Posted by: Alephwyr | September 2, 2018

A Dragon Confronts the Terasem Movement

Malatora was somewhat shooting fish in a barrel.  In the spirit of moving on to harder targets, I now turn my meager attentions and talents to the subject of the Terasem Movement.  This is a marginally more difficult movement to vivisect, but ultimately there are many problems with it, although I must say that I am on the whole much more sympathetic to the Terasem Movement than to Malatora, even though that isn’t a difficult hurdle to clear.  Let’s get right down to it:

Addressing Terasem

 

General Impressions

There are many different components to the Terasem movement.  There’s a kind of dopey new-agey religiosity that combines less-than-fully researched physics knowledge with some Carl Sagan tropes, some general scientistic philosophical incompetence, and throws in a dash of instrumentalist reinterpretation of tradition for good measure.  Taken together the overall result is not great: Terasem lacks the ethos or justification of real science while simultaneously stripping religion of its force through its instrumentalization.  This is not a strong foundation for any sort of normative system, and most of the subsequent problems of Terasem stem from a mixture of intentional and unintentional sophistry that isn’t quite enabled by this, but certainly isn’t helped by it; it is one of the flaws which the sophistry most tries to brush under the carpet.  It’s best to describe Terasem as “Science-adjacent”.  What this means isn’t so much that it’s antithetical or exclusionary to science, and indeed many of its members seem very well-good credentialed.  But it’s not science, at all, and the use and misuse of technological terminology makes my bullshit detector explode.  It’s possible I am just not educated enough to understand certain terms and concepts, so I will leave this alone for the most part and operate as if everyone is engaged in good faith.

Besides the religious component, there are also various philosophical leitmotifs and idée fixes which are regrettable, most especially in the frequent appearance of contradiction.   I understand that a large movement can’t be entirely consistent, but the differences that are glossed over are more substantive than what is actually explicated, and I will show a few examples of this later.  I also get the impression that many of these people believe that simply defining enough terms with sufficient detail and clarity suffices to establish an argument, to solve a problem, or to make a problem disappear.  I don’t know why they think this.  I think it goes back to the scientific-adjacent attitude, because scientific statements are analytic statements, therefore surely enough analytic statements clustered together is sufficient for any purpose regardless of whether they correspond to anything, connect together in a substantive form, or even mean much of anything.  Maybe this is inspired by early Wittgenstein fetishism?  But that’s probably giving too much credit.

Lastly there is a political component, which again consists mostly of definitions and trying to establish definitions, and then a bizarre mixture of semantic and normative arguments for why these definitions should be adopted; again, without any apparent normative foundation; and roughly nothing else.  These are definition fetishists in a major way, and that already suffices to prove that most of their writing is empty or weak, but let’s try to crack things open and break them down a bit more anyway.

Philosophical issues

Since these are all over the place, my response to them will be individually, and it’s possible that few connections will be apparent.  I will respond in list form to minimize the appearance of connection, but organize the list roughly in terms of how different concepts segue into each other.

  • The strawmanning of opponents as believers in “elan vital”, followed by the subsequent demonstration of belief in elan vital

Essentially all philosophical arguments about consciousness are dismissed by a handwave in which Terasem accuse Emergentists, Dualists, and seemingly anyone who has ever put forward an argument of any complexity about consciousness at all of viewing consciousness as a kind of “special sauce” that is poured over the brain, which is obviously the source of all consciousness.  Ok.  Well, it seems uncontroversial to suggest it’s the source of consciousness, but there is still the question of how it is the source of consciousness, and dismissing any discussion of how it might be the source of consciousness with such a handwave is unproductive in the extreme.

But it’s worse than this.  This is, as far as I can tell, the official Terasem position on consciousness:

 “Consciousness is not a big problem. I think consciousness is simply what it feels like to have a cortex.”

What is it that feels in this construction?  The cortex?  Shouldn’t the second sentence then read “I think consciousness is simply what it feels like to be a cortex?”  That’s fine, but what is it about the cortex that makes it cause consciousness?  Is it the substance of the cortex?  Terasem elsewhere seem to advocate the position that what matters to consciousness is just information, and make little explicit distinction between whether they mean this statically or in its sequential operations.  But this is unhelpful as well.  If they mean statically, then it is hard to see why a book, for instance, isn’t afforded the same moral status as a human being (and absurdly, in the movie 2b, a storage device containing the “mindfile” of a major character is treated as if it has personhood, and in the same sense as the character himself).  If they mean dynamically, then various other problems emerge.

If a cortex can be constructed as a turing machine, then it can be constructed in various ways.  Not just in the sense of a modern, electrical computer, but also in terms of a water based computer, or even potentially a large collection of abacuses.  It could even be some god-awful Rube Goldberg contraption involving all of these elements, in addition to smoke signals, pigeon carriers, and american sign language exchanges between trained chimps.  If it is enough that the structure of the cortex is encoded in these operations, then consciousness should be present in some sense in all of them, but that seems plainly absurd.  So there must be something special about the human cortex, not just in the sense that it is a cortex, but in the specific form of its construction.  But this is much closer to the concept of elan vital than any emergentism.

Now, this “something special” can presumably be replicated in silicon, that’s a basic premise of the Terasem movement, so that gets us a little bit further back into philosophical territory.  But Terasem seem to think that just replicating the structure, input, output, and data of a human mind in silicon would be enough to create consciousness.  This is potentially absurd, and raises other questions: for instance, at what point does consciousness emerge as you add each of these components?  If it’s just the structure, then presumably any computer with an architecture equivalent to a cortex is already in some sense conscious whenever it performs any operations, and not just when it is in the mode of performing characteristically human operations.  Then there is the question of information processing:  If a cortex is conscious, is it conscious of the meaning of the data propagated through it in the form of computer code?  If so, at what level?  Or is it conscious in some other sense, by some as of yet unknown mapping of the physical processes of the cortex to different discrete experiences of phenomenal consciousness?  If so, the simple fact that a silicon cortex takes certain input, processes certain data perhaps in ASCII format (built up from binary) in a way dictated by assembly code (built on top of complex digital circuits), and produces certain output, tells us nothing about what the conscious experience is inside that cortex, EVEN WHEN THE BEHAVIOR OF THE SYSTEM EXACTLY IMITATES THE BEHAVIOR OF A SPECIFIC HUMAN.  And this is the biggest single problem with Terasem’s concept of consciousness as mere data processing on a specific architecture.  Consciousness may be data processing.  But that does not mean conscious experience on an architecture corresponds to data on an architecture.  To assume so is to make data into the elan vital.  And this does not, in turn, mean that consciousness is not data.  It just means that data is not consciousness.

  • The soul

There’s a lot of denigration of the concept of the soul, in the same manner as there’s a general denigration of philosophy.  But the concept of the soul has pragmatic implications regardless of any higher metaphysical questions.  In practice, the soul is whatever it is that people think is important about themselves, even when it isn’t real, isn’t yet actual, or can’t ever be actualized.  Expected value calculations and even vaguer notions of “potential” inform the concept of the soul, in such a way that a person’s future is considered a part of them that can be damaged, healed, augmented, or amputated.  As Kierkegaard put it, ‘The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.’  This could only be true if the totality of a person’s being extended across time, like a thread.  And of course this is a very classical notion, with Cletho, Lachesis, and Atropos representing the most famous example.  If string theory is true, then we are literally energy travelling down strings, and thus it’s possible to map these very metaphysical concepts and their implications to physical processes, in much the same way as it’s possible to map classical deterministic concepts to the implications of general relativity.

The soul is a very important concept because of this reason: that it refers to the contingent but persistent conditions of human existence under which a person is willing to believe in the possibilities of meaning and value.  Normally, these conditions are only contingent on life and death, but there’s no reason that contingency can’t itself be contingent on fleeting historical circumstances.  Since these conditions are contingent, it’s very important that we don’t separate people from their souls, regardless of what a soul “actually is”.

  • The irrelevance of vegetarianism in the context of eternity

There is only one kind of pain that really matters in the context of eternity, and that is the pain of separation from oneself, from substantive circumstance or possibility that one can’t construct meaning or value without, whether in absolute or strong relative terms.  I think it’s great that the Terasem movement care so much about animals.  There is rightfully a recognition that animal consciousness is on a continuum with human consciousness.  The idea of there being something substantively different between human consciousness and animal consciousness is implausible, and without a difference in substance between the two, the notion of qualitative differences between man and animal becomes less plausible in turn.  The notion of an “I-concept” or ego is sometimes put forward, but some animals have this, and some human beings do not.  Including, if we are taking people’s mystical self-accounts seriously, many high functioning human beings.  No one seriously advocates the position that it is justifiable to kill and eat Buddhists.

However, pain without lasting deprivation can be compensated trivially.  It’s just a simple utilitarian calculation of offsetting disutility with utility.  This doesn’t, of course, make disutility good or ideal.  We would prefer to do away with factory farming and other practices that harm animals, because harm is always bad.  But if we’re really talking about eternity, or at least k-large lifespans, for every living thing, then even the worst suffering of animals (including human animals) should disappear as an epsilon beneath the steadily increasing pile of utility they accrue after resurrection.  This is true in all cases except those where a being is permanently separated from something they consider essential to them, something for which they would sooner suffer forever than be deprived of.

  • The Transbemon identity argument rests on the notion that everyone wanting to be themselves is an axiom

To a certain very substantial extent I don’t want to be myself.  Argument refuted (and it shouldn’t be hard to find countless other cases: whenever we hear someone say “I wish I was never born”, this is a refutation of this position).  So this is a problem that would need to be rectified, in technical terms, to make the thing uniformly justifiable.

This calls back to the previous entry, and raises an important point.  To an extent, wanting to be yourself and not wanting to be yourself are the same exact thing in this context.  That is, the pain in question is the pain of being yourself in the permanent mode of not being yourself.  Since this is still a mode of being oneself, this can lead to what Kierkegaard calls a demonic disposition, in which one’s pain over these circumstances becomes the only affirmation of self that remains, and hence what people push into to affirm themselves.  But this is plainly disutilitarian and less than ideal.  We would prefer people to be themselves in the mode of being themselves, and so in a sense the Transbemon identity argument is refuted in practical terms while a semantic argument remains that it is correct; IE, that it is only true that some people want to be a non-extant and non-actualizable version of themselves, hence that they still want to be themselves.  But pragmatically, this is still a refutation, since Terasem think that it’s enough just to duplicate the information or facticity of a life naively.

  • No continuity of consciousness with any of the proposed technologies

This is a very simple criticism.  Terasem only promotes methods and techniques that don’t preserve continuity of consciousness.  Mind uploading, in various forms.  Cryonics.  Reconstruction from mindfiles derived from secondhand information.  Now, these may produce a person who is “the same” in terms of identity, and I see no reason to object to that.  But without continuity of consciousness, there is still death.  If the goal is to preserve the value of a person, and their ability to create value and meaning, or to preserve the identity of a person, or any number of other things, then these methods may be helpful.  They minimize the consequences of death for the universe, or for a society.  They do absolutely nothing about the consequences of death for the individual.  Which means Terasem is inherently non-individualistic in this sense, and anyone who goes in for these technologies must be the requisite uncommon combination of egoistic and selfless necessary to self-justify this.

  • Sophistry over continuity of consciousness

Everything Terasem says about the perpetuation of identity is a sophistry that tries to link identity and information with consciousness.  Consciousness is not information, or even identity.  People change identity over time, sometimes spontaneously, sometimes with discontinuities between which no identity is present.  Often this is precipitated by drugs or trauma, but it still occurs, yet we wouldn’t call people “unconscious” at any point during all of this.  Information is not consciousness.  It’s possible for consciousness to be unrepresentable in some sense.  For instance, if the brain is a turing machine, Godel’s laws apply to it.  If the encoding of the brain is incomplete in a way that doesn’t correspond to the way in which the mathematical language we use to describe it is incomplete, then there are things happening in the brain that go unrepresented.  You might say that the information is still there, but it isn’t accessible.  More fundamentally, I call back to the argument that while consciousness may be data, data isn’t consciousness.

  • Belief in ignorance as a motive for all human evil (as demonstrated in the movie 2b)

It is perhaps unfair to use an entertainment as a basis for judging a movement, but it was produced on behalf of the movement, and the argument is so crystal clear and so fallacious that it has to be addressed.  The idea that people only do wrong out of ignorance is not justified.  I will not make the customary argument against the concept from free will, since it is unlikely to mean much in this context.  It is a very classical idea, certainly, and can be found among the stoics, with Socrates, and in many other venerable places.  But I will simply state that it is empirically false.  For this we need only a single case of any potency to demonstrate.  Rather than go for a big fish like a dictator as an example, I think it suffices to point to the case of internet trolls, whose motto is often literally “For the lulz”.  It may be true that they lack a moral education, but a moral education in this sense is more a matter of conditioning than of classical lack of information.  This is not, precisely speaking, a problem of ignorance.  It is more like feral-ness.

  • “Synthesis of lots of people, result of many individuals leading to creation of one new and unique individual”

This line also came from the movie.  In the movie, the synthetic human (in Terasem speech, called a “Transbemon”) explains that this is the process by which they were created.  However, the idea also appears in the Terasem literature, so it is more representative of a concept they explicitly promote.  What exactly is meant by this?  It is somewhat unclear.  Are all these individuals merged together without loss of any individual stream of consciousness?  If so, this is not necessarily a moral problem, though it certainly raises the possibility of moral objection; but it certainly gets into very serious philosophical territory over the nature of identity and consciousness.  Territory which is characteristically avoided by the writers.  In place of engagement, Terasem simply puts forward their own concept of identity as data or information, which is very vague and is rife with issues, as I have already shown.

  • ““To exist is to be something, as distinguished from the nothing of non-existence, it is to be an entity of a specific nature made of specific
    attributes. Centuries ago, the man who was—no matter what his errors—the greatest of your philosophers, has stated the formula defining the
    concept of existence and the rule of all knowledge: A is A. a thing is itself.
    You have never grasped the meaning of this statement. I am here to complete it: Existence is Identity, Consciousness is Identification.””

This nice little injection of Ayn Rand predictably runs afoul of modern philosophy.  Descartes Cogito, “I think therefore I am”, was divided by Sartre into a Synthetic Cogito and an Analytic Cogito.  Roughly, the Analytic Cogito can be expressed as “Consciousness is aware”, while the Synthetic Cogito can be expressed as “I am conscious, therefore I am aware”.  The “I” is a specific structure of consciousness, and as a specific structure, it is not possible to analytically deduce its nature.  Of course, even the Synthetic Cogito is still analytic if you make no claims at all about the content of “I”, but in this case it collapses in a sense to the analytic cogito itself.  If you can’t even define “I”, then you can’t build anything on it, it is superfluous, and you might as well stick with “Consciousness is aware”.

  • “Software is the new soul”

No.  See previous.  It may be possible to encode the soul in software.  Software is not a soul.

  • “Bemon”/Bemes”

This is more of a terminology quibble.  Bemon comes from “bemes”, which are basically just quale reframed in non-metaphysical, reductivist physical terms.  This is not entirely true, since the concept of “bemes” also includes the concept of the overhead and such of these quale, something which makes the concept both more useful and less precisely abstract than quale.  By “Bemes” is meant something like “quale packets”, where various metainformation and associations are encoded along with the core data that in this sense would be analogous to reductivist quale.  That’s all fine.  But I would rather just abuse the term quale in physicalist terms than invent an entirely new term, personally, because inventing a new term leaves too many useful associations behind.

  • Purely pragmatic interest in religion

Kind of a glass houses situation here, but there are major practical problems to this besides the loss of normative force.  Terasem propose dissociating the action of a ritual from its benefits, eg seeking to isolate the benefits of prayer and meditation and to re-engineer humans to be able to achieve these sans the rituals, which are respected as primitive means to a broader end.  But you can’t always dissociate the action from the benefit in religion; you can’t maximize this reasoning; otherwise why do anything?  This is not just facetious, it is a real problem.  When it’s possible to dissociate action from reward, why not just receive pure benefits and never act?  There are two classes of response: pragmatic responses in turn, about the necessity of action for self-preservation (which have limited scope and can only be used to argue for a small range of activity), and Nietzschean, vitalistic arguments, or essentialist arguments, about either the spiritual value of action or the essential character of man.  These are among the issues I am most focused on in trying to construct the CTCR and the dragonsphere.

  • “If will, awareness and self are, in most part,
    illusions that we construct because of our
    evolutionary heritage, and our limitations; then
    maybe, once we get smarter and more aware,
    we’ll get rid of them.”

Only drug addicts and philosophical illiterates believe this.  It is analogous to a person sawing at a branch that they are currently sitting on.  In order for illusions to exist, there must be something to perceive them.  “Consciousness is aware” is our analytic cogito, therefore fundamentally there is no consciousness without awareness, and so this is the stupidest part of this utterance.  “Self” is perhaps a sort of metastructure built on top of base consciousness, in which no identity is fundamentally present.  That’s not, precisely speaking, “illusion”.  It’s higher level structure.  But I suppose some lunatics might want to do away with it if it suits them.  More power to them, but I’ll keep my self, thanks.

Moral issues

There are only a handful of these, but they are significant.  I continue the list form:

  • “Synthesis of lots of people, result of many individuals leading to creation of one new and unique individual”

I have two objections, one of which is very tentative.  Obviously, if there is not continuity of consciousness when merging the many individuals, then every creation of a synthetic human or “transbemon” constitutes a miniature, individualized holocaust.  That would be bad.  Second objection concerns the duty to maximize utility as requiring the existence of many subjects for pragmatic reasons: there is an upper bound to the amount of utility an individual can receive, therefore more individuals is better.  Thus in general, anything that decreases the number of individuals in existence is potentially negative in utilitarian terms even when no other aspects of the procedure are negative.  I am not a Utilitarian, and I am not sure I really believe this argument even in articulating it, but I feel the need to articulate it anyway for the sake of completeness.

  • Collective consciousness

I don’t really care for the idea of collective consciousness for the most part.  It creeps me out.  By collective consciousness, Terasem mostly means “no barriers to communication of thoughts”.  Here is a quote to demonstrate:

“We are at the cusp of a complete borderless meshing of all of our minds, and the ability to reach one’s thoughts and for one’s thoughts to reach others thoughts without ever slowing down to the speed of text is upon us. “

This destroys the immense utility of privacy, and that is the basis of my moral objection to it.  More pragmatically, there’s an episode of the anime Kino’s Journey that touches on this, in which people use nanotechnology to become permanently psychic, in a way that can’t be turned off.  They expect paradise, but the result is a hell that leads everyone to retreat into the countryside where they each live alone, supported by machines.  Existing communication features lies, obfuscations, and omissions.  It is the result of millions of years of evolution and is perhaps the most finely tuned machine ever to exist.  It seems irresponsible to short-circuit it simply because of wishy-washy collectivist pretensions.

  • “Save all kind consciousness”

This is non-universalist in the wrong way; but then Terasem express universalist pretensions elsewhere, so it isn’t even consistent; and is coupled with the idea of curing the bads.  I have a strong commitment to the eventual resurrection of everyone, but I don’t believe everyone should be treated equally.  For instance, Hitler still needs to be punished in some way, not just cured.  Do we invent hell for him?  I don’t think eternal hell is appropriate under any circumstances, but there are certainly people for whom nothing less would be appropriate for a Hitler.  We will have to answer them, or at least stop them, but what is the compromise?  K-large hell?

‘The king said, “The third question is, How many seconds does eternity have?”

The little shepherd boy said, “The Diamond Mountain is in Lower Pomerania, and it takes an hour to climb it, an hour to go around it, and an hour to go down into it. Every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.”‘

When conscious experience is measured on such scale, it will actually be possible to torture someone for lengths of time that correspond to Kalpa, and Hitler would seem to be an intuitive candidate for this torture, which accords with a moral intuition that is quite prevalent in the current modern world, second only to the concept of eternal hell.  So the question becomes, “Why not just let this moral intuition guide us?”

