How does The Circle grow, exactly?

by Raemon15 min read1st Oct 202118 comments

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Ethics & Morality
Personal Blog

Epistemic status: still in the middle of working through a thing, off the cuff thoughts. Wears my half-baked current-generation morality on my sleave. 

There's an EA song, adapted for Solstice, which presents an optimistic view of the expanding circle of concern:

CALLER: Raise a song, and so commence
ALL: Circle, grow and grow.
in praise of all Benevolence!
Circle, grow and grow.

Once a cold and silent night
did the loveless stars pervade;
yet we here, of star-stuff made,
cast a circle of warmer Light!

Circle, circle, grow and grow!

...

So will we bring our families in,
Circle, grow and grow.
those whom Nature made our kin?
Circle, grow and grow.

Countless likenesses we find,
by our common blood bestowed.
What a debt of care is owed;
what a blesséd tie that binds!

Circle, circle, grow and grow!

...

And will we bring our neighbors in,
Circle, grow and grow.
our expansion to begin?
Circle, grow and grow.

Bounty of the harvest sun,
shelter from all hazards dire,
share with each, as each require,
doing as you would be done.

Circle, circle, grow and grow!

...

And will we bring the stranger in,
Circle, grow and grow.
every state and speech and skin?
Circle, grow and grow.

Think upon the mystery:
how alike is Humankind!
Tho' manifold in face and mind,
conspecific sisters we!

Circle, circle, grow and grow!

...

And will we bring the far ones in,
Circle, grow and grow.
all who distant-born have been?
Circle, grow and grow.

For the hands you'll never hold,
for the names you'll never learn,
for all far-off hearts that yearn,
let compassion boundless roll!

Circle, circle, grow and grow!

...

And will we bring all creatures in,
Circle, grow and grow.
feather, fur, or silicon?
Circle, grow and grow.

Though their unseen thought beguile —
strange the substrate they employ —
all who suffer or enjoy
are brother soul, in body wild.

Circle, circle, grow and grow!

...

And will we bring the future in?
Circle, grow and grow.
All of time is ours to win!
Circle, grow and grow.

Will our children rise in power?
overwhelm the starry deep?
Lights unborn, for you we keep
will and hope, though dark the hour.

Circle, circle, grow and grow!

This song makes me feel warm and fuzzy. But as a steward of Rationalist Solstice, I also have vague concerns about the degree of philosophical commitment the song brings along with it. With Solstice songs, my epistemic concern is not only "does this song sound true and important by my current understanding of the world?", but "20 years from now, will I still think this song sounds true, enough so that it's reasonable to bundle it with some ritual inertia?". 

And this song in particular made me think "man, I think this song doesn't make any factually wrong claims exactly, but does it prompt me to ask the right questions?" 

I have a bunch of thoughts and feelings about how this song relates to solstice and rationalist culture. But today I'm just trying to wrap my head around the epistemic question of "just for me, Ray Arnold in particular, how am I supposed to intellectually relate to the expanding circle of concern concept?"

Recently I wrote about a very simplified example of norm innovation. It was not meant to be a realistic story, just an illustrative example of how two people could form new coordination principles at the same time that moved in different directions:

Alice, Bob, and Charlie also all agree that you should (ideally) aim to have a robust set of coordination meta-principles. But, they don’t know much about what that means. (Doofus has no such aspirations. Sorry about your name, Doofus, this essay is opinionated)

One day Alice comes to believe: “Not only should you not lie to the ingroup, you also shouldn’t use misleading arguments or cherry picked statistics to manipulate the ingroup.”

Around the same time, Bob comes to believe: “Not only should you not steal from the ingroup, you also shouldn’t steal from the outgroup.” Trade is much more valuable than stealing cattle. Bob begins trying to convince people of this using misleading arguments and bad statistics. 

Later on in the post I say:

Once upon a time, we didn't have norms against stealing from the outgroup. Over time, we somehow got that norm, and it allowed us to reap massive gains through trade.

