Today's post, Why Does Power Corrupt? was originally published on 14 October 2008. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):


There are simple evolutionary reasons why power corrupts humans. They can be beaten, though.

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2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:10 AM

There doesn't need to be a special mechanism for power to corrupt; normal reinforcement learning should work perfectly well. When you're corrupt, you take actions to benefit yourself instead of those you're supposed to be benefiting. And if those actions do indeed benefit yourself, well, then, that's obviously the kind of thing that reinforcement learning is designed to teach you to do. You take the bribe, or set up a harem, or whatever, because being corrupt means that you are doing things that feel good to you (and are therefore reinforcing) instead of things that benefit the rest of the group.

It's easy to say you won't give into temptation when you've never been tempted before, but it's a lot harder to say that and also be right.

There's another mechanism which is a bit more like paperclipping: rulers come up with random ideas, which they think are doing good because their yes-men say so. (Example]. So you have two mechanisms, one which can go anywhere, and one which converges onto a narrow set of features, such as having multiple sexual partners. In view of the second mechanism, it becomes clear what a great piece of social technology the idea of an Official Opposition is.