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Beware Isolated Demands For Rigor

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<h1>Beware Isolated Demands For Rigor</h1>
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<p><b>I.</b></p>
<p>From <i>Identity, Personal Identity, and the Self</i> by John Perry:</p>
<blockquote>“There is something about practical things that knocks us off our philosophical high horses. Perhaps Heraclitus really thought he couldn’t step in the same river twice. Perhaps he even received tenure for that contribution to philosophy. But suppose some other ancient had claimed to have as much right as Heraclitus did to an ox Heraclitus had bought, on the grounds that since the animal had changed, it wasn’t the same one he had bought and so was up for grabs. Heraclitus would have quickly come up with some ersatz, watered-down version of identity of practical value for dealing with property rights, oxen, lyres, vineyards, and the like. And then he might have wondered if that watered-down vulgar sense of identity might be a considerably more valuable concept than a pure and philosophical sort of identity that nothing has.</blockquote>
<p>Okay, but I can think of something worse than that.</p>
<p>Imagine Heraclitus as a cattle rustler in the Old West. Every time a rancher catches him at his nefarious business, he patiently explains to them that identity doesn’t exist, and therefore the same argument against private property as made above. Flummoxed, they’re unable to think of a response before he rides off into the sunset.</p>
<p>But then when Heraclitus <i>himself</i> needs the concept of stable personal identity for something – maybe he wants to deposit his ill-gotten gains in the bank with certainty that the banker will give it back to him next time he shows up to withdraw it, or maybe he wants to bribe the sheriff to ignore his activities for the next while – all of a sudden Heraclitus is willing to tolerate the watered-down vulgar sense of identity like everyone else.</p>
<p>(actually, I can think of something even worse than <i>that</i>, which is a <span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">TV western based on this premise, where a roving band of pre-Socratic desperadoes terrorizes Texas.</span> The climax is no doubt when the hero strides onto Main Street, revolver in hand, saying “There’s a new sheriff in town.” And Parmenides gruffly responds “No, I’m pretty sure that’s impossible.”)</p>
<p>At <span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">its best, philosophy is a revolutionary pursuit that dissolves our common-sense intuitions and exposes the possibility of much deeper structures behind them.</span> One can respond by becoming a saint or madman, or by becoming a pragmatist who is willing to continue to participate in human society while also understanding its theoretical limitations. Both are respectable career paths.</p>
<p>The <span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">problem is when someone chooses to apply philosophical rigor</span> <i><span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">selectively</span></i><span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">.</span></p>
<p>Heraclitus could drown in his deeper understanding of personal identity and <span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">become a holy madman, eschewing material things and taking no care for the morrow because he does not believe there is any consistent self to experience it.</span> Or he could engage with it from afar, becoming a wise scholar who participating in earthly affairs while drawing equanimity from the realization that there is a sense in which all his accomplishments will be impermanent.</p>
<p>But if he only applies his new theory when he wants other people’s cows, <i>then</i> we have a problem. Philosophical rigor, usually a virtue, has been debased to an <i>isolated demand for rigor</i> in cases where it benefits Heraclitus.</p>
<p><span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">A fair use of philosophical rigor would prevent both Heraclitus and his victims from owning property, and thus either collapse under its own impracticality or usher in a revolutionary new form of economic thinking.</span> An isolated demand for philosophical rigor, applied by Heraclitus to other people but never the other way around, would merely give Heraclitus an unfair advantage in the existing system.</p>
<p><b>II.</b></p>
<p>A while ago I wrote a post called <a shape="rect" href="http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/08/30/military-strikes-are-an-extremely-cheap-way-to-help-foreigners/" target="_blank">Military Strikes Are An Extremely Cheap Way To Help Foreigners</a> which was a response to a Matt Yglesias post called <a shape="rect" href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/08/27/syria_intervention_cost_military_strikes_are_a_highly_cost_ineffective_way.html" target="_blank">the opposite</a>. Yglesias was opposed to “humanitarian” military intervention (think the air strikes on ISIS going on right now, justified under the cause of preventing a genocide) and his argument was that this was extremely cost-ineffective compared to just giving the money to GiveWell’s top-rated charity – at the time he was writing, malaria prevention.</p>
<p>I argued he was wrong about his numbers. But I also argued he was unfairly making an isolated demand for philosophical rigor.</p>
<p>Once you learn about utilitarianism and effective charity, you can become the holy madman, donating every cent you have beyond what is strictly necessary to survive and hold down a job to whatever the top rated charity is.</p>
<p><span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">Or you can become the worldly scholar, continuing to fritter away your money on things like “hot water” and “food other than gruel” but appreciating the effective-utilitarian perspective and trying to make a few particularly important concessions to it.</span></p>
<p>Or you can use it to steal other people’s cows. This is what I accused Matt Yglesias of doing. Presumably there are lots of government programs Yglesias supports – I suggested PBS – and he would never <i>dream</i> of demanding that we defund them in the hopes of donating the money to malaria prevention. But if for political reasons he doesn’t support air strikes, suddenly <i>that</i> plan has to justify itself according to rigorous criteria that no government program that exists could possibly pass.</p>
<p><span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">Government spending seems to be a particularly fertile case for this problem.</span> I remember hearing some conservatives complain: sex education in public schools is an outrage, because <i>my</i> tax dollars are going to support something I believe is morally wrong.</p>
<p>This is, I guess, a demand for ethical rigor. That no one should ever be forced to pay for something they don’t like. <span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">Apply it consistently, and conservatives shouldn’t have to pay for sex ed, liberals shouldn’t have to pay for wars, and libertarians shouldn’t have to pay for</span> <i><span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">anything</span></i><span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">, except maybe a $9.99 tax bill yearly to support the police and a minimal court system.</span></p>
<p>Applied consistently, you become the holy madman demanding either total anarchy or some kind of weird system of tax earmarks which would actually be pretty fun to think about. Or the worldly scholar with a strong appreciation for libertarian ideas who needs a really strong foundational justification for spending government money on things that a lot of people oppose.</p>
<p>Applied <i>inconsistently</i>, you’re just stealing cows again, coming up with a clever argument against the programs you don’t like while defending the ones you do.</p>
<p><b>III.</b></p>
<p>But this is the sort of uncouth behavior we expect of political partisans. What about <i>science</i>?</p>
<p>Suppose there are scientists on both sides of a controversial issue – for example, economists studying the minimum wage. One team that supports a minimum wage comes up with a pretty good study showing with p &lt; 0.05 that minimum wages help the economy in some relevant way.</p>
<p>The Science Czar (of course we have a science czar! We're not monsters!) notes that p &lt; 0.05 is really a shoddy criterion that can prove anything and they should come back when they have p &lt; 0.01. I have a <i>huge</i> amount of sympathy with the Science Czar on this one, by the way.</p>
<p>Soooo the team of economists spends another five years doing another study and finds with p &lt; 0.01 that the minimum wage helps the economy in some important way.</p>
<p>The Science Czar notes that their study was correlational only, and that correlational studies suck. We really can't show that minimum wages are any good without a randomized controlled trial.</p>
<p>Luckily, the governments of every country in the world are totally game for splitting their countries in half and instituting different economic regimes in each part for ten years, so after a decade it comes out that in the randomized controlled trial the minimum wage helped the economy with p &lt; 0.01.</p>
<p>The Science Czar worries about publication bias. What if there were a lot of other teams who got all the countries in the world to split in half and institute different wage policies in each of the two territories for one decade, but they weren't published because their results weren't interesting enough?</p>
<p>Everything the Science Czar has said so far makes perfect sense and he is to be commended for his rigor and commitment to the job. Science is really hard and even tiny methodological mistakes <a shape="rect" href="http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/04/28/the-control-group-is-out-of-control/" target="_blank">can in principle invalidate an entire field</a>.</p>
<p>But now suppose that a team shows that, in a sample of six restaurants in Podunk Ohio, there was a nonsignificant trend towards the minimum wage making things a little worse.</p>
<p>And the Science Czar says: awesome! That solves that debate, minimum wage is bad, let’s move on to investigating nominal GDP targeting.</p>
<p>Now it looks like the Science Czar is just a jerk who’s really against minimum wage. All his knowledge of the standards of scientific rigor are going not towards bettering science, but toward worsering science. He’s not trying to create a revolutionary new scientific regime, he’s taking pot shots.</p>
<p>I see this a lot in medicine. Someone jumps on a new study showing the selenium or chromium or plutonium or whatever cures cancer. It is brought up that no, really, the medical community has investigated this sort of thing before, and it has always been found that it doesn’t.</p>
<p>“Well, maybe the medical community wasn’t investigating it the right way! Maybe the investigators were biased! Maybe they didn’t randomize right! Maybe they used a population unusually susceptible to cancer-getting! Ninety percent of medical studies are wrong! Those twenty experiments showing a lack of effect could be total bunk!”</p>
<p>Yes, maybe these things happened in each of the twenty studies that disagree with you.</p>
<p>Or maybe they happened in the one contrarian study you are getting so excited about.</p>
<p><b>IV.</b></p>
<p>The unholy combination of isolated demands for philosophical rigor and isolated demands for scientific rigor is isolated demands for mathematical-statistical-conceptual rigor, ie the sort of thing this blog has been talking about all week.</p>
<p>I have already <a shape="rect" href="http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/11/does-the-glasgow-coma-scale-exist-do-comas/#comment-133546" target="_blank">been made fun of</a> for how many different things I am metaphorically comparing IQ to – speed, blood pressure, <a shape="rect" href="http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/11/does-the-glasgow-coma-scale-exist-do-comas/" target="_blank">comas</a> – so I guess it can’t hurt to add another example I only thought of today. How about crime? It’s usually measured by crime rate – a made-up statistic that combines subfactors like arson (maybe higher when fire insurance pays out better), property damage (maybe higher during periods of ethnic tension and frequent riots) and theft (maybe higher when income inequality is worse). There is assumed to be a General Factor Of Crime (presumably caused by things like poor policing, dark alleys, broken families, et cetera) but I would be extremely surprised if anyone had ever proven Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt that the factor analysis works out here.</p>
<p>When Cosma Shalizi says <a shape="rect" href="http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/523.html" target="_blank">he’s not sure</a> about the factor analysis in IQ, I have no quarrel with him, because Cosma Shalizi’s response to <i>everything in the world</i> is to glare at it for not being sufficiently statistically rigorous.</p>
<p>But when other people are totally happy to talk about speed and blood pressure and comas and the crime rate, and then suddenly switch to a position that we can’t talk about IQ <i>at all</i> unless we have a perfect factor-analytical proof of its obeying certain statistical rules, then I worry they’re just out to steal cows.</p>
<p>Likewise, if someone were to just never acknowledge any sorts of groups of objects except those that could be statistically proven to fall out into absolutely separate clusters in which variance within each cluster is less than variance between clusters, well, at least they would be fun to talk to at dinner parties.</p>
<p>But <span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">when people never even begin to question the idea of different cultures but make exacting demands of anyone before they can talk about different races</span> – even though <a shape="rect" href="http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/12/does-race-exist-does-culture/" target="_blank">the two ideas are statistically isomorphic</a> – then I think they’re just out to steal cows.</p>
<p>So this is another technique for avoiding <a shape="rect" href="http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/08/10/getting-eulered/" target="_blank">Eulering</a> – is your interlocutor equally willing to apply their complex mathematical argument to everything else.</p>
<p>I think if I hadn’t known anything about Bayesian probability, I would have examined the McGrews’ Bayesian argument for the Gospels by seeing if it applied equally well to <a shape="rect" href="http://squid314.livejournal.com/330728.html" target="_blank">Mormonism</a>, the <a shape="rect" href="http://squid314.livejournal.com/331273.html" target="_blank">control group for Christianity</a>.</p>
<p><b>V.</b></p>
<p>The old man stamped his boot in the red dirt, kicking up a tiny cloud of dust. “There’s a new sheriff in town,” he told them.</p>
<p>“No, I’m pretty sure that’s impossible,” says Parmenides. “There’s no such thing as change, only the appearance thereof.”</p>
<p>“Well then,” says the old man, “I reckon you won’t mind the false illusion of your surroundings appearing to change into a jail cell.” And he took out his six-shooter and held it steady.</p>
<p>“Hold on,” said Thales. “We don’t want any trouble here. All is water, so all we did was steal a little bit of water from people. We can give you some water back, and everything will be even, right?” He gestured to a watering trough for horses on the side of the street, which was full of the stuff.</p>
<p>“Just so long as you don’t mind being sprayed with some very hard water from my squirt gun,” the old man answered, and the six-shooter was pointed at the Milesian now.</p>
<p>“Ha!” said Zeno of Elea. “You don’t scare us. In order to hit Thales, your bullet would have to get halfway to him, then half of the remaining distance, and so on. But that would require an infinite number of steps, therefore it is impossible.”</p>
<p>“Sorry,” said the old man, “I couldn’t hear you because it’s logically impossible for the sound waves encoding your speech to reach my ears.”</p>
<p>“We’re not even the same people as the guys who stole those cattle!” said Heraclitus. “Personal identity is an illusion!”</p>
<p>“Then you won’t mind coming to the courthouse with me,” replied the old man “to help the judge imprison some other people who look just like you.”</p>
<p>The last of them, the tall one, said nothing. He just raised his revolver in a fluid motion and shot at the old man.</p>
<p>The old man saw it coming and jumped out of the way. The air was briefly full of bullets. Bang! Thales went down! Bang bang! Heraclitus! Bang bang! Parmenides and Zeno. Bang bang bang! The old man was hit in the arm, but still standing. Bang bang bang bang…</p>
<p>It was just the old man and the tall one now. The tall one picked up his gun and fired. Nothing happened. Out of bullets.</p>
<p>The old man smiled wryly, his six-shooter still in his hand.</p>
<p>“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking – did he fire six shots, or only five? Well, you’ve got to ask yourself a question – do you feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?”</p>
<p>The tall one didn’t budge. “Man is the measure of all things,” said Protagoras. “If I believe you fired six shots, then by my personal epistemic standards, you fired six shots.”</p>
<p>The old man didn’t say anything.</p>
<p>“You see,” the Sophist continued. “Out of all of them, I alone was truly consistent. They all came up with clever theories, then abandoned them whenever it conflicted with their self-interest. I was more honest. I just said at the beginning that my self-interest determined truth, and so never suffered any temptation to depart from my position.”</p>
<p>The old man took off the bandana covering his face. “Man may be the measure of all things. But I’ve taken <i>your</i> measure, Protagoras, and found it wanting.”</p>
<p>“Socrates?!” the Sophist gasped.</p>
<p>“<span style="-evernote-highlighted:true; background-color:#f6ee96">The only truly consistent people are the dead, Protagoras,</span>” he said – and squeezed the trigger.</p>
<p><i>[If you enjoyed Part V, you may also want to read the logs of my <a shape="rect" href="http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/08/17/fermats-last-stand-soundtrack-and-adventure-log/" target="_blank">Dungeons and Discourse campaign</a>.]</i></p>
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Plato - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

almost 2 years ago
For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation) and Platon (disambiguation). Plato (/ˈpleɪtoʊ/;[1]Greek: Πλάτων Plátōn pronounced [plá.tɔːn] in Classical Attic; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a philosopher and mathematician in Classical Greece, and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered the most pivotal figure in the development of philosophy, especially the Western traditio
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East Asian Military History – A Few Historiographical Notes | The Scholar's Stage

almost 2 years ago
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East Asian Military History – A Few Historiographical Notes | The Scholar's Stage

almost 2 years ago
Recently the Samurai Archives devoted a few episodes of their podcast to dissecting the relationship between military history and Japanese studies. The lead discussant on the program is Nathan Ledbetter, who blogs once a year or so at Sengoku Field Manual but comments regularly at the Samurai Archives forums. In these episodes his focus is on Anglophone scholarship, and he traces attitudes towards Japanese political and military history among Anglophone scholars from the days of George Bailey Sansom to the present. The episodes are interesting, and I suggest you take the time to listen to them. Many of their themes mirror what I have written about the historiography of Chinese military history. Indeed, the historiography of the two subjects match each other well enough to to justify analyzing both under a broader term like "East Asian military history." [1] In that vein, there are a few points I would add to Ledbetter's analysis: On the decline of military history generally: Ledbeter starts his discussion by describing the fortunes of academic military history in general. Military historians are few and far between in today's academy, and Ledbetter pegs this as a consequence of the Vietnam War. As he tells it, opposition to that war led to distaste for all wars, which in turn led to disdain for the formal study of any of them. This account is true but incomplete. A narrow focus on military history may mislead us here, for the changes that overtook academia in the late '60s and early '70s were in fact much broader than one sub-discipline, or indeed the discipline of history as a whole. The Vietnam war was a part of this, but so too was the Civil Rights Movement, the dismantling of Europe's colonial empires, the May 1968 strikes, the Watergate Scandal, and the complete collapse of institutional Christianity in Western Europe. These events changed the way Westerners thought about their world, empowering voices once ignored and discrediting traditional authorities across the board. Power was no longer in vogue. For historians this meant casting aside narratives that took the perspective of the powerful–and out went the sub-disciplines that which specialized in telling stories from this perspective. Military history was one of these sub-disciplines, but it was not the only one. Political history, diplomatic history, intellectual history, and economic or business history also took a hit. Indeed, these other sub-disciplines fared much worse than military history, in proportional terms. [2] Fig. 1 and 2 from Robert Townsend, "The Rise and Decline of History Specializations over the Last 40 Years," Perspectives on History (December 2015). Military historians survived this upheaval by weaving their narratives out of a new sort of warp and weft. Most importantly, historians began to tell the story of warfare from perspectives rarely explored in earlier eras. This is where the "War and Society" version of military history started, as historians sought to highlight voices missing from the old bugle-and-battles narratives. Some of these new histories told stories that would not traditionally have been considered military history at all–how a war was experienced by its widows, for example, or how the imagery or poetry and art of a society at war changed as death tolls mounted. But more traditional campaign narratives also began to change. Traditionally, these narratives often took the perspective of commanders and generals; the battle maps marked with x's and arrows you find in U.S. Civil War atlases are products of this sort of thinking. In the '70s and '80s this focus began to shift. John Keegan's Face of Battle and Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of Great Powers are two landmark examples of the discipline's new priorities. Keegan's book posed questions like, "what compelled soldiers on the front line to fight in different eras of history?" and "what did it feel like to be a grunt at Agincourt, Waterloo, or the Somme?" While he was not the first to attempt these questions, he was one of the best prose writers to do so, and his book caught the attention of professional historians and laymen alike. As such Face of Battle was one of the most important works of military history written during the 20th century; after it was published no historian could get away with writing a narrative history of any war without describing what it looked like on the ground. If Keegan telescoped in on the individual soldier, Kennedy's Rise and Fall expanded the narrative out until it included the workings of entire nations and economies. Kennedy suggested that success in battle had much less to do with operational art or strategic savvy than economic growth and industrial policy. For him victory in war was decided first and foremost by macroeconomics. Kennedy's presentation thus inverted the concerns of the War and Society researchers. Where they focused on how waging war changed a nation's social life, Kennedy asked how a country's social life changed the way it waged war. A number of works in a field that would be later called "world history" anticipated Kennedy's quest to tie the history of military conquest to globe-spanning macrohistorical trends, but only a few of these were ever received with the enthusiasm that showered Kennedy's Rise and Fall. That has changed. Today one or two books of this type are published every month. The popularity of Kennedy and Keegan's books with "general readers" suggests that there was more to military history's new direction than the whims of academic fashion. There was real demand for works that presented warfare and strategy from new perspectives. While a few historians--here John Lynn comes to mind--have tried to revive the more traditional sorts of narrative campaign histories, most felt that this new style of military history was a necessary corrective to what came before. [3] The story of generals and statesmen had been told many times over the centuries; the stories of the soldiers, and of the societies transformed by soldiering, had yet to be told. For the past three decades Western military historians have busied themselves telling these stories. This brings us to my second point. Contemporary historians of East Asia have the same basic set of priorities as the rest of their profession. They focus on structures, cultures, identities, and the hidden voices of history. This is unfortunate, for the historiography of East Asia--especially premodern East Asia--did not follow the same path of development as the historiography of Europe and North America did. The flight from narrative campaign histories was an understandable reaction to high politic's dominance in the literature. However, in the study of East Asian history, narrative political, diplomatic, and military histories never dominated to begin with. The idea that East Asianists need to counter the biases of existing, politics-heavy narratives is mistaken, for in too many cases there are no existing narratives to counter in the first place. [4]We are left with huge gaps in the literature. In the case of military history, there are entire wars where millions of people fought and died, and whose stories are instantly recognized by people across China, Japan, and Korea today, that still have no books written about them in English. Part of the problem is size. The number of East Asianists in academia is small. The number working on pre-modern East Asian history is pitifully small. You can count the number of American scholars who specialize in Silla Korea on one hand. You could count those who specialize in Sengoku Japan on two. You could fit all the specialists on the Northern Song Dynasty on a moderately sized tour bus. This is true now; back when narrative political and military histories was more academically fashionable (c. 1920-1960) the number of East Asianists were even smaller. Because only a few scholars specialized in East Asia then, the the peculiar research interests of one scholar and his pupils forty years ago has come to dominate entire fields today (one example of this is substantial amount of work done on medieval Japan's institutional history, something I credit entirely to the influence of John Whitney Hall, who taught Japanese history at Yale for the better part of the last century). There simply weren't enough historians writing then to fill in the gaps. In addition, many of those who wrote then were relatively unconcerned with high politics, diplomacy, or military affairs. They came to the study of traditional Asia with a set of non-traditional backgrounds. Then—as now—a great deal of East Asian history is written by philosophers, philologists, and archaeologists. These are men and women who began to study East Asia because of a fascination with Pure Land Buddhism, Neoconfucian metaphysics, Shang Dynasty bronzes, or reconstructing classical Chinese pronunciation. In most areas linguistics, philosophy, literature, and religious studies are separate fields, but in the case of the East Asianists (and here a fruitful analogy with the Classicists can be made) they blur somewhat. The very term "East Asianist" (along with its subsets: "Sinologist,""Koreanist," etc.) express the expectation that those studying one aspect of pre-modern Asia should be conversant in all of its other domains. In this milieu intellectual history has always been king. This is partially because many of these disciplines began as an attempt to make the "Eastern mind" accessible to Westerners, and it is partially because it is incredibly difficult to understand even fairly mundane historical sources without a working knowledge of classical Chinese and the history of ideas in East Asia. [5] The interdisciplinary nature of this sort of intellectual history sheltered it somewhat from the political storms and of the '60s and '70s. It is still the strongest strain of historical scholarship on the region. The downstream effects of all this are pretty easy to see. By far the most common textbook for introductory survey courses of East Asian history is Sources of the East Asian Tradition, a collection of mostly philosophical and literary documents from the last few thousand years of East Asian history. The Association for Asian Studies annual conference rarely has panels on the political or military history of Sengoku Japan, but there will always be room for one more panel on the Tale of Genji to be squeezed in. Most important of all, however, is a limited sense of audience on the part of the East Asianists. I hammered this point home in my "Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program" essays, so I'll be a bit briefer here. In essence, East Asianists are prone to write for each other. Only each other. This is partly because a lot of the legwork of East Asian history involves debating esoteric items like the details of a calendar system no one has used for a thousand years or reconstructing the pronunciation of 9th century Vietnamese and 17th century Manchu. It is also because popular interest in East Asia is really quite a new thing. But it is a thing. This is something few East Asianists realize. About a year ago I had an experience that brought this lack of vision to my attention in a rather forceful way. I was exchanging messages with a grad student writing in the beginning stages of a dissertation on the early Song dynasty. I asked him if he would ever be interested in writing a narrative account of the political and military events that occurred during the period in question. He asked in response: "Why would I ever want to do that? That would just be rehashing the Zizhi Tongjian. What would be the point?" This is an extraordinary statement. The Zizhi Tongjian is a 20 volume history written in the 1070s AD. It is regarded as one of the greatest historical works of East Asia. It also has not been translated into English! You could fit all of the Westerners fluent enough in classical Chinese to read the Tongjian in a small auditorium. Sharing the information contained inside the Tongjian with the millions who don't read classical Chinese would be a worthy deed. There are scholars who study political science, strategic studies, and world history who would be eager to read a narrative account of the period. If it was written well enough it might catch the interests of thousands of 'educated readers' outside the academy altogether. But it is not to be! The only audience that mattered to my interlocutor was the one who could read the Tongjian already. Wang Wensheng made a similar critique in his book on the White Lotus Rebellion: "Most historians and social scientists tend to focus more on the explanatory power of structures while remaining less informed about the significance of events." [6] Wang sees this as problem ailing all historians, but it is clear to me that it afflicts some sub-disciplines more than others. Were you to pick up the five or so most cited books on Europe during the Thirty Years War or England and France during the Hundred Years War you would leave with a firm chronology of the main events of each. But in East Asian historiography there are some eras—for example, Sengoku Japan—which an extensive amount has been written about, but which still fail to provide the reader with any narrative account of what actually happened. In the case of Sengoku Japan, there are (thanks to John Hall's students) a great number of studies on the institutional history of late Medieval Japan. Many scholars have investigated how the relentless warfare of that era shaped the country's political and religious institutions, transformed its culture and arts, and altered its social structure. You can learn without much difficulty how Sengoku Daimyo funded their conquests, fed their troops, managed their inheritance, dealt with the Buddhist monastics and Christian missionaries roaming the country, distributed booty, passed laws, negotiated with the court, regulated industry and farming, selected generals, and thought about political and military authority in general. But if you want to discover the story of individual Daimyo or individual Daimyo domains, then there is little you can find in a book store to help you. Historians of Japan write with the assumption that the reader of his or her works is already familiar with the major events and players of the time period—and for the most part they are right, for no one but other specialists in Medieval Japan can read that sort of scholarship. There is something of a self fulfilling prophecy at play here. I don't expect it to end any time soon. There is a strong demand for histories of East Asia's many wars. This demand is unmet. Until East Asianists deem readable narrative accounts as more than redundancies unworthy of their time, this will always be the case. RELATED POSTS: "The Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program, Part I" and Part II -A more formal and in depth review essay on Chinese military history and strategic theory. "Darwin and War in Ancient China, Sengoku Japan, and Early Modern Europe" -Why I read all those institutional histories of Sengoku Japan in the first place. "The Road to Beijing Runs Through Tokyo" -In which I argue that a cadre of Japan experts is a more critical national security need than a cadre of China hands. [1] My analysis is limited here to Anglophone scholars. When I say "East Asianist," "historians of East Asia," "historians of Japan," and so forth, I mean historians of East Asia from the West, and especially those writing in English. The historiography of warfare in various East Asian countries is a fascinating topic, but one better left for its own post(s). [2] This attitude is not simply a relic of the '60s. See Adam Elkus's recent (9 Dec) post on those who attack scholars studying terrorism for producing 'actionable' insights. Also, the numbers in the graphs can be a bit deceptive. See John Lynn's article in note 3 for an explanation of why military history is in rather dire straights at the institutional level. [3] John Lynn, "Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History," Academic Questions 28, iss 1 (2008), pp. 18-36; “The Embattled Future of Academic Military History,” Journal of Military History 61, no. 4 (October 1997), pp. 777-89. [4] An exchange I had about Muromachi era with one professor is a fairly typical example. He told me how much he loved Pieree Souryis' The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society (Asia Perspectives: History, Society, and Culture) because it focused so much on the organizational efforts of peasants and Buddhist orders instead of just focusing on the samurai. "The problem with a lot of Japanese history is that historians are to apt to sympathize with the Samurai and tell the story from their perspective. Books like this show something different." I concede that Souryi's book is fascinating, and probably the single best introduction to medieval Japan to boot. However, his notion that the majority of books are written from the perspective of the Samurai is absolutely false, especially if it is the Muromachi era up for discussion. This may be true in Japanese, but it is not true in English. Daimyo like Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, who are household names in Japan, have no biographies in English. You will be hard pressed to find any book that tells their story even in a cursory fashion. And these are two of the most famous men in Japanese history! Were one to tally all the books published about Muromachi/Sengoku Japan up I suspect that you would find more about the beliefs, practices, and organization of Japan's monastic orders (or the culturally elite but politically marginal aristocrats in Kyoto) than you would about the Daimyo. [5] This is true for Western historical sources as well, of course, but it is less apparent to us because we are taught the basic ideas and references from a young age. [6] Wang Wensheng, White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates: Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 10.
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East Asian Military History – A Few Historiographical Notes | The Scholar's Stage

almost 2 years ago

Recently the Samurai Archives devoted a few episodes of their podcast to dissecting the relationship between military history and Japanese studies. The lead discussant on the program is Nathan Ledbetter, who blogs once a year or so at Sengoku Field Manual but comments regularly at the Samurai Archives forums. In these episodes his focus is on Anglophone scholarship, and he traces attitudes towards Japanese political and military history among Anglophone scholars from the days of George Bailey Sansom to the present. The episodes are interesting, and I suggest you take the time to listen to them. Many of their themes mirror what I have written about the historiography of Chinese military history. Indeed, the historiography of the two subjects match each other well enough to to justify analyzing both under a broader term like "East Asian military history." [1] In that vein, there are a few points I would add to Ledbetter's analysis: On the decline of military history generally: Ledbeter starts his discussion by describing the fortunes of academic military history in general. Military historians are few and far between in today's academy, and Ledbetter pegs this as a consequence of the Vietnam War. As he tells it, opposition to that war led to distaste for all wars, which in turn led to disdain for the formal study of any of them. This account is true but incomplete. A narrow focus on military history may mislead us here, for the changes that overtook academia in the late '60s and early '70s were in fact much broader than one sub-discipline, or indeed the discipline of history as a whole. The Vietnam war was a part of this, but so too was the Civil Rights Movement, the dismantling of Europe's colonial empires, the May 1968 strikes, the Watergate Scandal, and the complete collapse of institutional Christianity in Western Europe. These events changed the way Westerners thought about their world, empowering voices once ignored and discrediting traditional authorities across the board. Power was no longer in vogue. For historians this meant casting aside narratives that took the perspective of the powerful–and out went the sub-disciplines that which specialized in telling stories from this perspective. Military history was one of these sub-disciplines, but it was not the only one. Political history, diplomatic history, intellectual history, and economic or business history also took a hit. Indeed, these other sub-disciplines fared much worse than military history, in proportional terms. [2]

Military historians survived this upheaval by weaving their narratives out of a new sort of warp and weft. Most importantly, historians began to tell the story of warfare from perspectives rarely explored in earlier eras. This is where the "War and Society" version of military history started, as historians sought to highlight voices missing from the old bugle-and-battles narratives. Some of these new histories told stories that would not traditionally have been considered military history at all–how a war was experienced by its widows, for example, or how the imagery or poetry and art of a society at war changed as death tolls mounted. But more traditional campaign narratives also began to change. Traditionally, these narratives often took the perspective of commanders and generals; the battle maps marked with x's and arrows you find in U.S. Civil War atlases are products of this sort of thinking. In the '70s and '80s this focus began to shift. John Keegan's Face of Battle and Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of Great Powers are two landmark examples of the discipline's new priorities. Keegan's book posed questions like, "what compelled soldiers on the front line to fight in different eras of history?" and "what did it feel like to be a grunt at Agincourt, Waterloo, or the Somme?" While he was not the first to attempt these questions, he was one of the best prose writers to do so, and his book caught the attention of professional historians and laymen alike. As such Face of Battle was one of the most important works of military history written during the 20th century; after it was published no historian could get away with writing a narrative history of any war without describing what it looked like on the ground. If Keegan telescoped in on the individual soldier, Kennedy's Rise and Fall expanded the narrative out until it included the workings of entire nations and economies. Kennedy suggested that success in battle had much less to do with operational art or strategic savvy than economic growth and industrial policy. For him victory in war was decided first and foremost by macroeconomics. Kennedy's presentation thus inverted the concerns of the War and Society researchers. Where they focused on how waging war changed a nation's social life, Kennedy asked how a country's social life changed the way it waged war. A number of works in a field that would be later called "world history" anticipated Kennedy's quest to tie the history of military conquest to globe-spanning macrohistorical trends, but only a few of these were ever received with the enthusiasm that showered Kennedy's Rise and Fall. That has changed. Today one or two books of this type are published every month. The popularity of Kennedy and Keegan's books with "general readers" suggests that there was more to military history's new direction than the whims of academic fashion. There was real demand for works that presented warfare and strategy from new perspectives. While a few historians--here John Lynn comes to mind--have tried to revive the more traditional sorts of narrative campaign histories, most felt that this new style of military history was a necessary corrective to what came before. [3] The story of generals and statesmen had been told many times over the centuries; the stories of the soldiers, and of the societies transformed by soldiering, had yet to be told. For the past three decades Western military historians have busied themselves telling these stories. This brings us to my second point. Contemporary historians of East Asia have the same basic set of priorities as the rest of their profession. They focus on structures, cultures, identities, and the hidden voices of history. This is unfortunate, for the historiography of East Asia--especially premodern East Asia--did not follow the same path of development as the historiography of Europe and North America did. The flight from narrative campaign histories was an understandable reaction to high politic's dominance in the literature. However, in the study of East Asian history, narrative political, diplomatic, and military histories never dominated to begin with. The idea that East Asianists need to counter the biases of existing, politics-heavy narratives is mistaken, for in too many cases there are no existing narratives to counter in the first place. [4]We are left with huge gaps in the literature. In the case of military history, there are entire wars where millions of people fought and died, and whose stories are instantly recognized by people across China, Japan, and Korea today, that still have no books written about them in English. Part of the problem is size. The number of East Asianists in academia is small. The number working on pre-modern East Asian history is pitifully small. You can count the number of American scholars who specialize in Silla Korea on one hand. You could count those who specialize in Sengoku Japan on two. You could fit all the specialists on the Northern Song Dynasty on a moderately sized tour bus. This is true now; back when narrative political and military histories was more academically fashionable (c. 1920-1960) the number of East Asianists were even smaller. Because only a few scholars specialized in East Asia then, the the peculiar research interests of one scholar and his pupils forty years ago has come to dominate entire fields today (one example of this is substantial amount of work done on medieval Japan's institutional history, something I credit entirely to the influence of John Whitney Hall, who taught Japanese history at Yale for the better part of the last century). There simply weren't enough historians writing then to fill in the gaps. In addition, many of those who wrote then were relatively unconcerned with high politics, diplomacy, or military affairs. They came to the study of traditional Asia with a set of non-traditional backgrounds. Then—as now—a great deal of East Asian history is written by philosophers, philologists, and archaeologists. These are men and women who began to study East Asia because of a fascination with Pure Land Buddhism, Neoconfucian metaphysics, Shang Dynasty bronzes, or reconstructing classical Chinese pronunciation. In most areas linguistics, philosophy, literature, and religious studies are separate fields, but in the case of the East Asianists (and here a fruitful analogy with the Classicists can be made) they blur somewhat. The very term "East Asianist" (along with its subsets: "Sinologist,""Koreanist," etc.) express the expectation that those studying one aspect of pre-modern Asia should be conversant in all of its other domains. In this milieu intellectual history has always been king. This is partially because many of these disciplines began as an attempt to make the "Eastern mind" accessible to Westerners, and it is partially because it is incredibly difficult to understand even fairly mundane historical sources without a working knowledge of classical Chinese and the history of ideas in East Asia. [5] The interdisciplinary nature of this sort of intellectual history sheltered it somewhat from the political storms and of the '60s and '70s. It is still the strongest strain of historical scholarship on the region. The downstream effects of all this are pretty easy to see. By far the most common textbook for introductory survey courses of East Asian history is Sources of the East Asian Tradition, a collection of mostly philosophical and literary documents from the last few thousand years of East Asian history. The Association for Asian Studies annual conference rarely has panels on the political or military history of Sengoku Japan, but there will always be room for one more panel on the Tale of Genji to be squeezed in. Most important of all, however, is a limited sense of audience on the part of the East Asianists. I hammered this point home in my "Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program" essays, so I'll be a bit briefer here. In essence, East Asianists are prone to write for each other. Only each other. This is partly because a lot of the legwork of East Asian history involves debating esoteric items like the details of a calendar system no one has used for a thousand years or reconstructing the pronunciation of 9th century Vietnamese and 17th century Manchu. It is also because popular interest in East Asia is really quite a new thing. But it is a thing. This is something few East Asianists realize. About a year ago I had an experience that brought this lack of vision to my attention in a rather forceful way. I was exchanging messages with a grad student writing in the beginning stages of a dissertation on the early Song dynasty. I asked him if he would ever be interested in writing a narrative account of the political and military events that occurred during the period in question. He asked in response: "Why would I ever want to do that? That would just be rehashing the Zizhi Tongjian. What would be the point?" This is an extraordinary statement. The Zizhi Tongjian is a 20 volume history written in the 1070s AD. It is regarded as one of the greatest historical works of East Asia. It also has not been translated into English! You could fit all of the Westerners fluent enough in classical Chinese to read the Tongjian in a small auditorium. Sharing the information contained inside the Tongjian with the millions who don't read classical Chinese would be a worthy deed. There are scholars who study political science, strategic studies, and world history who would be eager to read a narrative account of the period. If it was written well enough it might catch the interests of thousands of 'educated readers' outside the academy altogether. But it is not to be! The only audience that mattered to my interlocutor was the one who could read the Tongjian already. Wang Wensheng made a similar critique in his book on the White Lotus Rebellion: "Most historians and social scientists tend to focus more on the explanatory power of structures while remaining less informed about the significance of events." [6] Wang sees this as problem ailing all historians, but it is clear to me that it afflicts some sub-disciplines more than others. Were you to pick up the five or so most cited books on Europe during the Thirty Years War or England and France during the Hundred Years War you would leave with a firm chronology of the main events of each. But in East Asian historiography there are some eras—for example, Sengoku Japan—which an extensive amount has been written about, but which still fail to provide the reader with any narrative account of what actually happened. In the case of Sengoku Japan, there are (thanks to John Hall's students) a great number of studies on the institutional history of late Medieval Japan. Many scholars have investigated how the relentless warfare of that era shaped the country's political and religious institutions, transformed its culture and arts, and altered its social structure. You can learn without much difficulty how Sengoku Daimyo funded their conquests, fed their troops, managed their inheritance, dealt with the Buddhist monastics and Christian missionaries roaming the country, distributed booty, passed laws, negotiated with the court, regulated industry and farming, selected generals, and thought about political and military authority in general. But if you want to discover the story of individual Daimyo or individual Daimyo domains, then there is little you can find in a book store to help you. Historians of Japan write with the assumption that the reader of his or her works is already familiar with the major events and players of the time period—and for the most part they are right, for no one but other specialists in Medieval Japan can read that sort of scholarship. There is something of a self fulfilling prophecy at play here. I don't expect it to end any time soon. There is a strong demand for histories of East Asia's many wars. This demand is unmet. Until East Asianists deem readable narrative accounts as more than redundancies unworthy of their time, this will always be the case.

RELATED POSTS:

"The Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program, Part I" and Part II

-A more formal and in depth review essay on Chinese military history and strategic theory.

"Darwin and War in Ancient China, Sengoku Japan, and Early Modern Europe"

-Why I read all those institutional histories of Sengoku Japan in the first place.

"The Road to Beijing Runs Through Tokyo"

-In which I argue that a cadre of Japan experts is a more critical national security need than a cadre of China hands.

[1] My analysis is limited here to Anglophone scholars. When I say "East Asianist," "historians of East Asia," "historians of Japan," and so forth, I mean historians of East Asia from the West, and especially those writing in English. The historiography of warfare in various East Asian countries is a fascinating topic, but one better left for its own post(s). [2] This attitude is not simply a relic of the '60s. See Adam Elkus's recent (9 Dec) post on those who attack scholars studying terrorism for producing 'actionable' insights. Also, the numbers in the graphs can be a bit deceptive. See John Lynn's article in note 3 for an explanation of why military history is in rather dire straights at the institutional level. [3] John Lynn, "Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History," Academic Questions 28, iss 1 (2008), pp. 18-36; “The Embattled Future of Academic Military History,” Journal of Military History 61, no. 4 (October 1997), pp. 777-89. [4] An exchange I had about Muromachi era with one professor is a fairly typical example. He told me how much he loved Pieree Souryis' The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society (Asia Perspectives: History, Society, and Culture) because it focused so much on the organizational efforts of peasants and Buddhist orders instead of just focusing on the samurai. "The problem with a lot of Japanese history is that historians are to apt to sympathize with the Samurai and tell the story from their perspective. Books like this show something different." I concede that Souryi's book is fascinating, and probably the single best introduction to medieval Japan to boot. However, his notion that the majority of books are written from the perspective of the Samurai is absolutely false, especially if it is the Muromachi era up for discussion. This may be true in Japanese, but it is not true in English. Daimyo like Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, who are household names in Japan, have no biographies in English. You will be hard pressed to find any book that tells their story even in a cursory fashion. And these are two of the most famous men in Japanese history! Were one to tally all the books published about Muromachi/Sengoku Japan up I suspect that you would find more about the beliefs, practices, and organization of Japan's monastic orders (or the culturally elite but politically marginal aristocrats in Kyoto) than you would about the Daimyo. [5] This is true for Western historical sources as well, of course, but it is less apparent to us because we are taught the basic ideas and references from a young age. [6] Wang Wensheng, White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates: Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 10.

