I've seen several people on Less Wrong recommend Mencius Moldbug's writings, and I've been curious about how he became so popular here. He's certainly an interesting thinker, but he's rather obscure and doesn't have any obvious connection to Less Wrong, so I'm wondering where this overlap in readership came from.

[EDIT by E.Y.: The answer is that he's not popular here.  The 2012 LW annual survey showed 2.5% (30 of 1195 responses) identified as 'reactionary' or 'Moldbuggian'.  To the extent this is greater than population average, it seems sufficiently explained by Moldbug having commented on the early Overcoming Bias econblog before LW forked from it, bringing with some of his own pre-existing audience.  I cannot remember running across anyone talking about Moldbug on LW, at all, besides this post, in the last year or so.  Since this page has now risen to the first page of Google results for Mencius Moldbug due to LW's high pagerank, and on at least one occasion sloppy / agenda-promoting journalists such as Klint Finley have found it convenient to pretend to an alternate reality (where Moldbug is popular on LW and Hacker News due to speaking out for angry entitled Silicon Valley elites, or something), a correction in the post seems deserved.  See also the Anti-Reactionary FAQ by Scott Alexander (aka Yvain, LW's second-highest-karma user). --EY]

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He is? Since when?


You've read at least some of his material (since you commented on the ring of Fnargl thought experiment). I would be very interested in your opinion if you don't think this will cause those who agree or disagree with him to go funny in the head.

Politics mindkilled him; he cannot separate the normative and the descriptive.


One thing I noticed when I was archive-binging his site was that there was a very distinct threshold (which I think occurred sometime in '09, but don't quote me on that), when the primary message Moldbug was trying to convey abruptly switched from "Silly progressives! Democracy doesn't work like you think it works" to "Democracy is the worst thing that ever happened in the history of forever". This transition was accompanied by a marked upswing in his general level of bitterness.

And his inability to say anything in less than a zillion words. He can't get started in less than a thousand.

In general, life is too short to spend it working out what Moldbug's actual substantive point is.

This is in part a strategy to keep out the wrong contrarian cluster. But yes reading say Vladimir_M is a better use of time. Moldbug does have some very good essays though.

That sounds very like using the reader's sunk cost fallacy as a marketing move.

I did like Moldbug's essay on the problem with academic computer science, and his rants on computer technology in general. I get more of a sense he knows what he's talking about, rather than pontificating as an interested amateur. (Even when I think he's wrong, it seems a more informed wrong.) It could just be greater subject interest on my part, of course.

Can you provide an example?

9Cornelius Dybdahl
Ten years late to the thread, but I wanted to make a clarification for people who might see this. Yudkowsky's characterisation comes from a good faith misunderstanding of what Yarvin (Moldbug) is doing. Yarvin is perfectly capable of separating the normative from the descriptive, but this is much less relevant to his project than to Yudkowsky's. Yudkowsky is trying to solve AI alignment, and therefore ideally needs a very pure conception of the terminal values of humanity, or the coherent extrapolated volition of humanity. But this is purely theoretical axiology, and in the context of political philosophy, it is rather ephemeral.  Political philosophy is more concerned with the distinction between long term goals and short term goals. This is related to terminal values versus instrumental values, but there is no clear dividing line, since the long term goals are also constrained by material reality and therefore contingent, which contingency separates them from true terminal values. Since a sharp dividing line between long term goals and short term goals would be arbitrary and fail to properly capture the nuances of the spectrum, Yarvin does not draw such a line. He does not however conflate goals belonging to different time horizons, so he is also not committing the "fallacy of grey". 
I think I agree with this.
I too think I agree but I think there is a spectrum when it comes to the separation of normative claims. Example: Both Marx and Kaczynski failed in distinguishing the normative from the descriptive, but Kaczynski less so.
I do agree with this.
Name three.
See my previous comment re: mistaking a vocal minority for a group consensus.

I don't even think they're particularly vocal. I can recall like two loud Moldbuggians: Konk and Vlad_M, who is inactive and doesn't even mention Moldbug by name, to my knowledge.

I think it looks like these Moldbuggians are active because a lot of Moldbuggianism is deconstructing assumptions about how politics works. So there's a lot of mainstream ideological assumptions that aren't seen as ideological at all by most people (democracy is good, the media is an observer not a participant in government, etc) yet are seen as incorrect and/or political claims by Moldbuggians. So then Moldbuggians say things like "wait now, democracy isn't all that great" and it looks like they suddenly injected Moldbuggery in a non-politics thread, when they see it as just adding another comment on an existing politics thread.

the media is an observer not a participant in government

I haven't read Moldbug, so maybe you mean something else by this than what it sounds like, but I don't think I know of anyone with an interest in politics who'd agree with this statement as written. Pretty much everybody thinks that the media has a huge influence on government, up to the point of often determining what decisions the government can make, and which politicians grow popular or fall out of favor. There's a reason why it's called the fourth estate.

I think Moldbug's main point is that even if cynical people acknowledge that the media often uses its powers in biased ways, there's still an ideal that the media should be this fair and balanced impartial observer that just provides information and then lets the people decide. Moldbug beleives such an ideal to be naive and unworkable: the media will allways be biased, and will always use its powers to influence the secular political enviroment, and expecting it not to grossly misunderstands what the media actually is, how it operates and what its incentives are. There's also the fact that when people think of "biased" media, their minds tend to jump immediately to media that is biased against their own political views, while being blind to the biases of their own favorite media source (witness all the liberals, who rightly decry Fox News while putting NPR on a pedastal).
I think it's also worth noting that (particularly in the context of ideological assumptions about democracy that are not generally perceived to be ideological) there are many forms that bias in the media can take while not even coming close to setting off any warnings of partisan bias. It is in the basic function of conveyance of seemingly apolitical news that the media continuously privileges the null hypothesis.
Or it may be the case that the biases of media of different affiliation cancel out so that the overall effect of media is near zero (that is, removing media would not dramatically change the public opinion). It is far from obvious that the media have a common systematic bias which is absent in general population. Isn't this exactly what Moldbug thinks? Well, he has no favourite media, but that's the fate of all fringe ideologues and extremists; if you move sufficiently away from the mainstream, you'll have to expect finding few allies. Also, having no favourite media source is not that rare; I recall that in my country not long ago the boss of the strongest right wing party said that all media are either leftist or German leftist, while the chairman of the strongest left wing party claimed that all media are biased against him.
You must hang out with smarter people than me.

I'm not sure vocal is a good word, people who have read Moldbug and his ideas mention him certainly but no more than people who read and cite different bloggers like say Sister Y or Razib Khan.

The main reason I think references to his writing stand out as they seem to is because the models he proposes depart so radically from the formal description our society has for itself, yet is taken seriously by some not obviously crazy people.

For "popular", read "gets any attention at all", which he pretty much doesn't elsewhere. (Not, to be fair, that he looks for attention particularly.)

He used to be a frequent commenter on Overcoming Bias before Hanson and Yudkowsky split blogs, and he clearly dazzled readers with his refined brand of contrarianism. I wasn't around to watch, but his comments are occasionally seen under 2007-2008 posts, and later on too. His handle there is/was simply Mencius, search for it.

(Might this belong in Open Thread?)

Thanks; that explains it. Is there a way for me to move this to Open Thread? (I'm new to posting/commenting here, and I haven't fully figured out the site mechanics.)
No, not really. Just post similar concerns there the next time and you'll be fine. :-)
LW search has been giving me some headaches recently. Might you link to the account that LW probably generated for him when it imported stuff from OB?

This should probably be an open thread comment.

Note that you've seen "several people" out of hundreds recommend Mencius Moldbug. That is not surprising given that he has debated Robin Hanson, and I believe was linked by Robin several times on Overcoming Bias. I'm not sure how you go from "several people" to "so popular". I don't think there's anything to explain.

On the as-yet-unfinished survey, n gbgny bs fvkgrra people identify themselves as "Moldbuggian" and na nqqvgvbany gjb people as "reactionary". Compare this to other categories; for example nobhg avargl rnpu for "libertarian" and "progressive".

(edit: rot13ed number for people who want to predict it in advance)

V rkcrpgrq n fznyyre funer bs frys-vqragvsvrq Zbyqohttvnaf.
Same here.
That sounds about right to me (though sadly I didn't try to predict in advance). I wonder how that differs from other communities that have had significant exposure to Moldbug.
This would make an interesting post in and of itself. What communities do you have in mind?
I did not mean to imply existence of such communities.
I'd generally suggest saying why you rot13 something (if it's not obvious) before the text rather than after. I tend to ha-ebg guvatf nf V ernq gurz if I can't think of a reason not to, and suspect I'm not the only one.
I wonder if the choice, "moldbuggery"(in the survey), is made in a serious thought, or for lack of a better word.
maybe rot13 all the numbers?

I guess I mistook a small but noticeable minority for some sort of community consensus. In retrospect, that was kind of silly of me.

The question then becomes why is it noticeable. Edit: Athrelon has since made an interesting observation.

To everyone:

Please accept my sincere and heartfelt apologies for my recent trolling, ideological aggression and disruptive behavior in here. I realize that I've been looking like a hopeless crank to many readers. I stand by my general ideas and value judgments (all or nearly all of them), but I am sorry for wording them in ways that violate LW standards and harm our discourse. I will not retract the offending comments, and have no objection to them being downvoted even further.

