Open Thread, January 15-31, 2012

If it's worth saying, but not worth its own post (even in Discussion), then it goes here.

(I plan to make these threads from now on. Downvote if you disapprove. If I miss one, feel free to do it yourself.)

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Yes he does, and it's a Superhappy kind of point... if all the words in this video are taken at face value, "you'll never have to think again" near the end spells "wireheading".

It all comes down to the grand debate between inconvenient uncertain "freedom" and more founded, more stable "happiness"; during our recent conversations, I've been leaning towards the former in some things and you've been cautioning people about how they might prefer to trade that for the latter - but in the end it's all just skirting our terminal values, so there's certainly no "correct" or "incorrect" conclusion to arrive at.

An outside view of LessWrong:

I've had a passing interest in LW, but about 95% of all discussions seem to revolve around a few pet issues (AI, fine-tuning ephemeral utilitarian approaches, etc.) rather than any serious application to real life in policy positions or practical morality. So I was happy to see a few threads about animal rights and the like. I am still surprised, though, that there isn't a greater attempt to bring the LW approach to bear on problems that are relevant in a more quotidian fashion than the looming technological singularity.

As far as I can tell, the reason for this is that in practical matters, "politics is the mind killer" is the mind killer.

Is there an argument behind "quotidian" besides "I have a short mental time horizon and don't like to think weird thoughts"?

Why would LessWrong be able to come to a consensus on political subjects? Who would care about such a consensus if it came about?

There's already enough geek-libertarian atmosphere that those of us who aren't really notice it. But yeah - as I said, I'm not actually sure it would be a good idea. But the shying away from practical application to that particular part of things people are actually interested in fixing in their daily lives is a noteworthy absence.

Your implied claim that quotidian thoughts are unworthy of attention is ... look, if you want to convince people all of this is actually a good idea, then when someone asks "so, OK. What are the practical applications of reading a million words of philosophy and learning probability maths?", answering "How dare you be so short-termist" strikes me as unlikely to work. I mean, I could be wrong ...

That's because in practice, "politics is the mind-killer" is the mind-killer.

If it is not too much trouble, could you explain further what you mean by that?

It seems to be treated as a thought stopper. "Do not go beyond this point." There are good reasons for it, but the behaviour looks just like shying away from a bad thought.

The thoughts are there, they're just not expressed on this particular site.

I always assumed it was more a discussion-stopper, meant to keep people polite and quiet. However, your interpretation is probably better.

I assume that was the intention. I'm not actually convinced that it would improve the site for us to dive headfirst into politics ... but it's odd for the stuff discussed here not to be applied even somewhere else, or even in the discussion section, without a flurry of downvotes. There's a strong social norm that even the slightest hint of political discussion is inherently bad and must be avoided.

It should be noted that RationalWiki is not a website known to be, let us say, lacking in killed minds.

Some thinking is easier in privacy.

In a fascinating study known as the Coding War Games, consultants Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister compared the work of more than 600 computer programmers at 92 companies. They found that people from the same companies performed at roughly the same level — but that there was an enormous performance gap between organizations. What distinguished programmers at the top-performing companies wasn’t greater experience or better pay. It was how much privacy, personal workspace and freedom from interruption they enjoyed. Sixty-two percent of the best performers said their workspace was sufficiently private compared with only 19 percent of the worst performers. Seventy-six percent of the worst programmers but only 38 percent of the best said that they were often interrupted needlessly.

These are interesting results, but the research was from 1985--"Programmer Performance and the Effects of the Workplace," in Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Software Engineering, August 1985. It seems unlikely that things have changed, but I don't know whether the results have been replicated.

I don't know of any studies, but there are many anecdotal reports about this.

Worth noting: is correlational, not causal.

I sometimes run into a situation where I see a comment I'm ambivalent about about, that I would normally not vote on. However, this comment also has an extreme vote total, either very high or very low. I would prefer this comment to be more like 0, but I'm not sure it's acceptable to vote according to what I want the total to be, as opposed to what I think about the post, because it gives me more voting power than I would otherwise have. What do you do in this situation?

I would prefer this comment to be more like 0, but I'm not sure it's acceptable to vote according to what I want the total to be, as opposed to what I think about the post, because it gives me more voting power than I would otherwise have.

You get to modify the karma rating by one in either direction. Do so in whatever manner seems most desirable to you.

You have too much voting power if you create a sock puppet and vote twice.

Do so in whatever manner seems most desirable to you.

This is my attempt to figure out what is most desirable to me. At the moment, I want to do whatever would be the best overall policy if everyone followed it, with "best" here being defined as "resulting in the best lesswrong possible" (with a very complicated definition of best that I don't think I can specify well).

Given that that's what I want, how best to achieve it? The karma system is valuable because it makes more visible posts that are highly upvoted, so it's valuable to the extent that the highest upvoted comments are the best.

