Friday, 15 August 2014


I read an article about a recording that was just recently released (you can find the link on my twitter feed, @daansteraan) of former US President Bill Clinton talking about Bin Laden. This recording came from  Melbourne, Australia, from conversation between Clinton and Sky News Australia the day before the 9/11 attacks.

"I nearly got him ... And I could have killed him but I would have had to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and killed 300 innocent women and children and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn't do it."

It would have been extremely inappropriate for this recording to be released just after the attacks and I wonder how much truth there is to the claim that the holder simply "forgot that he had it."

Not that I would blame him if it wasn't true. If it was a decision that was made I don't think it was a particularly bad one at all.

I have a few thoughts today about decisions and their tiered nature. 

A basic decision comes across as having only one degree of consequence. Determinists would probably argue that exactly the opposite is true and every action has an infinite line of consequences. This arguments reaches an interesting stale mate with Quantum Theory when you starting working backwards and get to the point where you cannot tell where an action began (I am referring to not being able to determine the exact position of an electron in an atom).

Getting back to a basic decision, an example would be when I decide whether I want to put up my arm or not. The consequence is that either my arm goes up or my arm stays down. One tier, one consequence, one decision.  

It is, thankfully and and unfortunately, not that simple (it is always unfortunate when something is not more simple, especially for people who like simplicity). The real decision tree is probably uglier than the hariest crows nest we can imagine. The only hair-line I wan't to write about now is the one where a shadow of degrees of good is cast over it. 

Back to the example. My simple decision of raising my hand or not. As for second tier options, there are many we can imagine. One could be that I raised my hand to answer a question in class. Another could be that I did it to switch on a light. It could be to block a punch from an opponent in a boxing match. It could even be to throw a punch at an opponent. Or an animal. Or a woman. Or a child. 

Consider a shadow of degrees of good.   

Clinton had a threshold for bad behaviour which was not shared by his opponent. Bin Laden's threshold of bad behaviour was much lower (higher) than Clintons. Clintons prevented him from killing Bin Laden when he could have. Bin Ladens didn't stop him from doing much worse. Would it have been worth extending Clintons "badness threshold" to protect his assets? His assets being people who do not die from terrorism or terrorist related activity? I also suppose the asset class is very differently defined since we are talking about people. If it was a different asset like drugs maybe? If you had to smoke a joint to ensure your children don't smoke weed then our asset is "sobriety" and our badness threshold would not be with killing but getting stoned. More later. 

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