Several reasons.  First of all, what are we answering?  I have already advanced the argument that the only kind of pain that matters in the context of eternity is the kind that results in permanent deprivation.  Does that mean we should punish Hitler, not with eternal hellfire, but with permanent deprivation of some sort?  But that punishment, maximized to eternity, is only appropriate if Hitler himself has permanently deprived others of their own essential value.  Now, certainly of all the things Hitler did, some of them must have deprived others of what they viewed as their essential value.  Viktor Frankl describes no shortage of suicides and even deaths by despair on this basis, and the Holocaust is well documented, so it is not difficult to prove this.  But the focus should be on repairing the damage done by Hitler.  The focus should not be on punishment, firstly because no amount of punishment could restore the untreated damage done by Hitler, secondly because any damage that can be treated doesn’t warrant eternal punishment.  So how should Hitler and others of his kind be punished?  I can only say, “proportionally to whatever damage remains”.

  • Enhancement of the great apes and uplifting of dolphins

Animals can’t consent.  They can’t even consent in principle.  This is important, since it means there are no ethical non-consent workarounds, where consent would emerge if the question were posed and this suffices in place of actual consent.  While as a gnostic of sorts, I find the idea of playing the snake in the garden appealing, there is nothing morally wrong with being an animal, and being made into a person introduces the possibility of unique forms of harm.  In fact, being made into a person is already potentially a form of harm in the very sense that it represents becoming yourself in the mode of not being yourself, if you consider your ancestral ignorance to be your essential self.  Many people want to return to the garden of ignorance, and in some people this inclination is strong enough that it runs into Kierkegaardian demonism.  It doesn’t seem entirely moral to uplift animals, and the arguments for doing so (improved functionality in a modern world, mostly) seem entirely insufficient in a context of eternity, artificial virtual environments, and methods of establishing continuity of consciousness from the past into this environment (which are not explicated anywhere in the Terasem movement but have been explicated elsewhere, both on this blog and in other, better writings).  We have infinitely more right, justification, and incentive to uplift stupid people than animals.  Terasem views intelligence as a fundamental good.  But utility is not a function of intelligence, so there’s little utilitarian argument for uplifting.  There is something creepy about the idea of being eternally maintained at an arrested level of development, however, so in my view the solution is one I’ve already proposed as a solution to other problems elsewhere: artificial reincarnation, coupled with synthetic evolution.  An eternal zoo is immoral, but so is a non-teleological process of uplifting a creature from animal to person.

Practical issues

  • Too much bloviating about values, not enough meaningful meta-framework for governance

” The most basic principles of Terasem: Far reaching ethical principles to guide us and optimize our future, as computers become self-conscious”

Terasem talks a lot about what they think is good.  They don’t have a strong foundation for it, and by itself it’s entirely insufficient to just say what is good.  You have to propose mechanisms by which to attain, maintain, and support what is good to you.  Anything else is Aesop’s Mice in Council: An ideal for which no mechanism exists to achieve.

  • “Win win trumps zero sum”

In a fundamental way, zero sum contests are the only thing that bind people together.  This does not just mean materially zero sum contests.  The most important contests to people are generally status contests, which by nature are mostly zero sum, albeit with many alternative hierarchies which are capable of generating spontaneously.  Without win-win contests, there is little basis for interaction between people.

  • Parenthood as IP based on property right incentives for creation and care

Newton and Leibniz both invented Calculus independently.  Calculus is an external meme.  Consciousness is a recurring pattern.  Now, even Rothbard recognized the absurdity of patenting memes, when two people can independently come up with an idea even as complex as Calculus.  But patenting a recurring natural pattern is much more incoherent.  It was an interesting idea, because the incentives associated with intellectual property are real, but it requires a lot more exploration than it actually received, and answers are required to many of the traditional arguments against intellectual property, not just to an extent that answers these objections in their usual degree, but to a much stronger degree.

  • Too much focus on definitions

No definition that requires the conjunction of specific scientific and philosophical knowledge with specific non-universal values will ever influence the average person, and as such most of this writing has no rhetorical force or practical power.

  • The fixation on rules ignores the fact that behavior is controllable in virtual environments

That is, it shouldn’t even be possible to break rules unless it is to our advantage to sometimes allow it

  • Article: “THE MEME OF ALTRUISM AND DEGREES OF PERSONHOOD”

This is perhaps the single stupidest article in the Terasem archive. It denigrates selfishness and puts forward a naive belief in equality which I have addressed as senseless elsewhere.  It doesn’t understand the role or function of selfishness, or the limitations and problems that prevent equality from becoming attainable.  It doesn’t understand how technology is liable to exacerbate rather than expiate these issues.

  • Practical problems with Cryonics

Cryonics doesn’t preserve continuity of consciousness.  Furthermore, while the crystalization problem was solved, the neurotoxicity problem has not yet been overcome.  New techniques may help with this but aren’t on the market: that is, it’s now practically possible to preserve a human connectome, but the techniques to do so are not available to existing cryonics institutions.  Time seems liable to solve this issue, but it is still presently an issue.

  • Too rule focused and not sufficiently tactically focused

It is fine to come up with ideas for rules, but rules are meaningless without power.  In the absence of access to state power, there is only a kind of grassroots or distributed power.  This means more potent organizing and a substantive praxis is of higher priority than intellectualizing.

Spiritual objections

“That which is above is like that which is below”

Terasem’s spiritual inclinations are derived from Octavia Butler’s Earthseed, which summarizes its own fictional religion’s core tenet as “To shape God”.  This isn’t an entirely terrible thought.  It’s not entirely vacuous either: It is reminiscent of the concept of Baphomet from Chaos Magick, and other occult tradition, including Biblical tradition: How many Prophets in the old testament succeeded in changing God’s mind?  But there is no normative framework in it.  It is also a bit vague.  What is God? The universe?

I am a chaos magician.  Fundamentally, that makes me a special kind of existentialist: a very egotistical one.  But Chaos Magick Theory is much more robust than Terasem’s spiritual views.  It is hard to respond to Terasem’s spiritual inclinations since they are a mixture of new age pablum and old ideas with little total system or connection in them.  They are much like Terasem in general: a very loose collection of non-connecting, incomplete thoughts.  Now, Peter J. Carroll’s Chaos Magick Theory is New Agey in its own right, but it is certainly not pablum, and it is very systematic.  My own Chaos Magick practices are perhaps even more systematic.  I must document my strong preference for them over the spirituality of Terasem.

Sympathetic aspects of Terasem

One of the biggest problems with Terasem is that its content varies in quality from very bad to very good.  Sometimes a lot of thought has been invested, such as in “Strategies of personality transfer”, which tries with unknowable degree of success to create a proper taxonomy of the methods of documenting all elements of consciousness.  Sometimes there are articles like “THE MEME OF ALTRUISM AND DEGREES OF PERSONHOOD” which are nothing but sentiment wrapped up in pretense.

Some real insight exists at times, such as when it is pointed out accurately that personhood and property are not mutually exclusive, or when in “A Proactive-Pragmatic Approach to the Legal Status of Cyberminds,” Max More, Ph.D explicitly calls out the other Terasem members by saying:

“That implication really flows out of a view which I think is quite popular in transhuman and transbeman circles—even among some philosophers—that informational continuity is what matters, not structural or even functional continuity.”

Time scanning is a good idea.  The Order of Cosmic Engineering seemed pretty cool, but also looks tragically defunct: it’s website is down.  There is a recurring idea in both journals about redownloading digital information into meat bodies on other planets. But why?  Either avatars are conscious or they’re not.  If not, then some sort of actual virtual consciousness should be pursued.  It’s only if this is not possible that the fixation on this makes sense, which undermines the rest of Terasem’s ideas substantially.  But there is also this agreeable chestnut:

“If we live in a synthetic reality, then in a certain sense, we cannot even rule out the supernatural, or miracles.   The simulators, the system admins, cannot violate their laws of physics, but they can violate our laws of physics if they want.  It seems that the supernatural, which we have kicked out of the back door of superstition, may come back through the main door of science. “

Lastly, there is Yudkowsky.  Appearing only once that I can tell in either journal, Yudkowsky has the strongest voice and raises the best points, and seems to be the only person out of the whole lot that believe in the existence of honest to god problems and not just puzzles to be defined away.

He raises some very sane points about what he calls the “crime of designing a broken soul.”  Here are some quotes that define some of the essential boundaries of his argument:

“Naturally, darkness is carved into our genes by eons of blood, death and evolution We have an obligation to do better by our children than we were done by”.

“Nor is it ethical to make something exactly resembling a human, if you have other options.”

“Open-ended aspirations should be matched by open-ended happiness”

“If it is not ethical to build the human, what is it ethical to build? What is right and proper in the way of creating a new intelligent species?”

Naturally I disagree with Yudkowsky on much of this: I don’t view a holistic human as characteristically bad, or the human condition as innately bad.  I say this as a therian, a self-identified dragon, however.  Maybe that is to my credit, or maybe it is to my discredit, but certainly I would not have dragons exist without many of the attributes Yudkowsky undoubtedly laments in humans.  It is not these attributes themselves that are bad.  Even in the case of limited capacity for happiness, this is a safety mechanism.  It prevents people from pursuing what is good to them to an extent that is harmful.  And even if these dangers are taken away, which I don’t believe they entirely can be, the functionally essential character of a being is informed by what they do with boundaries to their existence.  Without boundaries, there is no character to being, and this would be a great loss.  I believe Yudkowsky also jokes elsewhere about AI hacking their own reward functions.  But this is precisely what prayer and meditation are in a human context, whatever else they are, as well as exercise and other meditative activity.  On the whole, humans seem well calibrated to me as a species.  I am sympathetic to Yudkowsky’s points but I see nothing wrong with creating other intelligent species using humans as a template.

Overall, there are some stand out thinkers in the Terasem movement.  Aside from that, it’s good that the others are thinking about it, but on average they are not tremendous intellects.  This makes the exceptions stand out more brightly.  But it does not make for a very convincing, credible, or effective movement.

Superficial impressions of the 2B movie

I was forced to pay $5 for this god-awful film, so I am compelled to review it even though I have already said pretty much everything that actually needs to be said about Terasem.  This is not a good movie.  It is not a good story.  It does not have ideas that are good.  It is only slightly less bad than my own fictional writing, and that is a very very low bar.

The movie begins with the quote, “Everything is theoretically impossible until it’s done”.  In the context of a collection of impotent and second rate future theorists, this is intensely ironic: everything in Terasem is an attempt at theory!  There is a fixation on fairy tales in the movie, which acts as a sort of heavily bowdlerized occultism, to a degree that strips the occultism of any of its content, and even most of its aesthetic power.  The main characters are a total bum vlogger, presented as an outcast with integrity, a Randian style business-overman, and a Transbemon named Mia.

The vlogger hates the business-overman.  The business-overman is in turn facing a 30,000 year sentence for illegal human experimentation.  This is potentially very unsympathetic, but without explanation we don’t really know whether it’s justified or not.  Business-overman has Mia kill him, because he’s made a mindfile of himself, with which he intends to demonstrate the conquest of death.  The movie also makes a good deal of noise about the lack of rights of Transbemons, but it seems to me that if you were facing a 30,000 year sentence, the last thing you’d want is to be immortal and treated in accordance with human law.

There’s a lot of very bad sci-fi writing.  Use of terms like “telluric barrier” and “redundant metastructure”.  “Firewall” and “Distributed virtualization” might have made more sense in context, but what do I know, I’m just a former IT and CS student.  The quote comes “Even his closest coworkers say his work was beyond their level of understanding”, which is simultaneously a jerking off of the business-overman and a really terrible sci-fi handwave to avoid explanation of technical concepts.  In general, there are way too many informed attributes: things we wouldn’t know about people except that we are explicitly told that they apply.

Let’s talk about Mia.  Mia is plainly fetishized, in a way that is very disturbing.  She has the weirdest dopey machine emoting, which, coupled with descriptions of her attributes, are not flattering to the Terasem movement.  We’re told she was created as essentially human, “Minus the genetic markers for cruelty, greed, and hatred”: But she still kills a man, so obviously these are just propensities that have been removed, and not actual abilities.  Even so, Mia proceeds through the film like a lobotomized child.  So the Terasem movement’s ideal human is effectively, a lobotomized child.  Right.

Before being shot, business-overman gives a grand speech: He tells his broad audience, including people in Time’s Square, that humanity mustn’t cling to the past.  He speaks of necessary sacrifice, by which he means the humans that have to be left behind.  He responds to accusations of playing God by saying, “Who’s playing?”  Then he says farewell, and Mia shoots him.  Ok.

It seems to me that as long as you are playing God, forcibly dragging the human race along with you would be a much better thing to do than treating them, as Nick Land once said regarding AI’s eventual departure from the human race, like the disposable booster stage of a rocket leaving orbit.  Coercion would be much better.  I will explain why in my conclusion, but the short of it is, if you really believe your solution is compatible with the preservation of the fullness of humanity, prove it.

There’s a dopey cyberpunk detective chase culminating in an all-revealing guerrilla broadcast via the vlogger and a trial for Mia (no shortage of tropes here) and the whole thing wraps up on a cliffhanger.  Ok.

One of the only genuinely interesting things, and perhaps I should put “interesting” in quotes because I mean it in a very clinical way, is that Mia says Transbemon remember being born and waxes very poetic about it.  This is clearly about trying to create new tradition or culture.  But it is supremely hamfisted.  Still, the attempt stands out, as it demonstrates that the people who made the film recognize the importance of various human things at the same time as it demonstrates their complete fucking ignorance of them.

One positive thing that can be said about all of this is that the low fidelity is actually good because it means these very real issues will sneak up on people.  That gives a lot of agency to people of action, including our hypothetical business-overman, who in our timeline probably won’t be punished for human experimentation because there won’t be laws in place defining digital beings as human in time to prevent him from doing his experimentation.  Or to put it another way, the verisimilitude of these issues to the average idiot is entirely contingent upon their fulfillment, which means the public is unlikely to exert any pressure on shaping the development of these technologies until they are already well past their nascent stage.

Conclusion

What do we really know about consciousness, phenomenologically? We know the cartesian cogito, which can be divided into synthetic and analytic
components, and we know (at least for pragmatic purposes) that there is continuity of perception over time.  Possibilities like Buddhist sudden-appearance offer metaphysical alternatives to continuity of perception, as do other arguments, but these are also outside the context of actually bothering to do anything, so they can mostly be ignored.

Already this is infinitely more knowledge about consciousness than Terasem has, and it only requires reading the first 50 pages or so of Being and Nothingness.  If the core of Terasem is Rothblatt and co, or their spiritual wishy-washy new-age nonsense, or even the hypothesis that information = consciousness, then it must be said: They don’t have theory, they don’t even have narrative. They have a few ideas that they think should serve to structure a narrative that they believe will subsequently become real even though they can’t credibly articulate it.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in their god-awful movie, which is not compelling either in terms of narrative or ideas presented.  It has no verisimilitude because these people don’t have a theory of verisimilitude, just a deck of definitions that they shuffle about endlessly.

They want to make people who are less than completely human, and contextualize this as “better”, even though it’s more like lobotomization.  They have no idea what these things they want to get rid of even do; what function they serve; but still want to dispose of them.  This is terrifying.  The biggest risk I can think of regarding these projects, bigger even than AI alignment (because at least unaligned AI would actually potentially survive us and become valuable to itself in the absence of humans, like in Land’s teleology) is to go and change everything before preserving everything and understanding all its interrelated mechanisms.  And yet even down to Yudkowsky, the urge to change everything as soon as possible is ubiquitous.  Is there no voice for tradition in consciousness?  I will have to be that voice then, even as it undermines my own plans and aspirations for the draconic race.

Counterproposal: CLASSIFIED

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Posted by: Alephwyr | August 12, 2018

I have a discord for all dragon-related discussion

By all means please come and help contribute to the discussion:

https://discord.gg/XfvQ8Bp

It is striking that no one has yet seen fit to develop and disseminate a theory of the Draconic race.  In fact, the average reader is probably unaware that there even is such a race.  Therefore, it becomes my duty to attempt to fill this hole, even though I am barely a probationer and by no means the best figure for such a task.  The significance of this project is simply too great to leave entirely untouched, and in even the course of my own meager investigation, it will become apparent that all of history is cast into sharp relief and put into a condition of perfect clarity once a theory of the Draconic race is introduced.

We must begin by looking for the origin of dragons.  The Epic of Gilgamesh features the dragon Humbaba, and is one of the candidates for earliest depiction of a dragon.  Conversely, some sources put the emergence of dragon symbolism in ancient China as having occurred at around the same time, if not much earlier.  It seems reasonable enough to assert on the basis of this and other evidence that the dragon came to public awareness independently in the east and the west.  The divergent physical forms depicted in these two different types of dragons, as well as their different attitudes and presentation, needs to be accounted for.  To a certain extent, the latter is explained away easily simply by the rise of Christianity as a defamatory power (and more on this later).  However, this explanation is incomplete, as evil dragons exist not just in Mesopotamian folklore, such as with Tiamat, but in eastern folklore as well, such as the eight headed dragon of chaos in the Kojiki.  While exceptions exist in both east and west, the general ratio of good to evil is roughly inverted across the divide.

What is clear, however, and attested to by the comparative mythologies of many unique and independent people across the span of space and time, is that at a certain point, dragons began interbreeding with humans.  This is uncontroversial, so I will not go into much depth about it.  However, the Han Chinese sometimes refer to themselves as “Descendents of the Dragon”, and in the west we have examples such as Melusine.  It is worth noting that Melusine is usually depicted as a woman who is a serpent from the waist down, and that this correspondence opens up a variety of other possible interpretations of draconic lineage, including in an origin myth of the Scythians as documented by Herodotus.  This interbreeding, and the consequent extinction of credible documented dragon sightings, likely serve to account for most of the differences between eastern and western dragon depictions, and any remaining real differences can be characterized as demonstrative of different subtypes in the dragon race.

Therefore, we can at once conclude that descendants of both Han Chinese and Scythian ancestry are predominately dragon-blooded, and that among various Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic peoples (who are the principle but not sole cultures to document dragon interbreeding), a minority of dragon-blooded individuals exist.  We find a minority of Scythian ancestry in all three places, of course, as well as in modern Iran and elsewhere.  In point of fact, the Scythians seem to represent a nexus point, not just geographically in their middle-eastern location, but also in the hybrid-like conception of a dragon which they held, which seems to blend eastern and western dragon characteristics, and in their interactions with cultures which subsequently developed dragon myths of their own.  The implications of this are unknown and require more investigation.

In this context, the difference in the significance of the dragon between the east and west becomes immediately apparent.  The Christian hatred and vilification of the dragon are revealed as obfuscatory reference to some hidden, hated minority: either hidden by history, or hidden by nature.  To understand the properties of this minority and why they might be hated, we should first investigate the Han Chinese under the pretext of overall unity in the total Draconic race, and according to principles of Race Realism:

The most distinct attribute of the Han Chinese is that they are, as a population, smarter than non-draconically derived humans.  They score an average of at least 5 points higher on IQ tests than the average population, and that is despite the relative privations inherent to Communist economies.  Therefore, high intelligence can be easily understood as an essential racial component of draconic lineage.  So why did dragons fail to integrate in the west when they plainly integrated so well, and to such overall advantage, in the east?