For at least a while, I shall refrain from public discussion of those matters. I realize that me trying to take a cold, clinical and unshrinking look at Universalism while simultaneously feeling deep moral + religious devotion to it has caused me severe cognitive dissonance, strained my critical facilities and made me lose awareness of social norms. I have since been recuperating psychologically. I hope that this incident will not leave a permanent stain on my image in the community.

Obviously the LessWrong demographic is self-selected for attraction to people who set out a Big Philosophical System in lengthy blog posts spanning several years. :D

More seriously, we do skew a bit non-mainstream and libertarian, if that's the word for Moldbug, around here. And if you hang around for long enough and your thoughts are sufficiently coherent and well explained, you become part of the public conversation; that seems to have happened to both Moldbug and EY. People don't necessarily come to agree with you, but at least they've heard of you; hence the phrase "public intellectual".

Moldbug is actively hostile to libertarian thought - he's more royalist / authoritarian.

Sometimes I think that Moldbug is an extrapolated libertarian. The world he describes seems to me as something that would naturally happen after a few iterations of the libertarian paradise.

The "unextrapolated" libertarians imagine a balanced market of power, forever. But in real life, local monopolies sometimes happen. Each such monopoly would create what Moldbug calls "sovereign" -- an entity with unlimited power over their resources (including people), but still acting as a participant in the outside market. For the outside market, cooperating with the sovereign, or even just ignoring them, could be a more profitable option than fighting them. (Evidence: What does an ordinary western citizen think about freedom in China? And what about buying cheap products from China?) Moldbug is a few steps ahead; he thinks about what makes sovereigns internally weak or strong.

I think this is a correct extrapolation of "anarcho-capitalism" (zero state) rather than "libertarianism" (minimal state). The minimal state approach could in principle keep a market balance by breaking up monopolies, and generally preserving basic human rights. It's the zero-state approach which is likely to lead to "firms" owning "territories" and exerting monopoly force within those territories (ie a return to a patchwork of states, though no longer called states).

Intriguingly, on anarcho-capitalist principles, such a firm would be entitled to do whatever it likes with its territory including defining very one-sided contracts to make use of it. Contracts like "Anyone who enters or stays in the territory becomes the firm's property, as do any of their offspring; anyone who leaves any form of matter in the territory accepts that it becomes the firm's property". And if you don't accept that contract, the firm denies permission to use any matter in the territory, such as food, water or air. Alternatively, the firm could - if it chose - define other forms of contracts, for any sort of social organisation it preferred : liberal democratic, socialist, communist, Islamic republic, whatever really. So under anarcho-capitalist principles, a division of the world into state-like bodies, defining whatever laws they like within their territories, is perfectly legitimate and acceptable. Since that is the world as it stands, I don't see what the anarcho-capitalists are complaining about.

I think you know that they are complaining about not getting their adolescent utopia of doing what they like, and not being beholden to The Man.
You say that like it's not worth complaining about.
If it's not possible to fix, is it worth complaining out?
Pieces like the formalist mainfesto seem to show obvious signs of this.
Yet Moldbug somehow argues that external pressure would keep sovereigns from making their patches into slave labor camps (either with physical barriers or propaganda or mind control or something weirder)! So that the tyrants of slave patches sell their slaves' products to the complacent liberal patches, and import catgirls from there for themselves. +Tyrants are known to enjoy domination and torture of subjects even at cost to themselves (e.g. Hitler, Mussolini, the Kims, Pinochet or the various post-soviet dictators). I think that's an extremely likely, extremely dangerous failure mode that simply kicks the entire proposal back to the drawing board (and wipes the board clean for good measure). Unless strong further evidence for the defense is forthcoming, I proclaim the case on Patchwork closed. Note that Moldbug spins some long, unlikely, hyper-Functionalist story somewhere on UR - as an attempt to juggle the Holocaust into a different reference class, maybe?

Moldbug somehow argues that external pressure would keep sovereigns from making their patches into slave labor camps

In my opinion this is very similar to the standard libertarian argument, except that instead of companies on the free market, MM speaks about sovereigns. And it didn't convince me, too.

I am not defending MM here, I am just trying to understand him and pick the parts of his theory that seem correct to me. This is not one of them.

But to be fair, and fight the status quo, imagine that we are both subjects of the Moldbuggian Kingdom in the alternative universe, and we are discussing pros and cons of democracy, as a hypothesis. In that case, Hitler and Pinochet would be actually arguments against democracy. Like: "Let's imagine that we try this democracy thing here. What makes you believe that people would not vote for an evil charismatic leader like Hitler? Also, even a democratic country needs a strong army, somehow isolated from the election process (otherwise a foreign attack during the election day would defeat the unprepared country). So what makes you believe that an army leader could not take over the power, like Pinochet?" And it would be your turn to... (read more)

The American patchwork resulted in civil war. The Italian patchwork was eventually invaded. Both were still extremely productive and raised living standards dramatically and furthermore made innovations that changed the world for the better. I consider the evidence that patchworks are bad insufficient.
Recall that in Neocameralism/Patchwork CEOs are under plausibly tight control to ensure profit maximization. You are using loaded terminology. Your argument is much better if you talk about profit maximizations not necessarily being as benign as imagined in a transhuman world rather than importing connotations of alpha apes doing anything they want and this ending badly. Disappointed you would do this. Down voted. Oh come on. Pot calling kettle black. You kind of do stuff like that all the time my friend. Without linking to the actual article related to this (which I don't recall) is from a consequentalist view of communication nothing but a boo light.
And? So someone can quite legally buy/acquire all the shares of a patch and order the CEO to do fucking anything, not just "maximize cash flow". Doesn't even have to be a single shareholder. What if the shareholders desire control over their property, huh - who's gonna stop them then? The CEO? What if they promise the CEO a cushy deal?
No one. But then don't invoke Hitler or Kim or Stalin, invoke slave ownership.
Of course there would probably be more "rational" slave camps on average than "sadistic" ones. I'm going for the worst case scenarios here simply because... why shouldn't I? I see zero evidence that, among a million patches, the worst cases would never ever arise once. Psychopaths/sadists have amassed capital before, they have amassed influence before, they have gained partners' trust before. Why wouldn't they be able to exchange those for total+secure sovereignity within a Patchwork model?
Looking at the real world spending of people with power and wealth and the traits these people have it seems to me that you would see many many more Dubai's and Singapore's than summer camps for sadists. Why is one in a million that terrible? Its a far better track record than democracy or monarchy have... Indeed why would one in a hundred or one in ten be that horrible? Your opinion if this is an acceptable utilitarian trade and even desirable compared to modern third world misery, depend strongly on where you stand on torture vs. dust specks.
In the 20th century, in a world where democracy and human rights are actively promoted, all factors that would be missing from Moldburgia. Look at the real world behaviour of autocrats in the past.
Oh LessWrong. Figuring out in 2012 what leftists have been saying for centuries.
I strongly disrecommend all variants of "I told you so".

If he's become actively hostile to libertarianism, then this is a reverse from his originial position put forth here:

That leaves libertarians. Now, I love libertarians to death. My CPU practically has a permanent open socket to the Mises Institute. In my opinion, anyone who has intentionally chosen to remain ignorant of libertarian (and, in particular, Misesian-Rothbardian) thought, in an era when a couple of mouse clicks will feed you enough high-test libertarianism to drown a moose, is not an intellectually serious person. Furthermore, I am a computer programmer who has read far too much science fiction - two major risk factors for libertarianism. So I could just say, "read Rothbard," and call it a day.

On the other hand, it is hard to avoid noticing two basic facts about the universe. One is that libertarianism is an extremely obvious idea. The other is that it has never been successfully implemented.

This does not prove anything. But what it suggests is that libertarianism is, as its detractors are always quick to claim, an essentially impractical ideology. I would love to live in a libertarian society. The question is: is there a path from here to there? And if we get there, will we stay there? If your answer to both questions is obviously "yes," perhaps your definition of "obvious" is not the same as mine.

I believe that this statement was not an endorsement of libertarianism, but rather a sop to libertarian readers, based on my knowledge of his style. Moldbug draws a clear distinction between libertarian policies, which he believes meet straightforward criteria for effectiveness and sanity, and would (not ought to, but would) be implemented by a Responsible Government (see: neocameralism), and libertarianism as a political philosophy and movement. He identifies the fundamentally Sisyphean nature of advocacy for libertarian politics within a democracy, and also the untenable assumptions of the Rothbardian non-aggression theory of natural rights, which, barring some bizarre change in the present technological-military détente, makes the absence of a geographically-based state with a monopoly on violence equivalent to 'money on the table'.
Yes and no, he's mentioned that he 'loves libertarians to bits', and in general seems to think they have a better idea of the problem than most but don't go far enough with their solution.
Indeed, 'libertarian' is not the word I really want; it's hard to fit Moldbug into any of the usual categories, but libertarian is probably the closest. I observe that while the state he favours has in principle the right to hang you upside down by the Achilles heels, his predictions for what it will actually do, as a means of maximising its revenue, are all pretty libertarian-sounding, except for the Laffer-maximising tax rate.

I don't think a libertarian would predict that a government with near absolute power would behave anything like what Moldbug predicts. For example, public choice theory predicts increased corruption and self-dealing (like the monopolies that kings granted to friends and political insiders). Moldbug thinks this will be avoided via "vote with your feet," but doesn't explain why the government would allow this remedy when it doesn't allow any other remedy.

