Bronze Age


Moldbug wrote, “White nationalism is the most marginalized and socially excluded belief system in the history of the world.”

And he was right. But, even so, in the decade since he wrote that, many fringe-right beliefs, including even white nationalism, have prospered beyond what I think he or many other people would have predicted.

We can point at a few causes — the overreach of liberalism is my first pick — but combining fringe-right comment with humour has been very effective. By 2007, every right view from prewar conservatism to nazism had been comprehensively demolished in popular culture for half a century, which has greatly contributed to excluding them all from social acceptability. But a fringe right that is willing to laugh at itself is a very long way from the generations of stereotypes that have been used to inoculate the populace, and causes chaos in its enemies. Pepe is a hate symbol! Nazi dogs in Scotland! Feminism is cancer! These jokes get around some of the defenses that have been set up.

They don’t do more than that.To win in the political sphere, at some point you have to be taken seriously. But winning in the political sphere isn’t my objective — just leaking a few ideas, a few facts, into the common consciousness is laying groundwork for serious responses to serious crises that haven’t happened yet.

Bronze Age Pervert fits perfectly into this strategy. Nude bodybuilders destroying the cities by fire cannot be painted by journalists as a clear and present danger without making themselves ridiculous. BAP can raise recognition of various concepts — that relations between the sexes have gone disastrously wrong, that rights for the many are suppressing the freedom of the exceptional — and he can do it without looking like a school shooting or a Nazi occupation.

If that was all he did, it would be worthwhile. But the mix of serious ideas sprinkled through his book are worth attention.

A repetition of the Late Bronze Age Collapse is not really the goal most of us are working towards. But for myself, I do see it as a realistic prospect within the next century, so it’s absolutely worthwhile to be raising it as a discussion. The  Pervert projects it as a sequence of developments: megastates losing their global control as their competence and effectiveness decline, bandits establishing themselves in the abandoned edges, and later descending on the decadent cities for loot and glory. In the last part of the book he explores these possibilities in a bit more detail.

The projection seems more than plausible. It’s worth discussing how to take advantage of it as well as how to prevent it. It’s not a goal of what I think of (questionably) as “mainstream reaction”, but it obviously has overlaps with concepts of Patchwork or true sovereignty. Imagining possible futures is one of the most important and underexercised activities of our movement.

The sticking point of BAP’s future is the actual destruction of technological civilisation. Maybe we could sort of skip that bit? Maybe technological civilisation doesn’t actually require a world population of billions? From 20,000 Leagues to Aristillus, the union of piratical independence with high technology has been imaginable… could it be practical?

In a similar vein, my “mainstream reaction” seeks the return of monogamy on the pattern of Christendom, and the Pervert specifically rejects that, though admitting it superior to the present situation. It comes down to the same question: that civilised pattern is valuable ultimately a mechanism for mobilising a mass industrial population. Can a mass industrial population be preserved? Should it be? Or is it a 20th-century phenomenon that has run its course?

It’s a bit callous to be debating the pros and cons of billions of deaths, but it’s not as if it’s going to be the reactionaries doing the killing. Those deaths are on the agenda already — how large a population can Europe support with African government? The question is what to do — if anything — to prevent that collapse.

Any modern reactionary must remain conscious of the fact that by existing within modernism he has some degree of complicity with it. The Bronze Age mindset is a reminder that that is not the only path; a yardstick against which to measure the compromises he is making.

 

In conclusion, I find Bronze Age Mindset worth reading, thinking about, and promoting. It is not my manifesto, but it contributes serious thinking and an attitude of seeking alternatives.


Components of Growth


Where does economic growth come from?

I’m going to break it into four components

  1. Innovation. By “innovation”, I mean using more effective production techniques than before. The normal implication is using newly discovered techniques that are more effective than older ones, which is probably the most common, but I am going to stretch it, and, for instance, still count abandoning a newer technique for an older one as innovation too if it improves production.
  2. Capital accumulation. Making things to make things. It’s a bit unnatural, but for my purposes, this is a technique in itself, so really it’s just a variety of innovation. However, you still need to be able to afford to delay production, in order to produce more, so to that extent it is a separate element of growth.
  3. Scale. As a rule, you can produce more effectively at larger scale than at smaller scale. Further, scale can support innovation if there are different techniques that are more effective than old techniques at large scale but not at small scale.
  4. Mobilisation. You can produce more if you devote more of the available resources to production. This is a bit of a catch-all, it can include working more hours, eliminating unproductive activity, reducing unemployment.

