Lee Chin Wee, Thailand WUDC 2020 Open Semi-Final Deputy Leader of Opposition
Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWbmzyLxlgU&t=1791s
A “Brave New World” has these characteristics:
- People are genetically engineered and socially conditioned by the state for specific societal roles.
- People’s material and physical needs are unfailingly met.
- There is no possibility of changing the social order.
I think it’s important to peel back the euphemisms of genetic engineering and social conditioning, because that seems to be Opening Government’s magic bullet. And I want you to understand, just how antithetical these things are to our deepest hopes and desires.
First, it means alienating you from yourself. You do not have autonomy. You do not have dreams. You just have to be a polished gear in an unfeeling machine.
Two, it means cracking down on dissidents, because stability, per their first speaker, is purchased at the cost of imprisoning critics. Because if you so much as speak out against their regime, you are sent to re-education camps.
They say the motion tells us people cannot rebel. No. Check your phones. Point #3 says “there is no possibility of changing the social order”. There might be, for example, no possibility for me to kill all of you. Doesn’t mean I can’t try. Doesn’t mean I can’t come screaming towards you and slapping all of you even though I don’t succeed. And we think the motion slide does not give them fiat to say that people are deadened.
Third, it also means deadening some of the most powerful affective emotions in our human psyche that give us happiness. The removal of hope, of aspiration, and of the chance of rebellion.
So at the end of my introduction, I ask you to ask them a question. At what price, Janko, for prosperity? Because for OG, prosperity is purchased at the cost of cauterizing the human soul.
I talk to you about five things.
Why do people sacrifice material wellbeing for intangible goods like democracy?
I put to you that factual claims like the Brexit vote, how people took back control even though they were materially poorer, or Hong Kong protesters, who rejected their future as investment banking analysts and consultants so they could fight on the frontlines for universal suffrage, are empirical evidence that material comfort is deeply insufficient for happiness.
Life is a pursuit of meaning. Just surface, raw existence without any further internal narrative is what increases the likelihood of depression and severe nihilism. That is why Bhutan is happier than Hong Kong. This is why people tend to be deeply unhappy in countries like China, in countries where you don’t have the ballot, where you’re unable to organize, because people feel that their lives are being led by someone else. That you’re just a puppet in the capitalist machine with no capacity to have autonomy. So it is in their paradigm that they have more pain, they have more depression, they have more nihilism, they have more mental disorder.
They say, second, this is the second part of my speech, that people’s preferences change over time and they’re better able to reflect it. I’m not sure why they bring this up. Because Jason tells you that it is democracy that serves a preference aggregating function. So I can accept their premise. Let’s say people’s preferences change over time. But that’s why people’s voting preferences, the revealed preference through the majority, also met onto changing preferences. But in their side, they have to lock in preferences at one time slice. They’ll have to pull everybody to determine what people’s preferences are, and then genetically engineer from that point onwards. It is their side that doesn’t recognize that preferences change.
But let’s be clear, because I think all of you are wondering, what is the problem with being born with genetically programmed preferences? Because it seems to me that I’m doing a cheat, right? I’m taking an external perspective and applying it to a subjective perspective. So here’s the problem. The problem with being born with genetically programmed preferences is that you don’t feel autonomous, even if you may not actually be autonomous. Because you feel that your entire life is led, strung along by deterministic things.
So even if the world we live in is a deterministic one, at least we give ourselves the illusion of autonomy. That I know when I swing my hands, it is not some random law of physics that’s causing me to swing my hands. And this gives me power to know that I control my life. That I’m able to define my relationships with people. That I’m able to be the protagonist in my own life story. But in a deterministic world, even with the subjective perspective of someone whose preferences are conditioned by the state, that individual feels like an automated. That individual feels like they’re being led by a state that’s determined for them what their life plays out, even though their preferences are real to them.
That is why Jason gives you the analogy of the heroin addict. Why is it that the heroin addict, in his moments of sobriety, even if he may not always be sober, really regrets taking heroin, even though those preferences are real? It’s because the heroin addict realizes that their positive freedom is being curtailed. That they’re unable to control their addiction to the heroin, they’re being led by some external force in the same way they’re being led by the external force on their side by the state.
Third thing I want to talk about. Maybe Janko is correct. Material wellbeing is indeed a precondition for happiness. I mean I concede, this is probably true. But first, look at Jason’s mitigation about how in most liberal Western democracies, this precondition tends to be met, and we’re on a path to improvement. This doesn’t flip the point, it just mitigates.
But I want to note here, that a precondition is non equivalent to sufficiency. So lots of people on your side have the preconditions for happiness. Good job. Because very few people actually have the sufficient conditions for happiness. There are very few people who are actually happy on your side even if you meet the relevant preconditions. So by their own utilitarian metric, we win.
On what Janko says about pain minimization utilitarianism. Maybe it’s not about maximizing happiness, it’s about minimizing pain. But on your side, all of Jason’s harms cause pain. The fact, for example, that I’m not allowed to feel hope if I’m toiling away as a gear in that machine. The fact, for example, that I have a high likelihood of suffering things like schizophrenia and depression because I feel that the state is the one controlling me, not myself controlling my own life. So on your side, you also have a very large amount of pain. But before I go on, yes?
POI: Even if we buy your unproven premise, that they do not have a sense of free choice, how are minorities in the West on food stamps living life as protagonist or hero of their own life?
Answer: This is actually deeply elitist, I’m sorry. Because lots of individuals, regardless of their material conditions, generally do find value in their lives. Like their family, their friends, the jobs they work. Even if you might not think that somebody flipping burgers in McDonalds has a deep, complex, meaningful internal life, I assure you, they do. Back to my case.
So we think even on their metric of pain minimization utilitarianism, they lose, because they have deep mental and psychological problems.
Number five. Slavery. I love what Janko says. The state is coercive. If I steal the watch, the policeman break my hand. Ah, correct. So the state is coercive, right? That is exactly the premise for why we should have the vote. Because the coercive power of the state is the justification for people having the ability to shape those laws. Because it is illegitimate for a state to have coercive power on someone if that someone is also unable to similarly reflect back on the state and stop the state through voting for an alternative political party or changing the laws. It is exactly that premise that feeds into Jason’s argument. So thank you for proving our point that there is a principal legitimacy to democracy that prevents state overreach and also a principal legitimacy to the point that we avoid a relational inequality that creates slavery.
For all these reasons, I have never been prouder to oppose.