I read a prominent rationalist talk about conspiracy recently, he seemed to counter-signal the idea, or at least the more common core of the idea. In the comments there was a reply that I thought went through a lot of the basic justifications for the core believes of conspiratorial thinking and I realized I've never seen rationalists discuss the topic in a way that have really convinced me. 

Something that is not mentioned in the post which I realize might impact whether people find this to be an appropriate place to discuss this is that a world where the "core" conspiracy of a small group of high ranking elites have massive unseen influence would have massive implications for X-risk topics.

The following text is not written by me, but I agree with virtually all of it with the exception of the links which I can't vouch for (and don't know the context of). 

 

I don't foster any hate or resentment towards individuals in positions in power, The matter-of-fact is, people have aligned interests, and they coordinate together in real life to get to certain objectives. There is no objective reason to presume everyone in the world has the same interests as you, it is more of an advantage to assume a cynical position that people have interests that are counter to your own (i.e. stranger) and hence our levels of trust are variable/decreased relative to people whom we do know and encounter.

Just because individuals spend a majority of their lives working and ignorant of the things that occur around the world (i.e. men who enjoy blowing up people's bodies like ragdolls as shown in WikiLeaks videos of military officers commanding others, or the funding of bio-warfare labs amongst the Russian border) does not mean people don't act in concerted ways that may be deemed as 'evil'. There are many such quotes made by people in positions of power, the question is why do we possess a normalcy bias that just because everything in our every day life seems 'normal' and that there are no people who enjoy doing 'evil' or 'harming' people, why that applies to every individual in position of power, given the fact that there are many geopolitical interests of the elite that are not necessarily in the same lieu of interests as the general public.

There is also a notable vestige of available play-books and operation books by various think-tanks and well-funded conglomerates online which anyone can read, which also coincidentally aligns with many of the various narratives pushed out by the media.

The main question is, if you are in possession of the ability to instrument credit in any form without repercussion, why would it not lead to the concentration of power in the long-term if you pass an intergenerational dynasty of similar natures (i.e. being the best propogandists)? There are liability exclusion clauses, there are special interest groups, there is regulatory capture, there are groups with conflicts-of-interests -- if I gave you X amount of money and resources and ensured you the safety of your family and friends just to tell a modest lie, or to look the other way, why would it not be conceivable to do it for large entities of people who possess large influence, whether it be the media, the intelligence agencies, technocratic enterprises, etc? Is there a similiar 'trust' bias that people seem to possess or something?

There is often a tactic used in politics, ''poisoning the well' and 'limited hangout' where individuals make associations between the opposition strawman and the purported reality, with obfuscation of truths through half-truths/delayed-truths to make it more amenable/disagreeable to the general public, or co-opting. Not to mention the fact that behavioural scientists are employed to change the opinions, attitudes and behaviours of people. I find it difficult to reconcile why people believe it's hard to coordinate large factions of people who possess aligned interests. If I'm a CEO I would lobby for X if I know my ROR exceeded my costs. If I owned the ability to generate credit, I could tie it to explicit policies with vague criterions to further any ideological pursuit I wanted. If anything, the greater you ascent to power, the more likely you will be to abuse and use it. There are more self-interested and selfish people in the world than there are altruists, and high-trust individuals. From a game-theoretical point of view, groups are superior to individuals at a resource level. And groups that are highly 'kinship' oriented outperform humanitarian altruists because of their ability to use a strategy similiar to psychopaths (negative-frequency dependency) because they are able to mimic positive perceptions of themselves as cooperators while in reality they are defectors. While tit-for-tat with forgiveness/contrition might be the predominant solution, the reality is incrementalist policies with imperceptible changes that are seemingly innocuous is an intelligent method to subdue any population, because they increasingly become conditioned and accepted to a general prevailing environment -- in the same way we artificially select for domesticated dogs that best 'respond' to us, the 'elites' can do the same methods to the general public in the name of greater social good or social collectivism.