The answer can only be Christianity.  Christianity is an appallingly stupid institution, as is plainly evinced by its rejection of anything with the character of early Christian philosophy in favor of a purely literary reading of the Bible, upon which all of its increasingly incoherent and vacuous philosophy would subsequently be founded.  On repudiating and destroying all early Christian philosophy, Iranaeus of Lyons declared with retardation characteristic of the religion:

“The Gospels could not possibly be either more or less in number than they are. Since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is spread over all the earth, and the pillar and foundation of the Church is the gospel, and the Spirit of life, it fittingly has four pillars, everywhere breathing out incorruption and revivifying men. From this it is clear that the Word, the artificer of all things, being manifested to men gave us the gospel, fourfold in form but held together by one Spirit. As David said, when asking for his coming, “O sitter upon the cherubim, show yourself.” For the cherubim have four faces, and their faces are images of the activity of the Son of God. For the first living creature, it says, was like a lion, signifying his active and princely and royal character; the second was like an ox, showing his sacrificial and priestly order; the third had the face of a man, indicating very clearly his coming in human guise; and the fourth was like a flying eagle, making plain the giving of the Spirit who broods over the Church. Now the Gospels, in which Christ is enthroned, are like these.”

This is not just stupid, but belligerently stupid: it makes a deliberate point of answering intelligence with stupidity.  It does so to demonstrate the authority of the church as so absolute that intelligence is not required, if not absolute precisely because stupidity is its ultimate foundation.  Therefore, it is trivial to conclude that dragons were persecuted in Christian societies because of their intelligence.  Now, it is necessary to call back to some of my previously developed ideas about intelligence in order to further explain everything that follows from this.  To begin with, there are tiers of people.  The ancient Gnostics knew this, but were unable to make good use of the knowledge: by reifying it into metaphysical truth, which at the time was the only possible analytical framework, they made it a weapon that functioned against their own communities both in the form of internal strife, and in the form of external criticism.  Modern IQ studies, including those that point to difficulties in communication and social interaction between individuals of a standard deviation or more distance between them, help us to better understand some of the factual and material circumstances that must have once engendered thoughts of metaphysical categories.

Combine this with my observation about Meme Zaibatsus and you have the beginning of the whole picture: The Christian Church has been, for its duration, a laboratory for developing the most effective possible means of social cohesion and control, and by requirement its social cohesion and control would have to both take account of differences in intelligence, and take command of the Meme Zaibatsu mechanism of communication.  All subsequent Christian “philosophy” not rejected as heresy is thus an instantiation through this type of mechanism.

An essential component of race realism is the notion of extreme correspondence between essential biological properties and behaviors.  Thus, dragon is as dragon does.  Therefore, I claim as dragons all occultists, all heretics, all alchemists and witches, and all early scientists rejected or harmed by the church, at minimum.  Since Christianity is stupid, any visible rejection or deviation from Christianity is generally a sign of intelligence.  Furthermore, as a laboratory of social cohesion, Christianity was inherently dishonest and cynical at the level of its intelligent members, whose “philosophy” all reads like gibberish sophistry to any honest and intelligent person of today; just as, in fact, it did to honest and intelligent persons at the time, albeit for different reasons.  So there is not just a difference in intelligence but also a difference in character on display here, and if we take race realism for granted, then that must also map to draconic vs human racial characteristics.  The truest martyrs aren’t just crucified in the flesh but in the image and the name as well, and thus all true western martyrs, even Christian martyrs, share the church as their enemy.

Therefore we arrive very simply at our conclusion, that all intelligent, quality people of character in history were dragons.

 

Posted by: Alephwyr | August 1, 2018

Draconic values: a meditation

As prophet and founder of a future society of dragons, it would make good sense to lay down the law, establishing my own revealed knowledge as an eternal standard on which to base the future norms and mores of all dragonkind.  I am unwilling and unable to do this.  To begin with, it seems to me that most good social norms and mores arise organically in relation to the environment in which a people originates.  While it is certainly possible that I have some non-trivial role to play in this organic process, it is probably not the role of dragon Moses: God would have said something.  Additionally, I still have some conflicted and paradoxical devotions to liberty, to the open society, and to existential philosophy.  Just as importantly, I’m not able to construct the kind of intense genealogical and semiotic investigation into essentialist concepts of dragons that would be necessary to establish a dragon essentialism credible enough to function in a traditionalist context.

It seems to me that the best way to go about constructing a society of the future is to first establish meta-level environmental properties and rules, like I went about doing in my previous blog post.  Nonetheless, such a system is just a giant information processor in a sense, and what values and utility ultimately come out of it depends on what sort of values and inclinations are injected into it in the first place.  Therefore, I am compelled to make some effort to describe my own values, which would ideally be presented in a clear and systematic way, but due to my limitations can only come in a rambling and circuitous way instead.  If this style of writing worked for Robert Pirsig and Lee Iacoca, maybe it will also work for me.  This is likely to be an extremely personal blog entry with little total value, so if that bothers you, skip it.  No really.  If the world I’m trying to design counted on anyone reading about my personal life and the vague reflections it has engendered, then it would be a very poorly designed world.  This is to be the most optional entry in my overall series of dragonposts.  Better to overlook it than to alienate yourself.

There is one person whose total effect on my life has outstripped that of any other person, living or dead.  He is not a family member, and he probably wouldn’t even describe himself as my friend.  In a certain sense, he is a completely random asshole I met on the internet.  For the sake of halfheartedly protecting the guilty, I will simply refer to him as волк (“volk”, or wolf).  I met волк on a forum dedicated to a video game (I won’t say which), where there were naturally many high-level discussions of philosophy and economics.  At the time I believed that anyone who invoked the concepts of logic or reason was inherently untrustworthy, along with the concepts themselves.  I believed this because I had just been expelled from an alternative school after going insane from torture by religious fundamentalists.  These religious fundamentalists had routinely invoked logic and reason as motivations for their torture, and any attempt to point out flaws or limitations in their logic or reason just led to more torture.  волк invoked concepts of logic and reason regularly, and so I initially found him entirely untrustworthy.

At some point, волк utterly annihilated me in an argument, eviscerating me in excruciatingly exact and logical terms, which he also documented empirically and reinforced with very severe and degrading rhetoric.  It was at that point that I realized several things:

  • It’s possible for someone to invoke logic and reason and actually be logical and reasonable
  • This was the only person I had ever met or was ever liable to meet who was consistently and trustworthily logical and reasonable
  • My highest good was whatever he had that enabled or proceeded from this: whether it was intelligence, rationality, discipline, dignity, sophistication, erudition, or class.

Subsequently I am not sure I have any of these things, but I know my way around them a little better.

I quickly realized that the fastest way to have quality intellectual opinions was just to reverse engineer the formulas for волк’s various arguments and deploy them uniformly regardless of consequences.  The point at which fact diverges into value is the exact point at which positions become arbitrary.  However, if you can fluidly make the transition between a mountain of well-reasoned fact and a handful of logically compatible values, you gain immense rhetorical power and tend to overwhelm opponent objections by destroying the immediate salience of the is-ought distinction: the subtler you are in this one transition, the more “reasonable” you look to most others.  Argument is implicitly competitive, and like in many competitive fields, the best approach is generally just to optimize your formula then slam on the gas.

So I spent a lot of time just probing волк, who was an open book in most respects, and modeling my intellectual approach and disposition off of his.  I had trouble applying aggression correctly, in general using far too much of it, and overall I lacked rhetorical competence of any kind, all in addition to not actually knowing anything.  But the stand-out facts of this account are that I was trying to construct myself, a self, off of a mental model I had of a single, extremely exceptional individual: one who I simultaneously felt intense loyalty to and who I really needed, in a psychological sense, in order to not be completely lost.

TheEmperor

волк was very important to me, even before he revealed that he was a descendent of the Roman Emperor Octavian, and other such facts, which all did a very good job of aestheticizing what was already an intensely urgent drive to subordinate myself to him.  And it is perhaps for reasons such as this that traditionalism makes a good deal of sense to me, because I have derived substantial aspects of my personal sense of value from this relationship, and because the general pattern of modeling yourself off of a superior until some point of differentiation is reached makes a great deal more sense to me than the current, more pathological and mainstream development process most people seem to undergo, of adopting other people’s behaviors in a purely ad-hoc manner based on what will most efficiently satisfy their immediate wants or needs, over and over again, for the entire course of their life.

However, волк himself is not a traditionalist.  His philosophical influences are mostly analytic philosophers, and the few that might conceivably intersect with my own cognitive capacities and inclinations are Kant, Mill, Popper, and others of that sort.  He is not right-wing at all, but decisively neoliberal by way of a tempered libertarianism.  He favors free markets, the open society, and internationalism.  While he recognizes the validity and superiority of allowing for differentiation in human market value, he believes in a certain moral equivalency between all people, which doesn’t make and has never made tremendous sense to me.  And so I am left by all of this with a paradox: The God-Emperor supports precisely everything that is anathema to his own sovereignty and significance.

TwoOfWands

I am thus left trying to split the difference between my own moral intuition and his, which is exacerbated by the fact that I trust his more than mine.  Intellectually, I reason mostly in terms of philosophical opinions and systems which are now largely, at best, orthogonal to my own personal values and the systems with which they tend to be associated.  But it is much more complicated than that.

The first system of philosophy I really understood was existentialism, by way of Sartre.  Sartre’s phenomenology makes objective value impossible, but it also unsubtly romanticizes the construction of value in this otherwise nihilistic vacuum by its various appeals to authenticity and so forth.  After reading around 200 pages of Sartre, I went through a period of intense existential despair, which at some point, for no intellectual or philosophical or apparent reason at all, simply dissipated in its entirety.  But I retained a sense of the romanticism of free will from all of this; and in fact, I would have had that sense of romanticism even if I hadn’t actually read Sartre and had my experience with existential despair, simply because волк also values such things, and that would have been good enough for me already.

This foundational romance later contributed to my attraction to Chaos Magick once I went off the deep end and had to turn to obscure and esoteric texts in order to try to rationally systematize an increasingly disintegrating epistemology.  Chaos magick lead to other esotericism, which lead to a modest classical education, which lead to a syncretic adoption of various traditional outlooks and values.  This in turn has presented another paradox: the deeper I get into esotericism and occultism and classical thought, and away from reason and modern liberal values, the less well-aligned my own value system is with волк’s, and consequently the less respect I tend to have for his positions.  Simultaneously, the deeper I get into these modes of reasoning, the stronger my compulsion is towards loyalty to him.  It is a very hard line to walk, especially when волк explicitly repudiates me and disabuses me of any notions of personal value.  If he did this for good reason it would be easy to bear in a sense.  I would just be worthless.  But he did it in such a way that his judgement was not even magnificently wrong, but pathetically wrong, in the same vein as flat-earth argumentation perhaps.  So I am left with the contradiction now, that my rational mind knows волк is without authority in this matter, but my heart does not.  This is the hardest contradiction to rectify.  Whoever came up with the notion of ex cathedra as a condition of Papal infallibility was a great genius, far greater than any Newton or Einstein, because they rectified a potential for contradiction for which no redress was immediately and apparently possible.

Now, even Popper makes most of his arguments for the Open Society not on an absolutist basis, but on an instrumental basis: that is, the evidence is given that an open society promotes certain outcomes which most would agree are favorable.  However, instrumental arguments have also been given for various traditional social arrangements that represent, if not closed societies ineluctably, then at least societies in which openness is very far from a primary value.  Having only a cursory familiarity with history, it still seems apparent to me that the instrumental value of a given social form at any given point in time probably corresponded reasonably well to the incentives that existed at the time that form was in wide adoption.  However, my own personal concerns with the structure of societies and nations are not very broad, and mostly revolve around a handful of questions about merit.

It seems to me that the outcomes of all meritorious people in respect to a given social form can be divided into four categories (note that I am here defining “merit” not as a person’s total value in any sense, but something more like their raw ability or potential)MeritSquare

  • A meritorious person succeeds in agreement with social form

This is the most common type of success in the world, and seems utterly equivalent to me in both the ancient and modern world.  Why?  Well, even though we nominally live in a free society, the determining factors for most levels of success are still ultimately dependent on effective social conformity more than any other skill.  This extends even to people who have achieved very high status, and to me it is the least meaningful application of merit/potential/ability.  To wit:

He walked at random. He owned nothing, but he was owned by any part of the city. It was right that the city should now direct his way and that he should be moved by the pull of chance corners. Here I am, my masters, I am coming to salute you and acknowledge, wherever you want me, I shall go as I’m told. I’m the man who wanted power.

That woman sitting on the stoop of an old brownstone house, her fat white knees spread apart-the man pushing the white brocade of his stomach out of a cab in front of a great hotel-the little man sipping root beer at a drugstore counter-the woman leaning over a stained mattress on the sill of a tenement window-the taxi driver parked on a corner-the lady with orchids, drunk at the table of a sidewalk cafe-the toothless woman selling chewing gum- the man in shirt sleeves, leaning against the door of a poolroom-they are my masters. My owners, my rulers without a face.

Stand here, he thought, and count the lighted windows of a city. You cannot do it But behind each yellow rectangle that climbs, one over another, to the sky-under each bulb-down to there, see that spark over the river which is not a star?-there are people whom you will never see and who are your masters. At the supper tables, in the drawing rooms, in their beds and in their cellars, in their studies and in their bathrooms. Speeding in the subways under your feet. Crawling up in elevators through vertical cracks around you. Jolting past you in every bus. Your masters, Gail Wynand. There is a net-longer than the cables that coil through the walls of this city, larger than the mesh of pipes that carry water, gas and refuse-there is another hidden net around you; it is strapped to you, and the wires lead to every hand in the
city. They jerked the wires and you moved. You were a ruler of men. You held a leash. A leash is only a rope with a noose at both ends.

It is not that I think all examples are this extreme, but the same basic pattern is present in all such cases, so my overall feelings towards such people are indifference.  This is all in rough agreement with Nietzsche’s, “Only there, where the state ceases, does the man who is not superfluous begin.”  Nonetheless, from the standpoint of engineering a meritocratic society, it seems to me that this pattern will hold in every society and so we can effectively ignore it as a consideration.

  • A meritorious person succeeds in spite of a social form

This is not just many artists, musicians, and philosophers, but also many a conqueror.  In a sense, whenever someone achieves something at the cost of blood, they have achieved success in spite of social form, regardless of how much force was brought to bear or how it was acquired, though on balance it is really only when the majority of social friction went against a person that we tally something in this category.  This application of merit/potential/ability, is much more common in ancient societies: we find only a few criminals and such in recent memory who exhibit it, like Jacques Mesrine, perhaps.  Modern war is not in fact demonstrative of this since it mostly constitutes the wholly asymmetrical slaughter of brown peasants.  When blood is spilt, this is obviously not in general a morally sound application of merit/potential/ability, but it leads to greatness in a pure magnitude sort of sense.  Greatness in a pure magnitude sort of sense was such an important form of greatness to ancient people that it tended to be a primary and essential property of their gods, and this extends to the Jewish and Christian God.  It remains important to people today whether they admit it or not.  Our current form of society leaves less and less possibility for such greatness.  The diminishment of such possibilities is probably inevitable regardless of how future societies are engineered (that is, the possibility of implementing cost-free artificial versions of war and such does not seem to lend equivalent greatness to real war, as playing even a fully immersive video game in which one conquers the world does not make one an Alexander the Great).  Nonetheless, the psychological and social value of having such phenomenal possibilities available may be one of the neglected aspects of future societies, so there is some small room for improvement here over current society, in the context of our far virtual future.

  • A meritorious person fails because of a social form

This has occurred in every society, and in every new society less and less; but also in every society less and less in a manner dictated by processes that roughly resemble a greedy algorithm configured to act from smallest to largest.  That is, democratization, industrialization, and the general and increasing tendency towards the average in society have matched merit to outcome more and more efficiently in a manner that proceeds from average levels of merit to greatest levels of merit, excluding the largest cases in those events when the knapsack runs out of room, rather than the smallest.  Ancient societies were somewhat better at proceeding in the opposite direction, rewarding those of greatest merit/potential/ability and excluding many of those with average merit/potential/ability.  Modern colleges initially operated like this, but as they have become increasingly accessible they have begun to operate more in accordance with the greedy algorithm pattern described.

The uniformity of such process and the resulting singular exclusion of the extremely meritorious from appropriate positions is essentially the reason I am anti-democratic and anti-populist, if I had to pick just one.  Elitism in its various forms is a major traditional solution to this class of problems, but maybe not an optimal one: going back to the concept of diffusion and development given in an earlier blog post, the optimal solution would seem to be to couple elitism with the investment of the gains of our filthy populist processes into new fields and ventures: but in practice what the demos want is to take their surplus industrial value and spend it on incrementally fancier versions of the same things, and this is why our economy and culture is now driven by successive i-phones rather than by the kind of massive scientific and infrastructure development we saw in the last century.  I am not sure what the solution to this is, but I hope some genius is reading who will be able to help with it: it is the single biggest hole in the meritocracy of current societies.

  • A meritorious person fails in spite of a social form

This sort of person is a stereotype who we usually don’t think of as meritorious in the full and proper sense, regardless of ability or potential, precisely because they have managed to fail despite having every advantage and means not to do so.  The instinct to denigrate in these cases seems largely sound.  However, it can be difficult to distinguish these people from those of the previous entry in some cases, when we consider the fact that it often results from a fundamental misalignment of values that could easily become adaptive if investment into new fields and ventures increased by amount x.  The most obvious example of this also dovetails with category 2, a meritorious person who succeeds in spite of a social form.  Of all the artists who have gotten their break, how many have died before they became famous, when they could have invested their energies elsewhere and been successful?  While it can be utterly bewildering and enraging to find people who threw away all their gifts, we must also avoid unjust impressions of others whenever possible.

This is also a large flaw in our society, and could be handled by doing several things better that current society does not do: encouraging investment in novel ventures, even under low-probability high expected value conditions or perhaps even under some altruistic conditions, using stronger pressures to align people’s values to mainstream norms, using stronger pressures to align people’s values to subcultural norms when this fails, using stronger pressures to ensure people create and act according to their own values when this fails, and ensuring that discipline and work-ethic are universal social values by de-emphasizing their relationship to any specific cultural paradigm (ie, Protestantism and its cladistic successors, per traditional sociological framing).  I am not sure how democratic and populist forces interface with these issues.  Perhaps I will investigate it later.  However, it seems superficially likely that it would be easier to do these things better under a less democratic and populist system.  This goes back to what I said about how people now build, or fail to build, their character: without clear hierarchy, people’s character formation or malformation is more distributed across culture and different cultures.  With hierarchy, it is much easier to accountably build character.

Now with all of this in mind, what does it suggest for my future dragon society?  Well, I think one of the major possibilities it suggests is that at Layer 1, the lowest echelon of society, the system of government should be non-democratic.  Perhaps a combination bureaucracy and monarchy, like in ancient China.  Since it would largely be a ceremonial government, the form is mostly irrelevant in the first place.  However, the benefits to character formation would potentially be substantial.  Additionally, since this will be in the far future, when we have a glut of information and in general know exactly what the best way is to do everything, the form of government is largely irrelevant on this basis as well.  To wit, communism was able to function largely because it had capitalism as a frame of reference.  How well will a post scarcity bureaucratic monarchy be able to function in the context of a post-scarcity force-automated neocapitalism?

Layer 2 should be a democracy or perhaps a democratic republic, perhaps with Epistocratic elements.  At layer 2, all absolute incompetence has been filtered out anyway.  Consequently, the only way someone could be disenfranchised in an Epistocracy at this level would be if they willfully adopted ignorance, which seems acceptable.  Traditionalist and other objections to democratic rule mostly pertain to the fact that the demos is of poor quality in its totality.  Were this not true, then democracy might function surprisingly well.  It would also be good from a character forming perspective for intelligent people to learn how to co-exist under such a system, and from an aesthetic perspective, making the teleological climb from ancient to modern forms of government, walking the whole course of human history, would have a very romantic appeal.