Commenter lsuser took issue with this:

What makes you think the causation went this direction? To me, the Shimonoseki campaign of 1863 and 1864 (and Western imperial mercantalism in general) is evidence that the massive gains through trade happened before norms against stealing from the outgroup. The Unequal Treaties (created to promote trade) were such blatant theft that's why they're called "the Unequal Treaties". If you're unfamiliar with the history of the Meiji Restoration then more well-known historical examples include the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Opium Wars.

In other words, I think of social norms as strategies downstream of technological, economic, social and political forces. This doesn't mean small groups of innovators don't can't make a difference. But I think they're like entrepreneurs surfing a wave of change. Someone was going to harness the potential energy eventually. The people who get credit for establishing norms just happened to do did it first. They sided with Moloch.

I replied with "yeah yeah I know. I even included a hedging clarification about this point later in my post." I went on to say:

My actual guess is that this actually happened incrementally over millennia. 

I'm not super informed on the history here (feel free to correct or add nuance). But I assume by the time you've gotten to the Meiji Restoration, the Western Imperialists have already gone through several layers of "don't steal the outgroup" expansion, probably starting with small tribes that sometimes traded incidentally, growing into the first cities, and larger nations. And part of the reason the West is able to bring overwhelming force to bear is because they've already gotten into an equilibrium where they can reap massive gains from internal trade (between groups that once were outgroups to be stolen from)

I also vaguely recall (citation needed) that Western European nations sort of carved up various third world countries among themselves with some degree of diplomacy, where each European nation was still mostly an "outgroup" to the others, but they had some incremental gentleman's agreements that allowed them to be internally coordinated enough to avoid some conflict.

lsuser notes:

I think the conversion of France into a nation-state is representative of the Western imperial process in general. (Conquest is fractal.) Initially the ingroup was Paris and the outgroup was the French countryside. The government in Paris forced the outgroup to speak Parisian French. Only after the systematic extermination of their native culture and languages did the French bumpkins get acknowledged as ingroup by the Parisians. In other words, the outgroup was forcibly converted into more ingroup (and lower-class ingroup at that). This process was not unlike the forced education of Native Americans in the United States.

It is true that the expansion of polities from small villages to globe-spanning empires happened over millennia. But I think it's a mistake to treat this process as anything having to do with recognizing the rights of the outgroup. There was never a taboo against stealing from the outgroup. Rather, the process was all about forcibly erasing the outgroup's culture to turn them into additional ingroup. Only after they the people of an outgroup were digested into ingroup were you forbidden from stealing from them. The reason the process took thousands of years is because that's how long it took to develop the technology (writing, ships, roads, horses, bullets, schools, telephones) necessary to manage a large empire.

There's a big difference between recognizing the rights of Christians before versus after you force them to convert to Islam—or the rights of savages before versus after they learn English.

lsuser and I chatted back and forth a bit and ultimately seemed to agree on the object level. But I think they were correctly picking up on something being off about the narrative and frame of Norm Innovation post. I think this is downstream of some overall "Raemon's worldview being off" thing. The offness has multiple components, but one is something like "maybe the expanding moral circle of concern is a narrative that only can even pretend to make sense in retrospect."

I'm currently visiting Ireland with family. Last night we learned this song about "how England civilized the Irish people" and sang it together.

It is written from the Irish perspective. I'm currently reading it as a sort of grim, cynical counterpoint to Circle Grow and Grow. It is satirical as hell. 