It should be noted that only relative karma matters (for sorting within an article), and the karma of other posts will tend to be rising (most posts wind up with positive karma). There is some number between 0 and 1 (call it x)that represents the expected vote of someone who votes.

Because karma is relative, if you've decide you care enough to vote, you should subtract x from your vote to determine if it counts as evidence that the post is good or bad. Do you want to vote 1-x, -x, or -1-x? Note 1-x>0, and the other two (not voting and down voting) are less than 0, downvoting by quite a bit. Which of these best corresponds to the sentiment "I liked this but think it's overrated"?

I roughly follow the following (prioritized) rules:

  1. Up-vote if I want to see more posts like this/down-vote if I don't want to see more posts like this, regardless of the current total.

  2. A comment that I do not feel very strongly about I may up- or down-vote based on what total karma I expect the comment of this kind to deserve.

  3. Very occasionally, I might like or dislike the author for unrelated reasons, and decide to up-/down-vote based on that.

I have previous thought that maybe karma should be hidden until after you vote.

But then there's the problem where part of the point of karma is to tell you whether something is worth reading. If karma was hidden until after voting, users would still have their total karma to motivate them, and we could still hide sufficiently negative comments.

Maybe we should hide comment karma before voting, but not article karma?

You should vote without knowledge of total karma, otherwise it biases comments' karma scores towards 0 (except at extremes, where it creates bandwagon effects). Power doesn't enter into it, though.

You're assuming that biasing karma scores towards zero (relative to what they would be before) is bad. Sure, it could be, but I don't see any particular reason why.

otherwise it biases comments' karma scores towards 0 (except at extremes, where it creates bandwagon effects)

[citation needed]

I would prefer this comment to be more like 0

Does your preference mean that you honestly think the intrinsic value of the comment does not justify its vote count, or that you just generally prefer moderation and extremes irritate you?

In the former case, I would definitely vote toward what I thought would be a more justified vote count. Though in the latter case, I would probably be completely blind to my bias.

I meant that the intrinsic value of the comment does not justify its vote count.

I'm reading Moldbug's Patchwork and considering it as a replacement for Democracy. I expected it to be dystopia, but it actually sounds like a neat place to live, it is however a scary Eutopia.

Has anyone else read this recently?

Every time I read Moldbug's stuff I am startled by the extent to which he tries to give an economic analysis and solution to a political problem.

The reason we have government isn't that we sat down once upon a time in the state of nature to design a political system. We have government because we live in a world where violence is a potentially effective tactic for achieving goals. Government exists to curb and control this tendency, to govern it.

Uncontrolled violence turns out to be destructive to both the subject of the violence and also the wielder -- it turns out that it's potentially more fun to be in a citizen-soldier in a democracy than a menial soldier in an tyranny, or a member of a warlord's entourage.

Politically, we don't do welfare spending and criminal justice purely for the fuzzies, or solely because they're ends in themselves. Every so often, we have organized and vigorous protests against the status quo. When this happens, those in power can either appease the protesters, use force to crush the protesters, or try to make them go away quietly without violence. If the protesters are determined enough, this last approach doesn't work. And the government can either use clubs, or buy off the protesters.

It turns out that power structures that become habitually brutal don't do too well. People who get in the habit of using force aren't good neighbors, aren't good police, and aren't trusty subordinates. Bystanders don't want to live in a society that uses tanks and poison gas on retired veterans or that kills protesting students; leaders who try to use those tactics tend to get voted out of power -- or else overthrown.

Moldbug talking about cryptographically controlled weapons is missing the point: we don't want to live in a society that uses too much overt violence on its members. And we tolerate a lot of inefficiencies to avoid this need.

Bystanders don't want to live in a society that uses tanks and poison gas on retired veterans or that kills protesting students; leaders who try to use those tactics tend to get voted out of power -- or else overthrown.

Just because governments often employ violence just before they loose power does not mean that employing violence was the cause of their downfall. Many sick people take medication just before they die. Sure violence may do them no good, like an aspirin does no good for a brain tumour, but it is hard to therefore argue that aspirin is the cause of death. The assertion is particularly dubious since historically speaking governments have used a whole lot of violence and this actually seems to have often saved them. Even in modern times we have plenty examples of this.

This Robin Hanson post seems somewhat relevant:

Once upon a time, poor masses suffered under rich elites. Then one day the poor realized they could revolt, and since then, the rich help the poor, fearing the poor will revolt if they ever feel they suffer too much.

Revolution experts mostly reject this myth; famous revolutions happened after things had gotten better, not worse, for the poor.

We have government because we live in a world where violence is a potentially effective tactic for achieving goals. Government exists to curb and control this tendency, to govern it.