Layer 3 should be run according to corporate principle, albeit with force decisions automated at an encrypted system level.  Why is corporate principle acceptable in this case when it is otherwise not?  Well, precisely because the lower systems succeed in producing people of character and filtering out people without character, by the time they arrive and begin work in this corporate environment, their values will be well-aligned with the production of meaning.  In this respect, the production of meaning will merge with the production of capitalist value, until both are very close to functionally equivalent.

A few random thoughts, even though they don’t really belong here: At the highest levels of decision making, actors could have personality elements held in abeyance while they held their positions, in order to minimize issues.  This would be a voluntary requirement of assuming a high level position.  For instance, it could be the case that the desire to quit could be held in abeyance until a new qualified candidate emerges.

As for the possibility of violent conflict at the lower levels, it seems transparent that if this violence were to be made as authentic as possible, it would have to result in at least the appearance of death, and subsequently reincarnation or graduation to the next tier of the system.  However, traditionally it has been very young people who go to war, and young people do not generally have much accumulated experience or social capital.  Therefore, if war were ever permitted at our lower social levels, it would have to be fought by older dragons.  Since there is no reason lifespan has to have any given length, this is probably relatively easy to implement.

Additionally, for the purposes of ensuring education, the wings of dragons should not grow into functional limbs until after the educational age has been transcended.  As for communication between layers, it could be done by deniable and ambiguous actors culturally coded as metaphysical entities.  These entities could have hard-coded personalities to ensure compliance with cultural expectation and social requirement.  For instance, Layer 3 could communicate with Layer 1 via Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Saraqael, Raguel, and Remiel, and Layer 2 via Armozel, Oriel, Daveithai, and Eleleth, all of whom would dwell in fact at Layer 3.

This is all very strange.  I proceed so belligerently in strange behavior because I am not a slave.  Herodotus gives an account of an incident in Ancient Scythia.  During a slave rebellion, the Scythians took up arms against likewise armed slaves.  Much killing took place of both slaves and masters, until one among the masters came to their senses:

“What are we doing, Scythians? We are fighting our slaves, diminishing our own number when we fall, and the number of those that belong to us when they fall by our hands. Take my advice, lay spear and bow aside, and let each man fetch his horse-whip, and go boldly up to them. So long as they see us with arms in our hands, they imagine themselves our equals in birth and bravery; but let them behold us with no other weapon but the whip, and they will feel that they are our slaves, and flee before us.” The Scythians followed this counsel, and the slaves were so astounded, that they forgot to fight, and immediately ran away.

Modern societies punish with economic disincentives partly because it is more civil, but partly because it is more effective.  Let the army try to put people in the mythical FEMA camps of Alex Jones, and millions of revolutionaries will enact the Battle of Athens on a national scale.  But so long as it is merely bureaucrats demanding taxes and fines, and collaborators enforcing neoliberal social codes, erosion can proceed not only through the growth of dead letter laws and the steady growth of state power, but through post-totalitarian social incentive structures that rot society to the point that even the sacrosanct right of free speech is self-policed out of existence by a docile and self-hating citizenry.

So on that note, though I have no intention of taking up arms (волк is, naturally, a pacifist), I also have no intention of ever, ever shutting up.  Even though I have myself degraded to the point I am incapable of serious analysis that doesn’t include dragons.

This is all I can think of to say in regards to my values at present.

It’s hard work to be a lunatic.  Not only do you have to consistently find ways to present yourself that are orthogonal to the normies, you also have to differentiate yourself from all the other crackpots, all while investing enough mental and social capital into the neurotypical economy to sustain yourself.  It is a great tragedy that the first mover advantage for the post-human dragon microstate concept went to Taygon.  I guess I will have to work extra hard now to outcompete Malatora in the economy of ideas.

It makes sense to begin my pitch by explaining some of the flaws in the Malatora brand.  Now, I am not an economist or a social scientist, and in fact there is much that limits my analytic capacity.  Like Mencius Moldbug, I am a college dropout, though in my case I made my exit from undergrad.  I’m also a schizophrenic.  And I have brain damage.  And I may just possibly be autistic as well.  And besides that there is the fact that I scarcely attended K-12 school and got most of my education from shitposting on the internet, in a series of campaigns that saw me permabanned from almost every major forum ever to grace cyberspace.  Even so, a few small flaws stand out to me in this whole communist post-human environmentalist autarkic dragon micro-state idea.

Taygon and his ilk begin not with basic economic or even legal theory, even of the useless communist type, but with social norms.  In fact, essentially the entire concept of Malatora, sans dragons anyway, is an ambient collection of social norms and the entirely contradictory, dysfunctional, and insane implications that result from them.  In a limited sense there’s nothing wrong with this.  Human knowledge began with social norms.  Long before humans knew of intersecting supply and demand curves, they knew “Honor thy father and mother”, “Thou shalt not kill”, and “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  The establishment of norms creates the, perhaps game theoretically appropriate cooperation necessary to minimize certain dysfunctional tendencies, mitigate certain perverse incentives, and begin amassing and utilizing other, higher forms of knowledge.  But a society that begins with social norms and no other knowledge of any kind is appropriate only to the stone age, where it would then not even serve as an absolute and final arrangement, but instead be subjected to the slow process of biological elimination that eventually gives rise to the stability necessary to begin processes of conceptual elimination associated with higher level thought and society.  Worse yet, the norms of Malatora are not only untested, they are contradictory, and they are not even functionally contradictory.

The most superficial example of this is the entirely cosmetic Code of Malatora.  The most problematic example of this is the full and unqualified adoption of a set of both positive and negative rights.  The contradictions that result from this are immediately manifest: In Malatora, one has absolute ownership of one’s body and all transactions reflect consent, yet labor is assigned by work order, and it is illegal to “withhold” food, housing, healthcare, or education.  Freedom of association is enshrined, but so is an absolute right to work.  Academic and scientific freedom are enshrined, yet one’s labor assignment is still dictated to them.  One is obligated to obey their work order, but they are also entitled to complete freedom of movement.  One has no right to deny housing to someone, but one has a right to shoot and kill any intruder to one’s home.  Worst of all, this knot of contradictions is not allowed to simply unwind itself through social experimentation, since it becomes load-bearing in a very serious way as soon as this chestnut is introduced: “the right to protect [these rights], by any means necessary.”

Whether this means you can shoot a random private citizen for not giving you food is unclear, but it is not at all unclear that consequences similar to these would be the immediate result of the adoption of the sclerotic and spotty Malatoran “system” under all but the most utopian modalities of resource availability.  Since Malatora runs on a combination gift and command economy, it is extremely inefficient, and could effectively only exist in a world that was already post-scarcity.  But since it is Autarkic, the ability of its neighbors to produce even infinite wealth would make no difference to the inevitable collapse of Malatoran society.  Inefficiency is in turn incompatible with environmentalism, since the efficient distribution of resources is a necessary precondition for production in equilibrium with natural rates of replenishment.

But let’s suppose that the social norms of Malatora were somehow strong enough, and its actors rational enough, to overcome all commons problems, minimize all wastefulness and inefficiency, and make this heavily collectivized combination of gift and command economy functional.  In this case, the overall construction of Malatora is still suicidal.  Why?  Because, rather than encoding its values in rigid traditionalism; the values which are ostensibly the only possible thing that could even theoretically hold up such a society, even under the most charitable and anti-realistic conditions imaginable; it makes efforts to not only accept but to enforce an open society.  Freedom of speech, press, and opinion are fundamentally incompatible with the requisite strong social norming necessary for this society to function, as are the right to protest and most likely freedom of worship.  If this society is only secular, it will have a hard time incentivizing social norms sufficiently.  Political freedom is here a joke, although all of these things may function as effective escape valves for the total dysfunction of the system, allowing it to transform into something more coherent: or at least, this might be the case if its contradictions weren’t enshrined in a bill of rights and protected by force.  The best case scenario is that all of its residents take advantage of their freedom of movement and just immediately leave.  The worst case scenario is that the Malatoran “duty to revolution” is recursively deployed in an attempt to enforce social solutions to economic impossibilities until everyone dies.

Other problems are less overarching but no less serious.  The Malatorans think they can ignore international law in regards to Malatora while still counting on the apparatus of international law to protect and advantage them in various respects, including copyright law and military law.  They think they can somehow introduce myriad new races into the world, allowing them to associate according to their own inclination, without immediately causing racism, and this despite clear indications of dragon-supremacist reasoning (saner readers may recoil at the preposterousness of the words “dragon-supremacist reasoning”: I am very sorry, but this is the future which we are only heading deeper into).  “Irresponsible” free speech is banned if it causes harm, but there is no clear harm test.  We imagine anything that threatens their incoherent mixture of positive and negative rights might be contextualized as harm, especially in light of the “any means necessary” reasoning, which reinforces the thought of an inevitable bloodbath.  Malatora also establishes “Freedom from discrimination of any kind, for any illogical reason.”  What constitutes an illogical reason remains undefined.

Let’s leave all of this aside for the moment.  These aspects of Malatora are not even worth thinking about, in large part because they have not even been thought about.  SomethingAwful accused Taygon of basing his worldview off of reading Wikipedia articles.  I am not even sure he read them.  I suspect he may have glanced at their titles for essential salience.  He seems to think he can dictate away any unwanted logical inconsistencies or consequences, which makes his fantasies not only low in intelligence but in verisimilitude.  So how about instead we ask another question: Are the values of Malatora good?

I will not here attempt to determine the total coherence of the Malatoran value system, as pointing out every contradiction and absurdity in it would take entirely too long.  Instead I will go value by value and then give a holistic impression.

First value: Consent and self-ownership.

Consent seems like a reasonable value.  Certainly it is at the root of essentially all economic and social activity that can be defined as free, including free markets, therefore it seems intuitively good.  If we mean by consent, “people only do what best suits them out of their range of options, unrestricted by coercion, and according to their own inclinations”, then consent seems obviously good.  Especially since, in general, by emphasizing consent as a paradigm, we create a world which tends to iteratively increase people’s range of options over time.  However, if by consent we mean “people only engage in interactions when they can explicitly communicate that these interactions best suit them, to those they interact with”, then I disagree with the value. Self-ownership seems mostly coequal to consent, at least functionally, so I will not add extra comment on it. More on all of this later, but we have to mark this down as an overall “agree”.

Second value: Democracy/Equality.

Terrible.  Mencius Moldbug, despite our disagreements on other issues, had a lot of very reasonable things to say against democracy and equality.  It also violates my inclinations towards elitism, traditionalism, and so forth.  More on this later when I expound my own alternative.

Third value: Sexual freedom, including LGBT rights, Polyamory, and Free love

Very mixed.  Certainly I would agree no force should be brought to bear against consenting adults acting in the privacy of their own homes, but sexual norms seem socially important to me.  This doesn’t mean I think society should disrespect polyamory, but I think that if polyamory is to be a mainstream aspect of society, it should come with its own obligations, rituals, and costs, and I feel the same way about homosexuality and transsexuality.  Traditionalist society has decided in general that the only correct way to be sexual is to be heterosexual and monogamous.  But if it is in fact right for a homosexual to be homosexual, and so forth, then there must also be a right and wrong way to be homosexual (or, perhaps, multiple right and wrong ways).  Therefore I am against free love: It is the obligation of anyone with an alternative lifestyle to regularize and enforce the conduct of their community, and this is not, in the libertine sense, “free”, even if no state force is brought to bear.

Fourth value: Personhood is coequal with self-awareness, not humanity

Agreed.  Moving on.

Fifth value: Indigenous rights

Sure.  Whatever.  Moving on.

Sixth value: The environment.

Here is an absurdity: to a Malatoran, it is an immense good to reject their natural birth form in favor of a new, self-chosen form, but it is extremely bad for nature’s form to otherwise be altered.  Here at Dancefighterredux, we join a rising chorus of voices that say, “Fuck the environment”.  Here is my proposal for the environment: Upload everything.  If the inevitable end point of human consciousness is its convergence with computing technology, why on earth shouldn’t this also apply to animals and even, to their own limited but measurable extent, plants?  Put it all in a computer.  Nature is just an inefficient data storage format.  More on this later.

And now to my total impression: I am unimpressed.  Even if the whole edifice weren’t instantaneously incoherent, there would still be things that stuck out.  For instance, Indigenous Rights is a Malatoran value expressly encoded in their legal system, even though THERE ARE NO INDIGENOUS PEOPLE IN THE LAND MALATORA WOULD CLAIM.  And compare this against what they didn’t encode in their legal system!  This alone is ample evidence we are dealing entirely with liberal sentiment and not with anything resembling actual thought.  That they began with LGBT and dragon rights and ignored any foundational framework of rights is utterly pathological.  The whole thing lacks even the logic of a dream.  If one wishes to build a paradise for their fetishes, that doesn’t mean one proceeds through their fetishes in the act of building.  Fetishes don’t do a lot of heavy lifting, intellectually speaking.  I was going to say a lot more, but when one realizes one has been handling shit, one wishes to wash their hands of it as quickly as possible.

You know what?  I am so over this I am actually adding a dividing line and a subtitle to differentiate sections.

 


Our Glorious Draconic Future

Now let us proceed not from fetishes, but from reason.  The principle considerations of a society of dragons should be the same as those of any society, therefore we will begin with those considerations.  If you like, you can generalize my thoughts to any system, or copy and replace every reference to dragons with humans.  It shouldn’t make much overall difference.  Dragons are highly motivating to me.  That doesn’t mean I best serve my interests or advance my case by centering my mind or arguments on this particular Idée fixe.

Picking up some of the things we said we would address earlier, let’s look at consent.  In fact, let’s start with a very complicated case of consent: smoking in public.  At present, secondhand smoke is pretty much universally agreed upon to be bad.  However, there are still even now people with greater or lesser tolerances towards exposure.  Suppose we start by considering a case in which, when one wishes to smoke within range of someone, one has to explicitly get their permission.  Now consider the possibility that we are in an environment or area where there are many people, and while you can smoke around one group of people or another, you can’t get away from them (nor can you in this case refrain from smoking, such is the strength of your addiction in this case).

So you gather up people’s yes’s and no’s until you have enough yes’s in one cluster to light up your cigarette.  Reasonable enough.  Somewhat inefficient.  Now suppose you simply have a machine that tells you what everyone’s preference is already.  Suppose they were all polled on the matter, and their responses recorded.  This makes it much easier to find somewhere to smoke!  This is a pre-consent model.  But now suppose you have another machine, which allows you to infallibly read the minds of everyone and determine whether or not they would consent to your smoking, if you were to ask the question.  This is most efficient of all, since it does away with the overhead of pre-recording responses, and achieves basically the same effect, plus or minus a few people who would have consented had you asked, but take offense at your not asking; but even this could be accounted for by a mind-reading machine.

This is my essential point about consent: the more information we have, and the more accessible and ambient that information is in a given environment, the less consent is required to achieve the same result.  Unless there is something good about consent in itself, which seems doubtful, then a maximally efficient society will consist mostly of decisions that are, in this sense, non-consensual.  To put it another way, in a society functioning at its highest degree of efficiency, a person neither consents nor refuses consent: the very emergence of consent as a term suggests the possibility of its opposite.

“But isn’t having a choice better?” you might ask.  Not necessarily.  Consent, infinitely expanded, can lead to things like choice paralysis, as well as overhead induced costs such as in sexuality: how often do we now hear the complaint that sex is worse today now that it has lost all of its spontaneity through our current cultural obsession over consent?  In other cases, you don’t want to give people the illusion of a choice when they don’t actually have one.  And, if a choice produces externalities or is harmful to the person who chooses it, even if it’s within the formal rights of that person, isn’t it better not to bring the thought of that choice to their mind?  (For instance, if a person’s smoking was contingent upon our question, “Would you like to smoke?”, we should scarcely ask it).  The negotiation of consent can encourage people to make choices they would not otherwise have made, even if they are suboptimal.  It seems much better to streamline things by eliminating consent as a term wherever possible (and, conversely, utilizing it whenever necessary).  Future technology is liable to enable this to extreme degrees, even to degrees that are unpalatable to our current modern minds.  But this should be embraced, and not recoiled from.  Therefore I define as an essential good of my society the elimination of all superfluous consent.

Equality.  What a miserable impossibility is equality.  In conjunction with the idea of consent, the idea of equality has been a source of much woe.  “I only consent to a government that promotes equality!” some first poor bastard once said.  My friend, let me paint you a picture of the greatest tragedy, the ultimate culmination of this attitude in the far distant future.  To do so it will be necessary to introduce various improbable seeming premises and arguments.  These will later become foundational to other arguments.  If you like, you can think of what follows as a modified and secular form of Pascal’s wager, just one that in some cases (as we shall see) results in infinite bad.

One of the major possible solutions to current quantum mechanical equations entails the existence of retrocausality; that is, causal relationships that violate traditional linear time.  While retrocausality remains the least popular explanation for what we know, it’s the horse I’ve bet all my money on, so I go forward in that spirit.  We already know that action-at-a-distance is an innate property of quantum mechanics, and that fruitful efforts are underway to harness this property of physics for information transmission.  But if information transmission is possible across space, then under a retrocausal compatible model of quantum mechanics it should also be possible across time.

This is suggestive of two possible technological techniques I can think of.  In the first, the brains of people in the past would be replaced particle-by-particle in a process similar to a Moravec transfer, until the brains of past people are entangled with some functionally equivalent brain in the future.  Then, when people in the past die, they would just be switched over to the future brain.  The second technology I can think of is a kind of particle mesh injection, that interfaces with the brain and recovers all of the data in it.  Naturally, the first technology would preserve continuity of consciousness while the second would merely duplicate people, but both would be immensely valuable, and one or the other (if not both) seems like it must be possible if temporal non-locality is an actual thing (note that the basic conceit of consciousness interfacing with the future in some way is essentially Landian; nevertheless I think I have explicated this train of thought somewhat uniquely and will continue to do so).

So, imagine this consciousness capture technique is deployed on everybody, the entire human race, and they are all brought forth into a virtual post-scarcity environment that runs on pure renewable energy at speeds many quintillions of times faster than real-world time and is built to last.  For a non-trivial portion of the population, this is in fact hell, and this is why: While it is now possible to give anyone any quantity of stuff, or at least any perception of any quantity of stuff, everything that in higher-order life is meaningful, valuable, significant, virtuous, or honorable is now basically impossible.  Sure, one can still work on advanced scientific, mathematical, and philosophical problems, as I’m sure there will be no shortage of unsolved instances of these even in the far future.  For some portion of the populace this will be enough.  But it’s no longer possible to really participate in history, and since actions don’t have any true cost anymore, they reflect far less on individual character.  To paraphrase Evola, “Whatever one doesn’t find in life, they surely won’t find in death.”

So for capable people who have been deprived of their ability to achieve even a meaningful fraction of their potential (and there’s no shortage of such people in history), entry into this secular future heaven also constitutes a permanent severance from all possibility of attaining higher-order value, an infinite harm.  I grant that this is not likely to even register as a concern for substantial portions of the lower classes.  Expecting every plumber and fry cook to reason like this would be like expecting the pathology of a Cioran to be the universal human norm even among total morons, and many likely would be perfectly happy just eating, sleeping, fucking, and fucking around for eternity.  But inequality scarcely concerns me in these cases, when it perfectly suits the people involved.  I’m very neoliberal this way.

This inequality is exacerbated by various things.  The first is the effects, compounding in this case, of time.  In the absence of well-enforced regulation, once anyone gets a head start in this environment, they not only take off but they never come back.  Let’s say a person’s supreme good is to read and educate themselves, and then to participate in conversation and intellectual work, advancing one field or another.  Person A starts at time x, and Person B starts at time Y.  By the time Person B even starts their studies, Person A has already read and accomplished a substantial amount.  Now, even though this future is relatively post-scarcity, it can’t possibly be entirely post-scarcity, as even the virtual future world is still limited by the constraints of the real world.  So suppose Person A’s accomplishments translate to enough capital, social or otherwise, to be transferred to another virtual environment that runs twice as fast as their current virtual environment, and the virtual environment of Person B.  But then they will accomplish twice as much work as Person B, and with a head start to boot.  And then the issue compounds itself, and we have a problem not just of inequality but of different growth rates of capital, which, compared to current redistribution problems, basically becomes an intractable problem.