I don't think Moldbug is literally a monarchist. He just does not like the UK Whigs, and what he thinks the UK Whigs morphed into. The monarchism thing is for effect, it's not a serious proposition.
Based on my impression, Moldbug is more or less a monarchist. Also, talking as if his main point is that he "doesn't like UK Whigs" is extremely odd. He is an American who presents a wide-ranging set of political observations spanning hundreds of years, contemporary UK politics per se is hardly his concern.
One of the many elephants in the room is that monarchy is a system where it was completely normal for the monarch to impose their religion on their subjects. Moldbug makes a big thing about this tenuous, almost invisible Cathedral thingy, but if he gets his utopia he may well find hismelf dealing with the real thing.
I disagree. The use of the term "monarch" might be problematic, but Mencius' conception of useful hierarchical authority models puts CEO and Monarch in a similar space.
In the sense that there is a single guy at the top, I suppose. But then by that logic you can argue Moldbug ought to have no problems with a parlamentary democracy with a prime minister. The point is not that there is a single guy in charge at the top, but the system of incentives that girds the society and gives it shape. There is a big difference between the British monarchy in the Stuart period ("bring back the Stuarts!"), and what Moldbug is actually advocating.
The system being the joint-stock model which Mencius claims effective monarchies approximated.

Because Less Wrong likes metacontrarians.

Back maybe 15 years ago, the libertarian techno smarty pants were often anarcho capitalists. I think someone expressed that Moldbug has roots in anarcho capitalism. Neocameralism seems a natural evolution of that. "To a neocameralist, a state is a business which owns a country." So, defense agencies are now tied to dirt (which I find a bow to the reality of defense economics and the practicalities of markets in force), but otherwise the intellectual assumptions (and mistake, IMO), are about the same.

Also, Moldbug's description of the progressive attitude toward conservatives largely matches the Moldbug attitude toward progressives - "They believe in a brain dead orthodoxy that props up an oppressive evil empire". Moldbuggers are the daring new tip of the spear.

One of the benefits of being way out on the fringe is that no one has bothered to make arguments against you yet, so you get to be right. You get to be a critic without being critiqued in turn. Good times.

UPDATE: For the influence of Anarcho Capitalism on Moldbug, and how he is basically an anarcho capitalist focused on the ownership of dirt, see his Formalist Manifesto:

http://unqualified-reservations.blo... (read more)

One of the benefits of being way out on the fringe is that no one has bothered to make arguments against you yet, so you get to be right. You get to be a critic without being critiqued in turn. Good times.

I like this and I think I'm prone to forgetting this for a few months, then asking questions then realizing plenty of important bits haven't been thought through.

I would have thought that Moldbug's theory that the Cold War was an expression of bureaucratic conflict between the US State Department and the US military was sufficiently nonsensical that refutation was unnecessary. Any point Moldbug might make about the liberal attitude towards conservatives seems more simply explained by "Politics is the mind-killer."
This doesn't explain the asymmetries we observe. His model does.
Which asymmetries do you mean? Regardless of merit, conservatives think liberals are wrong and liberals think conservatives are wrong. That's the mindkiller - no further explanation appears to be necessary. The word each side uses to label "wrong" is an expression of local applause lights - basically no substantive content at all.
To give an example. Cthulhu may swim slowly. But he only swims left. Isn't that interesting?

The article is interesting for how badly it misrepresents American history. Intellectual elitist dominance of US policy is a frequently debated topic throughout the history of the United States. Moldbug is right that certain views flowed from academia to public consciousness. But he ignores a lot of other causal factors.

Regarding US race relations, Moldbug ignores that (1) the trend towards pro-civil rights court rulings predates California's Proposition 14 by at least 40 years in cases like Buchanan v. Warley (1917) and Missouri exrel. Gaines (1938) and (2) the prime mover of US political opinion was probably public unwillingness to support the methods of Bull Connor.

Regarding the political tilt of academia, Moldbug ignores the conservative movement's recent success in creating an academic movement that lead to the appointment of conservative judges who have dramatically rolled back US constitutional and statutory interpretation from the more liberal positions of the Warren Court.

Finally, the disparate treatment of unjust tyrants like Castro and Pinochet in academia (1) ignores the different treatment of those regimes by the US government, and (2) partially reflects a feeli... (read more)

That you tout this as a grand example of right wing victory is somewhat surprising, it in my eyes weakens your case considerably for it is a feeble thing compared to the vast cultural shift leftward in the past decades and centuries.
As far as I can tell, Moldbug's thesis is: My points were (paragraph by paragraph): * academic pressure doesn't explain the civil rights movement in the US * academia is not immune to right-wing ideas * the evidence that academia is leftist is explainable by other factors beyond ideological bias (with a side helping of policy-makers don't seem as leftist as their professors) In short, that makes the second sentence of Moldbug's thesis not likely enough for further consideration. I leave it to you to judge whether the first sentence stands without the second. But Moldbug doesn't seem to think so - otherwise, why waste all that energy citing that particular historical evidence at all? As an aside, if one's political theory really can't distinguish between the victorious community organizer and the defeated business executive, then my evidence is entitled to substantially less weight. But that isn't the consensus usage in the doctrines of history or political science dating back to before the rise of PC concerns (but after the Glorious Revolution - so Moldbug may not care). Further, I assert political theories that can't tell the difference (e.g. political Marxism as practiced) are insufficiently nuanced to be capable of making useful predictions.
This is a fully general argument against historical analysis. I can't think of a single historian who isn't incredibly selective. Regardless I didn't mean to invoke the entire article, merely the statement which seems obviously correct in general. The w-force is there and we're not sure what it is. It might be caused by humans moving in a forager direction because of wealth, "moral progress", the same kind of memetic selection that gave us religions... Even if I agree with everything it has done so far and is likely to do in the near future, I probably wouldn't like what it does in a few decades or centuries. As I have no reason to suspect it has conveniently weakened at the time my values are in vogue this scares me. I fear Cthulhu as I fear Azathot for much the same reasons.
No, it really isn't. Our confidence in empirical propositions from the history / social sciences disciplines is structurally lower than our confidence in empirical propositions from hard science. But that doesn't mean that we can't point to some empirical propositions and say "Not likely enough for further consideration." We were having a discussion elsewhere about whether "moral progress" and "moral regress" were meaningful labels. Establishing our disagreement on those points seems to be a prerequisite for figuring out what we can and can't learn from history. At the very least, agreement on terminology is necessary to shorten inferential distance enough for us to even have a conversation.

I wish he could say things using less then million words, or at least provide a short summary afterwards. My attempt at a short summary would be this:

People are more likely to prefer solutions that provide more power to them personally. Even if they are trying to choose the best solution for everyone, they still have this bias; they honestly think that a solution which gives them more power is the best for society.

In democracy, everyone has the power, in theory. But when we ask how their opinions are formed, there are two important sources: schools and media.

Therefore we should expect politics to move in a direction where schools and media have more power. (Or perhaps a direction where the average former student, media consumer, has more power? The same thing.) This direction is called "the Left".

Every other direction, e.g. trying to give more power to church, or entrepreneurs, or medieval nobility, or armed forces, or extraterrastrial lizards, or genetically superior mutants, or whatever... faces the same problem: the schools and media have no selfish reason to support them. These directions are collectively called "the Right".

There is no way to fix this, to remove the power from the schools and media, unless we remove democracy.


Whether something is real or not, is independent on whether it is "good" or "bad". So in the first place, MM says that this is what happens: that people in democracies on average vote for more political power for the average Joe, which consequently means more power to those who form Joe's opinions -- the schools and the media.

True or false?

To me it seems essentially correct, with the addition that we should go further and examine who owns the schools and who owns the media, how much those owners influence the content of the message, and what are the incentives for the owners. As I understand MM, he says that successful journalists get their ideas from the schools, the whole school system gets their opinions from university professors, and the university professors are almost independent... except for their dependence on money from government. Which motivates them to descibe the world in a manner that calls for more money from the government to university professors.

