes will depend as much on the culture that you and the other participants create in the beginning. So far, I very much like what I see, that's why I signed up. But keeping the culture healthy will require regular consistent soft nudges. >Of course, I know that in some mysterious way I'm the "leader" here, just as Urs Schreiber is the leader of the nLab. Since I'm not paying anyone a salary, I don't really have the right to tell people people what to do. But I work my butt off, and I find that if I get interested in something, other people tend to follow along. Yes, leading by example is the best way to get smart people to follow. No doubt about it. Even a small team can do great things if everyone works together. Most people don't have the guts to start something anywhere near as ambitious as the Azimuth Project. But there are a good many of the types of people you want to help that can see the writing on the wall, and will get behind a plan if it looks like it is well thought out and rational. That's one of the reasons that I believe that explicitly stating the most important values is important. It is also one of the reasons that I think I can help as I have experience with various aspects of building a plan that may not be obvious when you first think about doing something big. (Continued)
  • 3.
    edited January 2011

    (Continuation)

    I sometimes think one of my defects is that my interests flicker about too wildly.

    I'd be surprised if your interests flickered more than mine. I'm almost pathologically opposed to boredom and routine. I've spent most of my adult life looking for ways to help make the world better and I always set my sights very high. Every time I have failed I set out to understand the reasons for the failure. Generally some assumption I was making didn't hold and caused the failure. So I always set out to learn the new domain where I was missing information. Understanding the new domain has required me to switch from learning about technology, to marketing, to finance and venture capital, to business, to leadership, to politics, etc.

    If I were less erratic I might be a better leader.

    Leadership is about inspiration more than anything else. It is about helping others figure out how to do their best work. It is about helping more than being helped.

    If you were less erratic you wouldn't be able to inspire because you wouldn't be able to see so clearly that something needs to be done. It is the clarity in your vision made possible because of your generalist nature among specialists that makes you well-suited to leadership of independent-minded scientists and engineers. People want to follow certainty. They want to follow someone who knows where they are going even when they are not sure of the exact path they will take.

    I guess I'm considerably more insistent than most people here about the earth-shaking importance of the Azimuth Project. In fact Curtis Faith may be the first person to have outdone me in this respect.

    I just turned 47 on Sunday. I was a first-time father last year, and I have a 9-month old daughter. She is amazing. I don't want her to grow up and wonder why our generation let things get so bad and I didn't do anything to help make the world better.

    I'm a real optimist by nature. But ignoring the very clear trends of the last 30 to 40 years is no longer an option. Our generation must stand up and do something about this.

    A few years back I thought that politics might be the answer. I spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of politics. My wife and I even followed the 2008 U.S. election and filmed the campaigns of Obama and Ron Paul in the process of learning. It is clear to me having seen the way the last few years have unfolded that political solutions will not avert a crisis.

    In the last few years, we have lived in S.E. Asia for 4 months, and in South America for a few years. I wanted to get to understand the world from outside the U.S. perspective. To get to know people in other countries as individuals, as humans. This has made it even more clear what the major problems are, and that the solutions won't be implemented until a major crisis strikes.

    So I've been working on learning relevant technology and science for the last few years as a backup plan. Trying to see where I might be able to help out in the most effective way possible. The Azimuth Project fits what I've seen. None of the other efforts appear to me to be addressing the realities I see having spent a lot of time investigating them.

    But most of all. The reason that I'm excited about the Azimuth Project is that it has the loftiest of goals and the Earth needs saving. We've screwed it up and we're running out of time.

    Comment Source:(Continuation) >I sometimes think one of my defects is that my interests flicker about too wildly. I'd be surprised if your interests flickered more than mine. I'm almost pathologically opposed to boredom and routine. I've spent most of my adult life looking for ways to help make the world better and I always set my sights very high. Every time I have failed I set out to understand the reasons for the failure. Generally some assumption I was making didn't hold and caused the failure. So I always set out to learn the new domain where I was missing information. Understanding the new domain has required me to switch from learning about technology, to marketing, to finance and venture capital, to business, to leadership, to politics, etc. > If I were less erratic I might be a better leader. Leadership is about inspiration more than anything else. It is about helping others figure out how to do their best work. It is about helping more than being helped. If you were less erratic you wouldn't be able to inspire because you wouldn't be able to see so clearly that something needs to be done. It is the clarity in your vision made possible because of your generalist nature among specialists that makes you well-suited to leadership of independent-minded scientists and engineers. People want to follow certainty. They want to follow someone who knows where they are going even when they are not sure of the exact path they will take. >I guess I'm considerably more insistent than most people here about the earth-shaking _importance_ of the Azimuth Project. In fact Curtis Faith may be the first person to have outdone me in this respect. <img src = "http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/emoticons/tongue2.gif" alt = ""/> I just turned 47 on Sunday. I was a first-time father last year, and I have a 9-month old daughter. She is amazing. I don't want her to grow up and wonder why our generation let things get so bad and I didn't do anything to help make the world better. I'm a real optimist by nature. But ignoring the very clear trends of the last 30 to 40 years is no longer an option. Our generation must stand up and do something about this. A few years back I thought that politics might be the answer. I spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of politics. My wife and I even followed the 2008 U.S. election and filmed the campaigns of Obama and Ron Paul in the process of learning. It is clear to me having seen the way the last few years have unfolded that political solutions will not avert a crisis. In the last few years, we have lived in S.E. Asia for 4 months, and in South America for a few years. I wanted to get to understand the world from outside the U.S. perspective. To get to know people in other countries as individuals, as humans. This has made it even more clear what the major problems are, and that the solutions won't be implemented until a major crisis strikes. So I've been working on learning relevant technology and science for the last few years as a backup plan. Trying to see where I might be able to help out in the most effective way possible. The Azimuth Project fits what I've seen. None of the other efforts appear to me to be addressing the realities I see having spent a lot of time investigating them. But most of all. The reason that I'm excited about the Azimuth Project is that it has the loftiest of goals and the Earth needs saving. We've screwed it up and we're running out of time.
  • 4.
    edited January 2011

    A lot of things to say, but: Curtis: something like your last 6 paragraphs above would make a great addition to the blog post I proposed - the one where you talk about your history and why you've decided to join the Azimuth Project.

    It's inspiring - it will get people revved up!

    Comment Source:A lot of things to say, but: Curtis: something like your last 6 paragraphs above would make a great addition to the blog post I proposed - the one where you talk about your history and why you've decided to join the Azimuth Project. It's inspiring - it will get people revved up!
  • 5.

    I'll work on splitting the post into the two parts as we discussed in the other thread.

    Comment Source:I'll work on splitting the post into the two parts as we discussed in the other thread.
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