Summary: Moldbug on the Aaron Schwartz affair.  Power is a very real thing with real consequences for activists, yet many people don't understand the nature of power in modern times.  People like Noam Chomsky get great fame doing bad epistomology about who has power, and as a result do great harm to idealistic nerds who don't read between the lines to selectively target their attacks at weak institutions (Exxon, Pentagon) instead of strong ones (State, academica incl. MIT).

Here he returns to a theme that is one of his real contributions to blogospheric political thought: that victory in political competitions provides Bayesian information about who has power and who doesn't.  If your worldview has the underdog somehow systematically beating the overdog, your epistemology is simply wrong - in the same way, and to the same extent, as a geocentrist who has to keep adding epicycles to account for anomalous observations.

The truth is that the weapons of "activism" are not weapons which the weak can use against the strong. They are weapons the strong can use against the weak. When the weak try to use them against the strong, the outcome is... well... suicidal.

Who was stronger - Dr. King, or Bull Connor? Well, we have a pretty good test for who was stronger. Who won? In the real story, overdogs win. Who had the full force of the world's strongest government on his side? Who had a small-town police force staffed with backward hicks? In the real story, overdogs win.

"Civil disobedience" is no more than a way for the overdog to say to the underdog: I am so strong that you cannot enforce your "laws" upon me. I am strong and might makes right - I give you the law, not you me. Don't think the losing party in this conflict didn't try its own "civil disobedience." And even its own "active measures." Which availed them - what? Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

This means that activists like King, Schwartz, and Assange are only effective in bullying the weak, not standing up to the strong (despite conventional narratives that misassign strengths to institutions).  When such activists stop following the script, and naively use the same tactics to attack strong institutions, reality reasserts itself quite forcefully:

You know, when I read that Assange had his hands on a huge dump of DoD and State documents, I figured we would never see those cables. Sure enough, the first thing he released was some DoD material.

Why? Well, obviously, Assange knew the score. He knew that Arlington is weak and Georgetown is strong. He knew that he could tweak Arlington's nose all day long and party on it, making big friends in high society, and no one would even think about reaching out and touching him. Or so I thought.

In fact, my cynicism was unjustified. In fact, Assange turned out to be a true believer, not a canny schemer. He was not content to wield his sword against the usual devils of the Chomsky narrative. Oh no, the poor fscker believed that he was actually there to take on the actual powers that be. Who are actually, of course, unlike the cartoon villains... strong. If he didn't know that... he knows it now!

...But had Aaron Swartz plugged his laptop into the Exxon internal network and downloaded everything Beelzebub knows about fracking, he would be a live hero to this day. Why? Because no ambitious Federal prosecutor in the 21st century would see a route to career success through hounding some activist at Exxon's behest...

But when you take on a genuinely respected institution - whether State or MIT - your "civil disobedience" has all the prospects of George Wallace in the schoolhouse door.

For most of us, figuring out what political figures are powerful is just a fun way to waste time online.  But if we're serious about producing a good map, the map has to approximate the territory, and make appropriate predictions about history and current events.  And for the few people who aspire to actually create political change, such as Mr. Schwartz, this is not just an academic exercise but a matter of life and death.

Then he takes his beliefs seriously, and speaks actual truth to actual power. Well, ya know, power doesn't like that much.

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I was going to leave a comment there when I read it this morning, but Moldbug doesn't read his comments, so...

To claim that the activists were strong is pretty absurd. The activists failed for approximately a century, in a regime that did a very good job of returning to the status quo ante bellum, died repeatedly while I don't recall hearing of very many KKKers ever dying, and a partial victory at some point in some small town shows that they're 'strong'?

Reminds me of the over-application of 'revealed preferences' and the dormitive fallacy: 'who are the strong? Those who win. How do you win? Be the strong.' Well, uh, OK, if you think that's anything but word games, I'll leave you to it then.

And then there's the selection biases here; how many activists do you ever hear of? How many movements? As all analyses of power acknowledge, there's a lot of chance & variation involved... I remember reading that in China right now, they average something like 6000 disturbances or movements a year, of which I can name maybe 2 or 3 categories - Tibetan and Falun Gong, and whatever the last strike or protest the New York Times covered was.

(So basically, classic Moldbug: provocative and interesting, but the more you think on it, the less convincing it gets. I subscribe for the former, but I wish there was less of the latter.)


To claim that the activists were strong is pretty absurd. The activists failed for approximately a century, in a regime that did a very good job of returning to the status quo ante bellum, died repeatedly while I don't recall hearing of very many KKKers ever dying, and a partial victory at some point in some small town shows that they're 'strong'?

This might be a radical suggestion, but who holds power does change over time. Especially over as long a period as a century. It can also hardly be disputed that gaining stronger allies or your allies being more interested in helping you makes you stronger.