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East Asian Military History – A Few Historiographical Notes | The Scholar's Stage

almost 2 years ago
Recently the Samurai Archives devoted a few episodes of their podcast to dissecting the relationship between military history and Japanese studies. The lead discussant on the program is Nathan Ledbetter, who blogs once a year or so at Sengoku Field Manual but comments regularly at the Samurai Archives forums. In these episodes his focus is on Anglophone scholarship, and he traces attitudes towards Japanese political and military history among Anglophone scholars from the days of George Bailey Sansom to the present. The episodes are interesting, and I suggest you take the time to listen to them. Many of their themes mirror what I have written about the historiography of Chinese military history. Indeed, the historiography of the two subjects match each other well enough to to justify analyzing both under a broader term like "East Asian military history." [1] In that vein, there are a few points I would add to Ledbetter's analysis: On the decline of military history generally: Ledbeter starts his discussion by describing the fortunes of academic military history in general. Military historians are few and far between in today's academy, and Ledbetter pegs this as a consequence of the Vietnam War. As he tells it, opposition to that war led to distaste for all wars, which in turn led to disdain for the formal study of any of them. This account is true but incomplete. A narrow focus on military history may mislead us here, for the changes that overtook academia in the late '60s and early '70s were in fact much broader than one sub-discipline, or indeed the discipline of history as a whole. The Vietnam war was a part of this, but so too was the Civil Rights Movement, the dismantling of Europe's colonial empires, the May 1968 strikes, the Watergate Scandal, and the complete collapse of institutional Christianity in Western Europe. These events changed the way Westerners thought about their world, empowering voices once ignored and discrediting traditional authorities across the board. Power was no longer in vogue. For historians this meant casting aside narratives that took the perspective of the powerful–and out went the sub-disciplines that which specialized in telling stories from this perspective. Military history was one of these sub-disciplines, but it was not the only one. Political history, diplomatic history, intellectual history, and economic or business history also took a hit. Indeed, these other sub-disciplines fared much worse than military history, in proportional terms. [2] Military historians survived this upheaval by weaving their narratives out of a new sort of warp and weft. Most importantly, historians began to tell the story of warfare from perspectives rarely explored in earlier eras. This is where the "War and Society" version of military history started, as historians sought to highlight voices missing from the old bugle-and-battles narratives. Some of these new histories told stories that would not traditionally have been considered military history at all–how a war was experienced by its widows, for example, or how the imagery or poetry and art of a society at war changed as death tolls mounted. But more traditional campaign narratives also began to change. Traditionally, these narratives often took the perspective of commanders and generals; the battle maps marked with x's and arrows you find in U.S. Civil War atlases are products of this sort of thinking. In the '70s and '80s this focus began to shift. John Keegan's Face of Battle and Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of Great Powers are two landmark examples of the discipline's new priorities. Keegan's book posed questions like, "what compelled soldiers on the front line to fight in different eras of history?" and "what did it feel like to be a grunt at Agincourt, Waterloo, or the Somme?" While he was not the first to attempt these questions, he was one of the best prose writers to do so, and his book caught the attention of professional historians and laymen alike. As such Face of Battle was one of the most important works of military history written during the 20th century; after it was published no historian could get away with writing a narrative history of any war without describing what it looked like on the ground. If Keegan telescoped in on the individual soldier, Kennedy's Rise and Fall expanded the narrative out until it included the workings of entire nations and economies. Kennedy suggested that success in battle had much less to do with operational art or strategic savvy than economic growth and industrial policy. For him victory in war was decided first and foremost by macroeconomics. Kennedy's presentation thus inverted the concerns of the War and Society researchers. Where they focused on how waging war changed a nation's social life, Kennedy asked how a country's social life changed the way it waged war. A number of works in a field that would be later called "world history" anticipated Kennedy's quest to tie the history of military conquest to globe-spanning macrohistorical trends, but only a few of these were ever received with the enthusiasm that showered Kennedy's Rise and Fall. That has changed. Today one or two books of this type are published every month. The popularity of Kennedy and Keegan's books with "general readers" suggests that there was more to military history's new direction than the whims of academic fashion. There was real demand for works that presented warfare and strategy from new perspectives. While a few historians--here John Lynn comes to mind--have tried to revive the more traditional sorts of narrative campaign histories, most felt that this new style of military history was a necessary corrective to what came before. [3] The story of generals and statesmen had been told many times over the centuries; the stories of the soldiers, and of the societies transformed by soldiering, had yet to be told. For the past three decades Western military historians have busied themselves telling these stories. This brings us to my second point. Contemporary historians of East Asia have the same basic set of priorities as the rest of their profession. They focus on structures, cultures, identities, and the hidden voices of history. This is unfortunate, for the historiography of East Asia--especially premodern East Asia--did not follow the same path of development as the historiography of Europe and North America did. The flight from narrative campaign histories was an understandable reaction to high politic's dominance in the literature. However, in the study of East Asian history, narrative political, diplomatic, and military histories never dominated to begin with. The idea that East Asianists need to counter the biases of existing, politics-heavy narratives is mistaken, for in too many cases there are no existing narratives to counter in the first place. [4]We are left with huge gaps in the literature. In the case of military history, there are entire wars where millions of people fought and died, and whose stories are instantly recognized by people across China, Japan, and Korea today, that still have no books written about them in English. Part of the problem is size. The number of East Asianists in academia is small. The number working on pre-modern East Asian history is pitifully small. You can count the number of American scholars who specialize in Silla Korea on one hand. You could count those who specialize in Sengoku Japan on two. You could fit all the specialists on the Northern Song Dynasty on a moderately sized tour bus. This is true now; back when narrative political and military histories was more academically fashionable (c. 1920-1960) the number of East Asianists were even smaller. Because only a few scholars specialized in East Asia then, the the peculiar research interests of one scholar and his pupils forty years ago has come to dominate entire fields today (one example of this is substantial amount of work done on medieval Japan's institutional history, something I credit entirely to the influence of John Whitney Hall, who taught Japanese history at Yale for the better part of the last century). There simply weren't enough historians writing then to fill in the gaps. In addition, many of those who wrote then were relatively unconcerned with high politics, diplomacy, or military affairs. They came to the study of traditional Asia with a set of non-traditional backgrounds. Then—as now—a great deal of East Asian history is written by philosophers, philologists, and archaeologists. These are men and women who began to study East Asia because of a fascination with Pure Land Buddhism, Neoconfucian metaphysics, Shang Dynasty bronzes, or reconstructing classical Chinese pronunciation. In most areas linguistics, philosophy, literature, and religious studies are separate fields, but in the case of the East Asianists (and here a fruitful analogy with the Classicists can be made) they blur somewhat. The very term "East Asianist" (along with its subsets: "Sinologist,""Koreanist," etc.) express the expectation that those studying one aspect of pre-modern Asia should be conversant in all of its other domains. In this milieu intellectual history has always been king. This is partially because many of these disciplines began as an attempt to make the "Eastern mind" accessible to Westerners, and it is partially because it is incredibly difficult to understand even fairly mundane historical sources without a working knowledge of classical Chinese and the history of ideas in East Asia. [5] The interdisciplinary nature of this sort of intellectual history sheltered it somewhat from the political storms and of the '60s and '70s. It is still the strongest strain of historical scholarship on the region. The downstream effects of all this are pretty easy to see. By far the most common textbook for introductory survey courses of East Asian history is Sources of the East Asian Tradition, a collection of mostly philosophical and literary documents from the last few thousand years of East Asian history. The Association for Asian Studies annual conference rarely has panels on the political or military history of Sengoku Japan, but there will always be room for one more panel on the Tale of Genji to be squeezed in. Most important of all, however, is a limited sense of audience on the part of the East Asianists. I hammered this point home in my "Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program" essays, so I'll be a bit briefer here. In essence, East Asianists are prone to write for each other. Only each other. This is partly because a lot of the legwork of East Asian history involves debating esoteric items like the details of a calendar system no one has used for a thousand years or reconstructing the pronunciation of 9th century Vietnamese and 17th century Manchu. It is also because popular interest in East Asia is really quite a new thing. But it is a thing. This is something few East Asianists realize. About a year ago I had an experience that brought this lack of vision to my attention in a rather forceful way. I was exchanging messages with a grad student writing in the beginning stages of a dissertation on the early Song dynasty. I asked him if he would ever be interested in writing a narrative account of the political and military events that occurred during the period in question. He asked in response: "Why would I ever want to do that? That would just be rehashing the Zizhi Tongjian. What would be the point?" This is an extraordinary statement. The Zizhi Tongjian is a 20 volume history written in the 1070s AD. It is regarded as one of the greatest historical works of East Asia. It also has not been translated into English! You could fit all of the Westerners fluent enough in classical Chinese to read the Tongjian in a small auditorium. Sharing the information contained inside the Tongjian with the millions who don't read classical Chinese would be a worthy deed. There are scholars who study political science, strategic studies, and world history who would be eager to read a narrative account of the period. If it was written well enough it might catch the interests of thousands of 'educated readers' outside the academy altogether. But it is not to be! The only audience that mattered to my interlocutor was the one who could read the Tongjian already. Wang Wensheng made a similar critique in his book on the White Lotus Rebellion: "Most historians and social scientists tend to focus more on the explanatory power of structures while remaining less informed about the significance of events." [6] Wang sees this as problem ailing all historians, but it is clear to me that it afflicts some sub-disciplines more than others. Were you to pick up the five or so most cited books on Europe during the Thirty Years War or England and France during the Hundred Years War you would leave with a firm chronology of the main events of each. But in East Asian historiography there are some eras—for example, Sengoku Japan—which an extensive amount has been written about, but which still fail to provide the reader with any narrative account of what actually happened. In the case of Sengoku Japan, there are (thanks to John Hall's students) a great number of studies on the institutional history of late Medieval Japan. Many scholars have investigated how the relentless warfare of that era shaped the country's political and religious institutions, transformed its culture and arts, and altered its social structure. You can learn without much difficulty how Sengoku Daimyo funded their conquests, fed their troops, managed their inheritance, dealt with the Buddhist monastics and Christian missionaries roaming the country, distributed booty, passed laws, negotiated with the court, regulated industry and farming, selected generals, and thought about political and military authority in general. But if you want to discover the story of individual Daimyo or individual Daimyo domains, then there is little you can find in a book store to help you. Historians of Japan write with the assumption that the reader of his or her works is already familiar with the major events and players of the time period—and for the most part they are right, for no one but other specialists in Medieval Japan can read that sort of scholarship. There is something of a self fulfilling prophecy at play here. I don't expect it to end any time soon. There is a strong demand for histories of East Asia's many wars. This demand is unmet. Until East Asianists deem readable narrative accounts as more than redundancies unworthy of their time, this will always be the case. RELATED POSTS: "The Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program, Part I" and Part II -A more formal and in depth review essay on Chinese military history and strategic theory. "Darwin and War in Ancient China, Sengoku Japan, and Early Modern Europe" -Why I read all those institutional histories of Sengoku Japan in the first place. "The Road to Beijing Runs Through Tokyo" -In which I argue that a cadre of Japan experts is a more critical national security need than a cadre of China hands. [1] My analysis is limited here to Anglophone scholars. When I say "East Asianist," "historians of East Asia," "historians of Japan," and so forth, I mean historians of East Asia from the West, and especially those writing in English. The historiography of warfare in various East Asian countries is a fascinating topic, but one better left for its own post(s). [2] This attitude is not simply a relic of the '60s. See Adam Elkus's recent (9 Dec) post on those who attack scholars studying terrorism for producing 'actionable' insights. Also, the numbers in the graphs can be a bit deceptive. See John Lynn's article in note 3 for an explanation of why military history is in rather dire straights at the institutional level. [3] John Lynn, "Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History," Academic Questions 28, iss 1 (2008), pp. 18-36; “The Embattled Future of Academic Military History,” Journal of Military History 61, no. 4 (October 1997), pp. 777-89. [4] An exchange I had about Muromachi era with one professor is a fairly typical example. He told me how much he loved Pieree Souryis' The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society (Asia Perspectives: History, Society, and Culture) because it focused so much on the organizational efforts of peasants and Buddhist orders instead of just focusing on the samurai. "The problem with a lot of Japanese history is that historians are to apt to sympathize with the Samurai and tell the story from their perspective. Books like this show something different." I concede that Souryi's book is fascinating, and probably the single best introduction to medieval Japan to boot. However, his notion that the majority of books are written from the perspective of the Samurai is absolutely false, especially if it is the Muromachi era up for discussion. This may be true in Japanese, but it is not true in English. Daimyo like Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, who are household names in Japan, have no biographies in English. You will be hard pressed to find any book that tells their story even in a cursory fashion. And these are two of the most famous men in Japanese history! Were one to tally all the books published about Muromachi/Sengoku Japan up I suspect that you would find more about the beliefs, practices, and organization of Japan's monastic orders (or the culturally elite but politically marginal aristocrats in Kyoto) than you would about the Daimyo. [5] This is true for Western historical sources as well, of course, but it is less apparent to us because we are taught the basic ideas and references from a young age. [6] Wang Wensheng, White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates: Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 10.
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East Asian Military History – A Few Historiographical Notes | The Scholar's Stage

almost 2 years ago

Recently the Samurai Archives devoted a few episodes of their podcast to dissecting the relationship between military history and Japanese studies. The lead discussant on the program is Nathan Ledbetter, who blogs once a year or so at Sengoku Field Manual but comments regularly at the Samurai Archives forums. In these episodes his focus is on Anglophone scholarship, and he traces attitudes towards Japanese political and military history among Anglophone scholars from the days of George Bailey Sansom to the present. The episodes are interesting, and I suggest you take the time to listen to them. Many of their themes mirror what I have written about the historiography of Chinese military history. Indeed, the historiography of the two subjects match each other well enough to to justify analyzing both under a broader term like "East Asian military history." [1] In that vein, there are a few points I would add to Ledbetter's analysis: On the decline of military history generally: Ledbeter starts his discussion by describing the fortunes of academic military history in general. Military historians are few and far between in today's academy, and Ledbetter pegs this as a consequence of the Vietnam War. As he tells it, opposition to that war led to distaste for all wars, which in turn led to disdain for the formal study of any of them. This account is true but incomplete. A narrow focus on military history may mislead us here, for the changes that overtook academia in the late '60s and early '70s were in fact much broader than one sub-discipline, or indeed the discipline of history as a whole. The Vietnam war was a part of this, but so too was the Civil Rights Movement, the dismantling of Europe's colonial empires, the May 1968 strikes, the Watergate Scandal, and the complete collapse of institutional Christianity in Western Europe. These events changed the way Westerners thought about their world, empowering voices once ignored and discrediting traditional authorities across the board. Power was no longer in vogue. For historians this meant casting aside narratives that took the perspective of the powerful–and out went the sub-disciplines that which specialized in telling stories from this perspective. Military history was one of these sub-disciplines, but it was not the only one. Political history, diplomatic history, intellectual history, and economic or business history also took a hit. Indeed, these other sub-disciplines fared much worse than military history, in proportional terms. [2]

Military historians survived this upheaval by weaving their narratives out of a new sort of warp and weft. Most importantly, historians began to tell the story of warfare from perspectives rarely explored in earlier eras. This is where the "War and Society" version of military history started, as historians sought to highlight voices missing from the old bugle-and-battles narratives. Some of these new histories told stories that would not traditionally have been considered military history at all–how a war was experienced by its widows, for example, or how the imagery or poetry and art of a society at war changed as death tolls mounted. But more traditional campaign narratives also began to change. Traditionally, these narratives often took the perspective of commanders and generals; the battle maps marked with x's and arrows you find in U.S. Civil War atlases are products of this sort of thinking. In the '70s and '80s this focus began to shift. John Keegan's Face of Battle and Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of Great Powers are two landmark examples of the discipline's new priorities. Keegan's book posed questions like, "what compelled soldiers on the front line to fight in different eras of history?" and "what did it feel like to be a grunt at Agincourt, Waterloo, or the Somme?" While he was not the first to attempt these questions, he was one of the best prose writers to do so, and his book caught the attention of professional historians and laymen alike. As such Face of Battle was one of the most important works of military history written during the 20th century; after it was published no historian could get away with writing a narrative history of any war without describing what it looked like on the ground. If Keegan telescoped in on the individual soldier, Kennedy's Rise and Fall expanded the narrative out until it included the workings of entire nations and economies. Kennedy suggested that success in battle had much less to do with operational art or strategic savvy than economic growth and industrial policy. For him victory in war was decided first and foremost by macroeconomics. Kennedy's presentation thus inverted the concerns of the War and Society researchers. Where they focused on how waging war changed a nation's social life, Kennedy asked how a country's social life changed the way it waged war. A number of works in a field that would be later called "world history" anticipated Kennedy's quest to tie the history of military conquest to globe-spanning macrohistorical trends, but only a few of these were ever received with the enthusiasm that showered Kennedy's Rise and Fall. That has changed. Today one or two books of this type are published every month. The popularity of Kennedy and Keegan's books with "general readers" suggests that there was more to military history's new direction than the whims of academic fashion. There was real demand for works that presented warfare and strategy from new perspectives. While a few historians--here John Lynn comes to mind--have tried to revive the more traditional sorts of narrative campaign histories, most felt that this new style of military history was a necessary corrective to what came before. [3] The story of generals and statesmen had been told many times over the centuries; the stories of the soldiers, and of the societies transformed by soldiering, had yet to be told. For the past three decades Western military historians have busied themselves telling these stories. This brings us to my second point. Contemporary historians of East Asia have the same basic set of priorities as the rest of their profession. They focus on structures, cultures, identities, and the hidden voices of history. This is unfortunate, for the historiography of East Asia--especially premodern East Asia--did not follow the same path of development as the historiography of Europe and North America did. The flight from narrative campaign histories was an understandable reaction to high politic's dominance in the literature. However, in the study of East Asian history, narrative political, diplomatic, and military histories never dominated to begin with. The idea that East Asianists need to counter the biases of existing, politics-heavy narratives is mistaken, for in too many cases there are no existing narratives to counter in the first place. [4]We are left with huge gaps in the literature. In the case of military history, there are entire wars where millions of people fought and died, and whose stories are instantly recognized by people across China, Japan, and Korea today, that still have no books written about them in English. Part of the problem is size. The number of East Asianists in academia is small. The number working on pre-modern East Asian history is pitifully small. You can count the number of American scholars who specialize in Silla Korea on one hand. You could count those who specialize in Sengoku Japan on two. You could fit all the specialists on the Northern Song Dynasty on a moderately sized tour bus. This is true now; back when narrative political and military histories was more academically fashionable (c. 1920-1960) the number of East Asianists were even smaller. Because only a few scholars specialized in East Asia then, the the peculiar research interests of one scholar and his pupils forty years ago has come to dominate entire fields today (one example of this is substantial amount of work done on medieval Japan's institutional history, something I credit entirely to the influence of John Whitney Hall, who taught Japanese history at Yale for the better part of the last century). There simply weren't enough historians writing then to fill in the gaps. In addition, many of those who wrote then were relatively unconcerned with high politics, diplomacy, or military affairs. They came to the study of traditional Asia with a set of non-traditional backgrounds. Then—as now—a great deal of East Asian history is written by philosophers, philologists, and archaeologists. These are men and women who began to study East Asia because of a fascination with Pure Land Buddhism, Neoconfucian metaphysics, Shang Dynasty bronzes, or reconstructing classical Chinese pronunciation. In most areas linguistics, philosophy, literature, and religious studies are separate fields, but in the case of the East Asianists (and here a fruitful analogy with the Classicists can be made) they blur somewhat. The very term "East Asianist" (along with its subsets: "Sinologist,""Koreanist," etc.) express the expectation that those studying one aspect of pre-modern Asia should be conversant in all of its other domains. In this milieu intellectual history has always been king. This is partially because many of these disciplines began as an attempt to make the "Eastern mind" accessible to Westerners, and it is partially because it is incredibly difficult to understand even fairly mundane historical sources without a working knowledge of classical Chinese and the history of ideas in East Asia. [5] The interdisciplinary nature of this sort of intellectual history sheltered it somewhat from the political storms and of the '60s and '70s. It is still the strongest strain of historical scholarship on the region. The downstream effects of all this are pretty easy to see. By far the most common textbook for introductory survey courses of East Asian history is Sources of the East Asian Tradition, a collection of mostly philosophical and literary documents from the last few thousand years of East Asian history. The Association for Asian Studies annual conference rarely has panels on the political or military history of Sengoku Japan, but there will always be room for one more panel on the Tale of Genji to be squeezed in. Most important of all, however, is a limited sense of audience on the part of the East Asianists. I hammered this point home in my "Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program" essays, so I'll be a bit briefer here. In essence, East Asianists are prone to write for each other. Only each other. This is partly because a lot of the legwork of East Asian history involves debating esoteric items like the details of a calendar system no one has used for a thousand years or reconstructing the pronunciation of 9th century Vietnamese and 17th century Manchu. It is also because popular interest in East Asia is really quite a new thing. But it is a thing. This is something few East Asianists realize. About a year ago I had an experience that brought this lack of vision to my attention in a rather forceful way. I was exchanging messages with a grad student writing in the beginning stages of a dissertation on the early Song dynasty. I asked him if he would ever be interested in writing a narrative account of the political and military events that occurred during the period in question. He asked in response: "Why would I ever want to do that? That would just be rehashing the Zizhi Tongjian. What would be the point?" This is an extraordinary statement. The Zizhi Tongjian is a 20 volume history written in the 1070s AD. It is regarded as one of the greatest historical works of East Asia. It also has not been translated into English! You could fit all of the Westerners fluent enough in classical Chinese to read the Tongjian in a small auditorium. Sharing the information contained inside the Tongjian with the millions who don't read classical Chinese would be a worthy deed. There are scholars who study political science, strategic studies, and world history who would be eager to read a narrative account of the period. If it was written well enough it might catch the interests of thousands of 'educated readers' outside the academy altogether. But it is not to be! The only audience that mattered to my interlocutor was the one who could read the Tongjian already. Wang Wensheng made a similar critique in his book on the White Lotus Rebellion: "Most historians and social scientists tend to focus more on the explanatory power of structures while remaining less informed about the significance of events." [6] Wang sees this as problem ailing all historians, but it is clear to me that it afflicts some sub-disciplines more than others. Were you to pick up the five or so most cited books on Europe during the Thirty Years War or England and France during the Hundred Years War you would leave with a firm chronology of the main events of each. But in East Asian historiography there are some eras—for example, Sengoku Japan—which an extensive amount has been written about, but which still fail to provide the reader with any narrative account of what actually happened. In the case of Sengoku Japan, there are (thanks to John Hall's students) a great number of studies on the institutional history of late Medieval Japan. Many scholars have investigated how the relentless warfare of that era shaped the country's political and religious institutions, transformed its culture and arts, and altered its social structure. You can learn without much difficulty how Sengoku Daimyo funded their conquests, fed their troops, managed their inheritance, dealt with the Buddhist monastics and Christian missionaries roaming the country, distributed booty, passed laws, negotiated with the court, regulated industry and farming, selected generals, and thought about political and military authority in general. But if you want to discover the story of individual Daimyo or individual Daimyo domains, then there is little you can find in a book store to help you. Historians of Japan write with the assumption that the reader of his or her works is already familiar with the major events and players of the time period—and for the most part they are right, for no one but other specialists in Medieval Japan can read that sort of scholarship. There is something of a self fulfilling prophecy at play here. I don't expect it to end any time soon. There is a strong demand for histories of East Asia's many wars. This demand is unmet. Until East Asianists deem readable narrative accounts as more than redundancies unworthy of their time, this will always be the case.

RELATED POSTS:

"The Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program, Part I" and Part II

-A more formal and in depth review essay on Chinese military history and strategic theory.

"Darwin and War in Ancient China, Sengoku Japan, and Early Modern Europe"

-Why I read all those institutional histories of Sengoku Japan in the first place.

"The Road to Beijing Runs Through Tokyo"

-In which I argue that a cadre of Japan experts is a more critical national security need than a cadre of China hands.

[1] My analysis is limited here to Anglophone scholars. When I say "East Asianist," "historians of East Asia," "historians of Japan," and so forth, I mean historians of East Asia from the West, and especially those writing in English. The historiography of warfare in various East Asian countries is a fascinating topic, but one better left for its own post(s). [2] This attitude is not simply a relic of the '60s. See Adam Elkus's recent (9 Dec) post on those who attack scholars studying terrorism for producing 'actionable' insights. Also, the numbers in the graphs can be a bit deceptive. See John Lynn's article in note 3 for an explanation of why military history is in rather dire straights at the institutional level. [3] John Lynn, "Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History," Academic Questions 28, iss 1 (2008), pp. 18-36; “The Embattled Future of Academic Military History,” Journal of Military History 61, no. 4 (October 1997), pp. 777-89. [4] An exchange I had about Muromachi era with one professor is a fairly typical example. He told me how much he loved Pieree Souryis' The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society (Asia Perspectives: History, Society, and Culture) because it focused so much on the organizational efforts of peasants and Buddhist orders instead of just focusing on the samurai. "The problem with a lot of Japanese history is that historians are to apt to sympathize with the Samurai and tell the story from their perspective. Books like this show something different." I concede that Souryi's book is fascinating, and probably the single best introduction to medieval Japan to boot. However, his notion that the majority of books are written from the perspective of the Samurai is absolutely false, especially if it is the Muromachi era up for discussion. This may be true in Japanese, but it is not true in English. Daimyo like Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, who are household names in Japan, have no biographies in English. You will be hard pressed to find any book that tells their story even in a cursory fashion. And these are two of the most famous men in Japanese history! Were one to tally all the books published about Muromachi/Sengoku Japan up I suspect that you would find more about the beliefs, practices, and organization of Japan's monastic orders (or the culturally elite but politically marginal aristocrats in Kyoto) than you would about the Daimyo. [5] This is true for Western historical sources as well, of course, but it is less apparent to us because we are taught the basic ideas and references from a young age. [6] Wang Wensheng, White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates: Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 10.

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East Asian Military History – A Few Historiographical Notes | The Scholar's Stage

almost 2 years ago

Recently the Samurai Archives devoted a few episodes of their podcast to dissecting the relationship between military history and Japanese studies. The lead discussant on the program is Nathan Ledbetter, who blogs once a year or so at Sengoku Field Manual but comments regularly at the Samurai Archives forums. In these episodes his focus is on Anglophone scholarship, and he traces attitudes towards Japanese political and military history among Anglophone scholars from the days of George Bailey Sansom to the present. The episodes are interesting, and I suggest you take the time to listen to them. Many of their themes mirror what I have written about the historiography of Chinese military history. Indeed, the historiography of the two subjects match each other well enough to to justify analyzing both under a broader term like "East Asian military history." [1] In that vein, there are a few points I would add to Ledbetter's analysis: On the decline of military history generally: Ledbeter starts his discussion by describing the fortunes of academic military history in general. Military historians are few and far between in today's academy, and Ledbetter pegs this as a consequence of the Vietnam War. As he tells it, opposition to that war led to distaste for all wars, which in turn led to disdain for the formal study of any of them. This account is true but incomplete. A narrow focus on military history may mislead us here, for the changes that overtook academia in the late '60s and early '70s were in fact much broader than one sub-discipline, or indeed the discipline of history as a whole. The Vietnam war was a part of this, but so too was the Civil Rights Movement, the dismantling of Europe's colonial empires, the May 1968 strikes, the Watergate Scandal, and the complete collapse of institutional Christianity in Western Europe. These events changed the way Westerners thought about their world, empowering voices once ignored and discrediting traditional authorities across the board. Power was no longer in vogue. For historians this meant casting aside narratives that took the perspective of the powerful–and out went the sub-disciplines that which specialized in telling stories from this perspective. Military history was one of these sub-disciplines, but it was not the only one. Political history, diplomatic history, intellectual history, and economic or business history also took a hit. Indeed, these other sub-disciplines fared much worse than military history, in proportional terms. [2]

Military historians survived this upheaval by weaving their narratives out of a new sort of warp and weft. Most importantly, historians began to tell the story of warfare from perspectives rarely explored in earlier eras. This is where the "War and Society" version of military history started, as historians sought to highlight voices missing from the old bugle-and-battles narratives. Some of these new histories told stories that would not traditionally have been considered military history at all–how a war was experienced by its widows, for example, or how the imagery or poetry and art of a society at war changed as death tolls mounted. But more traditional campaign narratives also began to change. Traditionally, these narratives often took the perspective of commanders and generals; the battle maps marked with x's and arrows you find in U.S. Civil War atlases are products of this sort of thinking. In the '70s and '80s this focus began to shift. John Keegan's Face of Battle and Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of Great Powers are two landmark examples of the discipline's new priorities. Keegan's book posed questions like, "what compelled soldiers on the front line to fight in different eras of history?" and "what did it feel like to be a grunt at Agincourt, Waterloo, or the Somme?" While he was not the first to attempt these questions, he was one of the best prose writers to do so, and his book caught the attention of professional historians and laymen alike. As such Face of Battle was one of the most important works of military history written during the 20th century; after it was published no historian could get away with writing a narrative history of any war without describing what it looked like on the ground. If Keegan telescoped in on the individual soldier, Kennedy's Rise and Fall expanded the narrative out until it included the workings of entire nations and economies. Kennedy suggested that success in battle had much less to do with operational art or strategic savvy than economic growth and industrial policy. For him victory in war was decided first and foremost by macroeconomics. Kennedy's presentation thus inverted the concerns of the War and Society researchers. Where they focused on how waging war changed a nation's social life, Kennedy asked how a country's social life changed the way it waged war. A number of works in a field that would be later called "world history" anticipated Kennedy's quest to tie the history of military conquest to globe-spanning macrohistorical trends, but only a few of these were ever received with the enthusiasm that showered Kennedy's Rise and Fall. That has changed. Today one or two books of this type are published every month. The popularity of Kennedy and Keegan's books with "general readers" suggests that there was more to military history's new direction than the whims of academic fashion. There was real demand for works that presented warfare and strategy from new perspectives. While a few historians--here John Lynn comes to mind--have tried to revive the more traditional sorts of narrative campaign histories, most felt that this new style of military history was a necessary corrective to what came before. [3] The story of generals and statesmen had been told many times over the centuries; the stories of the soldiers, and of the societies transformed by soldiering, had yet to be told. For the past three decades Western military historians have busied themselves telling these stories. This brings us to my second point. Contemporary historians of East Asia have the same basic set of priorities as the rest of their profession. They focus on structures, cultures, identities, and the hidden voices of history. This is unfortunate, for the historiography of East Asia--especially premodern East Asia--did not follow the same path of development as the historiography of Europe and North America did. The flight from narrative campaign histories was an understandable reaction to high politic's dominance in the literature. However, in the study of East Asian history, narrative political, diplomatic, and military histories never dominated to begin with. The idea that East Asianists need to counter the biases of existing, politics-heavy narratives is mistaken, for in too many cases there are no existing narratives to counter in the first place. [4]We are left with huge gaps in the literature. In the case of military history, there are entire wars where millions of people fought and died, and whose stories are instantly recognized by people across China, Japan, and Korea today, that still have no books written about them in English. Part of the problem is size. The number of East Asianists in academia is small. The number working on pre-modern East Asian history is pitifully small. You can count the number of American scholars who specialize in Silla Korea on one hand. You could count those who specialize in Sengoku Japan on two. You could fit all the specialists on the Northern Song Dynasty on a moderately sized tour bus. This is true now; back when narrative political and military histories was more academically fashionable (c. 1920-1960) the number of East Asianists were even smaller. Because only a few scholars specialized in East Asia then, the the peculiar research interests of one scholar and his pupils forty years ago has come to dominate entire fields today (one example of this is substantial amount of work done on medieval Japan's institutional history, something I credit entirely to the influence of John Whitney Hall, who taught Japanese history at Yale for the better part of the last century). There simply weren't enough historians writing then to fill in the gaps. In addition, many of those who wrote then were relatively unconcerned with high politics, diplomacy, or military affairs. They came to the study of traditional Asia with a set of non-traditional backgrounds. Then—as now—a great deal of East Asian history is written by philosophers, philologists, and archaeologists. These are men and women who began to study East Asia because of a fascination with Pure Land Buddhism, Neoconfucian metaphysics, Shang Dynasty bronzes, or reconstructing classical Chinese pronunciation. In most areas linguistics, philosophy, literature, and religious studies are separate fields, but in the case of the East Asianists (and here a fruitful analogy with the Classicists can be made) they blur somewhat. The very term "East Asianist" (along with its subsets: "Sinologist,""Koreanist," etc.) express the expectation that those studying one aspect of pre-modern Asia should be conversant in all of its other domains. In this milieu intellectual history has always been king. This is partially because many of these disciplines began as an attempt to make the "Eastern mind" accessible to Westerners, and it is partially because it is incredibly difficult to understand even fairly mundane historical sources without a working knowledge of classical Chinese and the history of ideas in East Asia. [5] The interdisciplinary nature of this sort of intellectual history sheltered it somewhat from the political storms and of the '60s and '70s. It is still the strongest strain of historical scholarship on the region. The downstream effects of all this are pretty easy to see. By far the most common textbook for introductory survey courses of East Asian history is Sources of the East Asian Tradition, a collection of mostly philosophical and literary documents from the last few thousand years of East Asian history. The Association for Asian Studies annual conference rarely has panels on the political or military history of Sengoku Japan, but there will always be room for one more panel on the Tale of Genji to be squeezed in. Most important of all, however, is a limited sense of audience on the part of the East Asianists. I hammered this point home in my "Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program" essays, so I'll be a bit briefer here. In essence, East Asianists are prone to write for each other. Only each other. This is partly because a lot of the legwork of East Asian history involves debating esoteric items like the details of a calendar system no one has used for a thousand years or reconstructing the pronunciation of 9th century Vietnamese and 17th century Manchu. It is also because popular interest in East Asia is really quite a new thing. But it is a thing. This is something few East Asianists realize. About a year ago I had an experience that brought this lack of vision to my attention in a rather forceful way. I was exchanging messages with a grad student writing in the beginning stages of a dissertation on the early Song dynasty. I asked him if he would ever be interested in writing a narrative account of the political and military events that occurred during the period in question. He asked in response: "Why would I ever want to do that? That would just be rehashing the Zizhi Tongjian. What would be the point?" This is an extraordinary statement. The Zizhi Tongjian is a 20 volume history written in the 1070s AD. It is regarded as one of the greatest historical works of East Asia. It also has not been translated into English! You could fit all of the Westerners fluent enough in classical Chinese to read the Tongjian in a small auditorium. Sharing the information contained inside the Tongjian with the millions who don't read classical Chinese would be a worthy deed. There are scholars who study political science, strategic studies, and world history who would be eager to read a narrative account of the period. If it was written well enough it might catch the interests of thousands of 'educated readers' outside the academy altogether. But it is not to be! The only audience that mattered to my interlocutor was the one who could read the Tongjian already. Wang Wensheng made a similar critique in his book on the White Lotus Rebellion: "Most historians and social scientists tend to focus more on the explanatory power of structures while remaining less informed about the significance of events." [6] Wang sees this as problem ailing all historians, but it is clear to me that it afflicts some sub-disciplines more than others. Were you to pick up the five or so most cited books on Europe during the Thirty Years War or England and France during the Hundred Years War you would leave with a firm chronology of the main events of each. But in East Asian historiography there are some eras—for example, Sengoku Japan—which an extensive amount has been written about, but which still fail to provide the reader with any narrative account of what actually happened. In the case of Sengoku Japan, there are (thanks to John Hall's students) a great number of studies on the institutional history of late Medieval Japan. Many scholars have investigated how the relentless warfare of that era shaped the country's political and religious institutions, transformed its culture and arts, and altered its social structure. You can learn without much difficulty how Sengoku Daimyo funded their conquests, fed their troops, managed their inheritance, dealt with the Buddhist monastics and Christian missionaries roaming the country, distributed booty, passed laws, negotiated with the court, regulated industry and farming, selected generals, and thought about political and military authority in general. But if you want to discover the story of individual Daimyo or individual Daimyo domains, then there is little you can find in a book store to help you. Historians of Japan write with the assumption that the reader of his or her works is already familiar with the major events and players of the time period—and for the most part they are right, for no one but other specialists in Medieval Japan can read that sort of scholarship. There is something of a self fulfilling prophecy at play here. I don't expect it to end any time soon. There is a strong demand for histories of East Asia's many wars. This demand is unmet. Until East Asianists deem readable narrative accounts as more than redundancies unworthy of their time, this will always be the case.

RELATED POSTS:

"The Chinese Strategic Tradition: A Research Program, Part I" and Part II

-A more formal and in depth review essay on Chinese military history and strategic theory.

"Darwin and War in Ancient China, Sengoku Japan, and Early Modern Europe"

-Why I read all those institutional histories of Sengoku Japan in the first place.

"The Road to Beijing Runs Through Tokyo"

-In which I argue that a cadre of Japan experts is a more critical national security need than a cadre of China hands.

[1] My analysis is limited here to Anglophone scholars. When I say "East Asianist," "historians of East Asia," "historians of Japan," and so forth, I mean historians of East Asia from the West, and especially those writing in English. The historiography of warfare in various East Asian countries is a fascinating topic, but one better left for its own post(s). [2] This attitude is not simply a relic of the '60s. See Adam Elkus's recent (9 Dec) post on those who attack scholars studying terrorism for producing 'actionable' insights. Also, the numbers in the graphs can be a bit deceptive. See John Lynn's article in note 3 for an explanation of why military history is in rather dire straights at the institutional level. [3] John Lynn, "Breaching the Walls of Academe: The Purposes, Problems, and Prospects of Military History," Academic Questions 28, iss 1 (2008), pp. 18-36; “The Embattled Future of Academic Military History,” Journal of Military History 61, no. 4 (October 1997), pp. 777-89. [4] An exchange I had about Muromachi era with one professor is a fairly typical example. He told me how much he loved Pieree Souryis' The World Turned Upside Down: Medieval Japanese Society (Asia Perspectives: History, Society, and Culture) because it focused so much on the organizational efforts of peasants and Buddhist orders instead of just focusing on the samurai. "The problem with a lot of Japanese history is that historians are to apt to sympathize with the Samurai and tell the story from their perspective. Books like this show something different." I concede that Souryi's book is fascinating, and probably the single best introduction to medieval Japan to boot. However, his notion that the majority of books are written from the perspective of the Samurai is absolutely false, especially if it is the Muromachi era up for discussion. This may be true in Japanese, but it is not true in English. Daimyo like Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, who are household names in Japan, have no biographies in English. You will be hard pressed to find any book that tells their story even in a cursory fashion. And these are two of the most famous men in Japanese history! Were one to tally all the books published about Muromachi/Sengoku Japan up I suspect that you would find more about the beliefs, practices, and organization of Japan's monastic orders (or the culturally elite but politically marginal aristocrats in Kyoto) than you would about the Daimyo. [5] This is true for Western historical sources as well, of course, but it is less apparent to us because we are taught the basic ideas and references from a young age. [6] Wang Wensheng, White Lotus Rebels and South China Pirates: Crisis and Reform in the Qing Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 10.

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Plato - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

almost 2 years ago
For other uses, see Plato (disambiguation) and Platon (disambiguation).

Plato (/ˈplt/;[1]Greek: Πλάτων Plátōn pronounced [plá.tɔːn] in Classical Attic; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a philosopher and mathematician in Classical Greece, and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is widely considered the most pivotal figure in the development of philosophy, especially the Western tradition.[2] Unlike nearly all of his philosophical contemporaries, Plato’s entire œuvre is believed to have survived intact for over 2,400 years.[3]

Along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle, Plato laid the very foundations of Western philosophy and science.[4]Alfred North Whitehead once noted: “the safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”[5] In addition to being a foundational figure for Western science, philosophy, and mathematics, Plato has also often been cited as one of the founders of Western religion and spirituality,[6] particularly Christianity, which Friedrich Nietzsche, amongst other scholars, called “Platonism for the people”.[7] Plato’s influence on Christian thought is often thought to be mediated by his major influence on Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the most important philosophers and theologians in the history of Christianity.

Plato was the innovator of the dialogue and dialectic forms in philosophy, which originate with him. Plato appears to have been the founder of Western political philosophy, with his Republic, and Laws among other dialogues, providing some of the earliest extant treatments of political questions from a philosophical perspective. Plato’s own most decisive philosophical influences are usually thought to have been Socrates, Parmenides, Heraclitus and Pythagoras, although few of his predecessors’ works remain extant and much of what we know about these figures today derives from Plato himself.[8]

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes Plato as “…one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy. … He was not the first thinker or writer to whom the word “philosopher” should be applied. But he was so self-conscious about how philosophy should be conceived, and what its scope and ambitions properly are, and he so transformed the intellectual currents with which he grappled, that the subject of philosophy, as it is often conceived—a rigorous and systematic examination of ethical, political, metaphysical, and epistemological issues, armed with a distinctive method—can be called his invention. Few other authors in the history of Western philosophy approximate him in depth and range: perhaps only Aristotle (who studied with him), Aquinas and Kant would be generally agreed to be of the same rank.”[9]

Biography

Early life

Main article: Early life of Plato

Little can be known about Plato’s early life and education, due to a lack of surviving accounts. The philosopher came from one of the wealthiest and most politically active families in Athens. Ancient sources describe him as a bright though modest boy who excelled in his studies. His father contributed all which was necessary to give to his son a good education, and, therefore, Plato must have been instructed in grammar, music, gymnastics and philosophy by some of the most distinguished teachers of his era.

Birth and family

The exact time and place of Plato’s birth are not known, but it is certain that he belonged to an aristocratic and influential family. Based on ancient sources, most modern scholars believe that he was born in Athens or Aegina between 429 and 423 BCE. His father was Ariston. According to a disputed tradition, reported by Diogenes Laertius, Ariston traced his descent from the king of Athens, Codrus, and the king of Messenia, Melanthus.[10] Plato’s mother was Perictione, whose family boasted of a relationship with the famous Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon.[11] Perictione was sister of Charmides and niece of Critias, both prominent figures of the Thirty Tyrants, the brief oligarchic regime, which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War (404–403 BCE).[12] Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had three other children; these were two sons, Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a daughter Potone, the mother of Speusippus (the nephew and successor of Plato as head of his philosophical Academy). The brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon are mentioned in the Republic as sons of Ariston,[13] and presumably brothers of Plato, but some have argued they were uncles.[14] But in a scenario in the Memorabilia, Xenophon confused the issue by presenting a Glaucon much younger than Plato.[15]

The traditional date of Plato’s birth (428/427) is based on a dubious interpretation of Diogenes Laertius, who says, “When [Socrates] was gone, [Plato] joined Cratylus the Heracleitean and Hermogenes, who philosophized in the manner of Parmenides. Then, at twenty-eight, Hermodorus says, [Plato] went to Euclides in Megara.” As Debra Nails argues, “The text itself gives no reason to infer that Plato left immediately for Megara and implies the very opposite.”[16] In his Seventh Letter, Plato notes that his coming of age coincided with the taking of power by the Thirty, remarking, “But a youth under the age of twenty made himself a laughingstock if he attempted to enter the political arena.” Thus, Nails dates Plato’s birth to 424/423.[17]

According to some accounts, Ariston tried to force his attentions on Perictione, but failed in his purpose; then the god Apollo appeared to him in a vision, and as a result, Ariston left Perictione unmolested.[18] Another legend related that, when Plato was an infant, bees settled on his lips while he was sleeping: an augury of the sweetness of style in which he would discourse about philosophy.[19]

Ariston appears to have died in Plato’s childhood, although the precise dating of his death is difficult.[20] Perictione then married Pyrilampes, her mother’s brother,[21] who had served many times as an ambassador to the Persian court and was a friend of Pericles, the leader of the democratic faction in Athens.[22] Pyrilampes had a son from a previous marriage, Demus, who was famous for his beauty.[23] Perictione gave birth to Pyrilampes’ second son, Antiphon, the half-brother of Plato, who appears in Parmenides.[24]

In contrast to reticence about himself, Plato often introduced his distinguished relatives into his dialogues, or referred to them with some precision: Charmides has a dialogue named after him; Critias speaks in both Charmides and Protagoras; and Adeimantus and Glaucon take prominent parts in the Republic.[25] These and other references suggest a considerable amount of family pride and enable us to reconstruct Plato’s family tree. According to Burnet, “the opening scene of the Charmides is a glorification of the whole [family] connection … Plato’s dialogues are not only a memorial to Socrates, but also the happier days of his own family.”[26]

Name

According to Diogenes Laërtius, the philosopher was named Aristocles (Ἀριστοκλῆς) after his grandfather. It was common in Athenian society for boys to be named after grandfathers (or fathers). But there is only one inscriptional record of an Aristocles, an early Archon of Athens in 605/4 BCE. There is no record of a line from Aristocles to Plato’s father, Ariston. However, if Plato was not named after an ancestor named Plato (there is no record of one), then the origin of his renaming as Plato becomes a conundrum.

The sources of Diogenes account for this fact by claiming that his wrestling coach, Ariston of Argos, dubbed him Platon, meaning “broad,” on account of his robust figure[27] or that Plato derived his name from the breadth (πλατύτης, platytēs) of his eloquence, or else because he was very wide (πλατύς, platýs) across the forehead.[28] Recently a scholar has argued that even the name Aristocles for Plato was a much later invention.[29] Although Platon was a fairly common name (31 instances are known from Athens alone[30]), the name does not occur in Plato’s known family line. The fact that the philosopher in his maturity called himself Platon is indisputable, but the origin of this naming must remain moot unless the record is made to yield more information.

