lørdag 5. mai 2007

Moldbug: Two kinds of repeaters

This is an abbreviated post. The original can be found here.

A little while ago I noted that "religion" is a confusing tag. Whether or not an ideology includes an assertion of anthropomorphic paranormal entities matters a lot to the principle known as "separation of church and state". Unfortunately, ideologies can drop their wizards and still have largely the same beliefs about the real world. This makes the principle suboptimal for defending against things such as natural law, which may be considered an example of Catholicism without the wizard. In short, we have a security hole on our hands.

The general approach when you find a security hole is to (a) fix it, and (b) figure out what-all has crawled through the hole. This is going to require more than one blog post, but we might as well start on (a).

If we have a rule for the separation of Mithraism and state, the state can freely be taken over by Baalbots, which we don't want either. So this rule is overly specific. I argue that separation of church and state is still overly specific, because a church can drop its wizards and become a nonprofit foundation in order to take over the state while leaving church policy in place.

So I suggested the terms "kernel" for a set of assertions, such as a religion, and "repeater" for an institution propagating them, such as a church.

Your personal beliefs constitute your kernel. In theory everyone could construct their own individual kernel, but in practice people are social (and lazy), so they will share kernels. Furthermore, shared kernels will cluster in groups. This lets us identify patterns and speak of "prototype" kernels, such as Methodism, which is maintained among Methodists by making Methodist assertions at one another and checking for divergence from the prototype. Continuing with the analogy to computer programming, let's call such an assertion a "packet". The receiver may choose to accept or reject the packet.

A repeater is an institution which sends packets. The point of going to some repeaters, such as a Christian church, is to accept their packets. (If you frequently reject the packets from the church you go to, you are likely to switch churches soon.) We can call a person who does this a "client". Clients have trusting relationships to some repeaters. For example, a lot of people are clients to the repeater known as Wikipedia.

Finally, we need to come up with some way of defining "good" and "bad" assertions, or packets, so that we can fix this security hole and reactivate our firewall.

Let's divide assertions into metaphysical, factual, and ethical. We can disregard the metaphysical packets for reasons explained above. Bad factual assertions are those which contain misperceptions of reality. I think a packet denying the Holocaust is a bad packet, because I think the Holocaust is well documented. That leaves ethical ones. An internally inconsistent set of ethical assertions is bad. For example, the American South around 1850 asserted both slavery and human equality.

Such packets shouldn't be so hard to detect, and yet they persist. Take the repeaters known as Daily Kos and Free Republic. Their clients disagree a great deal, but my guess is that if you polled said clients for their ethical views, they would broadly agree with one another and with the American Christian tradition. So one or both of the repeaters is transmitting either misperceptions of reality or internal inconsistencies of ethics, which means that one or both of the kernels is bad, and we should separate it from the state.

So toxic packets are flying all around us. Why?

This post is getting long and I'll continue later, but my line of attack is to divide repeaters into two groups: the "disinterested" repeaters which transmit to clients whatever the clients request, and the "concerned" repeaters whose transmission pattern derives from some other source.

Which is better? And why? Hm...

onsdag 2. mai 2007

Moldbug: The genius of the New Deal design

This is an abbreviated post. The original can be found here.

The genius of New Deal "liberal democracy" is that while it's somewhat liberal, it's not at all democratic. It is in fact designed specifically to resist democracy. When democracy breaks out, we tend to call it "politics" and recognize it as a bad thing, like the Founders. See the earlier post on "Improper political influence over government decision-making".

The Republic of the Founders was unfortunately vulnerable to democracy. The modern civil service state abolished the Republic while maintaining trappings such as praising "democracy". Augustus did similarly to the Roman Republic.

Today only the White House is political, and the White House has little domestic influence. Congress has 98% reelection rates, is part of the Iron Triangle, and then there's the press (commonly recognized as the Fourth Estate), the universities, and the foundations.

It follows that attempting to fix government by "democratic" means is likely to be about as effective as marching through a wall.

Moldbug: He who refuses does not repent

This is an abbreviated post. The original can be found here.

I like this poem by Cavafy:

Che Fece... Il Gran Rifiuto
For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It's clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes forward in honor and self-assurance.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he would still say no. Yet that no - the right no -
undermines him all his life.

Why am I writing Unqualified Reservations, you might ask? What am I trying to convince people of? Lots of writers want to convince people of things. Historically, most of them used books. These days we're shifting to the Internet, but most bloggers would still be happy with a book deal.