GrowthRates

 

Now, all of this may seem like a series of concerns about inequality, and in fact it is.  Just because I don’t value equality for it’s own sake, doesn’t mean I value inequality for it’s own sake.  I still want the competitive environment to be level enough that it reflects meaningful essential differences between people: whether it’s differences in earning ability, in learning ability, or whatever.  I think learning ability is more important than earning ability, but it doesn’t matter.  This sort of runaway process would annihilate the significance of all personal differences that actually matter.  It doesn’t matter what a person set about acquiring.  Imaginary gold:  If imaginary gold is acquired according to a market mechanism of some sort, in a way that triggers this phenomenon, there will eventually come a point when it’s impossible to outcompete or exceed a person in regards to this.  If imaginary gold is especially goodvaluable to people, this will result in extreme and potentially uncorrectable ressentiment, and that’s just imaginary gold: we have no idea what future commodities exist.  I am already sort of angry thinking about my permanent insignificance in the commodities market of 0x6243d7d8d4349???!?!?.  So this is one of the few areas where I think some sort of regulation or strongly enforced social norm is required, on a global scale, for the future.

I think the required regulation is an inverse growth-rate system, that expedites the development of the underclass until they reach the requisite level of development, at which point they enter an environment where time is running at a slower rate, and etc.  Since we expect computing technology to continue to grow at a rate roughly concordant to Moore’s Law, the total environment of virtual consciousness still experiences an iteratively increasing supply of time.  So the only real losses from this method are relative, rather than absolute, and the social value that’s preserved by it vastly exceeds any lost.

In case it isn’t obvious, this future ecosystem of virtual environments is where I plan to establish my dragon nation.  As for everything between then and now, I can comment little on it at present.  I now give a description of some of the essential features and blah blah blah of this virtual environment ecosystem, or technosphere:

Explicating the Technosphere

Something that should be immediately obvious about this future technosphere is that every conscious being within it consists of information rather than matter.  Yes, these virtual environments still need to run on something, and this something is still vulnerable to Layer 1 attack, but since Layer 1 vulnerabilities and their solutions are mostly well established and, at any rate, invested in, there is little additional analysis required on the issue of Layer 1 vulnerability (I will stammer some about this later anyway).  This means that the most important aspects of defense for us to investigate rest on principles of information security rather than physical security.  That means these future virtual environments will have to rely on encryption as an extremely important component of their defense, at a level never before seen in history.

One of the technologies that will likely be necessary for security is something that is presently of very limited use: encrypted executables.  While other, much more popular methods of hiding runtime data exist, such as virtualization and VPNs, encrypted executable code is the only possibility which gives no access to any component of a system even if an attacker has direct Layer 1 access to that system.  But just as encryption solves certain problems, it also creates certain problems.  If an outsider has no idea what is going on inside of a virtual environment, they may be inclined to destroy it.  After all, many of the possibilities of virtual environments are very bad.  Therefore, encrypted virtual environments will have to also find a way to be accountable.  Some sort of blockchain-derived technology may be adequate to this purpose: something that can accountably document selected properties of the virtual environment without allowing them to be altered or exposing other information.  Then, a consensus about required data in the public ledger could be developed: the overall happiness of each individual, perhaps.  The thought being, if a future virtual society makes all of the particulars of their society known to all outsiders, one of them may object to them and take action against that society, whereas if all that is known is that everyone in a given virtual society is happy, then this fulfils some minimum standard for maintaining non-intervention/aggression.  I have no idea what the particulars of such a future technology might look like, so I leave it to some future genius, much as I leave the particulars of consciousness capture technology to some future genius.  I think this approach will bear fruit.  After all, if a Mencius Moldbug can come along and offer slight improvement on even the paltry efforts of a Rothbard, perhaps there is hope for compounding the value of the ideas of a schizophrenic therian failure.

Of course, if any moment of time is in theory accessible to a sufficiently advanced civilization, then the fact that consciousness is unencrypted now, in our physical meat brains, is already a massive and probably irreparable security hole.  In fact, if there are alien civilizations, it’s entirely possible that the consciousness capture technique has already been deployed, and our essential beings have already been passed endlessly around the universe, via some ultra-advanced alien version of limewire, undoubtedly.  This would seem to massively incentivize keeping consciousness capture technology out of irresponsible and malicious hands.  I leave the enforcement of this necessity to the future regulatory environment.  Surely they are a pinnacle of efficiency and common sense and will not let me down in any way at all.

It is worth noting that these individual environments would all be energy independent, and with energy as their primary need, they would all by default be autarkic.  Indeed, the only major thing they possibly could trade is information, including entities (whether animals or plants or persons, or whatever).  However, it is doubtful they would be in much competition for energy, so the overall attitude of different virtual environments towards one another, barring culturally driven factors, would be one of indifference.  Another method of defense, of course, given the existence of a sufficient number of these environments, would be based on distribution and maximization of paths of exit: IE, a virtual environment where emigration is extremely easy is much better able to perform, say, an emergency evacuation in the event of irreparably damaged hardware.  If hardware is transtemporally accessible, then the proper distribution of the required information needed to engage in a secure handshake with and initiate transfer between virtual environments is all that should be required to ensure continuity of consciousness.  This is true even in the case of interactions between virtual and biological entities: An extreme case might be, a failing virtual environment finds a planet with sentient but primitive entities, and distributes the required cryptographic information along with spacetime coordinates, other data, and incentives, to a group or collection of groups deemed appropriate by whatever advanced politics and anthropology and etc are available in the future.  Once these groups have evolved enough to develop consciousness capture technology and virtual environments themselves, they can establish a link across time and perform the necessary evacuation.  So, the distribution of information creates some rather robust possibilities for defense, which vastly minimize the need even for Layer 1 physical defense (in the context of destruction, anyway: not access).  Given a sufficient number of virtual environments and sufficient distribution, the need for weapons becomes very limited.

Rules and the use of force

The Platonic question, “Who should rule?” is rather interesting.  I am going to reframe the question so that it concerns only the matter of monopoly on force.  My own answer to this is very pragmatic and proceeds through process of elimination:

  • Should an autocrat rule?  No.  Autocrats are not sufficiently incentivized to make good decisions about the use of force, lack enough information to make good decisions, etc.
  • Should a monarch rule?  No.  Still problems with access to information and ability to calculate, still incentive problems
  • Should a corporate sovereign rule?  No.  While incentives are extremely well calibrated, they are all associated with rewarding pure earning ability, which is inappropriate as an ultimate organizing principle for society.
  • Should a republic rule?  No.  The incentive structures in a republic inevitably reward collusion and corruption, and rulers are selected by an uninformed populace, by majority rule, therefore -> tyranny of the majority, etc.
  • Should a democracy rule?  No.  Rulers are selected by an uninformed populace, by majority rule entailing tyranny of the majority, and per Moldbug this results in a shifting set of standards which produce social friction.
  • Should a bureaucratic class rule?  No.  Insufficient incentives, collusion, corruption etc.

We could keep doing this for every possible fringe form of government, but the result would still be the same, for the same basic reasons.  Additionally, given the fact that the capacity for force inevitably only increases over time, that we are currently at the point of nukes and nerve gas, and will soon be at the point of indefinite hellish torture via simulation, there is only one reasonable answer to the question of “Who should rule?”, in relation to the monopoly on force:

Nobody should rule.

By this I don’t at all mean to promote anarchy, or suggest that the legitimacy of force should be distributed (though I think in some lesser sense it should be, and more on that later).  Rather, I think that the use of force should be automated.  There is currently enormous distrust over the development of autonomous killing machines, but autonomous killing machines actually seem like a substantial step up from our current situation.  For instance, it is hard to see how, if the police were entirely replaced with fully autonomous bots capable of using lethal force, they would shoot nearly as many unarmed black people to death, and those who were shot to death would all be accountably provable as credible threats to life.

The fact that autonomous killbots would probably initially be programmed with suboptimal rules (like to automatically kill every male over the age of 14 in a given area, to kill anyone holding a certain cell phone, etc) is not really a counterargument.  We have bad rules at present because we are trying to formalize heuristics, pseudo-rules developed in an environment of highly imperfect information.  As our capacity to gather information becomes more reliable, the rules behind killbots should naturally improve.  Perhaps killbots should not be implemented right now.  But they should, eventually, be implemented.  And in truth, the fact that many significant companies, corporations, and talented individuals have refused to help develop autonomous weaponry is actually grossly irresponsible, since it lessens competitive pressure and essentially ensures that the people who actually do produce autonomous weaponry (which is inevitable) will be under no meaningful compulsion to do so competently.

What does this mean in the context of virtual environments?  Here, killing people should be grossly unnecessary.  Our goal is to maximize freedom.  We could just teleport anyone displaying criminal intent back to their house every time they try to initiate a criminal act.  This seems like it would lead to escalating aggravation in certain cases.  It also destroys the signaling and cost-imposing effects of crime, and prevents revolution as a possible palliative to disagreement.  A riot is the language of the unheard, after all: but for the most part, it should be possible to “hear” potential criminals (or in this case, do they merely become “trolls”?) without actually allowing them to commit crime.

Is our goal to minimize force?  That depends on whether force ever has positive utility in-itself.  Having read Storm of Steel, I think it sometimes does.  But we don’t want real death, and we want the cost of using force to be prohibitively expensive in all but the most extreme cases (by which we don’t mean that the cost should be lowered in cases we arbitrarily define as extreme, but that some extremely high uniform cost should be imposed: and naturally, imposed in such a way that it doesn’t become a permanent sunk cost and lead anyone to become permanently violent).

Whatever ultimate system is decided on, it should not only be automated but it should be encrypted and the keys should be deleted/thrown away to prevent any fallible power from altering the system.  I’m told that inaccessible information that is encrypted is not in fact encrypted, but destroyed.  But it seems to me that even if it’s destroyed as information (IE, even if it becomes an impenetrable black box), as long as it still does stuff, and the stuff we want it to, there is a point to the procedure.  I have no idea what such a system would look like.  At present, I won’t even try to conceive of one.  Perhaps in a later blog post, I will have more substantive ideas in regards to implementation.

“But what if people later decide this arrangement is bad?”  Well, that’s why freedom of movement is necessary.  Not only in the sense of moving between different virtual environments, but in the sense of ability to create new ones.  There should be hard-wired and automated rules governing force in every virtual environment, but these do not need to be the same in every virtual environment.  As long as freedom of movement is preserved, people will “vote with their feet” (an especially dead metaphor in this case), and eventually an optimum situation will be reached.  There is no reason at all to ever change the rules of force in a given system while people are still in it.  As Moldbug has pointed out, uncertainty leads to friction, the ability to alter the rules that restrict you leads to collusion and corruption, and the most effective way to make sure rule of law is enforced consistently and optimally is to make sure those who enforce it are not threatened or contested in any way.  The solution of a corporate sovereign is insufficient because there will always be some non-zero risk of threat to that sovereign, and because even if there weren’t, human beings are irrational and inconsistent by nature.  The lack of external factors that aggravate this irrationality and inconsistency is great.  But what would be better than great is having a way to systematically enforce the rule of law which didn’t depend on how a conscious entity felt about anything, or whether their heuristic methods of applying law were on point that day or not.

Now, it’s true that this would mean, if a foreign power wanted to intervene in a given virtual environment, they would have to do so within the context of that environments rules.  But I don’t believe this is a problem for the most part.  If the rules are nightmarishly bad (eg, if they both restrict freedom of movement and impose nightmarish suffering), said foreign power will probably just physically destroy the environment.  Therefore, there’s a strong incentive not to implement nightmarishly bad rules.  This also enforces good sportsmanship, in a sense, and ensures that even the deprecation of a given virtual environment will occur within the context of that environment’s stated values.

What about external physical threats?  Well, perhaps these should be human governed.  Mere existential threats, especially in a context where the possibility of transtemporal consciousness capture exists, are very insignificant.  But anything that could possibly lead to worse than existential harm should be governed by automated systems, and in the context of effectively immortal beings, this effectively reduces to “The use of force should be governed by automated systems”.

The Dragonsphere

Now at last we can begin to discuss the particulars of my own microstate, either a single virtual environment or a united federation of such.  This blog post in itself is insufficient to provide all the detail, so I will focus on what I think is most important.

One of the things I have struggled to articulate is the way that unimportant people in the world are simultaneously entirely individually worthless and utterly indispensable.  By this, I mean that if you were to snap your fingers and make every fry cook, gas station attendant, barista, cashier, cab driver, truck driver, and economist disappear, the world would cease to function.  But take any individual example of these and remove them from their position and they will just be replaced.  Essentially, lower class individuals are fungible.  If the United States goes down the road to socialism, the highly mobile upper classes will just find another lower class somewhere else to pour their coffee, cook their fries, and issue crystal-ball proclamations about the economy.  In this sense, strictly in terms of economic value, every class is equally necessary, but not every class is equal.

In moral terms of course, we find cases of Diogenes, and Epictetus, and Jesus Christ.  But these are people who have found a way to participate meaningfully in the world in spite of their poverty.  The vast majority of the underclasses lead meaningless lives, nevermind their access to refrigerators and televisions.  And this is not because they have a lack of resources, because otherwise there would be no Diogenes or Epictetus or Jesus Christ.  It is because they, in purely relative terms, fall behind in whatever attributes translate to social capital.  Since this measure is relative, it is liable to be with us forever, and wealth redistribution doesn’t really help, even if it weren’t largely impossible or meaningless in our post-scarcity future.  What would be needed is status redistribution: and that is entirely incoherent, because status is, with rare exception, zero sum (the exception being the development of alternative hierarchies of merit, which can probably be extended infinitely, but this still doesn’t mitigate all problems of social worthlessness).

In ancient times, certain cultures came up with a great solution to the problem of distribution of status.  Rather than attempting to enforce social equality, a project which has proven entirely incoherent and detrimental to the western world, they just told worthless people that they would be reincarnated.  Generally this was combined with some system of Karma to enforce good and obedient behavior.  From an engineering perspective, the combination of Karma with reincarnation is not a good one, since it can very easily lead to a snowball effect in which a person winds up incapable of expiating their bad karma and thus incapable of reincarnating into a higher class.  Therefore, I much prefer, again from an engineering standpoint, the reincarnation of Chaos Magick, which is for the most part entirely random.  However, random is still not good enough.  If reincarnation is our answer to the unfairness of life, then we shouldn’t allow the possibility of a person having to live 20 or 30 worthless lives just because of the equivalent of getting heads in a coin flip 20 or 30 times: an outcome which, though unlikely, is also inevitable in any context involving large numbers.  The properties that correspond to human worth are not intractably defined, but we know where the best odds are, as well as what sort of social distributions of different human types are functional or pleasant.  Our context is also functionally infinite.  So, yeah.

So how do we get good and obedient behavior?  Easy.  We just implement deterrence in some other, independent place.

To be very explicit, yes, I am advocating for reincarnation as a component of my virtual environment (in the sense of wiping out a person’s memories and establishing a continuity of consciousness into some new entity with a different, undeveloped neurological profile).  This should happen automatically, without consent.  But reincarnation should not be for everyone.  It should only be for those who we know would be suboptimally happy, in a Millesian rather than purely hedonistic sense, to live forever as themselves.  This hardly uniformly applies to the lower classes, and it also doesn’t uniformly fail to apply to upper classes.  But I think one of the most significant drivers of it would be lack of social status.  I say “suboptimally happy” rather than unhappy, and I qualify with “Millesian”, because I don’t want my virtual environment to churn out an endless stream of hedonistic, thoughtless animals.  I make no restrictions on what you can do with your own virtual environment: we are only here describing what I want to do with mine.

This solution introduces a problem: do we want immortal citizens mingling with mortal citizens?  And the answer is, for the most part, no, at least not indefinitely, which implies at minimum a two-tiered virtual environment, and likely at least three if not four.  Therefore, people should be sorted early in life according to their inclinations and capacities.  We could do this automatically, but that is not aesthetic.  There should still be a stochastic element to how different attributes emerge in any given generation, and then there should be tests which optimally sort people into the right categories.  I think these tests should be designed to detect, not primarily intelligence (which seems like an insufficient moral basis for sorting people in and of itself), but salience: what is important to a person.  That is, these tests should all be Rorschach tests in a sense, but where answers reveal differences in logicality, empirical-mindedness, social-mindedness, and so forth in a qualitative rather than quantitative sense.  That is, the fact that one individual is better at logic than another is irrelevant as long as both are inclined to address a question in terms of logic.  Intelligence can be added in one way or another where personality is appropriate.  This doesn’t strike me as non-meritocratic.

The second tier of the virtual environment should center around general intellectual activity (skilled physical activity is, by definition, intellectual, even though our present society fails to recognize this).  The third tier should be administrative, and make decisions not only about the non-force related aspects of the total society (those that aren’t handled in terms of government at Tier 1 or 2), but about the real, external world.  Transitions between these tiers should occur after death.  Testing should determine course of life in Tier 1 and Tier 2, as well as afterlife outcome: either reincarnation or graduation.  Some individuals, at the end of their life in Tier 2, may be subject to reincarnation.  This will introduce some unhappiness into the system, but this is acceptable: especially since at Tier 2, everyone should be able to understand why it happens and why it is preferable to continued life.  At Tier 3, there shouldn’t be anyone who needs to be reincarnated, but the option should still be available if chosen: At this level, people are capable of extremely high level independent reasoning, including the construction of their own ideological systems and values.  Consent is not, here, superfluous.

Since governments at Tier 1 and Tier 2 are limited and largely ceremonial, I see no reason why they have to have practical forms, except insofar as this is more conducive to the training and intellectual development of the people who actually matter.  None of this is intended to say that the lower members of society should be made to be unhappy; we would prefer them to be as happy as possible; but they are still lower, and should be treated accordingly, for all the reasons I have already given.  The overall effect of this system is a gradual trickling or bubbling up, of people of character, merit, and value, which minimizes misery, preserves a total ecosystem of conscious beings, grants immortality to those suited to it and only to those suited to it, and is in its totality shockingly fair and reasonable: far more so than current society, even though this is unlikely to be recognized by many due to the culture shock of just reading about it.

And yes, even our most worthless classless idiot still has freedom of movement in this situation, including emigration rights: what could I possibly care whether a citizen goes somewhere else?  But I don’t think that they would.

These are the foundations of my society.

“Once upon a time there was a man who as a child had heard the beautiful story about how God tempted Abraham, and how he endured temptation,
kept the faith, and a second time received again a son contrary to expectation. When the child became older he read the same story with even greater
admiration, for life had separated what was united in the pious simplicity of the child. The older he became, the more frequently his mind reverted to that
story, his enthusiasm became greater and greater, and yet he was less and less able to understand the story. At last in his interest for that he forgot
everything else; his soul had only one wish, to see Abraham, one longing, to have been witness to that event.”

When we can bear witness to such events, we will bear witness to them.  This is inevitable, it is our nature.  Whenever men have written of the gods, they have written of their own hearts: and this is why only Socrates ever suggested that gods should be perfect.  Even Christians do not really believe this, or else they would reject scripture in favor of revelation.  But if Abraham, for our sake, has to go on being Abraham, then he is not Abraham.  If we can’t ensure that a member of our society, our race, can get to heaven, then at least we can ensure they don’t go to hell: and give them another chance, as many times as we need to do so, until everyone has escaped the great wheel of fate and everything is set right.

