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.

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