Then, as a specific consequence, the university professors have an incentive to promote central planning over free market, because in central planning the government will pay them for research about h... (read more)

Does it seem correct to you because it is the way you would expect the world to be, or because you have good observational data to back it up? I ask mainly because to me it seems a question whose answer is hard to establish; it's true that in all democratic countries the average Joe gained some additional power in the course of the last century, but 1) it was mainly a result of suffrage extension; after establishing universal suffrage over 18 I don't see any systematic increase of average Joe's power, 2) when trying to conclude the direction of a very slow power shift, we need precise ways to define and measure power, unless we want to risk our conclusions being infested by bias and random errors; when asked whether the average José in Spain has more power now than he had fifteen years ago, not only I am unable to answer, but I also lack a clear idea what information to check if I seriously intended to do some research and find it out. Not only I am not sure whether the average Joe has, on average, more power now than he had ten or twenty years ago (not speaking about countries which went through an abrupt regime change), but I also doubt whether the average Joe actually votes for more (political) power. I see election campaigns putting much emphasis on social security, taxes, crime, healthcare, corruption, even morality and religion in some countries, but comparably few parties promise more power to the citizens. If getting more power was one of the more important goals of the average Joe, why do the parties so rarely include it in their programs? Another question is whether the average Joe thinks he's an average Joe -- given how self-serving biases work, I doubt it -- and if not, why would he vote for more power for someone else?
The average Joe knows that he is not a millionaire, he is not a movie star, and he did not get Nobel price. His biases will probably make him believe that he is between 60th and 70th percentile. He can still vote for less power for the top 10%, or more popularly 1%. The rest of your questions... I don't really know. Right at this moment it occurred to me that perhaps the feeling of power is more important that the power itself; most people don't notice the difference. Saying "senator Sam will reduce crime and give you free healthcare if you vote for him, Joe" makes Joe feel powerful. Saying "milionaire Mark made his money legally, you can't take his money away and use it as you want, Joe" does not make Joe feel powerful. Even if in reality senator Sam has more money than millionaire Mark, and senator Sam makes some rules that reduce Joe's freedom, while Mark only provides cheap shiny toys for everyone. Generally, if Joe feels that he can influence the state (even if that influence is mostly illusory), a more powerful state will make Joe feel more powerful. But I don't know how to measure this feeling precisely.
The tale of Senator Sam and Millionaire Mark is written as if the average Joe trusts more the former and less the latter (please correct me if it wasn't your intention to make it sound that way). This is still somewhat contrary to my experience, in which people generally distrust both millionaires and senators, hard to tell whom of them more. (This is more of a side note than an objection.) Anyway, the hypothesis that people support democracy because voting makes them feel powerful even if it doesn't make any difference is plausible (althought it is certainly not the only plausible explanation). However, doesn't it contradict the Moldbuggian view, in which voting makes a difference -- else he couldn't assert that the power shifts towards the average Joe because he votes for that. (Disclaimer: I don't suppose that you are defending Moldbug's theory, only ask as you seem to have read more Moldbug than me.) A related anecdote, not sure what to make of that: I am a member of a political party and last week we had a district conference where several functionaries have been elected. Originally it was supposed that three men would compete for the position of a district chairman, but just before the election two of them resigned from their candidatures, leaving the current chairman (in my opinion clearly worst of them three) an easy victory. The district committee had also composed a list of people they nominate for all the posts; the delegates of the conference had no duty to respect this nomination and can vote for whomever they wish (the election was of course secret), but out of about 30 positions all winners were those written on the list, getting from 60% to 80% of votes, no candidate who wasn't suggested by the committee succeeded. Those people seem to have absolutely no desire for power.
I have read Moldbug recently (this Friday + Saturday), so the ideas are not very much processed in my head yet. Obviously I am shifting from what MM said, through how it makes sense to me, to my explanations which are not really based on MM's texts. I guess I should stop doing this, because I am basicly defending someone else's bottom line. Your anecdote suggests that you missed an opportunity to become a chairman! :D I also had some small experience with politics, and it also suggests that if a person has a desire for power, they can get it surprisingly easily. A few years ago I was a candidate in a municipal election. I did almost nothing to increase my chances (procrastination, lack of experience, lack of social skills, lack of desire for power...), and yet I received 50% of necessary votes. So I guess if I were just a little more agenty, I could have been a member of the municipal government. It was interesting to see that when the idea of being elected switched from far mode to near mode ("so, can we put your name on the official list of our candidates?"), many previously enthusiastic people became nervous and step back. This suggests there is some juicy low-hanging fruit here. I wonder what happens on the higher levels -- whether the competition suddenly becomes tough after the people with no desire for power are removed, or whether it is also surprisingly easy to become e.g. a member of parliament.
I was actually elected a chairman of a local organisation (the lowest level) this spring and that is about as much as I have time for. The district chairman has to invest more time (organising events and kicking procrastinating collaborators' asses) and money (phone calls, probably also bribes); needless to say, he gets his money back through processes I am not actually willing to participate in. And probability to assume that function for myself would be negligible even if I tried; I wasn't even elected as a delegate for the regional conference.
MM does not oppose central planning. His idea of a good state is to hire Steve Jobs and make him a dictator (or dictator's minister). Supposedly Steve Jobs is smart enough to prescribe central planning where central planning works better, and prescribe free market where free market works better, and measure the efficiency of both. On the other hand, a democratic government decides between central planning and free market based on the popular opinion, which is based on professors' advice, which is driven by their desire to get more grant money. This leads to a choosing a policy not because it gives the best results, but because it is the best topic for writing papers about. For example: nobody really understands Keynesian economics, probably because it does not really work, which allows professors to publish many papers about it, which makes it popular among professors, and journalists (with some hyperbole here). Essentially: Central planning as done in democracy is imprecise because academia introduces systematic biases into central planning. A non-democratic ruler could avoid this bias.
I don't model academia as having a single bias. In my experience, it is a bunch of subcultures -- for instance, economics professors tend to love libertarianism, and sociology professors tend to hate it. I have been "informed" from time to time that my university education was nothing but left-wing propaganda, although I don't recall much mention of politics on my physics course. Another thing that is peculiar about this argument is the relative lack of emphasis on the influence of familt, church, etc on people's thinking. If the tertiary education sector is so influential on the US, why aren't most US citizens believers in evolution?
By some metrics a slight majority of people in the US accept evolution, but your basic point is sound.
Whilst imposing plenty of their own, eg Grab The Money and Run, Impose My Religion on Everyone, Trees Are More Interesting to Talk to than People, etc, etc.
Your description omits the most important question: why are the schools and media for things other than democracy that we know to be "Left" ideologically - e.g. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or feminism, or other such stuff? Where have they got those memes originally? Me, I'm saying Robert Nisbet and Zizek are right: Progressivism derives directly from 1st Century Christianity (although its road was long and twisted).

Me, I'm saying Robert Nisbet and Zizek are right: Progressivism derives directly from 1st Century Christianity (although its road was long and twisted).

Moldbug has made similar claims.

His "Calvinism" thing looks completely baseless and arbitrary to me, though, especially in the face of Nisbet's argument. Could it be more of an attempt to sweeten the pill for the "conservative" part of the audience by avoiding blaming "mainline" Christianity? Or maybe Moldbug is just bad at processing/modelling religious feeling due to him being... neurodiverse... in a way that inhibits religion-connected parts of the psyche? I bet that's so. I think this is precisely and amazingly correct. And Nisbet's argument has been around in "approved", non-contrarian science long before Moldbug!

His "Calvinism" thing looks completely baseless and arbitrary to me, though, especially in the face of Nisbet's argument. Could it be more of an attempt to sweeten the pill for the "conservative" part of the audience by avoiding blaming "mainline" Christianity?

You are plain wrong on this. I find this suspicious and strange since you didn't used to be.

He explicitly states that American progressivism is the descendant of mainline protestantism. As to his audience if anything most of his "conservative" non-atheist readers are probably protestant and nearly everyone reads him as blaming at the very least mainline protestantism too if not Christanity as a whole. Moldbug does rant less on Catholicism but I think that is because he sees the same thing Muflax speculated on:

There is one idea though that I’ve been thinking about recently. I wondered, what exactly makes the Catholic Church not progressive, in the Moldbugian sense? It has been argued that Christianity is progressivism (and vice versa), and that seems really plausible to me. It’s fundamentally a monist, universalist, transgressive salvation movement.1