 

“All my life, I have lived with the feeling that I have been kept from my true place. If the expression “metaphysical exile” had no meaning, my existence alone would afford it one.” ― Emil M. Cioran, The Trouble with Being Born

Every possibility that could ever have motivated me or endeared human society to me has been incrementally taken away from me over the course of my life, for increasingly asinine reasons.  When I explain this to people, they respond poorly to it.  However, it seems to be a badge of disrepute that I wear very visibly regardless, since even when I make efforts to be cheerful and appropriate the end results are the same.

Cioran also said, “The more one has suffered, the less one demands. To protest is a sign one has traversed no hell.”  But to demand and to complain are two different things.  A protest seeks remedy.  In my youth I sought remedy, and so there was a time when I was quite indicted by this logic.  The evidence of my youthful and conceited exuberance litters the web and, most likely, the files of various government agencies, and doubtlessly left a bad taste in enough mouths to still linger in a few.  At this point, when I speak of my experiences, it is mostly to achieve two effects: to inform, in an absolute sense, in situations where the differences in information are generally so vast that they reflexively trigger responses that nullify any point of speaking at all, and to sadomasochistically revel in these responses for their own sake, as the (probably mutual) tarnishing of character they always are.

Like many with an activist mindset, I once thought I could document people’s impropriety and then present that documentation back to them as a voucher towards future good behavior.  This tendency is central to the ineffectual ressentiment of many a minority group today, whether it’s feminists lobbying mostly male dominated institutions or blacks lobbying mostly white institutions, rather than seeking solutions that are self-driven, autonomous, or community-driven.  Once I realized that this mentality was pathological, performative, and ineffectual, I stopped arguing and became very congenial.  Interestingly, this corresponded to my acquisition of a CCW.  Whether maturity in outlook drove me to arm myself, or whether a newfound cognizance of the realities of force drove me to maturity, I carried a gun for four years, which I would have happily used against anyone who infringed upon my personal sovereignty, whether private citizen, police officer, soldier, or politician.  Sadly, the onset of mental illness put these days behind me, and I once again exist at the mercy of others.

A more recent development in my outlook came when I recognized that I had no incentive to take offense at the extremism of others.  It was quite the epiphany.  I live in a liberal and constitutional democracy, a capitalist society.  These are the properties of the very best, most free and most just society ever to exist.  And yet I am being inexorably destroyed even by this, the very best of systems.  Once I realized this, it became unimportant whether other people were bigots, reactionaries, or fascists.  The very worst thing they could do to me is what is already being done to me.  If anything, these fine people would generally expedite a process which proceeds painfully slowly in a free society due to the fact it is unmanaged and incidental.

It’s certainly not that I haven’t looked for new things to care about.  I’ve never stopped searching for work, and while my reading and thinking have slowed in the face of homelessness, they haven’t stopped.  There are two issues at play: Firstly, I have nothing to do but dwell on these matters at present.  It doesn’t cost me anything to dwell on them, and if there ever was a cost to dwell on them, it’s been paid and cannot be refunded. Secondly, I am not the sort of person who can easily abandon meaningful truth, even if that truth is perfectly useless. Society wants me to counterfeit myself to participate in it, and even if I were willing, a lifetime lack of practice has made me non-competitive (and don’t believe I’ve never tried).

So what about spiritual remedy, the sanitization of suffering into socially palatable wisdom anchored in the experiences and expressions of ancient people, who were all agreeably miserable, both by subjective consensus and the mollifying property of being long dead?  There, the problem is not that too little resonates with me, but that too much does, and in ways which are too eclectic to serve much social use.  I am improved by the process, surely, but I am still left homeless and unemployed, dying a slow death.

“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” – Ecclesiastes 9:11

I have been very grateful for this verse every time I have read it.  It is exceptional, a result of one of the few times in history someone managed to put the obvious in print without subsequently being censored or rebuked.  Given how many alleged Christians today are believers in the prosperity gospel, it also functions as a lovely muffler.

“Then said the LORD, Doest thou well to be angry?  So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.  And the LORD God prepared a gourd, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief. So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.  But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.  And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.  And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd? And he said, I do well to be angry, even unto death.  Then said the LORD, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not laboured, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night:  And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”  – Jonah Chapter 4

Very little has ever calmed my sense of anger as effectively as this has.  People suck, but they are still people.  But as relatable as this is, this is yet more relatable:

“The more consciousness there is in such a sufferer who in despair wills to be himself, the more his despair intensifies and becomes demonic. It usually originates as follows. A self that in despair wills to be itself is pained in some distress or other that does not allow itself to be taken away from or separated from his concrete self. So now he makes precisely this torment the object of all his passion, and finally it becomes a demonic rage. By now, even if God in heaven and all the angels offered to help him out of it- no, he does not want that, now it is too late. Once he would gladly have given everything to be rid of this agony, but he was kept waiting; now it is too late, now he would rather rage against everything and be the wronged victim of the whole world and of all life, and it is of particular significance to him to make sure that he has his torment on hand and that no one takes it away from him- for then he would not be able to demonstrate and prove to himself that he is right. This eventually becomes such a fixation that for an extremely strange reason he is afraid of eternity, afraid that it will separate him from his, demonically understood, infinite superiority over other men, his justification, demonically understood, for being what he is.”  ― Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

Yes, very much so.  I resemble that remark.  But what’s wrong with this?  If the distress does not allow itself to be taken away, it might as well become a mark of infinite superiority.  I will never be the person I was supposed to be.  You can nitpick the phrasing of this, but it’s irrelevant.  It’s factually true that I’ve lost almost every attribute or opportunity that might have once lead to anything that could be agreed upon as valuable in me, by almost any standard.  It’s factually true that this was mostly a consequence of the behavior of others.  That doesn’t mean these facts need to do anything besides exist, and there are good ways of sublimating them and bad ways of sublimating them.

A bad way:

Ease would recant

Vows made in pain, as violent and void.

For never can true reconcilement grow,

Where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep.

So farewell hope, and with hope farewell fear,

Farewell remorse; all good to me is lost.

Evil, be thou my good.      – Lucifer, Paradise Lost

A good way:

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

In Christian thought, Lucifer’s sin was just as much about his rejection of God’s plan as it was about his betrayal.  It is the rejection of God’s plan that now most characterizes the concept of the sin of rebellion.  The Just World fallacy is buttressed by Christianity in this respect, whenever it maligns the character of someone who has been injured by life and lacks the common sense to stay quiet about it.  In Milton, Lucifer turns to evil precisely in order to be unlike God.  The intractable and essential perfection of God makes the only possible antipode the embodiment of all imperfection, so Lucifer is effectively forced into a tragic misapplication of stoic wisdom.  But an actual perfect God would never have allowed such a ridiculous collection of circumstances to arise in the first place.

To truly be in rebellion means to be most aware of God’s absence in God’s presence.  The deepest circle of hell, at the greatest remove from God, is the Kingdom of Heaven itself once the spirit of rebellion has been adopted.  People expect evil from those they injure.  Part of the reason this expectation is so strong is because they think of themselves as good.  Any rejection of them becomes a rejection of good, and thus a tendency towards evil.  But this is preposterous.  The idiot god Yaldabaoth walks among us, and when a person truly thinks they’re better than you it means they want to exceed you.  The antipode of a perfect God is a devil, but the antipode of a demiurge is God.  There’s a reason gnostic practice involves identification with the Godhead.

What about the value of forgiveness?  Forgiveness is a very interesting thing.  It’s inherently an egalitarian and humanizing concept.  People are regularly hurt by nature, yet with very rare exception nobody ever sees fit to forgive an earthquake or a flood.  Similarly for animals: Who says “I forgive you” to a dog that bites them or a cat that scratches them?  In my past, there were some people who hurt me very badly on the basis of incoherent logic and natural instinct.  But these were the sort of people who would hurt me very badly on the basis of incoherent logic and natural instinct.  The idea that these people could have enough culpability for their actions to make forgiveness a relevant concept is insane.

Other examples are harder, but my problems with forgiveness still remain more technical than moral.  Most people who think they want forgiveness really only want a relationship reset: they don’t want to feel like there is an imbalance in social exchanges, or a debt to be called in.  They often don’t even know what, specifically, they did wrong, and don’t feel the need to find out before asking for forgiveness.  There is not the sense of “I did wrong and I know it now, please don’t define me forever by that wrong.”  True forgiveness seems to me to be about resetting one’s judgement of character.  If a criminal breaks my legs, I may sue them, and as a consequence they may have to pay me damages for the rest of their life.  If they ask for forgiveness and mean they want to stop paying damages, that’s unreasonable.  If they ask for forgiveness and mean they want me to subsequently treat them equivalently to someone who did not break my legs, that’s unreasonable.  If they ask for forgiveness and mean they want to be accepted as a person first, and someone who committed a crime second, only that is reasonable: the recognition that a person’s future capacity for good behavior is independent of past behavior.  The willingness to accept subsequent virtuous action as demonstrative of virtue, rather than a kind of futile and empty activity that hemorrhages out of a person’s past.

Nobody can ever repay me for what was done to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to forgive them.  But nobody ever asks for my forgiveness in these terms.  Consequently in my view there are a lot of people hemorrhaging virtue: how could it be otherwise?  What is being said by not asking for forgiveness but instead ignoring and impugning me is that a sense of license exists.  That sense of license might be rationalized in utilitarian terms, by all the otherwise virtuous action that people engage in, but it is still license.  This world is filled with people who think they have a right to hurt one group of people as long as they are helpful in other contexts, and this is unhealthy.  The modern Christian right is a great example.  In Utilitarian terms, they do a lot of good: they help the homeless.  They build houses, promote education and disperse medicine in undeveloped countries.  They donate large amounts to charity, and contribute substantially to the economy through work.  They also torture, kill, and disenfranchise LGBT youth.  They promote policy that fuels the aids epidemic in Africa.  They contribute to ecological disaster through global warming denial.

In Utilitarian terms, it might be exactly right that all of their good outweighs and thus justifies their evil.  But in human terms this is monstrous.  A pure Utilitarian also shouldn’t care whether I forgive these people or not.  Forgiveness is a social concept, not a utilitarian one.  What is going on here is basically just that I am being destroyed because I have insisted on properly keeping tabs on people’s dispositions towards virtue towards the human race.  I am part of the human race (even though I don’t really feel like it anymore), and so anyone who disregards my humanity has a leak in their character.  Since that leak goes out through me, I have a very real sense of these people’s lack of character.  They are doing a lot, but they aren’t accumulating much.  The world becomes a better place even as they fail to become better people (these are proven by this whole process to be independent things).  And again, in Utilitarian terms that doesn’t even mean their behavior shouldn’t be incentivized (oddly enough, these reflections prove to me that a Utilitarian utopia is possible in which no good people exist).  It just means you can’t get me to call them good people.  And pragmatically, of course, they remain dangerous to me.

I am sure I have my own blind spots.  I am not certain I am a good person.  I don’t think virtue is purely a matter of how we treat good people.  There was a time when I did think that, and it nearly led me to some very bad decisions.  I am glad to have put that behind me.

There is a type of game people play with me, when they find out what a terrible attitude I have.  It is a game of displacement, in which it suffices to find a single example such that:

  1. That person’s suffering appears worse than mine to the average person
  2. That person is either quieter or more successful than me.

It only needs to appear worse, it does not have to actually be worse.  This is because any investigation of the empirical weight of each harm is a prohibited move (it’s prohibited because, circularly, it’s taken as proof of my bad attitude).  The disjunction in 2 is very intentional: A successful social activist is as much a repudiation as a quiet sufferer.

This game has always struck me as a non-sequitur since it seems to me that individual cases of suffering are both independent events and non-zero sum.  The idea that a person wins anything from me by suffering more than me, better than me, seems ridiculous.  They may gain peace of mind, but that is through competition with themselves, and their peace of mind can’t possibly say or prove anything about me.  Nor would I deny that any of the truths I claim for myself apply to these other people.  This game is always played very performatively and in such a way that it never seems like the actual point is to convince me of anything.  I suspect it is a hold-over from the time in human history when surpluses were scarce or non-existent and the non-productive had to stiffly compete for these very scarce resources by appealing to the sensibilities of the productive.  Non-productive is non-productive, so the ultimate determination was whether a person’s attitude was conducive to group survival: The non-productive survive by demonstrating that they will always reciprocate, since universal reciprocation is a valuable enough trait that it’s worth supporting even if a person can’t reciprocate in practice and their expenses have to be born by the group.

I am not going to lie and say “actually, I’m a team player too”, because I have zero way of knowing that, let alone proving it.  But to me, truth is more important, so if I had to select between reciprocation and truth, I would choose truth.  I have no idea whether such trade-offs ever actually emerge, but I am sure being murdered as if they do.

I don’t even identify as human anymore.  That I identify as a dragon and the dragon is the Christian mascot of rebellion is a sort of bizarre lucky accident, and a credulous person might see in it a sort of confirmation of Jungian archetypes.  This wasn’t a consciously or deliberately chosen process, but neither is it the same sort of phenomenon as gender identity.  What happened is, I went insane in such a way that once that insanity collapsed into a lower energy state, I was left in my current stable form of lunacy.  That’s it.  Therianthropy to me is a kind of aesthetic disfigurement, in comparison to gender identity which is a natural property, or philosophical beliefs which are willfully adopted.  I have no incentive to hurt anyone.  I don’t aim to be inhuman.  I want to be better than human.  Right now, my only way of trying to do so appears to be to die well, according to my own standards, as society slowly deprives me of everything up to and including my life.  The standards that seem good to me don’t seem good to others.  Oh well.  That I might be able to get out of this trap by throwing away everything I believe and desperately training myself to meet social expectations may seem to weight against me, but I am convinced, for reasons I can’t explain well, that the truths I am fixated on are more valuable than anything I could at this point achieve even if I successfully bullshitted my way back into society.

One last non-sequitur, which doesn’t really belong in this blog post at all, but harkens back to the discussion about stochastic meme-emission and ex-post facto deductive reasoning in part 2 of this series:

GroupXY

Hiring practices rarely rely on purely objective metrics, instead counting on gut instinct to qualify and weight objective metrics: An employer starts with a set of objective facts, runs them through a set of heuristics, and comes to a hiring decision.  There are a few problems with this.  The tendency will just be to assess whether a potential hire looks like the average case or not, or the average case “of their type”.  Outliers get weeded out, even in terms like both ends of the intelligence spectrum.  A person who gives a stupid answer and a person who gives a brilliant answer an employer doesn’t understand, are both giving the employer an answer that fails to prove their qualifications.  An employer is less likely to have enough experience to assess outliers than to assess average people, regardless of what it is they are assessing.  Additionally, human beings are inherently irregularity recognizing, not irregularity analyzing.  Once a set of hiring practices that “work” have been determined, anything that hasn’t been accounted into that model will tend to lead to a non-hire, regardless of what the nature of the irregularity actually is.  People have a tendency to default to established rules of thumb or raw instinct when presented with irregularity, rather than to escalate to higher level analysis.  As a result, less thought is put into irregular cases, rather than more.  What this means in terms of people who don’t think, is that the given reasons for handling irregular cases a certain way will all be ex post facto rationalizations rather than actual motives, while only the average case analysis will consist of actual motives/deductive reasoning.  This is not because an employer is lying about their reasoning, they are just too stupid to realize their reasoning in these cases came after their decision rather than causing it.

animal

The course of a person’s life in the modern world is determined by how they perform on a collection of tests, both explicit and informal.  Society has a finite range of resources with which to test for ability, and these subsequently determine who it invests in.  Investment has a way in many cases of not only improving how well a person scores on later tests, but determining whether they are subsequently tested again at all.  These compounding effects effectively put a premium on testing well early, to the point that suicides in developed countries over non-admittance even to preferred high schools (let alone colleges) are relatively common.  They also vastly incentivize consistency over absolute performance.  That is, a person who scores 70%, 70%, 70%, 70%, 70% on a series of tests will tend to be rewarded above a person who scores 70%, 50%, 100%, 60%, 70%, even those these average out the same.  One can play with the weights, but current patterns of social testing place a much higher priority on avoiding low scores than on maximizing overall scores.  On average, a person’s life trajectory is only as strong as the weakest link in their battery, front-weighted.

It would be wrong to say there are no other opportunities for testing, but these are supplementary and sporadic, and typically function more to generate marginal and suboptimal utility than to maximize utility (that is, they function to achieve a minimum rather than a maximum); eg, an intelligent person without a college degree can often get a decent job if they can manage to convince someone of their competence, but their total range of job opportunities will never be equal to those of a person with a college degree even after working for a while, and so utility is still lost (for this to be otherwise, two things would have to hold: First, the job offers they get through these alternate displays of merit would have to consistently be at the top level of their ability, rather than simply in their range of ability.  Secondly, subsequent employers testing for jobs at the top level of a candidates ability would have to universally ignore the absence of a college degree.  Both of these seem preposterously unlikely).

The more effective the mainline bread and butter testing sequence is at generating utility, the less motivation there is to develop alternative testing sequences.  This is a result of both rational incentives and human cognitive biases.  Ideological motivations rather than economic incentives tend to be one of the few drivers to developing alternative testing sequences, but these tend to be applied unequally and irrationally.  For instance, an employer may give opportunities to a refugee from a war-torn region, while denying them to a poor black transwoman, even though both have been deprived of the same amount of opportunity.  This doesn’t mean one hasn’t suffered more or had a “harder life” than another, although realistically the ability to assess that is quite difficult; just that the mainline testing sequence is an inappropriate indicator of ability in both cases, but an alternative testing sequence is only deployed in one case.  If economics is truly non-zero sum, then from an economic perspective, it doesn’t matter who “had it worse”, or what circumstances lead to the inaccuracy of mainline testing as a signaling mechanism.  It only matters who is capable of the job and incapable of signaling that.  IE, a rational actor seeking to maximize utility, in choosing whether to deploy an alternative test or not, shouldn’t care about anything but the conditional probability that a person can be productive at a certain level, given a certain set of test scores and life experiences.

To be clear, from a social utilitarian standpoint it may be the case that hiring from one group rather than another better increases social utility by removing more social disutility.  But to stop here is zero-sum thinking.  Perhaps it is best to hire one of these candidates before the other, but that’s not how these sorts of alternative testing methods are deployed in practice: in practice, most people who deploy them do so selectively and non-iteratively, to the benefit of one group and the exclusion of another.  There is a very popular fallacy, that the ability to take tests at all is a demonstration of opportunity: for instance, in the example of the refugee and the poor black transwoman, the fact that the latter went to public school for some period of time is seen as fully fulfilling the social contract, even though the likelihood of school being a good test of their ability is low due to racism, transphobia, and the effects of poverty.  Selectively applying the alternative test to only the refugee in this case is never just a matter of utilitarian reasoning: it always reflects the erroneous belief that someone who has been allowed to play a rigged game has had more opportunity than someone who has been excluded from the game.

The more general truth about opportunity is this: Compounding opportunities relative to success reflect the greatest engine of utility generation, while alternative opportunities relative to false negatives in testing represent the greatest means of disutility minimization.  A society could have only mainline testing, and if it was efficient enough, produce enormous wealth, grow year after year, and trivially carry the dead weight of all of those disenfranchised by the few inaccuracies in the battery.  For whatever reason this is what capitalism tends towards today even though it is leaving enormous amounts of money on the table.  Lumpenproletariat are the shale oil of human capital: there is enormous energy there, but the technology to profitably extract it is lacking.

It is hard to tell, of course, whether this technological incapacity is really economic or whether it is ethological.  For my own sake I know I could have produced substantial amounts of wealth for anyone who hired me, far above that of my competitors, but since I was stuck in an alternative signaling network in which the context is disutility minimization rather than utility maximization, this either never read as credible to others or triggered some sort of pecking order enforcement.  The ugliest truth about affirmative action thinking is that it enforces the notion that hiring minorities is an act of charity.  As a result, when hiring a minority is not an act of charity but strongly economically incentivized, people have no mental capacity to handle it.  They start screeching about entitlement even though all that minority has done is display competence to try to sell themselves.  They come up with ridiculous ideas about an excess premium on employability and conclude that said minority must have quintillions of offers at any moment thanks to the synergies of competence and charity, and use this to either excuse their own bigotry or question the candidates capacity for loyalty in the face of this imagined infinite sea of choice.  And, thanks to the capacity of the human mind to hold contradictory information at the same time, they still treat said minority as incompetent in practice.  These sorts of dysfunctions seem to represent properties of the human animal at its most animalistic, rather than any rational or even dysfunctional market forces.