Quite obviously Universalism was not completely done with tolerating racism in the 19th century. Note how Eugenics came into fashion among Progressives in the 1900s and how support Eugenics correlated with racialist ideas. And in the 19th century actual democracy (elected officials) on the state level had much more teeth than the 1960s according to Moldbugs model and my own study of US history. He notes in other writing that rule by the civil service which we have today is preferable to the mob politics and spolis system.

Desegregation in the United States was very much not the will ... (read more)

So you agree that the cause of civil rights started out as the underdog, and only gained power gradually with time until it had enough power to challenge the established law and change it. How does this differ from the standard Progressive narrative? (other than, perhaps, insisting pedantically that once the cause is strong enough to win, it shouldn't be called the underdog any more?)

Re your last paragraph, it is true that if a winner writing history says "we were the underdog, and despite that we won quickly and decisively", this should be suspect as unlikely and a self-flattering image. But if the winner's history goes "we were the underdog, had many defeats and setbacks but gradually rallied people to our cause until we started winning, and we hope to win more in the future as more and more people come to side with us" (which is closer to the standard Progressive narrative on civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, etc) why is this especially suspect? (You might suspect the cause to be less pure or the reasons why it gathered support less related to people seeing its justice, than the supporters believe, but this is different from questioning the underdog to overdog progression story).

Progressivism was already utterly dominant in the 1960s. It was utterly dominant in the 1900s. What changed was how important it thought "civil rights" where. This did not happen due to popular sentiment but changing moral fashion among intellectual elites in general. Not only did popular sentiment not change much because of activism, neither did intellectual moral fashion, it was changed as a side effect of where Ivy League opinions where a few decades before. Now sure those opinions might have shifted because of activism, but that was a different generation of activists than the ones that where picked by the media and education industry as symbols for their new prescription for society.
Isn't it just easier to say that 1900s-progressivism and 1960s-progressivism are different but related movements? It is worthwhile to ask how people and ideas moved (or didn't move) from one to the other - but that nuanced question is impossible unless one can admit there are two movements, not one.
The difference isn't any greater than between 2010s Anglicanism and 1950s Anglicanism, I don't often hear this argument related to them. But leaving this aside for now, one movement is quite clearly descended from the other, both in the affiliations of key individuals who connect both down to the chains of cited literature.
First, I'm not familiar enough with Anglicanism to agree or disagree with your assertion. For example, I don't think the statement is accurate about Reform Judaism. Second, even if current Anglicans take the inside view to assert that they are the same as past Anglican, that doesn't require that we who are taking the outside view must agree with that assessment.
So, according to Moldbug, political changes over time aren't due to different movements waxing and waning in power and support, but rather due to one grand movement changing its mind? He seems to be a shockingly vanilla conspiracy theorist, given what I've heard of him. I'm surprised that LWers put up with him...
No. Also you may need to think a bit more about what exactly you mean when you say conspiracy theory.
You might need to expand on the "no".
You might try reading Yvain's summary of Reaction. I can't guarantee it's the single most accurate description of the philosophy in existence, but it's probably the clearest.
Did you read my article on conspiracy theories I linked to?
Your "No" seems to amount to "You interpreted Moldbug wrongly". The article seems to amount to "Conspiracy theories aren't always wrong". I don't see the connection.
No. To summarize.
A very handy heuristic that doesn't look very handy at all in this context. And seems completely irrelevant in many other contexts. e.g. "Rock-Paper-Scissors. Who's the underdog?"
It obviously can't be applied to everything, but it is great for deflating self-flattering underdog stories we see around us all the time. Be it politics or personal life. You kind of miss the point. If you can't apply underdog and overdog narratives which humans love constructing to an example the heuristic has nothing left to do.
Doh, that wasn't my intention. I'm taking up the habit of providing simple examples for claims like "seems completely irrelevant in many other contexts". Edited a bit for clarity. Re deflating flattery, it does seem great for that, but I think it's screened off by enough other useful things (like thinking of something in Game Theory terms) that I hope most LWers have already learned at least one of them.
I agree. Moldbug equivocates between two instances of 'power' (hard power vs. soft power, i.e. political influence) which have very different properties. Moreover, he misrepresents the purpose of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience can create hard power where none existed before, as well as increase a group's political influence by acting as a coordination mechanism. He suggests that civil right activists would have had "hard power" over their opponents, even absent their political activism; but this is simply untenable. Suggesting that "elite Universalist/Progressive opinion changed, and this is why Dr. King's activism was successful" is circular. In fact, shifts in public opinion (even among so-called "elites") are part of the political process, and influenced by political factors.
Certainly flukes happen. But they are flukes. If activists were weak, their victories would be isolated and of short duration, quickly reverted. If I go into a casino and take a gander at the roulette wheel, I may win a few rounds by chance, but the trend towards the house winning will continue. But if I lose some rounds, win one spin, and keep on winning thereafter, then something funny is going on. Or maybe I own the casino.

