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January 28, 2013

Can we be smarter in 2013?

In this Dispatch….

  • Introducing heuristic thinking
  • Our most important heuristic — The ZAP
  • Using heuristics to refute calls for gun prohibition

Raul Capablanca was the World Chess Champion from 1921 to 1927. Legend holds that he was once asked how many moves ahead he planned. Capablanca supposedly replied…

“Only one. The best one.”

Was this mere arrogance?

It was not. It was accurate.

Most great Chess players have no more capacity to think ahead than the average person. But what they do have is a wealth of knowledge about positions, situations, and principles.

Thinking based on this kind of knowledge goes by a name. It’s called…

Heuristic Thinking

The word heuristic is pronounced hyoo-RIS-tic. Wikipedia defines it this way…

Mental short cuts to ease the cognitive load of making a decision.

Heuristic thinking — the use of heuristics — is the acquirable part of intelligence. Everyone has the capacity to learn and use heuristics to make better decisions.

It follows from this that we can also use heuristics to improve society.

We want to make increased use of heuristics to work smarter in 2013.

Imagine what we could achieve if society started to learn and employ certain heuristic rules? The Zero Aggression Principle (ZAP) is an example of one such heuristic. The ZAP says…

No one should initiate harm against others, or delegate doing so to “the government.”

  • Harm means fraud, violent threats intended to coerce, and actual violence.
  • Aggression means threats of violence backed by actual assaults, not mere assertiveness.
  • Key word? Initiate. Defense is morally acceptable. so the ZAP can be embraced by pacifist and non-pacifist alike.

The ZAP is derived from the Golden Rule (another heuristic principle!), which holds that we should treat others by the same standards we want applied to us. The ZAP logically extends the Golden Rule as follows . . . 

Governments must live by the same moral principles as individuals.

  • A government is merely a group of people.
  • A group has no special magic to turn wrong into right. Therefore…
  • Any action that's wrong for an individual to do is also wrong for a government to do.
  • This principle even applies to democracies — no number of votes is sufficient to make wrong become right. 

We intend to base much of our work on this heuristic principle in the years ahead.

Tomorrow we want to give you an example of this, in combination with other new heuristics, as follows…

  • Alcohol prohibition, drug prohibition, and GUN prohibition are all forms of the same thing, and all must fail for the same reasons.
  • Empirical studies applied to social issues are all fragile and highly prone to error.
  • No empirical study can override a moral principle (such as the ZAP).
  • The standard used to judge one idea must also be applied to its competing ideas (we can call this heuristic The Golden Rule of Ideas).

We will deploy these heuristics in tomorrow’s Dispatch to refute a recent column by Michael Shermer that argued for two forms of gun prohibition. We hope you will pay close attention to our argument…

  • It's an example of the kind of approach we intend to use in the future.
  • We hope that you will want to adopt and use the heuristics tomorrow's Dispatch employs.

Until then…

Perry Willis
Zero Aggression Project

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