The state can be thought of as a sedentary bandit, who instead of pillaging and burning a village of farmers extorted them and eventually started making sure no one else pillages or burns them since that interferes with the farmers paying him. The roving bandit has no incentive to assure the sustainability of a particular farming settlement he parasites. A stationary banding in a sense farms the settlement.

Government can expediently be defined, ultimately beneath all the full, as a territorial monopolist of violence. There is a trade off between government violence used to prevent anyone else from exercising violence and violence by other organized groups. How do we know we are at the optimal balance in a utilitarian sense?

Also Moldbug dosen't want to do away with government he wants to propose a different kind of government. And we have in the past had systems of government that where the result of people sitting down and then trying to design a political system. To take modern examples of this (though I could easily pull out several Greek city states), perhaps the Soviet Union was a bad design, but the United States of America literally took over the world. In any case this demonstrates that new forms of government (not necessarily very good government) can be designed and implemented.

Uncontrolled violence turns out to be destructive to both the subject of the violence and also the wielder --

Government violence s ideally more predictable than the violence it prevents (that's the whole reason we in the West think rule of law is a good idea). Sure the government has other tools to prevent violence than just violence of its own, but ultimately all law is violence. In the sense of the WHO definition:

...as the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.

You can easily make the violence painless by say sedating a would be rapist with the stun setting on your laser gun, and you can easily also eliminate the suffering of imprisoning him, by modifying his brain with advanced tools. But changing a persons mind without their consent or by giving them a choice between 6 years imprisonment and modifying their brain has surely just experienced violence according to the above definition.

it turns out that it's potentially more fun to be in a citizen-soldier in a democracy than a menial soldier in an tyranny, or a member of a warlord's entourag

The point of the the cryptographically controlled weapons is that you need a very small group of people who thinks being a citizen soldier is less fun than being paid handsomely by Blackwater to work.

The reason we have government isn't that we sat down once upon a time in the state of nature to design a political system.

I believe the main thrust of Moldbug's writings is that we should be (but aren't) solving an engineering problem rather than moralizing when we engage in politics (although, he seems to fall into this trap himself what with all his blaming of "leftists" for everything under the sun).

So much of Moldbug's belief system, and even his constructed identity as an "enlightened reactionary", ride on his complete rejection of whiggish historical narratives; however, he takes this to such an extent that he ends up falling into the very trap that Whig Interpretation's original critic, Herbert Butterfield warned of in his seminal work on the subject:

Further, it cannot be said that all faults of bias may be balanced by work that is deliberately written with the opposite bias; for we do not gain true history by merely adding the speech of the prosecution to the speech for the defence; and though there have been Tory – as there have been many Catholic – partisan histories, it is still true that there is no corresponding tendency for the subject itself to lean in this direction; the dice cannot be secretly loaded by virtue of the same kind of original unconscious fallacy.

I believe the main thrust of Moldbug's writings is that we should be (but aren't) solving an engineering problem rather than moralizing when we engage in politics (although, he seems to fall into this trap himself what with all his blaming of "leftists" for everything under the sun).

Except, none of his prescriptions are sensible engineering. Crypto-controlled weapons as foundation for social order are more science-fiction than sensible design for controlling violence in society. it's much too easy for people to build or buy weapons, or else circumvent the protections. Pinning your whole society on perfect security seems pretty crazy from a design point of view.

Right, I don't think he succeeds either. I was merely trying to summarize his project as I think he sees it.

Every time I read Moldbug's stuff I am startled by the extent to which he tries to give an economic analysis and solution to a political problem.

Abba Lerner, "The Economics and Politics of Consumer Sovereignty" (1972):

"An economic transaction is a solved political problem... Economics has gained the title Queen of the Social Sciences by choosing solved political problems as its domain."

Moldbug talking about cryptographically controlled weapons is missing the point: we don't want to live in a society that uses too much overt violence on its members. And we tolerate a lot of inefficiencies to avoid this need.

In raw utility the inefficiencies we tolerate to pay for this could easily be diverted to stop much more death and suffering elsewhere. Perhaps we are simply suffering from scope insensitivity, our minds wired for small tribes where the leader being violent towards a person means the leader being violent to a non-trival fraction of the population.

Also are you really that sure that people wouldn't want to live in a Neocameralist system? When you say efficiency I don't think you realize how emotionally appealing clean streets, good schools, low corruption and perfect safety from violent crime or theft is. What would be the price of real-estate there? It is not a confidence that he gives Singapore as an example, a society that uses more violence against its citizens than most Western democracies.

Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment in Singapore. The city-state had the highest per-capita execution rate in the world between 1994 and 1999, estimated by the United Nations to be 1.357 executions per hundred thousand of population during that period.[1] The next highest was Turkmenistan with 0.143 (which is now an abolitionist country). Each execution is carried out by hanging at Changi Prison at dawn on a Friday.