Education

Apuleius informs us that Speusippus praised Plato’s quickness of mind and modesty as a boy, and the “first fruits of his youth infused with hard work and love of study”.[31] Plato must have been instructed in grammar, music, and gymnastics by the most distinguished teachers of his time.[32]Dicaearchus went so far as to say that Plato wrestled at the Isthmian games.[33] Plato had also attended courses of philosophy; before meeting Socrates, he first became acquainted with Cratylus (a disciple of Heraclitus, a prominent pre-Socratic Greek philosopher) and the Heraclitean doctrines.[34] W. A. Borody argues that an Athenian openness towards a wider range of sexuality may have contributed to the Athenian philosophers’ openness towards a wider range of thought, a cultural situation Borody describes as “polymorphously discursive.”[35]

Plato and Pythagoras

Pythagoras, depicted as a medieval scholar in the Nuremberg Chronicle

Although Socrates influenced Plato directly as related in the dialogues, the influence of Pythagoras upon Plato also appears to have significant discussion in the philosophical literature. Pythagoras, or in a broader sense, the Pythagoreans, allegedly exercised an important influence on the work of Plato. According to R. M. Hare, this influence consists of three points: (1) The platonic Republic might be related to the idea of “a tightly organized community of like-minded thinkers”, like the one established by Pythagoras in Croton. (2) There is evidence that Plato possibly took from Pythagoras the idea that mathematics and, generally speaking, abstract thinking is a secure basis for philosophical thinking as well as “for substantial theses in science and morals”. (3) Plato and Pythagoras shared a “mystical approach to the soul and its place in the material world”. It is probable that both were influenced by Orphism.[36][37]

Aristotle claimed that the philosophy of Plato closely followed the teachings of the Pythagoreans,[38] and Cicero repeats this claim: “They say Plato learned all things Pythagorean” (Platonem ferunt didicisse Pythagorea omnia).[39]

Plato and Socrates

Main article: Socratic problem Plato and Socrates in a medieval depiction

The precise relationship between Plato and Socrates remains an area of contention among scholars. Plato makes it clear in his Apology of Socrates, that he was a devoted young follower of Socrates. In that dialogue, Socrates is presented as mentioning Plato by name as one of those youths close enough to him to have been corrupted, if he were in fact guilty of corrupting the youth, and questioning why their fathers and brothers did not step forward to testify against him if he was indeed guilty of such a crime (33d-34a). Later, Plato is mentioned along with Crito, Critobolus, and Apollodorus as offering to pay a fine of 30 minas on Socrates’ behalf, in lieu of the death penalty proposed by Meletus (38b). In the Phaedo, the title character lists those who were in attendance at the prison on Socrates’ last day, explaining Plato’s absence by saying, “Plato was ill.” (Phaedo 59b)

Plato never speaks in his own voice in his dialogues. In the Second Letter, it says, “no writing of Plato exists or ever will exist, but those now said to be his are those of a Socrates become beautiful and new” (341c); if the Letter is Plato’s, the final qualification seems to call into question the dialogues’ historical fidelity. In any case, Xenophon and Aristophanes seem to present a somewhat different portrait of Socrates from the one Plato paints. Some have called attention to the problem of taking Plato’s Socrates to be his mouthpiece, given Socrates’ reputation for irony and the dramatic nature of the dialogue form.[40]

Aristotle attributes a different doctrine with respect to the Ideas to Plato and Socrates (Metaphysics 987b1–11). Putting it in a nutshell, Aristotle merely suggests that Socrates’ idea of forms can be discovered through investigation of the natural world, unlike Plato’s Forms that exist beyond and outside the ordinary range of human understanding.

Later life

Plato may have traveled in Italy, Sicily, Egypt and Cyrene, Libya.[41] Said to have returned to Athens at the age of forty, Plato founded one of the earliest known organized schools in Western Civilization on a plot of land in the Grove of Hecademus or Academus.[42] The Academy was a large enclosure of ground about six stadia outside of Athens proper. One story is that the name of the Academy comes from the ancient hero, Academus. Another story is that the name came from a supposed a former owner, a citizen of Athens also named Academus. Yet another account is that it was named after a member of the army of Castor and Pollux, an Arcadian named Echedemus.[43] The Academy operated until it was destroyed by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 84 BCE. Neoplatonists revived the Academy in the early 5th century, and it operated until AD 529, when it was closed by Justinian I of Byzantium, who saw it as a threat to the propagation of Christianity. Many intellectuals were schooled in the Academy, the most prominent one being Aristotle.[44][45]

Throughout his later life, Plato became entangled with the politics of the city of Syracuse. According to Diogenes Laertius, Plato initially visited Syracuse while it was under the rule of Dionysius.[46] During this first trip Dionysius’s brother-in-law, Dion of Syracuse, became one of Plato’s disciples, but the tyrant himself turned against Plato. Plato almost faced death, but he was sold into slavery. Then Anniceris[47] bought Plato’s freedom for twenty minas,[48] and sent him home. After Dionysius’s death, according to Plato’s Seventh Letter, Dion requested Plato return to Syracuse to tutor Dionysius II and guide him to become a philosopher king. Dionysius II seemed to accept Plato’s teachings, but he became suspicious of Dion, his uncle. Dionysius expelled Dion and kept Plato against his will. Eventually Plato left Syracuse. Dion would return to overthrow Dionysius and ruled Syracuse for a short time before being usurped by Calippus, a fellow disciple of Plato.

Death

A variety of sources have given accounts of Plato’s death. One story, based on a mutilated manuscript,[49] suggests Plato died in his bed, whilst a young Thracian girl played the flute to him.[50] Another tradition suggests Plato died at a wedding feast. The account is based on Diogenes Laertius’s reference to an account by Hermippus, a third-century Alexandrian.[51] According to Tertullian, Plato simply died in his sleep.

Philosophy

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael. Aristotle gestures to the earth, representing his belief in knowledge through empirical observation and experience, while holding a copy of his Nicomachean Ethics in his hand. Plato holds his Timaeus and gestures to the heavens, representing his belief in The Forms

Recurrent themes

Plato often discusses the father-son relationship and the question of whether a father’s interest in his sons has much to do with how well his sons turn out. In ancient Athens, a boy was socially located by his family identity, and Plato often refers to his characters in terms of their paternal and fraternal relationships. Socrates was not a family man, and saw himself as the son of his mother, who was apparently a midwife. A divine fatalist, Socrates mocks men who spent exorbitant fees on tutors and trainers for their sons, and repeatedly ventures the idea that good character is a gift from the gods. Crito reminds Socrates that orphans are at the mercy of chance, but Socrates is unconcerned. In the Theaetetus, he is found recruiting as a disciple a young man whose inheritance has been squandered. Socrates twice compares the relationship of the older man and his boy lover to the father-son relationship (Lysis 213a, Republic 3.403b), and in the Phaedo, Socrates’ disciples, towards whom he displays more concern than his biological sons, say they will feel “fatherless” when he is gone.

In several of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates promulgates the idea that knowledge is a matter of recollection, and not of learning, observation, or study.[52] He maintains this view somewhat at his own expense, because in many dialogues, Socrates complains of his forgetfulness. Socrates is often found arguing that knowledge is not empirical, and that it comes from divine insight. In many middle period dialogues, such as the Phaedo, Republic and Phaedrus Plato advocates a belief in the immortality of the soul, and several dialogues end with long speeches imagining the afterlife. More than one dialogue contrasts knowledge and opinion, perception and reality, nature and custom, and body and soul.

Several dialogues tackle questions about art: Socrates says that poetry is inspired by the muses, and is not rational. He speaks approvingly of this, and other forms of divine madness (drunkenness, eroticism, and dreaming) in the Phaedrus (265a–c), and yet in the Republic wants to outlaw Homer’s great poetry, and laughter as well. In Ion, Socrates gives no hint of the disapproval of Homer that he expresses in the Republic. The dialogue Ion suggests that Homer’s Iliad functioned in the ancient Greek world as the Bible does today in the modern Christian world: as divinely inspired literature that can provide moral guidance, if only it can be properly interpreted.

Socrates and his company of disputants had something to say on many subjects, including politics and art, religion and science, justice and medicine, virtue and vice, crime and punishment, pleasure and pain, rhetoric and rhapsody, human nature and sexuality, as well as love and wisdom.

Metaphysics

Main article: Platonic realism

“Platonism” is a term coined by scholars to refer to the intellectual consequences of denying, as Plato’s Socrates often does, the reality of the material world. In several dialogues, most notably the Republic, Socrates inverts the common man’s intuition about what is knowable and what is real. While most people take the objects of their senses to be real if anything is, Socrates is contemptuous of people who think that something has to be graspable in the hands to be real. In the Theaetetus, he says such people are eu amousoi (εὖ ἄμουσοι), an expression that means literally, “happily without the muses” (Theaetetus 156a). In other words, such people live without the divine inspiration that gives him, and people like him, access to higher insights about reality.

Socrates’s idea that reality is unavailable to those who use their senses is what puts him at odds with the common man, and with common sense. Socrates says that he who sees with his eyes is blind, and this idea is most famously captured in his allegory of the cave, and more explicitly in his description of the divided line. The allegory of the cave (begins Republic 7.514a) is a paradoxical analogy wherein Socrates argues that the invisible world is the most intelligible (“noeton”) and that the visible world (“(h)oraton”) is the least knowable, and the most obscure.

Socrates says in the Republic that people who take the sun-lit world of the senses to be good and real are living pitifully in a den of evil and ignorance. Socrates admits that few climb out of the den, or cave of ignorance, and those who do, not only have a terrible struggle to attain the heights, but when they go back down for a visit or to help other people up, they find themselves objects of scorn and ridicule.

According to Socrates, physical objects and physical events are “shadows” of their ideal or perfect forms, and exist only to the extent that they instantiate the perfect versions of themselves. Just as shadows are temporary, inconsequential epiphenomena produced by physical objects, physical objects are themselves fleeting phenomena caused by more substantial causes, the ideals of which they are mere instances. For example, Socrates thinks that perfect justice exists (although it is not clear where) and his own trial would be a cheap copy of it.

The allegory of the cave (often said by scholars to represent Plato’s own epistemology and metaphysics) is intimately connected to his political ideology (often said to also be Plato’s own), that only people who have climbed out of the cave and cast their eyes on a vision of goodness are fit to rule. Socrates claims that the enlightened men of society must be forced from their divine contemplations and be compelled to run the city according to their lofty insights. Thus is born the idea of the “philosopher-king”, the wise person who accepts the power thrust upon him by the people who are wise enough to choose a good master. This is the main thesis of Socrates in the Republic, that the most wisdom the masses can muster is the wise choice of a ruler.

Theory of Forms

Main article: Theory of Forms

The theory of Forms (or theory of Ideas) typically refers to the belief that the material world as it seems to us is not the real world, but only an “image” or “copy” of the real world. In some of Plato’s dialogues, this is expressed by Socrates, who spoke of forms in formulating a solution to the problem of universals. The forms, according to Socrates, are archetypes or abstract representations of the many types of things, and properties we feel and see around us, that can only be perceived by reason (Greek: λογική). (That is, they are universals.) In other words, Socrates was able to recognize two worlds: the apparent world, which constantly changes, and an unchanging and unseen world of forms, which may be the cause of what is apparent.

Epistemology

Main article: Platonic epistemology

Many have interpreted Plato as stating—even having been the first to write—that knowledge is justified true belief, an influential view that informed future developments in epistemology.[53] This interpretation is partly based on a reading of the Theaetetus wherein Plato argues that knowledge is distinguished from mere true belief by the knower having an “account” of the object of her or his true belief (Theaetetus 201c–d). And this theory may again be seen in the Meno, where it is suggested that true belief can be raised to the level of knowledge if it is bound with an account as to the question of “why” the object of the true belief is so (Meno 97d–98a).[54] Many years later, Edmund Gettier famously demonstrated the problems of the justified true belief account of knowledge. That the modern theory of justified true belief as knowledge which Gettier addresses is equivalent to Plato’s is accepted by some scholars but rejected by others.[55] Plato himself also identified problems with the justified true belief definition in the Theaetetus, concluding that justification (or an “account”) would require knowledge of differentness, meaning that the definition of knowledge is circular (Theaetetus 210a–b).[56]

Later in the Meno, Socrates uses a geometrical example to expound Plato’s view that knowledge in this latter sense is acquired by recollection. Socrates elicits a fact concerning a geometrical construction from a slave boy, who could not have otherwise known the fact (due to the slave boy’s lack of education). The knowledge must be present, Socrates concludes, in an eternal, non-experiential form.

In other dialogues, the Sophist, Statesman, Republic, and the Parmenides, Plato himself associates knowledge with the apprehension of unchanging Forms and their relationships to one another (which he calls “expertise” in Dialectic), including through the processes of collection and division.[57] More explicitly, Plato himself argues in the Timaeus that knowledge is always proportionate to the realm from which it is gained. In other words, if one derives one’s account of something experientially, because the world of sense is in flux, the views therein attained will be mere opinions. And opinions are characterized by a lack of necessity and stability. On the other hand, if one derives one’s account of something by way of the non-sensible forms, because these forms are unchanging, so too is the account derived from them. That apprehension of forms is required for knowledge may be taken to cohere with Plato’s theory in the Theaetetus and Meno.[58] Indeed, the apprehension of Forms may be at the base of the “account” required for justification, in that it offers foundational knowledge which itself needs no account, thereby avoiding an infinite regression.[59]

The state

Main article: The Republic (Plato) Papirus Oxyrhynchus, with fragment of Plato’s Republic

Plato’s philosophical views had many societal implications, especially on the idea of an ideal state or government. There is some discrepancy between his early and later views. Some of the most famous doctrines are contained in the Republic during his middle period, as well as in the Laws and the Statesman. However, because Plato wrote dialogues, it is assumed that Socrates is often speaking for Plato. This assumption may not be true in all cases.

Plato, through the words of Socrates, asserts that societies have a tripartite class structure corresponding to the appetite/spirit/reason structure of the individual soul. The appetite/spirit/reason are analogous to the castes of society.[60]

  • Productive (Workers) — the labourers, carpenters, plumbers, masons, merchants, farmers, ranchers, etc. These correspond to the “appetite” part of the soul.
  • Protective (Warriors or Guardians) — those who are adventurous, strong and brave; in the armed forces. These correspond to the “spirit” part of the soul.
  • Governing (Rulers or Philosopher Kings) — those who are intelligent, rational, self-controlled, in love with wisdom, well suited to make decisions for the community. These correspond to the “reason” part of the soul and are very few.

In the Timaeus, Plato locates the parts of the soul within the human body: Reason is located in the head, spirit in the top third of the torso, and the appetite in the middle third of the torso, down to the navel.[61][62]

According to this model, the principles of Athenian democracy (as it existed in his day) are rejected as only a few are fit to rule. Instead of rhetoric and persuasion, Plato says reason and wisdom should govern. As Plato puts it:

“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,… nor, I think, will the human race.” (Republic 473c-d) Plato in his academy, drawing after a painting by Swedish painter Carl Johan Wahlbom

Plato describes these “philosopher kings” as “those who love the sight of truth” (Republic 475c) and supports the idea with the analogy of a captain and his ship or a doctor and his medicine. According to him, sailing and health are not things that everyone is qualified to practice by nature. A large part of the Republic then addresses how the educational system should be set up to produce these philosopher kings.

However, it must be taken into account that the ideal city outlined in the Republic is qualified by Socrates as the ideal luxurious city, examined to determine how it is that injustice and justice grow in a city (Republic 372e). According to Socrates, the “true” and “healthy” city is instead the one first outlined in book II of the Republic, 369c–372d, containing farmers, craftsmen, merchants, and wage-earners, but lacking the guardian class of philosopher-kings as well as delicacies such as “perfumed oils, incense, prostitutes, and pastries”, in addition to paintings, gold, ivory, couches, a multitude of occupations such as poets and hunters, and war.

In addition, the ideal city is used as an image to illuminate the state of one’s soul, or the will, reason, and desires combined in the human body. Socrates is attempting to make an image of a rightly ordered human, and then later goes on to describe the different kinds of humans that can be observed, from tyrants to lovers of money in various kinds of cities. The ideal city is not promoted, but only used to magnify the different kinds of individual humans and the state of their soul. However, the philosopher king image was used by many after Plato to justify their personal political beliefs. The philosophic soul according to Socrates has reason, will, and desires united in virtuous harmony. A philosopher has the moderate love for wisdom and the courage to act according to wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge about the Good or the right relations between all that exists.

Wherein it concerns states and rulers, Plato has made interesting arguments. For instance he asks which is better—a bad democracy or a country reigned by a tyrant. He argues that it is better to be ruled by a bad tyrant, than be a bad democracy (since here all the people are now responsible for such actions, rather than one individual committing many bad deeds.) This is emphasised within the Republic as Plato describes the event of mutiny on board a ship.[63] Plato suggests the ship’s crew to be in line with the democratic rule of many and the captain, although inhibited through ailments, the tyrant. Plato’s description of this event is parallel to that of democracy within the state and the inherent problems that arise.

According to Plato, a state made up of different kinds of souls will, overall, decline from an aristocracy (rule by the best) to a timocracy (rule by the honorable), then to an oligarchy (rule by the few), then to a democracy (rule by the people), and finally to tyranny (rule by one person, rule by a tyrant).[64] Aristocracy is the form of government (politeia) advocated in Plato’s Republic. This regime is ruled by a philosopher king, and thus is grounded on wisdom and reason. The aristocratic state, and the man whose nature corresponds to it, are the objects of Plato’s analyses throughout much of the Republic, as opposed to the other four types of states/men, who are discussed later in his work. In Book VIII, Plato states in order the other four imperfect societies with a description of the state’s structure and individual character. In timocracy the ruling class is made up primarily of those with a warrior-like character.[65] In his description, Plato has Sparta in mind. Oligarchy is made up of a society in which wealth is the criterion of merit and the wealthy are in control.[66] In democracy, the state bears resemblance to ancient Athens with traits such as equality of political opportunity and freedom for the individual to do as he likes.[67] Democracy then degenerates into tyranny from the conflict of rich and poor. It is characterized by an undisciplined society existing in chaos, where the tyrant rises as popular champion leading to the formation of his private army and the growth of oppression.[68][69]

Unwritten doctrines

For a long time, Plato’s unwritten doctrine[70][71][72] had been controversial. Many modern books on Plato seem to diminish its importance; nevertheless, the first important witness who mentions its existence is Aristotle, who in his Physics (209 b) writes: “It is true, indeed, that the account he gives there [i.e. in Timaeus] of the participant is different from what he says in his so-called unwritten teachings (ἄγραφα δόγματα).” The term “ἄγραφα δόγματα” literally means unwritten doctrines and it stands for the most fundamental metaphysical teaching of Plato, which he disclosed only orally, and some say only to his most trusted fellows, and which he may have kept secret from the public. The importance of the unwritten doctrines does not seem to have been seriously questioned before the 19th century.

A reason for not revealing it to everyone is partially discussed in Phaedrus (276 c) where Plato criticizes the written transmission of knowledge as faulty, favoring instead the spoken logos: “he who has knowledge of the just and the good and beautiful … will not, when in earnest, write them in ink, sowing them through a pen with words, which cannot defend themselves by argument and cannot teach the truth effectually.” The same argument is repeated in Plato’s Seventh Letter (344 c): “every serious man in dealing with really serious subjects carefully avoids writing.” In the same letter he writes (341 c): “I can certainly declare concerning all these writers who claim to know the subjects that I seriously study … there does not exist, nor will there ever exist, any treatise of mine dealing therewith.” Such secrecy is necessary in order not “to expose them to unseemly and degrading treatment” (344 d).

It is, however, said that Plato once disclosed this knowledge to the public in his lecture On the Good (Περὶ τἀγαθοῦ), in which the Good (τὸ ἀγαθόν) is identified with the One (the Unity, τὸ ἕν), the fundamental ontological principle. The content of this lecture has been transmitted by several witnesses. Aristoxenus describes the event in the following words: “Each came expecting to learn something about the things that are generally considered good for men, such as wealth, good health, physical strength, and altogether a kind of wonderful happiness. But when the mathematical demonstrations came, including numbers, geometrical figures and astronomy, and finally the statement Good is One seemed to them, I imagine, utterly unexpected and strange; hence some belittled the matter, while others rejected it.”[73]Simplicius quotes Alexander of Aphrodisias, who states that “according to Plato, the first principles of everything, including the Forms themselves are One and Indefinite Duality (ἡ ἀόριστος δυάς), which he called Large and Small (τὸ μέγα καὶ τὸ μικρόν)”, and Simplicius reports as well that “one might also learn this from Speusippus and Xenocrates and the others who were present at Plato’s lecture on the Good”.

Their account is in full agreement with Aristotle’s description of Plato’s metaphysical doctrine. In Metaphysics he writes: “Now since the Forms are the causes of everything else, he [i.e. Plato] supposed that their elements are the elements of all things. Accordingly the material principle is the Great and Small [i.e. the Dyad], and the essence is the One (τὸ ἕν), since the numbers are derived from the Great and Small by participation in the One” (987 b). “From this account it is clear that he only employed two causes: that of the essence, and the material cause; for the Forms are the cause of the essence in everything else, and the One is the cause of it in the Forms. He also tells us what the material substrate is of which the Forms are predicated in the case of sensible things, and the One in that of the Forms - that it is this the duality (the Dyad, ἡ δυάς), the Great and Small (τὸ μέγα καὶ τὸ μικρόν). Further, he assigned to these two elements respectively the causation of good and of evil” (988 a).

The most important aspect of this interpretation of Plato’s metaphysics is the continuity between his teaching and the neoplatonic interpretation of Plotinus[74] or Ficino[75] which has been considered erroneous by many but may in fact have been directly influenced by oral transmission of Plato’s doctrine. A modern scholar who recognized the importance of the unwritten doctrine of Plato was Heinrich Gomperz who described it in his speech during the 7th International Congress of Philosophy in 1930.[76] All the sources related to the ἄγραφα δόγματα have been collected by Konrad Gaiser and published as Testimonia Platonica.[77] These sources have subsequently been interpreted by scholars from the German Tübingen School of interpretation such as Hans Joachim Krämer or Thomas A. Szlezák.[78]

Dialectic

The role of dialectic in Plato’s thought is contested but there are two main interpretations: a type of reasoning and a method of intuition.[79] Simon Blackburn adopts the first, saying that Plato’s dialectic is “the process of eliciting the truth by means of questions aimed at opening out what is already implicitly known, or at exposing the contradictions and muddles of an opponent’s position.” A similar interpretation has been put forth by Louis Hartz, who suggests that elements of the dialectic are borrowed from Hegel.[80] According to this view, opposing arguments improve upon each other, and prevailing opinion is shaped by the synthesis of many conflicting ideas over time. Each new idea exposes a flaw in the accepted model, and the epistemological substance of the debate continually approaches the truth. Hartz’s is a teleological interpretation at the core, in which philosophers will ultimately exhaust the available body of knowledge and thus reach “the end of history.” Karl Popper, on the other hand, claims that dialectic is the art of intuition for “visualising the divine originals, the Forms or Ideas, of unveiling the Great Mystery behind the common man’s everyday world of appearances.”[81]

Dialogues

See also: Stephanus pagination

Thirty-five dialogues and thirteen letters (the Epistles) have traditionally been ascribed to Plato, though modern scholarship doubts the authenticity of at least some of these. Plato’s writings have been published in several fashions; this has led to several conventions regarding the naming and referencing of Plato’s texts.

The usual system for making unique references to sections of the text by Plato derives from a 16th-century edition of Plato’s works by Henricus Stephanus. An overview of Plato’s writings according to this system can be found in the Stephanus pagination article.

Volume 3, pages 32–33, of the 1578 Stephanus edition of Plato, showing a passage of Timaeus with the Latin translation and notes of Jean de Serres

One tradition regarding the arrangement of Plato’s texts is according to tetralogies. This scheme is ascribed by Diogenes Laertius to an ancient scholar and court astrologer to Tiberius named Thrasyllus.

The works are usually grouped into Early, (sometimes by some into Transitional), Middle, and Late period.[82][83] This choice to group chronologically is thought worthy of criticism by some (Cooper et al),[84] given that it’s recognised that there is no absolute agreement as to the true chronologicity, since the facts of the temporal order of writing are not confidently ascertained.[85]

Early : Apology (of Socrates), Charmides, Crito, Euthyphro, Gorgias, (Lesser) Hippias (minor), (Greater) Hippias (major), Ion, Laches, Lysis, Protagoras

Middle/Transitional : Cratylus, Euthydemus, Meno, Parmenides, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Republic, Symposium,

Middle/Late : Theaetetus

Late : Critias, Sophist, Statesman / Politicus, Timaeus , Philebus, Laws

Chronologicity was not a consideration in ancient times, in that grouping of this nature are virtually absent (Tarrant) in the extant writings of ancient Platonists.[86]

Writings of doubted authenticity

Jowett mentions in his Appendix to Menexenus, that works which bore the character of a writer were attributed to that writer even when the actual author was unknown.[87]

For below:

(*) if there is no consensus among scholars as to whether Plato is the author, and (‡) if most scholars agree that Plato is not the author of the work.[88]

First Alcibiades (*), Second Alcibiades (‡), Clitophon (*), Epinomis (‡), Epistles (*), Hipparchus (‡), Menexenus(*), Minos (‡) (Rival) Lovers (‡), Theages (‡)

Spurious writings

The following works were transmitted under Plato’s name, most of them already considered spurious in antiquity, and so were not included by Thrasyllus in his tetralogical arrangement. These works are labelled as Notheuomenoi (“spurious”) or Apocrypha.

Composition of the dialogues

No one knows the exact order Plato’s dialogues were written in, nor the extent to which some might have been later revised and rewritten. A significant distinction of the early Plato and the later Plato has been offered by scholars such as E.R. Dodds and has been summarized by Harold Bloom in his book titled Agon: “E.R. Dodds is the classical scholar whose writings most illuminated the Hellenic descent (in) The Greeks and the Irrational […] In his chapter on Plato and the Irrational Soul […] Dodds traces Plato’s spiritual evolution from the pure rationalist of the Protagoras to the transcendental psychologist, influenced by the Pythagoreans and Orphics, of the later works culminating in the Laws.”[89]

Lewis Campbell was the first[90] to make exhaustive use of stylometry to prove objectively that the Critias, Timaeus, Laws, Philebus, Sophist, and Statesman were all clustered together as a group, while the Parmenides, Phaedrus, Republic, and Theaetetus belong to a separate group, which must be earlier (given Aristotle’s statement in his Politics[91] that the Laws was written after the Republic; cf. Diogenes Laertius Lives 3.37). What is remarkable about Campbell’s conclusions is that, in spite of all the stylometric studies that have been conducted since his time, perhaps the only chronological fact about Plato’s works that can now be said to be proven by stylometry is the fact that Critias, Timaeus, Laws, Philebus, Sophist, and Statesman are the latest of Plato’s dialogues, the others earlier.[92]

Increasingly in the most recent Plato scholarship, writers are skeptical of the notion that the order of Plato’s writings can be established with any precision,[93] though Plato’s works are still often characterized as falling at least roughly into three groups.[94] The following represents one relatively common such division.[95] It should, however, be kept in mind that many of the positions in the ordering are still highly disputed, and also that the very notion that Plato’s dialogues can or should be “ordered” is by no means universally accepted.

Among those who classify the dialogues into periods of composition, Socrates figures in all of the “early dialogues” and they are considered the most faithful representations of the historical Socrates.[96] They include The Apology of Socrates, Charmides, Crito, Euthyphro, Ion, Laches, Lesser Hippias, Lysis, Menexenus, and Protagoras (often considered one of the last of the “early dialogues”). Three dialogues are often considered “transitional” or “pre-middle”: Euthydemus, Gorgias, and Meno.

Whereas those classified as “early dialogues” often conclude in aporia, the so-called “middle dialogues” provide more clearly stated positive teachings that are often ascribed to Plato such as the theory of Forms. These dialogues include Cratylus, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Republic, Symposium, Parmenides, and Theaetetus. Proponents of dividing the dialogues into periods often consider the Parmenides and Theaetetus to come late in this period and be transitional to the next, as they seem to treat the theory of Forms critically (Parmenides) or only indirectly (Theaetetus).[97] Ritter’s stylometric analysis places Phaedrus as probably after Theaetetus and Parmenides,[98] although it does not relate to the theory of Forms in the same way. The first book of the Republic is often thought to have been written significantly earlier than the rest of the work, although possibly having undergone revisions when the later books were attached to it.

The remaining dialogues are classified as “late” and are generally agreed to be difficult and challenging pieces of philosophy. This grouping is the only one proven by stylometric analysis. While looked to for Plato’s “mature” answers to the questions posed by his earlier works, those answers are difficult to discern. Some scholars indicate that the theory of Forms is absent from the late dialogues, its having been refuted in the Parmenides, but there isn’t total consensus that the Parmenides actually refutes the theory of Forms.[99] The so-called “late dialogues” include Critias, Laws, Philebus, Sophist, Statesman, and Timaeus.

Narration of the dialogues

Plato never presents himself as a participant in any of the dialogues, and with the exception of the Apology, there is no suggestion that he heard any of the dialogues firsthand. Some dialogues have no narrator but have a pure “dramatic” form (examples: Meno, Gorgias, Phaedrus, Crito, Euthyphro), some dialogues are narrated by Socrates, wherein he speaks in first person (examples: Lysis, Charmides, Republic). One dialogue, Protagoras, begins in dramatic form but quickly proceeds to Socrates’ narration of a conversation he had previously with the sophist for whom the dialogue is named; this narration continues uninterrupted till the dialogue’s end.

Plato’s Symposium (Anselm Feuerbach, 1873)

Two dialogues Phaedo and Symposium also begin in dramatic form but then proceed to virtually uninterrupted narration by followers of Socrates. Phaedo, an account of Socrates’ final conversation and hemlock drinking, is narrated by Phaedo to Echecrates in a foreign city not long after the execution took place.[100] The Symposium is narrated by Apollodorus, a Socratic disciple, apparently to Glaucon. Apollodorus assures his listener that he is recounting the story, which took place when he himself was an infant, not from his own memory, but as remembered by Aristodemus, who told him the story years ago.

The Theaetetus is a peculiar case: a dialogue in dramatic form embedded within another dialogue in dramatic form. In the beginning of the Theaetetus (142c-143b), Euclides says that he compiled the conversation from notes he took based on what Socrates told him of his conversation with the title character. The rest of the Theaetetus is presented as a “book” written in dramatic form and read by one of Euclides’ slaves (143c). Some scholars take this as an indication that Plato had by this date wearied of the narrated form.[101] With the exception of the Theaetetus, Plato gives no explicit indication as to how these orally transmitted conversations came to be written down.

Trial of Socrates

Main article: Trial of Socrates

The trial of Socrates is the central, unifying event of the great Platonic dialogues. Because of this, Plato’s Apology is perhaps the most often read of the dialogues. In the Apology, Socrates tries to dismiss rumors that he is a sophist and defends himself against charges of disbelief in the gods and corruption of the young. Socrates insists that long-standing slander will be the real cause of his demise, and says the legal charges are essentially false. Socrates famously denies being wise, and explains how his life as a philosopher was launched by the Oracle at Delphi. He says that his quest to resolve the riddle of the oracle put him at odds with his fellow man, and that this is the reason he has been mistaken for a menace to the city-state of Athens.

If Plato’s important dialogues do not refer to Socrates’ execution explicitly, they allude to it, or use characters or themes that play a part in it. Five dialogues foreshadow the trial: In the Theaetetus (210d) and the Euthyphro (2a–b) Socrates tells people that he is about to face corruption charges. In the Meno (94e–95a), one of the men who brings legal charges against Socrates, Anytus, warns him about the trouble he may get into if he does not stop criticizing important people. In the Gorgias, Socrates says that his trial will be like a doctor prosecuted by a cook who asks a jury of children to choose between the doctor’s bitter medicine and the cook’s tasty treats (521e–522a). In the Republic (7.517e), Socrates explains why an enlightened man (presumably himself) will stumble in a courtroom situation. The Apology is Socrates’ defense speech, and the Crito and Phaedo take place in prison after the conviction. In the Protagoras, Socrates is a guest at the home of Callias, son of Hipponicus, a man whom Socrates disparages in the Apology as having wasted a great amount of money on sophists’ fees.

Unity and diversity of the dialogues

Two other important dialogues, the Symposium and the Phaedrus, are linked to the main storyline by characters. In the Apology (19b, c), Socrates says Aristophanes slandered him in a comic play, and blames him for causing his bad reputation, and ultimately, his death. In the Symposium, the two of them are drinking together with other friends. The character Phaedrus is linked to the main story line by character (Phaedrus is also a participant in the Symposium and the Protagoras) and by theme (the philosopher as divine emissary, etc.) The Protagoras is also strongly linked to the Symposium by characters: all of the formal speakers at the Symposium (with the exception of Aristophanes) are present at the home of Callias in that dialogue. Charmides and his guardian Critias are present for the discussion in the Protagoras. Examples of characters crossing between dialogues can be further multiplied. The Protagoras contains the largest gathering of Socratic associates.

In the dialogues Plato is most celebrated and admired for, Socrates is concerned with human and political virtue, has a distinctive personality, and friends and enemies who “travel” with him from dialogue to dialogue. This is not to say that Socrates is consistent: a man who is his friend in one dialogue may be an adversary or subject of his mockery in another. For example, Socrates praises the wisdom of Euthyphro many times in the Cratylus, but makes him look like a fool in the Euthyphro. He disparages sophists generally, and Prodicus specifically in the Apology, whom he also slyly jabs in the Cratylus for charging the hefty fee of fifty drachmas for a course on language and grammar. However, Socrates tells Theaetetus in his namesake dialogue that he admires Prodicus and has directed many pupils to him. Socrates’ ideas are also not consistent within or between or among dialogues.

Platonic scholarship

“The safest general characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” (Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, 1929).

Although their popularity has fluctuated over the years, the works of Plato have never been without readers since the time they were written.[102] Plato’s thought is often compared with that of his most famous student, Aristotle, whose reputation during the Western Middle Ages so completely eclipsed that of Plato that the Scholastic philosophers referred to Aristotle as “the Philosopher”. However, in the Byzantine Empire, the study of Plato continued.

The only Platonic work known to western scholarship was Timaeus, until translations were made at a time post the fall of Constantinople, which occurred during 1453,[103]George Gemistos Plethon brought Plato’s original writings from Constantinople in the century of its fall. It is believed that Plethon passed a copy of the Dialogues to Cosimo de’ Medici when in 1438 the Council of Ferrara, called to unify the Greek and Latin Churches, was adjourned to Florence, where Plethon then lectured on the relation and differences of Plato and Aristotle, and fired Cosimo with his enthusiasm;[104] Cosimo would supply Marsilio Ficino with Plato’s text for translation to Latin. During the early Islamic era, Persian and Arab scholars translated much of Plato into Arabic and wrote commentaries and interpretations on Plato’s, Aristotle’s and other Platonist philosophers’ works (see Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Averroes, Hunayn ibn Ishaq). Many of these comments on Plato were translated from Arabic into Latin and as such influenced Medieval scholastic philosophers.[105]

During the Renaissance, with the general resurgence of interest in classical civilization, knowledge of Plato’s philosophy would become widespread again in the West. Many of the greatest early modern scientists and artists who broke with Scholasticism and fostered the flowering of the Renaissance, with the support of the Plato-inspired Lorenzo (grandson of Cosimo), saw Plato’s philosophy as the basis for progress in the arts and sciences. His political views, too, were well-received: the vision of wise philosopher-kings of the Republic matched the views set out in works such as Machiavelli’s The Prince. More problematic was Plato’s belief in metempsychosis, transmigration of the soul, as well as his ethical views (on polyamory and euthanasia in particular), which did not match those of Christianity. It was Plethon’s student Bessarion who reconciled Plato with Christian theology, arguing that Plato’s views were only ideals, unattainable due to the fall of man.[106]

By the 19th century, Plato’s reputation was restored, and at least on par with Aristotle’s. Notable Western philosophers have continued to draw upon Plato’s work since that time. Plato’s influence has been especially strong in mathematics and the sciences. He helped to distinguish between pure and applied mathematics by widening the gap between “arithmetic”, now called number theory and “logistic”, now called arithmetic. He regarded “logistic” as appropriate for business men and men of war who “must learn the art of numbers or he will not know how to array his troops,” while “arithmetic” was appropriate for philosophers “because he has to arise out of the sea of change and lay hold of true being.”[107] Plato’s resurgence further inspired some of the greatest advances in logic since Aristotle, primarily through Gottlob Frege and his followers Kurt Gödel, Alonzo Church, and Alfred Tarski. Albert Einstein suggested that the scientist who takes philosophy seriously would have to avoid systematization and take on many different roles, and possibly appear as a Platonist or Pythagorean, in that such a one would have “the viewpoint of logical simplicity as an indispensable and effective tool of his research.”[108]

Many recent philosophers have diverged from what some would describe as the ontological models and moral ideals characteristic of traditional Platonism. A number of these postmodern philosophers have thus appeared to disparage Platonism from more or less informed perspectives. Friedrich Nietzsche notoriously attacked Plato’s “idea of the good itself” along with many fundamentals of Christian morality, which he interpreted as “Platonism for the masses” in one of his most important works, Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Martin Heidegger argued against Plato’s alleged obfuscation of Being in his incomplete tome, Being and Time (1927), and the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued in The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) that Plato’s alleged proposal for a utopian political regime in the Republic was prototypically totalitarian. The political philosopher and professor Leo Strauss is considered by some as the prime thinker involved in the recovery of Platonic thought in its more political, and less metaphysical, form. Strauss’ political approach was in part inspired by the appropriation of Plato and Aristotle by medieval Jewish and Islamic political philosophers, especially Maimonides and Al-Farabi, as opposed to the Christian metaphysical tradition that developed from Neoplatonism. Deeply influenced by Nietzsche and Heidegger, Strauss nonetheless rejects their condemnation of Plato and looks to the dialogues for a solution to what all three latter day thinkers acknowledge as ‘the crisis of the West.’

Textual sources and history

First page of the Euthyphro, from the Clarke Plato (Codex Oxoniensis Clarkianus 39), 895 AD. The text is Greek minuscule. See also: List of manuscripts of Plato’s dialogues

Some 250 known manuscripts of Plato survive.[109] The texts of Plato as received today apparently represent the complete written philosophical work of Plato and are generally good by the standards of textual criticism.[110] No modern edition of Plato in the original Greek represents a single source, but rather it is reconstructed from multiple sources which are compared with each other. These sources are medieval manuscripts written on vellum (mainly from 9th-13th century AD Byzantium), papyri (mainly from late antiquity in Egypt), and from the independent testimonia of other authors who quote various segments of the works (which come from a variety of sources). The text as presented is usually not much different from what appears in the Byzantine manuscripts, and papyri and testimonia just confirm the manuscript tradition. In some editions however the readings in the papyri or testimonia are favoured in some places by the editing critic of the text. Reviewing editions of papyri for the Republic in 1987, Slings suggests that the use of papyri is hampered due to some poor editing practices.[111]

In the first century AD, Thrasyllus of Mendes had compiled and published the works of Plato in the original Greek, both genuine and spurious. While it has not survived to the present day, all the extant medieval Greek manuscripts are based on his edition.[112]

The oldest surviving complete manuscript for many of the dialogues is the Clarke Plato (Codex Oxoniensis Clarkianus 39, or Codex Boleianus MS E.D. Clarke 39), which was written in Constantinople in 895 and acquired by Oxford University in 1809.[113] The Clarke is given the siglum B in modern editions. B contains the first six tetralogies and is described internally as being written by “John the Calligrapher” on behalf of Arethas of Caesarea. It appears to have undergone corrections by Arethas himself.[114] For the last two tetralogies and the apocrypha, the oldest surviving complete manuscript is Codex Parisinus graecus 1807, designated A, which was written nearly contemporaneously to B, circa 900 AD.[115]A must be a copy of the edition edited by the patriarch, Photios, teacher of Arethas.[116][117][118]A probably had an initial volume containing the first 7 tetralogies which is now lost, but of which a copy was made, Codex Venetus append. class. 4, 1, which has the siglum T. The oldest manuscript for the seventh tetralogy is Codex Vindobonensis 54. suppl. phil. Gr. 7, with siglum W, with a supposed date in the twelfth century.[119] In total there are fifty-one such Byzantine manuscripts known, while others may yet be found.[120]

To help establish the text, the older evidence of papyri and the independent evidence of the testimony of commentators and other authors (i.e., those who quote and refer to an old text of Plato which is no longer extant) are also used. Many papyri which contain fragments of Plato’s texts are among the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The 2003 Oxford Classical Texts edition by Slings even cites the Coptic translation of a fragment of the Republic in the Nag Hammadi library as evidence.[121] Important authors for testimony include Olympiodorus the Younger, Plutarch, Proclus, Iamblichus, Eusebius, and Stobaeus.

During the early Renaissance, the Greek language and, along with it, Plato’s texts were reintroduced to Western Europe by Byzantine scholars. In September or October of 1484 Filippo Valori and Francesco Berlinghieri printed 1025 copies of Ficino’s translation, using the printing press at the Dominican convent S.Jacopo di Ripoli.[122][123] Cosimo had been influenced toward studying Plato by the many Byzantine Platonists in Florence during his day, including George Gemistus Plethon.

The 1578 edition [124] of Plato’s complete works published by Henricus Stephanus (Henri Estienne) in Geneva also included parallel Latin translation and running commentary by Joannes Serranus (Jean de Serres). It was this edition which established standard Stephanus pagination, still in use today.[125]

Modern editions

The Oxford Classical Texts offers the current standard complete Greek text of Plato’s complete works. In five volumes edited by John Burnet, its first edition was published 1900-1907, and it is still available from the publisher, having last been printed in 1993.[126][127] The second edition is still in progress with only the first volume, printed in 1995, and the Republic, printed in 2003, available. The Cambridge Greek and Latin Texts and Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries series includes Greek editions of the Protagoras, Symposium, Phaedrus, Alcibiades, and Clitophon, with English philological, literary, and, to an extent, philosophical commentary.[128][129] One distinguished edition of the Greek text is E. R. Dodds’ of the Gorgias, which includes extensive English commentary.[130][131]

The modern standard complete English edition is the 1997 Hackett Plato, Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper.[132][133] For many of these translations Hackett offers separate volumes which include more by way of commentary, notes, and introductory material. There is also the Clarendon Plato Series by Oxford University Press which offers English translations and thorough philosophical commentary by leading scholars on a few of Plato’s works, including John McDowell’s version of the Theaetetus.[134] Cornell University Press has also begun the Agora series of English translations of classical and medieval philosophical texts, including a few of Plato’s.[135]

See also

Notes

a. ^ Plato is a nickname from the adjective πλατύς platýs “broad”. Diogenes Laertius mentions three possible meanings of the nickname:[136]

ἐγυμνάσατο δὲ παρὰ Ἀρίστωνι τῷ Ἀργείῳ παλαιστῇ· ἀφ’ οὗ καὶ Πλάτων διὰ τὴν εὐεξίαν μετωνομάσθη, πρότερον Ἀριστοκλῆς ἀπὸ τοῦ πάππου καλούμενος [ὄνομα], καθά φησιν Ἀλέξανδρος ἐν Διαδοχαῖς. ἔνιοι δὲ διὰ τὴν πλατύτητα τῆς ἑρμηνείας οὕτως ὀνομασθῆναι· ἢ ὅτι πλατὺς ἦν τὸ μέτωπον, ὥς φησι Νεάνθης. “And he learnt gymnastics under Ariston, the Argive wrestler. And from him he received the name of Plato on account of his robust figure, in place of his original name which was Aristocles, after his grandfather, as Alexander informs us in his Successions of Philosophers. But others affirm that he got the name Plato from the breadth of his style, or from the breadth of his forehead, as suggested by Neanthes.”