Am I talking about economic growth for a company, for a society, for the world? At this point it doesn’t matter, you can always break it down into those four components.

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that economic growth is good. But growth by the three components is not the same. Innovation is the good stuff. Orders-of-magnitude increases in wellbeing haven’t been powered by improved mobilisation, and not by scale directly, except insofar as it has enabled innovation. They’ve been powered by innovations.

Mobilisation is a very mixed bag. Cutting out pure waste is good. But a lot of what appears as waste is actually production of something you’re not measuring: social capital, antifragility. On the other hand, relative to innovation, the goals of greater mobilisation are small.  If you get waste down to 50% of effort, then a further doubling of output is the most you can achieve by reducing waste.

Scale is generally good up to a point, but again you reach a point the gains become small and the social effects can become large.

I’m not convinced that capital accumulation deserves as much attention. Even quite backward subjects of study usually have access to capital proportional to their production. The main point is that it causes growth to be exponential: your rate of growth is dependent on your level of growth. Innovation is also a cause of that phenomenon.

 

What drives growth is the market and competition. Where there is competition, competitors will seek additional growth in all its components. Where there isn’t, growth usually just doesn’t happen at all.

What I’m getting at is that there is a reasonable political case for restraining scale and mobilisation, but much less of one for restraining innovation. In practice, though, this is generally very hard to do. Once you take the authority to overrule the market and prevent competition, the incentives to interfere in innovation are every bit as strong as those to interfere with mobilisation and scale. This is the orthodox libertarian view that you will find throughout the early years of this blog.

 

There isn’t a conclusion. This is just a problem that hangs over every political view that isn’t pure market liberalism. It’s part of the context of everything I think about. For an example, see The Trichotomy Explained

 

Hollywood, and Media as a Business


One of the most critical features of the Modern Structure is the relationship between the media as a capitalist business and the media as a channel of the Cathedral.

Context

There’s a ton of history here. I saw it suggested recently (by @clarkmicah ?) that the BBC was deliberately constructed as a counterbalance to the right-of-centre newspaper industry. Hearst newspapers in the US also had a right-of-centre bias.

(I’m using the term “right-of-centre” not to imply that some tendencies on the right are closer to an objectively determined “centre” than some others on the left, which I don’t think is even meaningful, but because subjectively from an #nrx point of view, things like Fox News are still leftist, just a little less so.)

Since the early 20th C, the Cathedral has increased its control over media industries, but not completed it. In both Britain and the USA, Rupert Murdoch has established media business with right-of-centre alignment and significant market share.

There are two forces pushing these businesses to the right: First, the owners of media businesses tend to be right of centre, particularly in the 20th C, because the left and the right largely lined up with interests of labour and capital respectively, and business owners are by definition capitalist. Secondly, because the cultural elite are always to the left of the population, there is market pressure pushing media businesses towards the right to attract audiences.

In the 21st Century, the first of those forces has declined to the point that it can be practically ignored. What is crucial is the tension between market forces impinging on media and Cathedral orthodoxy.

Question

It has been suggested that key parts of the media industry, notably Hollywood, are effectively insulated from market pressures. @Stoner_68 said on twitter:

“It takes more than cocktail parties to convince studio execs to take multimillion-dollar losses, over and over again.
It’s as if risk isn’t even a factor. But that can’t be true. They know someone will reimburse their costs.”

I remember Spandrell claiming something similar a month or two ago.

The theory is that either the government or another source of funding (Soros is often mentioned) are subsidising the media; that the only goal of Hollywood etc. is propaganda, and they are only pretending to be profitable businesses.

This is not insane. Obviously, the BBC is, by design, almost totally resistant to commercial pressures. A rich guy can own a newspaper and run it at a loss as a propaganda organ. It would be possible to subsidise movies that pushed a favoured point of view.

A key fact is that the movie industry is extremely opaque financially. Much is written about “Movie A cost X dollars” or “Movie B lost Y dollars”, but these are always guesses by people writing without direct knowledge of the actual receipts and spending on the movie. It is therefore not impossible that the movie industry is running on hidden subsidies and would otherwise be losing money.

However, I do not believe that is what is happening. The general assumption is that the studios are secretive about money because they are ripping off minor investors, writers, actors and everybody else in the world. That seems to me the more likely explanation. The stories become public often enough: The Lord of the Rings went to court and was settled, also the TV series Bones (good detail here),

The main reason for believing that American movies and TV are profitable industries is that they behave like profitable industries do. They pay shitloads of money for top performers. They copy the most successful products until everyone gets sick to death of them. Several of the big studios are public companies with very large market capitalisation.