I'll sing you a song of peace and love,
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
Of the land that reigns all lands above.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

May peace and plenty be her share
Who kept our homes from want and care,
Come and listen to our prayer.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

Chorus:
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
So we say, Hip Hooray!
Come and listen while we pray.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

Our fathers oft were naughty boys.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
For pikes and guns are dangerous toys.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

From (Baile Atha Buidhe) and to Bunkers Hill
We made poor England cry her fill,
But ould Brittania loves us still!
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

Chorus:
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
So we say, Hip Hooray!
God bless England so we pray.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

When we were savage, fierce and wild
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
She came as a mother to her child.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

Gently raised us from the slime
And kept our hands from hellish crime,
And she sent us to Heaven in her own good time.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

Chorus:
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
So we say, Hip Hooray!
God bless England so we pray.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

Oh, Irishmen, forget the past!
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
And think of the day that's coming fast.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day

When we shall all be civilized,
Neat and clean and well-advised.
Oh won't Mother England be surprised?
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

Chorus:
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.
So we say, Hip Hooray!
God bless England so we pray.
Whack fol the diddle all the di do day.

The song assumes on a few layers of background: England forcibly subjugates Ireland and erases their culture. England spins a narrative about how this is for Ireland's good. Irish people resist violently but by the time the song "takes place", at least this particular songwriter is reduced to singing ironic songs about it*. 

[*note: I spent 5 minutes looking into the history of this song and couldn't figure out where it fell on the spectrum between "revolutionary war anthem" and "ironic social commentary." I am not an expert or even an enthusiastic hobbyist of Irish history]

I was having a minor existential crisis while singing it, wrapping my ahead around a couple additional layers. What moral framework is the song actually operating under? Presumably the songwriter thinks it's bad that England subjugated Ireland, erased it's culture, while spinning a narrative of "for your own good." But there are multiple reasons you might think it's bad.

Cosmopolitan Humanism

My current moral outlook is "vaguely defined cosmopolitan humanism", with some contractualism and utilitarianism mixed in. In my moral framework, all humans have inherent moral worth, deserve the right to flourish on their own terms. I don't believe in "inherent moral rights" woven into the fabric of the universe, but I think rights are a useful contractualist framework. 

"It's bad for an empire to expand, take your stuff, and eradicate your culture because it violates people's rights?"

"It's bad for an empire to expand, take your stuff, and eradicate your culture because it leads to suffering?"

But I'm boggling a bit because this entire ethical framework probably only gets to exist after The Circle has expanded. And if the Circle only gets to expand after empires expand and forcibly integrates people into the ingroup... does it make any sense to judge empires within that framework? 

In practice, I don't think there's an alternate history where empires don't expand and subjugate people. I can look back and be sad about it. But if I could teleport back and time and create a really compelling humanist religion that included "don't forcibly expand your empire", I'd expect that religion to get outcompeted by expansionist religions, and the most successful expansionist religions to expand at swordpoint.

Taking Your Stuff, Defending My Stuff

My guess (again, not a historian or even enthusiastic hobbyist) is that prior to the English "winning", it's not like the Irish were sitting around being noble pacifists. I'm assuming there were a bunch of little conflicts, both between various Irish clans, between Irish and English kingdoms, etc. Some of these conflicts had narratives about religion or culture woven around them, but probably they mostly boiled down to "fuck you, I have a sword and I want your stuff", and "fuck you for taking my stuff." 

"It's bad for an empire to expand, take your stuff, and eradicate your culture because fuck you it's my stuff and my culture?"

[Blogposts to write someday: "Escalation Spirals", and "Confusions re: Morality vs Coordination."]

I think "fuck you for taking my stuff" is a "legitimate" grievance. But it's often intermixed with "Also, I want an excuse to take your stuff", which makes it hard to look back and say which conflicts are "legitimate retribution". 

History is a tangled web of grievances. It feels bad to me (from within my current cosmopolitan morality) to sweep the past under a rug and ignore all those grievances. But they're (probably) also so tangled that addressing them in any serious way is pretty intractable. 

Self Righteous Narratives

Notably, it's not just that England comes in, takes stuff and eradicates culture. It does so while spinning a narrative about this being for the Irish's own good. That narrative adds some insult to injury. If you're gonna come take my stuff, at least don't make up a self righteous narrative about it.