Convincing people of things was historically a very messy business, but about 60 years ago, journalists and professors and their friends got themselves organized and formed the modern press and university system, which is essentially one large institution with very little intellectual diversity. There was probably more intellectual diversity in the Catholic Church under Pio Nono. There's somewhat more intellectual diversity in think tanks like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, but they're tiny compared to the modern university system.

To get back to Cavafy, this system is an environment of the great Yes. It rewards joiners and alliance-builders. It's sort of like a mafia. Now, I admit that there's a place in the world for the great Yes, but it's not at Unqualified Reservations. (I don't have a great No either, just a regular No.) What I'm writing at UR is an alien perspective, a worldview as unfamiliar as I can make it. (I'm not a literal alien, but if there were an alien journalist writing reports on Earth, I'd love to get my hands on a copy.)

An alien perspective is not concerned with popularity, and is useful in recognizing shared false assumptions. I try to build one by thinking from scratch, using precise words, and inventing new ones if there aren't any. This isn't foolproof, but it's what I know how to do.

If you want something else, the most widely available alien perspective I know of is "paleoconservatism", which consists of evaluating the present by the standards of the past. This usually requires reading a lot of old books. My objection to it is that it seems to go out of its way to be inaccessible to the uninitiated.
(Editor's note: Yes, Moldbug really has the chutzpah to complain about this.)
Me, I like to think that I'm judging the present by the standards of the future, writing about 2007 the way people in 2107 will. I have no illusions that 2107 will actually turn out like this, though. So my views are just my own. I blog because a few people, who had probably had too much to drink, asked me to. You know who you are.

Perhaps it's shameless immodesty, but I like to think of Unqualified Reservations as Blogger's answer to Laphroaig. The first time I actually bought a bottle of Laphroaig, maybe twelve years or so ago, I of course intended to share it with my then girlfriend M., a woman of remarkable forthrightness. She had never tasted the stuff, so I poured her some. She took a sip. "It tastes like burning plastic," she said.

And, in fact, Laphroaig does taste like burning plastic. But it's good burning plastic. I drank that bottle myself, and many more after it. He who refuses does not repent.

tirsdag 1. mai 2007

Moldbug: What if there's no such thing as chaotic good?

This is an abbreviated post. The original can be found here

As I recall, the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons had an attribute called "alignment", which took one of three values: lawful, neutral, or chaotic. The second edition added another dimension to alignment: good, neutral or evil. These could then be combined to form nine alignments from lawful good to chaotic evil. I have the impression that most people made chaotic good characters. Me, I tend towards lawful neutral.

As a lawful neutral person, I suspect that the first edition was more accurate. Let's call its system the "linear model" and its successor the "planar model". To assert that the linear model is more accurate than the planar model, I have to assert that the extra dimension adds zero or negative information - noise. How could this be? Well, it might be that "chaotic good" maps to evil, which maps back to chaos. Since good is the opposite of evil, and chaos is the opposite of law, this answer implies that good is identical with law. Thus, "lawful good" and "chaotic evil" are redundant tautologies.

Of course, since nobody likes to see themselves as evil, my explanation for the existence of evil in the world is that it's caused by people who see themselves as "chaotic good".

Here's the "linearist" narrative:
Evil and malevolence are not the same thing. Evil and good are outcomes; malevolence and benevolence are intentions. Planarists confuse malevolence with evil, leading some of them to attempt the eradication of evil by the eradication of malevolence, resulting in entirely too much attention being paid to what people are thinking, all while largely ignoring the consequences of the thoughts in question.

Planarists have redefined "justice", which used to mean "accurate application of all official rules", into "making sure the gravy all goes around", which we might also call "social justice" if we wish to be specific. An example of social justice is shown in the planarist treatise "A Theory of Justice". Social justice is identified with chaotic good, so logically anyone who is against chaotic good must be against justice...

Anyway. I should stop insulting the planarists. I'm a linearist, but I think the planarists are benevolent. They mean well. It's not like they're trying to do evil. It just sort of happens. And the problem is that the links between benevolence and good, or between malevolence and evil, are fairly weak. And by focusing on the intentions, the planarists do poorly at outcomes.

For example: In the UK between 1900 and 1989, as the concept of social justice moved from being the program of a political faction to a universally shared ideal, the crime rate (number of offenses known to the police, per capita) rose by a factor of 46. That is, it's not that crime, per capita, went up by 46%. It's that it went up by 4600%. (The number is now back down to 37.)

I assume the planarists never intended this. Admittedly, this is an uncontrolled experiment, but history is stingy with the controlled experiments, let alone the double-blind experiments.

søndag 29. april 2007

lørdag 28. april 2007

Moldbug: Jaroslav Hašek and the kernel-monitor meme; Terminology and an open floor

This is an abbreviated post. The original can be found here.