Certainly flukes happen. But they are flukes. If activists were weak, their victories would be isolated and of short duration, quickly reverted.

Which is why the long hypothesized WWI did not happen after a fluke like a Serbian terrorist assassinating someone important, because all flukes are isolated and of short duration.

(Is that a simplified and facile claim? Yes. Is it more simplified and facile than your argument? No.)

But if I lose some rounds, win one spin, and keep on winning thereafter, then something funny is going on. Or maybe I own the casino.

What's winning in this context? Blacks becoming wealthy, respected, functional, equals of whites and not remaining the permanent lower-class? I see... Clearly those blacks and their white allies really succeeded in their missions and just kept on winning after putting that small-town sheriff in his place!

But oh right, I forgot, Moldbug is a complete conspiracy theorist that has an explanation for that too: the blacks are constitutionally inferior, yes, but the reason for the absence of their success despite their tremendous power is that it really serves the white elite's true purposes and the blacks are just their shock troop... (read more)

Moldbug's article is interesting where it speaks in generalities, but on the specifics of Aaron Swartz's story, it seems to misunderstand the power relations involved. Yes, MIT and the State are powerful; but Aaron never intended to cross them; he expected, incorrectly but not unreasonably, that they'd stay neutral. He did intend to go against JSTOR, but while JSTOR may have been powerful, it looked to casual observers like a fairly simple institution with only one trick, not like an actual political player that could recruit MIT and the state into a questionable cause.

According to what I've read, Swartz circumvented multiple times, in an excalatory manner, the attempts of MIT sysadmins to block him. At some point JSTOR disabled access from all the MIT network for several days. If his attempt at "liberating" the JSTOR database were successful, it could have permanently harmed not only JSTOR, but also MIT, as other publishers would have become reclutant to give MIT subscriptions unless it revised its open-access network policies. Publishers could have started to require individual accounts, or pay-per-download, or other forms of strict access control that would have negatively impacted legitimate users. Swartz also knew that what he was doing was most likely illegal. I'm sorry for his tragedy, but I don't think it's fair to say that he couldn't foresee the consequences of what he did.

weak institutions (Exxon, Pentagon) instead of strong ones (State, academica incl. MIT)

I guess it's a huge relief for Bradley Manning (whom M.M. has carefully avoided mentioning along with Assange and Greenwald, although all three tend to get media exposure in connection) that he tried to "bully" a weak, indecisive Pentagon, whose hands are tied by its mortal enemies in the civillian bureaucracy - and thus the military can't stand up to the treasonous filth and has to treat him with kid gloves on.

And of course, the dirty, brainwashed, cowardly commies who hung out at the Occupy "protests" are the Obama regime's wet dream, spewing abuse against the already powerless big business and financial institutions - a perfect opportunity for it to further rob the deserving and appearse the plebs! Which is why the regime is intimidating its police into accommodating the lawless rioting scum - and the cops slavishly obey. The forces of law and order wouldn't dare lay a finger on those good-for-nothing hippies, not with the propaganda media watching!

Oh wait, this isn't relevant! Moldbug's above such inconvenient commie-sympathizing "facts", he's using Schwartz' ... (read more)


In my opinion, your reply would be significantly more powerful if it didn't contain that much sarcasm and overall didn't resemble a typical comment in a random political discussion on the internet. I am not sure whether signalling own political bias helps in internet discussions in general, but strongly suspect that it doesn't help here.

(Written by someone who's too getting annoyed at this moldbuggish madness.)

What party? The monarchists?
You present a very one sided take on this. I wouldn't have reposted this article, but I strongly disagree with you on the interpretation of the original article and your tribal language. That's all I'll say on this for now.

You present a very one sided take on this.

I thought the other "side" was supposed to have its case presented in the original? I saw an entirely political attack that relied on skewed facts and opportunistic grandstanding over a recent death. I retorted with some ways in which it's dishonest, fallacious and doesn't constitute anything like a proper rational argument.

My retort was also quite political in substance, true. And yet, if Moldbug or some of his fans were really interested in making the whole thing more truth-tracking, they would listen to my counter-examples and either refute them or make their case incorporate it somehow. The same goes for other people's objections in this thread.

I was replying to the case as presently made (as e.g. summed up by Athrelon), and wasn't attempting to steel-man it - frankly, there's people who'd do so far better than me. My gratuitous use of sarcastic tribal language was entirely intentional, as MM and some of his fans seemingly can't get enough of it.

So you responded with a political attack on a similar level? Surely you see the problem with that kind of reasoning. I didn't write nor share this article by Moldbug. And I have always tried my best to make proper rational arguments by the highest LW standards when introducing such material. Yet due to the climate in this thread a rational argument wouldn't be judged fairly. By the voting patterns and shifts I can tell users have gotten tribal.