"It's bad to make up self righteous reasons for taking people's stuff because it degrades the epistemic commons, which is an important shared resource that even rivals should be able to agree is important?"

"It's bad to make up self righteous reasons for taking people's stuff because fuck you this is degrading?"

Looking back, I think it's basically inevitable for empires to expand at swordpoint. But could they have been more honest about it?

If I could teleport back in time and make a religion that says "Okay fine expand your empires at swordpoint if you must, but don't make up self-righteous reasons for it", would that have worked? Probably not. There are still tons of pretenses available. People are too good at failing to notice when their motivations are self-serving to implement that.

Plus, on the other hand: It's sort of interesting that people even bother having self-righteous narratives about "for their own good." The fact that one bother's spinning this narrative is evidence of some kind of expanding circle of concern. My guess is that White Man's Burden style self-serving morality was a necessary stepping stone to an actually functional Universal Humanism.*

Fundamentally confused about my worldview

As I write this, it feels noteworthy that I don't think there currently exists a functional Universal Humanism. I think the current generation popular version of it doesn't have a firm enough grasp of rationality or coordination theory built into it.

I feel confused, both in a practical standpoint and in a narrative standpoint (and the two are related)

On one hand none of this is very new to me. I gave a Solstice speech in 2015 that dealt with some of this. But some reason my current round of reflections feel fresh and raw and confusing to me.

It feels like I have multiple disjunct pieces of worldview. "Human progress == good", "taking people's stuff and manipulating their culture for your benefit == bad", "imperialism often contains literal evil and also maybe was responsible for most of what I consider good" are three floating nodes that feel tacked together with duck tape. 

I have enough working memory to think about all three nodes at the same time, but it's effortful. I'd like to have them bundled into one chunk that feels smooth and seamless as I go on to combine it with 6 different additional concepts.

Most of a the nearby attractor-states are dangerously simplified. I am sometimes tempted to paper over the harms of empires. I am sometime tempted to overly villainize them, or wallow in the confusion. 

There are empirical questions that feel relevant ("Were the pyramids of Egypt built by slaves, or free laborers?"). They have actual answers (my current understanding is "free laborers"), but I expect new evidence to accumulate which shifts probability mass around, and no one piece of evidence is an overwhelming crux for how I want to feel about the human story. 

It's a factual question whether my worldview was birthed by processes I endorse, or processes I don't.

I have a vague sense of "how am I supposed to judge humanity?" is a confused question, which I am maybe supposed to dissolve. But I'm not sure I'm supposed to dissolve it so hard that I stop caring about it.

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Even when people talk as if "growing the circle" is a good thing, I have the impression that they really mean "drawing the boundary correctly is a good thing, and the correct place to draw the boundary happens to be bigger than people drew it in the past".

If someone said we should extend rights to rocks and sand, and we need to stop using beaches recreationally because it's unfairly exploiting the sand...I think you'd probably think that was a bad idea, even if it "grows the circle".

If you think that growing the circle to include foreigners, animals, and AI is good, but that growing the circle to include rocks and sand is bad, that sounds to me like your personal circle already includes foreigners, animals, and AI but not rocks and sand, and you're wishing everyone else would change their circle to match yours.

Not saying you'd be wrong to want that.  But I think it requires a more sophisticated justification than "because bigger circles are better".

Yes, I wasn't at all saying bigger circles are generically better. (I realize this can be a bit tricky since this post involves some songs/poetry, and is in mid-confused-existential-crisis where a bunch of different pieces of my worldview get briefly namedropped without being spelled out. But I deliberately left this post non-frontpaged because I wanted the discussion of it to center on people who've read the sequences and have a bunch of similar philosophical background as me)

For context,

(a)  I have read the sequences

(b)  The reason I found this post is that your coordination frontier intro got me interested enough that I looked for a way to be notified of future posts in that sequence, and the best option I could find was subscribing to all your posts

Nod. Apologies for the somewhat curt/patronizing tone in the previous comment. I think your point here is a fine point but is not really what I wanted the discussion on this particular post to be about. (It feels like it's arguing against a position I don't expect anyone here to actually hold)

But, I do appreciate you following my posts generally and look forward to other discussion on this post and others.