Singapore has had capital punishment since it was a British colony and became independent before the United Kingdom abolished capital punishment. The Singaporean procedure of hanging condemned individuals is heavily influenced by the methods formerly used in Great Britain.

Further more consider this:

Under the Penal Code,[12] the commission of the following offences may result in the death penalty:

  • Waging or attempting to wage war or abetting the waging of war against the Government*
  • Offences against the President’s person (in other words, treason)
  • Mutiny
  • Piracy that endangers life
  • Perjury that results in the execution of an innocent person
  • Murder
  • Abetting the suicide of a person under the age of 18 or an "insane" person
  • Attempted murder by a prisoner serving a life sentence
  • Kidnapping or abducting in order to murder
  • Robbery committed by five or more people that results in the death of a person
  • Drug trafficking
  • Unlawful discharge of firearms, even if nobody gets injured

Internal Security Act

The preamble of the Internal Security Act states that it is an Act to "provide for the internal security of Singapore, preventive detention, the prevention of subversion, the suppression of organised violence against persons and property in specified areas of Singapore, and for matters incidental thereto."[15] The President of Singapore has the power to designate certain security areas. Any person caught in the possession or with someone in possession of firearms, ammunition or explosives in a security area can be punished by death.

Arms Offences Act

The Arms Offences Act regulates firearms offences.[16] Any person who uses or attempts to use arms (Section 4) can face execution, as well as any person who uses or attempts to use arms to commit scheduled offences (Section 4A). These scheduled offences are being a member of an unlawful assembly; rioting; certain offences against the person; abduction or kidnapping; extortion; burglary; robbery; preventing or resisting arrest; vandalism; mischief. Any person who is an accomplice (Section 5) to a person convicted of arms use during a scheduled offence can likewise be executed.

Trafficking in arms (Section 6) is a capital offence in Singapore. Under the Arms Offences Act, trafficking is defined as being in unlawful possession of more than two firearms.

That sounds pretty draconian. But we also know Singapore is a pretty efficiently run government by most metrics. Is Singapore an unpleasant place to life? If so why do so many people want to live there? If you answer economic opportunities or standard of living or job opportunities, well then maybe Moldbug does have a point in his very economic approach to it.

In raw utility the inefficiencies we tolerate to pay for this could easily be diverted to stop much more death and suffering elsewhere. Perhaps we are simply suffering from scope insensitivity, our minds wired for small tribes where the leader being violent towards a person means the leader being violent to a non-trival fraction of the population.

I had assumed we were talking about government for [biased, irrational] humans, not for perfect utilitarians or some other mythical animal. I was saying that routine application of too much violence will upset humans, not that it should upset them.

Also are you really that sure that people wouldn't want to live in a Neocameralist system? When you say efficiency I don't think you realize how emotionally appealing clean streets, good schools, low corruption and perfect safety from violent crime or theft is. What would be the price of real-estate there? It is not a confidence that he gives Singapore as an example, a society that uses more violence against its citizens than most Western democracies.

I'm sure many people would live quite happily in Singapore. Clearly, it works for the Singaporians. But I don't think that model can be replicated elsewhere automatically, nor do I think Moldbug has a completely clear notion why it works.

Moldbug talks about splitting up the revenue generation (taxation) from the social-welfare spending. This seems like a recipe for absentee-landlord government. And historically that has worked terribly. The government of Singapore does have to live there, and that's a powerful restraint or feedback mechanism.

In the US (and I believe the rest of the world), the population would like to pay lower taxes, and pointing to the social welfare benefits is the thing that convinces them to pay and tolerate higher rates. I think once the separation between spending and taxation becomes too diffuse, you'll get tax revolts. Remember, we are designing a government for humans here -- short-sighted, biased, irrational, and greedy. So the benefits of unpleasant things have to be made as obvious as possible.

Is Singapore an unpleasant place to life? If so why do so many people want to live there?

I'm open to being corrected on this, since I don't have a good source for Singaporean immigration statistics, but my prior is that people who choose to live in Singapore are coming there from other places that are much more corrupt while also still being rather draconian (China, Malaysia). I'm pretty sure well-educated Westerners could get a well-paying job in Singapore, and the reason few move there is not, in fact, about economics.

I've read through the pieces, and I'm struggling to come up with something to say that a reactionary absolutist like Moldbug would find interesting. For example, in the first piece linked, Moldbug says (Let's ignore that the last sentence is questionable as a matter of historical fact):

if you want stable government, accept the status quo as the verdict of history. There is no reason at all to inquire as to why the Bourbons are the Kings of France. The rule is arbitrary. Nonetheless, it is to the benefit of all that this arbitrary rule exists, because obedience to the rightful king is a Schelling point of nonviolent agreement. And better yet, there is no way for a political force to steer the outcome of succession - at least, nothing comparable to the role of the educational authorities in a democracy.