If I loudly preclaim ''I prefer the existence of X individuals over Y'' 50 years in the past and my descendants still live on, and the general public has not accepted ''X over Y" it does not mean I would not be working towards my political goals, it would just mean I would be more discrete about it. There is a scientific method towards anything, including political change and acceptance. The fact that people can't understand this and still think ''it can only happen in the past, it will never happen'' is a testament to the fact that the general population is becoming increasingly docile and self-domesticated, in a belief that there is an authority figure or some consolation of appointed experts that can dictate what is deemed to be truth or consensus when in reality, only independent self-investigation can affirm those notions or reject them on the precipice of merit (i.e. similar to geniuses outcast by the orthodoxy) simply because humans are social/herd animals that have a disposition to conform to those with similar views and have a hard time rejecting counter-evidence without a change in association of emotion with those beliefs.

It is not just X entity of people whom control everything, it is a network of networks of individuals who possess various modalities of power. In the similar way that the net used to be structured as an organic sphere of many nodes has consolidated, in the same way that our media companies, our banks, our food companies are all owned by the same supranational organizations (i.e. you can look it up, there is an illusion of choice with all these sub-brands of X entities). Just as network theory would predict.

We know age correlates with wealth, because people had more time to accumulate wealth. In the same way, dynasties with people who live and continue to share those values of preserving, maintaining and growing their wealth should see similar outcomes in reality. I am lambasted by the idea that people are incapable of imagining people planning to harm others, because I am one of those individuals who do possess said capacities to think so without such conscience, and I share certain inclinations and beliefs to those held by the elite. There are more than eight billion humans with various genetic configurations and environments, some must undoubtably have the ability a greater capacity for influence than others, whether by social control or not; to suggest the opposite, the orthodox view that humans are mostly equal, humans are not capable of organizing in large collectives (i.e. like corporations), humans are not interested in harming other humans for their own self-gain, humans cannot get away with large crimes (i.e. like FTX) seems to me like the largest ideological fallacy that anyone can possess, but I digress, I suppose if you lots believe that most people are nice and innocuous and that people are simply misguided or emotionally biased then I will give you the doubt of doing so as a post-ad hoc rationalization.

Here is a clip of what I am demonstrating; https://vimeo.com/788900508#t=0 https://vimeo.com/788903031#t=0

https://i.imgur.com/c0CeJ0d.jpg

Personally I believe many people are lacking in the knowledge of area of political sciences, economics, biology and other fields which might be way higher-intelligence individuals are more susceptible to propaganda because they possess a higher aptitude for being capable of holding more complex belief structures. Usually you guys are given simplified models of the universe to operate on which are not-full descriptors of reality (i.e. lies of omission); e.g. it is not just the adaptive+innate immune system, but also includes the interferon, siRNA, virome, biome -- it is not just one form of gaseous mixture of radiative effect but a cumulation of solar flux densities, intergenerational cyclicities of distance/tilt/dynamic equilibras between interlinked processes within the environment, and the disposition to focus on metrics over a comprehensive understanding of the underlying assumptions of those metrics (i.e. efficacy in measures of purported test rates of various success rates vs mechanism-of-action explanations) which leads to an overabundance of above-intelligence individuals not engaging in the pursuit of truth, but some abstracted model/projected rooted not in ground truth.

https://isgp-studies.com/intro#box-model-of-politics https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/2021-05/1-20-cv-11889-MLW%20-%2011.06.20%20-%20Plaintiff%20Amended%20Complaint%20Against%20Defendants.pdf

My biggest problem with people-who-think-others-who-hold-the-belief-that-people-have-collective-self-interests-and-the-capability-to-enact-them-can't-possibly-do-so-because-it's-too-big is the fact that there can be incontrovertible lines of concordant circumstantial evidence that there is an established effort to enact something, but that the nature of such behaviour is too-out-of-normality to be propositionally testable.

https://i.imgur.com/Sx3OUV1.png

(i.e. metrics of mentions of A, B, C in media going up; the associations of those editorials/authors being similar descendancy, many such articles/videos/media published directly by such individuals) and yet there is a post-ad hoc rationalization/justification that it is immiscibly impossible to have such preconscious thoughts.

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I'm afraid the promise of "brief thoughts" did not actually occur.  I can't find a thesis or proposition in here to agree or disagree with.

I mean, sure, conspiracies are happening all the time.  Smith's 'People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.' is only a subset of what goes on.  

It's just that there are pretty few very-long-running, hidden, effective organizational conspiracies.  They get eaten in their infancy by the banal inter-conspirator conspiracies against each other.  I can't guarantee none, but it's certainly a lot less than hucksters would have you believe.