Seneca mentions the meaning of Plato’s name in connection to a moral lesson:[137]

Illud simul cogitemus, si mundum ipsum, non minus mortalem quam nos sumus, providentia periculis eximit, posse aliquatenus nostra quoque providentia longiorem prorogari huic corpusculo moram, si voluptates, quibus pars maior perit, potuerimus regere et coercere. Plato ipse ad senectutem se diligentia protulit. Erat quidem corpus validum ac forte sortitus et illi nomen latitudo pectoris fecerat, sed navigationes ac pericula multum detraxerant viribus; parsimonia tamen et eorum quae aviditatem evocant modus et diligens sui tutela perduxit illum ad senectutem multis prohibentibus causis. “Let us at the same time reflect, seeing that Providence rescues from its perils the world itself, which is no less mortal than we ourselves, that to some extent our petty bodies can be made to tarry longer upon earth by our own providence, if only we acquire the ability to control and check those pleasures whereby the greater portion of mankind perishes. Plato himself, by taking pains, advanced to old age. To be sure, he was the fortunate possessor of a strong and sound body (his very name was given him because of his broad chest); but his strength was much impaired by sea voyages and desperate adventures. Nevertheless, by frugal living, by setting a limit upon all that rouses the appetites, and by painstaking attention to himself, he reached that advanced age in spite of many hindrances.”

b. ^ The grammarian Apollodorus of Athens argues in his Chronicles that Plato was born in the first year of the eighty-eighth Olympiad (427 BCE), on the seventh day of the month Thargelion; according to this tradition the god Apollo was born this day.[138] According to another biographer of him, Neanthes, Plato was eighty-four years of age at his death. If we accept Neanthes’ version, Plato was younger than Isocrates by six years, and therefore he was born in the second year of the 87th Olympiad, the year Pericles died (429 BCE).[139] According to the Suda, Plato was born in Aegina in the 88th Olympiad amid the preliminaries of the Peloponnesian war, and he lived 82 years.[140]Sir Thomas Browne also believes that Plato was born in the 88th Olympiad.[141]Renaissance Platonists celebrated Plato’s birth on November 7.[142]Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff estimates that Plato was born when Diotimos was archon eponymous, namely between July 29, 428 BCE and July 24, 427 BCE.[143] Greek philologist Ioannis Kalitsounakis believes that the philosopher was born on May 26 or 27, 427 BCE, while Jonathan Barnes regards 428 BCE as year of Plato’s birth.[144] For her part, Debra Nails asserts that the philosopher was born in 424/423 BCE. According to Seneca Plato died at the age of 81 on the same day he was born.[145]

c. ^ Diogenes Laertius mentions that Plato “was born, according to some writers, in Aegina in the house of Phidiades the son of Thales”. Diogenes mentions as one of his sources the Universal History of Favorinus. According to Favorinus, Ariston, Plato’s family, and his family were sent by Athens to settle as cleruchs (colonists retaining their Athenian citizenship), on the island of Aegina, from which they were expelled by the Spartans after Plato’s birth there.[146] Nails points out, however, that there is no record of any Spartan expulsion of Athenians from Aegina between 431–411 BCE.[147] On the other hand, at the Peace of Nicias, Aegina was silently left under Athens’ control, and it was not until the summer of 411 that the Spartans overran the island.[148] Therefore, Nails concludes that “perhaps Ariston was a cleruch, perhaps he went to Aegina in 431, and perhaps Plato was born on Aegina, but none of this enables a precise dating of Ariston’s death (or Plato’s birth). Aegina is regarded as Plato’s place of birth by Suda as well.

Footnotes

  1. Jump up ^ Jones 2006.
  2. Jump up ^ quote=”…the subject of philosophy, as it is often conceived—a rigorous and systematic examination of ethical, political, metaphysical, and epistemological issues, armed with a distinctive method—can be called his invention” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato/
  3. Jump up ^ See introduction. https://books.google.com/books?id=eSKTvJDrr5kC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
  4. Jump up ^ “Plato”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2002. 
  5. Jump up ^ Whitehead 1978, p. 39.
  6. Jump up ^ http://rebels-library.org/files/foucault_hermeneutics.pdf
  7. Jump up ^ http://www.gutenberg.org/files/4363/4363-h/4363-h.htm
  8. Jump up ^ quote=”Though influenced primarily by Socrates, to the extent that Socrates is usually the main character in many of Plato’s writings, he was also influenced by Heraclitus, Parmenides, and the Pythagoreans”.http://www.iep.utm.edu/plato/
  9. Jump up ^ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato/
  10. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, III • Nails 2002, p. 53 • Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 2005, p. 46
  11. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, I
  12. ^ Jump up to: a b Guthrie 1986, p. 10 • Taylor 2001, p. xiv • Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 2005, p. 47
  13. Jump up ^ Plato, Republic 368aWilamowitz-Moellendorff 2005, p. 47
  14. Jump up ^ Some have held that Glaucon and Adeimantus were uncles of Plato, but Zeller decides for the usual view that they were brothers. Cf. Ph. d. Gr. ii. 1, 4th ed. 1889, p. 392, and Abhandl. d. Berl. Akad., 1873, Hist.-Phil Kl. pp. 86 ff.
  15. Jump up ^ Xenophon, Memorabilia, 3.6.1
  16. Jump up ^ Nails 2002, p. 247.
  17. Jump up ^ Nails 2002, p. 246.
  18. Jump up ^ Apuleius, De Dogmate Platonis, 1 • Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, I • “Plato”. Suda. 
  19. Jump up ^ Cicero, De Divinatione, I, 36
  20. Jump up ^ Nails 2002, p. 53 • Taylor 2001, p. xiv
  21. Jump up ^ Plato, Charmides 158aNails 2003, pp. 228–229
  22. Jump up ^ Plato, Charmides 158a • Plutarch, Pericles, IV
  23. Jump up ^ Plato, Gorgias 481d and 513b • Aristophanes, Wasps, 97
  24. Jump up ^ Plato, Parmenides 126c
  25. Jump up ^ Guthrie 1986, p. 11.
  26. Jump up ^ Kahn 2004, p. 186.
  27. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, IV
  28. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, IV • Notopoulos 1939, p. 135
  29. ^ Jump up to: a b see Tarán 1981, p. 226.
  30. Jump up ^ Guthrie 1986, p. 12 (footnote).
  31. Jump up ^ Apuleius, De Dogmate Platonis, 2
  32. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, IV • Smith 1870, p. 393
  33. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, V
  34. Jump up ^ Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1.987a
  35. Jump up ^ Borody 1998.
  36. Jump up ^ R.M. Hare, Plato in C.C.W. Taylor, R.M. Hare and Jonathan Barnes, Greek Philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999 (1982), 103–189, here 117–9.
  37. Jump up ^ Russell, Bertrand (1991). History of Western Philosophy. Routledge. pp. 120–124. ISBN 0-415-07854-7. 
  38. Jump up ^ Metaphysics, 1.6.1 (987a)
  39. Jump up ^ Tusc. Disput. 1.17.39.
  40. Jump up ^ Strauss 1964, pp. 50–51.
  41. Jump up ^ McEvoy 1984.
  42. Jump up ^ Cairns 1961, p. xiii.
  43. Jump up ^ Robinson 1827, p. 16.
  44. Jump up ^ Dillon 2003, pp. 1–3.
  45. Jump up ^ Press 2000, p. 1.
  46. Jump up ^ Riginos 1976, p. 73.
  47. Jump up ^ Not to be confused with Anniceris the Cyrenaic philosopher.
  48. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Book iii, 20
  49. Jump up ^ Riginos 1976, p. 194.
  50. Jump up ^ Schall 1996.
  51. ^ Jump up to: a b Riginos 1976, p. 195.
  52. Jump up ^ Baird & Kaufmann 2008.
  53. Jump up ^ Fine 2003, p. 5.
  54. Jump up ^ McDowell 1973, p. 230.
  55. Jump up ^ Fine 1979, p. 366.
  56. Jump up ^ McDowell 1973, p. 256.
  57. Jump up ^ Taylor 2011, pp. 176–187.
  58. Jump up ^ Lee 2011, p. 432.
  59. Jump up ^ Taylor 2011, p. 189.
  60. Jump up ^ Blössner 2007, pp. 345–349.
  61. Jump up ^ Plato, Timaeus 44d & 70
  62. Jump up ^ Dorter 2006, p. 360.
  63. Jump up ^ Plato, Republic 488
  64. ^ Jump up to: a b Blössner 2007, p. 350. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name “FOOTNOTEBl.C3.B6ssner2007350” defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  65. Jump up ^ Republic 550b
  66. Jump up ^ Republic 554a
  67. Jump up ^ Republic 561a–b
  68. Jump up ^ Republic 571a
  69. Jump up ^ Dorter 2006, pp. 253–267.
  70. Jump up ^ Rodriguez-Grandjean 1998.
  71. Jump up ^ Reale 1990. Cf. p.14 and onwards.
  72. Jump up ^ Krämer 1990. Cf. pp.38-47.
  73. Jump up ^ Elementa harmonica II, 30–31; quoted in Gaiser 1980, p. 5.
  74. Jump up ^ Plotinus describes this in the last part of his final Ennead (VI, 9) entitled On the Good, or the One (Περὶ τἀγαθοῦ ἢ τοῦ ἑνός). Jens Halfwassen states in Der Aufstieg zum Einen (2006) that “Plotinus’ ontology—which should be called Plotinus’ henology - is a rather accurate philosophical renewal and continuation of Plato’s unwritten doctrine, i.e. the doctrine rediscovered by Krämer and Gaiser.”
  75. Jump up ^ In one of his letters (Epistolae 1612) Ficino writes: “The main goal of the divine Plato … is to show one principle of things, which he called the One (τὸ ἕν)”, cf. Montoriola 1926, p. 147.
  76. Jump up ^ Gomperz 1931.
  77. Jump up ^ Gaiser 1998.
  78. Jump up ^ For a brief description of the problem see for example Gaiser 1980. A more detailed analysis is given by Krämer 1990. Another description is by Reale 1997 and Reale 1990. A thorough analysis of the consequences of such an approach is given by Szlezak 1999. Another supporter of this interpretation is the German philosopher Karl Albert, cf. Albert 1980 or Albert 1996. Hans-Georg Gadamer is also sympathetic towards it, cf. Grondin 2010 and Gadamer 1980. Gadamer’s final position on the subject is stated in Gadamer 1997.
  79. ^ Jump up to: a b Blackburn 1996, p. 104.
  80. Jump up ^ Hartz, Louis. 1984. A Synthesis of World History. Zurich: Humanity Press
  81. Jump up ^ Popper 1962, p. 133.
  82. Jump up ^ C. D. C. Reeve (Delta Kappa Epsilon Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) - A Plato Reader: Eight Essential Dialogues (page vi - Introduction) Hackett Publishing 2012 - 592 pages ISBN 1603849173 [Retrieved 2015-3-31](ed. this the first source of < Early, Middle,(Transitional), Late >
  83. Jump up ^ Robin Barrow (Professor of Philosophy of Education at Simon Fraser University, Canada and Fellow of The Royal Society of Canada) - Appendix 2:Notes on the authenticity and Groupings of Plato’s works (in) Plato Bloomsbury Publishing, 18 Dec 2014 ISBN 1472504852 [Retrieved 2015-3-31]
  84. Jump up ^ Preface - page x (of) Platonic Writings/Platonic Readings (edited by CL. Griswold Jr) Penn State Press, 1 Nov 2010 ISBN 0271044810 [Retrieved 2015-3-31]
  85. Jump up ^ JM. Cooper (Stuart Professor of Philosophy, Princeton University c.1997), D. S. Hutchinson - Complete Works - xii Hackett Publishing, 1997 [Retrieved 2015-3-31](ed. this source was 1st source for criticism of < chronological order >)
  86. Jump up ^ H Tarrant (Professor of Classics at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales) - Plato’s First Interpreters (Cornell University Press, 2000) ISBN 080143792X [Retrieved 2015-3-31]
  87. Jump up ^ B Jowett - APPENDIX I (1st paragraph) - MENEXENUS[Retrieved 2015-3-31]
  88. Jump up ^ The extent to which scholars consider a dialogue to be authentic is noted in Cooper 1997, pp. v–vi.
  89. Jump up ^ Bloom 1982, p. 5.
  90. Jump up ^ Burnet 1928b, p. 9.
  91. Jump up ^ Aristotle, Politics 1264b24-27.
  92. ^ Jump up to: a b Cooper 1997, p. xiv.
  93. Jump up ^ Kraut 2013; Schofield 2002; and Rowe 2006.
  94. Jump up ^ Brickhouse & Smith.
  95. Jump up ^ See Guthrie 1986; Vlastos 1991; Penner 1992; Kahn 1996; Fine 1999b.
  96. ^ Jump up to: a b c Dodds 2004.
  97. ^ Jump up to: a b Brandwood 1990, p. 251.
  98. Jump up ^ Brandwood 1990, p. 77.
  99. Jump up ^ Meinwald 1991.
  100. Jump up ^ “The time is not long after the death of Socrates; for the Pythagoreans [Echecrates & co.] have not heard any details yet” (Burnet 1911, p. 5).
  101. Jump up ^ Burnet 1928a, §177.
  102. Jump up ^ Cooper 1997, p. vii.
  103. Jump up ^ C.U.M. Smith - Brain, Mind and Consciousness in the History of Neuroscience (page 1) Springer Science & Business, 1 Jan 2014, 374 pages, Volume 6 of History, philosophy and theory of the life sciences SpringerLink : Bücher ISBN 9401787743 [Retrieved 2015-06-27]
  104. Jump up ^ Lackner 2001, p. 21.
  105. Jump up ^ See Burrell 1998 and Hasse 2002, pp. 33–45.
  106. Jump up ^ Harris, Jonathan (2002). “Byzantines in Renaissance Italy”. ORB: The Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies. College of Staten Island, City University of New York. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  107. Jump up ^ Boyer 1991, p. 86: ‘Plato is important in the history of mathematics largely for his role as inspirer and director of others, and perhaps to him is due the sharp distinction in ancient Greece between arithmetic (in the sense of the theory of numbers) and logistic (the technique of computation). Plato regarded logistic as appropriate for the businessman and for the man of war, who “must learn the art of numbers or he will not know how to array his troops.” The philosopher, on the other hand, must be an arithmetician “because he has to arise out of the sea of change and lay hold of true being.”’
  108. Jump up ^ Einstein 1949, pp. 683–684.
  109. Jump up ^ Brumbaugh & Wells 1989.
  110. Jump up ^ Irwin 2011, pp. 64 & 74. See also Slings 1987, p. 34: “… primary MSS. together offer a text of tolerably good quality” (this is without the further corrections of other sources).
  111. Jump up ^ Slings 1987, p. 31.
  112. Jump up ^ Cooper 1997, pp. viii–xii.
  113. Jump up ^ Manuscripts - Philosophy Faculty Library (Internet Archive)
  114. Jump up ^ Dodds 1959, pp. 35–36.
  115. Jump up ^ Dodds 1959, p. 37.
  116. Jump up ^ RD McKirahan - Philosophy Before Socrates (Second Edition): An Introduction with Texts and Commentary: An Introduction with Texts and Commentary Hackett Publishing, 1 Mar 2011 ISBN 1603846123 [Retrieved 2015-3-20]
  117. Jump up ^ RS Brumbaugh - Plato for the Modern Age (p.199) University Press of America, 1 Jan 1991 ISBN 0819183563 [Retrieved 2015-3-20]
  118. Jump up ^ J Duffy - The lonely mission of Michael Psellos (in) Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources edited by K Ierodiakonou (Oxford University Press, 2004) ISBN 0199269718 [Retrieved 2015-3-20]
  119. Jump up ^ Dodds 1959, p. 39.
  120. Jump up ^ Irwin 2011, p. 71.
  121. Jump up ^ Slings 2003, p. xxiii.
  122. Jump up ^ J Hankins - (p.301) ISBN 9004091610 [Retrieved 2015-3-20]
  123. Jump up ^ Allen 1975, p. 12.
  124. Jump up ^ Platonis opera quae extant omnia edidit Henricus Stephanus, Genevae, 1578.
  125. Jump up ^ Suzanne 2009.
  126. Jump up ^ Cooper 1997, pp. xii & xxvii.
  127. Jump up ^ Oxford Classical Texts - Classical Studies & Ancient History Series - Series - Academic, Professional, & General - Oxford University Press
  128. Jump up ^ Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics - Series - Academic and Professional Books - Cambridge University Press
  129. Jump up ^ Cambridge Classical Texts and Commentaries - Series - Academic and Professional Books - Cambridge University Press
  130. Jump up ^ Irwin 1979, pp. vi & 11.
  131. Jump up ^ Dodds 1959.
  132. Jump up ^ Fine 1999a, p. 482.
  133. Jump up ^ Complete Works - Philosophy
  134. Jump up ^ Clarendon Plato Series - Philosophy Series - Series - Academic, Professional, & General - Oxford University Press
  135. Jump up ^ Cornell University Press : Agora Editions
  136. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, 3.4; translation by Robert Drew Hicks
  137. Jump up ^ Seneca, Epistulae, VI 58:29-30; translation by Robert Mott Gummere
  138. ^ Jump up to: a b Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, II
  139. Jump up ^ Nietzsche 1967, p. 32.
  140. ^ Jump up to: a b “Plato”. Suda. 
  141. Jump up ^ Browne 1672.
  142. ^ Jump up to: a b Nails 2006, p. 1.
  143. Jump up ^ Wilamowitz-Moellendorff 2005, p. 46.
  144. Jump up ^ “Plato”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2002.  • “Plato”. Encyclopaedic Dictionary The Helios Volume V (in Greek). 1952. 
  145. Jump up ^ Seneca, Epistulae, VI, 58, 31: natali suo decessit et annum umum atque octogensimum.
  146. Jump up ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Plato, III
  147. ^ Jump up to: a b Nails 2002, p. 54.
  148. Jump up ^ Thucydides, 5.18 • Thucydides, 8.92

References

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  • Gaiser, Konrad (1980). “Plato’s Enigmatic Lecture ‘On the Good. Phronesis 25 (1): 5–37. doi:10.1163/156852880x00025. 
  • Gaiser, Konrad (1998). Reale, Giovanni, ed. Testimonia Platonica: Le antiche testimonianze sulle dottrine non scritte di Platone. Milan: Vita e Pensiero.  First published as “Testimonia Platonica. Quellentexte zur Schule und mündlichen Lehre Platons” as an appendix to Gaiser’s Platons Ungeschriebene Lehre, Stuttgart, 1963.
  • Gomperz, H. (1931). “Plato’s System of Philosophy”. In Ryle, G. Proceedings of the Seventh International Congress of Philosophy. London. pp. 426–431.  Reprinted in Gomperz, H. (1953). Philosophical Studies. Boston: Christopher Publishing House 1953, pp. 119–24.
  • Grondin, Jean (2010). “Gadamer and the Tübingen School”. In Gill, Christopher; Renaud, François. Hermeneutic Philosophy and Plato: Gadamer’s Response to the Philebus. Academia Verlag. pp. 139–156. 
  • Guthrie, W.K.C. (1986). A History of Greek Philosophy: Volume 4, Plato: The Man and His Dialogues: Earlier Period. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-31101-2. 
  • Hasse, Dag Nikolaus (2002). “Plato arabico-latinus”. In Gersh; Hoenen. The Platonic Tradition in the Middle Ages: A Doxographic Approach. De Gruyter. pp. 33–66. 
  • Irwin, T. H. (1979). Plato: Gorgias. Oxford University Press. 
  • Irwin, T. H. (2011). “The Platonic Corpus”. In Fine, G. The Oxford Handbook of Plato. Oxford University Press. 
  • Jones, Daniel (2006). Roach, Peter; Hartman, James; Setter, Jane, eds. Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (17 ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Kahn, Charles H. (1996). Plato and the Socratic Dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64830-0. 
  • Kierkegaard, Søren (1992). “Plato”. The Concept of Irony. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-02072-3. 
  • Krämer, Hans Joachim (1990). Catan, John R., ed. Plato and the Foundations of Metaphysics: A Work on the Theory of the Principles and Unwritten Doctrines of Plato with a Collection of the Fundamental Documents. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-0433-1. 
  • Lee, M.-K. (2011). “The Theaetetus”. In Fine, G. The Oxford Handbook of Plato. Oxford University Press. pp. 411–436. 
  • Kraut, Richard (11 September 2013). Zalta, Edward N., ed. “Plato”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  • Lackner, D. F. (2001). “The Camaldolese Academy: Ambrogio Traversari, Marsilio Ficino and the Christian Platonic Tradition”. In Allen; Rees. Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy. Brill. 
  • Meinwald, Constance Chu (1991). Plato’s Parmenides. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • McDowell, J. (1973). Plato: Theaetetus. Oxford University Press. 
  • McEvoy, James (1984). “Plato and The Wisdom of Egypt”. Irish Philosophical Journal (Belfast: Dept. of Scholastic Philosophy, Queen’s University of Belfast) 1 (2). ISSN 0266-9080. Retrieved 2007-12-03. 
  • Montoriola, Karl Markgraf von (1926). Briefe Des Mediceerkreises Aus Marsilio Ficino’s Epistolarium. Berlin: Juncker. 
  • Nails, Debra (2002). The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and Other Socratics. Hackett Publishing. ISBN 0-87220-564-9. 
  • Nails, Debra (2006). “The Life of Plato of Athens”. In Benson, Hugh H. A Companion to Plato. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-4051-1521-1. 
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (1967). “Vorlesungsaufzeichnungen”. Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (in German). Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-013912-X. 
  • Notopoulos, A. (April 1939). “The Name of Plato”. Classical Philology (The University of Chicago Press) 34 (2): 135–145. doi:10.1086/362227. 
  • Penner, Terry (1992). “Socrates and the Early Dialogues”. In Kraut, Richard. The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge University Press. pp. 121–169. 
  • “Plato”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2002. 
  • “Plato”. Encyclopaedic Dictionary The Helios Volume XVI (in Greek). 1952. 
  • “Plato”. Suda. 10th century. 
  • Popper, K. (1962). The Open Society and its Enemies 1. London: Routledge. 
  • Press, Gerald Alan (2000). “Introduction”. In Press, Gerald Alan. Who Speaks for Plato?: Studies in Platonic Anonymity. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 1–14. 
  • Reale, Giovanni (1990). Catan, John R., ed. Plato and Aristotle. A History of Ancient Philosophy 2. State University of New York Press. 
  • Reale, Giovanni (1997). Toward a New Interpretation of Plato. Washington, D.C.: CUA Press. 
  • Riginos, Alice (1976). Platonica : the anecdotes concerning the life and writings of Plato. Leiden: E.J. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-04565-1. 
  • Robinson, John (1827). Archæologica Græca (Second ed.). London: A. J. Valpy. Archived from the original on 2006-03-24. 
  • Rodriguez-Grandjean, Pablo (1998). Philosophy and Dialogue: Plato’s Unwritten Doctrines from a Hermeneutical Point of View. Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy. Boston. 
  • Rowe, Christopher (2006). “Interpreting Plato”. In Benson, Hugh H. A Companion to Plato. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 13–24. 
  • Schall, James V. (Summer 1996). “On the Death of Plato”. The American Scholar 65. 
  • Schofield, Malcolm (23 August 2002). Craig, Edward, ed. “Plato”. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  • Sedley, David (2003). Plato’s Cratylus. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Slings, S. R. (1987). “Remarks on Some Recent Papyri of the Politeia”. Mnemosyne. Fourth 40 (1/2): 27–34. doi:10.1163/156852587x00030. 
  • Slings, S. R. (2003). Platonis Rempublicam. Oxford University Press. 
  • Smith, William (1870). “Plato”. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. 
  • Strauss, Leo (1964). The City and the Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 
  • Suzanne, Bernard (8 March 2009). “The Stephanus edition”. Plato and his dialogues. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  • Szlezak, Thomas A. (1999). Reading Plato. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-18984-5. 
  • Tarán, Leonardo (1981). Speusippus of Athens. Brill Publishers. 
  • Tarán, Leonardo (2001). “Plato’s Alleged Epitaph”. Collected Papers 1962-1999. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 9004123040. 
  • Taylor, Alfred Edward (2001) [1937]. Plato: The Man and His Work. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-41605-4. 
  • Taylor, C. C. W. (2011). “Plato’s Epistemology”. In Fine, G. The Oxford Handbook of Plato. Oxford University Press. pp. 165–190. 
  • Vlastos, Gregory (1991). Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher. Cambridge University Press. 
  • Whitehead, Alfred North (1978). Process and Reality. New York: The Free Press. 
  • Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Ulrich von (2005) [1917]. Plato: His Life and Work (translated in Greek by Xenophon Armyros). Kaktos. ISBN 960-382-664-2. 

Further reading

External links

Categories:
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Orthogonality thesis - Lesswrongwiki

almost 2 years ago

The orthogonality thesis states that an artificial intelligence can have any combination of intelligence level and goal. This is in contrast to the belief that, because of their intelligence, AIs will all converge to a common goal. The thesis was originally defined by Nick Bostrom in the paper "Superintelligent Will", (along with the instrumental convergence thesis). For his purposes Bostrom defines intelligence to be instrumental rationality.

Defense of the thesis

It has been pointed out that the orthogonality thesis is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on claims that limit possible AIs. Stuart Armstrong writes that,

Thus to deny the Orthogonality thesis is to assert that there is a goal system G, such that, among other things:

  1. There cannot exist any efficient real-world algorithm with goal G.
  2. If a being with arbitrarily high resources, intelligence, time and goal G, were to try design an efficient real-world algorithm with the same goal, it must fail.
  3. If a human society were highly motivated to design an efficient real-world algorithm with goal G, and were given a million years to do so along with huge amounts of resources, training and knowledge about AI, it must fail.
  4. If a high-resource human society were highly motivated to achieve the goals of G, then it could not do so (here the human society is seen as the algorithm).
  5. Same as above, for any hypothetical alien societies.
  6. There cannot exist any pattern of reinforcement learning that would train a highly efficient real-world intelligence to follow the goal G.
  7. There cannot exist any evolutionary or environmental pressures that would evolving highly efficient real world intelligences to follow goal G.

One reason many researchers assume superintelligences to converge to the same goals may be because most humans have similar values. Furthermore, many philosophies hold that there is a rationally correct morality, which implies that a sufficiently rational AI will acquire this morality and begin to act according to it. Armstrong points out that for formalizations of AI such as AIXI and Gödel machines, the thesis is known to be true. Furthermore, if the thesis was false, then Oracle AIs would be impossible to build, and all sufficiently intelligent AIs would be impossible to control.

Pathological Cases

There are some pairings of intelligence and goals which cannot exist. For instance, an AI may have the goal of using as little resources as possible, or simply of being as unintelligent as possible. These goals will inherently limit degree of intelligence of the AI.

Blog posts

See also

tag1
tag2
tag3

Orthogonality thesis - Lesswrongwiki

almost 2 years ago

The orthogonality thesis states that an artificial intelligence can have any combination of intelligence level and goal. This is in contrast to the belief that, because of their intelligence, AIs will all converge to a common goal. The thesis was originally defined by Nick Bostrom in the paper "Superintelligent Will", (along with the instrumental convergence thesis). For his purposes Bostrom defines intelligence to be instrumental rationality.

Defense of the thesis

It has been pointed out that the orthogonality thesis is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on claims that limit possible AIs. Stuart Armstrong writes that,

Thus to deny the Orthogonality thesis is to assert that there is a goal system G, such that, among other things:

  1. There cannot exist any efficient real-world algorithm with goal G.
  2. If a being with arbitrarily high resources, intelligence, time and goal G, were to try design an efficient real-world algorithm with the same goal, it must fail.
  3. If a human society were highly motivated to design an efficient real-world algorithm with goal G, and were given a million years to do so along with huge amounts of resources, training and knowledge about AI, it must fail.
  4. If a high-resource human society were highly motivated to achieve the goals of G, then it could not do so (here the human society is seen as the algorithm).
  5. Same as above, for any hypothetical alien societies.
  6. There cannot exist any pattern of reinforcement learning that would train a highly efficient real-world intelligence to follow the goal G.
  7. There cannot exist any evolutionary or environmental pressures that would evolving highly efficient real world intelligences to follow goal G.

One reason many researchers assume superintelligences to converge to the same goals may be because most humans have similar values. Furthermore, many philosophies hold that there is a rationally correct morality, which implies that a sufficiently rational AI will acquire this morality and begin to act according to it. Armstrong points out that for formalizations of AI such as AIXI and Gödel machines, the thesis is known to be true. Furthermore, if the thesis was false, then Oracle AIs would be impossible to build, and all sufficiently intelligent AIs would be impossible to control.

Pathological Cases

There are some pairings of intelligence and goals which cannot exist. For instance, an AI may have the goal of using as little resources as possible, or simply of being as unintelligent as possible. These goals will inherently limit degree of intelligence of the AI.

Blog posts

See also

tag1
tag2
tag3

Orthogonality thesis - Lesswrongwiki

almost 2 years ago

The orthogonality thesis states that an artificial intelligence can have any combination of intelligence level and goal. This is in contrast to the belief that, because of their intelligence, AIs will all converge to a common goal. The thesis was originally defined by Nick Bostrom in the paper "Superintelligent Will", (along with the instrumental convergence thesis). For his purposes Bostrom defines intelligence to be instrumental rationality.

Defense of the thesis

It has been pointed out that the orthogonality thesis is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on claims that limit possible AIs. Stuart Armstrong writes that,

Thus to deny the Orthogonality thesis is to assert that there is a goal system G, such that, among other things:

  1. There cannot exist any efficient real-world algorithm with goal G.
  2. If a being with arbitrarily high resources, intelligence, time and goal G, were to try design an efficient real-world algorithm with the same goal, it must fail.
  3. If a human society were highly motivated to design an efficient real-world algorithm with goal G, and were given a million years to do so along with huge amounts of resources, training and knowledge about AI, it must fail.
  4. If a high-resource human society were highly motivated to achieve the goals of G, then it could not do so (here the human society is seen as the algorithm).
  5. Same as above, for any hypothetical alien societies.
  6. There cannot exist any pattern of reinforcement learning that would train a highly efficient real-world intelligence to follow the goal G.
  7. There cannot exist any evolutionary or environmental pressures that would evolving highly efficient real world intelligences to follow goal G.

One reason many researchers assume superintelligences to converge to the same goals may be because most humans have similar values. Furthermore, many philosophies hold that there is a rationally correct morality, which implies that a sufficiently rational AI will acquire this morality and begin to act according to it. Armstrong points out that for formalizations of AI such as AIXI and Gödel machines, the thesis is known to be true. Furthermore, if the thesis was false, then Oracle AIs would be impossible to build, and all sufficiently intelligent AIs would be impossible to control.

Pathological Cases

There are some pairings of intelligence and goals which cannot exist. For instance, an AI may have the goal of using as little resources as possible, or simply of being as unintelligent as possible. These goals will inherently limit degree of intelligence of the AI.

Blog posts

See also

tag1
tag2
tag3

Orthogonality thesis - Lesswrongwiki

almost 2 years ago

The orthogonality thesis states that an artificial intelligence can have any combination of intelligence level and goal. This is in contrast to the belief that, because of their intelligence, AIs will all converge to a common goal. The thesis was originally defined by Nick Bostrom in the paper "Superintelligent Will", (along with the instrumental convergence thesis). For his purposes Bostrom defines intelligence to be instrumental rationality.

Defense of the thesis

It has been pointed out that the orthogonality thesis is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on claims that limit possible AIs. Stuart Armstrong writes that,

Thus to deny the Orthogonality thesis is to assert that there is a goal system G, such that, among other things:

  1. There cannot exist any efficient real-world algorithm with goal G.
  2. If a being with arbitrarily high resources, intelligence, time and goal G, were to try design an efficient real-world algorithm with the same goal, it must fail.
  3. If a human society were highly motivated to design an efficient real-world algorithm with goal G, and were given a million years to do so along with huge amounts of resources, training and knowledge about AI, it must fail.
  4. If a high-resource human society were highly motivated to achieve the goals of G, then it could not do so (here the human society is seen as the algorithm).
  5. Same as above, for any hypothetical alien societies.
  6. There cannot exist any pattern of reinforcement learning that would train a highly efficient real-world intelligence to follow the goal G.
  7. There cannot exist any evolutionary or environmental pressures that would evolving highly efficient real world intelligences to follow goal G.

One reason many researchers assume superintelligences to converge to the same goals may be because most humans have similar values. Furthermore, many philosophies hold that there is a rationally correct morality, which implies that a sufficiently rational AI will acquire this morality and begin to act according to it. Armstrong points out that for formalizations of AI such as AIXI and Gödel machines, the thesis is known to be true. Furthermore, if the thesis was false, then Oracle AIs would be impossible to build, and all sufficiently intelligent AIs would be impossible to control.

Pathological Cases

There are some pairings of intelligence and goals which cannot exist. For instance, an AI may have the goal of using as little resources as possible, or simply of being as unintelligent as possible. These goals will inherently limit degree of intelligence of the AI.

Blog posts

See also

tag1
tag2
tag3

Orthogonality thesis - Lesswrongwiki

almost 2 years ago

The orthogonality thesis states that an artificial intelligence can have any combination of intelligence level and goal. This is in contrast to the belief that, because of their intelligence, AIs will all converge to a common goal. The thesis was originally defined by Nick Bostrom in the paper "Superintelligent Will", (along with the instrumental convergence thesis). For his purposes Bostrom defines intelligence to be instrumental rationality.

Defense of the thesis

It has been pointed out that the orthogonality thesis is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on claims that limit possible AIs. Stuart Armstrong writes that,

Thus to deny the Orthogonality thesis is to assert that there is a goal system G, such that, among other things:

  1. There cannot exist any efficient real-world algorithm with goal G.
  2. If a being with arbitrarily high resources, intelligence, time and goal G, were to try design an efficient real-world algorithm with the same goal, it must fail.
  3. If a human society were highly motivated to design an efficient real-world algorithm with goal G, and were given a million years to do so along with huge amounts of resources, training and knowledge about AI, it must fail.
  4. If a high-resource human society were highly motivated to achieve the goals of G, then it could not do so (here the human society is seen as the algorithm).
  5. Same as above, for any hypothetical alien societies.
  6. There cannot exist any pattern of reinforcement learning that would train a highly efficient real-world intelligence to follow the goal G.
  7. There cannot exist any evolutionary or environmental pressures that would evolving highly efficient real world intelligences to follow goal G.

One reason many researchers assume superintelligences to converge to the same goals may be because most humans have similar values. Furthermore, many philosophies hold that there is a rationally correct morality, which implies that a sufficiently rational AI will acquire this morality and begin to act according to it. Armstrong points out that for formalizations of AI such as AIXI and Gödel machines, the thesis is known to be true. Furthermore, if the thesis was false, then Oracle AIs would be impossible to build, and all sufficiently intelligent AIs would be impossible to control.

Pathological Cases

There are some pairings of intelligence and goals which cannot exist. For instance, an AI may have the goal of using as little resources as possible, or simply of being as unintelligent as possible. These goals will inherently limit degree of intelligence of the AI.

Blog posts

See also

tag1
tag2
tag3

Orthogonality thesis - Lesswrongwiki

almost 2 years ago

The orthogonality thesis states that an artificial intelligence can have any combination of intelligence level and goal. This is in contrast to the belief that, because of their intelligence, AIs will all converge to a common goal. The thesis was originally defined by Nick Bostrom in the paper "Superintelligent Will", (along with the instrumental convergence thesis). For his purposes Bostrom defines intelligence to be instrumental rationality.

Defense of the thesis

It has been pointed out that the orthogonality thesis is the default position, and that the burden of proof is on claims that limit possible AIs. Stuart Armstrong writes that,

Thus to deny the Orthogonality thesis is to assert that there is a goal system G, such that, among other things:

  1. There cannot exist any efficient real-world algorithm with goal G.
  2. If a being with arbitrarily high resources, intelligence, time and goal G, were to try design an efficient real-world algorithm with the same goal, it must fail.
  3. If a human society were highly motivated to design an efficient real-world algorithm with goal G, and were given a million years to do so along with huge amounts of resources, training and knowledge about AI, it must fail.
  4. If a high-resource human society were highly motivated to achieve the goals of G, then it could not do so (here the human society is seen as the algorithm).
  5. Same as above, for any hypothetical alien societies.
  6. There cannot exist any pattern of reinforcement learning that would train a highly efficient real-world intelligence to follow the goal G.
  7. There cannot exist any evolutionary or environmental pressures that would evolving highly efficient real world intelligences to follow goal G.

One reason many researchers assume superintelligences to converge to the same goals may be because most humans have similar values. Furthermore, many philosophies hold that there is a rationally correct morality, which implies that a sufficiently rational AI will acquire this morality and begin to act according to it. Armstrong points out that for formalizations of AI such as AIXI and Gödel machines, the thesis is known to be true. Furthermore, if the thesis was false, then Oracle AIs would be impossible to build, and all sufficiently intelligent AIs would be impossible to control.

Pathological Cases

There are some pairings of intelligence and goals which cannot exist. For instance, an AI may have the goal of using as little resources as possible, or simply of being as unintelligent as possible. These goals will inherently limit degree of intelligence of the AI.

Blog posts

See also

tag1
tag2
tag3

Overton window - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

almost 2 years ago
For the Glenn Beck novel, see The Overton Window.

The , also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas the public will accept. It is used by media pundits.[1][2] The term is derived from its originator, Joseph P. Overton (1960–2003),[3] a former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,[4] who in his description of his eponymous window claimed that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within the window, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences.[5] According to Overton’s description, his window includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

Overview

Overton described a spectrum from “more free” to “less free” with regard to government intervention, oriented vertically on an axis. As the spectrum moves or expands, an idea at a given location may become more or less politically acceptable. His degrees of acceptance[6] of public ideas are roughly:

  • Unthinkable
  • Radical
  • Acceptable
  • Sensible
  • Popular
  • Policy

The Overton window is an approach to identifying which ideas define the domain of acceptability within a democracy’s possible governmental policies. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to persuade or educate the public in order to move and/or expand the window. Proponents of current policies, or similar ones, within the window seek to convince people that policies outside it should be deemed unacceptable.

After Overton’s death, others have examined the concept of adjusting the window by the deliberate promotion of ideas outside of it, or “outer fringe” ideas, with the intention of making less fringe ideas acceptable by comparison.[7] The “door-in-the-face” technique of persuasion is similar.

Historical precedents

An idea similar to the Overton window was expressed by Anthony Trollope in 1868 in his novel Phineas Finn:

“Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come to be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable;–and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.”

“It is no loss of time,” said Phineas, “to have taken the first great step in making it.”

“The first great step was taken long ago,” said Mr. Monk,–”taken by men who were looked upon as revolutionary demagogues, almost as traitors, because they took it. But it is a great thing to take any step that leads us onwards.”

In his “West India Emancipation” speech at Canandaigua, New York, in 1857,[8]abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass described how public opinion limits the ability of those in power to act with impunity:

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

The idea is very similar to an earlier theory that came to be known as Hallin’s spheres. In his 1986 book The Uncensored War,[9] communication scholar Daniel C. Hallin posits three areas of media coverage into which a topic may fall. The areas are diagrammed as concentric circles called spheres. From innermost to outermost they are the Sphere of Consensus, the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy, and the Sphere of Deviance.

Hallin’s theory is developed and applied primarily as a theory that explains varying levels of objectivity in media coverage, but it also accounts for the ongoing contest among media and other political actors about what counts as legitimate disagreement, potentially leading to changes in the boundaries between spheres. As one study that applies Hallin’s theory explains, “the borders between the three spheres are dynamic, depending on the political climate and on the editorial line of the various media outlets.”[10]

In popular culture

The novel Boomsday applies the Overton window to the subject of Social Security reform in the United States. The technique used was to agitate for “voluntary transitioning”, that is, suicide at a certain age in exchange for benefits, as a method of reducing the cost of Social Security. Ultimately, the stated goal was for a more modest result of reducing the burden that it was claimed was imposed on younger people for the costs of Social Security.

In 2010, conservative talk-show host and columnist Glenn Beck published a novel titled The Overton Window.[11]

See also

References

  1. Jump up ^ David Weigel (2015-04-14). “Marco Rubio:No Iran Deal Unless the Country Recognizes Israel”. Bloomberg Politics. Retrieved 2015-07-11. 
  2. Jump up ^ Paul Krugman (2015-02-27). “The Closed Minds Problem”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-11. 
  3. Jump up ^ NNDB “intelligence aggregator” Web site, “Joseph P. Overton”
  4. Jump up ^ “Joseph Overton biography and article index”. Mackinac. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  5. Jump up ^ Joseph Lehman. “A Brief Explanation of the Overton Window”. Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  6. Jump up ^ Daily Kos story, “Why the Right-Wing Gets It—and Why Dems Don’t”
  7. Jump up ^ Daily Kos diary, “Morning Feature: Crazy Like a Fox?”
  8. Jump up ^ BlackPast.org website “(1857) Frederick Douglass, ‘If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress’”
  9. Jump up ^ Hallin, Daniel (1986). The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University press. pp. 116–118. ISBN 978-0-19-503814-9. 
  10. Jump up ^ Figenschou, Tine Ustad; Beyer, Audun (October 2014). “The Limits of the Debate How the Oslo Terror Shook the Norwegian Immigration Debate”. The International Journal of Press/Politics 19 (4): 435. doi:10.1177/1940161214542954. 
  11. Jump up ^ Glenn Beck Web site, Books, “The Overton Window”

External links

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Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism

almost 2 years ago

I.

In the old days, you had your Culture, and that was that. Your Culture told you lots of stuff about what you were and weren’t allowed to do, and by golly you listened. Your Culture told you to work the job prescribed to you by your caste and gender, to marry who your parents told you to marry or at least someone of the opposite sex, to worship at the proper temples and the proper times, and to talk about proper things as opposed to the blasphemous things said by the tribe over there.

Then we got Liberalism, which said all of that was mostly bunk. Like Wicca, its motto is “Do as you will, so long as it harms none”. Or in more political terms, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” or “If you don’t like gay sex, don’t have any” or “If you don’t like this TV program, don’t watch it” or “What happens in the bedroom between consenting adults is none of your business” or “It neither breaks my arm nor picks my pocket”. Your job isn’t to enforce your conception of virtue upon everyone to build the Virtuous Society, it’s to live your own life the way you want to live it and let other people live their own lives the way they want to live them. This is the much-maligned “atomic individualism,” or maybe just liberalism boiled down to its pure essence.

But atomic individualism wasn’t as great a solution as it sounded. Maybe one of the first cracks was tobacco ads. Even though putting up a billboard saying “SMOKE MARLBORO” neither breaks anyone’s arm nor picks their pocket, it shifts social expectations in such a way that bad effects occur. It’s hard to dismiss that with “Well, it’s people’s own choice to smoke and they should live their lives the way they want” if studies show that more people will want to live their lives in a way that gives them cancer in the presence of the billboard than otherwise.

From there we go into policies like Michael Bloomberg’s ban on giant sodas. While the soda ban itself was probably as much symbolic as anything, it’s hard to argue with the impetus behind it – a culture where everyone gets exposed to the option to buy very very unhealthy food all the time is going to be less healthy than one where there are some regulations in place to make EAT THIS DONUT NOW a less salient option. I mean, I know this is true. A few months ago when I was on a diet I cringed every time one my coworkers brought in a box of free donuts and placed wide-open in the doctors’ lounge; there was no way I wasn’t going to take one (or two, or three). I could ask people to stop, but they probably wouldn’t, and even if they did I’d just encounter the wide-open box of free donuts somewhere else. I’m not proposing that it is ethically wrong to bring in free donuts or that banning them is the correct policy, but I do want to make it clear that stating “it’s your free choice to partake or not” doesn’t eliminate the problem, and that this points to an entire class of serious issues where atomic individualism as construed above is at best an imperfect heuristic.

And I would be remiss talking about the modern turn away from individualism without mentioning social justice. The same people who once deployed individualistic arguments against conservatives: “If you don’t like profanity, don’t use it”, “If you don’t like this offensive TV show, don’t watch it”, “If you don’t like pornography, don’t buy it” – are now concerned about people using ethnic slurs, TV shows without enough minority characters, and pornography that encourages the objectification of women. I’ve objected to some of this on purely empirical grounds, but the least convenient possible world is the one where the purely empirical objections fall flat. If they ever discover proof positive that yeah, pornographication makes women hella objectified, is it acceptable to censor or ban misogynist media on a society-wide level?

And if the answer is yes – and if such media like really, really increases the incidence of rape I’m not sure how it couldn’t be – then what about all those conservative ideas we’ve been neglecting for so long? What if strong, cohesive, religious, demographically uniform communities make people more trusting, generous, and cooperative in a way that also decreases violent crime and other forms of misery? We have lots of evidence that this is true, and although we can doubt each individual study, we owe conservatives the courtesy of imagining the possible world in which they are right, the same as anti-misogyny leftists. Maybe media glorifying criminals or lionizing nonconformists above those who quietly follow cultural norms has the same kind of erosive effects on “values” as misogynist media. Or, at the very least, we ought to have a good philosophy in place so that we have some idea what to do it if does.

II.

A while ago, in Part V of this essay, I praised liberalism as the only peaceful answer to Hobbes’ dilemma of the war of all against all.

