‘Meditations on Moloch'
From Scott Alexander at Slate Star Codex ( link ):
There’s a passage in the Principia Discordia where Malaclypse complains to the Goddess about the evils of human society. “Everyone is hurting each other, the planet is rampant with injustices, whole societies plunder groups of their own people, mothers imprison sons, children perish while brothers war.”
The Goddess answers: “What is the matter with that, if it’s what you want to do?”
Malaclypse: “But nobody wants it! Everybody hates it!”
Goddess: “Oh. Well, then stop.”
The implicit question is – if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And Ginsberg answers: “Moloch”. It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything – but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.
I described traps as when:
…in some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse.
That “the opportunity arises” phrase is looking pretty sinister. Technology is all about creating new opportunities.
Develop a new robot, and suddenly coffee plantations have “the opportunity” to automate their harvest and fire all the Ethiopian workers. Develop nuclear weapons, and suddenly countries are stuck in an arms race to have enough of them. Polluting the atmosphere to build products quicker wasn’t a problem before they invented the steam engine.
The limit of multipolar traps as technology approaches infinity is “very bad”.
Multipolar traps are currently restrained by physical limitations, excess resources, utility maximization, and coordination.
The piece is unbelievably long at 14,616 words, but was well worth the time. I took away numerous new perspectives on societal systems, outputs, approaches, [mis][aligned] incentives, end goals, and much much more.