It's just that there are pretty few very-long-running, hidden, effective organizational conspiracies.  They get eaten in their infancy by the banal inter-conspirator conspiracies against each other.  I can't guarantee none, but it's certainly a lot less than hucksters would have you believe.

 

Why do you think the long-running and hidden conspiracies get eaten by inter-conspirator conspiracies? I'm interpreting this claim as the idea that ruling elites only cooperate for short amounts of time and then try to screw each other over.

Here are my off-the-top-of-my-head reasons for why this wouldn't be true:

  • Long term goals are achieved by cooperation, the elites which produce stable alliances should expect to be able to achieve more important goals
  • At an elite level long term goals become much more attractive because you already have way more than your short term goals full filled
  • There exists an entire science for how you would organize in a stable and hidden way, the idea that this is a practically impossible task seems false

My guess is that the last point will be the crux, but other than that I'm wondering what your reasons/evidence are for your belief?

I suspect our crux is about whether alliances are hidden.  There are LOTS of ways where groups coordinate against other groups, and "elites" are probably better at it than most, both because they're successful at it, and able to use their coalitions effectively.

As far as I can tell, these alliances aren't particularly well hidden, and are not "secret conspiracies".  They're just partnerships, support, and shared goals.  Their goals are often different than publicized, but that's hypocrisy, not conspiracy - the true goals are pretty easily inferred from the actions.  The internal competition and infighting makes it lots harder when secrets are involved, as a secret is a value to some and a weakness to others, and CAN be used to shift the split of rewards of the alliance.

I'm interested in your last point: "there exists an entire science for how you would organize in a stable and hidden way". I feel like you expect this to be obviously true, but I'm at least a little well-read and plenty cynical about society, and I'm not seeing what this refers to.  

edit to add: I do think there's a whole lot of implicit collusion and non-explicit cooperation against other coalitions.  This isn't conspiracy, because it's not organized and overt.  It's not "secret" in that there are no extraordinary measures taken to silence the snitches, but it is "hidden" in that there's no actual conspiracy to expose, just unpleasant (to me) world models and shared goals.

I feel like you expect this to be obviously true, but I'm at least a little well-read and plenty cynical about society, and I'm not seeing what this refers to 

You are correct, I expect this to be true but I don't have a more specific example in mind more than intelligence services such as the CIA seeming to have a thought-out structure which is good at combating leaks and betrayal in different ways.

If you are well read on this, do you remember some resource that makes you think this is not the case? Are you saying conspiracies are really difficult to contain because it is near-impossible to organize in a way to prevent leaks?

edit to add: I do think there's a whole lot of implicit collusion and non-explicit cooperation against other coalitions.  This isn't conspiracy, because it's not organized and overt.  It's not "secret" in that there are no extraordinary measures taken to silence the snitches, but it is "hidden" in that there's no actual conspiracy to expose, just unpleasant (to me) world models and shared goals.

I feel like defining what exactly constitutes a conspiracy is a common problem I have when trying to discuss them, this makes me think the word has too much baggage and should be left for something else, but there are other problem with that.

Imagine for example that the way the world works is something like:

  1. Think tank that is made up of small group of highly filtered elites analyses the world
  2. Media org listens almost entirely to what think tank thinks should be done and tailors message to that
  3. Govs follow media narrative and puts into practice what think tank wanted

Imagine that regular people don't realize that this is how it works, they think the media is simply reporting the news in an unbiased way (or basically only biased by personal feelings of reporters).

Does this make a conspiracy? If you imagine that it works out in the open to the degree that if you and I, really interested individuals, can figure it out and at least circumstantially prove it, is it a conspiracy? What if the way they deal with snitches is that the entire system is built on "knowing" the right people and if you've been marked as a no-good-snitch you end up being thrown out of any important position of power?

I feel as if you probably wouldn't call this a conspiracy, but what is the required additional aspect? That someone in power does something illegal? That they cover something illegal up? That they are malevolent in their intent at some point?

Another, perhaps more important, question is if that behavior is observed somewhere in this system to what degree does that implicate the system at large? If we find that the Epstein story was literally covered up in mainstream media years before it broke, how should we reason about that in regards to the larger system? Currently we get to see glimpses of serious illegal and heinous crimes being part of the course for elites but the usual thinking is that this is only implicating exactly the parts of the system we see the glimpse of.