Hobbes says that if everyone’s fighting then everyone loses out. Even the winners probably end up worse off than if they had just been able to live in peace. He says that governments are good ways to prevent this kind of conflict. Someone – in his formulation a king – tells everyone else what they’re going to do, and then everyone else does it. No fighting necessary. If someone tries to start a conflict by ignoring the king, the king crushes them like a bug, no prolonged fighting involved.

But this replaces the problem of potential warfare with the problem of potential tyranny. So we’ve mostly shifted from absolute monarchies to other forms of government, which is all nice and well except that governments allow a different kind of war of all against all. Instead of trying to kill their enemies and steal their stuff, people are tempted to ban their enemies and confiscate their stuff. Instead of killing the Protestants, the Catholics simply ban Protestantism. Instead of forming vigilante mobs to stone homosexuals, the straights merely declare homosexuality is punishable by death. It might be better than the alternative – at least everyone knows where they stand and things stay peaceful – but the end result is still a lot of pretty miserable people.

Liberalism is a new form of Hobbesian equilibrium where the government enforces not only a ban on killing and stealing from people you don’t like, but also a ban on tyrannizing them out of existence. This is the famous “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” and so on, as well as the “freedom of what happens in the bedroom between consenting adults”. The Catholics don’t try to ban Protestantism, the Protestants don’t try to ban Catholicism, and everyone is happy.

Liberalism only works when it’s clear to everyone on all sides that there’s a certain neutral principle everyone has to stick to. The neutral principle can’t be the Bible, or Atlas Shrugged, or anything that makes it look like one philosophy is allowed to judge the others. Right now that principle is the Principle of Harm: you can do whatever you like unless it harms other people, in which case stop. We seem to have inelegantly tacked on an “also, we can collect taxes and use them for a social safety net and occasional attempts at social progress”, but it seems to be working pretty okay too.

The Strict Principle of Harm says that pretty much the only two things the government can get angry at is literally breaking your leg or picking your pocket – violence or theft. The Loose Principle of Harm says that the government can get angry at complicated indirect harms, things that Weaken The Moral Fabric Of Society. Like putting up tobacco ads. Or having really really big sodas. Or publishing hate speech against minorities. Or eroding trust in the community. Or media that objectifies women.

No one except the most ideologically pure libertarians seems to want to insist on the Strict Principle of Harm. But allowing the Loose Principle Of Harm restores all of the old wars to control other people that liberalism was supposed to prevent. The one person says “Gay marriage will result in homosexuality becoming more accepted, leading to increased rates of STDs! That’s a harm! We must ban gay marriage!” Another says “Allowing people to send their children to non-public schools could lead to kids at religious schools that preach against gay people, causing those children to commit hate crimes when they grow up! That’s a harm! We must ban non-public schools!” And so on, forever.

And I’m talking about non-governmental censorship just as much as government censorship. Even in the most anti-gay communities in the United States, the laws usually allow homosexuality or oppose it only in very weak, easily circumvented ways. The real problem for gays in these communities is the social pressure – whether that means disapproval or risk of violence – that they would likely face for coming out. This too is a violation of liberalism, and it’s one that’s as important or more important than the legal sort.

And right now our way of dealing with these problems is to argue them. “Well, gay people don’t really increase STDs too much.” Or “Home-schooled kids do better than public-schooled kids, so we need to allow them.” The problem is that arguments never terminate. Maybe if you’re incredibly lucky, after years of fighting you can get a couple of people on the other side to admit your side is right, but this is a pretty hard process to trust. The great thing about religious freedom is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which religion is correct, Catholicism or Protestantism?” and allows people to tolerate both Catholics and Protestants even if they are divided about the answer to this object-level question. The great thing about freedom of speech is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which party is correct, the Democrats or Republicans?” and allows people to express both liberal and conservative opinions even if they are divided about the object-level question.

If we force all of our discussions about whether to ban gay marriage or allow home schooling to depend on resolving the dispute about whether they indirectly harm the Fabric of Society in some way, we’re forcing dependence on object-level arguments in a way that historically has been very very bad.

Presumably here the more powerful groups would win out and be able to oppress the less powerful groups. We end up with exactly what liberalism tried to avoid – a society where everyone is the guardian of the virtue of everyone else, and anyone who wants to live their lives in a way different from the community’s consensus is out of luck.

In Part I, I argued that not allowing people to worry about culture and community at all was inadequate, because these things really do matter.

Here I’m saying that if we do allow people to worry about culture and community, we risk the bad old medieval days where all nonconformity gets ruthlessly quashed.

Right now we’re balanced precariously between the two states. There’s a lot of liberalism, and people are generally still allowed to be gay or home-school their children or practice their religion or whatever. But there’s also quite a bit of Enforced Virtue, where kids are forbidden to watch porn and certain kinds of media are censored and in some communities mentioning that you’re an atheist will get you Dirty Looks.

It tends to work okay for most of the population. Better than the alternatives, maybe? But there’s still a lot of the population that’s not free to do things that are very important to them. And there’s also a lot of the population that would like to live in more “virtuous” communities, whether it’s to lose weight faster or avoid STDs or not have to worry about being objectified. Dealing with these two competing issues is a pretty big part of political philosophy and one that most people don’t have any principled solution for.

III.

Imagine a new frontier suddenly opening. Maybe a wizard appears and gives us a map to a new archipelago that geographers had missed for the past few centuries. He doesn’t want to rule the archipelago himself, though he will reluctantly help kickstart the government. He just wants to give directions and a free galleon to anybody who wants one and can muster a group of likeminded friends large enough to start a self-sustaining colony.

And so the equivalent of our paleoconservatives go out and found communities based on virtue, where all sexual deviancy is banned and only wholesome films can be shown and people who burn the flag are thrown out to be eaten by wolves.

And the equivalent of our social justiciars go out and found communities where all movies have to have lots of strong minority characters in them, and all slurs are way beyond the pale, and nobody misgenders anybody.

And the equivalent of our Objectivists go out and found communities based totally on the Strict Principle of Harm where everyone is allowed to do whatever they want and there are no regulations on business and everything is super-capitalist all the time.

And some people who just really want to lose weight go out and found communities where you’re not allowed to place open boxes of donuts in the doctors’ lounge.

Usually the communities are based on a charter, which expresses some founding ideals and asks only the people who agree with those ideals to enter. The charter also specifies a system of government. It could be an absolute monarch, charged with enforcing those ideals upon a population too stupid to know what’s good for them. Or it could be a direct democracy of people who all agree on some basic principles but want to work out for themselves what direction the principles take them.

After a while the wizard decides to formalize and strengthen his system, not to mention work out some of the ethical dilemmas.

First he bans communities from declaring war on each other. That’s an obvious gain. He could just smite warmongers, but he thinks it’s more natural and organic to get all the communities into a united government (UniGov for short). Every community donates a certain amount to a military, and the military’s only job is to quash anyone from any community who tries to invade another.

Next he addresses externalities. For example, if some communities emit a lot of carbon, and that causes global warming which threatens to destroy other communities, UniGov puts a stop to that. If the offending communities refuse to stop emitting carbon, then there’s that military again.

The third thing he does is prevent memetic contamination. If one community wants to avoid all media that objectifies women, then no other community is allowed to broadcast women-objectifying media at it. If a community wants to live an anarcho-primitivist lifestyle, nobody else is allowed to import TVs. Every community decides exactly how much informational contact it wants to have with the rest of the continent, and no one is allowed to force them to have more than that.

But the wizard and UniGov’s most important task is to think of the children.

Imagine you’re conservative Christians, and you’re tired of this secular godless world, so you go off with your conservative Christian friends to found a conservative Christian community. You all pray together and stuff and are really happy. Then you have a daughter. Turns out she’s atheist and lesbian. What now?

Well, it might be that your kid would be much happier at the lesbian separatist community the next island over. The absolute minimum the united government can do is enforce freedom of movement. That is, the second your daughter decides she doesn’t want to be in Christiantopia anymore, she goes to a UniGov embassy nearby and asks for a ticket out, which they give her, free of charge. She gets airlifted to Lesbiantopia the next day. If anyone in Christiantopia tries to prevent her from reaching that embassy, or threatens her family if she leaves, or expresses the slightest amount of coercion to keep her around, UniGov burns their city and salts their field.

But this is not nearly enough to fully solve the child problem. A child who is abused may be too young to know that escape is an option, or may be brainwashed into thinking they are evil, or guilted into believing they are betraying their families to opt out. And although there is no perfect, elegant solution here, the practical solution is that UniGov enforces some pretty strict laws on child-rearing, and every child, no matter what other education they receive, also has to receive a class taught by a UniGov representative in which they learn about the other communities in the Archipelago, receive a basic non-brainwashed view of the world, and are given directions to their nearest UniGov representative who they can give their opt-out request to.

The list of communities they are informed about always starts with the capital, ruled by UniGov itself and considered an inoffensive, neutral option for people who don’t want anywhere in particular. And it always ends with a reminder that if they can gather enough support, UniGov will provide them with a galleon to go out and found their own community in hitherto uninhabited lands.

There’s one more problem UniGov has to deal with: malicious inter-community transfer. Suppose that there is some community which puts extreme effort into educating its children, an education which it supports through heavy taxation. New parents move to this community, reap the benefits, and then when their children grow up they move back to their previous community so they don’t have to pay the taxes to educate anyone else. The communities themselves prevent some of this by immigration restrictions – anyone who’s clearly taking advantage of them isn’t allowed in (except in the capital, which has an official committment to let in anyone who wants). But that still leaves the example of people maliciously leaving a high-tax community once they’ve got theirs. I imagine this is a big deal in Archipelago politics, but that in practice UniGov asks these people, even in their new homes, to pay higher tax rates to subsidize their old community. Or since that could be morally objectionable (imagine the lesbian separatist having to pay taxes to Christiantopia which oppressed her), maybe they pay the excess taxes to UniGov itself, just as a way of disincentivizing malicious movement.

Because there are UniGov taxes, and most people are happy to pay them. In my fantasy, UniGov isn’t an enemy, where the Christians view it as this evil atheist conglomerate trying to steal their kids away from them and the capitalists view it as this evil socialist conglomerate trying to enforce high taxes. The Christians, the capitalists, and everyone else are extraordinarily patriotic about being part of the Archipelago, for its full name is the Archipelago of Civilized Communities, it is the standard-bearer of civilization against the barbaric outside world, and it is precisely the institution that allows them to maintain their distinctiveness in the face of what would otherwise be irresistable pressure to conform. Atheistopia is the enemy of Christiantopia, but only in the same way the Democratic Party is the enemy of the Republican Party – two groups within the same community who may have different ideas but who consider themselves part of the same broader whole, fundamentally allies under a banner of which both are proud.

IV.

Robert Nozick once proposed a similar idea as a libertarian utopia, and it’s easy to see why. UniGov does very very little. Other than the part with children and the part with evening out taxation regimes, it just sits around preventing communities from using force against each other. That makes it very very easy for anyone who wants freedom to start a community that grants them the kind of freedom they want – or, more likely, to just start a community organized on purely libertarian principles. The United Government of Archipelago is the perfect minarchist night watchman state, and any additions you make over that are chosen by your own free will.

But other people could view the same plan as a conservative utopia. Conservativism, when it’s not just Libertarianism Lite, is about building strong cohesive communities of relatively similar people united around common values. Archipelago is obviously built to make this as easy as possible, and it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t pop up a bunch of communities built around the idea of Decent Small-Town God-Fearing People where everyone has white picket fences and goes to the same church and nobody has to lock their doors at night (so basically Utah; I feel like this is one of the rare cases where the US’ mostly-in-name-only Archipelagoness really asserts itself). People who didn’t fit in could go to a Community Of People Who Don’t Fit In and would have no need to nor right to complain, and no one would have to deal with Those Durned Bureaucrats In Washington telling them what to do.

But to me, this seems like a liberal utopia, even a leftist utopia, for three reasons.

The first reason is that it extends the basic principle of liberalism – solve differences of opinion by letting everyone do their own thing according to their own values, then celebrate the diversity this produces. I like homosexuality, you don’t, fine, I can be homosexual and you don’t have to, and having both gay and straight people living side by side enriches society. This just takes the whole thing one meta-level up – I want to live in a very sexually liberated community, you want to live in a community where sex is treated purely as a sacred act for the purpose of procreation, fine, I can live in the community I want and you can live in the community you want, and having both sexually-liberated and sexually-pure communities living side by side enriches society. It is pretty much saying that the solution to any perceived problems of liberalism is much more liberalism.

The second reason is quite similar to the conservative reason. A lot of liberals have some pretty strong demands about the sorts of things they want society to do. I was recently talking to Ozy about a group who believe that society billing thin people is fatphobic, and that everyone needs to admit obese people can be just as attractive and date more of them, and that anyone who preferentially dates thinner people is Problematic. They also want people to stop talking about nutrition and exercise publicly. I sympathize with these people, especially having recently read a study showing that obese people are much happier when surrounded by other obese, rather than skinny people. But realistically, their movement will fail, and even philosophically, I’m not sure how to determine if they have the right to demand what they are demanding or what that question means. Their best bet is to found a community on these kinds of principles and only invite people who already share their preferences and aesthetics going in.

The third reason is the reason I specifically draw leftism in here. Liberalism, and to a much greater degree leftism, are marked by the emphasis they place on oppression. They’re particularly marked by an emphasis on oppression being a really hard problem, and one that is structurally inherent to a certain society. They are marked by a moderate amount of despair that this oppression can ever be rooted out.

And I think a pretty strong response to this is making sure everyone is able to say “Hey, you better not oppress us, because if you do, we can pack up and go somewhere else.”

Like if you want to protest that this is unfair, that people shouldn’t be forced to leave their homes because of oppression, fine, fair enough. But given that oppression is going on, and you haven’t been able to fix it, giving people the choice to get away from it seems like a pretty big win. I am reminded of the many Jews who moved from Eastern Europe to America, the many blacks who moved from the southern US to the northern US or Canada, and the many gays who make it out of extremely homophobic areas to friendlier large cities. One could even make a metaphor, I think rightly, to telling battered women that they are allowed to leave their husbands, telling them they’re not forced to stay in a relationship that they consider abusive, and making sure that there are shelters available to receive them.

If any person who feels oppressed can leave whenever they like, to the point of being provided a free plane ticket by the government, how long can oppression go on before the oppressors give up and say “Yeah, guess we need someone to work at these factories now that all our workers have gone to the communally-owned factory down the road, we should probably at least let people unionize or something so they will tolerate us”?

A commenter in the latest Asch thread mentioned an interesting quote by Frederick Douglass:

The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us [black people]. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!

It sounds like, if Frederick Douglass had the opportunity to go to some other community, or even found a black ex-slave community, no racists allowed, he probably would have taken it [edit: or not, or had strict conditions]. If the people in slavery during his own time period had had the chance to leave their plantations for that community, I bet they would have taken it too. And if you believe there are still people today whose relationship with society are similar in kind, if not in degree, to that of a plantation slave, you should be pretty enthusiastic about the ability of exit rights and free association to disrupt those oppressive relationships.

V.

We lack Archipelago’s big advantage – a vast frontier of unsettled land.

Which is not to say that people don’t form communes. They do. Some people even have really clever ideas along these lines, like the seasteaders. But the United States isn’t going to become Archipelago any time soon.

There’s another problem too, which I describe in my Anti-Reactionary FAQ. Discussing ‘exit rights’, I say:

Exit rights are a great idea and of course having them is better than not having them. But I have yet to hear Reactionaries who cite them as a panacea explain in detail what exit rights we need beyond those we have already.

The United States allows its citizens to leave the country by buying a relatively cheap passport and go anywhere that will take them in, with the exception of a few arch-enemies like Cuba – and those exceptions are laughably easy to evade. It allows them to hold dual citizenship with various foreign powers. It even allows them to renounce their American citizenship entirely and become sole citizens of any foreign power that will accept them.

Few Americans take advantage of this opportunity in any but the most limited ways. When they do move abroad, it’s usually for business or family reasons, rather than a rational decision to move to a different country with policies more to their liking. There are constant threats by dissatisfied Americans to move to Canada, and one in a thousand even carry through with them, but the general situation seems to be that America has a very large neighbor that speaks the same language, and has an equally developed economy, and has policies that many Americans prefer to their own country’s, and isn’t too hard to move to, and almost no one takes advantage of this opportunity. Nor do I see many people, even among the rich, moving to Singapore or Dubai.

Heck, the US has fifty states. Moving from one to another is as easy as getting in a car, driving there, and renting a room, and although the federal government limits exactly how different their policies can be you better believe that there are very important differences in areas like taxes, business climate, education, crime, gun control, and many more. Yet aside from the fascinating but small-scale Free State Project there’s little politically-motivated interstate movement, nor do states seem to have been motivated to converge on their policies or be less ideologically driven.

What if we held an exit rights party, and nobody came?

Even aside from the international problems of gaining citizenship, dealing with a language barrier, and adapting to a new culture, people are just rooted – property, friends, family, jobs. The end result is that the only people who can leave their countries behind are very poor refugees with nothing to lose, and very rich jet-setters. The former aren’t very attractive customers, and the latter have all their money in tax shelters anyway.

So although the idea of being able to choose your country like a savvy consumer appeals to me, just saying “exit rights!” isn’t going to make it happen, and I haven’t heard any more elaborate plans.

I guess I still feel that way. So although Archipelago is an interesting exercise in political science, a sort of pure case we can compare ourselves to, it doesn’t look like a practical solution for real problems.

On the other hand, I do think it’s worth becoming more Archipelagian on the margin rather than less so, and that there are good ways to do it.

One of the things that started this whole line of thought was an argument on Facebook about a very conservative Christian law school trying to open up in Canada. They had lots of rules like how their students couldn’t have sex before marriage and stuff like that. The Canadian province they were in was trying to deny them accreditation, because conservative Christians are icky. I think the exact arguments being used were that it was homophobic, because the conservative Christians there would probably frown on married gays and therefore gays couldn’t have sex at all. Therefore, the law school shouldn’t be allowed to exist. There were other arguments of about this caliber, but they all seemed to boil down to “conservative Christians are icky”.

This very much annoyed me. Yes, conservative Christians are icky. And they should be allowed to form completely voluntary communities of icky people that enforce icky cultural norms and an insular society promoting ickiness, just like everyone else. If non-conservative-Christians don’t like what they’re doing, they should not go to that law school. Instead they can go to one of the dozens of other law schools that conform to their own philosophies. And if gays want a law school even friendlier to them than the average Canadian law school, they should be allowed to create some law school that only accepts gays and bans homophobes and teaches lots of courses on gay marriage law all the time.

Another person on the Facebook thread complained that this line of arguments leads to being okay with white separatists. And so it does. Fine. I think white separatists have exactly the right position about where the sort of white people who want to be white separatists should be relative to everyone else – separate. I am not sure what you think you are gaining by demanding that white separatists live in communities with a lot of black people in them, but I bet the black people in those communities aren’t thanking you. Why would they want a white separatist as a neighbor? Why should they have to have one?

If people want to go do their own thing in a way that harms no one else, you let them. That’s the Archipelagian way.

(someone will protest that Archipelagian voluntary freedom of association or disassociation could, in cases of enough racial prejudice, lead to segregation, and that segregation didn’t work. Indeed it didn’t. But I feel like a version of segregation in which black people actually had the legally mandated right to get away from white people and remain completely unmolested by them – and where a white-controlled government wasn’t in charge of divvying up resources between white and black communities – would have worked a lot better than the segregation we actually had. The segregation we actually had was one in which white and black communities were separate until white people wanted something from black people, at which case they waltzed in and took it. If communities were actually totally separate, government and everything, by definition it would be impossible for one to oppress the other. The black community might start with less, but that could be solved by some kind of reparations. The Archipelagian way of dealing with this issue would be for white separatists to have separate white communities, black separatists to have separate black communities, integrationists to have integrated communities, resdistributive taxation from wealthier communities going into less wealthy ones, and a strong central government ruthlessly enforcing laws against any community trying to hurt another. I don’t think there’s a single black person in the segregation-era South who wouldn’t have taken that deal, and any black person who thinks the effect of whites on their community today is net negative should be pretty interested as well.)

This is one reason I find people who hate seasteads so distasteful. I mean, here’s what Reuters has to say about seasteading:

Fringe movements, of course, rarely cast themselves as obviously fringe. Racist, anti-civil rights forces cloaked themselves in the benign language of “state’s rights”. Anti-gay religious entities adopted the glossy, positive imagery of “family values”. Similarly, though many Libertarians embrace a pseudo-patriotic apple pie nostalgia, behind this façade is a very un-American, sinister vision.

Sure, most libertarians may not want to do away entirely with the idea of government or, for that matter, government-protected rights and civil liberties. But many do — and ironically vie for political power in a nation they ultimately want to destroy. Even the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter mocked the paradox of Libertarian candidates: “Get rid of government — but first, make me president!” Libertarians sowed the seeds of anti-government discontent, which is on the rise, and now want to harvest that discontent for a very radical, anti-America agenda. The image of libertarians living off-shore in their lawless private nation-states is just a postcard of the future they hope to build on land.

Strangely, the libertarian agenda has largely escaped scrutiny, at least compared to that of social conservatives. The fact that the political class is locked in debate about whether Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry is more socially conservative only creates a veneer of mainstream legitimacy for the likes of Ron Paul, whose libertarianism may be even more extreme and dangerously un-patriotic. With any luck America will recognize anti-government extremism for what it is — before libertarians throw America overboard and render us all castaways.

Keep in mind this is because some people want to go off and do their own thing in the middle of the ocean far away from everyone else without bothering anyone. And the newspapers are trying to whip up a panic about “throwing America overboard”.

So one way we could become more Archipelagian is just trying not to yell at people who are trying to go off and doing their own thing quietly with a group of voluntarily consenting friends.

But I think a better candidate for how to build a more Archipelagian world is to encourage the fracture of society into subcultures.

Like, transsexuals may not be able to go to a transsexual island somewhere and build Transtopia where anyone who misgenders anyone else gets thrown into a volcano. But of the transsexuals I know, a lot of them have lots of transsexual friends, their cissexual friends are all up-to-date on trans issues and don’t do a lot of misgendering, and they have great social networks where they share information about what businesses and doctors are or aren’t trans-friendly. They can take advantage of trigger warnings to make sure they expose themselves to only the sources that fit the values of their community, the information that would get broadcast if it was a normal community that could impose media norms. As Internet interaction starts to replace real-life interaction (and I think for a lot of people the majority of their social life is already on the Internet, and for some the majority of their economic life is as well) it becomes increasingly easy to limit yourself to transsexual-friendly spaces that keep bad people away.

The rationalist community is another good example. If I wanted, I could move to the Bay Area tomorrow and never have more than a tiny amount of contact with non-rationalists again. I could have rationalist roommates, live in a rationalist group house, try to date only other rationalists, try to get a job with a rationalist nonprofit like CFAR or a rationalist company like Quixey, and never have to deal with the benighted and depressing non-rationalist world again. Even without moving to the Bay Area, it’s been pretty easy for me to keep a lot of my social life, both on- and off- line, rationalist-focused, and I don’t regret this at all.

I don’t know if the future will be virtual reality. I expect the post-singularity future will include something like VR, although that might be like describing teleportation as “basically a sort of pack animal”. But how much the immediate pre-singularity world will make use of virtual reality, I don’t know.

But I bet if it doesn’t, it will be because virtual reality has been circumvented by things like social networks, bitcoin, and Mechanical Turk, which make it possible to do most of your interaction through the Internet even though you’re not literally plugged into it.

And that seems to me like a pretty good start in creating an Archipelago. I already hang out with various Finns and Brits and Aussies a lot more closely than I do my next-door neighbors, and if we start using litecoin and someone else starts using dogecoin then I’ll be more economically connected to them too. The degree to which I encounter certain objectifying or unvirtuous or triggering media already depends more on the moderation policies of Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex and who I block from my Facebook feed, than it does any laws about censorship of US media.

At what point are national governments rendered mostly irrelevant compared to the norms and rules of the groups of which we are voluntary members?

I don’t know, but I kind of look forward to finding out. It seems like a great way to start searching for utopia, or at least getting some people away from their metaphorical abusive-husbands.

And the other thing is that I have pretty strong opinions on which communities are better than others. Some communities were founded by toxic people for ganging up with other toxic people to celebrate and magnify their toxicity, and these (surprise, surprise) tend to be toxic. Others were formed by very careful, easily-harmed people trying to exclude everyone who could harm them, and these tend to be pretty safe albeit sometimes overbearing. Other people hit some kind of sweet spot that makes friendly people want to come in and angry people want to stay out, or just do a really good job choosing friends.

But I think the end result is that the closer you come to true freedom of association, the closer you get to a world where everyone is a member of more or less the community they deserve. That would be a pretty unprecedented bit of progress.

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Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism

almost 2 years ago

I.

In the old days, you had your Culture, and that was that. Your Culture told you lots of stuff about what you were and weren’t allowed to do, and by golly you listened. Your Culture told you to work the job prescribed to you by your caste and gender, to marry who your parents told you to marry or at least someone of the opposite sex, to worship at the proper temples and the proper times, and to talk about proper things as opposed to the blasphemous things said by the tribe over there.

Then we got Liberalism, which said all of that was mostly bunk. Like Wicca, its motto is “Do as you will, so long as it harms none”. Or in more political terms, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” or “If you don’t like gay sex, don’t have any” or “If you don’t like this TV program, don’t watch it” or “What happens in the bedroom between consenting adults is none of your business” or “It neither breaks my arm nor picks my pocket”. Your job isn’t to enforce your conception of virtue upon everyone to build the Virtuous Society, it’s to live your own life the way you want to live it and let other people live their own lives the way they want to live them. This is the much-maligned “atomic individualism,” or maybe just liberalism boiled down to its pure essence.

But atomic individualism wasn’t as great a solution as it sounded. Maybe one of the first cracks was tobacco ads. Even though putting up a billboard saying “SMOKE MARLBORO” neither breaks anyone’s arm nor picks their pocket, it shifts social expectations in such a way that bad effects occur. It’s hard to dismiss that with “Well, it’s people’s own choice to smoke and they should live their lives the way they want” if studies show that more people will want to live their lives in a way that gives them cancer in the presence of the billboard than otherwise.

From there we go into policies like Michael Bloomberg’s ban on giant sodas. While the soda ban itself was probably as much symbolic as anything, it’s hard to argue with the impetus behind it – a culture where everyone gets exposed to the option to buy very very unhealthy food all the time is going to be less healthy than one where there are some regulations in place to make EAT THIS DONUT NOW a less salient option. I mean, I know this is true. A few months ago when I was on a diet I cringed every time one my coworkers brought in a box of free donuts and placed wide-open in the doctors’ lounge; there was no way I wasn’t going to take one (or two, or three). I could ask people to stop, but they probably wouldn’t, and even if they did I’d just encounter the wide-open box of free donuts somewhere else. I’m not proposing that it is ethically wrong to bring in free donuts or that banning them is the correct policy, but I do want to make it clear that stating “it’s your free choice to partake or not” doesn’t eliminate the problem, and that this points to an entire class of serious issues where atomic individualism as construed above is at best an imperfect heuristic.

And I would be remiss talking about the modern turn away from individualism without mentioning social justice. The same people who once deployed individualistic arguments against conservatives: “If you don’t like profanity, don’t use it”, “If you don’t like this offensive TV show, don’t watch it”, “If you don’t like pornography, don’t buy it” – are now concerned about people using ethnic slurs, TV shows without enough minority characters, and pornography that encourages the objectification of women. I’ve objected to some of this on purely empirical grounds, but the least convenient possible world is the one where the purely empirical objections fall flat. If they ever discover proof positive that yeah, pornographication makes women hella objectified, is it acceptable to censor or ban misogynist media on a society-wide level?

And if the answer is yes – and if such media like really, really increases the incidence of rape I’m not sure how it couldn’t be – then what about all those conservative ideas we’ve been neglecting for so long? What if strong, cohesive, religious, demographically uniform communities make people more trusting, generous, and cooperative in a way that also decreases violent crime and other forms of misery? We have lots of evidence that this is true, and although we can doubt each individual study, we owe conservatives the courtesy of imagining the possible world in which they are right, the same as anti-misogyny leftists. Maybe media glorifying criminals or lionizing nonconformists above those who quietly follow cultural norms has the same kind of erosive effects on “values” as misogynist media. Or, at the very least, we ought to have a good philosophy in place so that we have some idea what to do it if does.

II.

A while ago, in Part V of this essay, I praised liberalism as the only peaceful answer to Hobbes’ dilemma of the war of all against all.

Hobbes says that if everyone’s fighting then everyone loses out. Even the winners probably end up worse off than if they had just been able to live in peace. He says that governments are good ways to prevent this kind of conflict. Someone – in his formulation a king – tells everyone else what they’re going to do, and then everyone else does it. No fighting necessary. If someone tries to start a conflict by ignoring the king, the king crushes them like a bug, no prolonged fighting involved.

But this replaces the problem of potential warfare with the problem of potential tyranny. So we’ve mostly shifted from absolute monarchies to other forms of government, which is all nice and well except that governments allow a different kind of war of all against all. Instead of trying to kill their enemies and steal their stuff, people are tempted to ban their enemies and confiscate their stuff. Instead of killing the Protestants, the Catholics simply ban Protestantism. Instead of forming vigilante mobs to stone homosexuals, the straights merely declare homosexuality is punishable by death. It might be better than the alternative – at least everyone knows where they stand and things stay peaceful – but the end result is still a lot of pretty miserable people.

Liberalism is a new form of Hobbesian equilibrium where the government enforces not only a ban on killing and stealing from people you don’t like, but also a ban on tyrannizing them out of existence. This is the famous “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” and so on, as well as the “freedom of what happens in the bedroom between consenting adults”. The Catholics don’t try to ban Protestantism, the Protestants don’t try to ban Catholicism, and everyone is happy.

Liberalism only works when it’s clear to everyone on all sides that there’s a certain neutral principle everyone has to stick to. The neutral principle can’t be the Bible, or Atlas Shrugged, or anything that makes it look like one philosophy is allowed to judge the others. Right now that principle is the Principle of Harm: you can do whatever you like unless it harms other people, in which case stop. We seem to have inelegantly tacked on an “also, we can collect taxes and use them for a social safety net and occasional attempts at social progress”, but it seems to be working pretty okay too.

The Strict Principle of Harm says that pretty much the only two things the government can get angry at is literally breaking your leg or picking your pocket – violence or theft. The Loose Principle of Harm says that the government can get angry at complicated indirect harms, things that Weaken The Moral Fabric Of Society. Like putting up tobacco ads. Or having really really big sodas. Or publishing hate speech against minorities. Or eroding trust in the community. Or media that objectifies women.

No one except the most ideologically pure libertarians seems to want to insist on the Strict Principle of Harm. But allowing the Loose Principle Of Harm restores all of the old wars to control other people that liberalism was supposed to prevent. The one person says “Gay marriage will result in homosexuality becoming more accepted, leading to increased rates of STDs! That’s a harm! We must ban gay marriage!” Another says “Allowing people to send their children to non-public schools could lead to kids at religious schools that preach against gay people, causing those children to commit hate crimes when they grow up! That’s a harm! We must ban non-public schools!” And so on, forever.

And I’m talking about non-governmental censorship just as much as government censorship. Even in the most anti-gay communities in the United States, the laws usually allow homosexuality or oppose it only in very weak, easily circumvented ways. The real problem for gays in these communities is the social pressure – whether that means disapproval or risk of violence – that they would likely face for coming out. This too is a violation of liberalism, and it’s one that’s as important or more important than the legal sort.

And right now our way of dealing with these problems is to argue them. “Well, gay people don’t really increase STDs too much.” Or “Home-schooled kids do better than public-schooled kids, so we need to allow them.” The problem is that arguments never terminate. Maybe if you’re incredibly lucky, after years of fighting you can get a couple of people on the other side to admit your side is right, but this is a pretty hard process to trust. The great thing about religious freedom is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which religion is correct, Catholicism or Protestantism?” and allows people to tolerate both Catholics and Protestants even if they are divided about the answer to this object-level question. The great thing about freedom of speech is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which party is correct, the Democrats or Republicans?” and allows people to express both liberal and conservative opinions even if they are divided about the object-level question.

If we force all of our discussions about whether to ban gay marriage or allow home schooling to depend on resolving the dispute about whether they indirectly harm the Fabric of Society in some way, we’re forcing dependence on object-level arguments in a way that historically has been very very bad.

Presumably here the more powerful groups would win out and be able to oppress the less powerful groups. We end up with exactly what liberalism tried to avoid – a society where everyone is the guardian of the virtue of everyone else, and anyone who wants to live their lives in a way different from the community’s consensus is out of luck.

In Part I, I argued that not allowing people to worry about culture and community at all was inadequate, because these things really do matter.

Here I’m saying that if we do allow people to worry about culture and community, we risk the bad old medieval days where all nonconformity gets ruthlessly quashed.

Right now we’re balanced precariously between the two states. There’s a lot of liberalism, and people are generally still allowed to be gay or home-school their children or practice their religion or whatever. But there’s also quite a bit of Enforced Virtue, where kids are forbidden to watch porn and certain kinds of media are censored and in some communities mentioning that you’re an atheist will get you Dirty Looks.

It tends to work okay for most of the population. Better than the alternatives, maybe? But there’s still a lot of the population that’s not free to do things that are very important to them. And there’s also a lot of the population that would like to live in more “virtuous” communities, whether it’s to lose weight faster or avoid STDs or not have to worry about being objectified. Dealing with these two competing issues is a pretty big part of political philosophy and one that most people don’t have any principled solution for.

III.

Imagine a new frontier suddenly opening. Maybe a wizard appears and gives us a map to a new archipelago that geographers had missed for the past few centuries. He doesn’t want to rule the archipelago himself, though he will reluctantly help kickstart the government. He just wants to give directions and a free galleon to anybody who wants one and can muster a group of likeminded friends large enough to start a self-sustaining colony.

And so the equivalent of our paleoconservatives go out and found communities based on virtue, where all sexual deviancy is banned and only wholesome films can be shown and people who burn the flag are thrown out to be eaten by wolves.

And the equivalent of our social justiciars go out and found communities where all movies have to have lots of strong minority characters in them, and all slurs are way beyond the pale, and nobody misgenders anybody.

And the equivalent of our Objectivists go out and found communities based totally on the Strict Principle of Harm where everyone is allowed to do whatever they want and there are no regulations on business and everything is super-capitalist all the time.

And some people who just really want to lose weight go out and found communities where you’re not allowed to place open boxes of donuts in the doctors’ lounge.

Usually the communities are based on a charter, which expresses some founding ideals and asks only the people who agree with those ideals to enter. The charter also specifies a system of government. It could be an absolute monarch, charged with enforcing those ideals upon a population too stupid to know what’s good for them. Or it could be a direct democracy of people who all agree on some basic principles but want to work out for themselves what direction the principles take them.

After a while the wizard decides to formalize and strengthen his system, not to mention work out some of the ethical dilemmas.

First he bans communities from declaring war on each other. That’s an obvious gain. He could just smite warmongers, but he thinks it’s more natural and organic to get all the communities into a united government (UniGov for short). Every community donates a certain amount to a military, and the military’s only job is to quash anyone from any community who tries to invade another.

Next he addresses externalities. For example, if some communities emit a lot of carbon, and that causes global warming which threatens to destroy other communities, UniGov puts a stop to that. If the offending communities refuse to stop emitting carbon, then there’s that military again.

The third thing he does is prevent memetic contamination. If one community wants to avoid all media that objectifies women, then no other community is allowed to broadcast women-objectifying media at it. If a community wants to live an anarcho-primitivist lifestyle, nobody else is allowed to import TVs. Every community decides exactly how much informational contact it wants to have with the rest of the continent, and no one is allowed to force them to have more than that.

But the wizard and UniGov’s most important task is to think of the children.

Imagine you’re conservative Christians, and you’re tired of this secular godless world, so you go off with your conservative Christian friends to found a conservative Christian community. You all pray together and stuff and are really happy. Then you have a daughter. Turns out she’s atheist and lesbian. What now?

Well, it might be that your kid would be much happier at the lesbian separatist community the next island over. The absolute minimum the united government can do is enforce freedom of movement. That is, the second your daughter decides she doesn’t want to be in Christiantopia anymore, she goes to a UniGov embassy nearby and asks for a ticket out, which they give her, free of charge. She gets airlifted to Lesbiantopia the next day. If anyone in Christiantopia tries to prevent her from reaching that embassy, or threatens her family if she leaves, or expresses the slightest amount of coercion to keep her around, UniGov burns their city and salts their field.

But this is not nearly enough to fully solve the child problem. A child who is abused may be too young to know that escape is an option, or may be brainwashed into thinking they are evil, or guilted into believing they are betraying their families to opt out. And although there is no perfect, elegant solution here, the practical solution is that UniGov enforces some pretty strict laws on child-rearing, and every child, no matter what other education they receive, also has to receive a class taught by a UniGov representative in which they learn about the other communities in the Archipelago, receive a basic non-brainwashed view of the world, and are given directions to their nearest UniGov representative who they can give their opt-out request to.

The list of communities they are informed about always starts with the capital, ruled by UniGov itself and considered an inoffensive, neutral option for people who don’t want anywhere in particular. And it always ends with a reminder that if they can gather enough support, UniGov will provide them with a galleon to go out and found their own community in hitherto uninhabited lands.

There’s one more problem UniGov has to deal with: malicious inter-community transfer. Suppose that there is some community which puts extreme effort into educating its children, an education which it supports through heavy taxation. New parents move to this community, reap the benefits, and then when their children grow up they move back to their previous community so they don’t have to pay the taxes to educate anyone else. The communities themselves prevent some of this by immigration restrictions – anyone who’s clearly taking advantage of them isn’t allowed in (except in the capital, which has an official committment to let in anyone who wants). But that still leaves the example of people maliciously leaving a high-tax community once they’ve got theirs. I imagine this is a big deal in Archipelago politics, but that in practice UniGov asks these people, even in their new homes, to pay higher tax rates to subsidize their old community. Or since that could be morally objectionable (imagine the lesbian separatist having to pay taxes to Christiantopia which oppressed her), maybe they pay the excess taxes to UniGov itself, just as a way of disincentivizing malicious movement.

Because there are UniGov taxes, and most people are happy to pay them. In my fantasy, UniGov isn’t an enemy, where the Christians view it as this evil atheist conglomerate trying to steal their kids away from them and the capitalists view it as this evil socialist conglomerate trying to enforce high taxes. The Christians, the capitalists, and everyone else are extraordinarily patriotic about being part of the Archipelago, for its full name is the Archipelago of Civilized Communities, it is the standard-bearer of civilization against the barbaric outside world, and it is precisely the institution that allows them to maintain their distinctiveness in the face of what would otherwise be irresistable pressure to conform. Atheistopia is the enemy of Christiantopia, but only in the same way the Democratic Party is the enemy of the Republican Party – two groups within the same community who may have different ideas but who consider themselves part of the same broader whole, fundamentally allies under a banner of which both are proud.

IV.

Robert Nozick once proposed a similar idea as a libertarian utopia, and it’s easy to see why. UniGov does very very little. Other than the part with children and the part with evening out taxation regimes, it just sits around preventing communities from using force against each other. That makes it very very easy for anyone who wants freedom to start a community that grants them the kind of freedom they want – or, more likely, to just start a community organized on purely libertarian principles. The United Government of Archipelago is the perfect minarchist night watchman state, and any additions you make over that are chosen by your own free will.

But other people could view the same plan as a conservative utopia. Conservativism, when it’s not just Libertarianism Lite, is about building strong cohesive communities of relatively similar people united around common values. Archipelago is obviously built to make this as easy as possible, and it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t pop up a bunch of communities built around the idea of Decent Small-Town God-Fearing People where everyone has white picket fences and goes to the same church and nobody has to lock their doors at night (so basically Utah; I feel like this is one of the rare cases where the US’ mostly-in-name-only Archipelagoness really asserts itself). People who didn’t fit in could go to a Community Of People Who Don’t Fit In and would have no need to nor right to complain, and no one would have to deal with Those Durned Bureaucrats In Washington telling them what to do.

But to me, this seems like a liberal utopia, even a leftist utopia, for three reasons.

The first reason is that it extends the basic principle of liberalism – solve differences of opinion by letting everyone do their own thing according to their own values, then celebrate the diversity this produces. I like homosexuality, you don’t, fine, I can be homosexual and you don’t have to, and having both gay and straight people living side by side enriches society. This just takes the whole thing one meta-level up – I want to live in a very sexually liberated community, you want to live in a community where sex is treated purely as a sacred act for the purpose of procreation, fine, I can live in the community I want and you can live in the community you want, and having both sexually-liberated and sexually-pure communities living side by side enriches society. It is pretty much saying that the solution to any perceived problems of liberalism is much more liberalism.

The second reason is quite similar to the conservative reason. A lot of liberals have some pretty strong demands about the sorts of things they want society to do. I was recently talking to Ozy about a group who believe that society billing thin people is fatphobic, and that everyone needs to admit obese people can be just as attractive and date more of them, and that anyone who preferentially dates thinner people is Problematic. They also want people to stop talking about nutrition and exercise publicly. I sympathize with these people, especially having recently read a study showing that obese people are much happier when surrounded by other obese, rather than skinny people. But realistically, their movement will fail, and even philosophically, I’m not sure how to determine if they have the right to demand what they are demanding or what that question means. Their best bet is to found a community on these kinds of principles and only invite people who already share their preferences and aesthetics going in.

The third reason is the reason I specifically draw leftism in here. Liberalism, and to a much greater degree leftism, are marked by the emphasis they place on oppression. They’re particularly marked by an emphasis on oppression being a really hard problem, and one that is structurally inherent to a certain society. They are marked by a moderate amount of despair that this oppression can ever be rooted out.

And I think a pretty strong response to this is making sure everyone is able to say “Hey, you better not oppress us, because if you do, we can pack up and go somewhere else.”

Like if you want to protest that this is unfair, that people shouldn’t be forced to leave their homes because of oppression, fine, fair enough. But given that oppression is going on, and you haven’t been able to fix it, giving people the choice to get away from it seems like a pretty big win. I am reminded of the many Jews who moved from Eastern Europe to America, the many blacks who moved from the southern US to the northern US or Canada, and the many gays who make it out of extremely homophobic areas to friendlier large cities. One could even make a metaphor, I think rightly, to telling battered women that they are allowed to leave their husbands, telling them they’re not forced to stay in a relationship that they consider abusive, and making sure that there are shelters available to receive them.

If any person who feels oppressed can leave whenever they like, to the point of being provided a free plane ticket by the government, how long can oppression go on before the oppressors give up and say “Yeah, guess we need someone to work at these factories now that all our workers have gone to the communally-owned factory down the road, we should probably at least let people unionize or something so they will tolerate us”?

A commenter in the latest Asch thread mentioned an interesting quote by Frederick Douglass:

The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us [black people]. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!

It sounds like, if Frederick Douglass had the opportunity to go to some other community, or even found a black ex-slave community, no racists allowed, he probably would have taken it [edit: or not, or had strict conditions]. If the people in slavery during his own time period had had the chance to leave their plantations for that community, I bet they would have taken it too. And if you believe there are still people today whose relationship with society are similar in kind, if not in degree, to that of a plantation slave, you should be pretty enthusiastic about the ability of exit rights and free association to disrupt those oppressive relationships.

V.

We lack Archipelago’s big advantage – a vast frontier of unsettled land.

Which is not to say that people don’t form communes. They do. Some people even have really clever ideas along these lines, like the seasteaders. But the United States isn’t going to become Archipelago any time soon.

There’s another problem too, which I describe in my Anti-Reactionary FAQ. Discussing ‘exit rights’, I say:

Exit rights are a great idea and of course having them is better than not having them. But I have yet to hear Reactionaries who cite them as a panacea explain in detail what exit rights we need beyond those we have already.