Personally, I don't follow Moldbug's writings. Sometimes, when excerpts are posted here, I upvote them, and sometimes I downvote them. In this case, it seems to me that his argument fails to account for the influence of context in confrontations between entities. His formulation implies a transitivity of power, where A beats B, and B beats C, so A should also beat C. In practice though, you can easily end up with situations where A beats B because A's interests in the confrontation are more in line with public opinion than B's, or take less work to implement, etc., but loses to C without the same situational advantages.

Trying to define "whoever wins" as the overdog isn't an improvement over the more standard formulation where the overdog is the entity which will win in most contexts if those entities come into conflict, or will win against more other entities which themselves have a record of being powerful.

I would have been unimpressed whether or not I thought Moldbug was using this as part of a narrative about who is and isn't "powerful" in our society that I'd take issue with.

First, note the spelling: confusingly, it's Swartz, not Schwartz.

While it's as hard as ever to make sense of Moldbug's stream of consciousness, it seems like he is stuck in a circular redefinition of "underdog". The regular definition involves comparing priors, while his is comparing posteriors:

In the real world in which we live, the weak had better know their own weakness. If they would gather their strength, do it! But without fighting, even "civil disobedience." To break a law is to fight. Those who fight had better be strong. Those who are not strong, had better not fight.

How do you actually figure out who is stronger? The only definitive test is to let them fight it out. No one expected a minor act of civil disobedience in Tunisia to topple multiple governments across the globe.

As for the typically sensationalist title "Noam Chomsky Killed Aaron Swartz", while Chomsky's writings may have inspired Swartz to act, like they inspired other people to act, the decision to fight and the choice of weapons was Swartz's alone. How close he was to his next victory (he won against the establishment several times before), we will never know, because the trial will not happen now. He could have been one depression pill away from pulling through. His cause may yet prevail if the paywall customs will change in the wake of his suicide.

What do people see in Moldbug, anyway, beyond his provocative writing style?


What do people see in Moldbug, anyway, beyond his provocative writing style?

For a certain subset of the population that's quite reactionary/conservative and yet quite intellectual, he provides validation they can't find easily elsewhere.

Yeah, that's the role he played for me at least. That said, I'd really like to see some "reactionary" bloggers who hold themselves to a higher intellectual standard than Moldbug. A good example is this post which made the rounds recently. Some of Yvain's LJ posts fit the bill as well, but I feel that a lot more such material is still waiting to be written.


What do you mean by 'reactionary'? On my definition of that term--roughly, 'extreme conservatism or authoritarianism'--Yvain is definitely not a reactionary blogger.

Being a reactionary blogger =/= making reactionary argument occasionally
Making an argument critical of democracy or some aspect of personal freedom =/= making a "reactionary" argument. The missing ingridient is, IMO, following up on that criticism with a suggestion that the related policy systems were better in such-and-such authoritarian/feudal society. I can't recall Yvain ever suggesting that! (E.g. he appears to think that a too-democratic country would be bad, but that the current Western arrangement of joint rule by corporate oligarchy and Cathedral elite is pretty decent, ceteris paribus. I can't say I disagree.)
This (ETA: the post you linked to) is an old post from mainstream libertarian Megan McArdle. It is a stretch to call her "reactionary", even if the trend of her argument in this post goes in the same direction as many reactionaries.
That post reminded me of the answer length heuristic for multiple choice tests - when in doubt, pick the longest sentence. This is because people who write tests are lazy, and will make answers short when they can. Reasonable answers have constraints, and so are on average longer than wrong test answers. This works for "homemade" tests, but of course the SAT people and their ilk have figured this out and put effort into their wrong answers.
While I disagree with quite strongly with some of his content and think he is over-hyped compared to other Dark Enlightenment authors, this seems an uncharitable reading. I'm somewhat familiar with his style and think you are wrong on your interpretation.
How do you charitably interpret the quote Seems like a redefinition of standard terms, pure and simple.
Ehm... No. Its a statement of a general rule. "A pretty good test" =/= "New Definition" Edit: Just wondering why people down voted this comment?
Oh, I think I misunderstood the quote. I took it to mean "underdogs are defined as those who lose", not "underdogs tend to lose much more often than popularly assumed". So what he means is that those who believe in underdogs are poorly calibrated and therefore unwise. Is this the intended reading?
This was my reading and I think GLaDOS and Ahtrelon's, I'm not completely sure it was the intended reading since several people took it to your way, but I'm quite confident it was considering his other material.
Who would you say is 'better'?
I like HBDish authors a lot so my list will be biased to those blog. Gregory Cochran & Henry Harpending, hbd* chick (~_^) and Derbyshire are cool. Foseti is a must for Reactionaries. Over in the interesting but scary corner we have Federico who seems to have managed among other things to steel man the straw Vulcan (see his now probably deleted Emotion is The Mindkiller post) and Nick Land is the best transhumanist academic continental philosopher I've read in years, which is really low praise but his Reactionary writing is very much knurd. Enjoy your corruption to the Dark Side! (^_^)
I actually strongly disliked his verbose and provocative writing style at first but was drawn in by the content. I don't agree with on everything but steel manning his missteps as much as I steel man the missteps of authors in Academia or pundits of the New York Times have found his models much better and superior at giving good predictions about political outcomes (for example the Arab Spring). So yeah he is quite clever and relatively good at modelling the world.