Then I got this idea. (And I fee

... (read more)
I can think of several Catholic reactionaries who are linked to Moldbug. I cannot think of any Protestants. From what are you extrapolating your estimate?
I'm not sure how it looks to you, but looking from an outside perspective, I can certainly see the similarities between Calvinism and Progressivism (specifically the form you seem to belong to). In a number of places you expressed utter horror at the notion that people should face what they deserve. This reminds me of the Calvinist idea that everyone deserves to get thrown into hell. Specifically, both strike me as possessing an alief, if not a belief, that being virtuous requires that one constantly feel guilty. What one should be feeling guilty about differs. In the case of the Calvinist one should feel guilty about original sin, of which one is reminded whenever one experiences sexual attraction, or enjoys one's food, or has fun when one could be doing work. In the case of the Progressive one should be guilty about one's white/male/upper class/straight/righty/etc. (select all that apply) privilege, of which one is reminded whenever one perceives one is receiving the benefits of said privilege.
One can be a supporter of mainstream western democracy without having any of those attitudes.
Agreed for certain values of "mainstream western democracy". In the comment I was referring specifically to certain forms of progressivism.
If those attitudes are only representative of a minority, then "Calvinists" are only a minority, and "Calvinism" isn't the essence of democracy.
Taboo "essence".
Forwarded to Moldbug.
Are you saying that under-privileged "Progressives" are typically devoid of a mechanism of self-control through guilt, since they spend their time attacking teh evil white cis straight man, and feel themselves to be naturally blameless by comparison, part of a saintly group that can do no wrong? Here, for example, is the kind of disclaimer that can be often seen attached to "checklists" of white/male/class/cis/etc privilege: (Note that in the context of the linked post, which is about neurotypical privilege in particular, both you and me could probably use a little more of said neurotypical privilege in our daily lives! There's far more ways to be excluded from it than just being on the autism spectrum, of course.) Does this sound like the "party line" of left egalitarianism includes guilt-tripping Average Non-Diverse Guys over their lack of Diversity? Or is it like what Orwell said back in the 30s - the worst advertisement for Socialism and Christianity is their [stereotypical] adherents?
I was mainly talking about "privileged" Progressives, i.e., the ones who are intellectual descendents, and frequently also familial descendents, of Calvinists. In the context of these discussions of privilege, the "we're not guilt tripping you" disclaimers read like suspiciously specific denials, since they then proceed to engage in something that looks very much like guilt tripping. In this case I was referring to how both Calvinists and Progressives guilt-trip themselves. In any case, if I'm misunderstanding what you meant here by could you correct me. Specifically, what do/did you think would consist of "holding you responsible for your actions" and why?
There is an interesting diversion to be made along these lines. Nick Land, who has written up a series (The Dark Enlightenment) about Moldbug and the neo-reaction in general, has just written this, in which he posits the politically-assisted decoupling from reality as a progressive eschatology: "The unforgivable crime is to accept that there are consequences, or results, other than those we have agreed to allow." This meme, a seriously morbid distortion of epistemology, is common to many adaptive belief systems, but I would propose that it is more crucial to progressivism than any other.
Land is a little horrifying in his Nietzchean/Stirnerian lack of barriers, to be honest. About accepting/not shrinking from shocking facts about reality: I see two basic types of failure modes here - firstly, denying the presense of any given horror (like e.g. innate group neurological differences - race, gender, etc - creating inherent power and knowledge differences in a society and making brutal unyielding inter-group hierarchy such a society's "natural", least costly to maintain and most economically productive state) is indeed more common to people with liberal/Universalist leanings... - ...- but there's a second failure mode in normalizing and rationalizing such facts despite them registering as "evil" on one's moral intuition meter, and I think that one is much more common to reactionaries/anti-Universalists, including Land himself. Where a liberal could be happily deluded about the difficulty of fixing "natural" evils with artificial policies, a reactionary could calm his (let's be honest, they're almost exclusively male) conscience with redefining "evil" and accepting life as it is. I see no more reason to accept that complacency than I see to accept deathism. What say you? EDIT: I've read the article - well, yeah, Land is guilty of siding with reality. I wonder what he thinks about transhumanism.
When you refuse to treat humans as rational agents, it's easy to forget the most important aspect of human behavior: that it responds to incentives (even perverse ones). How hard-working or intelligent a human is depends on whether society rewards hard work and intelligence. If the products of someone's hard work are redistributed to those who are lazy on that grounds that being lazy is not the person's fault, there will suddenly be a lot fewer hard workers and a lot more lazy people.
Except that there is no such sudden change, and the numbers of unemployed people increase and decrease with the health of the economy, indicating that people are willing to take jobs when they are available, and that status is important as well as income, and that people can acquire money through luck and inheritance as well as hard work... I could go on.
That's because most measures of the "health of the economy" give a very strong weight to the number of unemployed people. And status is affected by a lot of things beside how hard one works.
No. The point remains true if you use a measure that doesn't. Indeed. The non-worker Paris Hilton is much higher status than the average unemployed person,, which would motivate the average unemployed person to take up jobs where they are available.
Why? If your point is that they'll be motivated to work so that they can earn enough money to be as rich as Paris Hilton, then my point is precisely that redistributing wealth from those who work to those who don't makes this motivation less effective. If your point is something else, could you spell it out in more detail.
In a society with no welfare system, someone with no job or inherited wealth will have an income of zero and be a the bottom of the status ranking. In a society with a typical welfare system, someone with no job or inherited wealth will have a minimal income, and still be a the bottom of the status ranking. The people at the top will also have a little less in absolute terms, and still be top rank. So: no. Your point might apply to some extreme form of redistribution, that aims to give everyone the same income, but that has never been put into practice.
My point is that the shallower the slope of the pre vs. post-redistribution graph the more other factors besides money will motivate people. A big part of the problem is that (at least in the US) the slope is particularly narrow at right around the point where taking a low paying job would cause someone to loose their welfare benefits.
Cutting welfare to below subsistence level is not the only or best solution. You can also raise minimum wages, or supplement incomes
This does have the unfortunate side effect of reducing the number of entry level jobs they can get, so it's not at all clear this would make it easier for people to get of welfare. Yes, Milton Friedman proposed something similar.
The evidence is mixed.. It's widely believed that minimum wage schemes negatively impact young people, but that can be worked around by exempting them.
I'd say he might be using hyperbole to aim his readers at what he perceives as the truth in this regard. Imitating Carlyle and so on :). I'm still laughing at his model of the USSR though (grim grimy monotonous slum); my parents and grandparents have given me much better and more nuanced information about how it worked. Not to say that it wasn't grim, grimy or monotonous, but...
I'm proud to be working on correcting that, as Konkvistador and a few others can testify. I haven't written much so far, and it's scattered all over my comments and stuff, but still... it's another meta-level to the contrarianism pyramid.
Wait, are you "working on correcting that" on an object-level or the meta-level? (and don't answer yes).
Object-level mostly, I'm afraid. I have neither the knowledge nor the experience nor the reputation nor, probably, the gray matter that I'd need to organize a challenge to a powerhouse like Unqualified Reservations on a meta level. :) Seriously, Moldbug is just plain smarter than me; I can only argue against things where he appears deluded.

If Condensed Moldbuggery is a sympathetic summary of his views like it appears to be, and if the one long post of his I read is representative, then Mencius Moldbug seems to be a very confused thinker, lacking in precision and curiosity.


then Mencius Moldbug seems to be a very confused thinker, lacking in precision and curiosity.

In this he doesn't seem obviously worse than most of the political scientists, pundits or philosophers I've read. Politics is the mindkiller and all that. I'm much more interested in object level appraisal of his ideas.

Do you find anything in the summary interesting or correct? What do you find wrong? What do you find not even wrong? What you think about his map of how democracy works in practice? Namely that opinion making institutions bias public opinion in favour of opinion making institutions which translates into political power, while the actual operation and policies of government are mostly determined by civil servants rather than politicians. I'm interested in that primarily because I'm convinced it is correct and seek counterarguments. I'm also particularly interested in what you think about his arguments that the distinction between religion and ideology isn't as useful as is normally assumed since both operate under very similar memetic pressures, are transmitted in similar ways and even have similar adaptations (inbuilt fully general counterargument defences for example).

"Condensed Moldbuggery" is a very poor overview of Moldbug's ideas, and I would say that it deeply mischaracterizes many of them. Moldbug never said "progressivism always wins in the long run", or that "progressives are dangerous and creepy maniacs", or that progressives "try to bring down the military through proxy wars". As far as I can tell, this is all nonsense that comes from the conservative blog post author biasing his account of Moldbug's views in his own desired political direction. "An open letter to progressives" is not the best place to start with Moldbug. It's unusually circumlocutory, even by MM's standards, and contains a large helping of off-topic rambling. I recommend "A formalist manifesto" for a clearer and less hyperventilated introduction to his views.
Are you sure? I'm guessing you've read all of his output. Those statements seem to match my memories of his material.
I haven't read all of his output but a fair amount of it. I realize that I misinterpreted the last one to mean actual wars when he must have meant propaganda wars against the military, which Moldbug has probably actually claimed. The first two seem really odd as 1) Moldbug repeatedly refers to progressivism as the default modern Catholicism and doesn't imbue mania on progressives, just status quo thinking, 2) I've never seen him have an attitude defeatist towards his own ideas like "progressivism always wins in the long run". If it always wins, then what would be the point of writing hundreds of pages about the possibility of moving towards other systems? I am also drawing from the experience of having met and talked to Moldbug in person.
I thought R.A.G.E. was a gedankenexperiment meant to demonstrate the actual extent of power of the cathedral. If he really believes it is a plausible path he is farther down the crackpot path than I thought.
The problem with the Condensed Moldbuggery post is that it just states the outrageous opinions and omits the interesting-but-possibly-insufficient arguments for them which can cause the reader to mis-infer what the arguments must have been. My original guess was that it isn't worth Eliezer's time to read Moldbug, but that's because it isn't worth Eliezer's time to form a good picture of politics, not because Moldbug doesn't help you form a good picture of politics. So I was surprised he had a formed opinion, the same argument applies to him not yet responding to say Michael's comment asking for specifics. I'm still hoping for it though. From your previous comments I'm guessing you think a good picture of politics might be valuable. I'm interested in a good picture of politics as well. I just wanted to point out that I'm open to private correspondence if perhaps the bad signalling of such discussion is a concern, I don't mean to rush or coax out of you a response to my other up voted comment asking you for specifics.
I think it's very, very difficult to get a good picture of politics, both due to human psychology and the intrinsic complexity and non-repeatability of the domain. It's almost certainly not worth my time to get a good picture of politics, because that would require my entire life. But if I wanted a good picture of politics, Mencius is very far down on the list of places I would look, given all the red flags his writing raises for me. If I wanted a good picture of politics I would start by hitting up Carl Shulman, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and lots of other sources. I would probably never even make it down to Mencius Moldbug.
Although as Steven Kaas suggested in 2007, some thinkers might be crazy and inaccurate overall (and thus rightfully raise lots of red flags), and yet also have a few genuine insights not easily found elsewhere: if the most all-around-reliable thinkers also make some systematic mistakes (perhaps ideologically- or culturally-motivated), then we would expect some fringe thinkers to have some good ideas simply because they're exploring regions of ideaspace that the more reliable thinkers are neglecting. (I'm not necessarily claiming this applies to Moldbug in particular; this comment is only to point out a consideration to be taken into account when constructing a list of who to read.)