I feel like defining what exactly constitutes a conspiracy is a common problem I have when trying to discuss them, this makes me think the word has too much baggage and should be left for something else

This seems likely to me.  Unpleasant equilibria and semi-organized feedback loops are very common.  There's almost no secret masterminds or shadowy cabals behind it, just selfish short-sighted power-seeking behavior.  Calling it "conspiracy" without clarifying the mechanisms and motivations is misleading.

  1. Think tank that is made up of small group of highly filtered elites analyses the world
  2. Media org listens almost entirely to what think tank thinks should be done and tailors message to that
  3. Govs follow media narrative and puts into practice what think tank wanted

1.5 is "think tank is publicly incorporated, takes funding in mostly-public ways, and publishes position papers with it's name (and the name of members) on it", right?  I'd classify that as "normal, if imperfect, power relationships", not "conspiracy.

If you put a more direct path from think tank's non-public motives and recommendations to/from powerful individuals in government, especially if it contradicts public statements from the think tank and government, you have a conspiracy.  If there are hidden paybacks or agendas in the media, those are conspiracies.

I suspect you've found our crux: "conspiracy" implies "intentionally and explicitly secret" to me, not just selective information and power-seeking, or even fairly pervasive corruption.  The reason the distinction matters is that if one sees hidden competent conspiracies where there are none, the obvious bad equilibria use that against you.  

There's almost no secret masterminds or shadowy cabals behind it, just selfish short-sighted power-seeking behavior.

How do you know this?

1.5 is "think tank is publicly incorporated, takes funding in mostly-public ways, and publishes position papers with it's name (and the name of members) on it", right?  I'd classify that as "normal, if imperfect, power relationships", not "conspiracy.

Yeah, I think this is usually how it works. However I also think the way these are written makes them almost impossible for people not in the know to understand them or know that they exist.

Do you think it would be accurate to call the soviet union a conspiracy? In it there were rarely explicit lies, although they happened, people in a sense knew that the power structure was manipulating them and not working in their interest yet regular people (I think) didn't pay this too much mind.

While I do think that there are important things to be said about the nature of the conspiracy, I don't think this post does so. The biggest problem is that it points uncritically to the term "conspiracy" instead of defining precisely what it talks about. 

If you take the topic of race, 60 years ago people with a lot of corrupt hidden power like J. Edgar Hoover or Robert Moses were racists. They were powerful elite people who held part of their power because they blackmailed other people to do what they want.

If you want to make a case that there was an elite that controlled the world at that point in time, not including them in that elite would be very strange. Both would have hated the modern DEI agenda. 

I can't speak to J. Edgar Hoover or Robert Moses (don't know enough about them). The argument that they should be included in any conspiracy because they held two seemingly high positions of power and since they didn't get their way there can be no conspiracy seems like a suspect argument.

If I would have to make it more clear what I mean by conspiracy theory I'd probably define it in terms of a small group of people that have:

  1. Systematic control or large influence over media and other important levers of power
  2. This group is not known to the general public
  3. This group is generally not working for the betterment of the public

Does this seem like fair criteria to you or do you feel like they are overly broad? What would you define it as?

I can't speak to J. Edgar Hoover or Robert Moses (don't know enough about them). 

That sounds like you don't never wanted to do the actual work of understanding how power works as those two are important characters. 

The argument that they should be included in any conspiracy because they held two seemingly high positions of power and since they didn't get their way there can be no conspiracy seems like a suspect argument.

That's not the argument. J. Edgar Hoover successfully blackmailed US presidents to do what he wanted. If you are conspiracy-minded, you might also blame him for covering up the Kennedy assassination. 


J. Edgar Hoover used blackmail on presidents to be in control of one important lever of power. If there was a conspiracy that did not have J. Edgar Hoover as part, why would they let Hoover get away with that?

Moses power was more complex and it's well worth understanding if you want to understand how power gets wielded outside of public knowledge. 

Does this seem like fair criteria to you or do you feel like they are overly broad? What would you define it as?

I'm not sure what you mean with group. Of how many groups are you a member yourself? Is this forum a group?
 