No offense taken.

It appeared to me that your post was at least partially motivated by questioning the philosophical robustness of the first song, and that the song could plausibly be criticized for implying that bigger circles are inherently better, even if the people singing it don't reflectively endorse that position.

(I admit that songs need to choose a trade-off between brevity and nuance that is further towards the "brevity" side than most philosophy, but I don't feel like "bigger is better" is much good even as an approximation.)

I think one point to draw from this is that people saying "this is for their own good" is very weak evidence. Like, even weaker than you think.  This shouldn't have been news for me, but I implicitly did think colonizing Europeans ran around saying "fuck you, I have a sword and I want your stuff", whereas at least by later stages they were saying things like "we have to save the poor Africans from the evil Arab slave traders" [source: King Leopold's Ghost]. I knew people could lie about their motives but I thought it was a modern lie, and it's not.

Also it's not obvious to me that all of the people saying "we must save them" were overtly lying. They may have been extremely sincere, but not skilled or powerful enough to prevent their countrymen from abusing power their country took. 

I still have the impression that the Romans and Mongols didn't need a justification beyond "fuck you I want your stuff" but I'm no longer 100% sure that if we looked at contemporary sources we wouldn't find someone going "the eventual gains from peace and trade will balance out their suffering..."

I still have the impression that the Romans and Mongols didn't need a justification beyond "fuck you I want your stuff" but I'm no longer 100% sure that if we looked at contemporary sources we wouldn't find someone going "the eventual gains from peace and trade will balance out their suffering..."

My high school history teacher emphasized the Mongols' religious tolerance and the economic gains stemming from the Pax Mongolica. She refused to acknowledge that the Mongols destroyed cities.

There's at least one Hardcore History episode where Carlin gets into this tendency in historiography, and predicts that given enough time, some edgy historian in 2342 or so will be the first to argue that WW2 was net positive; I think he specifically talks about revisionist takes on Ghengis Khan as an example.

I am just now realizing contemporary is one of those words that works as its own opposite and is thus useless given the slightest ambiguity. I was trying to signify "as the invasions were actually happening", since the reinterpretations are fairly common now.

I went through the exact same thought process while writing my comment too.

"How am I supposed to judge humanity?" is something I think about often. And indeed, a lot of what I do while thinking about it is think about what sub-questions I should dissolve it into, while also propagating the answers to those sub-questions back into the more general question (because I do believe that it will remain coherent to have an overall judgement of humanity, just like how it remains coherent to say "I like pie" even after you discover an entire sub-type of pie that you can't stand). Some sub-questions are;

  • What is the moral distribution of humanity?
  • Under what conditions do groups of humans act more or less good?
  • Are there specific ideas/parts of culture that cause those groups to be especially good or bad?
  • How often do tragic events result from the actions of a very small number of evil people?
  • etc.

I recently visited Mexico City and spent a lot of time reading about mesoamerican cultures, which inevitably included the Spanish conquest. Almost all of this content was new to me, so it was a good domain in which to test out my processes. I spent a pretty long time feeling spiteful toward the Spanish conquistadors for razing Tenochtitlan, by all accounts a fantastically beautiful city -- but that whole campaign was in no way endorsed by the Spanish crown, so I was really just mad at a few hundred men -- but also, they had recruited thousands of natives from a rival city state to help them defeat Tenochtitlan -- and it's not obvious that the people of Tenochtitlan wouldn't have done the same thing in reverse if they'd had the same opportunity for gain -- plus there's the whole human sacrifice thing, although it's unclear that that cause statistically more homicide than in any other culture at the time -- and small pox would have ended up causing the same immense death toll even if everyone had decided to be friends.

