The Glory System: A Model For Moral Currency And Distributed Self-Moderation

by Darklight4 min read19th Feb 202116 comments

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World Optimization
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One of the most important changes in our civilized modern society over the past historical tendencies has been the state's monopoly on the use of violence.  Most everyone today aside from the various strains of anarchist agree that this is a necessary and important requirement for modern life, but perhaps a problematic side effect of this change is that the use of force by individuals as a negative reinforcement tool to shape behaviour is lost.  Whereas in the distant past, a slight against one's honour could be challenged by the threat of a duel, today, positive reinforcement through transfers of money are the main way human behaviour is shaped.

Markets rely on these positive reinforcement signals to aggregate information about people's preferences.  But in some sense, traditional currencies are one-sided.  In effect, you can only vote Yea or Abstain with your dollar.  What if, you could also vote Nay?

Certainly the government can enforce fines as a way to provide negative reinforcement to bad market actors.  This punishment of negative externalities is one of the strongest justifications for government intervention.  But government interventions are often both heavy handed and slow to respond.  What if individuals could spend money to destroy someone else's money?

This somewhat radical and odd idea forms the basis of what I propose to be the glory system.  In the glory system, individuals can both transfer glory to others as a form of positive reinforcement, and spend glory to destroy other people's glory as a form of negative reinforcement.  It essentially functions as a system of distributed reward and punishment, as a true method of social credit.

Previously I had considered if there was a way to implement this idea in the form of a cryptocurrency.  But realistically, I have doubts that an actual currency that can disappear or be destroyed by others legally would have much interest as a store of value.  So what can this idea perhaps be more reasonably applied to?

One obvious comparison to be made with the the glory system is the karma system used on Reddit and here on Less Wrong.  Both allow both upvotes and downvotes in a sense.  The glory system as implemented in a forum reputation system would have some interesting characteristics.

Let's assume that glory is accumulated by upvotes on your posts and removed by downvotes.  This would allow users to bank upvotes and spend them later to add additional upvotes or downvotes, as much as they were willing to pay, beyond the first free vote.  Coupled with rules that automatically delete or hide posts that are downvoted to zero, and prevent users with zero or negative glory from posting, this can function as a kind of distributed self-moderation system.

It also provides a natural way to protect against spammers, by setting it so that new accounts have zero glory, and must be gifted glory by existing users to be able to post.  This would effectively function as a kind of application or invitation system, to ensure that new accounts were vouched for by existing members of the community.

Probably the most important feature however is that it allows not just the direction but also the magnitude of individual's preferences to be signaled.  Thus, for instance, a contrarian who really cares about a post, can spend glory to defend it and keep its rating above zero in proportion to how much they are willing to pay.  Conversely, if someone sees a particularly objectionable post, they can immediately attempt to bury it.  In aggregate the result functions like a kind of market of ideas, with the potential for bidding wars over particularly controversial notions to be played out over time.

A potential issue that could arise if the exchange rate of glory to votes is one-to-one, is that two accounts could farm upvotes by trading glory back and forth indefinitely.  The simplest solution to this is to set the exchange rate to be 2-to-1 or greater.  This means you have to spend two glory to make one glory, which leads to diminishing returns.

An interesting side effect of the exchange rate is that defending your own posts with upvotes is cheaper than attacking other posts with downvotes.  This could mitigate the potential issues of harassment that plague other forum reputation systems.  Adjusting the exchange rate also determines the relative weighting of the old guard versus newbies and the crowd.  In essence, it allows fine-grained control over to what extent the system balances meritocracy and democracy.

I am tempted to try implementing this system.  Given that moderation on Less Wrong is already formidable and effective enough, I don't think it's necessary to implement it here, but as an interesting experiment, I'm considering forking the Less Wrong 2 codebase and building my own little test forum and deploying it somewhere and inviting friends to join.  Before I do so however, I want to put the idea out to the Less Wrong community to ask for opinions and feedback on the feasibility of the glory system, and any potential pitfalls or critiques I may have overlooked in my enthusiasm for the idea.

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If the way to accrue glory is to be gifted from other accounts, but gifting has a 2-1 exchange rate, whence the original source of glory? And what is to be done when it runs out?