That's a good point, though there are still lots of "fringe" thinkers (not including fringe thinkers already in contact with my community, like Robin Hanson and Patri Friedman) that I would turn to before Moldbug, e.g. Michael Albert, David Benatar, and Noam Chomsky.

Huh. That's an interesting post. There's a core idea that might be valid but it is lost in claims like: Which is such a confused claim about Catholic doctrine that I'm not sure where to begin.
I think an accurate summary of Catholic doctrine is this: all Catholics, the Pope not excepted, have only one channel of communication to God, namely prayer. However, when speaking in his role as Universal Pastor, the Holy Spirit prevents him from teaching error. Lay Catholics are occasionally admitted to have spiritual experiences of a different kind, called charisms. However "discernment of charisms is always necessary. No charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Church's shepherds". In other words, the Catholic hierarchy treats lay "firsthand spiritual experiences" skeptically. That is, it seems to me that your quoted passage is mistaken (or taking liberties) in a routine, understandable, and easily corrected way. Is it a mere "gotcha", or does it really poison the rest of the essay?
It is at best a massive oversimplification of both official and practical theology in the Church (decisions about whether a charism is genuine or not are often decided at levels well below the Pope). But yes, this wasn't the only example in the essay, just the first one in chronological order.
Since Catholic theology is massively specious to begin with, I think you should have a higher threshold for what kinds of simplifications count as oversimplifications. Anyway I do.

Two words: insight porn.

Also, this belongs in an open thread.

The main insight I got from Moldbug is not exactly one that he set out to convey. Moldbug is an outright opponent of democracy. What I learned is just that undemocratic political systems can make sense, that you can have a political philosophy other than democracy. So the main thing I took away is an increased political cosmopolitanism.

Some years earlier, it was comparably educational to read (on American right-wing sites) the idea that the fundamental political ideal of the United States is that it is a constitutional republic - that the rule of law and the protection of individual freedom, not democracy, are its fundamental values. However, this seems to be a minority understanding today, even within America itself.

Yeah, most of the value I got out of UR came from being introduced (sometimes with links) to some of the thinkers that were on the "losing side" of history that I otherwise never would have heard of (or if I did hear of them, it was only in the context of demonstrating how evil, ignorant, or outmoded they were).

even within the right-wing itself.
Many science fiction writers have postulated the return of feudal social structures, noble houses, monarchies and such in "the future." The democratic era we live in and take for granted could very well have resulted from a drunkard's walk away from long-term social norms., and if we could survive cryotransport, we might find ourselves in nondemocratic, hierarchical societies in Future World. BTW, I've noticed from watching The Walking Dead series that feminism, progressivism and democracy have to fall by the wayside when our kind of civilization collapses and the strong males have to take charge to keep the surviving hunter-gatherer bands in business. Why couldn't this also happen in a society which manages to maintain high living standards and technological progress?

Offhand, I can't think of any sf which has explained why a return of a feudal system is plausible. Instead, the story just starts out with a feudal system in place. I believe this is because feudal systems[1] are familiar and lead to interesting stories.

[1] Having been exposed to a little bit of actual history, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if the feudal societies in fiction are gross oversimplifications of real world feudalism.

Having been exposed to a little bit of actual history, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if the feudal societies in fiction are gross oversimplifications of real world feudalism.

There is a sizable minority of academic historians that deny there ever was such a thing as real world feudalism (as it is popularly conceived of). See for example, the work of historian Elizabeth A. R. Brown.

here is a sizable minority of academic historians that deny there ever was such a thing as real world feudalism (as it is popularly conceived of)

Can you give a quick summary of what they mean by this? This sounds very interesting.

In the Vorkosigan series, the main events surround a planet with a feudal system. This is explained because the planet lost contact with the larger galactic civilization and regressed in tech level massively. Meanwhile certain powerful bandits and raiders became strong enough in the chaos and passed down their roles on to their children. Then when they ended up being reconnected with the advanced technology societies they became very quickly a feudal culture with advanced technology. One major aspects of the stories is how this is an inherently unstable situation. (I have to wonder if this is in deliberate contrast to something like Dune where society stagnates in a feudal system with advanced tech for hundreds of years.)
Wil McCarthy's Queendom of Sol novels, as I recall, provide some backstory for the feudal government in a very advanced civilization with a lot of transhuman tech. The upper class in this society even went out of its way to find the remaining plausible pretenders to royal status, so it made an heir of Tonga's royal family as the queen, and married her to the survivor of some obscure noble family in Catalonia. McCarthy argues that this arrangement would provide stability and reduce the waste of resources on politics because the queen and her consort, like everyone else, would live for really long times and exploit the human tendency to form dominance hierarchies.
How resistant are these generalizations from fictional evidence?
The Men in the show are more physically and emotionally capable of the hand to hand violence needed to combat the zombies. Though Andrea is becoming a very good shot. Looks like she will be replacing Shane as the leader of the Ruthless Party. As for democracy in The Walking Dead, before Rick decided to announce himself group dictator in the last show, I think he had democratic support, if not a formal election result. The deliberations over whether to off that captured fellow seemed fairly democratic as well - though not so much for the captured fellow. But in an advanced technological society, women are equally capable of engaging in most but not all useful labor, and relegating them back to sitting at home polishing the silver is a waste of half your human capital. To that extent, rolling back feminism is a non starter for high living standards.
what? no. maybe only strong "compassionate"/"nurturing" females can keep groups of hundreds together without fragmentation.
Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence I'm not that much older than most of you, but that's the basics civics lesson I got through public schools was that government is for protecting your unalienable Rights. A constitutional republic was considered a means to that end.

Two words: insight porn.

Relevant links:

Simple explanation: LWers respect intellectual courage, and Moldbug has lots of it.


Your assertion fails to explain the lack of equivalent respect for equally extreme political theories with different object-level moral lessons. Foucault hardly lacked intellectual courage.

Time-cube guy 2016!


Seriously, Moldbug does have both intellectual courage and coherence of thought. But so do lots of thinkers who have reached radically different conclusions.

Links? Tempt me with mind killing.
I don't know. It's hard to say given how mainstream he is in academia.

First, he didn't start out that way. In many parts of academia, he's still quite controversial. Anyway, there are other thinkers, just as extreme as Foucault or Moldbug, who don't have a vocal mass of followers locally.

Second, the relevant market (appears contrarian to potential LWer) is measured by distance from folk philosophy mainstream, not distance from academic mainstream.

Moldbug's writings have a "guru" overtone that sounds similar to Eliezer to me.

How does one emulate this? It seems to be effective in gathering adherents who name their views after you.

Moldbug always writes things that make me think hard, and he writes them well, in a delightful style. What more can one ask for?

Falsifiability :P

Has Moldbug ever mentioned finding out that he was wrong about something? About something important?

His frequent use of insults suggests to me that it might be hard for him to change his mind.

Let's go for second best. Has Moldbug publicly changed his mind, even though he didn't say he'd changed his opinions?
It's been a while since I read his blog, but I think he's mentioned that he no longer stands by his whole BDH-OV class analysis, though I don't think he ever really explained why. That's the only thing that comes readily to mind.

One negative example would be his Anti-Versity essay. Despite his early promises years ago, he has yet to publish anything on the topic or acknowledge his failure to do so. The obvious explanation is that he realized his idea is crap but is embarrassed to admit it.

What's BDH-OV?
Brahmin, Dalit, Helot, Optimates, Vaisya See Castes of the United States

he writes them well, in a delightful style

Really? I read a few of his articles and found him undearably smug, and excessively verbiose.

For example his "introduction to UR" spend pages on a overwrought matrix metaphor before saying anything substansive.

De gustibus non est disputandum, I suppose. For what it's worth, I loved the writing style of his earlier posts (like this one), but find the writing style of his more current stuff (like this) kind of obnoxious.

I might be committing a rationalist sin here, but some of his attitudes seem to be driven by unquestioned racism. His interpretation of the Vaiyasa is blatantly incorrect.

Formalisim strikes me as insufficiently utilitarian and also as something which will massively benefit people like Moldbug even though there are better self-interested ideologies.

Last month there was a discussion of Moldbug in the Open Thread, and I posted this comment regarding my primary theory of where Moldbug went wrong. I'm not really sure what the ettiquete on reposting posts that you've already made is, but the executive summery is that Moldbug allowed his identity to get so entangled in the fight against Whig history that he fell into the trap of thinking that all you have to do is say the exact opposite of what the Whig historians say and you're guaranteed to be right, a trap which Herbert Butterfield, the original critic ... (read more)

Moldbug defines a "church":

...a church is an organization or movement which tells people how to think.

LessWrong: A community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Funny seeing Moldbug's implicit criticism of LessWrong.

But, I disagree with Moldbug here. Most generally, a church tells people what to value. If one mistakenly believes in objective value, then Moldbug's definition would entail telling people what to value as well, but it doesn't have to. LessWrong could be used by Clippy just as well as you or me.

I've wondered the same thing. I dislike reading him, not for his ideas, but because it takes him so long to get to the point, and I don't like his writing on the way to the point.


Robin Hanson read and linked to him, even having a live debate. My impression is he considered many of his ideas interesting and not obviously wrong, but in later interactions lowered his opinion of him (not sure about particular ideas, lots of Hanson's stuff seems at the very least compatible with Moldbuggian ideas).

Coincidentally, I was recently reading Moldbug, and I though: "What would his LW fans think about his opinions on global warming?"