J. Edgar Hoover used blackmail on presidents to be in control of one important lever of power. If there was a conspiracy that did not have J. Edgar Hoover as part, why would they let Hoover get away with that?

I can't speak to this because I know very little about J. Edgar Hoover.

I'm not sure what you mean with group. Of how many groups are you a member yourself? Is this forum a group?

I think groups should be seen more as a spectrum than as clearly defined entities, even more so when they are not formal, yet I would say that groups definitely exist and identifying them is usually pretty easy even if the border is fuzzy.

My model of the conspiracy is that it is made up of several fuzzy groups of at least three social groups:

  1. Rich elites
  2. Governmental elites
  3. Soft power elites that either have influence over large groups of regular people or small groups of important people

After a bit more thought, I suspect my comments are talking about different things than you intend.  I suspect "conspiracy" is an unhelpful abstraction, and there is more in-category variance than would make it useful to talk about the mean or range of conspiracy claims.  

Basically, there is no useful prior for the truth behind a conspiracy claim.  The specifics always move the probability by a massive amount.  For me, the specifics of true claims mostly move me off the term "conspiracy" into more specific accusations, but that's a completely separate point that I don't HAVE a baseline of credence.

I don't think you're totally barking up the wrong tree about incentive systems causing corruption, but I think it's easy to misunderstand what power incentivizes, and I think you've done so. For the most part, the world's conspiracies are bubbles of fairly tight cooperation-small-to-defect-big that gets leaked relatively quickly if it gets complicated. Corporations, despite being fairly corrupt and taking actions against those at the bottom, do also incentivize their participants to do good things, to some degree. But they crush workers.

A key thing that those in power need is for everyone to blame the power structures on groups based on their fundamental attributes. There is a hierarchy of which fundamental attributes people out of power are incentivized to incorrectly blame for the behavior of those few who have significant commands of others' incentives; incentive-command power needs you to see any attempt to remove that hierarchy as merely an attempt to change it.

I worry you've misrecognized Power's corruption of DEI as a fundamental feature of the concept of DEI. if you wish to preserve what any of us have had from any of our places in the hierarchy of blame and boot, we must invert the conspiracy incentive that is shared by the way the economic system's incentives cause us to goodhart.

It's just the same inter-agent safety problem as AI safety, really.

While I don't disagree that "incentive systems causing corruption" is similar to what I would call conspiracy there seems to be a problem of the mundanity of evil. "Everyone knows" "capitalism" is unfair and corrupt, "everyone" doesn't have a very specific understanding of how it is corrupt nor do they really think it can be addressed. It's one of these unsolvable problems of "the system".

Compare that to conspiracy people who for example actively distrust the media, actively resist the idea of large corporations running important parts of their lives such as the town-square. If we buy the idea that the system we have in place right now is systematically corrupt then these seem like reasonable actions to take, especially in an attempt to figure out alternatives.

I'm still having a very hard time to differentiate what people would call conspiracy. If the media knowingly tries to make you believe false thing X is that conspiracy? What about if all mainstream media knowingly try to make you believe false thing X? What if all mainstream media knowingly try to make you believe false thing X because another organization has decided that they should do that and has by some not-secret-but-not-known mechanism convinced all media of this?

What if the CIA tries to get control over how people think, is that conspiracy? What if they do this in a way that technically is not secret but claimed to be for our own good? Would that make it go from conspiracy to not?

What if the Mossad runs an operation to get blackmail on American politicians is that a conspiracy? What if they succeed and those politicians become high-ranking?

key question that will guide how I answer: is fox mainstream media in your view?

then I don't think we meaningfully disagree on what there is to protect self and community from - malice incentivizes divide and conquer, so if you're seeking to protect, unite and aid. my only objections to conspiracy theorism is that it can cause one to mismodel the coordination patterns that cause the behaviors one notices. in general, I don't think the media as a whole tries to convince people of things; as a whole, mostly they try to get people to click on things. subgroups of media do have specific agendas, but for the most part the shared directions in behavior space do not result in reliable coordination. I also agree with Scott Alexander's take about how the media usually lies: by omission. I don't think it's an awful idea to occasionally read or watch stuff produced by media companies, it's just important to do citation tracing. don't be a crackpot; there are always many possible causal hypotheses.