Or have I misunderstood, and upvotes are the glory, rather than glory being a separate system that works to adjust upvotes?

So, I guess I should clarify, the idea is that you can both gift glory, which is how you gain the ability to post, and also you gain or lose glory based on people's upvotes and downvotes on your posts.

And further to clarify, you'd both be able to gift glory and also spend glory to destroy other people's glory, at the mentioned exchange rate.

The way glory is introduced into the system is that any given post allows everyone one free vote on them that costs no glory.

I think punishment should be based on codified rules. If you leave it up to individual discretion, that will lead to a lot of witch hunts and conformity.

This does not appear to follow - enforcing conformity is the entire precept underlying a system of law for punishment. In general, why would a more variable basis of punishment lead to more consistent outcomes?

One aspect of laws and rights is a kind of agreement between people to not punish each other for wrongthink. Without such an agreement, people will jump on the opportunity to punish wrongthink.

enforcing conformity is the entire precept underlying a system of law for punishment. In general, why would a more variable basis of punishment lead to more consistent outcomes?

This question makes me wonder what you think the benefits of a system of law are at all. If it's fine for any random person to punish you based on their personal opinion of good and bad, then why have standardized laws enforced by third-parties?

My answer is:

  • Having standardized laws lets people actually know what the rules are, instead of having to guess for each individual they interact
  • Having standardized laws ensures you have rules that are consistent (i.e. I don't have to worry about Group A punishing me for doing x and Group B punishing me for doing not-x)
  • Having the laws enforced by a third-party helps to avoid bias (i.e. it's bad for the alleged-victim and judge to be the same person)
  • Having standardized laws enforced by a third party seems to reduce cycles of violence (Group A hurts group B which hurts group A to get back at them..)

The proposed currency seems to lose these benefits by effectively importing violence into the currency. Note that you can already use any currency the way the OP proposes, by paying someone to break into your target's bank account and rob them), but that's illegal for good reason.

The proposal is for a system to replace karma, defined by the ability to spend the karma you have. The goal is to allow a person publicly to punish another person publicly. Paying someone to break into their bank account is worthless, because no one on the forum would know. Further, if it was not clear to the other party why they were being punished, it would defeat the purpose.

That being said, the answer you provide for why a system of laws is good fails to satisfy:

  • People do not know what the rules are. They navigate mostly by it not occurring to them to do obviously bad things, like murder or arson. Any interaction with the legal system requires hiring people whose job is specifically to know the law: lawyers.
  • The rules do a bad job of being consistent, varying wildly in their application depending on the details of interaction with law enforcement and how good your lawyer is.
  • Third parties do not reduce bias, they introduce it; there's sense in which two people or groups having a fight being biased toward themselves is meaningful.
  • This last point is the best one, but there is no confusion about why: it is because we give enforcers greater powers of violence than any of the subject groups.

I feel about the rule of law the way Churchill did about democracy: it is the very worst form of conflict resolution, except for every other form.

In the broader case, the reason directly reimporting honor culture fails is because honor is about regulating relationships; in the modern world most of our interaction is one-offs with strangers or with agents of a party. In the cases where honor culture works, any random person is not a phenomenon that occurs with any frequency.

Perhaps a nitpick detail, but having someone rob them would not be equivalent, because the cost of the action is offset by the ill-gotten gains.  The proposed currency is more directly equivalent to paying someone to break into the target's bank account and destroying their assets by a proportional amount so that no one can use them anymore.

As for the more general concerns:

Standardized laws and rules tend in practice to disproportionately benefit those with the resources to bend and manipulate those rules with lawyers.  Furthermore, this proposal does not need to replace all laws, but can be utilized alongside them as a way for people to show their disapproval in a way that is more effective that verbal insult, and less coercive than physical violence.  I'd consider it a potential way to channel people's anger so that they don't decide to start a revolution against what they see as laws that benefit the rich and powerful.  It is a way to distribute a little power to individuals and allow them to participate in a system that considers their input in a small but meaningful way.