The United States allows its citizens to leave the country by buying a relatively cheap passport and go anywhere that will take them in, with the exception of a few arch-enemies like Cuba – and those exceptions are laughably easy to evade. It allows them to hold dual citizenship with various foreign powers. It even allows them to renounce their American citizenship entirely and become sole citizens of any foreign power that will accept them.

Few Americans take advantage of this opportunity in any but the most limited ways. When they do move abroad, it’s usually for business or family reasons, rather than a rational decision to move to a different country with policies more to their liking. There are constant threats by dissatisfied Americans to move to Canada, and one in a thousand even carry through with them, but the general situation seems to be that America has a very large neighbor that speaks the same language, and has an equally developed economy, and has policies that many Americans prefer to their own country’s, and isn’t too hard to move to, and almost no one takes advantage of this opportunity. Nor do I see many people, even among the rich, moving to Singapore or Dubai.

Heck, the US has fifty states. Moving from one to another is as easy as getting in a car, driving there, and renting a room, and although the federal government limits exactly how different their policies can be you better believe that there are very important differences in areas like taxes, business climate, education, crime, gun control, and many more. Yet aside from the fascinating but small-scale Free State Project there’s little politically-motivated interstate movement, nor do states seem to have been motivated to converge on their policies or be less ideologically driven.

What if we held an exit rights party, and nobody came?

Even aside from the international problems of gaining citizenship, dealing with a language barrier, and adapting to a new culture, people are just rooted – property, friends, family, jobs. The end result is that the only people who can leave their countries behind are very poor refugees with nothing to lose, and very rich jet-setters. The former aren’t very attractive customers, and the latter have all their money in tax shelters anyway.

So although the idea of being able to choose your country like a savvy consumer appeals to me, just saying “exit rights!” isn’t going to make it happen, and I haven’t heard any more elaborate plans.

I guess I still feel that way. So although Archipelago is an interesting exercise in political science, a sort of pure case we can compare ourselves to, it doesn’t look like a practical solution for real problems.

On the other hand, I do think it’s worth becoming more Archipelagian on the margin rather than less so, and that there are good ways to do it.

One of the things that started this whole line of thought was an argument on Facebook about a very conservative Christian law school trying to open up in Canada. They had lots of rules like how their students couldn’t have sex before marriage and stuff like that. The Canadian province they were in was trying to deny them accreditation, because conservative Christians are icky. I think the exact arguments being used were that it was homophobic, because the conservative Christians there would probably frown on married gays and therefore gays couldn’t have sex at all. Therefore, the law school shouldn’t be allowed to exist. There were other arguments of about this caliber, but they all seemed to boil down to “conservative Christians are icky”.

This very much annoyed me. Yes, conservative Christians are icky. And they should be allowed to form completely voluntary communities of icky people that enforce icky cultural norms and an insular society promoting ickiness, just like everyone else. If non-conservative-Christians don’t like what they’re doing, they should not go to that law school. Instead they can go to one of the dozens of other law schools that conform to their own philosophies. And if gays want a law school even friendlier to them than the average Canadian law school, they should be allowed to create some law school that only accepts gays and bans homophobes and teaches lots of courses on gay marriage law all the time.

Another person on the Facebook thread complained that this line of arguments leads to being okay with white separatists. And so it does. Fine. I think white separatists have exactly the right position about where the sort of white people who want to be white separatists should be relative to everyone else – separate. I am not sure what you think you are gaining by demanding that white separatists live in communities with a lot of black people in them, but I bet the black people in those communities aren’t thanking you. Why would they want a white separatist as a neighbor? Why should they have to have one?

If people want to go do their own thing in a way that harms no one else, you let them. That’s the Archipelagian way.

(someone will protest that Archipelagian voluntary freedom of association or disassociation could, in cases of enough racial prejudice, lead to segregation, and that segregation didn’t work. Indeed it didn’t. But I feel like a version of segregation in which black people actually had the legally mandated right to get away from white people and remain completely unmolested by them – and where a white-controlled government wasn’t in charge of divvying up resources between white and black communities – would have worked a lot better than the segregation we actually had. The segregation we actually had was one in which white and black communities were separate until white people wanted something from black people, at which case they waltzed in and took it. If communities were actually totally separate, government and everything, by definition it would be impossible for one to oppress the other. The black community might start with less, but that could be solved by some kind of reparations. The Archipelagian way of dealing with this issue would be for white separatists to have separate white communities, black separatists to have separate black communities, integrationists to have integrated communities, resdistributive taxation from wealthier communities going into less wealthy ones, and a strong central government ruthlessly enforcing laws against any community trying to hurt another. I don’t think there’s a single black person in the segregation-era South who wouldn’t have taken that deal, and any black person who thinks the effect of whites on their community today is net negative should be pretty interested as well.)

This is one reason I find people who hate seasteads so distasteful. I mean, here’s what Reuters has to say about seasteading:

Fringe movements, of course, rarely cast themselves as obviously fringe. Racist, anti-civil rights forces cloaked themselves in the benign language of “state’s rights”. Anti-gay religious entities adopted the glossy, positive imagery of “family values”. Similarly, though many Libertarians embrace a pseudo-patriotic apple pie nostalgia, behind this façade is a very un-American, sinister vision.

Sure, most libertarians may not want to do away entirely with the idea of government or, for that matter, government-protected rights and civil liberties. But many do — and ironically vie for political power in a nation they ultimately want to destroy. Even the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter mocked the paradox of Libertarian candidates: “Get rid of government — but first, make me president!” Libertarians sowed the seeds of anti-government discontent, which is on the rise, and now want to harvest that discontent for a very radical, anti-America agenda. The image of libertarians living off-shore in their lawless private nation-states is just a postcard of the future they hope to build on land.

Strangely, the libertarian agenda has largely escaped scrutiny, at least compared to that of social conservatives. The fact that the political class is locked in debate about whether Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry is more socially conservative only creates a veneer of mainstream legitimacy for the likes of Ron Paul, whose libertarianism may be even more extreme and dangerously un-patriotic. With any luck America will recognize anti-government extremism for what it is — before libertarians throw America overboard and render us all castaways.

Keep in mind this is because some people want to go off and do their own thing in the middle of the ocean far away from everyone else without bothering anyone. And the newspapers are trying to whip up a panic about “throwing America overboard”.

So one way we could become more Archipelagian is just trying not to yell at people who are trying to go off and doing their own thing quietly with a group of voluntarily consenting friends.

But I think a better candidate for how to build a more Archipelagian world is to encourage the fracture of society into subcultures.

Like, transsexuals may not be able to go to a transsexual island somewhere and build Transtopia where anyone who misgenders anyone else gets thrown into a volcano. But of the transsexuals I know, a lot of them have lots of transsexual friends, their cissexual friends are all up-to-date on trans issues and don’t do a lot of misgendering, and they have great social networks where they share information about what businesses and doctors are or aren’t trans-friendly. They can take advantage of trigger warnings to make sure they expose themselves to only the sources that fit the values of their community, the information that would get broadcast if it was a normal community that could impose media norms. As Internet interaction starts to replace real-life interaction (and I think for a lot of people the majority of their social life is already on the Internet, and for some the majority of their economic life is as well) it becomes increasingly easy to limit yourself to transsexual-friendly spaces that keep bad people away.

The rationalist community is another good example. If I wanted, I could move to the Bay Area tomorrow and never have more than a tiny amount of contact with non-rationalists again. I could have rationalist roommates, live in a rationalist group house, try to date only other rationalists, try to get a job with a rationalist nonprofit like CFAR or a rationalist company like Quixey, and never have to deal with the benighted and depressing non-rationalist world again. Even without moving to the Bay Area, it’s been pretty easy for me to keep a lot of my social life, both on- and off- line, rationalist-focused, and I don’t regret this at all.

I don’t know if the future will be virtual reality. I expect the post-singularity future will include something like VR, although that might be like describing teleportation as “basically a sort of pack animal”. But how much the immediate pre-singularity world will make use of virtual reality, I don’t know.

But I bet if it doesn’t, it will be because virtual reality has been circumvented by things like social networks, bitcoin, and Mechanical Turk, which make it possible to do most of your interaction through the Internet even though you’re not literally plugged into it.

And that seems to me like a pretty good start in creating an Archipelago. I already hang out with various Finns and Brits and Aussies a lot more closely than I do my next-door neighbors, and if we start using litecoin and someone else starts using dogecoin then I’ll be more economically connected to them too. The degree to which I encounter certain objectifying or unvirtuous or triggering media already depends more on the moderation policies of Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex and who I block from my Facebook feed, than it does any laws about censorship of US media.

At what point are national governments rendered mostly irrelevant compared to the norms and rules of the groups of which we are voluntary members?

I don’t know, but I kind of look forward to finding out. It seems like a great way to start searching for utopia, or at least getting some people away from their metaphorical abusive-husbands.

And the other thing is that I have pretty strong opinions on which communities are better than others. Some communities were founded by toxic people for ganging up with other toxic people to celebrate and magnify their toxicity, and these (surprise, surprise) tend to be toxic. Others were formed by very careful, easily-harmed people trying to exclude everyone who could harm them, and these tend to be pretty safe albeit sometimes overbearing. Other people hit some kind of sweet spot that makes friendly people want to come in and angry people want to stay out, or just do a really good job choosing friends.

But I think the end result is that the closer you come to true freedom of association, the closer you get to a world where everyone is a member of more or less the community they deserve. That would be a pretty unprecedented bit of progress.

via Instanote
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Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism

almost 2 years ago

I.

In the old days, you had your Culture, and that was that. Your Culture told you lots of stuff about what you were and weren’t allowed to do, and by golly you listened. Your Culture told you to work the job prescribed to you by your caste and gender, to marry who your parents told you to marry or at least someone of the opposite sex, to worship at the proper temples and the proper times, and to talk about proper things as opposed to the blasphemous things said by the tribe over there.

Then we got Liberalism, which said all of that was mostly bunk. Like Wicca, its motto is “Do as you will, so long as it harms none”. Or in more political terms, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” or “If you don’t like gay sex, don’t have any” or “If you don’t like this TV program, don’t watch it” or “What happens in the bedroom between consenting adults is none of your business” or “It neither breaks my arm nor picks my pocket”. Your job isn’t to enforce your conception of virtue upon everyone to build the Virtuous Society, it’s to live your own life the way you want to live it and let other people live their own lives the way they want to live them. This is the much-maligned “atomic individualism,” or maybe just liberalism boiled down to its pure essence.

But atomic individualism wasn’t as great a solution as it sounded. Maybe one of the first cracks was tobacco ads. Even though putting up a billboard saying “SMOKE MARLBORO” neither breaks anyone’s arm nor picks their pocket, it shifts social expectations in such a way that bad effects occur. It’s hard to dismiss that with “Well, it’s people’s own choice to smoke and they should live their lives the way they want” if studies show that more people will want to live their lives in a way that gives them cancer in the presence of the billboard than otherwise.

From there we go into policies like Michael Bloomberg’s ban on giant sodas. While the soda ban itself was probably as much symbolic as anything, it’s hard to argue with the impetus behind it – a culture where everyone gets exposed to the option to buy very very unhealthy food all the time is going to be less healthy than one where there are some regulations in place to make EAT THIS DONUT NOW a less salient option. I mean, I know this is true. A few months ago when I was on a diet I cringed every time one my coworkers brought in a box of free donuts and placed wide-open in the doctors’ lounge; there was no way I wasn’t going to take one (or two, or three). I could ask people to stop, but they probably wouldn’t, and even if they did I’d just encounter the wide-open box of free donuts somewhere else. I’m not proposing that it is ethically wrong to bring in free donuts or that banning them is the correct policy, but I do want to make it clear that stating “it’s your free choice to partake or not” doesn’t eliminate the problem, and that this points to an entire class of serious issues where atomic individualism as construed above is at best an imperfect heuristic.

And I would be remiss talking about the modern turn away from individualism without mentioning social justice. The same people who once deployed individualistic arguments against conservatives: “If you don’t like profanity, don’t use it”, “If you don’t like this offensive TV show, don’t watch it”, “If you don’t like pornography, don’t buy it” – are now concerned about people using ethnic slurs, TV shows without enough minority characters, and pornography that encourages the objectification of women. I’ve objected to some of this on purely empirical grounds, but the least convenient possible world is the one where the purely empirical objections fall flat. If they ever discover proof positive that yeah, pornographication makes women hella objectified, is it acceptable to censor or ban misogynist media on a society-wide level?

And if the answer is yes – and if such media like really, really increases the incidence of rape I’m not sure how it couldn’t be – then what about all those conservative ideas we’ve been neglecting for so long? What if strong, cohesive, religious, demographically uniform communities make people more trusting, generous, and cooperative in a way that also decreases violent crime and other forms of misery? We have lots of evidence that this is true, and although we can doubt each individual study, we owe conservatives the courtesy of imagining the possible world in which they are right, the same as anti-misogyny leftists. Maybe media glorifying criminals or lionizing nonconformists above those who quietly follow cultural norms has the same kind of erosive effects on “values” as misogynist media. Or, at the very least, we ought to have a good philosophy in place so that we have some idea what to do it if does.

II.

A while ago, in Part V of this essay, I praised liberalism as the only peaceful answer to Hobbes’ dilemma of the war of all against all.

Hobbes says that if everyone’s fighting then everyone loses out. Even the winners probably end up worse off than if they had just been able to live in peace. He says that governments are good ways to prevent this kind of conflict. Someone – in his formulation a king – tells everyone else what they’re going to do, and then everyone else does it. No fighting necessary. If someone tries to start a conflict by ignoring the king, the king crushes them like a bug, no prolonged fighting involved.

But this replaces the problem of potential warfare with the problem of potential tyranny. So we’ve mostly shifted from absolute monarchies to other forms of government, which is all nice and well except that governments allow a different kind of war of all against all. Instead of trying to kill their enemies and steal their stuff, people are tempted to ban their enemies and confiscate their stuff. Instead of killing the Protestants, the Catholics simply ban Protestantism. Instead of forming vigilante mobs to stone homosexuals, the straights merely declare homosexuality is punishable by death. It might be better than the alternative – at least everyone knows where they stand and things stay peaceful – but the end result is still a lot of pretty miserable people.

Liberalism is a new form of Hobbesian equilibrium where the government enforces not only a ban on killing and stealing from people you don’t like, but also a ban on tyrannizing them out of existence. This is the famous “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” and so on, as well as the “freedom of what happens in the bedroom between consenting adults”. The Catholics don’t try to ban Protestantism, the Protestants don’t try to ban Catholicism, and everyone is happy.

Liberalism only works when it’s clear to everyone on all sides that there’s a certain neutral principle everyone has to stick to. The neutral principle can’t be the Bible, or Atlas Shrugged, or anything that makes it look like one philosophy is allowed to judge the others. Right now that principle is the Principle of Harm: you can do whatever you like unless it harms other people, in which case stop. We seem to have inelegantly tacked on an “also, we can collect taxes and use them for a social safety net and occasional attempts at social progress”, but it seems to be working pretty okay too.

The Strict Principle of Harm says that pretty much the only two things the government can get angry at is literally breaking your leg or picking your pocket – violence or theft. The Loose Principle of Harm says that the government can get angry at complicated indirect harms, things that Weaken The Moral Fabric Of Society. Like putting up tobacco ads. Or having really really big sodas. Or publishing hate speech against minorities. Or eroding trust in the community. Or media that objectifies women.

No one except the most ideologically pure libertarians seems to want to insist on the Strict Principle of Harm. But allowing the Loose Principle Of Harm restores all of the old wars to control other people that liberalism was supposed to prevent. The one person says “Gay marriage will result in homosexuality becoming more accepted, leading to increased rates of STDs! That’s a harm! We must ban gay marriage!” Another says “Allowing people to send their children to non-public schools could lead to kids at religious schools that preach against gay people, causing those children to commit hate crimes when they grow up! That’s a harm! We must ban non-public schools!” And so on, forever.

And I’m talking about non-governmental censorship just as much as government censorship. Even in the most anti-gay communities in the United States, the laws usually allow homosexuality or oppose it only in very weak, easily circumvented ways. The real problem for gays in these communities is the social pressure – whether that means disapproval or risk of violence – that they would likely face for coming out. This too is a violation of liberalism, and it’s one that’s as important or more important than the legal sort.

And right now our way of dealing with these problems is to argue them. “Well, gay people don’t really increase STDs too much.” Or “Home-schooled kids do better than public-schooled kids, so we need to allow them.” The problem is that arguments never terminate. Maybe if you’re incredibly lucky, after years of fighting you can get a couple of people on the other side to admit your side is right, but this is a pretty hard process to trust. The great thing about religious freedom is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which religion is correct, Catholicism or Protestantism?” and allows people to tolerate both Catholics and Protestants even if they are divided about the answer to this object-level question. The great thing about freedom of speech is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which party is correct, the Democrats or Republicans?” and allows people to express both liberal and conservative opinions even if they are divided about the object-level question.

If we force all of our discussions about whether to ban gay marriage or allow home schooling to depend on resolving the dispute about whether they indirectly harm the Fabric of Society in some way, we’re forcing dependence on object-level arguments in a way that historically has been very very bad.

Presumably here the more powerful groups would win out and be able to oppress the less powerful groups. We end up with exactly what liberalism tried to avoid – a society where everyone is the guardian of the virtue of everyone else, and anyone who wants to live their lives in a way different from the community’s consensus is out of luck.

In Part I, I argued that not allowing people to worry about culture and community at all was inadequate, because these things really do matter.

Here I’m saying that if we do allow people to worry about culture and community, we risk the bad old medieval days where all nonconformity gets ruthlessly quashed.

Right now we’re balanced precariously between the two states. There’s a lot of liberalism, and people are generally still allowed to be gay or home-school their children or practice their religion or whatever. But there’s also quite a bit of Enforced Virtue, where kids are forbidden to watch porn and certain kinds of media are censored and in some communities mentioning that you’re an atheist will get you Dirty Looks.

It tends to work okay for most of the population. Better than the alternatives, maybe? But there’s still a lot of the population that’s not free to do things that are very important to them. And there’s also a lot of the population that would like to live in more “virtuous” communities, whether it’s to lose weight faster or avoid STDs or not have to worry about being objectified. Dealing with these two competing issues is a pretty big part of political philosophy and one that most people don’t have any principled solution for.

III.

Imagine a new frontier suddenly opening. Maybe a wizard appears and gives us a map to a new archipelago that geographers had missed for the past few centuries. He doesn’t want to rule the archipelago himself, though he will reluctantly help kickstart the government. He just wants to give directions and a free galleon to anybody who wants one and can muster a group of likeminded friends large enough to start a self-sustaining colony.

And so the equivalent of our paleoconservatives go out and found communities based on virtue, where all sexual deviancy is banned and only wholesome films can be shown and people who burn the flag are thrown out to be eaten by wolves.

And the equivalent of our social justiciars go out and found communities where all movies have to have lots of strong minority characters in them, and all slurs are way beyond the pale, and nobody misgenders anybody.

And the equivalent of our Objectivists go out and found communities based totally on the Strict Principle of Harm where everyone is allowed to do whatever they want and there are no regulations on business and everything is super-capitalist all the time.

And some people who just really want to lose weight go out and found communities where you’re not allowed to place open boxes of donuts in the doctors’ lounge.

Usually the communities are based on a charter, which expresses some founding ideals and asks only the people who agree with those ideals to enter. The charter also specifies a system of government. It could be an absolute monarch, charged with enforcing those ideals upon a population too stupid to know what’s good for them. Or it could be a direct democracy of people who all agree on some basic principles but want to work out for themselves what direction the principles take them.

After a while the wizard decides to formalize and strengthen his system, not to mention work out some of the ethical dilemmas.

First he bans communities from declaring war on each other. That’s an obvious gain. He could just smite warmongers, but he thinks it’s more natural and organic to get all the communities into a united government (UniGov for short). Every community donates a certain amount to a military, and the military’s only job is to quash anyone from any community who tries to invade another.

Next he addresses externalities. For example, if some communities emit a lot of carbon, and that causes global warming which threatens to destroy other communities, UniGov puts a stop to that. If the offending communities refuse to stop emitting carbon, then there’s that military again.

The third thing he does is prevent memetic contamination. If one community wants to avoid all media that objectifies women, then no other community is allowed to broadcast women-objectifying media at it. If a community wants to live an anarcho-primitivist lifestyle, nobody else is allowed to import TVs. Every community decides exactly how much informational contact it wants to have with the rest of the continent, and no one is allowed to force them to have more than that.

But the wizard and UniGov’s most important task is to think of the children.

Imagine you’re conservative Christians, and you’re tired of this secular godless world, so you go off with your conservative Christian friends to found a conservative Christian community. You all pray together and stuff and are really happy. Then you have a daughter. Turns out she’s atheist and lesbian. What now?

Well, it might be that your kid would be much happier at the lesbian separatist community the next island over. The absolute minimum the united government can do is enforce freedom of movement. That is, the second your daughter decides she doesn’t want to be in Christiantopia anymore, she goes to a UniGov embassy nearby and asks for a ticket out, which they give her, free of charge. She gets airlifted to Lesbiantopia the next day. If anyone in Christiantopia tries to prevent her from reaching that embassy, or threatens her family if she leaves, or expresses the slightest amount of coercion to keep her around, UniGov burns their city and salts their field.

But this is not nearly enough to fully solve the child problem. A child who is abused may be too young to know that escape is an option, or may be brainwashed into thinking they are evil, or guilted into believing they are betraying their families to opt out. And although there is no perfect, elegant solution here, the practical solution is that UniGov enforces some pretty strict laws on child-rearing, and every child, no matter what other education they receive, also has to receive a class taught by a UniGov representative in which they learn about the other communities in the Archipelago, receive a basic non-brainwashed view of the world, and are given directions to their nearest UniGov representative who they can give their opt-out request to.

The list of communities they are informed about always starts with the capital, ruled by UniGov itself and considered an inoffensive, neutral option for people who don’t want anywhere in particular. And it always ends with a reminder that if they can gather enough support, UniGov will provide them with a galleon to go out and found their own community in hitherto uninhabited lands.

There’s one more problem UniGov has to deal with: malicious inter-community transfer. Suppose that there is some community which puts extreme effort into educating its children, an education which it supports through heavy taxation. New parents move to this community, reap the benefits, and then when their children grow up they move back to their previous community so they don’t have to pay the taxes to educate anyone else. The communities themselves prevent some of this by immigration restrictions – anyone who’s clearly taking advantage of them isn’t allowed in (except in the capital, which has an official committment to let in anyone who wants). But that still leaves the example of people maliciously leaving a high-tax community once they’ve got theirs. I imagine this is a big deal in Archipelago politics, but that in practice UniGov asks these people, even in their new homes, to pay higher tax rates to subsidize their old community. Or since that could be morally objectionable (imagine the lesbian separatist having to pay taxes to Christiantopia which oppressed her), maybe they pay the excess taxes to UniGov itself, just as a way of disincentivizing malicious movement.

Because there are UniGov taxes, and most people are happy to pay them. In my fantasy, UniGov isn’t an enemy, where the Christians view it as this evil atheist conglomerate trying to steal their kids away from them and the capitalists view it as this evil socialist conglomerate trying to enforce high taxes. The Christians, the capitalists, and everyone else are extraordinarily patriotic about being part of the Archipelago, for its full name is the Archipelago of Civilized Communities, it is the standard-bearer of civilization against the barbaric outside world, and it is precisely the institution that allows them to maintain their distinctiveness in the face of what would otherwise be irresistable pressure to conform. Atheistopia is the enemy of Christiantopia, but only in the same way the Democratic Party is the enemy of the Republican Party – two groups within the same community who may have different ideas but who consider themselves part of the same broader whole, fundamentally allies under a banner of which both are proud.

IV.

Robert Nozick once proposed a similar idea as a libertarian utopia, and it’s easy to see why. UniGov does very very little. Other than the part with children and the part with evening out taxation regimes, it just sits around preventing communities from using force against each other. That makes it very very easy for anyone who wants freedom to start a community that grants them the kind of freedom they want – or, more likely, to just start a community organized on purely libertarian principles. The United Government of Archipelago is the perfect minarchist night watchman state, and any additions you make over that are chosen by your own free will.

But other people could view the same plan as a conservative utopia. Conservativism, when it’s not just Libertarianism Lite, is about building strong cohesive communities of relatively similar people united around common values. Archipelago is obviously built to make this as easy as possible, and it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t pop up a bunch of communities built around the idea of Decent Small-Town God-Fearing People where everyone has white picket fences and goes to the same church and nobody has to lock their doors at night (so basically Utah; I feel like this is one of the rare cases where the US’ mostly-in-name-only Archipelagoness really asserts itself). People who didn’t fit in could go to a Community Of People Who Don’t Fit In and would have no need to nor right to complain, and no one would have to deal with Those Durned Bureaucrats In Washington telling them what to do.

But to me, this seems like a liberal utopia, even a leftist utopia, for three reasons.

The first reason is that it extends the basic principle of liberalism – solve differences of opinion by letting everyone do their own thing according to their own values, then celebrate the diversity this produces. I like homosexuality, you don’t, fine, I can be homosexual and you don’t have to, and having both gay and straight people living side by side enriches society. This just takes the whole thing one meta-level up – I want to live in a very sexually liberated community, you want to live in a community where sex is treated purely as a sacred act for the purpose of procreation, fine, I can live in the community I want and you can live in the community you want, and having both sexually-liberated and sexually-pure communities living side by side enriches society. It is pretty much saying that the solution to any perceived problems of liberalism is much more liberalism.

The second reason is quite similar to the conservative reason. A lot of liberals have some pretty strong demands about the sorts of things they want society to do. I was recently talking to Ozy about a group who believe that society billing thin people is fatphobic, and that everyone needs to admit obese people can be just as attractive and date more of them, and that anyone who preferentially dates thinner people is Problematic. They also want people to stop talking about nutrition and exercise publicly. I sympathize with these people, especially having recently read a study showing that obese people are much happier when surrounded by other obese, rather than skinny people. But realistically, their movement will fail, and even philosophically, I’m not sure how to determine if they have the right to demand what they are demanding or what that question means. Their best bet is to found a community on these kinds of principles and only invite people who already share their preferences and aesthetics going in.

The third reason is the reason I specifically draw leftism in here. Liberalism, and to a much greater degree leftism, are marked by the emphasis they place on oppression. They’re particularly marked by an emphasis on oppression being a really hard problem, and one that is structurally inherent to a certain society. They are marked by a moderate amount of despair that this oppression can ever be rooted out.

And I think a pretty strong response to this is making sure everyone is able to say “Hey, you better not oppress us, because if you do, we can pack up and go somewhere else.”

Like if you want to protest that this is unfair, that people shouldn’t be forced to leave their homes because of oppression, fine, fair enough. But given that oppression is going on, and you haven’t been able to fix it, giving people the choice to get away from it seems like a pretty big win. I am reminded of the many Jews who moved from Eastern Europe to America, the many blacks who moved from the southern US to the northern US or Canada, and the many gays who make it out of extremely homophobic areas to friendlier large cities. One could even make a metaphor, I think rightly, to telling battered women that they are allowed to leave their husbands, telling them they’re not forced to stay in a relationship that they consider abusive, and making sure that there are shelters available to receive them.

If any person who feels oppressed can leave whenever they like, to the point of being provided a free plane ticket by the government, how long can oppression go on before the oppressors give up and say “Yeah, guess we need someone to work at these factories now that all our workers have gone to the communally-owned factory down the road, we should probably at least let people unionize or something so they will tolerate us”?

A commenter in the latest Asch thread mentioned an interesting quote by Frederick Douglass:

The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us [black people]. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!

It sounds like, if Frederick Douglass had the opportunity to go to some other community, or even found a black ex-slave community, no racists allowed, he probably would have taken it [edit: or not, or had strict conditions]. If the people in slavery during his own time period had had the chance to leave their plantations for that community, I bet they would have taken it too. And if you believe there are still people today whose relationship with society are similar in kind, if not in degree, to that of a plantation slave, you should be pretty enthusiastic about the ability of exit rights and free association to disrupt those oppressive relationships.

V.

We lack Archipelago’s big advantage – a vast frontier of unsettled land.

Which is not to say that people don’t form communes. They do. Some people even have really clever ideas along these lines, like the seasteaders. But the United States isn’t going to become Archipelago any time soon.

There’s another problem too, which I describe in my Anti-Reactionary FAQ. Discussing ‘exit rights’, I say:

Exit rights are a great idea and of course having them is better than not having them. But I have yet to hear Reactionaries who cite them as a panacea explain in detail what exit rights we need beyond those we have already.

The United States allows its citizens to leave the country by buying a relatively cheap passport and go anywhere that will take them in, with the exception of a few arch-enemies like Cuba – and those exceptions are laughably easy to evade. It allows them to hold dual citizenship with various foreign powers. It even allows them to renounce their American citizenship entirely and become sole citizens of any foreign power that will accept them.

Few Americans take advantage of this opportunity in any but the most limited ways. When they do move abroad, it’s usually for business or family reasons, rather than a rational decision to move to a different country with policies more to their liking. There are constant threats by dissatisfied Americans to move to Canada, and one in a thousand even carry through with them, but the general situation seems to be that America has a very large neighbor that speaks the same language, and has an equally developed economy, and has policies that many Americans prefer to their own country’s, and isn’t too hard to move to, and almost no one takes advantage of this opportunity. Nor do I see many people, even among the rich, moving to Singapore or Dubai.

Heck, the US has fifty states. Moving from one to another is as easy as getting in a car, driving there, and renting a room, and although the federal government limits exactly how different their policies can be you better believe that there are very important differences in areas like taxes, business climate, education, crime, gun control, and many more. Yet aside from the fascinating but small-scale Free State Project there’s little politically-motivated interstate movement, nor do states seem to have been motivated to converge on their policies or be less ideologically driven.

What if we held an exit rights party, and nobody came?

Even aside from the international problems of gaining citizenship, dealing with a language barrier, and adapting to a new culture, people are just rooted – property, friends, family, jobs. The end result is that the only people who can leave their countries behind are very poor refugees with nothing to lose, and very rich jet-setters. The former aren’t very attractive customers, and the latter have all their money in tax shelters anyway.

So although the idea of being able to choose your country like a savvy consumer appeals to me, just saying “exit rights!” isn’t going to make it happen, and I haven’t heard any more elaborate plans.

I guess I still feel that way. So although Archipelago is an interesting exercise in political science, a sort of pure case we can compare ourselves to, it doesn’t look like a practical solution for real problems.

On the other hand, I do think it’s worth becoming more Archipelagian on the margin rather than less so, and that there are good ways to do it.

One of the things that started this whole line of thought was an argument on Facebook about a very conservative Christian law school trying to open up in Canada. They had lots of rules like how their students couldn’t have sex before marriage and stuff like that. The Canadian province they were in was trying to deny them accreditation, because conservative Christians are icky. I think the exact arguments being used were that it was homophobic, because the conservative Christians there would probably frown on married gays and therefore gays couldn’t have sex at all. Therefore, the law school shouldn’t be allowed to exist. There were other arguments of about this caliber, but they all seemed to boil down to “conservative Christians are icky”.

This very much annoyed me. Yes, conservative Christians are icky. And they should be allowed to form completely voluntary communities of icky people that enforce icky cultural norms and an insular society promoting ickiness, just like everyone else. If non-conservative-Christians don’t like what they’re doing, they should not go to that law school. Instead they can go to one of the dozens of other law schools that conform to their own philosophies. And if gays want a law school even friendlier to them than the average Canadian law school, they should be allowed to create some law school that only accepts gays and bans homophobes and teaches lots of courses on gay marriage law all the time.

Another person on the Facebook thread complained that this line of arguments leads to being okay with white separatists. And so it does. Fine. I think white separatists have exactly the right position about where the sort of white people who want to be white separatists should be relative to everyone else – separate. I am not sure what you think you are gaining by demanding that white separatists live in communities with a lot of black people in them, but I bet the black people in those communities aren’t thanking you. Why would they want a white separatist as a neighbor? Why should they have to have one?

If people want to go do their own thing in a way that harms no one else, you let them. That’s the Archipelagian way.

(someone will protest that Archipelagian voluntary freedom of association or disassociation could, in cases of enough racial prejudice, lead to segregation, and that segregation didn’t work. Indeed it didn’t. But I feel like a version of segregation in which black people actually had the legally mandated right to get away from white people and remain completely unmolested by them – and where a white-controlled government wasn’t in charge of divvying up resources between white and black communities – would have worked a lot better than the segregation we actually had. The segregation we actually had was one in which white and black communities were separate until white people wanted something from black people, at which case they waltzed in and took it. If communities were actually totally separate, government and everything, by definition it would be impossible for one to oppress the other. The black community might start with less, but that could be solved by some kind of reparations. The Archipelagian way of dealing with this issue would be for white separatists to have separate white communities, black separatists to have separate black communities, integrationists to have integrated communities, resdistributive taxation from wealthier communities going into less wealthy ones, and a strong central government ruthlessly enforcing laws against any community trying to hurt another. I don’t think there’s a single black person in the segregation-era South who wouldn’t have taken that deal, and any black person who thinks the effect of whites on their community today is net negative should be pretty interested as well.)

This is one reason I find people who hate seasteads so distasteful. I mean, here’s what Reuters has to say about seasteading:

Fringe movements, of course, rarely cast themselves as obviously fringe. Racist, anti-civil rights forces cloaked themselves in the benign language of “state’s rights”. Anti-gay religious entities adopted the glossy, positive imagery of “family values”. Similarly, though many Libertarians embrace a pseudo-patriotic apple pie nostalgia, behind this façade is a very un-American, sinister vision.

Sure, most libertarians may not want to do away entirely with the idea of government or, for that matter, government-protected rights and civil liberties. But many do — and ironically vie for political power in a nation they ultimately want to destroy. Even the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter mocked the paradox of Libertarian candidates: “Get rid of government — but first, make me president!” Libertarians sowed the seeds of anti-government discontent, which is on the rise, and now want to harvest that discontent for a very radical, anti-America agenda. The image of libertarians living off-shore in their lawless private nation-states is just a postcard of the future they hope to build on land.

Strangely, the libertarian agenda has largely escaped scrutiny, at least compared to that of social conservatives. The fact that the political class is locked in debate about whether Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry is more socially conservative only creates a veneer of mainstream legitimacy for the likes of Ron Paul, whose libertarianism may be even more extreme and dangerously un-patriotic. With any luck America will recognize anti-government extremism for what it is — before libertarians throw America overboard and render us all castaways.

Keep in mind this is because some people want to go off and do their own thing in the middle of the ocean far away from everyone else without bothering anyone. And the newspapers are trying to whip up a panic about “throwing America overboard”.

So one way we could become more Archipelagian is just trying not to yell at people who are trying to go off and doing their own thing quietly with a group of voluntarily consenting friends.

But I think a better candidate for how to build a more Archipelagian world is to encourage the fracture of society into subcultures.

Like, transsexuals may not be able to go to a transsexual island somewhere and build Transtopia where anyone who misgenders anyone else gets thrown into a volcano. But of the transsexuals I know, a lot of them have lots of transsexual friends, their cissexual friends are all up-to-date on trans issues and don’t do a lot of misgendering, and they have great social networks where they share information about what businesses and doctors are or aren’t trans-friendly. They can take advantage of trigger warnings to make sure they expose themselves to only the sources that fit the values of their community, the information that would get broadcast if it was a normal community that could impose media norms. As Internet interaction starts to replace real-life interaction (and I think for a lot of people the majority of their social life is already on the Internet, and for some the majority of their economic life is as well) it becomes increasingly easy to limit yourself to transsexual-friendly spaces that keep bad people away.

The rationalist community is another good example. If I wanted, I could move to the Bay Area tomorrow and never have more than a tiny amount of contact with non-rationalists again. I could have rationalist roommates, live in a rationalist group house, try to date only other rationalists, try to get a job with a rationalist nonprofit like CFAR or a rationalist company like Quixey, and never have to deal with the benighted and depressing non-rationalist world again. Even without moving to the Bay Area, it’s been pretty easy for me to keep a lot of my social life, both on- and off- line, rationalist-focused, and I don’t regret this at all.

I don’t know if the future will be virtual reality. I expect the post-singularity future will include something like VR, although that might be like describing teleportation as “basically a sort of pack animal”. But how much the immediate pre-singularity world will make use of virtual reality, I don’t know.

But I bet if it doesn’t, it will be because virtual reality has been circumvented by things like social networks, bitcoin, and Mechanical Turk, which make it possible to do most of your interaction through the Internet even though you’re not literally plugged into it.

And that seems to me like a pretty good start in creating an Archipelago. I already hang out with various Finns and Brits and Aussies a lot more closely than I do my next-door neighbors, and if we start using litecoin and someone else starts using dogecoin then I’ll be more economically connected to them too. The degree to which I encounter certain objectifying or unvirtuous or triggering media already depends more on the moderation policies of Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex and who I block from my Facebook feed, than it does any laws about censorship of US media.

At what point are national governments rendered mostly irrelevant compared to the norms and rules of the groups of which we are voluntary members?

I don’t know, but I kind of look forward to finding out. It seems like a great way to start searching for utopia, or at least getting some people away from their metaphorical abusive-husbands.

And the other thing is that I have pretty strong opinions on which communities are better than others. Some communities were founded by toxic people for ganging up with other toxic people to celebrate and magnify their toxicity, and these (surprise, surprise) tend to be toxic. Others were formed by very careful, easily-harmed people trying to exclude everyone who could harm them, and these tend to be pretty safe albeit sometimes overbearing. Other people hit some kind of sweet spot that makes friendly people want to come in and angry people want to stay out, or just do a really good job choosing friends.

But I think the end result is that the closer you come to true freedom of association, the closer you get to a world where everyone is a member of more or less the community they deserve. That would be a pretty unprecedented bit of progress.

via Instanote
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Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism

almost 2 years ago

I.

In the old days, you had your Culture, and that was that. Your Culture told you lots of stuff about what you were and weren’t allowed to do, and by golly you listened. Your Culture told you to work the job prescribed to you by your caste and gender, to marry who your parents told you to marry or at least someone of the opposite sex, to worship at the proper temples and the proper times, and to talk about proper things as opposed to the blasphemous things said by the tribe over there.

Then we got Liberalism, which said all of that was mostly bunk. Like Wicca, its motto is “Do as you will, so long as it harms none”. Or in more political terms, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” or “If you don’t like gay sex, don’t have any” or “If you don’t like this TV program, don’t watch it” or “What happens in the bedroom between consenting adults is none of your business” or “It neither breaks my arm nor picks my pocket”. Your job isn’t to enforce your conception of virtue upon everyone to build the Virtuous Society, it’s to live your own life the way you want to live it and let other people live their own lives the way they want to live them. This is the much-maligned “atomic individualism,” or maybe just liberalism boiled down to its pure essence.

But atomic individualism wasn’t as great a solution as it sounded. Maybe one of the first cracks was tobacco ads. Even though putting up a billboard saying “SMOKE MARLBORO” neither breaks anyone’s arm nor picks their pocket, it shifts social expectations in such a way that bad effects occur. It’s hard to dismiss that with “Well, it’s people’s own choice to smoke and they should live their lives the way they want” if studies show that more people will want to live their lives in a way that gives them cancer in the presence of the billboard than otherwise.

From there we go into policies like Michael Bloomberg’s ban on giant sodas. While the soda ban itself was probably as much symbolic as anything, it’s hard to argue with the impetus behind it – a culture where everyone gets exposed to the option to buy very very unhealthy food all the time is going to be less healthy than one where there are some regulations in place to make EAT THIS DONUT NOW a less salient option. I mean, I know this is true. A few months ago when I was on a diet I cringed every time one my coworkers brought in a box of free donuts and placed wide-open in the doctors’ lounge; there was no way I wasn’t going to take one (or two, or three). I could ask people to stop, but they probably wouldn’t, and even if they did I’d just encounter the wide-open box of free donuts somewhere else. I’m not proposing that it is ethically wrong to bring in free donuts or that banning them is the correct policy, but I do want to make it clear that stating “it’s your free choice to partake or not” doesn’t eliminate the problem, and that this points to an entire class of serious issues where atomic individualism as construed above is at best an imperfect heuristic.

And I would be remiss talking about the modern turn away from individualism without mentioning social justice. The same people who once deployed individualistic arguments against conservatives: “If you don’t like profanity, don’t use it”, “If you don’t like this offensive TV show, don’t watch it”, “If you don’t like pornography, don’t buy it” – are now concerned about people using ethnic slurs, TV shows without enough minority characters, and pornography that encourages the objectification of women. I’ve objected to some of this on purely empirical grounds, but the least convenient possible world is the one where the purely empirical objections fall flat. If they ever discover proof positive that yeah, pornographication makes women hella objectified, is it acceptable to censor or ban misogynist media on a society-wide level?

And if the answer is yes – and if such media like really, really increases the incidence of rape I’m not sure how it couldn’t be – then what about all those conservative ideas we’ve been neglecting for so long? What if strong, cohesive, religious, demographically uniform communities make people more trusting, generous, and cooperative in a way that also decreases violent crime and other forms of misery? We have lots of evidence that this is true, and although we can doubt each individual study, we owe conservatives the courtesy of imagining the possible world in which they are right, the same as anti-misogyny leftists. Maybe media glorifying criminals or lionizing nonconformists above those who quietly follow cultural norms has the same kind of erosive effects on “values” as misogynist media. Or, at the very least, we ought to have a good philosophy in place so that we have some idea what to do it if does.

II.

A while ago, in Part V of this essay, I praised liberalism as the only peaceful answer to Hobbes’ dilemma of the war of all against all.

Hobbes says that if everyone’s fighting then everyone loses out. Even the winners probably end up worse off than if they had just been able to live in peace. He says that governments are good ways to prevent this kind of conflict. Someone – in his formulation a king – tells everyone else what they’re going to do, and then everyone else does it. No fighting necessary. If someone tries to start a conflict by ignoring the king, the king crushes them like a bug, no prolonged fighting involved.

But this replaces the problem of potential warfare with the problem of potential tyranny. So we’ve mostly shifted from absolute monarchies to other forms of government, which is all nice and well except that governments allow a different kind of war of all against all. Instead of trying to kill their enemies and steal their stuff, people are tempted to ban their enemies and confiscate their stuff. Instead of killing the Protestants, the Catholics simply ban Protestantism. Instead of forming vigilante mobs to stone homosexuals, the straights merely declare homosexuality is punishable by death. It might be better than the alternative – at least everyone knows where they stand and things stay peaceful – but the end result is still a lot of pretty miserable people.

Liberalism is a new form of Hobbesian equilibrium where the government enforces not only a ban on killing and stealing from people you don’t like, but also a ban on tyrannizing them out of existence. This is the famous “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” and so on, as well as the “freedom of what happens in the bedroom between consenting adults”. The Catholics don’t try to ban Protestantism, the Protestants don’t try to ban Catholicism, and everyone is happy.

Liberalism only works when it’s clear to everyone on all sides that there’s a certain neutral principle everyone has to stick to. The neutral principle can’t be the Bible, or Atlas Shrugged, or anything that makes it look like one philosophy is allowed to judge the others. Right now that principle is the Principle of Harm: you can do whatever you like unless it harms other people, in which case stop. We seem to have inelegantly tacked on an “also, we can collect taxes and use them for a social safety net and occasional attempts at social progress”, but it seems to be working pretty okay too.

The Strict Principle of Harm says that pretty much the only two things the government can get angry at is literally breaking your leg or picking your pocket – violence or theft. The Loose Principle of Harm says that the government can get angry at complicated indirect harms, things that Weaken The Moral Fabric Of Society. Like putting up tobacco ads. Or having really really big sodas. Or publishing hate speech against minorities. Or eroding trust in the community. Or media that objectifies women.

No one except the most ideologically pure libertarians seems to want to insist on the Strict Principle of Harm. But allowing the Loose Principle Of Harm restores all of the old wars to control other people that liberalism was supposed to prevent. The one person says “Gay marriage will result in homosexuality becoming more accepted, leading to increased rates of STDs! That’s a harm! We must ban gay marriage!” Another says “Allowing people to send their children to non-public schools could lead to kids at religious schools that preach against gay people, causing those children to commit hate crimes when they grow up! That’s a harm! We must ban non-public schools!” And so on, forever.