Anyway, I didn't let all these thoughts prevent me from taking great joy in the good parts of humanity and human culture, which was the dominant part of my learning experience. But it was a lot to think about.

Nod.

The questions you list seem sort of generated by "what causes good things?". I'm not sure if this is what you mean but it suggests an engineering mindset to me. (i.e. lets understand how culture and civilization works so we can make it be better (by our current lights? or current meta-lights?)

I'm currently looking at this from the generator that output the Coordination Frontier sequence, and I think I'm looking for something like "what are good principles for handling defection in weird confusing circumstances", in ways that I'd expect aliens to independently converge on.

(I think the set of things we cluster around the word 'morality' includes both "coordination" as well as "doing whatever it is you value that's worth coordinating for". I am talking here primarily about "coordination", but the two things aren't crisp enough in my head to fully distinguish them)

Rambly thoughts that'll maybe become a blogpost later:

Say you have two agents that meet in the wilderness. They have different values. Maybe one wants to make Art and Babies, and one wants to make PaperClips. Or maybe they both want Art and Babies but they want their particular Art and Babies. 

They want the same resources.

In this example let's say they speak the same language.

I think if one agent is vastly more powerful than the other, and neither agent is some kind of evolved values for empathy/universal-altruism, then I think it's overdetermined that Alice just stomps all over Bob and takes his stuff. 

If Alice and Bob are comparably powerful, such that it's not immediately obvious who would win, then they do some complicated negotiation. The negotiation scheme depends on local features of their respective cultures, and the environment. (The 'negotiation' might take the form of 'go to war', but that's costly and hopefully there are other less costly options). 

But my guess is that there are at least some schelling norms that aliens would independently discover. (possible examples: honesty, not shooting messengers, keeping promises). They might each wish to strategically defect from those norms, but agree that they're overall better off if they can bootstrap an enforcement system that changes the payoff for defection.

I think the longer an agent/culture has had time to think, the more complicated norms they will have time to discover.

This is all background for a half-formed thoughts that feel relevant to this post:

1) I suspect that "Just Punishment" is a schelling norm. i.e. it's okay to punish defectors. This can take different forms like "it's okay to kill in self defense", "it's okay to use violence to defend against violence", etc

2) I suspect that "being in good or bad standing, and having to 'pay for damages done' to get back into good standing", is a schelling norm.

3) I think "figure out how to bootstrap to actual trust/honesty, so you can save a ton of cognitive effort that you'd spend lying, or checking if other people are lying", is a schelling norm. (Where the bootstrapping might include periodic surprise inspections that punish you massively if you turn out to be lying)

4) I think "figure out what deal you wish you had made, if you end up in a situation where you didn't think to make a deal in advance, and then act as if you had made that deal", is a good norm in many situations. I think it's easier among people who trust each other. I think among people who don't trust each other it can still work fairly well in some cases. (This is a bit handwavy at this point and probably needs a blogpost to flesh out)

i.e. if Alice and Bob get into a big protracted fight and end up in weird blood feud, they might say "okay, wait, wait, hold up. Man, this sucks. We didn't have any clear coordination principles or communication frames when we got into this mess. What do we wish we had done instead of getting into a stupid blood feud?". Where the answer isn't "hold hands and sing kumbaya", but might be "we wish we'd taken stock of our actual negotiating positions and resolved the dispute in some less costly way.." (this isn't a great example, I'll see if I can come up with a better one later)

5) points 1-4 apply differently to small groups who all know each other, vs large nations with many actors who vaguely share cultures. Nations are sort of like agents, and sort of not. I'm a bit confused how to think about that. (See that part of Hamilton where Jefferson says "we should honor the commitment we made to the French. What would Lafayette think of you turning your back on them?" and Hamilton replying with "the actual people we made the deal with are all dead")

6) "what deal do you wish you had made?" is a bit confusing when you've gained new principles (coordination-wise, or otherwise) in the meanwhile

7) in many cases, the cognitive effort of figuring out what "should" have happened is too complicated and costly and you have to just sort of declare bankrupcty on the whole thing. But, if you do that a lot you give up on certain types of trust that things will ever be "made right", which limits what sort of deals you can make in the future.