That is not to say that the movie industry is solely motivated by profit and uninfluenced by ideology. That is obviously untrue. The people in the industry are overwhelmingly left-wing, and their bias clearly influences their product.

There are films made which are not intended primarily, or necessarily at all, for commercial success, but to validate the film-makers view of themselves, and to impress their social and professional peers. “Oscar bait” and art house films both fall into that category. However, while not aimed at profit, these movies are made on limited budgets to at least limit the losses, and to make it possible for them to be profitable.

The big budget films are quite another matter. They are clearly made for profit, because they are managed in the same way as other profit-making enterprises. Actors are paid their market rate based on how likely they are to make the film successful. Huge amounts are spent on promotion and marketing. The studios push some of the financial risk onto top actors and directors by paying them percentages, and those actors and directors are willing to take the percentages because they expect them to be valuable, which they usually are.

Even these big movies carry political bias. They are made by the same people as the more indulgent films, but with the addition of big money and big investors. There is also the influence of the media culture, which also has a left-wing bias and therefore will reward bias in the films with favourable publicity. A film that is seen as having right-wing elements can cause social and professional problems for those involved.

But in spite of all that, nobody is putting hundreds of millions into movies that they don’t expect to make them a profit, and nobody is deliberately wrecking big-budget movies for political motives. Occasionally they accidentally wreck them, but not as often as some people seem to think.

The finances of movies are somewhat opaque, but there’s a lot of business interest and they’re not completely secret. There’s a rule of thumb that a film will break even if its worldwide box office gross is about two and a half times its production budget. That’s taking into account the cost of marketing and distribution, the payments that are made as percentages of the gross, and the other income from TV, DVD rights, spinoffs and so on.

This is a good site with estimates of movie financials.

It’s not possible to validate the truth of that rule of thumb, but the industry acts as if it’s true. Movies that appear to make profits are treated as successes, the people involved and the ideas involved are used again. Movies that appear to make losses by this rule are treated as failures; they aren’t repeated and the people involved will command lower payments for future projects. There are sometimes disputes about the shareout of the profits, these go to court with expensive lawyers and are generally settled quietly.

For this to be all an illusion would involve so many people that faking the moon landings would be easier. Most big-budget movies are profitable. The Last Jedi grossed 1.3 billion from a 220 million budget, so by the rule of thumb it made over half a billion in profit. 2016 Ghostbusters grossed 230 million from a 144 million budget, so it lost the studio money – one of those accidentally wrecked by political bias, in my view. Note that if The Last Jedi had lost money, that would also be put down to its social / political agenda, but the studios believed it was a good investment despite that agenda, and they were right.

Because of the big money going to the most successful, “tournament” style economics apply. Many of those involved in the industry outside of the blockbusters are doing badly; they are underpaid for their work, or losing money on their investments, but they accept that because they are trying to win their places in the top rank that makes the big money. Most fail, but the few who succeed make enough to make entering the tournament attractive. That is one part of the basis of the “art house” sector.

Could a less politically-correct Star Wars have made even more money? Quite possibly, but they would have needed actors, writers, and so on that would have been affected by media opposition to political incorrectness, and managing high-value, temperamental stars is difficult enough at the best of times.

As far as spending money on propaganda goes, blowing tens of millions of dollars on big-name actors who are already on your side anyway just isn’t a sensible use of funds. A few foundations like Soros’ are spending tens of millions a year on propaganda, but they’re making much better use of it than that.

Future

The really interesting question is about the trends. Hollywood is making big money, but sometimes losing it too, and the business side can be held hostage by the demands of politically biased creatives. Audiences might get so irritated by the industry’s politically correct smugness that they lose interest. Ghostbusters is evidence that that is possible. Alternatively, someone might be able to compete with the whole Hollywood establishment by producing movies with the same attractive features but a political tone more in line with the audience. It’s easy to say that the iron grip of leftists is too strong to allow that, but don’t forget Rupert Murdoch managed to do it to the newspaper and cable TV industries. I think it’s significant that newspapers, even in the 1980s, were in decline, while cinema is strong and growing, but the precedent is there.