I don't disagree that it is a Schelling point. But is it stable? History strongly suggests that legitimacy is a real thing that is an important variable for predicting whether governments can stay in power and institutions can remain influential in a society. In other words, there's a reason why mature absolute monarchies (like Louis XIV) invented "divine right of kings." I assert that you can't throw that away (as Moldbug does) and assume that nothing changes about the setup.

My next point would be that there is no reason to expect a government to make a profit. But Moldbug's commitment to accepting the verdict of history means that he wouldn't find this very persuasive. if one believes that might makes right, then government probably does need to make a profit. In other words, when you acquire power by winning, there's every reason to expect that failing to continue winning will lead in short order to your replacement.

My next point would be that there is no reason to expect a government to make a profit.

The idea is that it is possible to make the cake bigger by having efficient government. This is why he invokes Laffer curves as relevant concepts.

I find myself sympathetic to this. If you say give some amount of stocks to foundations that provide free healthcare to those who can't afford it or preserve natural habitat ect. that matches current GDP spending, but come up with a government that is more efficient at providing funds for all these endeavours you get more spent in an absolute sense on healthcare or environmentalism than otherwise.

If you want to do efficient charity, you don't work in a soup kitchen, you work hard where you have a comparative advantage to earn as much money as possible and then donate it to an efficient charity. Moldbug may not approve but I actually think his design with the right ownership structure, might be together with some properly designed foundations be a much better "goodness generating machine" than a democratic US or EU might ever be.

I also like the idea of being able to live in a society with laws that you can agree with, if you don't like it you just leave and go somewhere where you do agree with them.

The profit motive is transparent and it is something that is easy to track down than "doing good", which is as the general goal of government far less transparent. As a shareholder or employee in a prosperous society you could easily start lobbying among other share holders to spend their own money to set up new charity foundations or have existing ones re-evaluate their goals.

It also has the neat property of seemingly guaranteeing human survival in a Malthusian em future (check out Robin Hansons writing on this). As long as humans own stocks it wouldn't matter if they where made obsolete by technology they could still basically collect a simply vast amount of rent which would continue growing at a rapid rate for millennia or even millions of years. The real problem is how these humans don't get hacked into being consumption machines by various transhuman service providers but optimize for Eudaimonia.

I don't disagree that it is a Schelling point. But is it stable? History strongly suggests that legitimacy is a real thing that is an important variable for predicting whether governments can stay in power and institutions can remain influential in a society. In other words, there's a reason why mature absolute monarchies (like Louis XIV) invented "divine right of kings." I assert that you can't throw that away (as Moldbug does) and assume that nothing changes about the setup.

He says robot armies and cryptographically locked weaponry eliminate the need to care about what your population thinks. The technology simply wasn't there in the time of Louis XIV. The governing structure has no need to mess with people's minds in various ways to convince them it is a just system.

And the thing is, while such technology as ubiquitous surveillance or automated soldiers in the hands of government sounds scary, there seems to be no relevant reason at all to think other government types won't have this technology anyway. Worse the technology to modify your mind in various ways will also be rapidly available (as if current brainwashing and propaganda technology wasn't scary enough).

In other words people living in such Patchwork instead of the futuristic US or the PRC would trade political freedoms for freedom of thought and association. The last two are not really guaranteed in any sense, but he gives several strong reasons why a sovereign corporation might have an interest in preserving them. Reasons that most other states as self-stabilizing systems don't seem to have.

But Moldbug's commitment to accepting the verdict of history means that he wouldn't find this very persuasive. if one believes that might makes right, then government probably does need to make a profit. In other words, when you acquire power by winning, there's every reason to expect that failing to continue winning will lead in short order to your replacement.

He basically says that whether we like it or not might does make right. The USA defeated Nazi Germany not because it was nobler but because it was stronger. This is why Germany is a democracy today. The US defeated the Soviet Union not because it was nobler but because its economy could support more military spending and the Soviet Communist party couldn't or wouldn't use military means as efficiently as say the Chinese to stomp out dissenting citizens. This is why Russia is a democracy today. Democracies won because they where better at convincing people that they where legitimate, their economies where better and as a result of these two they where better at waging war than other forms of government.

He also seems very confident that if his proposed form of government was enacted somewhere it would drastically out-compete all existing ones.

The profit motive is transparent and it is something that is easy to track down than "doing good", which is as the general goal of government far less transparent. As a citizen in a prosperous society you could easily start lobbying among other share holders to spend their own money to set up new charity foundations or have existing ones re-evaluate their goals.

Many government programs provide services to people who can't afford the the value of the service provided. Police and public education provided to inner-cities cannot be paid from the wealth of the beneficiaries. Moldbug complains about the inefficiency of the post office, but that problem is entirely caused by non-efficiency based commitments like delivering mail to middle-of-nowhere small towns. Without those constraints, USPS looks more like FedEx. That's not a Moldbuggian insght - everyone who's spent a reasonable amount of time thinking about the issue knows this trade-off.