...

...tying this back to the OP is still a bit confusing. Stopping there for now.

Okay. So to try to tie this better back to the OP.

I want to reconcile the fact that my "common sense" morality includes "don't steal from people, even the outgroup", but "seems like empires are basically built out of theft (among other things) and like they were a key piece of how I even got my morality in the first place."

And I think I was okay with "in practice, the way I got my morality was messy and build on atrocities, but at least I have a sense of how to do things going forward." But the notion that "in principle, it may not have even been possible to get my morality without it being built on atrocities" is somehow deeply unsettling to me.

And maybe what I'm supposed to do is just grieve for that and move on with my day. 

But I think not. Because I think we're not necessarily done with empires needing to be built on (what I consider) immoral actions, for the greater good. (Or: it will probably turn out that at least some immoral empires will generate more goodness than could have been generated alternatively)

But it's not like commonsense morality is meaningless. Theft is still bad for all the reasons it's normally bad. I don't want to stop punishing people for theft. Empires (which includes various large corporations) aren't automatically for the greater good, so the rule of "you get punished for theft unless you're too powerful" doesn't actually solve anything even if my.

So the point of the previous comment was to grope towards "what norm do I actually want everyone to try to enforce, that has a shot at successfully applying to empires? Ideally that empire leaders should actually want to help enforce to create a higher-order incentive landscape?"

In a simpler ecosystem of individual agents, I think a reasonable principle is something like "it's potentially okay for Alice to violate some norms to gain resources and accomplish a goal, if Alice later 'makes good' by paying some appropriate fine (ideally to the people who were harmed by her norm violation)."

But, this is much harder to apply to...

...vague-blobs of agents (who is useful to blame for crimes against the Irish? The current prime minister? The descendants of Oliver Cromwell? Whichever lower level official carried out various actions?)

...agents who are now dead (is there any way I can meaningfully punish Oliver Cromwell?)

...messy situations with lots of back and forth small crimes that escalated (My vague history sense is that England tried to stamp out Catholicism in Ireland, but I'm assuming the original Catholic settlers tried to stamp out other native practices, and everyone probably did random cattle raiding or conquest in various directions)

...

Thinking through this led me to some potential solutions:

  • It feels more robust to reward people who do good* than to punish people who do bad. It's neither fair nor particularly possible to punish people who hadn't been part of my moral framework, who's deeds are mostly lost to the mists of time (and this is symmetrical for future people who might not share my framework but judge me by theirs)
    • Hmm. I guess I don't necessarily want to punish people who did wrong, but I would ideally like to compensate people who were wronged.
  • A thing I can aim for for myself is to be the sort of person who tracks when I end up violating what I think should be a norm, and work to make it right in some way.
  • A thing I can also aim for myself is to work to ensure that organizations I participate in are robust, coherent organizations that are easier to audit and assign credit in, so I don't contribute to a vague blob that's hard to hold accountable.
  • There is something nice about the virtue of "ensuring that there is a record", and being legible to historians. This enables future people, who might have a lot more resources, to allocate some kind of future rewards for people who put effort into making their organizations legible/coherent/agenty, and who attempted to do good with their imperial winnings.
    • (sufficiently advanced posthumans can solve this by literally implementing simulated ancestor heaven, and if that turns out to be intractable, you can instead do things like "figure out what someone

While thinking through all of this, one thing I found myself thinking of were things like slave reparations. Up until 10 minutes ago I was thinking something like "I think this has made me more pro-reparations". The thought I had just now was "actually, the problem with reparations right now is that America/UK/whoever are too much of a vague messy blob to institute any morally complex norm reconciliation, and the primary thing to focus on if you're worried about righting-past-wrongs is to help build a more coherent, agenty world that's capable of doing anything on purpose at all."

