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.