Lots of people who disagree with Moldbug's politics were capable of making useful predictions about the Arab Spring (or other political movements). Comparing any smart person's predictions to "pundit" predictions is useful only for teaching you that pundits aren't trying to be smart.

The Arab Spring was not a particularly grand or impressive prediction that I made with his models, it was just one of many, but it was one of the few that I could simply invoke and be confident will be properly understood, without having to digress into a long explanation of who got it wrong and that they indeed did get it wrong. Note that I did compare reading Moldbug as a superior alternative to reading the pundits at the New York Times. A prediction market or a particularly sane domain expert would obviously outperform on most predictions.

The predictions I remember Moldbug making regarding the Arab Spring were that:

  • There'd be no civil war in Syria
  • The Westerners would let the Libyans die and perform no airstrikes

Both are failed ones. Mind you, they aren't explicitly stated in the link above, but I think they're correct interpretation of his statements there. Certainly they'd be seen as good predictions if they'd been successful ones.

So may I ask what part of his model allowed you to make what predictions regarding the Arab Spring?

Sigh, another misreading of my post: I was talking about using Moldbug's model to make predictions, not using his predictions! Though the latter will often correlate with the former.
The hopes of the chattering classes for Democracy in the Middle East bringing secularism and Western Liberal values to Middle Eastern countries as mostly empty self-delusion. Obviously other people got this right with different models, see Steve Sailer. How the Western powers would disturb the process heading towards a stable order (Gaddafi and Syria crushing the rebels) create an unstable one that will be a headache (and thus jobs for the metaphorical Foggy Bottom) for years to come because they are unwilling to do what would be needed to clean it up (having a viable coalition of rebels crush all opposition) because that would violate progressive beliefs about how the world works.

Moldbug is leaving out the possibility that the balance of power might be changing, so that behavior which was too dangerous in the past is now worth attempting. Also, people's behavior can occasionally change the balance-- the Federal government was on King's side because a great many people worked to put it there.

Does getting assassinated say anything about one's power level?

That Communism would have fizzled in 1500 is a fact about the strength of non-Communist structures in the Middle Ages. That Communism succeeded in 1917 is a fact about the strength of pro- vs. anti-Communist structures at that time. Strength changes over time; that does not negate the fact that strength (probabilistically) determines victory.
And yet institutions with strength managed to loose it.


(It means that this page and discussion are always asking for a flash plugin, which at least on my version of firefox isn't even needed, I'm not the only one with this problem)

(then delete this comment)


Wait, I thought Moldbug considered "actual power" to be aligned with liberal public opinion. But liberal public opinion seems to favor Chomskyite activists like Swartz over evil copyright institutions like JSTOR, or am I out of the loop?


His point is that such action would be much more favoured if done against Exxon Mobile than MIT.

Discussion while disagreeing is sort of like two dentists doing dentistry on each other. If both are competent dentists, and calm patients, the operation comes and goes without any blood.

This means that activists like King, Schwartz, and Assange are only effective in bullying the weak, not standing up to the strong

An institution might be very strong in some respects, but not strong enough to move the populace against a sufficiently popular cause backed by a sufficiently charismatic leader.

Some institutions have more power to move the will of the public than others. The US government can to a significant extent shape public opinion by passing laws, not just conform to public opinion. But it can't do so to an unlimited extent, and if another figure pushes for a position that's more in line with public opinion, they're going to have an advantage over the government, even if they have less ability to sway public opinion.


Here he returns to a theme that is one of his real contributions to blogospheric political thought: that victory in political competitions provides Bayesian information about who has power and who doesn't.

This differs from realpolitik how...?

In theory, little. In practice, compared to mainstream realpolitik, it's applied to domestic not international politics, and shows a greater appreciation for social and cultural power rather than quantifiable economic and military power.

While I don't agree with much of the linked post, the line portraying civil disobedience as an application of might makes right really hits hard for me. I need to do more thinking on this to see if there is justification for me to update my current beliefs.


If you thought physical power was the only kind of power, such that social power was not a kind of power, then yes, you need to update your beliefs.

Why is Firefox telling me that additional plugins are required to display all the media on this page? (And then not providing any when I click the "Install Missing Plugins" button?)