He says robot armies and cryptographically locked weaponry eliminate the need to care about what your population thinks. The technology simply wasn't there in the time of Louis XIV. The governing structure has no need to mess with people's minds in various ways to convince them it is a just system.

And I simply don't believe this is a likely outcome. There will be times when a realm does not want to use its full arsenal of unobtanium weapons (i.e. to deal with jaywalking and speeding). Anyway, isn't it easier (and more efficient) to use social engineering to suppress populist sedition?

The US defeated the Soviet Union . . .

I mostly agree with your analysis, in that I think we've been lucky in some sense that the good guys won. But doesn't Moldbug have some totally different explanation for the Cold War, involving infighting between the US State Dept. and the Pentagon?

He also seems very confident that if his proposed form of government was enacted somewhere it would drastically out-compete all existing ones.

I think it likely that any system of government backed by unobtanium weapons would defeat any existing government system. It's not clear to me that a consent-of-the-governed system backed by the super weapons wouldn't beat Moldbug's absolutist system. And even if that isn't true, why should we want a return to absolutism. It's painfully obvious to me that my rejection of absolutism is the basis of most of my disagreement with Moldbug. I think government should provide "unprofitable" services, and he doesn't.

I mostly agree with your analysis, in that I think we've been lucky in some sense that the good guys won.

The good guys did win, because I'm not a National Socialist or a Communist or a Muslim or a Roman. But I don't think we where lucky. "The Gift We Give Tomorrow" should illustrate why I don't think you can say we where "lucky". By definition anyone that won would have made sure we viewed them as the more or less good guys.

But doesn't Moldbug have some totally different explanation for the Cold War, involving infighting between the US State Dept. and the Pentagon?

That wasn't Moldbug's argument about the USSR, it was mine :)

Yes, if I recall right his model goes something like this: The State Department wanted to make the Soviet Union its client much like say Britain or or West Germany or Japan where, it viewed US society and Soviet society as on a converging path, with the Soviet Union's ruling class having its heart in the right place but sometimes going too far. Something they could never do with any truly right wing regime. This is why they often basically sabotaged the Pentagon's efforts and attempts at client making. The Cold War and the Third World in general would have never been as bloody if the State Department vs. the Pentagon civli war by proxy wouldn't have been going on.

Anyway, isn't it easier (and more efficient) to use social engineering to suppress populist sedition?

Sure but I don't want to live in a society that takes this logic to its general conclusion. I want to be able to dislike the government I'm living under even if I can't do anything about it. Many people might not either, and we may be willing to tolerate living in a different less wealthy part of patch land or paying higher taxes for it.

consent-of-the-governed .

What is that? Can we depack this concept?

I think government should provide "unprofitable" services, and he doesn't.

I'm trying to figure out what you mean by this. Can't we have a "Deliver mail to far off corners foundation" and give it 0.5% of the stocks of Neo-Washington corp. when the thing takes off? Do you in principle object to government being for profit or is it just you think that nonprofits funded by shares of the government of equal GDP fractions as they have right now couldn't provide services of equally quality? What is the governments mission then? Which unprofitable services should it provide? All possible ones? Those that have the most eloquent rent-seekers? Those that are "good"? Can you define then the mission of government in words that are a bit more specific than universal benevolence? And if democratic government is so good at that why don't we have seed AI report to congress for approval of each self-modification? Don't worry the AI also gets one vote.

So, Moldbug's Cold War explanation is total nonsense? I thinks the Cold War follows after WWII even if the USA was ruled by King Truman I and the USSR was rule by King Stalin I. More formally, I think political realism is the empirically best description of international relations.


Anyway, you asked about patches and realms, and I said that governments do the unprofitable. If it were profitable, government wouldn't need to do it. Moldbug seems to say that we ought not to want government to do the unprofitable. That explains his move to a corporate form of government, but it doesn't justify the abandonment of the role that every government in history has decided it wanted to do.

You completely missed my point. Who gets to decide what is unprofitable? Who decides which unprofitable things are worth doing? The set of all possible unprofitable activities is vastly larger than the set of profitable ones.

If it were profitable, government wouldn't need to do it.

You do realize we where talking about the USSR just a few seconds ago right? I guess Russia was a bad place to make cars so the government had to step in and do that.

Communism (and socialism in general) have inefficient (i.e. not wealth-maximizing) preferences for wealth distribution. So no, it doesn't surprise me that that massive government planning was required to try to implement the communist preference. If equal wealth distribution were wealth-maximizing, then the government wouldn't have needed to intervene to make it happen.

This isn't a groundbreaking point. It falls out straightforwardly from the economic definition of efficiency.