 To sum up the previous post: The word "religion" seems to be a matter for those who care about the details of anthropomorphic paranormal entities ("wizards"). But I care whether you're trying to burn Jews, not whether you believe that Baal commands you to burn Jews. Since the word is distracting those of us not studying theology, we might need new words for dangerous delusions (such as those that lead people to burn Jews) regardless of whether or not those delusions contain wizards. As a computer programmer, I suggest "kernel" for the belief system, and "monitor" for the people and institutions that transmit and broadcast a kernel.
(Editor's note: In the next post, Terminology and an open floor, Moldbug reconsiders "monitor" as being too vague and changes it to "repeater". I will use this henceforth.)

A kernel is a cluster of memes that you got from other people, divided into two main parts: the logical kernel, which says what is true or false, and the ethical kernel, which says what is righteous or wrongtious.

Where do you get your kernel(s)? There are three primary sources most people trust: parents, friends, and repeaters.

A repeater is an institution that you trust sufficiently to let it install memes on your system. This trust is graded, not boolean, and may be domain-specific. Harvard and Columbia are examples of repeaters that I trust in the physics domain.

Discuss. Give examples of kernels and repeaters.

(Editor's note: At this point Moldbug posts an extended interlude from a Czech novel by Jaroslav Hašek. I will skip it and move on to the next post, Terminology and an open floor.)

So a religion is a kernel, and a church is a repeater, but not all kernels are religions, and not all repeaters are churches.

Question: How do we get a general separation of Repeater and State? The floor is open for comments, and for extracts from Eastern European novels.

torsdag 26. april 2007

Intermission the first: Improper political influence over government decision-making, and other brief posts

The semi-Herculean task that I have taken upon myself, with some badgering from friends, is to abbreviate Moldbug's long posts for ease of reading by people for whom fifteen thousand words at a time can be a bit much. However, not all of Moldbug's posts are so long. Following on the heels of the past series are a few posts that I will merely describe rather than summarize, and you can read them in the original:

Improper political influence over government decision-making, in which Moldbug comments on a remarkable phrase

Plague of Dead Sharks, by Alan Dugan, on the quality of recent poetry

The essential idea of leftism, which Moldbug considers to be rule by scholars

My new comments policy, wherein Moldbug sets some rules for the blog

onsdag 25. april 2007

Moldbug: Why do atheists believe in religion?

This is an abbreviated post. The original can be found here.

Far from everyone believes that there is a God, but almost everyone believes that there is such a thing as religion. I don't see what this term "religion" really does to help our understanding, though. Assuming that it's a meaningful word and not a content-free slang term, "religion" seems to mean something like the attribution of existence to anthropomorphic paranormal entities - wizards, in short. (There are a few edge cases like Buddhism, but this definition will do for the moment.)

Of course, if you believe in God, you naturally believe in religion. But if you're an atheist like me, why do you believe in religion? You might answer that religion, as Dawkins says, is a delusion, and a delusion that often leads people to do horrible violent things. Therefore it's useful to have a word for these people and their beliefs, much like we have words for large dangerous animals, rather than saying "That big furry orange animal with the black stripes and the long tail".

But in this case, why do we have a word for delusions involving wizards, instead of one for delusions in general, or possibly violence-prone delusions? After all:
-if you want to capture and throw nine Jewish virgins into a volcano, I think you're deluded and should be stopped, and I don't care whether you're doing it as a sacrifice to the volcano god, or as revenge for what the Elders of Zion did to you last week.
-if you vote against partial-birth abortion because you think it's "against God's law" or "unethical", your vote comes out the same either way.
-if you're tolerant and respectful because you think Allah wants you to be tolerant and respectful, I prefer this to if you're stabbing people in the street because you read Nietzsche and decided you didn't like morality.

One response might be "why not?"

 To answer this, I'm going to break Godwin's Law.

Suppose Hitler, with the support of the Thule Society, decided to proclaim that he was the prophet of Thor. Further suppose that everything the Nazis did was in the name of Thor, and Nazism was a religion. (Some people already say Nazism was a religion, but it didn't have any wizards, so meh. Most of us disagree.)

Most people approve of the Allies invading Nazi Germany and suppressing Nazism so hard that it's still pretty suppressed today. But if they had been been suppressing Thor-ism, that would have been religious intolerance, and by common understanding, the Allies should have targeted the extremist and fundamentalist Thorists while negotiating with the moderate ones, making it clear that they respected freedom of religion and the right to be a Thorist.