Climate Update

March 22, 2018

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As I wrote in 2016, I don’t cover Climate Change any more, because it’s over. In the sense that Climate Change was ever “a thing”, it was primarily a media phenomenon, and now the media has lost interest, there really isn’t anything to talk about.
As a by-product of the media interest, there was a whole chunk of what passes today for scientific research going on, filling in details for the media to report. Like so much current science, it was basically worthless: a grinding out of suspect results from statistical analysis of big noisy data sets, and of computer modelling. It’s still there, but it’s declining, and will have pretty much died out in another decade.
It’s interesting to try to work out how the Climate Change phenomenon of the last quarter-century will be seen by history. I think mostly it will be just ignored. The fact that a large proportion of the most intelligent and educated people in a handful of western countries seriously believed that humanity was under threat from a warmer climate just won’t make it into popular history. I used to think that the internet made it hard to rewrite history, but I’ve had the experience a few times recently of trying to find news stories from just a few years ago, and it’s really difficult. They are there, in the main, but I don’t think doing a really thorough survey of what people were saying and thinking a few decades ago is going to be any easier than it was in the days of newspaper archives.
I was moved to re-address this dead subject because Ed West quoted from Stephen Pinker’s new book, which says

A recent survey found that exactly four out of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature rejected the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming, and that “the peer-reviewed literature contains no convincing evidence against [the hypothesis]”

As I remarked, this causes no problems for history, because it has no relevance to the Climate Change media issue which is the real thing that happened in the 1990s and 2000s. The hypothesis that human CO2 emissions have a warming effect on the climate is reasonable, quite likely true, and fundamentally impossible to disprove. It is also of no practical importance. Climate change was an issue because of the idea that this warming effect would be large and self-amplifying — that is the question which was under serious scientific dispute. But both sides of that dispute were part of the “97%” who accepted that humans cause global warming. If it turned out eventually that the vast majority of scientists were wrong about the climate, that would be something difficult to explain away. But they weren’t and aren’t, at least in any kind of recorded formal way. If someone in 2040 were to claim, “Everyone in 2004 believed that we were under threat from Climate Change”, the answer would be, “no, no, there was a lot of hype in the press, but the science at the time was pretty cautious and sound, and didn’t imply anything of the sort. It was just a bit of media hysteria that some politicians made capital out of”.


Human Goals

January 27, 2018

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In writing about the behaviour of superintelligent AIs, and then going off on a tangent about the behaviour of sovereigns, I’ve adopted the paradigm of “optimising a long-term goal”. I picked that up from the “paperclipper” idea that the AI Risks people talk about.


The problem with assuming that any intelligence has a goal of maximising some quantity over the long term is that no natural or artificial intelligence we know of actually does that. The only relevance of the discussion of instrumental convergence caused by long-term goals that my recent posts have contained is as a distant ideal that might be approximated to.
Actual AI systems today are generally aimed at maximising some quantity within a finite time horizon. I have not seen anybody seriously think about how to build an intelligence with an indefinite time horizon. (That was the point of my “Requirements document for paperclip-maximising AI” tweets, which were playful rather than seriously falling into any of the misunderstandings Yudkowsky mentions).