I thought it was LessWrong, but yeah actually it's just this page, looks like Athrelon copy-pasted some small divs that try to load some flash, due to a bug described here.

While I said elsewhere that I wouldn't have shared this article on the site, I find it telling that this article started at 6 when I first saw it and is now where it is. I wouldn't have ascribed this much meaning, but if comments like this get heavily down voted too, it fits into a pattern my cluster of users has been noting for several months now.

Perhaps I do need to start my own blog as suggested by some. But as I said I prefer communities to lonely things such as one man blogs, especially if the latter has long periods of inactivity.

Athrelon would you... (read more)

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

I find it telling that this article started at 6 when I first saw it and is now where it is

If it's telling, what does it "tell" whether it first received the upvotes and then the downvotes, or if it first received the downvotes and then the upvotes?

Something it might tell is e.g. that the downvoters are the people who actually took the time to read the article linked and founds themselves considering it inferior. While the upvoters just upvoted without reading.

But it seems you put more probabilty on a more negative conclusion from the sequence of first upvotes-then downvotes.


While the upvoters just upvoted without reading.

Or they could've already read it; perhaps because they subscribed to the RSS feed for new posts (as would only be sane for people who want to read new Moldbug posts, since he updates so sporadically).

My intent is a general warning against formulating hypotheses one way or another on as flimsy evidence as the times each vote occurred, I wasn't intending to commit same sin myself.

I disagree with this analysis, but don't feel it productive to argue about this here. I'm seeing many mind-killed down votes for various comments and articles any argument I make will only inflame the sides involved.
You may be overestimating how many downvotes are due to partisanship - I'm not particularly opposed to Moldbug -per se* (he has interesting stuff to say), but ended up downvoting the post both because of the needlessly trollish title, and the low quality of the discussion it created. Sure the title is Moldbug's, but I would have much preferred if the lesswrong title was something like "Real vs. fake underdogs" (like you, I wouldn't have posted this article here at all).
Right but its not so much how the article is voted but how the comments are.
Discussion on the New Blog continued in the Open Thread
I'd wish you good luck - sincerely so - and I do not doubt you could post some contrarianism-heavy stuff with interesting and unorthodox thoughts and arguments... ...but, um, you do know how this looks from the outside, right? Like you're following in the long tradition of Bender and Cartman, but aspiring for a self-image of "tragic Cassandra antihero" and anxious to get validation as such from a group that you can respect. (I trust you appreciate my bluntness.)
Hm blackjack and hookers does sound slightly more fun than a new group blog.
Right, the community appears to be in favor of you getting some rest and recreation now.
I have you are doing self-aware humor when you are referring to your own posts as supportive of your own positions, and referring to your own views as the "outside view"...
I was part joking but part implying that my comment is at +10, which is evidence that a sample of the community endorses my advice.
Thought about this for a bit more. I'm sticking with creating a new blog. I have had plans for a new interesting site with similar content for a few weeks now, this might segue nicely to that.
I was rather unhappy with the original wording. It was written with shaking hands so to speak. I have altered it somewhat. Please check the comment if your response is still appropriate to what you mean and modify it if needed. If I understand what you mean right, I'm very flattered by your approval of the content I tend to produce and if you wish to come aboard I welcome you. Or did you mean that I should continue to primarily write here?

Better to be a live dog than a dead hero. But had Aaron Swartz plugged his laptop into the Exxon internal network and downloaded everything Beelzebub knows about fracking, he would be a live hero to this day. Why? Because no ambitious Federal prosecutor in the 21st century would see a route to career success through hounding some activist at Exxon's behest. Your prosecutor would have to actually believe he was living in the Chomsky world. Which he can't, because that narrative is completely inconsistent with the real world he goes to work in every da

... (read more)
You mean 'felony charges', not civil 'lawsuit'. No impact sounds pretty absurd.
Yes, it shows English isn't my native language with these kinds of details. Depends on his mental health at the time of suicide.

Can we add ignoring Moldbug to our general "don't feed the trolls" policy? He's deliberately provocative.


I don't think he is properly described as a "troll", though I'm puzzled by the high opinion that some folks here appear to have of Moldbug. This is someone who is manifestly not seeking truth honestly, doesn't write very clearly, often engages in mind-killer disputes, seldom makes claims that can be directly tested or even falsified in principle, and hasn't made any substantive contributions to any branch of science, philosophy, or mathematics.

The title is quite definitely just trolling. Edit: On Moldbug's part, not Athrelon's for quoting it.

I would have changed the title to something else if I had decided to share this only sharing the original title in the article itself.
I mean on Moldbug's part, I'm not blaming the poster for Moldbug's title :-)
Yes, I agree with that.