Our supposition said nothing about how bad the Nazis were, so it shouldn't have resulted in this big a change. But looking at it this way, the WW2 policy of stamping out Nazism seems like Ann Coulter's suggested response to the September 11 attacks: "The nation has been invaded by a fanatical, murderous cult. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Not exactly something most people approve of.

On the flipside, let's consider another delusion with bloody hands and suppose that Communism was religious. (Some people say this too, but again, meh.) If Marx believed his writings were divinely inspired, this would imply, at least in the United States with its separation of church and state, that Communism would be effectively banned from public universities, where there are currently entire courses, such as postcolonial studies, dedicated to teaching Communist beliefs. Note, again, that we changed nothing about how delusional Communism is.

The Marxist view of economics, in particular, resembles one Christian view of evolution called "intelligent design". And there are a lot of people fighting hard to keep intelligent design out of classrooms, with rather fewer fighting for the end of postcolonial studies. But there was a time when a lot of people were fighting very hard to keep Communism out of classrooms, and it was called McCarthyism. Curiously, it had pretty much the opposite sides from the fight against intelligent design, and is greatly disapproved of today.

So, as a non-Marxist atheist, this is why I believe that the word "religion" is not only unhelpful but actively harms our understanding. By making trivial labeling changes to hypothetical history, we change nominally acceptable policy into terrible injustice, or vice versa. This can't be right.

To extend the analogy Richard Dawkins made of memes to genes, what Dawkins is doing is like taking a narrow-spectrum antibiotic based on self-diagnosis. We risk wiping away a susceptible bacteria colony that's evolved to the point where we can coexist reasonably peacefully with it, clearing space for a new and more dangerous type that our medicine doesn't affect. And if you ask me, delusions concerning politics have killed a lot more people the past few hundred years than delusions concerning wizards.

tirsdag 24. april 2007

Moldbug: The case against democracy: ten red pills

This is an abbreviated post. The original can be found here.

Imagine that you lived in 16th-century Spain. You would be Catholic, your family would be Catholic, and your friends would be Catholic. You would have heard that the Protestants do terrible stupid violent things, and let's not even talk about the Mohammedans. It would be very hard to convince you to stop being Catholic - particularly when you take into account that your country has an Inquisition dedicated to making sure people are good Catholics.

Now imagine that you lived in 21st-century America. This is probably simple for a lot of you. You'd probably think democracy is a good thing, as would your friends and family. It would be very hard to convince you to stop believing in the righteousness of democracy - particularly when you take into account that your country has an army that goes around killing people to spread democracy.

You probably don't believe in 16th-century Catholicism. I say you shouldn't believe in 21st-century democracy either. Now I'm going to state some specific disagreements I have with democracy, given in the "blue pill, red pill" form from the Matrix. I'm not going to argue for them here, just present them for you to think about. Each blue pill is a democratic position, and each red pill is what I believe instead.

Blue pill 1: Places like Europe, the United States and Japan are nice places because they have democracy.
Red pill 1: Places like Europe, the United States and Japan are nice places because they have rule of law.

Blue pill 2: Democracy is required for freedom and the rule of law.
Red pill 2: Democracy is somewhere between irrelevant and harmful to the rule of law.

Blue pill 3: Democracy is important as an alternative to disasters like fascism and communism.
Red pill 3: Democracy is merely a smaller disaster and a close relative of fascism and communism, all three being essentially populist ideologies.

Blue pill 4: The will of the people directs the modern democratic state for the good of all.
Red pill 4: The modern democratic state mostly just flails about.

Blue pill 5: Power is held by The People.
Red pill 5: Power is held by the permanent civil service.

Blue pill 6: The state consists of elected politicians.
Red pill 6: The state also consists of unelected journalists, professors, NGOs, and the civil service.

Blue pill 7: Right-wing politicians are a threat to democracy and must be stopped.
Red pill 7: Right-wing politicians are a harmless nuisance and an inescapable consequence of democracy.

Blue pill 8: True democracy has apolitical decisionmaking and nonpartisan civil servants such as judges.
Red pill 8: All democracy is partisan and political, but I agree that apolitical decisionmaking would be nice.

Blue pill 9: The present system of Western government is the result of adapting 19th-century classical liberalism to the complex modern world.
Red pill 9: No, it's the result of FDR and his fellow Progressives breaking classical liberalism, complaining that it didn't work, becoming less democratic, and exporting their system.