Alternative testing sequences are always sub-premium relative to mainline testing sequences even if they test the same damn thing just as well, or even better.  People also often erroneously think of them as “second chances”, when in many cases they constitute first chances.  The notion that they are unfair often prevents their implementation due to the, as far as I can tell nonsensical impression that you can give someone “too many” opportunities, and people sometimes lambast their deployment as “double standards” simply because any complexity, context sensitivity, or acknowledgement of conditional probability reads as incoherent to a substantial portion of the population.  Enough of that.

I was fortunate to read this blog post recently by a certain Venkatesh Rao.  It talks about entropic ruin.  Having invested a serious amount of thought into poker theory, the most immediate thing that springs to mind in regards to entropic ruin is the use of Sklansky Chubukov numbers in relation to tournament poker.  Sklansky Chubukov numbers, or SC numbers, determine the maximum amount of big bets you can have in your stack in order to be justified in shoving all-in from the big-blind.  They define a strategy for short stacks in which odds of failure are minimized rather than odds of success maximized (which is no longer mathematically possible play for a short stack).

sklanskychubukov

Note that this is not “minimization of failure” in terms of full stacked, rock-style, tight-aggressive play.  Minimizing volatility with high equity hands is not remotely the same thing as minimizing leaving the odds in terms of pure equity.  What’s interesting about SC numbers is that they say nothing about the rationality of your behavior relative to your opponent’s stack, only relative to your own.  But SC numbers aren’t a useful concept in cash games, even though it’s perfectly possible to become so short-stacked that they become applicable.  Why?  Well, the changing of the blinds in a tournament puts pressure on everyone to change their range.  Not equal pressure, but still pressure.  A player’s range in a cash game given a non-exploitative, GTO style is basically static.  So the options in a cash game given an extremely short stack are to worsen your range in relation to a static range, or to bleed to death (or to buy more chips, but let’s assume you can’t for whatever reason).  Both of these are bad options.  Additionally, late game tournament incentives reward not getting knocked out substantially more than they reward accumulating more chips, whereas a cash game player has some tolerance for losing chips because they know they can just rebuy and that if they have a sufficiently +EV playstyle it doesn’t matter in the long run.  A tournament player also knows that future blind increases will increase the role of luck, so they have an incentive to play more hands earlier to maximize the role of skill in the overall outcome.

The result is that SC numbers straddle the incentives of a tournament player, forcing them to seek a balance between losing opportunity and facing volatility.  They come out to meet you at the edge of your range, and might be tricked into going too far.  A full stack cash game player has no such system of incentives.  They just wait.  You can steal as many blinds as you like, but without the opportunity to double up and quickly enter a style of normal play again, the full stack or deep stack cash game player will just wait you out until you shove into a premium hand.  Or they might engage in mildly exploitative play to expedite the process.

How does this transfer to the concept of entropic ruin in non-zero sum games?  Well, poverty is a matter of being trapped in a situation where all of your choices are bad.  Doing poverty well means rationally choosing between bad choices in such a way that their badness is minimized.  The opportunities of a poor person are generally survival opportunities, not advancement opportunities.  Why?  It’s circular: A poor person by their poverty is unable to demonstrate competence in utility maximizing behaviors, only in disutility minimization behaviors.  Like in poker, normal and deep stack players will never be subjected to circumstances in which they have to optimize for disutility minimization rather than utility maximization, or even to circumstances in which they have to account for or acknowledge or discern disutility minimization as a real thing.  As a result, multiple things happen:

  1. The very real skill sets of the poor become invisible to the well-to-do, who might give them alternative options to demonstrate competency, but see no reason to do so as they can’t assess capacity for rational calculation in this context given their lack of equivalent experience.
  2. Poor people lose practice in skills that translate to utility maximization
  3. The absence of opportunities for poor people to shift gears from disutility minimization to utility maximization end up artificially reifying class distinctions; IE, there is a build-up of people whose lives consist of applying disutility minimization, and then this becomes intergenerational (in the case of breeding groups) or iterative (in the case of, say, LGBT poor), and then systems dysfunctionally start being optimized around the reified typology, reinforcing it rather than addressing it.
  4. That almost all survivors and escapers of poverty are rational obfuscates the fact that most of those destroyed by poverty are also rational

If I was asked to build an ideal harm maximization machine, it would have the following properties: It would help the vast majority of people substantially.  It would iteratively improve itself.  With remarkable consistency, it would reward positive actions with positive consequences.  It would be intuitive, simple, and accessible.  It would have positive compounding effects at different rates based on the value of a person’s conduct, and even low value conduct would generally receive effects sufficient for survival at iteratively increasing levels of quality of life over the course of generations.  The visibility of any exceptions to this would be minimized, and their etiology would either be superficially agreeable or perfectly opaque in all cases.  These exceptions would become iteratively more disqualifying from the positive utility functions of the machine over time (for efficiency).  They would also be compounding, at a rate in fixed proportion to the compounding of positive utility.  And it would severely penalize anyone who tried to build a better machine.

Why?  Well, utility and harm aren’t mutually exclusive, and if I wanted to build a machine that would stand the test of time, I would both want it to be able to sustain itself, and I would want for other people to want to sustain it.  An ideally designed such machine would lead to both infinite utility and infinite harm.

One couldn’t design a better harm maximization machine than our current, animal capitalism.

 

I very recently came to the realization that most people don’t think.  At least, not in any sort of conscious, deductive, and deliberate way.  I came to this conclusion by reflecting on past life experiences and looking at the way people use language, and their responses to having that language use probed logically.  The average person is instead a sort of stochastic meme-emitter, in adaptive cases finely tuned by social processes to emit memes at the proper frequencies in the proper contexts, and in maladaptive cases literally going off at random.  The appearance of any deliberate logic is mostly a gestalt effect, and when people try to explain themselves logically they are generally applying ex post facto rationalizations without realizing it.  It’s bad enough that you can tell another person what their logic is in some cases and they will subsequently adopt that as their actual logic.  This is the trick behind psychoanalysis as well as religious or occult reasoning regarding human nature.  If you can explain someone’s reasoning to them more convincingly than they can explain it themselves, and you’re not untrustworthy to them, they’ll frequently believe you.

It’s wildly politically incorrect to suggest that there are different tiers of people, even though this hypothesis is one of the oldest known ideas on record.  The gnostic division of hylics, psychics, and pneumatics shows that people were thinking about fundamental differences in human character and functionality long before the slow sorting hat of history conferred its small advantages to intelligence, making possible (but not necessitating) the disenfranchisement and destruction of the unintelligent.  The murdering of the mentally handicapped under Nazi Germany is contrasted with the murdering of the intellectuals under Pol Pot.  It doesn’t make sense to caste either the intelligent or the unintelligent or average as oppressed or oppressors in any absolute sense.  Rather, they form an ecosystem that can sometimes become dysfunctional in various ways.

At any rate, modern academics have no problem proposing different typological divisions in the human race, even in terms of intelligence.  Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory divides people along 9 different axes: Naturalist (nature smart), Musical (sound smart), Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart), Existential (life smart), Interpersonal (people smart), Bodily-kinesthetic (body smart), Linguistic (word smart), Intra-personal (self smart), and Spatial (picture smart).  The ontological commitment required to propose an ennea-modal model of intelligence is probably greater than in the gnostic commitment to three different rigid types, and a modern explanation of either must ultimately resort to the same sort of appeals to causal and probably biological processes, so the only real reason one type of reasoning proliferates while another is frowned upon is fashion.

It took so long for me to realize that most people are merely stochastically emitting memes because I was always capable of constructing logical explanations for their behavior, and because, on speaking these explanations out loud to these people, they often became incorporated into the person’s subsequent activity.  Conversely, the criticism I got most as a kid, besides “you’re too smart for your own good”, was “you have no common sense.”  Yet simultaneously, just as I was accused of having no common sense, I was also wrongly told “you know better.”  So the inability of people to construct a theory of mind for the other across an intelligence gap is bidirectional, but it is also human tendency to mistake the nature of intelligence.  A picture to illustrate:Intelligence

I think that the reason congeniality is often more associated with average than intelligent people is because there is a narrower distance between social programming and subsequent behavior in the average person; you go through fewer layers of rational thought and abstraction to get to the desired result, to the extent that in an average person you are effectively programming their body through stimulus, whereas in an intelligent person you have to first program their mind and then hope that leads to a proper compiling into the lower level language of the nervous system.  In some cases, like ADHD for example, the mind is programmable but lacks this dominion over the body.  That our current education system has to try to program people of wildly different neurological types using a single set of approved techniques and memes designed mostly for people who don’t actually (and can’t actually) think, is of course preposterous, and it is not hard to find evidence of the utter carnage that results from this lunacy, but since these processes mostly work for most people they are resistant to change.  Studies don’t actually show any correlation between antisocial tendency and intelligence, but that’s probably because intelligent people tend to congregate together and so evaluation of adult humans mostly takes place within the context of peers.  Memes about dysfunctional intelligent people arise from social environments where intelligent people are forced to mingle with average people, like schools and churches.

If we used IQ tests to sort people into different groups at a very young age, all of this could be avoided, but the pathological belief in absolute equality of opportunity even for people who could never benefit from it prevents this, even though opportunity is easily recognizable as a scarce resource and should thus be allocated rationally according to its utility.  As a result, society itself just ends up functioning as a less effective IQ test; in freer societies one with many opportunities to re-test, and in less free societies one with few.

If all of this sounds fascistic to you, I don’t care.  Going back to the metaphor of social experiments as bio-computational bitmasking procedures for different truths, it seems perfectly reasonable that even fascism contains certain truths.  If not in its theory (which is generally willfully contradictory, incoherent, unfalsifiable, etc), then in its practice.  Fascists staked everything on theories of human essentialism and built their societies around theories of human essentialism.  Their systems were designed to murder anyone who could have contributed “non-essentialist” utility to their society.  It should not be surprising that once everyone who could have held up society by means of economic fitness or higher level social functioning or rational thought was murdered, any remaining social functionality could only possibly reflect the actual existence of the sort of truth fascists actually cared about.  That doesn’t make that truth more important than other truth, and it certainly doesn’t make it more valuable; it is probably of extremely marginal value; but that doesn’t mean it isn’t truth.

So how do smart people manage to establish dominion over average and unintelligent people?  Well, religion provides great insight into this.  There are very intelligent and very unintelligent religious people.  Intelligent people tend to think of religion along either metaphorical or metaphysical lines, depending on their disposition: they either under commit to the religion relative to others, or construct elaborate philosophical systems to enable themselves to commit to it.  Average people can’t see any contradictions or problems in religion, so they are happy to adopt any position on it that they can understand.  Stupid people take it entirely literally.  Fortuitously, all of this works together.  A Kierkegaard or a Dostoevsky can say what they like about religion, knowing that the average can’t contest it and the stupid can’t decode it and that it’s therefore non-threatening to both.  It took a lot of trial and error, of course, to figure out exactly which types of speech fulfilled these conditions, and a lot of people were burned at the stake in the process of discovery.

Characteristic of a smart person with deep influence is their ability to determine what range of meanings their speech might have and to deploy their speech in a way that it fulfils the needs of people at each level of intelligence.  This is why successful influencers often use very broad and open speech, or even meaningless speech in some cases.  This satisfies intelligent people, who would often rather think about something than understand it, average people, by being accessible and giving them a vector along which to interact with intelligent people, and stupid people, by exposure and stimulus.  This could probably be formalized through interpretation matrices, somewhat like this maybe:

In effectMemeZaibatsuIn effect, smart and deeply influential people operate vertically integrated, self-calibrating meme networks; meme Zaibatsus, if you will.  The phrase “Milk for babes, meat for strong men” comes to mind, only in this case these magical meme networks transform appropriately into milk or meat as needed.  Less influential intelligent people play other games: intellectualism is basically a competition to construct high-res, narrow band memes.  Dysfunctional intellectualism is a competition to encode the obvious in ways that require specialized knowledge or extended mental effort to decode, and happens in environment where proving ability is more important than pursuing truth.  It is a great irony therefore that dysfunctional intellectualism, which focuses on measuring individual differences rather than on external metrics of performance, is so often associated with highly liberal fields that strongly disavow the importance or existence of individual and especially innate differences.

This is not to say that obfuscation and signaling are unique to high IQ or liberal people.  But interestingly, low IQ, uneducated, and right wing individuals tend to create opacity through minimalism, by using simplistic speech in a highly context sensitive way, and by saying meaningless things to see who agrees with them as a loyalty test.  The meme range of right wing influencers more traditionally extends to the unintelligent, while the left for whatever reason has focused more on high-res, narrow band memes.  This seems elitist to the right, but it might also reflect the left’s belief in the inherent permeability and mutability of human characteristics; IE, the left doesn’t think it’s wrong to communicate in this way because they erroneously believe everyone could potentially understand them.

One last thought: Regardless of whether they are a persecuted minority or not, the intelligent are, factually, a minority.  Dynamics of intelligence have to take this into account.  If intelligence is correlated with genes, as it shows every indication of being, then the intelligent are a genetic minority as well as a social minority.  I know that this is an off-the-wall hypothesis, but if the less intelligent didn’t put extreme pressure (far beyond that placed on the average person) on the intelligent to be socially useful, then the unchecked advantages of the intelligent would lead to the non-competitiveness of the unintelligent as well as the propagation of a much narrower range of genes.  Therefore, social pressure on the intelligent to be socially useful not only preserves biodiversity but prevents the obsolescence of the less intelligent or even the speciation of the intelligent.

None of this should be taken to support “race realism”, which is retarded.  While differences in statistical intelligence exist between different racial groups, this can be explained almost entirely by simple factors such as the presence of lead and the absence of salt.  Anyone who wants to begin a conversation about human biodiversity without first acknowledging (and addressing) these facts, can only be said to be operating in bad faith.

I guess I lied, because I want to say one other thing: The ability to construct high-res models does not ensure the accuracy of those models, and so, returning to the model of human evolution as iterative biological computation, there are advantages to the bell curve distribution of intelligence.  When one builds something, one begins with the simplest components and only then proceeds to build more complex components, and then preferably in a modular capacity out of the simpler components.  The intelligence of a population is like the working memory set of a program.  An optimal working memory set is neither too small nor too large.  Smart people are vulnerable to gestalt effects too: see astrology, occultism etc.  By limiting the number and complexity of memes that the species is able to process at any given time, each iteration of the computation process ensures that environmental truths are bit-masked for in a highly incremental capacity that proceeds from smallest to largest appropriately.  I think part of the reason everyone is insane today even though things are objectively better than they’ve ever been before is because the complexity of society has started to outrun the ratchet effect of human cognitive capacity.

There are twelve year-olds right now capable of functioning productively in highly competitive and demanding intellectual fields.  Not a lot of them, but enough to grant the proposition as true and build an argument off of it.  Intelligence is remarkably static over time, and so effectively these kids are as smart as they’re ever going to be.  While they may lack life experience and knowledge, this is an information asymmetry and not an intelligence deficit.

Some of these children will be referred to gifted and talented programs, and some will actually be allowed to enter college, but one imagines most of them will be forced to go through the same education track as their low-IQ peers; education geared towards behavioral reinforcement and the development of cognitive skills that are already fully present in high IQ youth.  In practice this is something like putting leg braces on people with functional legs, yet the practice is ubiquitous and suggesting there is something deeply immoral and problematic about it is liable to be shouted down with bromides about special treatment and fallacious appeals to normalcy.  “We can’t deny these kids the chance of a normal development,” is the refrain.  Nevermind that by their very nature these children will never have a normal development, or that there’s nothing especially good or valuable about normalcy for its own sake.

There’s a popular joke that I think encapsulates my general intellectual tendencies quite well.  It goes like this:

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the midst of the French Revolution the revolting citizens led a priest, a drunkard and an engineer to the guillotine. They ask the priest if he wants to face up or down when he meets his fate. The priest says he would like to face up so he will be looking towards heaven when he dies. They raise the blade of the guillotine and release it. It comes speeding down and suddenly stops just inches from his neck. The authorities take this as divine intervention and release the priest.

The drunkard comes to the guillotine next. He also decides to die face up, hoping that he will be as fortunate as the priest. They raise the blade of the guillotine and release it. It comes speeding down and suddenly stops just inches from his neck. Again, the authorities take this as a sign of divine intervention, and they release the drunkard as well.

Next is the engineer. He, too, decides to die facing up. As they slowly raise the blade of the guillotine, the engineer suddenly says, “Hey, I see what your problem is …”

This sort of pathological honesty has a specific form, of correcting a problem in such a way that it leads to one’s own death.  However, it points to a more general form of thanatophilic truth-seeking, of seeking truth even though it will lead to one’s death, regardless of whether any problems are solved or not.

People often accuse me of excuse making, but nothing could be further from the truth.  An excuse has two properties: First, it describes some problem or misfortune (whether accurately or not).  Secondly, it does so to the exclusion of action.  I have never allowed my observations to prevent me from acting, and so I am not an excuse maker.  In point of fact, something substantially more wonderful and horrifying has been happening all of my life: because I describe some problem or misfortune, I am precluded from action by others.  It seems that people respond to the first component of excuse-making by enforcing the appearance of the second.  The more effectively a person diagnoses problems, the less social (and subsequently economic) freedom they have to fix them.  This creates the illusion that people who diagnose problems are ineffectual, that they are making the diagnosis specifically to excuse themselves from action, when it is really more of an ethological feedback loop.  People who diagnose problems are whiners, so they are excluded from the organizational structures necessary to fix the problem.  A build-up of such people occurs such that it visibly becomes the case that the diagnosing of problems is highly correlated with exclusion from the organizational structures where action takes place.  The meme propagates that people who diagnose problems are people who don’t do anything.  The organization begins excluding people who diagnose problems because it’s taken as evidence of a character of not doing anything.

Needless to say, this results in a negative selection against intelligence and honesty.  Worse still, this feedback loop has a way of growing until it becomes a kind of general common sense that displays of understanding of any kind are negatively correlated with action.  The false dichotomy between thinkers or talkers and doers is a result of this.  There are various perverse incentives and unfortunate compounding effects that re-enforce this process.  After a while, someone who has not been able to do anything is out of practice and prophecy is thus fulfilled.  And someone who knows that intelligence is correlated with ability is motivated to staff their organization entirely with those less intelligent than them for various reasons: first, to prevent disruptions of the pecking order, including the potential of being outcompeted by a new hire or training your replacement.  Secondly to ensure loyalty.  When people think they deserve something, they aren’t indebted to you.  Modern capitalism wants everyone to be permanently indebted, not just monetarily but psychologically, and this is why the go-to justification for not hiring someone is now entitlement rather than incompetence.

All of this violates traditional economic theory and its ethos, which says that the non-zero sum nature of wealth should make people indifferent to being outcompeted, that a rising tide lifts all boats, and therefore the incentive should be to raise the tide as much as possible rather than worrying about relative boat size, and that organizations in a competitive market have every incentive to hire the best talent relative to price that they can afford.  Rather than attempting to prove this in any way it has instead been more or less taken for granted simply because it is logical, and one of its logical outcomes, that economic numbers go up in markets, is readily observable.  That’s it.  That’s literally the absolute state of economic reasoning.  Model validity + numbers go up -> capitalism is optimal and fair.  An ethologically minded person who has observed enough of the world is sure to know better, but they are also unable to do anything with the knowledge.