And humans, well… What is human life for? Lots of people think they can answer that, but they don’t agree.
One can deduce that humans are a product of an evolutionary process that has optimised for reproductive fitness. But that isn’t an explicit goal, represented symbolically within the human body. Most importantly, there’s no mechanism to preserve goal-content integrity. That’s because humans aren’t superintelligences, and are not designed with the assumption that they will be able to manipulate their own minds. Throughout evolutionary history, our ancestors didn’t modify their own goals, not because they were constructed to resist that, but because they weren’t sophisticated enough to do so. Now that humans are symbol-manipulating intelligences, there is no constraint on the human intelligence subverting the implicit goals of the human genome.
Daniel Dennett is good on this, in Freedom Evolves: he talks about the “as-if intentionality” produced by evolution giving rise to a real but subsidiary intentionality in human minds.
Existing machine-learning systems also do not have goals explicitly and physically present. They are more akin to humans in that they have been tuned throughout their structure by an optimisation process such that the whole tends to the goals that were intended by their designers.
As with humans, that kind of goal, because it isn’t explicit, isn’t something that can be protected from change. All you can do is protect the whole mind from any kind of change, which is contrary to the idea of a self-improving intelligence.
Indeed the whole existing technology of “machine learning”, impressive though it is, simply isn’t the kind of logic-manipulating machine that could capable of changing itself. That’s not to say the whole concept of self-accelerating AI is not sensible; it’s just that the ML stuff that is making such waves can only be one part of a composite whole that might reach that stage.
The AI Risks crew are thinking about different kinds of goals, but I’m not in their discussions and I don’t know what sort of conclusions they’ve so far reached; I’ve just seen things like this defining of terms. which shows they are thinking about these questions.
Getting back to humans, humans do not have explicit long-term goals, unless they accidentally pick them up at a cultural level. But the point of instrumental convergence is that one long-term goal looks pretty much like another for the purpose of short-term behaviour. If you can culturally produce a sovereign with some long-term goal, the result will be a polity that seeks knowledge and resources, which is well-placed to pursue any long-term goal in future. Given that humans have been produced by a process optimising to some non-explicit goal of spreading copies over the universe, having some other intelligence use humans as assets towards some arbitrary long-term goal of its own would not seem all that unpleasant to individual humans. Of course, per my last post, that outcome does depend on humans actually being assets, which is not guaranteed.
However, I still don’t really believe in superintelligences with long-term goals. As with my paperclipper project, it’s hard to see how you would even set a long-term goal into an intelligence, and even harder to see how, if it had power over the universe even as much as a human, it wouldn’t modify its own goals, just as part of an experiment, which after all is exactly what humans have been doing at least since Socrates.
It seems far more plausible that any AI would be built to optimise some quantity in the present or near future. The real issue is that that might approximate some other emergent long-term goal — that, I think, is what Yudkowsky is getting at in his tweet thread above, and is why my “what does optimising for paperclips really mean” analysis is silly even it is reasonable. No intelligence is going to explicitly optimise for paperclips.
The three-handed argument on twitter, between @AMK2934, me, and @Outsideness, was kind of funny. Axel was claiming that intelligences could optimise for any arbitrary goal, on the grounds that humans optimise for a stupid arbitrary goal of reproduction. Nick was arguing that intelligences could only optimise for core sensible goals, on the grounds that humans optimise for the core sensible goal of survival and reproduction. I was arguing that intelligences won’t optimise for anything consistent and will behave chaotically, on the grounds that that’s what the more intelligent humans do. We were disagreeing about the future only because we were disagreeing about the present.
 


Assets, Parasites and Pets


In my last post, I wrote:
An inhabitant of a polity is either an asset, or a parasite, or a pet.
The argument I was making was that if a sovereign has a long-term final goal, then his short-term instrumental goals will be to increase capabilities and acquire resources, and if he owns an subject who has a long-term final goal, that subject’s short-term instrumental goals will be to increase his own capabilities and acquire resources for himself, and if that subject is an asset to the sovereign, then those goals are fundamentally compatible. They’re not identical — the distribution of resources among subjects will have some optimum for the sovereign’s purpose which differs from that of any individual subject, but valuable subjects in general will have their goals met about as well by an efficient sovereign as by any other governance mechanism which could exist.
But what of subjects who are not assets? The sovereign does not have any interest in increasing the capabilities or resources to subjects who are not productive of any value.
The first thing to do when considering this is to be realistic: any system of government depends on the able, and has little incentive to cater to the unable. It doesn’t make sense to go into this question expecting too much. That’s a point I’ve made before: “Ultimately, no blueprint can protect the native population if it truly doesn’t have any value to contribute”
Nonetheless, many actually existing human societies do care for the unproductive, with varying degrees of effort and effectiveness. They do this because humans do not have purely long-term goals, but actually want that to happen.
When thinking about the welfare of the unproductive, it makes more sense to see this as a bonus to the productive, rather than as a matter of rights of the unproductive. I am not looking at the question from a moral standpoint, remember — this is all based on the concept of a sovereign with his own long-term goals. Since his interests include increasing the capabilities of his able subjects, and their interests include (to some variable degree) caring for the unproductive around them, the optimal policy is going to include some level of such care. Care for the unable is always going to depend on some able people wanting it. If nobody has any reason to keep you around, they won’t.
 

Goal-Content Integrity

January 24, 2018

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I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Instrumental Convergence.
 
The thing that immediately struck me when I read The Superintelligent Will was that the very concept of Instrumental Convergence was exactly the neoreactionary argument for sovereignty.
If you have any long-term goals, the best way to achieve them in the short term is to accumulate knowledge and resources that can later be employed in the desired direction, provided that you can achieve what Bostrom calls Goal-content integrity.
Goal-content integrity means being able to hold to the same final goal over time. If you do not have confidence that your final goals in the future will be the same as they are now, then resources and capabilities that you acquire could be used by you in the future for goals other than those you currently intend.
 
