Last modified: 2012-06-14 (finished). Epistemic state: believed.

(I actually intended to make this argument after I had presented a certain construction of (meta-)meta-ethics, and after I had more strongly motivated the locality axiom, but Things Changed1. You may have to fill in the gaps yourself for now.)

Let’s start with a simple definition - what’s trolling? Trolling, like crackpottery, is arguing for positions that are not merely motivated by truth-seeking2. The major difference, however, is that a crackpot actually believes what they are saying, they just use an interestingness prior to select their beliefs. A troll is intentionally adjusting their beliefs for the specific argument, either in content (“lol bible says kill the gays”) or strength (“I feel very strongly about this definition!”).

Of course, all the good philosophers3, mystics4 and hackers5 have, at some point at least, been engaged in trolling, but What Would Jesus Do isn’t enough of an argument for us.

So let’s do this from first principles.

The simplest is this:

  • Moral action must always be possible.

There cannot be a situation in which every possible action an agent can take is wrong. The set of available moral actions is never empty.

This should be self-evident, just like the axiom of identity. Similar requirements exist elsewhere. For example, we have this axiom when it comes to rational beliefs:

  • Rational beliefs must always make a difference in anticipation.

Beliefs are about predictions and anticipation, but if someone who holds an irrational belief makes exactly the same predictions in all circumstances as someone who holds the rational belief, then, well, you’re doing it wrong.

Either the irrationalist is actually right and just uses a different language, or the rationalist is wrong and likely arguing about a meaningless question.

Similarly, morality is about actions. In rationality, you are presented with a set of possible beliefs and choose certain ones. In morality, you choose actions6 in the same way.

So just as rationality requires that there is always a difference in anticipation and that the set of anticipated events is never empty, so morality requires a difference in action and that the set of available moral actions is never empty.

This does not, of course, require that those actions be easy, pleasant, certain or otherwise nice. Sophie’s Choice is still allowed, but not Calvinism.

This is already enough for us, it turns out. One meta-level down, we can now formulate the locality axiom:

  • Only local information can be relevant for moral action.

If this were not the case, and moral decisions depended on global information, like say the entire history of the Andromeda Galaxy, then anyone who doesn’t have this information - especially any computationally or physically limited agent like us - could not, in principle, do the right thing.

Thus, morality is always local.7

But what does this imply?

Remember the Cartesian Demon, a being which is vastly more powerful than you and misleads you about the content of reality. Figuring out whether such a being exists or not is not possible with your computational resources. Thus, its existence is global information, not local - it cannot be morally relevant!

Dealing with an angel or a demon can’t make a moral difference for you because you couldn’t (in the general case) tell them apart in the first place. Whether you are being trolled or not is therefore morally irrelevant.

So it’s clear that being trolled is morally neutral, but what about actively trolling someone?

Well, that depends on your intentions8!

For one thing, it is not possible for your actions to ever screw over another agent in the moral sense. (It might still suck to be them, though.) However, you also can’t be responsible for consequences you couldn’t locally have predicted, or else you might unknowingly bring damnation upon a Cartesian Stalker that chose to kill itself should you ever eat chocolate ice cream, a clear violation of locality.

So because others don’t have an obligation to hear any particular version of the truth, you can’t, in general, have an obligation to speak it either.

This doesn’t get you out of jail for free, but it does, quite explicitly, allow trolling for the good9 of the one being trolled.

Which is why the gods are trolling you.

  1. Particularly, I saw Grognor’s tweet:

    Rationalize that trolling is morally neutral and can be done responsibly so you can keep doing it without feeling guilty #lifehacks #muflhax

    And I’m appalled by that suggestion! I’m not rationalizing! I have a complex meta-ethical set of axioms that has morally-neutral trolling as a derivable theorem!

    I didn’t start out with the conclusion here, I did proper meta-ethics and discovered it! I’m not that crazy.

  2. Or rather, “believing without preferences”, merely following the axioms of probability theory without any utility function. Not even Roombas do that.

  3. Schopenhauer even wrote a book about it.

  4. The Lord has said: “These people praise me with their words, but they never really think about me. They worship me by repeating rules made up by humans. So once again I will do things that shock and amaze them, and I will destroy the wisdom of those who claim to know and understand.” (Isaiah 29)

  5. I don’t think I need to cite examples.

  6. Note, of course, that deliberately believing something is an action. Beliefs are not exempt from optimization. Don’t be a rock.

  7. See Non-Local Metaethics why this immediately rules out many meta-ethical theories like Average Utilitarianism.

  8. I’d like to point out that locality automatically introduces the Doctrine of Double Effect.

  9. Act only for the good. Leave the “greater” to God.

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