I repeat myself:

You completely missed my point. ... Who decides which unprofitable things are worth doing?

Unless you are arguing Communist preferences of wealth redistribution and the opportunity cost that entails where automatically representative of those of "the Russian people" because duh they had the October revolution and a civil war in which Communists won. In which case I will ask why they would not be in North Korea, and would also ask you if all regimes deciding things are representative of "the people" why do we even need this democracy thing? Obviously Ancient Egyptian peasants wanted to be involved in the unprofitable business of building Pyramids for Pharaoh.

If we are not sure the ancient Egyptian Monarchies captured people's preferences for unprofitable activities that should be done according to the values of those indirectly funding them, if the same cannot be said of Rome, if the same cannot be said of Communism ... why do you think it can be said of say the US government? Why do you think this is more efficient than having government be a money making machine that gives its citizens free money because they own stock and lets them spend it on whatever charity (which also by definition do unprofitable things) or indulgence (which often are also unprofitable - whenever I go stop to smell the flowers or go watch a movie I don't do this to maximize my profit in currency, but to hopefully maximize my utility) they want? Or if it interferes with the operation of the state why not have the stockholders spend it in some other part of Patchland that specializes in being a great place to spend your money for good causes or fun?

And if you don't think people's preferences even matter when deciding what unprofitable stuff to spend resources on ... well whose preferences should then?

I want unprofitable stuff that I like done too. Like helping people not having to die if they don't want to. All else being equal I don't however much care who does them. BTW I'm not too sure about Moldbug's government type either, I wouldn't volunteer to live there just based on his arguments, but I do think he does a good job of dealing with regular arguments in favour of democracy. I do think a city or patch of desert somewhere to test the form of government might be a good idea.

Who decides which unprofitable things are worth doing?

For Moldbug, the answer is . . . not you. Unless the CEO of the realm put your charity on the cleared list. But I suspect that most of the things I would want to do with my dividends would be prohibited as security risks. Political control without thought control has never happened, and I don't think that super weapons could make it happen.

For Moldbug, the answer is . . . not you.

I'm interested in your answer.

Political control without thought control has never happened, and I don't think that super weapons could make it happen.

That is a good argument. Overall I think Moldbug does a better job of giving decent explanatory power for the modern world than providing workable solutions (if there are any) for its ills. :)

decent explanatory power for the modern world

Please elaborate on how, completely disregarding political realism in favor of an overarching conspiracy theory (as already mentioned above) and just ignoring the whole iceberg of neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, etc, one can arrive at a decent explanation for it all. "The leftist social sciences professor down the street is a witch, she did it" is not up to my standards of "decent".

"The leftist social sciences professor down the street is a witch, she did it"

That is not Moldbug's model. How much have you read?

He has decent models in my mind for many things including the genesis of the leftwards social movement for the past few decades or centuries, the genesis of modern morality, US foreign policy, the sociological aspect development of ideology ect.

I don't think I'm that much of a outlier in my estimation here, I've heard many people I know from LessWrong express interest in his thought (for example gwern, or Vladimir_M). He even had a live recorded debate with Robin Hanson back in 2010 on Futarchy (though he lost, everyone looses debates to RH ;) ). Top posters like Yvian and Eliezer also seem to have read some of Moldbug since they refer to his writing occasionally, ect. People sometimes agree and other times disagree with him, but I think they generally don't view him as a "crank" .

I really don't have the time right now to discuss all of this but there are a few older discussions in the comment sections of various articles (just search for "Moldbug" on the site), LessWrong that may interesting you if you'd like to learn more about his stuff and why people find it interesting.

My recent thread on one of his post also had some discussion.

He has decent models in my mind for many things including the genesis of the leftwards social movement for the past few decades or centuries, the genesis of modern morality, US foreign policy, the sociological aspect development of ideology ect.

I have read all of that, at first glance expecting a fun and intriguing contrarian ride. It came across as considerably more insane (in the LW/OB sense) and less grounded in reality than the milder forms of ol' good fascism to me.

I generally don't see what's so insane about WASP Blue State Protestant progressivism being the sociological, philosophical and cultural predecessor of WASP Blue State progressivism.

Or say that modern ethics aren't the product of pure reason and moral progress but a clear descendant of older Western morality.

Or that US foreign policy is often crazy and mixed up because the US isn't a monolithic entity and that more specifically the interests of the State department and the Pentagon diverge.

Or that in a modern parlimentary democracy power is wielded by opinion makers (academia and journalists) who create the intellectual fashion of the rich and well positioned subscribe to and with a twenty or so year lag the general population (they adopt it not just to copy the elites but because legislation and education are updated to push new beliefs on them) which then vote for representatives that are supposed to keep the unelected elites in check and working for their interests. Culturally any ethical ideas or value sets adopted by elite academia are assured long term victory.

I think that covers my examples.