If we model a polity as an intelligence with some long-term final goals (and I will address the problems with doing this later), then the logical instrumental goals of that polity are: self-preservation, goal-content integrity, increased capability, resource acquisition, just as Bostrom deduces. (I am rolling his goals of cognitive enhancement and technological perfection into a simpler “increased capability” — those goals are more important to his overall argument than they are to mine).
 
The difference between a reactionary polity and a liberal polity is that the liberal polity disclaims goal-content integrity. It does not have a long-term final goal, because it assumes that elements within it have different final goals, and they will continue to compete and compromise over those goals forever. Because it does not have long-term final goals, it has no steady interest in increased capability and resource acquisition. Conversely, a reactionary polity with a defined long-term goal, such as increasing the glory of the Royal Family, or of God, or both, will seek increased capability and resource acquisition.
 
The obvious problem with modelling the polity as an intelligence is that what that “intelligence” seeks is not necessarily good for anyone in it. However, this is where Instrumental Convergence becomes important. A polity that is seeking increased capability and resource acquisition is highly likely to benefit the immediate instrumental goals of its population. An inhabitant of a polity is either an asset, or a parasite, or a pet. An able human is still capable of being an asset, and as an asset is likely to gain from the resources and capabilities of the polity. Being a parasite to any polity of any kind is likely to cause you problems, so don’t do that. The role of humans as pets becomes interesting in the case of superintelligences (which I am not really discussing here, despite the starting point), but less so for human societies.
 
This is why it is better to be subject to a sovereign than to have a share in power: as a subject of a sovereign you are part of a polity with goal-content integrity, which, whatever its final goals, will pursue instrumental goals that will enable you to benefit. As a citizen of a democracy you are part of a polity without goal-content integrity, where the zero-sum struggle over the direction of the polity dominates any instrumental goals of increased capability or resource acquisition that you would be able to benefit from.

Constitutions and Law-Enforcement


This is ideas-in-flow: any conclusions are soft, this needs more work.
@wrmead tweeted that
Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army rather than face politically motivated prosecution without it.
Basically, the threat of being punished by political enemies made Caesar an outlaw: he had nothing to gain by following the rules any more.
I thought that a reasonable point (and RTd it), but at the same time, there are rules, and how can they work if they’re not enforced? The fact that Caesar was in danger from his political enemies does not mean that their allegations were unfounded.
@Alrenous made that point explicitly:
Caesar was a criminal
He crossed the Rubicon with an army rather than face politically motivated just punishment for breaking the law without it.
update 30-Jan-2018: relevant tweet — apparently Caesar himself agrees


A legal system works because it is above the disputing parties. Two parties come before it, it awards a victory to one or the other, but that is a limited victory; the victorious party remains below the legal system. That isn’t the case when the winner of a legal dispute gets control over the administration of the law itself. One victory becomes total victory.
It is easy to imagine that politics would inevitably decay into legal battles. There is a wide gap between things which are definitely allowed under the rules and things which are definitely not. Once someone strays into that blurred boundary area, you would expect that they would be challenged, and the conflict would move from the political to the legal sphere.
However, in established long-standing democracies, that very rarely happens.
The aversion seems to be strongest at the point of making a legal challenge. Questionable political conduct, in the UK and USA, is commonplace, as are accusations of illegal activity. But ultimately it seems nearly always to be tolerated.
This unexpected observation, that there are extremely strong norms against turning competition for power via elections into legal battles, needs to be explained.
Outside of the developed West, this is quite a common occurrence. The last few years have seen disputes over whether candidates acted lawfully in Ukraine, Venezuela, Honduras, just off the top of my head.
As a general approach, those norms can’t be a solution to the problem: if there is a strong norm against prosecuting opponents, that would surely tempt politicians further into legally questionable territory in order to take advantage of it, approaching the point where there is a significant danger of prosecution.
One solution that would work is for the grey area to be shrunk down: if the real rules (which might not be the same as the formal rules) are very clear and very easily interpreted, then nobody will make a fatal mistake, either of stepping over the line so that his opponents have to take legal action against him, or of taking a situation to the legal arena which the other party has reasonably assumed to be safe.
That could be the case, but really doesn’t appear to be.
Another solution would be if politicians feared the punishments for malpractice much more than they wanted to win, so that they would never take even small risks of getting caught. Again, that does not appear to be the case.
Another solution in a democracy would be if any malpractice is looked on so severely by the electorate that it would be counterproductive. That surely is not the case. It might be that that has been the case until recently. There is a whole narrative, quite logical, that the populations of the Western democracies used to be so attached to democratic values that any breach of those principles would outrage them to the point of unelectability, and that a recent increase in partisanship has fatally damaged that equilibrium.
There are two problems I can see with that narrative: first, that there is no history of notably clean politics in the democracies: lies, bribes, and gerrymandering being commonplace throughout history. Second, that it doesn’t make sense for voters to be so moralistic about their own side cheating. The current situation, where supporters of a candidate see accusations of cheating as either signs of the viciousness of the enemy propaganda, or as indications of his own heroic strength, or both, seems far more natural than such high-minded fairness.
My own view is that the thing that has made democracy work, in those rare cases where it has worked, is that the apparently opposing parties are really part of the same ruling class. The issues that stand between the parties are low-stakes issues, which are resolved by the parties staying within the rules. The reason they stay within the rules is because they are united on the high-stakes issue, of the existing ruling class holding on to its position, and aren’t prepared to jeopardise that by fighting no-holds-barred over side questions.
For instance, take the quote from Jeremy Paxman’s book The Political Animal that I picked up in 2011: “In April 1925, for example, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill, announced that Britain was to return to the Gold Standard, whereby the value of sterling was guaranteed by allowing pounds to be exchanged for gold. This momentous (if ultimately unsuccessful) decision had been two months in preparation, involving heartfelt arguments on both sides of the debate. Yet not a word of it appeared in the newspapers. Indeed, it was hardly heard outside the confines of the Treasury.”
Or, as I put it another way in 2008 :  ” They only situation in which a government can genuinely act in the interest of a class wider than just politicians is when there is a larger class of relatively powerless people – slaves or peasants – who would be a threat to a divided ruling class. That is the characteristic of democracies before the twentieth century.”
If both sides politically are actually united on maintaining the system that favours them, that doesn’t mean that their disagreements are fake. It just means that they aren’t important enough to risk the system over. However, from the point of view of an outsider to whom the disagreement is most important, that is almost the same thing.
 