Blue pill 10: Our state is moving towards a bright future with a globalized, transnational free market where experts and NGOs fight corruption and deliver public services.
Red pill 10: Our state is moving towards a future of sclerotic Brezhnevism, endless bureacracy, and stagnation. It'll probably collapse within ten years, because the economy is a mess and the Internet is upsetting its lock on the captive educational system.

mandag 23. april 2007

Moldbug: A formalist manifesto

This is an abbreviated post. The original can be found here.

The other day I was tinkering around in my garage and I decided to build a new ideology. I'm aware that there may be objections to this, such as:
1) Traditionalist objection - ideologies need time to grow and smooth out kinks
2) Moderate objection - ideological differences lead to conflict
3) Credential objection - special training is required to build ideologies

Let's call the two major current ideologies progressivism and conservatism. Progressivism is dominant, and conservatism is full of idiots, making it hard for either to come up with any good self-criticism.

If you're not a progressive or a conservative, you are probably a moderate or a libertarian. But "moderate" isn't an ideology, it's the lack of one. Consider the positions of a "moderate" in 1907 Vienna. You may notice that the political centre moves, and there's an incentive to move it, leading to conflict. We'll get back to this later. As for libertarians, you may notice that libertarianism seems obvious to a lot of people, but nobody's ever gotten around to implementing it.

So I built my own ideology, formalism. This was hard and required me to read a lot of strange old books. Don't try this at home. Formalism is basically an ideology trying to minimize violence. Violence has priority over other things to fix, like moral decay, because violence killed a few hundred million people last century, while moral decay only brought us American Idol. Furthermore, I'm going to think about minimizing violence as an engineering problem, not a moral problem.

Engineering problems are why some other ideologies like pacifism fail to curb violence. It creates an incentive to be a non-pacifist and rule over all the pacifists. And on second thought, "violence" is a little vague. If I steal your wallet and you order me to give it back on pain of pain, you're threatening violence against me, but I think you're still in the right.

So let's make clear rules for who owns what (like my wallet) and redefine "violence" to include rule-breaking that violates such ownership. Maybe the similar "violations" would be a better word. But where do we get rules from? In short, we get them from contracts we agree to. For example, if I own a street, I could choose to only let people onto my street if they agree to my rules. Streets are a bit inconvenient for this sort of thing, let's instead consider at least owning entire cities, maybe even countries, where different owners can set different rules.

Ownership is a very messy deal, so I'm going to be pragmatic and suggest that we start by simply formalizing all current control into ownership, rather than dicker over who has a moral right to what. For example, the US government controls the area known as the US, partly by means of a very large force of heavily armed people, so the US government owns the US. Sorry, American libertarians, this means you owe taxes to the US government, since you're on their property and subject to their rules.

Then again, you probably owe work to an employer, whose (possibly rented) property you're also on a lot of the time. Is there really that big a difference between the corporation employing you and the corporation owning your country? Well, there certainly wasn't until recently, and I'd say there still isn't. The US is different from Microsoft in that Microsoft gets a lot of its security from the US, but then the US also gets a lot of its software from MS. And I'm not buying that the US is so special because it's a sort of mercenary company.

MS only incidentally makes software, though. Making software is a secondary goal to Microsoft's primary goal as a corporation: shareholder profit. MS produces profit by producing and selling software. But if we consider the US as a corporation... you know, I haven't the foggiest idea what the US has as a goal. I don't even know who's the CEO-equivalent. Certainly not the President, who can't fire anyone. I don't even see that the President makes much of a difference. It's a mess.

So here's the formalist manifesto: The US is a corporation, not a supernatural entity, and should be treated as such. Identify who controls what, give them an ownership title, and let them trade their owned bits around. Then the various owners can figure out what they want to do with it, and things will get clearer and better.

To a formalist, it's important to identify control properly in order to figure out how to assign ownership. Remember that we are pragmatic here: we are figuring out who controls what, not who should control what. This would probably be a lot easier to do if we had the New York Times supporting our plan. Which suggests that the NYT has a good deal of control over the US, and thus should be credited with partial ownership.

Hypothetically, let's say we gave the NYT full ownership of the US. What would it do with this? Do good? Vanquish evil? I'm sure you could vanquish a lot of evil with a million man army, a hundred million man labor force, and the US nuclear arsenal. The US has a lot of assets. But it also has a lot of debts. Let's securitize all the debts so that they can be traded as well.

But should we have a US in the first place? City-states like Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai seem to work better. We notice that these are all relatively prosperous and politics-free. In fact, they're run like corporations, some family-owned. And their lack of democracy has failed to turn them into Nazi Germany. Hopefully, formalism in the US will result in it splitting into several smaller, more prosperous, politics-free, undemocratic, better city-states like Dubai.

Formalist conclusion: As was generally agreed until recently, democracy sucks.