And I’m talking about non-governmental censorship just as much as government censorship. Even in the most anti-gay communities in the United States, the laws usually allow homosexuality or oppose it only in very weak, easily circumvented ways. The real problem for gays in these communities is the social pressure – whether that means disapproval or risk of violence – that they would likely face for coming out. This too is a violation of liberalism, and it’s one that’s as important or more important than the legal sort.

And right now our way of dealing with these problems is to argue them. “Well, gay people don’t really increase STDs too much.” Or “Home-schooled kids do better than public-schooled kids, so we need to allow them.” The problem is that arguments never terminate. Maybe if you’re incredibly lucky, after years of fighting you can get a couple of people on the other side to admit your side is right, but this is a pretty hard process to trust. The great thing about religious freedom is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which religion is correct, Catholicism or Protestantism?” and allows people to tolerate both Catholics and Protestants even if they are divided about the answer to this object-level question. The great thing about freedom of speech is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which party is correct, the Democrats or Republicans?” and allows people to express both liberal and conservative opinions even if they are divided about the object-level question.

If we force all of our discussions about whether to ban gay marriage or allow home schooling to depend on resolving the dispute about whether they indirectly harm the Fabric of Society in some way, we’re forcing dependence on object-level arguments in a way that historically has been very very bad.

Presumably here the more powerful groups would win out and be able to oppress the less powerful groups. We end up with exactly what liberalism tried to avoid – a society where everyone is the guardian of the virtue of everyone else, and anyone who wants to live their lives in a way different from the community’s consensus is out of luck.

In Part I, I argued that not allowing people to worry about culture and community at all was inadequate, because these things really do matter.

Here I’m saying that if we do allow people to worry about culture and community, we risk the bad old medieval days where all nonconformity gets ruthlessly quashed.

Right now we’re balanced precariously between the two states. There’s a lot of liberalism, and people are generally still allowed to be gay or home-school their children or practice their religion or whatever. But there’s also quite a bit of Enforced Virtue, where kids are forbidden to watch porn and certain kinds of media are censored and in some communities mentioning that you’re an atheist will get you Dirty Looks.

It tends to work okay for most of the population. Better than the alternatives, maybe? But there’s still a lot of the population that’s not free to do things that are very important to them. And there’s also a lot of the population that would like to live in more “virtuous” communities, whether it’s to lose weight faster or avoid STDs or not have to worry about being objectified. Dealing with these two competing issues is a pretty big part of political philosophy and one that most people don’t have any principled solution for.

III.

Imagine a new frontier suddenly opening. Maybe a wizard appears and gives us a map to a new archipelago that geographers had missed for the past few centuries. He doesn’t want to rule the archipelago himself, though he will reluctantly help kickstart the government. He just wants to give directions and a free galleon to anybody who wants one and can muster a group of likeminded friends large enough to start a self-sustaining colony.

And so the equivalent of our paleoconservatives go out and found communities based on virtue, where all sexual deviancy is banned and only wholesome films can be shown and people who burn the flag are thrown out to be eaten by wolves.

And the equivalent of our social justiciars go out and found communities where all movies have to have lots of strong minority characters in them, and all slurs are way beyond the pale, and nobody misgenders anybody.

And the equivalent of our Objectivists go out and found communities based totally on the Strict Principle of Harm where everyone is allowed to do whatever they want and there are no regulations on business and everything is super-capitalist all the time.

And some people who just really want to lose weight go out and found communities where you’re not allowed to place open boxes of donuts in the doctors’ lounge.

Usually the communities are based on a charter, which expresses some founding ideals and asks only the people who agree with those ideals to enter. The charter also specifies a system of government. It could be an absolute monarch, charged with enforcing those ideals upon a population too stupid to know what’s good for them. Or it could be a direct democracy of people who all agree on some basic principles but want to work out for themselves what direction the principles take them.

After a while the wizard decides to formalize and strengthen his system, not to mention work out some of the ethical dilemmas.

First he bans communities from declaring war on each other. That’s an obvious gain. He could just smite warmongers, but he thinks it’s more natural and organic to get all the communities into a united government (UniGov for short). Every community donates a certain amount to a military, and the military’s only job is to quash anyone from any community who tries to invade another.

Next he addresses externalities. For example, if some communities emit a lot of carbon, and that causes global warming which threatens to destroy other communities, UniGov puts a stop to that. If the offending communities refuse to stop emitting carbon, then there’s that military again.

The third thing he does is prevent memetic contamination. If one community wants to avoid all media that objectifies women, then no other community is allowed to broadcast women-objectifying media at it. If a community wants to live an anarcho-primitivist lifestyle, nobody else is allowed to import TVs. Every community decides exactly how much informational contact it wants to have with the rest of the continent, and no one is allowed to force them to have more than that.

But the wizard and UniGov’s most important task is to think of the children.

Imagine you’re conservative Christians, and you’re tired of this secular godless world, so you go off with your conservative Christian friends to found a conservative Christian community. You all pray together and stuff and are really happy. Then you have a daughter. Turns out she’s atheist and lesbian. What now?

Well, it might be that your kid would be much happier at the lesbian separatist community the next island over. The absolute minimum the united government can do is enforce freedom of movement. That is, the second your daughter decides she doesn’t want to be in Christiantopia anymore, she goes to a UniGov embassy nearby and asks for a ticket out, which they give her, free of charge. She gets airlifted to Lesbiantopia the next day. If anyone in Christiantopia tries to prevent her from reaching that embassy, or threatens her family if she leaves, or expresses the slightest amount of coercion to keep her around, UniGov burns their city and salts their field.

But this is not nearly enough to fully solve the child problem. A child who is abused may be too young to know that escape is an option, or may be brainwashed into thinking they are evil, or guilted into believing they are betraying their families to opt out. And although there is no perfect, elegant solution here, the practical solution is that UniGov enforces some pretty strict laws on child-rearing, and every child, no matter what other education they receive, also has to receive a class taught by a UniGov representative in which they learn about the other communities in the Archipelago, receive a basic non-brainwashed view of the world, and are given directions to their nearest UniGov representative who they can give their opt-out request to.

The list of communities they are informed about always starts with the capital, ruled by UniGov itself and considered an inoffensive, neutral option for people who don’t want anywhere in particular. And it always ends with a reminder that if they can gather enough support, UniGov will provide them with a galleon to go out and found their own community in hitherto uninhabited lands.

There’s one more problem UniGov has to deal with: malicious inter-community transfer. Suppose that there is some community which puts extreme effort into educating its children, an education which it supports through heavy taxation. New parents move to this community, reap the benefits, and then when their children grow up they move back to their previous community so they don’t have to pay the taxes to educate anyone else. The communities themselves prevent some of this by immigration restrictions – anyone who’s clearly taking advantage of them isn’t allowed in (except in the capital, which has an official committment to let in anyone who wants). But that still leaves the example of people maliciously leaving a high-tax community once they’ve got theirs. I imagine this is a big deal in Archipelago politics, but that in practice UniGov asks these people, even in their new homes, to pay higher tax rates to subsidize their old community. Or since that could be morally objectionable (imagine the lesbian separatist having to pay taxes to Christiantopia which oppressed her), maybe they pay the excess taxes to UniGov itself, just as a way of disincentivizing malicious movement.

Because there are UniGov taxes, and most people are happy to pay them. In my fantasy, UniGov isn’t an enemy, where the Christians view it as this evil atheist conglomerate trying to steal their kids away from them and the capitalists view it as this evil socialist conglomerate trying to enforce high taxes. The Christians, the capitalists, and everyone else are extraordinarily patriotic about being part of the Archipelago, for its full name is the Archipelago of Civilized Communities, it is the standard-bearer of civilization against the barbaric outside world, and it is precisely the institution that allows them to maintain their distinctiveness in the face of what would otherwise be irresistable pressure to conform. Atheistopia is the enemy of Christiantopia, but only in the same way the Democratic Party is the enemy of the Republican Party – two groups within the same community who may have different ideas but who consider themselves part of the same broader whole, fundamentally allies under a banner of which both are proud.

IV.

Robert Nozick once proposed a similar idea as a libertarian utopia, and it’s easy to see why. UniGov does very very little. Other than the part with children and the part with evening out taxation regimes, it just sits around preventing communities from using force against each other. That makes it very very easy for anyone who wants freedom to start a community that grants them the kind of freedom they want – or, more likely, to just start a community organized on purely libertarian principles. The United Government of Archipelago is the perfect minarchist night watchman state, and any additions you make over that are chosen by your own free will.

But other people could view the same plan as a conservative utopia. Conservativism, when it’s not just Libertarianism Lite, is about building strong cohesive communities of relatively similar people united around common values. Archipelago is obviously built to make this as easy as possible, and it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t pop up a bunch of communities built around the idea of Decent Small-Town God-Fearing People where everyone has white picket fences and goes to the same church and nobody has to lock their doors at night (so basically Utah; I feel like this is one of the rare cases where the US’ mostly-in-name-only Archipelagoness really asserts itself). People who didn’t fit in could go to a Community Of People Who Don’t Fit In and would have no need to nor right to complain, and no one would have to deal with Those Durned Bureaucrats In Washington telling them what to do.

But to me, this seems like a liberal utopia, even a leftist utopia, for three reasons.

The first reason is that it extends the basic principle of liberalism – solve differences of opinion by letting everyone do their own thing according to their own values, then celebrate the diversity this produces. I like homosexuality, you don’t, fine, I can be homosexual and you don’t have to, and having both gay and straight people living side by side enriches society. This just takes the whole thing one meta-level up – I want to live in a very sexually liberated community, you want to live in a community where sex is treated purely as a sacred act for the purpose of procreation, fine, I can live in the community I want and you can live in the community you want, and having both sexually-liberated and sexually-pure communities living side by side enriches society. It is pretty much saying that the solution to any perceived problems of liberalism is much more liberalism.

The second reason is quite similar to the conservative reason. A lot of liberals have some pretty strong demands about the sorts of things they want society to do. I was recently talking to Ozy about a group who believe that society billing thin people is fatphobic, and that everyone needs to admit obese people can be just as attractive and date more of them, and that anyone who preferentially dates thinner people is Problematic. They also want people to stop talking about nutrition and exercise publicly. I sympathize with these people, especially having recently read a study showing that obese people are much happier when surrounded by other obese, rather than skinny people. But realistically, their movement will fail, and even philosophically, I’m not sure how to determine if they have the right to demand what they are demanding or what that question means. Their best bet is to found a community on these kinds of principles and only invite people who already share their preferences and aesthetics going in.

The third reason is the reason I specifically draw leftism in here. Liberalism, and to a much greater degree leftism, are marked by the emphasis they place on oppression. They’re particularly marked by an emphasis on oppression being a really hard problem, and one that is structurally inherent to a certain society. They are marked by a moderate amount of despair that this oppression can ever be rooted out.

And I think a pretty strong response to this is making sure everyone is able to say “Hey, you better not oppress us, because if you do, we can pack up and go somewhere else.”

Like if you want to protest that this is unfair, that people shouldn’t be forced to leave their homes because of oppression, fine, fair enough. But given that oppression is going on, and you haven’t been able to fix it, giving people the choice to get away from it seems like a pretty big win. I am reminded of the many Jews who moved from Eastern Europe to America, the many blacks who moved from the southern US to the northern US or Canada, and the many gays who make it out of extremely homophobic areas to friendlier large cities. One could even make a metaphor, I think rightly, to telling battered women that they are allowed to leave their husbands, telling them they’re not forced to stay in a relationship that they consider abusive, and making sure that there are shelters available to receive them.

If any person who feels oppressed can leave whenever they like, to the point of being provided a free plane ticket by the government, how long can oppression go on before the oppressors give up and say “Yeah, guess we need someone to work at these factories now that all our workers have gone to the communally-owned factory down the road, we should probably at least let people unionize or something so they will tolerate us”?

A commenter in the latest Asch thread mentioned an interesting quote by Frederick Douglass:

The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us [black people]. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!

It sounds like, if Frederick Douglass had the opportunity to go to some other community, or even found a black ex-slave community, no racists allowed, he probably would have taken it [edit: or not, or had strict conditions]. If the people in slavery during his own time period had had the chance to leave their plantations for that community, I bet they would have taken it too. And if you believe there are still people today whose relationship with society are similar in kind, if not in degree, to that of a plantation slave, you should be pretty enthusiastic about the ability of exit rights and free association to disrupt those oppressive relationships.

V.

We lack Archipelago’s big advantage – a vast frontier of unsettled land.

Which is not to say that people don’t form communes. They do. Some people even have really clever ideas along these lines, like the seasteaders. But the United States isn’t going to become Archipelago any time soon.

There’s another problem too, which I describe in my Anti-Reactionary FAQ. Discussing ‘exit rights’, I say:

Exit rights are a great idea and of course having them is better than not having them. But I have yet to hear Reactionaries who cite them as a panacea explain in detail what exit rights we need beyond those we have already.

The United States allows its citizens to leave the country by buying a relatively cheap passport and go anywhere that will take them in, with the exception of a few arch-enemies like Cuba – and those exceptions are laughably easy to evade. It allows them to hold dual citizenship with various foreign powers. It even allows them to renounce their American citizenship entirely and become sole citizens of any foreign power that will accept them.

Few Americans take advantage of this opportunity in any but the most limited ways. When they do move abroad, it’s usually for business or family reasons, rather than a rational decision to move to a different country with policies more to their liking. There are constant threats by dissatisfied Americans to move to Canada, and one in a thousand even carry through with them, but the general situation seems to be that America has a very large neighbor that speaks the same language, and has an equally developed economy, and has policies that many Americans prefer to their own country’s, and isn’t too hard to move to, and almost no one takes advantage of this opportunity. Nor do I see many people, even among the rich, moving to Singapore or Dubai.

Heck, the US has fifty states. Moving from one to another is as easy as getting in a car, driving there, and renting a room, and although the federal government limits exactly how different their policies can be you better believe that there are very important differences in areas like taxes, business climate, education, crime, gun control, and many more. Yet aside from the fascinating but small-scale Free State Project there’s little politically-motivated interstate movement, nor do states seem to have been motivated to converge on their policies or be less ideologically driven.

What if we held an exit rights party, and nobody came?

Even aside from the international problems of gaining citizenship, dealing with a language barrier, and adapting to a new culture, people are just rooted – property, friends, family, jobs. The end result is that the only people who can leave their countries behind are very poor refugees with nothing to lose, and very rich jet-setters. The former aren’t very attractive customers, and the latter have all their money in tax shelters anyway.

So although the idea of being able to choose your country like a savvy consumer appeals to me, just saying “exit rights!” isn’t going to make it happen, and I haven’t heard any more elaborate plans.

I guess I still feel that way. So although Archipelago is an interesting exercise in political science, a sort of pure case we can compare ourselves to, it doesn’t look like a practical solution for real problems.

On the other hand, I do think it’s worth becoming more Archipelagian on the margin rather than less so, and that there are good ways to do it.

One of the things that started this whole line of thought was an argument on Facebook about a very conservative Christian law school trying to open up in Canada. They had lots of rules like how their students couldn’t have sex before marriage and stuff like that. The Canadian province they were in was trying to deny them accreditation, because conservative Christians are icky. I think the exact arguments being used were that it was homophobic, because the conservative Christians there would probably frown on married gays and therefore gays couldn’t have sex at all. Therefore, the law school shouldn’t be allowed to exist. There were other arguments of about this caliber, but they all seemed to boil down to “conservative Christians are icky”.

This very much annoyed me. Yes, conservative Christians are icky. And they should be allowed to form completely voluntary communities of icky people that enforce icky cultural norms and an insular society promoting ickiness, just like everyone else. If non-conservative-Christians don’t like what they’re doing, they should not go to that law school. Instead they can go to one of the dozens of other law schools that conform to their own philosophies. And if gays want a law school even friendlier to them than the average Canadian law school, they should be allowed to create some law school that only accepts gays and bans homophobes and teaches lots of courses on gay marriage law all the time.

Another person on the Facebook thread complained that this line of arguments leads to being okay with white separatists. And so it does. Fine. I think white separatists have exactly the right position about where the sort of white people who want to be white separatists should be relative to everyone else – separate. I am not sure what you think you are gaining by demanding that white separatists live in communities with a lot of black people in them, but I bet the black people in those communities aren’t thanking you. Why would they want a white separatist as a neighbor? Why should they have to have one?

If people want to go do their own thing in a way that harms no one else, you let them. That’s the Archipelagian way.

(someone will protest that Archipelagian voluntary freedom of association or disassociation could, in cases of enough racial prejudice, lead to segregation, and that segregation didn’t work. Indeed it didn’t. But I feel like a version of segregation in which black people actually had the legally mandated right to get away from white people and remain completely unmolested by them – and where a white-controlled government wasn’t in charge of divvying up resources between white and black communities – would have worked a lot better than the segregation we actually had. The segregation we actually had was one in which white and black communities were separate until white people wanted something from black people, at which case they waltzed in and took it. If communities were actually totally separate, government and everything, by definition it would be impossible for one to oppress the other. The black community might start with less, but that could be solved by some kind of reparations. The Archipelagian way of dealing with this issue would be for white separatists to have separate white communities, black separatists to have separate black communities, integrationists to have integrated communities, resdistributive taxation from wealthier communities going into less wealthy ones, and a strong central government ruthlessly enforcing laws against any community trying to hurt another. I don’t think there’s a single black person in the segregation-era South who wouldn’t have taken that deal, and any black person who thinks the effect of whites on their community today is net negative should be pretty interested as well.)

This is one reason I find people who hate seasteads so distasteful. I mean, here’s what Reuters has to say about seasteading:

Fringe movements, of course, rarely cast themselves as obviously fringe. Racist, anti-civil rights forces cloaked themselves in the benign language of “state’s rights”. Anti-gay religious entities adopted the glossy, positive imagery of “family values”. Similarly, though many Libertarians embrace a pseudo-patriotic apple pie nostalgia, behind this façade is a very un-American, sinister vision.

Sure, most libertarians may not want to do away entirely with the idea of government or, for that matter, government-protected rights and civil liberties. But many do — and ironically vie for political power in a nation they ultimately want to destroy. Even the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter mocked the paradox of Libertarian candidates: “Get rid of government — but first, make me president!” Libertarians sowed the seeds of anti-government discontent, which is on the rise, and now want to harvest that discontent for a very radical, anti-America agenda. The image of libertarians living off-shore in their lawless private nation-states is just a postcard of the future they hope to build on land.

Strangely, the libertarian agenda has largely escaped scrutiny, at least compared to that of social conservatives. The fact that the political class is locked in debate about whether Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry is more socially conservative only creates a veneer of mainstream legitimacy for the likes of Ron Paul, whose libertarianism may be even more extreme and dangerously un-patriotic. With any luck America will recognize anti-government extremism for what it is — before libertarians throw America overboard and render us all castaways.

Keep in mind this is because some people want to go off and do their own thing in the middle of the ocean far away from everyone else without bothering anyone. And the newspapers are trying to whip up a panic about “throwing America overboard”.

So one way we could become more Archipelagian is just trying not to yell at people who are trying to go off and doing their own thing quietly with a group of voluntarily consenting friends.

But I think a better candidate for how to build a more Archipelagian world is to encourage the fracture of society into subcultures.

Like, transsexuals may not be able to go to a transsexual island somewhere and build Transtopia where anyone who misgenders anyone else gets thrown into a volcano. But of the transsexuals I know, a lot of them have lots of transsexual friends, their cissexual friends are all up-to-date on trans issues and don’t do a lot of misgendering, and they have great social networks where they share information about what businesses and doctors are or aren’t trans-friendly. They can take advantage of trigger warnings to make sure they expose themselves to only the sources that fit the values of their community, the information that would get broadcast if it was a normal community that could impose media norms. As Internet interaction starts to replace real-life interaction (and I think for a lot of people the majority of their social life is already on the Internet, and for some the majority of their economic life is as well) it becomes increasingly easy to limit yourself to transsexual-friendly spaces that keep bad people away.

The rationalist community is another good example. If I wanted, I could move to the Bay Area tomorrow and never have more than a tiny amount of contact with non-rationalists again. I could have rationalist roommates, live in a rationalist group house, try to date only other rationalists, try to get a job with a rationalist nonprofit like CFAR or a rationalist company like Quixey, and never have to deal with the benighted and depressing non-rationalist world again. Even without moving to the Bay Area, it’s been pretty easy for me to keep a lot of my social life, both on- and off- line, rationalist-focused, and I don’t regret this at all.

I don’t know if the future will be virtual reality. I expect the post-singularity future will include something like VR, although that might be like describing teleportation as “basically a sort of pack animal”. But how much the immediate pre-singularity world will make use of virtual reality, I don’t know.

But I bet if it doesn’t, it will be because virtual reality has been circumvented by things like social networks, bitcoin, and Mechanical Turk, which make it possible to do most of your interaction through the Internet even though you’re not literally plugged into it.

And that seems to me like a pretty good start in creating an Archipelago. I already hang out with various Finns and Brits and Aussies a lot more closely than I do my next-door neighbors, and if we start using litecoin and someone else starts using dogecoin then I’ll be more economically connected to them too. The degree to which I encounter certain objectifying or unvirtuous or triggering media already depends more on the moderation policies of Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex and who I block from my Facebook feed, than it does any laws about censorship of US media.

At what point are national governments rendered mostly irrelevant compared to the norms and rules of the groups of which we are voluntary members?

I don’t know, but I kind of look forward to finding out. It seems like a great way to start searching for utopia, or at least getting some people away from their metaphorical abusive-husbands.

And the other thing is that I have pretty strong opinions on which communities are better than others. Some communities were founded by toxic people for ganging up with other toxic people to celebrate and magnify their toxicity, and these (surprise, surprise) tend to be toxic. Others were formed by very careful, easily-harmed people trying to exclude everyone who could harm them, and these tend to be pretty safe albeit sometimes overbearing. Other people hit some kind of sweet spot that makes friendly people want to come in and angry people want to stay out, or just do a really good job choosing friends.

But I think the end result is that the closer you come to true freedom of association, the closer you get to a world where everyone is a member of more or less the community they deserve. That would be a pretty unprecedented bit of progress.

via Instanote
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Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism

almost 2 years ago

I.

In the old days, you had your Culture, and that was that. Your Culture told you lots of stuff about what you were and weren’t allowed to do, and by golly you listened. Your Culture told you to work the job prescribed to you by your caste and gender, to marry who your parents told you to marry or at least someone of the opposite sex, to worship at the proper temples and the proper times, and to talk about proper things as opposed to the blasphemous things said by the tribe over there.

Then we got Liberalism, which said all of that was mostly bunk. Like Wicca, its motto is “Do as you will, so long as it harms none”. Or in more political terms, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” or “If you don’t like gay sex, don’t have any” or “If you don’t like this TV program, don’t watch it” or “What happens in the bedroom between consenting adults is none of your business” or “It neither breaks my arm nor picks my pocket”. Your job isn’t to enforce your conception of virtue upon everyone to build the Virtuous Society, it’s to live your own life the way you want to live it and let other people live their own lives the way they want to live them. This is the much-maligned “atomic individualism,” or maybe just liberalism boiled down to its pure essence.

But atomic individualism wasn’t as great a solution as it sounded. Maybe one of the first cracks was tobacco ads. Even though putting up a billboard saying “SMOKE MARLBORO” neither breaks anyone’s arm nor picks their pocket, it shifts social expectations in such a way that bad effects occur. It’s hard to dismiss that with “Well, it’s people’s own choice to smoke and they should live their lives the way they want” if studies show that more people will want to live their lives in a way that gives them cancer in the presence of the billboard than otherwise.

From there we go into policies like Michael Bloomberg’s ban on giant sodas. While the soda ban itself was probably as much symbolic as anything, it’s hard to argue with the impetus behind it – a culture where everyone gets exposed to the option to buy very very unhealthy food all the time is going to be less healthy than one where there are some regulations in place to make EAT THIS DONUT NOW a less salient option. I mean, I know this is true. A few months ago when I was on a diet I cringed every time one my coworkers brought in a box of free donuts and placed wide-open in the doctors’ lounge; there was no way I wasn’t going to take one (or two, or three). I could ask people to stop, but they probably wouldn’t, and even if they did I’d just encounter the wide-open box of free donuts somewhere else. I’m not proposing that it is ethically wrong to bring in free donuts or that banning them is the correct policy, but I do want to make it clear that stating “it’s your free choice to partake or not” doesn’t eliminate the problem, and that this points to an entire class of serious issues where atomic individualism as construed above is at best an imperfect heuristic.

And I would be remiss talking about the modern turn away from individualism without mentioning social justice. The same people who once deployed individualistic arguments against conservatives: “If you don’t like profanity, don’t use it”, “If you don’t like this offensive TV show, don’t watch it”, “If you don’t like pornography, don’t buy it” – are now concerned about people using ethnic slurs, TV shows without enough minority characters, and pornography that encourages the objectification of women. I’ve objected to some of this on purely empirical grounds, but the least convenient possible world is the one where the purely empirical objections fall flat. If they ever discover proof positive that yeah, pornographication makes women hella objectified, is it acceptable to censor or ban misogynist media on a society-wide level?

And if the answer is yes – and if such media like really, really increases the incidence of rape I’m not sure how it couldn’t be – then what about all those conservative ideas we’ve been neglecting for so long? What if strong, cohesive, religious, demographically uniform communities make people more trusting, generous, and cooperative in a way that also decreases violent crime and other forms of misery? We have lots of evidence that this is true, and although we can doubt each individual study, we owe conservatives the courtesy of imagining the possible world in which they are right, the same as anti-misogyny leftists. Maybe media glorifying criminals or lionizing nonconformists above those who quietly follow cultural norms has the same kind of erosive effects on “values” as misogynist media. Or, at the very least, we ought to have a good philosophy in place so that we have some idea what to do it if does.

II.

A while ago, in Part V of this essay, I praised liberalism as the only peaceful answer to Hobbes’ dilemma of the war of all against all.

Hobbes says that if everyone’s fighting then everyone loses out. Even the winners probably end up worse off than if they had just been able to live in peace. He says that governments are good ways to prevent this kind of conflict. Someone – in his formulation a king – tells everyone else what they’re going to do, and then everyone else does it. No fighting necessary. If someone tries to start a conflict by ignoring the king, the king crushes them like a bug, no prolonged fighting involved.

But this replaces the problem of potential warfare with the problem of potential tyranny. So we’ve mostly shifted from absolute monarchies to other forms of government, which is all nice and well except that governments allow a different kind of war of all against all. Instead of trying to kill their enemies and steal their stuff, people are tempted to ban their enemies and confiscate their stuff. Instead of killing the Protestants, the Catholics simply ban Protestantism. Instead of forming vigilante mobs to stone homosexuals, the straights merely declare homosexuality is punishable by death. It might be better than the alternative – at least everyone knows where they stand and things stay peaceful – but the end result is still a lot of pretty miserable people.

Liberalism is a new form of Hobbesian equilibrium where the government enforces not only a ban on killing and stealing from people you don’t like, but also a ban on tyrannizing them out of existence. This is the famous “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” and so on, as well as the “freedom of what happens in the bedroom between consenting adults”. The Catholics don’t try to ban Protestantism, the Protestants don’t try to ban Catholicism, and everyone is happy.

Liberalism only works when it’s clear to everyone on all sides that there’s a certain neutral principle everyone has to stick to. The neutral principle can’t be the Bible, or Atlas Shrugged, or anything that makes it look like one philosophy is allowed to judge the others. Right now that principle is the Principle of Harm: you can do whatever you like unless it harms other people, in which case stop. We seem to have inelegantly tacked on an “also, we can collect taxes and use them for a social safety net and occasional attempts at social progress”, but it seems to be working pretty okay too.

The Strict Principle of Harm says that pretty much the only two things the government can get angry at is literally breaking your leg or picking your pocket – violence or theft. The Loose Principle of Harm says that the government can get angry at complicated indirect harms, things that Weaken The Moral Fabric Of Society. Like putting up tobacco ads. Or having really really big sodas. Or publishing hate speech against minorities. Or eroding trust in the community. Or media that objectifies women.

No one except the most ideologically pure libertarians seems to want to insist on the Strict Principle of Harm. But allowing the Loose Principle Of Harm restores all of the old wars to control other people that liberalism was supposed to prevent. The one person says “Gay marriage will result in homosexuality becoming more accepted, leading to increased rates of STDs! That’s a harm! We must ban gay marriage!” Another says “Allowing people to send their children to non-public schools could lead to kids at religious schools that preach against gay people, causing those children to commit hate crimes when they grow up! That’s a harm! We must ban non-public schools!” And so on, forever.

And I’m talking about non-governmental censorship just as much as government censorship. Even in the most anti-gay communities in the United States, the laws usually allow homosexuality or oppose it only in very weak, easily circumvented ways. The real problem for gays in these communities is the social pressure – whether that means disapproval or risk of violence – that they would likely face for coming out. This too is a violation of liberalism, and it’s one that’s as important or more important than the legal sort.

And right now our way of dealing with these problems is to argue them. “Well, gay people don’t really increase STDs too much.” Or “Home-schooled kids do better than public-schooled kids, so we need to allow them.” The problem is that arguments never terminate. Maybe if you’re incredibly lucky, after years of fighting you can get a couple of people on the other side to admit your side is right, but this is a pretty hard process to trust. The great thing about religious freedom is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which religion is correct, Catholicism or Protestantism?” and allows people to tolerate both Catholics and Protestants even if they are divided about the answer to this object-level question. The great thing about freedom of speech is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which party is correct, the Democrats or Republicans?” and allows people to express both liberal and conservative opinions even if they are divided about the object-level question.

If we force all of our discussions about whether to ban gay marriage or allow home schooling to depend on resolving the dispute about whether they indirectly harm the Fabric of Society in some way, we’re forcing dependence on object-level arguments in a way that historically has been very very bad.

Presumably here the more powerful groups would win out and be able to oppress the less powerful groups. We end up with exactly what liberalism tried to avoid – a society where everyone is the guardian of the virtue of everyone else, and anyone who wants to live their lives in a way different from the community’s consensus is out of luck.

In Part I, I argued that not allowing people to worry about culture and community at all was inadequate, because these things really do matter.

Here I’m saying that if we do allow people to worry about culture and community, we risk the bad old medieval days where all nonconformity gets ruthlessly quashed.

Right now we’re balanced precariously between the two states. There’s a lot of liberalism, and people are generally still allowed to be gay or home-school their children or practice their religion or whatever. But there’s also quite a bit of Enforced Virtue, where kids are forbidden to watch porn and certain kinds of media are censored and in some communities mentioning that you’re an atheist will get you Dirty Looks.

It tends to work okay for most of the population. Better than the alternatives, maybe? But there’s still a lot of the population that’s not free to do things that are very important to them. And there’s also a lot of the population that would like to live in more “virtuous” communities, whether it’s to lose weight faster or avoid STDs or not have to worry about being objectified. Dealing with these two competing issues is a pretty big part of political philosophy and one that most people don’t have any principled solution for.

III.

Imagine a new frontier suddenly opening. Maybe a wizard appears and gives us a map to a new archipelago that geographers had missed for the past few centuries. He doesn’t want to rule the archipelago himself, though he will reluctantly help kickstart the government. He just wants to give directions and a free galleon to anybody who wants one and can muster a group of likeminded friends large enough to start a self-sustaining colony.

And so the equivalent of our paleoconservatives go out and found communities based on virtue, where all sexual deviancy is banned and only wholesome films can be shown and people who burn the flag are thrown out to be eaten by wolves.

And the equivalent of our social justiciars go out and found communities where all movies have to have lots of strong minority characters in them, and all slurs are way beyond the pale, and nobody misgenders anybody.

And the equivalent of our Objectivists go out and found communities based totally on the Strict Principle of Harm where everyone is allowed to do whatever they want and there are no regulations on business and everything is super-capitalist all the time.

And some people who just really want to lose weight go out and found communities where you’re not allowed to place open boxes of donuts in the doctors’ lounge.

Usually the communities are based on a charter, which expresses some founding ideals and asks only the people who agree with those ideals to enter. The charter also specifies a system of government. It could be an absolute monarch, charged with enforcing those ideals upon a population too stupid to know what’s good for them. Or it could be a direct democracy of people who all agree on some basic principles but want to work out for themselves what direction the principles take them.

After a while the wizard decides to formalize and strengthen his system, not to mention work out some of the ethical dilemmas.

First he bans communities from declaring war on each other. That’s an obvious gain. He could just smite warmongers, but he thinks it’s more natural and organic to get all the communities into a united government (UniGov for short). Every community donates a certain amount to a military, and the military’s only job is to quash anyone from any community who tries to invade another.

Next he addresses externalities. For example, if some communities emit a lot of carbon, and that causes global warming which threatens to destroy other communities, UniGov puts a stop to that. If the offending communities refuse to stop emitting carbon, then there’s that military again.

The third thing he does is prevent memetic contamination. If one community wants to avoid all media that objectifies women, then no other community is allowed to broadcast women-objectifying media at it. If a community wants to live an anarcho-primitivist lifestyle, nobody else is allowed to import TVs. Every community decides exactly how much informational contact it wants to have with the rest of the continent, and no one is allowed to force them to have more than that.

But the wizard and UniGov’s most important task is to think of the children.

Imagine you’re conservative Christians, and you’re tired of this secular godless world, so you go off with your conservative Christian friends to found a conservative Christian community. You all pray together and stuff and are really happy. Then you have a daughter. Turns out she’s atheist and lesbian. What now?

Well, it might be that your kid would be much happier at the lesbian separatist community the next island over. The absolute minimum the united government can do is enforce freedom of movement. That is, the second your daughter decides she doesn’t want to be in Christiantopia anymore, she goes to a UniGov embassy nearby and asks for a ticket out, which they give her, free of charge. She gets airlifted to Lesbiantopia the next day. If anyone in Christiantopia tries to prevent her from reaching that embassy, or threatens her family if she leaves, or expresses the slightest amount of coercion to keep her around, UniGov burns their city and salts their field.

But this is not nearly enough to fully solve the child problem. A child who is abused may be too young to know that escape is an option, or may be brainwashed into thinking they are evil, or guilted into believing they are betraying their families to opt out. And although there is no perfect, elegant solution here, the practical solution is that UniGov enforces some pretty strict laws on child-rearing, and every child, no matter what other education they receive, also has to receive a class taught by a UniGov representative in which they learn about the other communities in the Archipelago, receive a basic non-brainwashed view of the world, and are given directions to their nearest UniGov representative who they can give their opt-out request to.

The list of communities they are informed about always starts with the capital, ruled by UniGov itself and considered an inoffensive, neutral option for people who don’t want anywhere in particular. And it always ends with a reminder that if they can gather enough support, UniGov will provide them with a galleon to go out and found their own community in hitherto uninhabited lands.

There’s one more problem UniGov has to deal with: malicious inter-community transfer. Suppose that there is some community which puts extreme effort into educating its children, an education which it supports through heavy taxation. New parents move to this community, reap the benefits, and then when their children grow up they move back to their previous community so they don’t have to pay the taxes to educate anyone else. The communities themselves prevent some of this by immigration restrictions – anyone who’s clearly taking advantage of them isn’t allowed in (except in the capital, which has an official committment to let in anyone who wants). But that still leaves the example of people maliciously leaving a high-tax community once they’ve got theirs. I imagine this is a big deal in Archipelago politics, but that in practice UniGov asks these people, even in their new homes, to pay higher tax rates to subsidize their old community. Or since that could be morally objectionable (imagine the lesbian separatist having to pay taxes to Christiantopia which oppressed her), maybe they pay the excess taxes to UniGov itself, just as a way of disincentivizing malicious movement.

Because there are UniGov taxes, and most people are happy to pay them. In my fantasy, UniGov isn’t an enemy, where the Christians view it as this evil atheist conglomerate trying to steal their kids away from them and the capitalists view it as this evil socialist conglomerate trying to enforce high taxes. The Christians, the capitalists, and everyone else are extraordinarily patriotic about being part of the Archipelago, for its full name is the Archipelago of Civilized Communities, it is the standard-bearer of civilization against the barbaric outside world, and it is precisely the institution that allows them to maintain their distinctiveness in the face of what would otherwise be irresistable pressure to conform. Atheistopia is the enemy of Christiantopia, but only in the same way the Democratic Party is the enemy of the Republican Party – two groups within the same community who may have different ideas but who consider themselves part of the same broader whole, fundamentally allies under a banner of which both are proud.

IV.

Robert Nozick once proposed a similar idea as a libertarian utopia, and it’s easy to see why. UniGov does very very little. Other than the part with children and the part with evening out taxation regimes, it just sits around preventing communities from using force against each other. That makes it very very easy for anyone who wants freedom to start a community that grants them the kind of freedom they want – or, more likely, to just start a community organized on purely libertarian principles. The United Government of Archipelago is the perfect minarchist night watchman state, and any additions you make over that are chosen by your own free will.

But other people could view the same plan as a conservative utopia. Conservativism, when it’s not just Libertarianism Lite, is about building strong cohesive communities of relatively similar people united around common values. Archipelago is obviously built to make this as easy as possible, and it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t pop up a bunch of communities built around the idea of Decent Small-Town God-Fearing People where everyone has white picket fences and goes to the same church and nobody has to lock their doors at night (so basically Utah; I feel like this is one of the rare cases where the US’ mostly-in-name-only Archipelagoness really asserts itself). People who didn’t fit in could go to a Community Of People Who Don’t Fit In and would have no need to nor right to complain, and no one would have to deal with Those Durned Bureaucrats In Washington telling them what to do.

But to me, this seems like a liberal utopia, even a leftist utopia, for three reasons.

The first reason is that it extends the basic principle of liberalism – solve differences of opinion by letting everyone do their own thing according to their own values, then celebrate the diversity this produces. I like homosexuality, you don’t, fine, I can be homosexual and you don’t have to, and having both gay and straight people living side by side enriches society. This just takes the whole thing one meta-level up – I want to live in a very sexually liberated community, you want to live in a community where sex is treated purely as a sacred act for the purpose of procreation, fine, I can live in the community I want and you can live in the community you want, and having both sexually-liberated and sexually-pure communities living side by side enriches society. It is pretty much saying that the solution to any perceived problems of liberalism is much more liberalism.

The second reason is quite similar to the conservative reason. A lot of liberals have some pretty strong demands about the sorts of things they want society to do. I was recently talking to Ozy about a group who believe that society billing thin people is fatphobic, and that everyone needs to admit obese people can be just as attractive and date more of them, and that anyone who preferentially dates thinner people is Problematic. They also want people to stop talking about nutrition and exercise publicly. I sympathize with these people, especially having recently read a study showing that obese people are much happier when surrounded by other obese, rather than skinny people. But realistically, their movement will fail, and even philosophically, I’m not sure how to determine if they have the right to demand what they are demanding or what that question means. Their best bet is to found a community on these kinds of principles and only invite people who already share their preferences and aesthetics going in.

The third reason is the reason I specifically draw leftism in here. Liberalism, and to a much greater degree leftism, are marked by the emphasis they place on oppression. They’re particularly marked by an emphasis on oppression being a really hard problem, and one that is structurally inherent to a certain society. They are marked by a moderate amount of despair that this oppression can ever be rooted out.

And I think a pretty strong response to this is making sure everyone is able to say “Hey, you better not oppress us, because if you do, we can pack up and go somewhere else.”

Like if you want to protest that this is unfair, that people shouldn’t be forced to leave their homes because of oppression, fine, fair enough. But given that oppression is going on, and you haven’t been able to fix it, giving people the choice to get away from it seems like a pretty big win. I am reminded of the many Jews who moved from Eastern Europe to America, the many blacks who moved from the southern US to the northern US or Canada, and the many gays who make it out of extremely homophobic areas to friendlier large cities. One could even make a metaphor, I think rightly, to telling battered women that they are allowed to leave their husbands, telling them they’re not forced to stay in a relationship that they consider abusive, and making sure that there are shelters available to receive them.

If any person who feels oppressed can leave whenever they like, to the point of being provided a free plane ticket by the government, how long can oppression go on before the oppressors give up and say “Yeah, guess we need someone to work at these factories now that all our workers have gone to the communally-owned factory down the road, we should probably at least let people unionize or something so they will tolerate us”?

A commenter in the latest Asch thread mentioned an interesting quote by Frederick Douglass:

The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us [black people]. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!

It sounds like, if Frederick Douglass had the opportunity to go to some other community, or even found a black ex-slave community, no racists allowed, he probably would have taken it [edit: or not, or had strict conditions]. If the people in slavery during his own time period had had the chance to leave their plantations for that community, I bet they would have taken it too. And if you believe there are still people today whose relationship with society are similar in kind, if not in degree, to that of a plantation slave, you should be pretty enthusiastic about the ability of exit rights and free association to disrupt those oppressive relationships.

V.

We lack Archipelago’s big advantage – a vast frontier of unsettled land.

Which is not to say that people don’t form communes. They do. Some people even have really clever ideas along these lines, like the seasteaders. But the United States isn’t going to become Archipelago any time soon.

There’s another problem too, which I describe in my Anti-Reactionary FAQ. Discussing ‘exit rights’, I say:

Exit rights are a great idea and of course having them is better than not having them. But I have yet to hear Reactionaries who cite them as a panacea explain in detail what exit rights we need beyond those we have already.

The United States allows its citizens to leave the country by buying a relatively cheap passport and go anywhere that will take them in, with the exception of a few arch-enemies like Cuba – and those exceptions are laughably easy to evade. It allows them to hold dual citizenship with various foreign powers. It even allows them to renounce their American citizenship entirely and become sole citizens of any foreign power that will accept them.

Few Americans take advantage of this opportunity in any but the most limited ways. When they do move abroad, it’s usually for business or family reasons, rather than a rational decision to move to a different country with policies more to their liking. There are constant threats by dissatisfied Americans to move to Canada, and one in a thousand even carry through with them, but the general situation seems to be that America has a very large neighbor that speaks the same language, and has an equally developed economy, and has policies that many Americans prefer to their own country’s, and isn’t too hard to move to, and almost no one takes advantage of this opportunity. Nor do I see many people, even among the rich, moving to Singapore or Dubai.

Heck, the US has fifty states. Moving from one to another is as easy as getting in a car, driving there, and renting a room, and although the federal government limits exactly how different their policies can be you better believe that there are very important differences in areas like taxes, business climate, education, crime, gun control, and many more. Yet aside from the fascinating but small-scale Free State Project there’s little politically-motivated interstate movement, nor do states seem to have been motivated to converge on their policies or be less ideologically driven.

What if we held an exit rights party, and nobody came?

Even aside from the international problems of gaining citizenship, dealing with a language barrier, and adapting to a new culture, people are just rooted – property, friends, family, jobs. The end result is that the only people who can leave their countries behind are very poor refugees with nothing to lose, and very rich jet-setters. The former aren’t very attractive customers, and the latter have all their money in tax shelters anyway.

So although the idea of being able to choose your country like a savvy consumer appeals to me, just saying “exit rights!” isn’t going to make it happen, and I haven’t heard any more elaborate plans.

I guess I still feel that way. So although Archipelago is an interesting exercise in political science, a sort of pure case we can compare ourselves to, it doesn’t look like a practical solution for real problems.

On the other hand, I do think it’s worth becoming more Archipelagian on the margin rather than less so, and that there are good ways to do it.

One of the things that started this whole line of thought was an argument on Facebook about a very conservative Christian law school trying to open up in Canada. They had lots of rules like how their students couldn’t have sex before marriage and stuff like that. The Canadian province they were in was trying to deny them accreditation, because conservative Christians are icky. I think the exact arguments being used were that it was homophobic, because the conservative Christians there would probably frown on married gays and therefore gays couldn’t have sex at all. Therefore, the law school shouldn’t be allowed to exist. There were other arguments of about this caliber, but they all seemed to boil down to “conservative Christians are icky”.