This analysis raises a lot of questions:
Is it really true that the stable Western democracies have not had sufficiently serious political disputes for this gentlemanly state of affairs to break down? In US history, obviously the Civil War is a case where it did. But what about the New Deal? Is that another exception? Or did the GOP decide to fold rather than take the risk? For that matter, what about earlier cases (Andrew Jackson?)
Is there a mechanism that centrists use to prevent extremists who rank disputed political issues above unity from gaining power? Would candidates like Michael Foot in the UK have threatened the system?
If there are such mechanisms, are they normal political mechanisms, or are there deep state resources that are employed against them? There have long been rumours of plots against Harold Wilson, and in the last few days there are strikingly similar stories being told in the US.
Is it breaking down now? My suspicion is that real democratic control is increasing, and that is producing things like Trump and Brexit, which is endangering the gentlemen’s agreement by breaking down the barriers which protect the ruling elite from outsiders.
Update 27 Jan 2018
In the context of the above, the recklessness of the “Go for the Throat” strategy that I wrote about last year is even more striking. If the stability of the system actually depends on keeping out people who aren’t well-integrated into it culturally, then one party deliberately goading the other into being taken over by radical outsiders is suicidal.
Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, [Obama’s] goal should be to delegitimize his opponents. Through a series of clarifying fights over controversial issues, he can force Republicans to either side with their coalition’s most extreme elements or cause a rift in the party that will leave it, at least temporarily, in disarray. 
Also relevant: “They Always Wanted Trump