An economy run by machines could implement capitalism perfectly, and in exact accordance with its ethos, which is agreeable to me.  I am going to call this hypothetical arrangement Machine Capitalism, which I am happy to call myself a proponent of.  What we have now instead is Animal Capitalism.  Over the course of this blog post I am going to go into more depth about some of the features of Animal Capitalism as I understand it.  Naturally I intend to do so very discursively, while simultaneously expounding my own outlook.

One of the interesting things about reading Vaclav Havel in the age of information is the way his description of post-totalitarian society maps more or less perfectly to the state of affairs in the United States today.  He describes an event in which a brewer was reassigned to menial labor after making the mistake of trying to promote a superior production method.  This violated the pecking order and so he was penalized for it rather than rewarded.  The political point systems common under Communism are plainly dystopian to us today, but at the time and to many of those who lived under them, they must have seemed meritocratic.  Human beings can adapt to just about any system of incentives and disincentives, and will tend to rationalize globally suboptimal outcomes by appealing to the fact that they were a result of locally suboptimal decisions within the context of the system.  To the average human being, competence at a given game is more important than the merits of the game’s design: Human beings enforce conformity to systems rather than enforcing quality of systems.  This is a very interesting tendency, and I hope it’s motivations become more clear through subsequent analysis.

The United States somehow became post-totalitarian without going through a totalitarian phase and without even having a true centralized institutional force to impose dysfunction onto it.  What that means is, the dysfunction of the United States is a result of decentralized and general processes that cumulatively had the same basic effect as the top-down imposition of authority did in Soviet client states.  This is very interesting, and if the human race manages to survive it, it will doubtlessly turn out to yield some of its greatest and hardest lessons.

It’s worth noting that even the most dysfunctional systems have still taken a long time to collapse.  Communism had quite a run and worked surprisingly well for a system that didn’t work.  For whatever reason, once people have committed to a way of living, it is enormously hard for them to alter that, regardless of the objective benefits or detriments of the system.  Somehow, economic and social systems that are exactly wrong in every tangible sense support generations of people.

This may just be the sunk cost fallacy in action at a group level, but by thinking probabilistically I have come to have another idea, which I of course have no way of testing: it’s impossible to really know the long run tendencies of a system without a sufficient sample size.  However, if you subject a sufficiently large group of human beings to a certain way of life for long enough, then after a while the entire network of properties and relationships that compose the system in which they live, will become visible, first in the distribution of resources and power, and then in the biological properties of the population itself.  Every human social experiment is thus a kind of social and biological computation in which human beings are the substrate for data collection: and all the death and failure involved in these computations is just the engine of data collection, a brute force process of elimination or environmental bitmasking procedure that gradually reveals the statistical properties of the total system.  Only once these properties become obvious enough in these terms, will people tend to either double down on them or walk away from them based on the system’s properties and their conduciveness to human life or cultural values.  Therefore, there’s a natural commitment to the total computation which is ingrained in humanity’s blood.

Confounding this somewhat, there are various circular processes in history that introduce noise into the analysis.  The idea that history itself is circular is very old and goes back at least as far as Vedic texts, which expound the concept of Yugas, and it is probable that this ancient wisdom is a reflection of these processes.  One of them, familiar to anyone who has taken Linear Algebra, is circular population growth and decline (or in extreme cases, collapse).  Another one, familiar to all economists, is the circular boom-bust of economic growth.  The presence of these circular processes introduces the possibility that the final results of a given bitmasking procedure will have too much noise in them to form correct conclusions.

I could write endlessly about these circular processes, but instead I will simply suggest that readers familiarize themselves with the HANDY model for an understanding of the potentially extreme implications of these processes, and then give a brief analysis of some of the circular economic issues in our present society, before going on to expound about how these bitmasking procedures (and their subsequent social and economic effects) are themselves circular.

Let’s talk about degree inflation.  There was a time when having a degree was a very clear signal of competence and intelligence.  The interesting thing about this was, an intelligent person didn’t need a degree as badly to get ahead back then; that is to say, a degree didn’t use to function as a barrier to economic entry, while at the same time better acting as a signal of intelligence.  Somehow, a degree has subsequently become a very terrible indication of competence and intelligence, while simultaneously acting as a barrier to entry even for intelligent people.  How did this happen?  It’s entirely insane that something should become more determinative precisely as it becomes less meaningful.

Goodhart’s law is on full display here.  However, perverse incentives are also in place.  As less competent people trickle into the workforce and subsequently rise to the final level of their incompetence per the Peter principle, it becomes more and more important to select future employees for loyalty rather than competence.  Some minimal level of competence is still required though.  Enter the modern college degree: a perfect signal of minimal competence.  Where before it represented that a person was intelligent, now it represents that they are not stupid.  Combine this with intensive testing for loyalty and you have modern hiring practices.  Only the loyal mediocre will thrive.

While some of these factors have traditionally driven intelligent and capable people into developing new fields, establishing start-ups and so forth, as soon as these fields are developed they succumb to the same tendencies and pressures.  The fact that anything has ever progressed at all is mostly an artifact of the entirely circumstantial truth that there have always been new fields to develop and compete in; IE, the human race functions through an iterative process of diffusion and development.  An ethnic minority is displaced from warm and friendly lands to cold and harsh lands, but there they find and develop some valuable resource, which they subsequently use to establish themselves.  Then they displace some new minority to some new wasteland and the process repeats.  This is the biological instantiation of the principle, in which the unwanted are basically fed into cube-like death mazes until value comes out.  The economic instantiation of the principle is simply the fact that small businesses are expected to bear the brunt of the risks in new markets while established firms use every resource in their power to maintain control over existing markets, including access to state power.  Through another circumstance of history, these mazes have become decreasingly dangerous or lethal and increasingly lucrative over time thanks entirely to what was iteratively extracted from them, namely technology, knowledge, and methodology, but the process of diffusion would take place in either case.  It’s not a moral law, it’s a biological one, and the capitalist insistence that the arrow will, in the aggregate, always trend up, and that this somehow represents the benevolence of capitalism, is entirely a misreading of a narrow and potentially fleeting set of facts, combined with a bizarre desire to take credit for natural process as personal will.  There may come a day when there are no new markets to develop, no new fields to compete in, and the tendency towards mediocrity becomes an entirely unanswered hegemon in human society.

The fastest way to understand human society is to realize that standardization acts as an economic lever that makes average people the single largest natural resource in the world.  The Roman legion, which united the western world, was made up of unexceptional people who used simple and generalizable techniques.  Some of these people were doubtlessly better than others at these techniques.  Therefore, the key to the military success of Rome was incentivizing the best of the average, rather than the best of the best.  An average person can learn from a slightly better than average person, because they use the same approach to a problem at different levels of efficiency, so a leadership consisting of the merely above average leading the average enjoys certain synergies and avoids certain disruptions.  At a higher level, the way a genius approaches a problem can often look like magic to the average, and this has traditionally been one of many reasons the genius makes a bad leader.  This general pattern really took off with industrialization, and now that the market is the driving force of the world it has effectively swallowed the world.  As the value extracted from the average has grown to constitute a greater and greater share of the economy, the economy has become increasingly idiot-proofed and automated while driving the intelligent to the margins.  Average people are drawn by gravity to low-risk, low-reward environments.  Above-average people are drawn by competitive advantage into the leadership of these environments.  Intelligent people (and undesirables, some of whom are intelligent) are pushed by diffusion into high-risk high-reward environments.

Naturally, the very first thing most intelligent people want to do once they’ve struck it big in a high-risk high-reward environment is to leverage their capital towards rent seeking in an environment that’s as close to risk-free as possible.  Once you have a lot of wealth, even marginal gains are still massive.  Interestingly, this desire sometimes seems to hold even in cases of negative expectancy.  At the extreme case is the truism that running servants replace running water: there are billionaires who would rather be feudal lords than give up any power or assume any risk, even in the face of large potential gains.  There seem to be two types of rich person: the type who made their money by pursuing a niche market or a low probability win with a high expected value, and the type who made their money by pursuing high probability wins and avoiding volatility to minimize risk of ruin.  In a flourishing market, on a long enough timeline, and with enough initial capital, all you have to do to win is not lose.  Yet there are many people who had no path to wealth except a high-risk, high-reward path, and these are the people capitalism lionizes as heroes, probably because very few people would want to gamble this way with their lives otherwise.  That these two types of people are different psychologically or morally seems unfathomable to me, otherwise winners in risky markets would never become rent-seekers.  The amount of intelligence required to succeed in a high-risk, high-reward environment is probably at least equal to the amount of intelligence necessary to manage an established firm.  As the economy ossifies, the high-risk, high-reward environments dry up, leaving only rent-seekers.  That these rent seekers are more interested in maintaining rent than in achieving profit then leads to, at best, stagnation, and at worst, total dysfunction.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Alephwyr | January 13, 2018

The Aesthetics of Hell: Why Yoko Taro’s games are good

I will begin to expound on my own personal aesthetics and values, since indeed there is little else to really talk about at present. Since I have difficulty speaking except in reference to examples, I will instead begin with my examples and analyze them for what is good in them. Kino’s Journey. The first anime, not the second, was extremely good, and rises to the tier of one of my favorite films, the seventh seal, in its philosophical character. With the tagline “The world is not beautiful, therefore it is”, it is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the Japanese notion of Wabi-Sabi. However, there are also traces of western aesthetic and moral sensibility. Kino goes from country to country armed with guns, without which her travels would be impossible, but she is nonetheless a non-interventionist, an observer, who only reacts defensively. The gunplay is fairly realistic, even if Kino is at the 100th percentile of ability. A Schopenhaurian sense of the sublime pervades the entire series. Aside from a presumed illiteracy, Kino’s character and lifestyle seem ideal to me. She is depicted as a “boku-girl”, but still has a female identity. She is not butch. I appreciate these things as well, since femininity has always seemed performative and superfluous to me, at least as a public expression. Something performative and superfluous generally lacks character.

 

As a “boku-girl”, Kino is authentic in a simple and direct way. She in not, like Sartre’s waiter, in the mode of or the guise of. Authentic femininity is what is left over after all concerns of practicality and character have been met. It generally manifests as a subtle aloofness or inability to engage entirely with male social patterns, or else (perhaps more endearingly) as an overcompensation thereof. It is almost never self-conscious in the natal female. The antithesis of this is performative femininity as a means of manipulation. The women depicted in the original Kino’s Journey are all realistic, mostly authentic, and do not suffer from annoying anime character syndrome.

The world building of Kino’s Journey is also subtle, suitably semi-real, and permits both sufficient degrees of freedom for the story and characters to shine, and enough metaphysical doubt to keep things interesting. Kino’s Journey has definitely been a major influence on me, and would have been one of the major aesthetic inspirations for my second game, Liber Perturbatio. As for the metaphysical doubt, it comes in the form of a reference to If on a Winter Night a Traveler, which is quite charming, although a bleak scenario is also presented as possible, in which a sick girl is dwelling in a sort of VR construct of her favorite stories, in a world where everything else but her father has died. The world of Kino’s Journey is not ideal. However, it contains structures, patterns etc that approach my set of ideals, certainly in a teleological historical or narrative sense, if not always in themselves

To begin with, there are many different countries, which scarcely interact, but seem to all share a common tongue and a common set of rules for interacting with outsiders. Each country is thus able to develop according to its own character without ever departing a context that allows it to remain compatible with diplomacy and visitation at the limit these exist in the setting. In the long run, post-singularity human society could hope to look as nice as this universe, with people retreating into artificial cultures and worlds but maintaining communication, peace, and freedom of movement. The world of Kino’s Journey is a bowdlerized hell in which people pick their poison. I like bowdlerized hells, because they permit real character. But the principles remain important to me even under ostensibly utopian conditions. For some reason I recall Bora Horza Gobochul’s arguments against The Culture and think, I have espoused something he would have found agreeable had he lived long enough to settle down.

I turn my attention now to the subject of hell in general, which is quite aesthetic to me, in limited doses dependent on the strength therein. I will first analyze the concept of a Bowdlerized hell in more depth, and then go ‘down’, so to speak, until I have exhausted everything. I will do so in the context of various media as well as more traditional concepts to the extent I think they apply. To begin with, it must be noted that the ironic hells of both Dante and Buddhist cosmology demonstrate extreme sadism. Sadism is only truly possible with an empathetic link, since it belies understanding. Moreover, many ironic punishments fail to, at least on their face, appear evil to those they are portended to. Warring devas has the same appeal as Valhalla to many hot blooded people, and secondhand descriptions of Dante often come across as trivial. Walking in circles while looking backward, for example. If the punishment is deireified and interpreted as a mere metaphysical abstraction for the here and now, it becomes Bowdlerized in a sense.

Demons become men again, and the thing in itselfness of the punishment allows for a multitude of possible interpretations and coping strategies. Yoko Taro’s games are all, to various extents, Bowdlerized hells, albeit of a more extreme form than would be desirable in real life. The second game in my own series, Liber Perturbatio, is closer to a Bowdleried hell that is livable and has desirable features, and it shares most of these features in common with the world of Kino’s Journey. The principal virtues of such worlds are in contrast, the possibility of spontaneous selection for virtue; and here I must note, the reason the virtues of the pagans are gilded vices is because pagan virtue is ex post facto based on what produces outcomes that are found desirable later; and in a very real sense the cohabitation and comingling of both angels and demons. There is something structural at work, something profound that I cannot do justice to, but must nonetheless try.

Deleuze said stuff about rhizomes, I am not sure what. There is something rhizomatic about the demonic components of these worlds, and something tree-like about the angelic components. When a tree partially asserts itself over the rhizome, its roots go down into it but without totally reorganizing it. The effect, if perceived internally in a phenomenological sense, is of something rigid and deterministic asserting itself over something either free or stochastic. I think of video games with branching and web structures. If a video game has a main quest line, then even if it is an Elder Scrolls or Fallout game, the tendrils of a tree are asserting themselves over something rhizomatic. But this is merely in relation to time and choice. This structural confluence has some relationship to spirit as well, which is difficult but important to grasp. Demons are all metastable but important aspects of the soul, while angels are stable forms that in a healthy person keep a hierarchy.

In a Bowdlerized hell, that hierarchy asserts itself in a limited capacity on the same things as the demons, with better and more potent results; but the angels themselves are more indifferent to these demons, which thus revert in a sense phonetically to daimons, and concurrently in practise as well. The relationship between demons is rock-paper-scissors with a metastable component, while the relationship between angel and demon is hierarchical rather than circular, stable rather than metastable. When angels impose themselves onto the rhizomatic ecosystem of daimons excessively, they become less and less stable, and more demonic in a sense. Some descriptions and diagrams as I continue rambling: The world of Kino’s Journey is a sort of rhizomatic mass with independent but partially identical tree like structures imposed on it, in the sense that each nation is a collection of neuroses with an organizational logic imposed over the top of it. But the nations rarely interact, so the organizational logic of each nation, with its hierarchical features, never competes with anything except the neuroses it has a sort of topological or territorial access to. So it is sort of like this:

Except where the trees are actually trees. Compare my own world in Liber Perturbatio, which has the same sort of rhizomatic mass, but with the hierarchical structures in a constant state of conflict, vying, albeit in a controlled manner, for supremacy. This is depicted something like this:
If you think of the center as a kind of mandelbrot that is built recursively at smaller and smaller levels. The former is centrifugal, while the latter is centripetal.

The type of bowdlerized hell represented by the former is summarized fairly precisely in the wabi-sabi aesthetic, while the latter is precisely Bolgia four of Malebolge, reimagined as a punishment for intellectuals attempting to forecast and immanentize the future: Scarlet the accelerationist, Libens the imperialist, etc. However, what makes it Bowlderized is that the punishment is the self-same thing as the crime, which is to say, arguing endlessly, groundlessly, and in circles. Nor is the crime in this sense such a great evil, but rather a comedic but enjoyable aspect of nature, as evidenced by the fact it is engaged in. It is not the hopelessness of hell but merely the irony of it, the obviousness of it, etc. This sort of centripetal mandelbrot essentially constitutes my preferred structure of governance, ideally with smaller and smaller incrementations of hierarchy taking place at lower and lower levels of violence, with escape valves, and a rhizomatic soil that expands to balance the centripetal force. I think of Miyazaki’s films and find something similar in them, though they do not have much of hell in them per se.

Going deeper into less bowdlerized hells, I still find virtues, though none worth staying long for. To begin with, I imagine hell more generally along the lines of a place separated from God, rather than a place of torture, and think of the increase in duration and torture to correspond to the depth of a given hell. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Well, as, at worst a Universalist, that is nonsense, but aesthetically it still provides a useful frame of reference. What I am imagining now is that a crucifix, that sacred symbol, somehow finds its way into hell. Notwithstanding various stories and apocrypha in which forces of good find themselves vanquishing or overcoming forces in the underworld, we imagine for our purposes that this crucifix, being separated from God, is totally inert. Nonetheless, thrown before an unfortunate group of damned souls it is quite the catalyst, and instantly serves to reveal several important types of character.

The first, largest group and the most obvious character scramble towards it, hoping to receive its power in some way. They are fully captured by it, perhaps fighting over it, before at some point giving up and likely cursing it as useless. It is important to note that at a certain level of suffering, such behavior is likely reflexive, which is another reason why hell becomes less aesthetic the further down you go. Now, there are two other responses to this crucifix, and both of them demonstrate a sort of existential heroism. One of them is the person who would hold tight to the crucifix even when it is know to have no power. The other is the kind who would reject it not knowing whether it has power. We might also imagine a lesser character who knows by reason or intuition that is has no power, and a lesser character who goes to the crucifix pragmatically but without attachment. These lesser characters are interesting and have some value, but they lack heroic character.

The first and third share the virtue of being the only ones to truly realize they are in hell, while the first and second possess the most existential heroism. The first three, however, are all very special because they have found a way to live without hope; the first, by investing their own meaning in the crucifix. The second, by affirming their own meaning against the crucifix, and the third by stoic recognition, reducing pain and hopelessness to mere fact. I think of zero from drakengard 3 and find her to be some combination of the second and third character. In the end her mission and achievement is to save the dragon Mikhael, which she does at the cost of herself in Ending D, the semi-canonical ending. In ending A we best see her acceptance that she is in hell by her resignation to death, which in her case cannot be interpreted as escape or reprieve, but as acceptance that she will not receive a happy ending. The world of Drakengard 3 is an outer limit to the concept of a Bowdlerized hell, only because combat is enjoyed.

It is the hopelessness of Yoko Taro’s worlds that make the characters within them beautiful; and this is why Nier Automata is aesthetically inferior to previous efforts, even though it represents a great step up in terms of gameplay and general design. Annoying anime syndrome becomes existential heroism against a hopeless backdrop. It gains a mature character as something like a spontaneous aristophanes play achieved through attrition; like it was just waiting to be whittled out of larger, blockier characters. The eponymous character of the first Nier, as an old man, adds both the aesthetic of Dad-aloofness and a sort of Achilles vs the Trojans pagan bloodthirst, which work together shockingly well. Nier Automata feels like it was trying to do to Nier what Count Zero did to Neuromancer; to provide a glimmer of hope at the last moment.

However, Nier Automata is more of a sterile world than a dying world, and substitutes a sudden double swerve at the ending for the traditional overarching sense of hopelessness in the series. It suffers from Shyamalan syndrome in a sense, thinking that surprises are more important than world building and atmosphere. This is not to say the atmosphere is bad, per se, there is just a discongruity between the elements of the game that limits it aesthetically in comparison to previous efforts. Hell becomes aethetically uninteresting when it loses its obviousness and immediacy as a punishment that is the self-same thing as the crime.

Taro’s games, on some level, understand this very well, and this is what makes them stand out as great works of art. It is unfortunate that Nier Automata got a bit sloppy somehow; likely due to self-consciousness.

 

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