The rules may be more consistent with laws, but in practice, they are also contentious in the sense that the process of creating these laws is arcane and complex and the resulting punishments often delayed for years as they work through the legal system.  Again, this makes sense when determining how the coercive power of the state should be applied, but leaves something to be desired in terms of responsiveness to addressing real world concerns.

Third-party enforcement is certainly desirable.  In practice, the glory system allows anyone outside the two parties to contribute and likely the bulk of votes will come from them.  As for cycles of violence, the exchange rate mechanism means that defence is at least twice as effective as attack with the same amount of currency, which should at least mitigate the cycles because it won't be cost-effective to attack without significant public support.  Though this is only relevant to the forum condition.

In the general condition as a currency, keep in mind that as a currency functions as a store of value, there is a substantial opportunity cost to spending the currency to destroy other people's currency rather than say, using it to accrue interest.  The cycles are in a sense self-limiting because people won't want to spend all their money escalating a conflict that will only cause both sides to hemorrhage funds, unless someone feels so utterly wronged as to be willing to go bankrupt to bankrupt another, in which case, one should honestly be asking what kind of injustice caused this situation to come into being in the first place.

All that being said, I appreciate the critiques.

What if individuals could spend money to destroy someone else's money?

This already exists. If you are a rich person, you can hire a lawyer and let them harass your victim. To defend themselves, your victim needs to spend money on their lawyer. As a bonus, it only costs you money, while your victim loses their money and their sleep.

In the standard way when a "market of ideas" it is mean that some ideas are good or fruitful and will eventually be found that way or that some ideas have stronger arguments and can win out in debates.

Here the "market of ideas" functions in more immediate gut reactions. Ideas win out because their advocates are wealthy, not ideas winning out because their advocates are numerous. A contest of who waves their flags the most vigorous.

I guess there is a similar juxtaposition or sliding scale of democrasy vs demagogy.

In traditional democratic countries there is a universal and equal right to vote, everybody gets one. If you could buy additional votes if you wish, it would be significantly less egalitatrarian and signficantly more oligargic. Providing the winners of previous votes more voting power makes the system cascade into strong winners and losers fast.

A further thought is that those with more glory can be seen almost as elected experts.  Their glory is assigned to them by votes after all.  This is an important distinction from an oligarchy.  I would actually be inclined to see the glory system as located on a continuum between direct demcracy and representative democracy.

So, keep in mind that by having the first vote free and worth double the paid votes does tilt things more towards democracy.  That being said, I am inclined to see glory as a kind of proxy for past agreement and merit, and a rough way to approximate liquid democracy where you can proxy your vote to others or vote yourself.

In this alternative "market of ideas" the ideas win out because people who others trust to have good opinions are able to leverage that trust.  Decisions over the merit of the given arguments are aggregated by vote.  As long as the population is sufficiently diverse, this should result in an example of the Wisdom of Crowds phenomenon.

I don't think it'll dissolve into a mere flag waving contest, anymore than the existing Karma system on Reddit and Less Wrong does already.

A potential issue that could arise if the exchange rate of glory to votes is one-to-one, is that two accounts could farm glory by trading it back and forth indefinitely.

This part confuses me. If you spend 1 glory to give me 1 glory and I spend 1 to give you 1, then we're just back where we started. If we both make lots of low-effort posts and upvote each others posts (assuming the first upvote is free), then we risk lots of other people downvoting all those posts when they realize what we're doing (assuming the first downvote is free).

A couple of other potential problems. If the first downvote is free, you could cheaply punish someone by downvoting lots of their posts once, and more prolific posters would be more vulnerable to this. If the first downvote is not free, then there is an incentive to avoid downvoting objectionable posts in the hopes that someone else will spend the points instead.

As for the cheaply punishing prolific posters problem, I don't know a good solution that doesn't lead to other problems, as forcing all downvotes to cost glory makes it much harder to deal with spammers who somehow get through the application process filter.  I had considered an alternative system in which all votes cost glory, but then there's no way to generate glory except perhaps by having admins and mods gift them, which could work, but runs counter to the direct democracy ideal that I was sorta going for.

What I meant was you could farm upvotes on your posts.  Sorry.  I'll edit it for clarity.