I think the reason why Moldbug is so often quoted around here is the following: There is a great diversity of political opinion on LW, and occasionally there are discussions touching on political issues. When these arise, a LWer whose general political outlook is leftist, liberal, centrist or libertarian will find it easy to find support and elaboration for their positions in links and references to many other writers sharing the same outlook and explaining it at the high intellectual level that LWers expect. There being many such writers, there is none who is disproportionately cited and referenced in LW. However, a LWer with a conservative/reactionary outlook has much fewer expositions of these ideas to link to (that other LWers would find plausible/intellectually congenial; Fox News pundits or Catholic theologians would not do.) Moldbug is one of the very few writers expounding this ideology in a way broadly compatible with the LW outlook, and hence it is not surprising that he is referenced more often that other political writers.

Perhaps memetic hazard is more accurate. The effect he has on LW commenters is somewhere between nerd sniping and the self congratulatory rage 'blue' commentators get into when a green says something obviously bad.

I disagree with Moldbug on many things, but I disagree with this even more.

No dude. Just no. If that becomes policy I'm out of here.
I second this.
While I have decided that many topics I like talking about probably should be written about on a different community blog, I don't intend to leave this site as an active commenter. However if this norm is accepted it would much reduce my opinion of the rationality of the group passing it. I therefore second CharlieSheen.
I strongly disagree with this. Not all of his content is relevant to refining human rationality, interesting to this community or productive to discuss here. I wouldn't have posted this particular article. But many are, to give examples: * Belief in Religion Considered Harmful * Five Ways To Classify Belief Systems Also much of the writing of bloggers such as Federico that write very relevant material can only be understood if you have a good grounding in Moldbuggery.

As far as I can tell, there is more discussion of Moldbug on this site than there is of any other contemporary non-scientific non-LW figure. Do you believe this relative quantity is commensurate with the quality and significance of his thought?

I predict that if I started making multiple Discussion posts focused solely on the social criticism of Althusser or Deleuze or Zizek, I would face a very negative reaction from this community, even if I gussied it up with talk of "map vs. territory" and "Bayesian evidence". Yet for some reason the community seems far more tolerant of rampant Moldbuggery. I suspect this is primarily due to historical reasons dating back to the Overcoming Bias days, as well as the fact that Moldbug's writing style is more "nerd-friendly" than that of many other idiosyncratic political theorists.

For reasons such as these, some Moldbug enthusiasts here seem to operate on the assumption that anything written by Moldbug is by default a good topic of conversation on this site. I suspect that if the points made in the OP were written by someone other than Moldbug, they would not have been posted here. The filters used to determine which of Moldbug's ideas are good topics of discussion here are far too permissive. I don't think a ban is the correct response, but I do think that Moldbug fans need to be more reflective about what these discussions are contributing to this site.

Except there's a perfectly reasonable way to take the ideas of these people and strengthen them from the perspective of epistemic rationality. Some ideas still pass through, while others need to be modified. And this is a process that desperately needs to happen, for all the criticisms the center LW group will give against philosophy in general.
I've recently noticed that Althusser's ISA vs. RSA distinction makes many of the same observations and arguments Moldbug has.
I'm not sure, although comparing him with the examples you site in your next paragraph certainly makes him seem much more worthy. Seriously, could you have found someone whose philosophy does not contradict basic economics? Could you site another example of a discussion post that's a link to Moldbug?
I think the comparison is fair. Both the Austrian and the Marxist economic traditions are pretty fringe and severely flawed. Moldbug has interesting and occasionally accurate things to say about politics despite his bad economics, but so do Althusser et al. There are two of them linked in the comment by Konkvistador to which I was responding.

I'm skeptical that what was interesting was unique to Moldbug, or that what was unique to Moldbug was interesting.

