Meditation Retreat: Immoral Mazes Sequence Introduction


Moral MazesMeditation

I just got home from a six day meditation retreat and began writing.

The catch is that I arrived at the retreat yesterday.

I knew going in that it was a high variance operation. All who had experience with such things warned us we would hate the first few days, even if things were going well. I was determined to push through that.

Alas or otherwise, I was not sufficiently determined to make that determination stick. I didn’t have a regular practice at all going in, was entirely unfamiliar with the details of how this group operated, and found the Buddhist philosophy involved highly off putting, in a ‘no that’s not how it works that’s not how any of this works nor would we want it to’ kind of way. I am no negative utilitarian. I couldn’t focus, my meditations were entirely unproductive compared to past experience and were increasingly focusing on how terrible things were.

I am highly, highly confident that none of the people who warned me would be surprised by those developments, and similarly confident that they would all tell me to push through it. And will tell me, when I see them, that if I can do so I should try again. But I also realized that the anticipated reaction from others saying I didn’t give it a proper chance was the only reason I was considering not leaving. So I left.

To my surprise, those there said I was likely making a mature decision and were sympathetic. They spun it a little to try and get me not to give up in the future, but that was it, which was a really good look. It did not go unnoticed.

I took the bulk of the day to get home and relax, play a game, saw the excellent movie Knives Out. What I did realize was that yes, some combination of the Solstice plus the meditation retreat, even if I only did a few hours worth of sessions, did have a clarifying and motivating effect to get me back on track. I’m not unhappy I went, even though I bailed, because I was, in a much more practical and everyday very small sense, enlightened.

I’m also leaning towards being happy I left when I did. I do buy that there are serious effects that can only be gained from being out of feedback loops and in silence for several days, but my instincts (however motivated they may be) are strongly telling me that this is not the way for me to do that.

The other motivating part of this is that, while I will absolutely take the majority of tomorrow to enjoy the College Football Playoff, this is both my chance to be alone for a few days and also a time when I would otherwise be in hardcore meditation. It seems wrong to not accomplish something important that isn’t work or game related, to meditate in another way.

The goal is ideally to finish everything up, at least in draft-ready-to-adjust-for-comments-on-earlier-posts form, by the end of the retreat. That is a stretch, so the commit-to-it goal is to declare the first six posts finished and begin publishing them at a reasonable clip, and have momentum on seven and later.

The drafts that currently exist, that will be finalized and likely expanded upon, are the following:

  1. Moloch Hasn’t Won. Have you noticed that the world is in fact very much not a dystonian hellhole of Moloch-worshiping perfect competition and Elua’s enemies keep on having all those unfortunate accidents?
  2. Perfect Competition. Perfect competition, importantly, isn’t a thing, but you can get close. Let’s flesh this out more.
  3. Imperfect Competition. Some practical examples of imperfect competition. Intuition pumps and detailed examples for why perfect competition isn’t a thing and we don’t usually get that close.
  4. What is an Immoral Maze (note that I make a point to say Immoral rather than Moral)? Mazes need not be corporations or (in my current model in ways I’d have to introduce that aren’t in the draft right now, with a subset of the tech ecosystem as a motivating example) even formal organizations. What creates a maze? A system with multiple effective layers of hierarchy forcing its middle management into effectively super-perfect competition against each other largely on the basis of anticipated future success in such competition.
  5. What is Success in an Immoral Maze? There is no true success. What those inside think is success is anything but. Even if you win, you lose. Stay out, get out.
  6. How to Identify an Immoral Maze. Look at levels of hierarchy, skin in the game, soul in the game, how people describe their jobs, diversity of skill levels and degree of slack. Then pay attention, damn it.
  7. How to Interact with Immoral Mazes. They can’t be fully avoided, and some are stuck with them more than others. Practical discussion of what to do about this on a personal level.
  8. The Road to Mazedom. Well? How did we get here? Draft of this is still ongoing and it is freaking huge so it is probably going to get split up once we get to it. Also we need better answers on what to do about all this than what I have, even if it’s a start. Hard problem is hard!
  9. Moloch’s Army. This isn’t written and needs to go somewhere in the sequence or outside of it, or the whole operation is woefully incomplete. I need to finally write it. The devil’s greatest trick was never proving he didn’t exist, I wrote ten minutes ago, it was proving he’d already won, or would inevitably win. That only those who make deals with him get ahead, so they should implicitly or explicitly coordinate against those who don’t. Moloch has an army, who coordinate implicitly around fighting against anyone fighting for anything except Moloch’s Army, or anyone having any values. And this is how Moloch wins, where it wins. And also by making sure no one ever writes this, which makes this hard to write, etc etc. In that sense, it really is true that the Devil’s greatest trick is convincing people he doesn’t exist, because so far everyone I know who has figured this out has found it impossible to talk or write about this without sounding crazy to those who don’t already get it. Much careful background may be necessary. Darwin sequence was originally supposed to be a gateway to this but it wasn’t good enough on its own.