I have read all of that, at first glance expecting a fun and intriguing contrarian ride. It came across as considerably more insane (in the LW/OB sense) and less grounded in reality than the milder forms of ol' good fascism to me.

Meh, fascists are often too mystical for my tastes (try reading Julius Evola. Religious Paleocons are a bit better but their axioms are all messed up, believing in God and all that. The few irreligious ones are often lots of fun.

source

So we can separate California's expenses into two classes: those essential or profitable for California as a business; and those that are unnecessary and wasteful, such as feeding the poor, etc, etc. Let them starve! Who likes poor people, anyway? And as for the blind, bumping into lampposts will help them build character. Everyone needs character.

I am not Steve Jobs (I would be very ill-suited to the management of California), and I have not done the math. But my suspicion is that eliminating these pointless expenses alone - without any other management improvements - would turn California, now drowning in the red, into a hellacious, gold-spewing cash machine. We're talking dividends up the wazoo. Stevifornia will make Gazprom look like a pump-n-dump penny stock.

And suddenly, a solution suggests itself.

What we've done, with our separation of expenses, is to divide California's spending into two classes: essential and discretionary. There is another name for a discretionary payment: a dividend. By spending money to heal the lame, California is in effect paying its profits to the lame. It is just doing it in a very fiscally funky manner.

Thus, we can think of California's spending on good works as profits which are disbursed to an entity responsible for good works. Call it Calgood. If, instead of spending $30 billion per year on good works, California shifts all its good works and good-workers to Calgood, issues Calgood shares that pay dividends of $30 billion per year, and says goodbye, we have the best of both worlds. California is now a lean, mean, cash-printing machine, and the blind can see, the lame can walk, etc, etc.

Furthermore, Calgood's shares are, like any shares, negotiable. They are just financial instruments. If Calgood's investment managers decide it makes financial sense to sell California and buy Google or Gazprom or GE, they can go right ahead.

So without harming the poor, the lame, or the blind at all, we have completely separated California from its charitable activities. The whole idea of government as a doer of good works is thoroughly phony. Charity is good and government is necessary, but there is no essential connection between them.

Of course, in real life, the idea of Calgood is slightly creepy. You'd probably want a few hundred special-purpose charities, which would be much more nimble than big, lumbering Calgood. Of course they would be much, much more nimble than California. Which is kind of the point.

We could go even farther than this. We could issue these charitable shares not to organizations that produce services, but to the actual individuals who consume these services. Why buy canes for the blind? Give the blind money. They can buy their own freakin' canes. If there is anyone who would rather have $100 worth of free services than $100, he's a retard.

Some people are, of course, retards. Excuse me. They suffer from mental disabilities. And one of the many, many things that California, State of Love, does, is to hover over them with its soft, downy wings. Needless to say, Stevifornia will not have soft, downy wings. It will be hard and shiny, with a lot of brushed aluminum. So what will it do with its retards?

My suspicion is that Stevifornia will do something like this. It will classify all humans on its land surface into three categories: guests, residents, and dependents. Guests are just visiting, and will be sent home if they cause any trouble. Residents are ordinary, grownup people who live in California, pay taxes, are responsible for their own behavior, etc. And dependents are persons large or small, young or old, who are not responsible but need to be cared for anyway.

The basic principle of dependency is that a dependent is a ward. He or she surrenders his or her personal independence to some guardian authority. The guardian holds imperium over the dependent, ie, controls the dependent's behavior. In turn the guardian is responsible for the care and feeding of the dependent, and is liable for any torts the dependent commits. As you can see, this design is not my invention.

At present, a large number of Californians are wards of the state itself. Some of them are incompetent, some are dangerous, some are both. Under the same principle as Calgood, these dependents can be spun off into external organizations, along with revenue streams that cover their costs.

Criminals are a special case of dependent. Most criminals are mentally competent, but no more an asset to California than Jew-eating crocodiles. A sensible way to house criminals is to attach them as wards to their revenue streams, but let the criminal himself choose a guardian and switch if he is dissatisfied. I suspect that most criminals would prefer a very different kind of facility than those in which they are housed at present. I also suspect that there are much more efficient ways to make criminal labor pay its own keep.

And I suspect that in Stevifornia, there would be very little crime. In fact, if I were Steve - which of course I'm not - I might well shoot for the goal of providing free crime insurance to my residents. Imagine if you could live in a city where crime was so rare that the government could guarantee restitution for all victims. Imagine what real estate would cost in this city. Imagine how much money its owners would make. Then imagine that Calgood has a third of the shares. It won't just heal the lame, it will give them bionic wings.

This is why choosing the state as the actor that must bear unprofitable activities, regardless of on who's behalf, seems to my sentiments less an aesthetic choice or one that should be based on historic preference but an economic question that deserves some investigation. The losses of utility over such a trivial preference seem potentially large.