Second question: "If you are Moldbug's fan and you disagree with him on this topic, do you treat it as an evidence against his other opinions?"


I think his views on anthropogenic global warming are, on balance, bollocks. The science is settled.

I wouldn't say I am a Moldbug fan, but I did read an exorbitant amount of his writing. I do treat his views on AGW as evidence against his other opinions, in the same way I would if he wrote a similar tract on evolution, general relativity, the germ theory of disease, etc.

(I don't currently have the time to go re-read the linked essay of approximately 15,000 words, so this comment is based solely on my memory/impression of his arguments. Memories being what they are, please take my comment with as much salt as appropriate.)

Don't worry, I just did reread it, and it is just as I remembered. A lot of applause lights for the crowd that believes that the current state of climate science is driven by funding pressure from the US government DoE. His "argument" is based almost exclusively on the tone of popular texts, and anecdotal evidence that Joe Romm was an asshole and pushing bad policy at DoE during the Clinton administration. Considerations of what happened during the 8 years of a GWB administration that was actively hostile to the people JoeR favored are ignored.

Temperatures are described as "flat since the 90s" which is based on a massive misreading of the data, giving one exceptionally hot year (1998) the same evidentiary weight as the 8 of 10 hottest years on record which have occurred since then. Conveniently, when he wants to spread FUD about the current state of climate science, he will talk about natural variability and uncertainty in the climate. OTOH, he judges the shape of the data since the 1990s in a way that completely ignores that variability and uncertainty.

Bollocks is spot on and I absolutely treat his writings on global warming as evidence against his oth... (read more)

"Flat since the 90s" is a statement about the rate of change of temperature. "8 of 10 hottest years on record [...] have occurred since then" is a statement about the value of the temperature. These are almost entirely unrelated factoids, are completely compatible with one another, and I wish people would stop presenting the latter as some kind of slamdunk refutation of the former. It doesn't support the warmist case, it weakens it.
the running 11 year average of global temperature has not flattened since 1990, but continued upward at almost the same pace with only a moderate decrease in slope since the outlier 1998 year. The 11 years 2000-2010 global mean temperature is significantly higher than the 10 years 1990-2000. That is not "flat since the 90s". The only way to get "flat since the 90s" is to compare 1998 to various more recent years noting that it was nearly as hot as 2005 and 2010 etc. and slightly hotter than other years in the 2000s, as if 1 year matters as much as 10 in a noisy data set. If he had said "flat since 1998" that might be technically true in a way, but it's a little like saying the stock market has been flat since 2007. That doesn't even consider using climate knowledge to adjust for some of the variance, for instance that El Niño years are hotter, and that 1998 was the biggest El Niño year on record.
I think an honest eyeball will recognize a plateau in temperatures going back to 2003. It would be the highest plateau, but still a plateau. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Satellite_Temperatures.png
I'm a Moldbug fan in the sense that I think his model of the Cathedral and power in America is probably correct or at the very least useful. He is right on the state of climatology and while and global warming pretty much clearly is happening we simply are not good at predicting the climates future behaviour. This makes cost benefit analysis for policy hard. Since the early 2000s it seems to have obviously become attached to a political struggle where the actual truth of the matter has little relevance to the tribes involved.
I'm a Moldbug fan, and I agree with most of what he says about AGW, assuming I have read him correctly. His writings are dense and can be difficult to parse. As he says, we do not have the scientific tools to make sensible climate predictions for the next, say, 50 years, because there are far too many free parameters, and you cannot do an experiment (i.e. perturb the climate and observe the response in order to establish the parameters). The fact that he mentions macroeconomics next in the article is amusing because there you have the exact same modelling procedures, but the difference is that macro economists freely admit this problem. Moldbug freely concedes the sign of the effect (i.e. CO2 increases temperature) but this is meaningless if you don't know the magnitude. I also agree with him that the assumption that warmer temperatures are purely bad is absurd - of course there will be benefits too. I think that on climate science, he is saying that there is no conspiracy as such, but that, like in every other scientific field, there is little interest in funding any dis-confirmatory studies. Therefore the only research or modelling that gets carried out is that which is expected to support the consensus, and the only stuff that gets published is that which beats the margin of statistical significance. This is hardly unique to climatology, but the problem is worse there because the field is so politicised; climatologists see their work as part of a public policy debate in a way that (say) biochemists don't, and the effect of government funding is so pernicious. At least that's what I think Moldbug is saying, if he is saying there is a grand conspiracy I disagree. I wholeheartedly agree that Science is often not science, and that Science is an arm of the state, but you don't need Moldbug for that, Hayek wrote extensively and brilliantly on the subject. Where I disagree with Moldbug is on the precautionary principle. I do think there is a difference between a 3 de
Really? There has been masses of funding from groups environmental policy would adversely affect (fossil fuel companies mainly) to find discomfirmatory evidence or muddy the waters, and they leap on any evidence that appears to be on their side (see the 'climategate' emails).
I recently read his Fnargl series of posts and the posts on his political journey from Mises to Carlyle and why he is no longer a Libertarian. I have also read and tried to understand (I probably misunderstand) Eliezer's posts & debates on FOOM, CEV etc. So, here is a (mostly tongue-in-cheek) scenario combining both Eliezer and Moldbug's ideas. The FAI (obviously having the powers of the Fnargl-Alien and more) functions as the ideal global Sovereign/Govt - ie, it perfectly enforces all rights of all sentient creatures, functions with an infinite tim... (read more)
http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Singleton You're welcome.
Thanks, Multiheaded. Wonder what a FAI would know about human motivations, dynamics and joys that we don't and thus it chooses differently from the scenario above.
Sounds like Iani M Banks's Minds.

I looked him up after reading this post, his blog seems to have a few interesting things but nothing epic. Could someone link me to things they find particularly impressive/interesting?

(For the record I have no memory of him being mentioned before,)

Lurker here. The economics sub-section at http://moldbuggery.blogspot.sg/2009/03/collected-writings-of-mencius-moldbug.html?m=1 is interesting. Hello from Singapore.
I am also a long-time LW lurker, and this thread finally made me open an account. I've read most of the main Moldbug sequences (Cathedral/neocameralism/economics) over the past few months. I was very pleased to find that this thread existed, particularly in the context of the phenomenon identified in that essay which coined the term 'insight porn'. I had previously expended many brain-hours pondering the nature of this set of closely affiliated ideas, and I still don't think I have entirely satisfactory answers. http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.co.nz/2012/09/trying-to-see-through-unified-theory-of.html
Upvoted for practicing what you preach. (None of the linked articles are among what I'd recommend, however. I can't say if that's because I can't understand them and am biased, or because they are mostly hot air and rhetoric. I cannot comment on Austrian economics as I don't know what to believe about any economic theory at all, but here, in 1998, Krugman criticises it as a morality fable that doesn't, in Bayesian terms, pay rent in anticipated experience - and in modern times, he sustains his criticism of its descriptive and predictive worth. Here is some other economist's brief slam of Austrian epistemology. Generally the Less Wrong 'mainstream' seems to dismiss it out of hand for its non-empiricism and incompartibility with Traditional Rationality.)
Very enjoyable, but not particularly rigorous compare and contrast of Keynesian and Austrian economics here and sequel. My favorite quote (put in the mouth of Hayek in the second video around 3:40): "If every worker was staffed in the Army and Fleet, we'd have full employment - and nothing to eat." (This is aimed at the Keynesian argument that WWII ended the Great Depression.) Personally, I'm doubtful either theory is better - they both run on fundamental assumptions about what is happening in the market. But if the actual market resembles neither assumption, both predictions will be very misleading.
When it comes to monetary theory, there are no controlled experiments possible. So, one has to deduce from first principles. Separately, there is the issue of experts disagreeing, sometimes on basics. Look at what is going on right now, with Krugman disagreeing with Sumner. So, who does one follow: The Nobel Laureate or the man the Federal Reserve seems to be following? Perhaps neither? We certainly cannot follow both.

The leap from "controlled experiments are not possible" to "one has to deduce from first principles" is huge and unsupported. The results of controlled experiments do not exhaust the available empirical evidence by a long shot. We have a lot of data about the effects of monetary policy from around the world. True, inferring causality from this data is not nearly as straightforward as inferring causality from a randomized controlled trial, but it's still a lot more reliable than deduction from first principles, I would think.

Think about how your argument sounds when applied to cosmological theories about the very early universe. We have a number of different theories that cannot be simultaneously right, and we cannot conduct controlled experiments. Would you endorse deduction from first principles in this instance as well?