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Jumping into a retreat with no familiarity brings to mind signing up for one of those big group obstacle runs to see if you like this whole exercise idea and going in cold from being sedentary.

Indeed. And neither is obviously that crazy an idea given alternative plausible actions, even if you are doomed to ultimate failure on the attempt, but there's also probably a better way.

I am excited!

Is your "immoral maze" nomenclature a claim that the original Moral Mazes book should have named itself differently, or are you making some new point with that?

The first one. The author didn't see the thing for what it is, which is understandable on many levels.

This isn't exactly urgent or more important than just finishing the actual substance of the sequence, but I'm not sure "Immoral Mazes" is the best term here. 

Specifically: Moral Mazes was a term optimized in a direction that included "convey that morality gets confusing and you get lost", and also be alliterative and memorable and poetic.

Immoral Mazes feels more like a reaction to that than a term you'd come up with to clearly describe it, and meanwhile loses the poetic heft of the original. ("Moral Maze" communicates that morality has become a maze that's hard to navigate or escape from. "Immoral Maze"... communicates that there is a maze, which is immoral? which seems like it's basically the same thing, but with the connecting-meanings inverted)

It's urgent in the sense that the deeper we go the harder it would be to change it if we decide it is wrong.

My instinct was, I need to keep the word maze (and want to mostly just refer to mazes for short) but that "moral maze" was making an important mistake that it was necessary to correct. Dunno. I do realize it's not ideal.

I'm not sure I understand the mistake – can you clarify what you mean? (I read "Moral Maze" and "Immoral Maze" as meaning basically the same thing but for different reasons. Do you read them differently?)

To me, 'Moral Maze' means a place in which it is hard to tell what the right thing to do is, or you have to fight to do the right thing, and you struggle with that. But that's not what is happening. What is happening is that people are intentionally against morality, opposing it for its own sake. The maze isn't make morality difficult, it's making immorality a virtue.

"Moloch Hasn’t Won"

If 4 and a half billion years isn't enough time, it's not gonna happen.


I don't know, one might say that Moloch is slowly winning. And I do expect things to change pretty radically soon, which might provide an opportunity for a coup de grace.

Not letting this whole issue get too distracting is why I changed the original title, which was "Moloch is Losing."

(And yes, AGI and such present a possible sea change).

I'd be interested in the background to your signing up for the retreat. Why did you go, and how did it come about? (But this is a smaller priority than the other work you listed to do imminently.)

I went because several friends I trust strongly endorsed the idea as a way to get me away from constant feedback loops, and because my wife is getting really into it and it was hopefully something we could do together. There was super high upside if it worked.

As this is not a high priority at the moment, not going to go into further details. I am debating how seriously to attempt a more sane practice rather than jumping straight in the deep end.

Instead of cutting feedback loops, perhaps you could switch to a different set for a while.

I, too, am excited.