A thing this reminds me of is that Robert Moses (city planner for early-mid 20th century NYC) did a bunch of horrible destructive (and often racist) things in the service of, among other things, highways. And those things were horribly destructive (and often racist), but I kinda suspect that if he'd done them in the name of mass transit a lot of the people condemning him would be saying "man of his times, what can you do?" and "can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs", unless people were unhappy with the results of more mass transit/fewer highways in this alternate NYC, at which point they'd go back to condemning him for all the things we condemn him for now. 

I would rather Moses had built mass transit rather than highways in the 30s, but I don't think it was obviously the wrong trade-off at the time.  A bunch of things looked like good ideas in the 30s and didn't pan out. 

[Source: primarily The Power Broker].

Irish people resist violently but by the time the song "takes place", at least this particular songwriter is reduced to singing ironic songs about it*. 

The good friday agreement that ended violent resistance only happened in 1998.

One of the key reasons why one writes in a Struassian manner is that one can't openly say what one believes. I think there's a good chance that the songwriter operated in an enviroment where the song was one the edge about what's allowed to said or sung.

I'd love to hear more about the background of the song, if anyone has a source for more specifics.

This reminds me of Peter Thiel's The Diversity Myth. While on the one hand the intersectional movement is about growing the circle of concern to more groups there are strong assumptions about everyone having to buy into the narrative of intersectionalism. 

The Black community now gets represented by people who believe "we must move beyond the narrow nationalism that is all too prevalent in Black communities [...] Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements." and for whom the rights of Black trans folks are more central to what their movement is about then rights of Black prisoners (who are missing in the list of people they care about) and any economic concerns of poverty being a problem.

When people on the right say that they fear that Muslim immigrants will likely bring ideas about how the relationships between men and women should be regulated that are written down in the Koran into our society, the response from people on the left is that they generally believe that they will be able to replace those values with their own values about how men and women should interrelate.

It seems like the left version here is inherently about colonizing other cultures while bringing them into the circle of concern which is interesting giving it's narrative of opposing colonization.

This would suggest that there is some natural lifecycle of "how the political left treats its allies", where the ally gradually gets noticed... first by a few voices on the fringe, then by the mainstream... then there is a peak ally moment when you can do nothing wrong (even if you mistreat other oppressed minorities, it becomes a taboo to mention that)... and afterwards gradually gets deprioritized, treated like now they owe their allegiance to the left, should follow the party line, and throw their full support behind the next peak ally.

And perhaps there is a natural end, when the former ally is abandoned. I am not paying sufficient attention to this, but seems to me that gays have more or less gone the full circle, starting with gay prides and gay marriage, through "one does not talk about abuse of gays by blacks or muslims", coming to "a white cis male feels oppressed? you are joking, aren't you?".

On the other hand, not all allies are passing through this lifecycle at the same speed. For example, women and somewhat later blacks became an archetype of an oppressed group long ago, and they will probably remain so for a long time. Compared with that, homosexuals seem like a passing fad (less archetypal than women, less trendy than transsexuals).

So the question is, if the model is roughly true, how fast would muslims move through this lifecycle. They might stay at the top for a very long time. Or they might be thrown under the bus quite quickly, considering how the treatment of Uyghurs in China is already in the "one does not talk about it" phase.

This is all you can do in such type of scenarios:

observational study draws inferences from a sample to a population where the independent variable is not under the control of the researcher because of ethical concerns or logistical constraints.

Correlations and causation don't really work the same way as controlled scenarios, which makes it hard for rationalists who have little exposure outside of their expertise and way of thinking.

Observational studies, for lacking an assignment mechanism, naturally present difficulties for inferential analysis.