Does he even claim much in the way of originality? The only obviously new thing that comes to mind is Patchwork, which is indeed stupid. But it certainly seems like he's mostly a convert to an intellectual tradition that is at best marginal but was once much more popular. Carlyle, Froude, de Maistre, Schmitt, he's mostly not claiming to be the source of his big ideas. He's a pretty decent sociologist or political scientist at times but mostly he's just a man out of his time, which appears to be somewhere in the 1800s.
He's such a terrible historian, so I can't really see his sociology or political theory as worthwhile. Regarding originality, I think he suffers the same problem as early Eliezer - failure to acknowledge sources. It's not that big a problem for Eliezer because most of his sources (logical positivist philosophers, Dennett, etc.) would agree with, or at least respect, the new conclusions that are being drawn in the sequences. Moldbug's citation problem is much bigger because many of his interesting ideas are straight from thinkers who would disagree with his conclusions. Further, Moldbug's core audience is very hostile to those thinkers. Konkvistador cites previous discussion of Moldbug's view that religion deserves to be treated like an ideology. I don't disagree, but Marx's "Religion is the Opium of the People" can plausibly be read as asserting a very similar point. And the Chomskist Po-Mos take this idea even further, asserting that just about everything is an ideology. Likewise, "everything is an ideology" is the basic justification / explanation for Paul Graham's "Keep Your Identity Small." or the local Politics is the MindKiller norm.
Of these examples I see nothing that I would characterize myself as being hostile too. Except some of the more silly aspects of pomo.
What counts as silly post-modernism is exactly what is under dispute. And weren't you asserting a few months ago that one should aim to be apolitical? Both Moldbug and post-modernism say that's essentially impossible for an active member of society.
I kind of failed at that pretty badly, though while it lasted it was a great exercise. I'll trying getting into it again. That it is impossible really isn't under dispute at all, what is under dispute is if it is useful to strive for such a state of mind. Same can be said of human rationalism.
I don't think that answer to our human flaws is to retreat from trying to implement our terminal values. In other words, Politics is the MindKiller is not a certainty, simply a failure mode that society and its members have spent essentially no effort trying to avoid. If one can develop a sufficient level of self-criticism, one can do far better than the statistical norm. That's been my strategy, anyway. Reject all false arguments, whether or not they lead to conclusions I like. If you think I've failed at that goal, I'd welcome your feedback. Crocker's Rules - for you, on this topic.
Generally I have had a high opinion of your output despite our disagreements on some value issues (which may or may not be actually incompatible), I recall some very neat rationalist debates. It is more or less only the recent difference on our interpretation of Moldbug and some other minor things that lead me to believe you may not be open to good arguments associated with that cluster. I think you can avoid most of the risk of that by steel manning reactionary positions more when debating.
This is the sort of conversation where being specific would be particularly helpful. Regarding steelmanning, I generally decline to change someone's position to the point where that someone would no longer endorse the argument. Given what I've read of Moldbug's, I'm particularly uncertain of what changes I could make that I thought were improvements and that Moldbug would likely endorse. Aside from my concerns with Moldbug's grasp of historical or economic analysis, my basic understanding of his position is that he thinks governments should have the same ownership rights in property that private landowners have in property - which everyone with a brain should agree is not how any country is organized currently. My objections to that are two-fold: (1) I'm unaware of that ever happening in a stable way anywhere in the last 2000 years, so I have essentially no useful evidence to figure out how it would work in practice. (2) It's hard for me to come to grips with what problems this solution is intended to solve. Specifically, there are many problems that "government" is understood to exist in order to solve. And increasing government power in the way Moldbug describes solves essentially none - except as the extreme "solution" of denying that they are problems. More generally, it's hard for me to see Moldbug as more than an advocate for far less social unrest. I'm not sure he has a good plan for getting to that goal, but even so, the core argument to be made is about the optimal level of social unrest. Moldbug's provocative writing just assumes one agrees with his understanding on that point, and so those who don't agree have very little to grapple with in any productive fashion.
Have you even read the two articles? I found them interesting and they very much are his intellectual products. I'm sorry but I think you are being consistently less charitable to Moldbug than some other sources I won't list right now because I want to avoid political mindkilling. I don't see a good reason for this.
Does this comment about the first article you linked respond to your concern? Regarding the second article, I just don't find it that interesting. Yes, it is worthwhile to notice how the ideas of the Protestant Reformation impacted later social justice movements up to the present day (i.e. morphological analysis). But there are lots of Reformation ideas, and not all of them transferred over to modern liberal thought (either the classical liberalism of Locke or the Fabian socialist liberalism of the community organizer). And there's lots of ideas in modern social justice movements that doesn't descend from the Protestant side of the Reformation. Some Reformation ideas oppose later social justice ideas. That's my biggest problem with Moldbug - he constantly describes conflicts as two-sided when a more useful analysis would describe them as multi-sided. And, as shown by his whole Cold War = State Dept. v. Pentagon theory, Moldbug isn't particularly accurate at correctly labeling even if we grant a conflict only has two sides (I don't grant that about the Cold War, but that's probably a discussion for another day). To pick another example, Moldbug's discussion about taking the political middle ground. His first observation - what currently is middle ground was quite radical for most of history - is true. And obvious to any serious student of history. The conclusions that Moldbug draws from that accurate and insightful point just don't follow at all.
put some links where your mouth is

Sometimes a decision that results in a clear chance of death is better; stop trying to not lose and maximize the chances of winning.

Or take a more moderate route, and maximize the definite integral of the value of outcomes with respect to their utility.


He has a much stronger case with the example of Julian Assange than with Aaron.

...may yet get its hands on a similar figure, Julian Assange. You know, when I read that Assange had his hands on a huge dump of DoD and State documents, I figured we would never see those cables. Sure enough, the first thing he released was some DoD material.

Why? Well, obviously, Assange knew the score. He knew that Arlington is weak and Georgetown is strong. He knew that he could tweak Arlington's nose all day long and party on it, making big friends in high society, a

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