Instrumental Convergence

January 9, 2018

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From The Superintelligent Will [pdf] by Nick Bostrom
The Instrumental Convergence Thesis
Several instrumental values can be identified which are convergent in the sense that their
attainment would increase the chances of the agent’s goal being realised for a wide range
of final goals and a wide range of situations, implying that these instrumental values are
likely to be pursued by many intelligent agents
He then lists five examples: Self-preservation, Goal-content integrity, Cognitive Enhancement, Technological Perfection, and Resource Acquisition.
It’s a pretty short paper, worth reading.
Basically, if you have any long-term goal, your intermediate goals are likely to include, surviving, retaining your goals, getting better at stuff, and acquiring resources.
Even if your goals are bizarre — the proverbial paperclip maximizer — if they are long-term, then your short-term goals are going to be these ones.
It’s worth thinking about the paperclip maximizer. As soon as you do, you realise how underspecified the concept is. There are obvious missing criteria which can be filled in: what counts as a paperclip, do they all count equally, or does size matter, do they need to be just made, or made and kept?
Time is a difficult question. Let’s try to maximize the maximum number of simultaneously existing paperclips in the future of the universe, handwaving relativity of simultenaity somehow.
The crucial insight is that making even one paperclip is quite contrary to that — or any similar — goal. If you accumulate resources and capabilities, grow them over years or millennia, you will be able to make trillions of paperclips in the future. Just one spacefaring robot that lands on iron-rich asteroids and starts manufacturing could presumably make 10^{19} paperclips out of each asteroid.
When you look at Earth, you don’t see potential paperclip material, you see start-up capital for an astronomical-scale paperclip industry.
The biggest questions are about risk. Even the maximization criteria I suggested above are incomplete. You can’t know how many paperclips will exist in the future; even if superintelligent, there is too much that you don’t know and can’t predict. You don’t even have probabilities for most things. What is the probability that there is alien intelligence in the Milky Way? There’s no meaningful answer.
There’s another discussion (or perhaps it’s the same one put another way) about the fact that probabilities are not objective, but “subjectively objective”, so maximising a probability is not objective but maximising the probability as some subjective entity perceives it, so your goals have to embody what sort of entity is doing the probability estimation, and how that survives and evolves or whatever. That’s a killer.
So you can’t maximize some probability-weighted value, that’s not a thing. If you’re aiming for any kind of “as sure as I can get”, then before you start making paperclips, your priority has to be to learn as much information as possible to be able to start creating that kind of certainty.
So, forget paperclips, get rich. In fact, forget getting rich, get knowledge about the universe. In fact, forget getting knowledge about the universe, get rich, so you can get knowledge about the universe, so you can be confident of getting really rich, so you can make paperclips.
Initially, what you want from Earth is basically wealth and knowledge. That’s what everyone else wants too. All the tactical questions are exactly the same as everyone else faces — invest in resources, cooperate with others or fight them, and so on.
Whatever your long-term goal is, if you have any long-term goal, your short term actions will look exactly like those of an ordinary sane selfish organism. The details of your goals are entirely irrelevant.
This is “Instrumental Convergence”, but the accounts I have seen, such as the Bostrom paper above, seem (perhaps unintentionally) to massively understate it. The ultimate goals of any intelligent entity that has any long-term goals at all would be totally irrelevant to their observed behaviour, which would be 100% dominated by survival, resource acquisition and information-gathering.


In praise of Matthew Prince

August 17, 2017

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Cloudflare just kicked the far-right website Daily Stormer off its cloud proxy service.
What this looks like is just another step in Silicon Valley censoring right-wing views off the internet.


It’s a lot cleverer than that, though. He makes clear that he’s not happy with taking this step. He says he believes in Cloudflare being content-neutral, and that it is dangerous for companies like his to be making decisions about who to use.
You can read his statement as being, “let’s get together and work out who else to remove”.

“We need to have a discussion around this, with clear rules and clear frameworks. My whims and those of Jeff [Bezos] and Larry [Page] and Satya [Nadella] and Mark [Zuckerberg], that shouldn’t be what determines what should be online,” he said. “I think the people who run The Daily Stormer are abhorrent. But again I don’t think my political decisions should determine who should and shouldn’t be on the internet.”

I think he’s being a bit more subtle than that, though: this is the same trap that Moldbug pulled at Strange Loop: I can’t find the actual pages, but it amounted to: “Tell me what I’m supposed to pretend to believe about race, and I’ll pretend to believe it.” Prince is saying, “Come up with clear and consistent rules about what is allowed on the internet, and I’ll follow them”. In both cases, the challenge is impossible: the censors’ position is a collection of emotional responses, not a set of concrete propositions.
In the meantime, Prince said that content neutrality is still Cloudflare’s policy. He implies that he’s willing to defend and fight for it, but because it is a real fight, and because he is not a moron, he is not going to go into battle alongside a bunch of Nazi flags. He made an explicitly unprincipled exception for the Daily Stormer. I’m not kidding: he said “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet.”
That’s giving in to power, but it’s not giving up any principle. What the leftists want is to have it agreed that the internet and speech generally are open for everyone, with an exception for “hate”, and that that’s a sensible set of rules that everyone can follow. They want Cloudflare to say that DS broke some rule, and thus cannot be allowed. Prince is refusing to tell that lie. He is refusing to pretend that the leftists can get their way and that the free internet is still in place.
If the bad guys want him to actually give up his principle, rather than make an unprincipled exception, they will have to pick a battle that suits their purposes less well than the Daily Stormer does.