Yes, whenever people try to make this sort of argument I have to wonder how they think we should do astronomy.
Please see my reply above to pragmatist. To add a bit, the rigor in monetary economics today is so far behind physics, it is not fair to compare the two subjects.
I know it's been a while since this comment, but I wanted to comment that sound deduction (ie, logical reasoning) on top of correct premises trumps other forms of evidence, even well-controlled, large-sample experiments. As an analogy, I find fascinating the MWI vs Collapse debate at LW - Eliezer has concluded MWI wins as an outcome of pure reasoning. No empirical evidence required. It will be (is?) wonderful if (when?) we factorize large numbers quickly and that is evidence of MWI, but as above, it would be (is?) superfluous. If the reasoning offered by Eliezer is coherent (I don't know enough to judge), case closed. Please correct me if I have misunderstood. Thanks Edit: MWI paragraph added.
Inferring causality from a time-series of various economic variables is incoherent. There first needs to be a deductive understanding of what the causal relationships are between economic variables. That is what is meant by "first principles" here - perhaps the disagreement is semantic. Data about effects of economic policy tells us nothing if one has not already pre-supposed causal relationships between certain variables (ie, which variable is affecting which). If one had not done so, how does one know which variables to link with which other one? The causality which is being claimed to be derived is actually assumed or it is a result of the data-mining effect. Thus, the first principles analysis: What is an economy?
I will read the Moldbug article, although I have to say I'm not optimistic, given my past experience with his writing. But I do want to disagree on this: I think you are either underestimating the tools at our disposal for causal discovery, or you have an evidential standard for causality that is way too high. Are you familiar with Judea Pearl's work on inferring causation from probabilities? Check out this sweet post by Eliezer if you're not. ETA: I'm only a few paragraphs into the Moldbug piece and my hackles are already rising. He has already declared that a conscious being must be rational "by definition" and that other peoples' desires are unknowable, also "by definition". I don't think either of these claims are true (assuming the words have their usual meanings), let alone true by definition. This doesn't bode well, but I'll keep reading.
Thanks. I have read that post by Eliezer before. The issue with monetary economics is the number of variables. Money is one half of every single transaction, in a sophisticated economy. Re definitions, the meaning of rational there is that the person acts based on his internal map of the world (this is how Mises used the word way back when and it is part of parlance in Misesian economics). It does not mean what LW thinks it means. Re unknowable desires, it is a way of saying that economically relevant desires are revealed by economic actions. Demand means being willing and able to pay. Semantic issue in both cases :)
Economies that have multiple currencies are unsophisticated...?
I mean that in a monetary economy, one always buys goods and services with money. One side of the transaction is money, whatever it is. Sophisticated here means an economy that has progressed beyond barter and developed a medium of exchange and a store of value, ie, Money.
If I replace "economic variables" with "astronomy" what part of this sentence changes in implication? Why is this incoherent for some fields? The level of rigor cannot be the only difference: Physics and astronomy have become more rigorous over time, not by discussing first principles, even when moving from Aristotle to Medieval physics to Newtonian physics, but rather by adopting principles based on the empirical data. The same goes for the switch from Ptolemaic systems to Copernicus and then Kepler. It is the empirical data that matters, the apparent time-series of planetary and stellar motion. Does arguing over this definition pay any rent?
One can do controlled experiments in physics here on Earth and apply the results to astronomy.
So that's true, but until the late 1700s (essentially post Newton) no one had any capacity to do so (because no ideas anyone had connected the two at all in a useful way). Would this sort of claim then been valid in 1650?
Re the Q about rent-paying: Yes. You should rightly be skeptical now, but please read the Economics sub-section at Moldbuggery with an open mind. Or if you prefer, start with Rothbard's 'Man Economy and State'. Economics - of all subjects - pays rent.
This doesn't answer the question. Note that no one is arguing that economics doesn't pay rent. The question was whether arguing over '"what is an economy" pays rent or not.
I misunderstood the Q. In my opinion, yes. It is, I think, the intuitive way to get a sound (ie, based on sheer deductive coherence) grasp of the subject.
So, can you explain how arguing over the definition of a word can ever pay rent?
Well, in a sense every definition carries an implicit assertion that the described object corresponds to a cluster in thing space. See also 37 ways that words can be wrong.
Re Physics, please correct me as required but in the way I use the phrase "first principles" here, Physics does not have any first principles.
Yes it does. They're just so implicit in our intuition about how the world works that we don't notice them. For example, consider all the implicit assumptions necessary for statements like "these two sticks have the same length" to be meaningful.
So, why does physics have no such first principles but economics does?
If you didn't accept the wisdom of the Federal Reserve before in its policies and theoretical choices, why would you accept the wisdom of the Federal Reserve after they have supposedly begun listening to Sumner? Why, indeed, does their choice matter at all to someone considering whether to believe Krugman, Sumner, or neither?
You are right - the Fed's choice does not matter if one treats economics as a subject to be understood.
From the article: This statement is misleading economics - markets work because individuals preferences do not match the general consensus. Because of comparative advantage, there's no particular reason to expect individual valuations to ever exactly match the market rates. Later, Moldbug notes people want accumulate money, but rejects the explanation that it is valued because it is the medium of exchange. It is confusing when the monetary object is actually of some value (i.e. gold or silver), but no one uses the gold standard any more. There's really no reason to treat fiat money as a good. And all of the discussion assumes that treating money as a good makes sense. Finally, Moldbug's discussion of the transition from gold-standard to fiat money without discussing private currency at all seems like more selective history. All selective history is worthless - it's like throwing out all the data from an experiment that does not agree with your hypothesis.
My response, based on my current understanding, such as it is. Note the qualifier "marketplace clears". In the process of clearing, a market undergoes price-discovery and any arbitrage opportunities are taken and thus removed. Fiat money is a good, in economic terms. It exchanges for other goods.
"Marketplace clears" doesn't imply that everyone agrees that the price = the value. McDonald's has cheeseburgers on sale for ~$1. That's probably the market clearing price. I still don't think a cheeseburger creates $1 of value for me. If Moldbug makes a basic econ error (by conflating value and price), then there's no reason to trust any other part of his "return to first principles of economics." "exchanges for other goods" is a bizarre definition of good. The hoarding-of-physical-objects metaphor is misleading.
I cannot imagine why this: "Here at UR, "economics" is not the study of how real economies work. It is the study of how economies should work " should not bring to mind this: "Here at Fantasy University, "physics" is not the study of how real physical principles work. It is the study of how physics should work." or should not raise giant red flags that you are about to be fed a steaming pile of horse shit. I don't know about everyone else but for me the moment anyone purports to dictate how the world ought to be over and above how it actually is they are engaged in creative fiction not science. When someone begins from such massive thought errors what follows, if they are at all rigorous, cannot but help be equally flawed and is therefore not worth my time.

Spherical cow is how science is done. What you are complaining about is in the realm of engineering.


"Here at Fantasy University, "physics" is not the study of how real physical principles work. It is the study of how physics should work." or should not raise giant red flags that you are about to be fed a steaming pile of horse shit.

Alright, let's start with the basics like Galileo and Newton's laws of motions. Assume a frictionless plane in a vacuum on which we place a perfectly rigid body - hey wait where are you going?

Vacuums exist. Nearly frictionless planes and more or less perfectly rigid bodies actually exist. There is nothing wrong with abstraction based on objective reality. Claiming that one is about to declare how economies ought to work is not a abstraction based on a preexisting reality. It is attempting to impose one's own subjective needs wants and desires on reality. That is not science, that is pseudoscience. Spherical cow is not "how science is done". It is a joke. Jokes rely on reversing expectations, going counter to reality, for the surprise element. How science is actually done is you begin with the intent to describe the real world and from there you use whatever tools, intellectual or actual, at your disposal in order to accomplish your goal. If one's goal is not to describe how economies actually work you are not doing science. Declaring what one's ideal economy ought to be is not the same as describing how a real economy would behave under ideal conditions. If I declare how photosynthesis ought to work I am not doing the same thing as describing how photosynthesis actually works under ideal conditions. It seems like a subtle distinction but it is not and failing to understand this difference has lead to a lot of bad science by lesser minds. Suppose a man goes to the supermarket with a shopping list given him by his wife on which are written the words "beans, butter, bacon and bread". Suppose as he goes around with his shopping cart selecting these items, he is followed by a detective who writes down everything he takes. As they emerge from the store both the shopper and the detective will have identical lists. But the function of the lists is quite different. In the case of the shopper's list the purpose of the list is, so to speak, to get the world to match the words; the man is supposed to make his actions fit the list. In the case of the detective, the purpose of the list is to make the words match the world; the man is supposed to make the list fit
Partial vacuums exist. Somewhat frictionless planes, somewhat rigid bodies exist. I don't see any difference between the idealizing in either case. Really? I always thought it was a veiled criticism of abstraction gone wrong - sterile abstractions, abstractions which can't then be linked back to the real world. If you say so.
Actually, the is/ought distinction is omnipresent in the complete Moldbug thesis, as espoused in his, uh, sequences. Hence the reformulation of politics as an amoral engineering challenge. There's a lot of deliberately inflammatory language present, as well as a relatively high inferential distance, to which the inflammatory language mostly serves to filter the audience for, or at least a positive affect. Translated into English, all that statement says is "Here is a presentation of classical or Austrian economics. This is not practised at large anywhere on earth today (for reasons which will be divulged elsewhere)."
What the first part of the quoted line means - I think - is that economies today (ie, "real economies") are monetarily mismanaged.
A formalist manifesto is thought-provoking. The bit there about moderates deeply changed the way I thought about "moderates" thereafter.
Yes, I looked at a few posts from that before posting. None of it seemed especially interesting. As far as I can see he has a few unique ideas, but they're not explained or substansiated enough to take very seriously. To clarify, I was hoping for examples of what people considered his 'best' or most readable posts so I could see if the ones I'd read were unrepresentative.
Two pieces of his that I linked to and have been extensively discussed by LessWrong: * Belief in religion considered harmful? * Five ways to classify belief systems You might want to check out the recommendations people make there.
I'd add this: Idealism is not great