This very much annoyed me. Yes, conservative Christians are icky. And they should be allowed to form completely voluntary communities of icky people that enforce icky cultural norms and an insular society promoting ickiness, just like everyone else. If non-conservative-Christians don’t like what they’re doing, they should not go to that law school. Instead they can go to one of the dozens of other law schools that conform to their own philosophies. And if gays want a law school even friendlier to them than the average Canadian law school, they should be allowed to create some law school that only accepts gays and bans homophobes and teaches lots of courses on gay marriage law all the time.

Another person on the Facebook thread complained that this line of arguments leads to being okay with white separatists. And so it does. Fine. I think white separatists have exactly the right position about where the sort of white people who want to be white separatists should be relative to everyone else – separate. I am not sure what you think you are gaining by demanding that white separatists live in communities with a lot of black people in them, but I bet the black people in those communities aren’t thanking you. Why would they want a white separatist as a neighbor? Why should they have to have one?

If people want to go do their own thing in a way that harms no one else, you let them. That’s the Archipelagian way.

(someone will protest that Archipelagian voluntary freedom of association or disassociation could, in cases of enough racial prejudice, lead to segregation, and that segregation didn’t work. Indeed it didn’t. But I feel like a version of segregation in which black people actually had the legally mandated right to get away from white people and remain completely unmolested by them – and where a white-controlled government wasn’t in charge of divvying up resources between white and black communities – would have worked a lot better than the segregation we actually had. The segregation we actually had was one in which white and black communities were separate until white people wanted something from black people, at which case they waltzed in and took it. If communities were actually totally separate, government and everything, by definition it would be impossible for one to oppress the other. The black community might start with less, but that could be solved by some kind of reparations. The Archipelagian way of dealing with this issue would be for white separatists to have separate white communities, black separatists to have separate black communities, integrationists to have integrated communities, resdistributive taxation from wealthier communities going into less wealthy ones, and a strong central government ruthlessly enforcing laws against any community trying to hurt another. I don’t think there’s a single black person in the segregation-era South who wouldn’t have taken that deal, and any black person who thinks the effect of whites on their community today is net negative should be pretty interested as well.)

This is one reason I find people who hate seasteads so distasteful. I mean, here’s what Reuters has to say about seasteading:

Fringe movements, of course, rarely cast themselves as obviously fringe. Racist, anti-civil rights forces cloaked themselves in the benign language of “state’s rights”. Anti-gay religious entities adopted the glossy, positive imagery of “family values”. Similarly, though many Libertarians embrace a pseudo-patriotic apple pie nostalgia, behind this façade is a very un-American, sinister vision.

Sure, most libertarians may not want to do away entirely with the idea of government or, for that matter, government-protected rights and civil liberties. But many do — and ironically vie for political power in a nation they ultimately want to destroy. Even the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter mocked the paradox of Libertarian candidates: “Get rid of government — but first, make me president!” Libertarians sowed the seeds of anti-government discontent, which is on the rise, and now want to harvest that discontent for a very radical, anti-America agenda. The image of libertarians living off-shore in their lawless private nation-states is just a postcard of the future they hope to build on land.

Strangely, the libertarian agenda has largely escaped scrutiny, at least compared to that of social conservatives. The fact that the political class is locked in debate about whether Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry is more socially conservative only creates a veneer of mainstream legitimacy for the likes of Ron Paul, whose libertarianism may be even more extreme and dangerously un-patriotic. With any luck America will recognize anti-government extremism for what it is — before libertarians throw America overboard and render us all castaways.

Keep in mind this is because some people want to go off and do their own thing in the middle of the ocean far away from everyone else without bothering anyone. And the newspapers are trying to whip up a panic about “throwing America overboard”.

So one way we could become more Archipelagian is just trying not to yell at people who are trying to go off and doing their own thing quietly with a group of voluntarily consenting friends.

But I think a better candidate for how to build a more Archipelagian world is to encourage the fracture of society into subcultures.

Like, transsexuals may not be able to go to a transsexual island somewhere and build Transtopia where anyone who misgenders anyone else gets thrown into a volcano. But of the transsexuals I know, a lot of them have lots of transsexual friends, their cissexual friends are all up-to-date on trans issues and don’t do a lot of misgendering, and they have great social networks where they share information about what businesses and doctors are or aren’t trans-friendly. They can take advantage of trigger warnings to make sure they expose themselves to only the sources that fit the values of their community, the information that would get broadcast if it was a normal community that could impose media norms. As Internet interaction starts to replace real-life interaction (and I think for a lot of people the majority of their social life is already on the Internet, and for some the majority of their economic life is as well) it becomes increasingly easy to limit yourself to transsexual-friendly spaces that keep bad people away.

The rationalist community is another good example. If I wanted, I could move to the Bay Area tomorrow and never have more than a tiny amount of contact with non-rationalists again. I could have rationalist roommates, live in a rationalist group house, try to date only other rationalists, try to get a job with a rationalist nonprofit like CFAR or a rationalist company like Quixey, and never have to deal with the benighted and depressing non-rationalist world again. Even without moving to the Bay Area, it’s been pretty easy for me to keep a lot of my social life, both on- and off- line, rationalist-focused, and I don’t regret this at all.

I don’t know if the future will be virtual reality. I expect the post-singularity future will include something like VR, although that might be like describing teleportation as “basically a sort of pack animal”. But how much the immediate pre-singularity world will make use of virtual reality, I don’t know.

But I bet if it doesn’t, it will be because virtual reality has been circumvented by things like social networks, bitcoin, and Mechanical Turk, which make it possible to do most of your interaction through the Internet even though you’re not literally plugged into it.

And that seems to me like a pretty good start in creating an Archipelago. I already hang out with various Finns and Brits and Aussies a lot more closely than I do my next-door neighbors, and if we start using litecoin and someone else starts using dogecoin then I’ll be more economically connected to them too. The degree to which I encounter certain objectifying or unvirtuous or triggering media already depends more on the moderation policies of Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex and who I block from my Facebook feed, than it does any laws about censorship of US media.

At what point are national governments rendered mostly irrelevant compared to the norms and rules of the groups of which we are voluntary members?

I don’t know, but I kind of look forward to finding out. It seems like a great way to start searching for utopia, or at least getting some people away from their metaphorical abusive-husbands.

And the other thing is that I have pretty strong opinions on which communities are better than others. Some communities were founded by toxic people for ganging up with other toxic people to celebrate and magnify their toxicity, and these (surprise, surprise) tend to be toxic. Others were formed by very careful, easily-harmed people trying to exclude everyone who could harm them, and these tend to be pretty safe albeit sometimes overbearing. Other people hit some kind of sweet spot that makes friendly people want to come in and angry people want to stay out, or just do a really good job choosing friends.

But I think the end result is that the closer you come to true freedom of association, the closer you get to a world where everyone is a member of more or less the community they deserve. That would be a pretty unprecedented bit of progress.

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Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Retiring falsifiability? A storm in Russell’s teacup

almost 2 years ago

My good friend Sean Carroll took a lot of flak recently for answering this year’s Edge question, “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?,” with “Falsifiability”, and for using string theory and the multiverse as examples of why science needs to break out of its narrow Popperian cage. For more, see this blog post of Sean’s, where one commenter after another piles on the beleaguered dude for his abandonment of science and reason themselves.

My take, for whatever it’s worth, is that Sean and his critics are both right.

Sean is right that “falsifiability” is a crude slogan that fails to capture what science really aims at. As a doofus example, the theory that zebras exist is presumably both “true” and “scientific,” but it’s not “falsifiable”: if zebras didn’t exist, there would be no experiment that proved their nonexistence. (And that’s to say nothing of empirical claims involving multiple nested quantifiers: e.g., “for every physical device that tries to solve the Traveling Salesman Problem in polynomial time, there exists an input on which the device fails.”) Less doofusly, a huge fraction of all scientific progress really consists of mathematical or computational derivations from previously-accepted theories—and, as such, has no “falsifiable content” apart from the theories themselves. So, do workings-out of mathematical consequences count as “science”? In practice, the Nobel committee says sure they do, but only if the final results of the derivations are “directly” confirmed by experiment. Far better, it seems to me, to say that science is a search for explanations that do essential and nontrivial work, within the network of abstract ideas whose ultimate purpose to account for our observations. (On this particular question, I endorse everything David Deutsch has to say in The Beginning of Infinity, which you should read if you haven’t.)

On the other side, I think Sean’s critics are right that falsifiability shouldn’t be “retired.” Instead, falsifiability’s portfolio should be expanded, with full-time assistants (like explanatory power) hired to lighten falsifiability’s load.

I also, to be honest, don’t see that modern philosophy of science has advanced much beyond Popper in its understanding of these issues. Last year, I did something weird and impulsive: I read Karl Popper. Given all the smack people talk about him these days, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of nuance, reasonableness, and just general getting-it that I found. Indeed, I found a lot more of those things in Popper than I found in his latter-day overthrowers Kuhn and Feyerabend. For Popper (if not for some of his later admirers), falsifiability was not a crude bludgeon. Rather, it was the centerpiece of a richly-articulated worldview holding that millennia of human philosophical reflection had gotten it backwards: the question isn’t how to arrive at the Truth, but rather how to eliminate error. Which sounds kind of obvious, until I meet yet another person who rails to me about how empirical positivism can’t provide its own ultimate justification, and should therefore be replaced by the person’s favorite brand of cringe-inducing ugh.

Oh, I also think Sean might have made a tactical error in choosing string theory and the multiverse as his examples for why falsifiability needs to be retired. For it seems overwhelmingly likely to me that the following two propositions are both true:

1. Falsifiability is too crude of a concept to describe how science works. 2. In the specific cases of string theory and the multiverse, a dearth of novel falsifiable predictions really is a big problem.

As usual, the best bet is to use explanatory power as our criterion—in which case, I’d say string theory emerges as a complex and evolving story. On one end, there are insights like holography and AdS/CFT, which seem clearly to do explanatory work, and which I’d guess will stand as permanent contributions to human knowledge, even if the whole foundations on which they currently rest get superseded by something else. On the other end, there’s the idea, championed by a minority of string theorists and widely repeated in the press, that the anthropic principle applied to different patches of multiverse can be invoked as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, to rescue a favored theory from earlier hopes of successful empirical predictions that then failed to pan out. I wouldn’t know how to answer a layperson who asked why that wasn’t exactly the sort of thing Sir Karl was worried about, and for good reason.

Finally, not that Edge asked me, but I’d say the whole notions of “determinism” and “indeterminism” in physics are past ready for retirement. I can’t think of any work they do, that isn’t better done by predictability and unpredictability.

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The Great Recession through a Crony Capitalist Lens

almost 2 years ago

In this post, I apply the framework outlined previously to some empirical patterns in the financial markets and the broader economy. The objective is not to posit crony capitalism as the sole explanation of the below patterns, but merely to argue that the below patterns are consistent with an increasingly crony capitalist economy.

The Paradox of Low Volatility and High Correlation

As many commentators have pointed out [1,2,3], the spike in volatility experienced during the depths of the financial crisis has largely reversed itself but correlation within equities and between various risky asset classes has kept on moving higher. The combination of high volatility and high correlation is associated with the process of collapse and typical of the Minsky moment when the system undergoes a rapid delevering. However the combination of high correlation and low volatility post the Minsky moment is unusual. In the absence of bailouts or protectionism, the economy should undergo a process of creative destruction and intense exploratory activity which by its diffuse nature results in low correlation. The combination of high correlation and low volatility instead signifies stasis and the absence of sufficient exploration in the economy, alongwith the presence of significant slack at firm level (micro-resilience).

As I mentioned in a previous post, financing constraints faced by small businesses hinder new firm entry across industries. Expanding lending to new firms is an act of exploration and incumbent banks are almost certainly content with exploiting their known and low-risk sources of income instead.

The Paradox of High Corporate Profitability, Rising Productivity and High Unemployment and The Paradox of High Cash Balances and High Debt Issuance

Although corporate profitability is not at an all-time high, it has recovered at an unusually rapid pace compared to the nonexistent recovery in employment and wages. The recovery in corporate profits has been driven by a rise in worker productivity and increased efficiency but the lag between an output recovery and an employment recovery seems to have increased dramatically. So far, this increased profitability has led not to increased business investment but to increased cash holdings by corporates. Big corporates with easy access to debt markets have even chosen to tap the debt markets simply for the purpose of increasing cash holdings.

Again, incumbent corporates are eager to squeeze efficiencies out of their current operations including downsizing the labour force but instead of channeling the savings from this increased efficiency into exploratory investment, they choose to increase holdings of liquid assets. In an environment where incumbents are under limited threat of being superceded by exploratory new entrants, holding cash is an extremely effective way to retain optionality (a strategy that is much less effective if the pace of exploratory innovation is high as an extended period of standing on the sidelines of exploratory activity can degrade the ability of the incumbent to rejoin the fray). Old jobs are being destroyed by the optimising activities of incumbents but the exploration required to create new jobs does not take place.

This discussion of profitability and unemployment echoes many of the common concerns of the far left. This is not a coincidence – one of the most damaging effects of Olsonian cronyism is its malformation of the economy from a positive-sum game into an increasingly zero-sum game. The dynamics of a predominantly crony capitalist economy are closer to a Marxian class struggle than they are to a competitive free-market economy. However, where I differ significantly from the left is in the proposed cure for the disease. For example, incumbent investment can be triggered by an increase in leverage by another sector – given the indebted state of the consumer, the government is the most likely candidate. But such a policy does nothing to tackle the reduced evolvability of the economy or the dominance of the incumbent special interest groups. Moreover, increased taxation and transfers of wealth to other organised groups such as labour only aggravate the ossification of the economic system into an increasingly zero-sum game. A sustainable solution must restore the positive-sum dynamics that are the essence of Schumpeterian capitalism. Such a solution involves reducing the power of the incumbent corporates and transferring wealth from incumbent corporates towards households not by taxation or protectionism but by restoring the invisible foot of new firm entry.

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Rent-Seeking, The Progressive Agenda and Cash Transfers

almost 2 years ago

In my posts on the subject of cronyism and rent-seeking, I have drawn heavily on the work of Mancur Olson. My views are also influenced by my experiences of cronyism in India and comparing it to the Olsonian competitive sclerosis that afflicts most developed economies today. Although there are significant differences between cronyism in the developing and developed world, there is also a very significant common ground. In some respects, the rent-extraction apparatus in the developed world is just a more sophisticated version of the open corruption and looting that is common in many developing economies. This post explores some of this common ground.

Mancur Olson predicted the inexorable rise of rent seeking in a stable economy. But he also thought that once rent-seeking activities extracted too high a proportion of a nation’s GDP, the normal course of democracy and public anger may rein them in. Small rent seekers can fly under the radar but big rent-seekers are ultimately cut back to size. But is this necessarily true? Although there is some truth to this assertion, Olson was likely too optimistic about the existence of such limits. This post tries to provide an argument as to why this is not necessarily the case. After all, it can easily be argued that rents extracted by banks already swallow up a significant proportion of GDP. And there is no shortage of corrupt public programs that swallow up significant proportions of the public budget in the developing world. In a nutshell, my argument is that rent-extraction can avoid these limits by aligning itself to the progressive agenda – the very programs that purport to help the masses become the source of rents for the classes.

A transparent example of this phenomenon is the experience of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee – a public program that guarantees 100 days of work for unskilled rural labourers in India. In a little more than half a decade since inception, it accounts for 3% of public spending and economists estimate that anywhere from a quarter to two-thirds of the expenditure does not reach those whom it is intended to help. So how does a program such as this not only survive but thrive? The answer is simple – despite the corruption, the scheme does disburse significant benefits to a large rural electorate. When faced with the choice of either tolerating a corrupt program or cancelling the program, the rural poor clearly prefer the status quo.

A rather more sophisticated example of this phenomenon is the endless black hole of losses that are Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae – $175 billion and counting. The press focuses on the comparatively small bonus payments to Freddie and Fannie executives but ignores their much larger role in the back door bailout of the banking sector. Again the reason why this goes relatively uncriticised is simple – despite the significant contribution made by Fannie and Freddie to the rents extracted by the “1%”, their operations also put money into the pockets of a vast cross-section of homeowners. Simply shutting them down would almost certainly constitute an act of political suicide.

Source (h/t to David Ruccio)

The masses become the shield for the very programs that enable a select few to extract significant rents out of the system. The same programs that are supposed to be part of the liberal social agenda like Fannie/Freddie become the weapons through which the cronyist corporate structure perpetuates itself, while the broad-based support for these programs makes them incredibly resilient and hard to reform once they have taken root.

Those who cherish the progressive agenda tend to argue that better implementation and regulation can solve the problem of rent extraction. But there is another option – complex programs with egalitarian aims should be replaced with direct cash transfers wherever feasible. This case has been argued persuasively in a recent book as an effective way to help the poor in developing countries and is already being implemented in India. There is no reason why the same approach cannot be implemented in the developed world either.

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The “Founder” Generation’s Creation Myth - The New Yorker

almost 2 years ago

Late last week, MTV, the semi-official guardian of our nation’s youth culture, published the results of what it called “a nationwide survey reaching over 1,000 teens.” Given that many public high schools comprise more than a thousand teens, one might wonder how nationally representative this investigation really was. The survey came with the authority of early arrival, though, and, like MTV itself, it centered on a matter crucial to pop culture’s futures markets. Generation Z, reportedly the largest American generation since the baby boomers, is now approaching driving age. What should this rising group be called in headlines, laments, and, presumably, the soon-to-arrive branding deals?

Most people’s reply would be simple: What on earth is Generation Z? Our culture has barely reconciled itself to the millennials—those tight-trousered, Instagramming, passive-ambitious monsters—and already there’s a new torrent of demons rattling the gates. The sun, unfortunately, also ariseth, and suggestions for naming these young people haven’t been particularly good. Early submissions have included Net Gen (net?), Digital Natives (zzz), and the Plurals (short for “Pluralism,” a concept most ten-year-olds would be hard-pressed to define). Others have suggested naming the generation after electronic appliances; for a while, Generation Wii was popular, as was iGen, which sounds like an adapter used to charge your phone on the bus. Neil Howe, who helped brand the millennials, proposed the Homeland Generation, an idea so lame that it almost functions as a curse. (May your children bear the name of a vexed governmental agency!) Discussion is not helped by a surrounding dispute about when Gen Z begins, with proposed start dates ranging from births in the late nineties to births in 2005. MTV, for its part, set the opening bracket at December, 2000, focussing on thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds in its investigation. That makes sense, given changes in communication that occurred around that time. Z, definingly, is the demographic that has never known a world without smartphones.

It may be best, then, that this survey took the decision out of adults’ hands and went straight to the young people themselves. The results, which MTV posted last week, in a glue-sniffy tone of euphoria, give the rest of us a window onto what the rising generation thinks and dreams. The verdict was striking, if not a surprise. The kids, it turns out, want be known as the founders.

Good choice. The title, after all, has a rich lineage. A Google Books Ngram, tallying the frequency of “founder” in texts, soars throughout the Enlightenment and the early industrial era (when it also might have included a class of metal-casters). The term’s popularity starts to go limp in 1813 (not a thriving decade for the country); bubbles up again during the Gilded Age; dips, as one might expect, in 1917, 1929, and 1944; climbs during the postwar years; falls through the recessionary seventies; and rises, solidly, rolling through the eighties. The term, in other words, stands as an index for the growth of market enterprise throughout the past three centuries. Google’s tracking stops in 2008, but one would expect an uptick since then, and a new specificity in meaning, too. When the teen-agers call themselves founders, they are not thinking of Roger Sherman or, for that matter, of Henry Ford. They are allying themselves with West Coast startup culture—a milieu that regards inventive business-building as the ultimate creative and constructive act.

That is the unsurprising part. Z is a generation that would seem to claim San Francisco as its cultural capital, the place where the apps and interfaces by which it learns the world were made. In embracing “founders,” it affirms the idea that creativity is essential—and performed through business enterprise.

If the founders hold to their founding, it is not hard to extrapolate the economic model that their interests will support. A founder-friendly society is deregulated, privatized, and philanthropic in its best intent. (See ur-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s recent tax-incentivized pledge.) “Founders,” whose popularity as a Silicon Valley concept followed the 2009 recession, has become a stand-in for more charged, and less heroic-sounding words, such as “small-business owner,” “C.E.O.,” and “boss.” To found is not to manage; it’s to dream and to design. This is the new model for innovative business, scrupulously cleansed of the dank trappings of corporate industry. It’s business all the same, though, and it aims for growth.

What’s most notable is not that this generation favored “founders” but that they did so at the tender age of fourteen. How frightened of these young people should we be? History is unkind to the losers, but it’s crueler still to the Olds, whose ideas about social order, technological apocalypse, and dancing have a way of looking ludicrous through the scrim of time. Should we fear the rise of a master race of friendly capitalists who launch businesses left and right, while weaning us off Social Security and cold-shouldering those who can’t afford the premium, Zendesk-supported nursing homes that they will no doubt found?

Unclear—but maybe get a head start on a few help tickets, just in case. An accompanying MTV video, slickly edited and studded with stock images of smiling happy people in the sun, describes the founders as the first generation not to have a white majority (its most impressive non-technological attribute). Then we get some clips from interviews, in which the kids discuss the qualities that set them apart from the world that came before. “We’re all more connected to people around the world—we know more about what’s going on around the world—because of technology,” one girl says. “In past generations, it’s been advised to fit in, in order to get by in life, but now the more you stand out, the more celebrated you’ll be,” another explains. At the same time, at least according to a boy interviewed, “people are mostly united in different things. They don’t feel alone anymore.”

Members of previous disconnected, oblivious, conformist, and lonely generations may be surprised to learn that that their social ills are being banished by a choir of fourteen-year-old Snapchatters. The founders, for all their friendly sentiments, do not lack in ambition. Those whom MTV tracked down seem to know what has been said about them—that they’re screen-crazed, socially stunted illiterates—and, admirably, they refuse to entertain reactionary nonsense of that kind. When they casually point to being “celebrated” as their ideal, they’re presumably not talking about being elected treasurer of the Neighborhood Association. This is demonstrably a generation that has seen the power of YouTube fame and the celebrity accorded startup C.E.O.s; they seem to regard distinction of this nature as the ultimate self-realization. It is easy to be different if you are a unicorn.

The real challenges of the country that the founders will inherit won’t be apparent at the points of great achievement and high flight, though. They are likely to come in the crowded middle and below, among the undistinguished and uncelebrated—places where differences can’t be burnished by exceptionalism. What are the founders’ plans for being different together when they are not also special? “Our generation will be marked as the foundation that really set off what’s most likely going to happen in the next fifty to a hundred years,” one interviewee says. “We are the founders because we are the ones that are transitioning from before to what’s going to come after.” We know it in our hearts and smartphones to be true—whether for better or for worse.

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From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner, introduction

almost 2 years ago

Read an excerpt from Chapter 4: “Taking the Whole Earth Digital”.

“I haven't heard as good an account of what I've been up to as the one Fred Turner supplies in this broad, readable analysis.”—Kevin Kelly

“Fred Turner connects the dots of the dot.com era's true technological, cultural, and spiritual pioneers with scholarship, grace, and a storyteller's passion.”—Douglas Rushkoff

From Counterculture to Cyberculture

Fred Turner

Introduction

In the mid-1990s, as first the Internet and then the World Wide Web swung into public view, talk of revolution filled the air. Politics, economics, the nature of the self—all seemed to teeter on the edge of transformation. The Internet was about to "flatten organizations, globalize society, decentralize control, and help harmonize people," as MIT's Nicholas Negroponte put it. The stodgy men in gray flannel suits who had so confidently roamed the corridors of industry would shortly disappear, and so too would the chains of command on which their authority depended. In their place, wrote Negroponte and dozens of others, the Internet would bring about the rise of a new "digital generation"—playful, self-sufficient, psychologically whole—and it would see that generation gather, like the Net itself, into collaborative networks of independent peers. States too would melt away, their citizens lured back from archaic party-based politics to the "natural" agora of the digitized marketplace. Even the individual self, so long trapped in the human body, would finally be free to step outside its fleshy confines, explore its authentic interests, and find others with whom it might achieve communion. Ubiquitous networked computing had arrived, and in its shiny array of interlinked devices, pundits, scholars, and investors alike saw the image of an ideal society: decentralized, egalitarian, harmonious, and free.

But how did this happen? Only thirty years earlier, computers had been the tools and emblems of the same unfeeling industrial-era social machine whose collapse they now seemed ready to bring about. In the winter of 1964, for instance, students marching for free speech at the University of California at Berkeley feared that America's political leaders were treating them as if they were bits of abstract data. One after another, they took up blank computer cards, punched them through with new patterns of holes—"FSM" and "STRIKE"—and hung them around their necks. One student even pinned a sign to his chest that parroted the cards' user instructions: "I am a UC student. Please do not fold, bend, spindle or mutilate me." For the marchers of the Free Speech Movement, as for many other Americans throughout the 1960s, computers loomed as technologies of dehumanization, of centralized bureaucracy and the rationalization of social life, and, ultimately, of the Vietnam War. Yet, in the 1990s, the same machines that had served as the defining devices of cold-war technocracy emerged as the symbols of its transformation. Two decades after the end of the Vietnam War and the fading of the American counterculture, computers somehow seemed poised to bring to life the countercultural dream of empowered individualism, collaborative community, and spiritual communion. How did the cultural meaning of information technology shift so drastically?

As a number of journalists and historians have suggested, part of the answer is technological. By the 1990s, the room-sized, stand-alone calculating machines of the cold-war era had largely disappeared. So too had the armored rooms in which they were housed and the army of technicians that supported them. Now Americans had taken up microcomputers, some the size of notebooks, all of them available to the individual user, regardless of his or her institutional standing. These new machines could perform a range of tasks that far exceeded even the complex calculations for which digital computers had first been built. They became communication devices and were used to prepare novels and spreadsheets, pictures and graphs. Linked over telephone wires and fiber-optic cables, they allowed their users to send messages to one another, to download reams of information from libraries around the world, and to publish their own thoughts on the World Wide Web. In all of these ways, changes in computer technology expanded the range of uses to which computers could be put and the types of social relations they were able to facilitate.

As dramatic as they were, however, these changes alone do not account for the particular utopian visions to which computers became attached. The fact that a computer can be put on a desktop, for instance, and that it can be used by an individual, does not make it a "personal" technology. Nor does the fact that individuals can come together by means of computer networks necessarily require that their gatherings become "virtual communities." On the contrary, as Shoshanna Zuboff has pointed out, in the office, desktop computers and computer networks can become powerful tools for integrating the individual ever more closely into the corporation. At home, those same machines not only allow schoolchildren to download citations from the public library; they also turn the living room into a digital shopping mall. For retailers, the computer in the home becomes an opportunity to harvest all sorts of information about potential customers. For all the utopian claims surrounding the emergence of the Internet, there is nothing about a computer or a computer network that necessarily requires that it level organizational structures, render the individual more psychologically whole, or drive the establishment of intimate, though geographically distributed, communities.

How was it, then, that computers and computer networks became linked to visions of peer-to-peer ad-hocracy, a leveled marketplace, and a more authentic self? Where did these visions come from? And who enlisted computing machines to represent them?

To answer these questions, this book traces the previously untold history of an extraordinarily influential group of San Francisco Bay area journalists and entrepreneurs: Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth network. Between the late 1960s and the late 1990s, Brand assembled a network of people and publications that together brokered a series of encounters between bohemian San Francisco and the emerging technology hub of Silicon Valley to the south. In 1968 Brand brought members of the two worlds together in the pages of one of the defining documents of the era, the Whole Earth Catalog. In 1985 he gathered them again on what would become perhaps the most influential computer conferencing system of the decade, the Whole Earth Lectronic Link, or the WELL. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Brand and other members of the network, including Kevin Kelly, Howard Rheingold, Esther Dyson, and John Perry Barlow, became some of the most-quoted spokespeople for a countercultural vision of the Internet. In 1993 all would help create the magazine that, more than any other, depicted the emerging digital world in revolutionary terms: Wired.

By recounting their history, this book reveals and helps to explain a complex intertwining of two legacies: that of the military-industrial research culture, which first appeared during World War II and flourished across the cold-war era, and that of the American counterculture. Since the 1960s scholarly and popular accounts alike have described the counterculture in terms first expressed by its members—that is, as a culture antithetical to the technologies and social structures powering the cold-war state and its defense industries. In this view the 1940s and 1950s are often seen as a gray time shaped by rigid social norms, hierarchical institutions, and the constant demands of America's nuclear face-off with the Soviet Union. The 1960s seem to explode onto the scene in a Technicolor swirl of personal exploration and political protest, much of it aimed at bringing down the cold-war military-industrial bureaucracy. Those who accept this version of events tend to account for the persistence of the military-industrial complex today, and for the continuing growth of corporate capitalism and consumer culture as well, by arguing that the authentically revolutionary ideals of the generation of 1968 were somehow co-opted by the forces they opposed.

There is some truth to this story. Yet, as it has hardened into legend, this version of the past has obscured the fact the same military-industrial research world that brought forth nuclear weapons—and computers—also gave rise to a free-wheeling, interdisciplinary, and highly entrepreneurial style of work. In the research laboratories of World War II and later, in the massive military engineering projects of the cold war, scientists, soldiers, technicians, and administrators broke down the invisible walls of bureaucracy and collaborated as never before. As they did, they embraced both computers and a new cybernetic rhetoric of systems and information. They began to imagine institutions as living organisms, social networks as webs of information, and the gathering and interpretation of information as keys to understanding not only the technical but also the natural and social worlds.

By the late 1960s, so too did substantial elements of the counterculture. Between 1967 and 1970, for instance, tens of thousands of young people set out to establish communes, many in the mountains and the woods. It was for them that Brand first published the Whole Earth Catalog. For these back-to-the-landers, and for many others who never actually established new communities, traditional political mechanisms for creating social change had come up bankrupt. Even as their peers organized political parties and marched against the Vietnam War, this group, whom I will call the New Communalists, turned away from political action and toward technology and the transformation of consciousness as the primary sources of social change. If mainstream America had become a culture of conflict, with riots at home and war abroad, the commune world would be one of harmony. If the American state deployed massive weapons systems in order to destroy faraway peoples, the New Communalists would deploy small-scale technologies—ranging from axes and hoes to amplifiers, strobe lights, slide projectors, and LSD—to bring people together and allow them to experience their common humanity. Finally, if the bureaucracies of industry and government demanded that men and women become psychologically fragmented specialists, the technology-induced experience of togetherness would allow them to become both self-sufficient and whole once again.

For this wing of the counterculture, the technological and intellectual output of American research culture held enormous appeal. Although they rejected the military-industrial complex as a whole, as well as the political process that brought it into being, hippies from Manhattan to Haight-Ashbury read Norbert Wiener, Buckminster Fuller, and Marshall McLuhan. Through their writings, young Americans encountered a cybernetic vision of the world, one in which material reality could be imagined as an information system. To a generation that had grown up in a world beset by massive armies and by the threat of nuclear holocaust, the cybernetic notion of the globe as a single, interlinked pattern of information was deeply comforting: in the invisible play of information, many thought they could see the possibility of global harmony.

To Stewart Brand and later to other members of the Whole Earth group, cybernetics also presented a set of social and rhetorical resources for entrepreneurship. In the early 1960s, not long after graduating from Stanford University, Brand found his way into the bohemian art worlds of San Francisco and New York. Like many of the artists around him at the time, and like Norbert Wiener, in whose writings on cybernetics they were immersed, Brand quickly became what sociologist Ronald Burt has called a "network entrepreneur." That is, he began to migrate from one intellectual community to another and, in the process, to knit together formerly separate intellectual and social networks. In the Whole Earth Catalog era, these networks spanned the worlds of scientific research, hippie homesteading, ecology, and mainstream consumer culture. By the 1990s they would include representatives of the Defense Department, the U.S. Congress, global corporations such as Shell Oil, and makers of all sorts of digital software and equipment.

Brand brought these communities together in a series of what I will call network forums. Drawing on the systems rhetoric of cybernetics and on models of entrepreneurship borrowed from both the research and the countercultural worlds, Brand established a series of meetings, publications, and digital networks within which members of multiple communities could meet and collaborate and imagine themselves as members of a single community. These forums in turn generated new social networks, new cultural categories, and new turns of phrase. In 1968 Brand founded the Whole Earth Catalog in order to help those heading back to the land find the tools they would need to build their new communities. These items included the fringed deerskin jackets and geodesic domes favored by the communards, but they also included the cybernetic musings of Norbert Wiener and the latest calculators from Hewlett-Packard. In later editions, alongside discussions of such supplies, Brand published letters from high-technology researchers next to firsthand reports from rural hippies. In the process, he offered commune-based subscribers a chance to see their own ambitions as commensurate with the technological achievements of mainstream America, and he gave technologists the opportunity to imagine their diodes and relays as tools, like those the commune dwellers favored, for the transformation of individual and collective consciousness. Together, the creators and readers of the Whole Earth Catalog helped to synthesize a vision of technology as a countercultural force that would shape public understandings of computing and other machines long after the social movements of the 1960s had faded from view.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as computers became ever smaller and more interconnected, and as corporations began to employ increasingly flexible modes of production, Brand and his colleagues repeated this process at the WELL, in the Global Business Network, through Wired, and in a series of meetings and organizations associated with all three. In each case, a network entrepreneur (often Brand himself) gathered members of multiple communities within a single material or textual space. The members of those networks collaborated on the various projects at hand and developed a shared language for their work. Out of that language emerged shared understandings—of the potential social impact of computing, of information and information technologies as metaphors for social processes, and of the nature of work in a networked economic order. Often enough, the systems on which network members appeared became models in their own right of these new understandings. Even when they did not, members often took the insights they had gleaned back into their social and professional worlds. In this way ideas born within Whole Earth–derived network forums became key frames through which both public and professional technologists sought to comprehend the potential social impact of information and information technologies. Over time, the network's members and forums helped redefine the microcomputer as a "personal" machine, computer communication networks as "virtual communities," and cyberspace itself as the digital equivalent of the western landscape into which so many communards set forth in the late 1960s, the "electronic frontier."

At the same time, and by means of the same social processes, members of the Whole Earth network made themselves visible and credible spokesmen for the socio-technical visions that they had helped create. Traditionally, sociologists have depicted journalists in terms set by the professional norms of newspapers and magazines: as reporters of a consensus achieved among communities from which they were analytically, if not actually, separated. In this view, a reporter's prestige depends on her or his ability to dig up new information, report it in a compelling way, and make it visible to a broad public (which itself is seen as analytically distinct from either the community of sources or the community of journalists). Brand and other writers and editors associated with the Whole Earth publications developed extraordinary reputations as journalists, winning, among other prizes, the National Book Award (for the Whole Earth Catalog) and the National Magazine Award (for Wired). They did so, however, by building the communities on whose activities they were reporting. Within Whole Earth–sponsored network forums, and within the books and articles they spawned, representatives of the technological world met leaders from politics and business, as well as former counterculturalists. Together, their conversations turned digital media into emblems of network members' own, shared ways of living, and evidence of their individual credibility. Again and again, Brand, and later Kevin Kelly, Howard Rheingold, John Perry Barlow, and others, gave voice to the techno-social visions that emerged in these discussions.

As they did, they were welcomed into the halls of Congress, the boardrooms of major corporations, and the hotels of Davos, Switzerland, home of the World Economic Forum. By the mid-1990s, throughout much of the mainstream press and in business and government as well, the networked entrepreneurship of the Whole Earth group and its self-evident financial and social success had become evidence for the transformative power of what many had begun to call the "New Economy." According to a raft of politicians and pundits, the rapid integration of computing and telecommunications technologies into international economic life, coupled with dramatic rounds of corporate layoffs and restructuring, had given rise to a new economic era. Individuals could now no longer count on the support of their employers; they would instead have to become entrepreneurs, moving flexibly from place to place, sliding in and out of collaborative teams, building their knowledge bases and skill sets in a process of constant self-education. The proper role of government in this new environment, many argued, was to pull back, to deregulate the technology industries that were ostensibly leading the transformation, and, while they were at it, business in general.

Proponents of this view included telecommunications executives, high-tech stock analysts, and right-wing politicians. Kevin Kelly, a former editor of the quarterly Whole Earth Review, which had grown out of the original Catalog, helped to bring them all to the pages of Wired. As the magazine's executive editor, he argued that the world was a series of interlocking information systems, all of which were working to corrode the bureaucracies of the industrial era. To Kelly and the other creators of Wired, the suddenly public Internet appeared to be both the infrastructure and the symbol of the new economic era. And if it was, they suggested, then those who built their lives around the Net and those who sought to deregulate the newly networked marketplace might in fact be harbingers of a cultural revolution. In the pages of Wired, at least, this new elite featured the citizens of the WELL, the members of the Global Business Network, and the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation—all groups well woven into the fabric of the Whole Earth community—as well as Microsoft's Bill Gates, libertarian pundits such as George Gilder, and, on the cover of one issue, conservative Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich.

To those who think of the 1960s primarily as a break with the decades that went before, the coming together of former counterculturalists, corporate executives, and right-wing politicians and pundits may appear impossibly contradictory. But as the history of the Whole Earth network suggests, it isn't. As they turned away from agonistic politics and toward technology, consciousness, and entrepreneurship as the principles of a new society, the communards of the 1960s developed a utopian vision that was in many ways quite congenial to the insurgent Republicans of the 1990s. Although Newt Gingrich and those around him decried the hedonism of the 1960s counterculture, they shared its widespread affection for empowering technologically enabled elites, for building new businesses, and for rejecting traditional forms of governance. And as they rose to power, more than a few right-wing politicians and executives longed to share the hip credibility of people like Stewart Brand.

This book, then, does not tell the story of a countercultural movement whose ideals and practices were appropriated by the forces of capital, technology, or the state. Rather, it demonstrates that the New Communalist wing of the counterculture embraced those forces early on and that in subsequent years, Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth network continued to provide the intellectual and practical contexts within which members of the two worlds could come together and legitimate one another's projects. At the same time, however, this book is not a biography of Stewart Brand. Brand certainly deserves a biography, and one will no doubt be written in the years to come, but this book makes relatively little effort to understand Brand's personal history except insofar as it illuminates his role in reshaping the politics of information. Brand has had a substantial influence in other areas, especially ecology and architectural design, as well as a fascinating personal life, but these will have to wait for other chroniclers. My aim here is to make visible Brand's impact, and that of the networks he helped build, on our understandings of computing and its possible relations to social life. Within this story, Brand is both an influential actor in his own right and an exemplary promoter of a new, networked mode of techno-social life; so too are the journalists, consultants, and entrepreneurs of the Whole Earth network, which is by now far-flung. My challenge in writing this book has been to keep in view simultaneously Brand's unique individual talents, the networking tactics he employed, and the increasing influence of the networks he helped build.

For that reason, I begin with an overview of the broad transformation in popular perceptions of computing that has occurred over the past forty years, and a reminder of the forgotten affinities between cold-war research culture and the counterculture of the New Communalists. I then turn to following Stewart Brand, first into the early 1960s art scene, then to the communes of the Southwest, into the back rooms of Bay area computer science in the 1970s, and on into the corporate world in the 1980s and 1990s. Along the way, I pause to examine in some detail the networks and network forums that Brand has built. As these explorations suggest, Brand's influence on popular understandings of technology has depended not only on his considerable talent for spotting the forward edges of social and technological change, but also on the richness and complexity of the networks he has assembled. I conclude by arguing that Brand's entrepreneurial tactics, and the now-widespread association of computers and computer-mediated communication with the egalitarian social ideals of the counterculture, have become important features of an increasingly networked mode of living, working, and deploying social and cultural power.

Although it is tempting to think of that mode as a product of a revolution in computing technology, I argue that the revolution it represents began long before the public appearance of the Internet or even the widespread distribution of computers. It began in the wake of World War II, as the cybernetic discourse and collaborative work styles of cold-war military research came together with the communitarian social vision of the counterculture.

Copyright notice: Excerpt from pages 1-9 of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2006 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

Fred Turner From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism ©2006, 354 pages, 16 halftones Cloth $29.00 ISBN: 0-226-81741-5

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for From Counterculture to Cyberculture.

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From Counterculture to Cyberculture

almost 2 years ago

From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism

In the early 1960s, computers haunted the American imagination. Bleak tools of the cold war, they embodied the rigid organization and mechanical conformity that made the military industrial complex possible. But by the 1990s—and the dawn of the Internet—computers represented a very different kind of world: a collaborative and digital utopia modeled on the communal ideals of the hippies who so vehemently rebelled against the cold war establishment in the first place.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture is the first book to explore this extraordinary and ironic transformation. Fred Turner here traces the previously untold story of a highly influential group of San Francisco Bay–area entrepreneurs: Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth network. Between 1968 and 1998, via such familiar venues as the National Book Award–winning Whole Earth Catalog, the computer conferencing system known as WELL, and ultimately, the launch of the wildly successful Wired magazine, Brand and his colleagues brokered a long-running encounter between San Francisco flower power and the emerging technological hub of Silicon Valley. Thanks to their vision, counterculturalists and technologists alike joined together to reimagine computers as tools for personal liberation, the building of virtual and decidedly alternative communities, and the exploration of bold new social frontiers.

Shedding new light on how our networked culture came to be, this fascinating book reminds us that the distance between the Grateful Dead and Google, between Ken Kesey and the computer itself, is not as great as we might think.

Selected Reviews

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Fred Turner - From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism - - New York Times

almost 2 years ago
Connections

A Crunchy-Granola Path From Macramé and LSD to Wikipedia and Google

By EDWARD ROTHSTEIN Published: September 25, 2006

The pages are yellowed, the addresses and phone numbers all but useless, the products antique, the utopian expectations quaint. But the “Whole Earth Catalog” — and particularly “The Last Whole Earth Catalog,” published in 1971, which ended up selling a million copies and winning the National Book Award — has the eerie luminosity of a Sears catalog from the turn of the last century. It is a portrait of an age and its dreams.

Skip to next paragraph Ted Streshinsky/Corbis

Forward thinking: Stewart Brand in 1966, with a disc on his forehead.

A counterculture classic.

Deerskin jackets and potter’s wheels, geodesic domes and star charts, instructions on raising bees and on repairing Volkswagens, advice on building furniture and cultivating marijuana: all this can be found here, along with celebrations of communal life and swipes at big government, big business and a technocratic society.

Can this encyclopedia of countercultural romance have anything to do with today’s technological world, a world of broadband connections, TCP/IP protocol and the Internet? The Internet, after all, began during the cold war as an attempt to create a network of computers that would be resilient in case of nuclear attack. Its instigator, the United States Department of Defense, was at the very center of the culture being countered by the “Whole Earth Catalog.” How could the romantic, utopian culture of the 1960’s, with its deep suspicions about modernity and its machinery, be closely linked to one of the most important technological revolutions of the last hundred years?

Yet as Fred Turner points out in his revealing new book, “From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism” (University of Chicago Press), there is no way to separate cyberculture from counterculture; indeed, cyberculture grew from its predecessor’s compost. Mr. Turner suggests that Stewart Brand, who created the “Whole Earth Catalog,” was the major node in a network of countercultural speculators, promoters, inventors and entrepreneurs who helped change the world in ways quite different from those they originally envisioned.

Mr. Turner, who teaches in the communication department at Stanford University, is rigorous in his argument, thorough to the point of exhaustion, and impressive in his range. The basic premise, though, is not unfamiliar. A decade ago the cultural critic Mark Dery suggested in his book “Escape Velocity” that the PC revolution could well be called “Counterculture 2.0.” Other writers have also pointed out uncanny overlaps.

And some of the anecdotal evidence is familiar. Steve Jobs created and promoted Apple as a countercultural computer company, most famously in the 1984 television ad that associated it with the demolishment of a totalitarian Big Brother. Even I.B.M., in promoting its first PC, tried to undermine the computer’s association with corporate power, marketing its machine using images of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp, who had twitted the gears of industry in “Modern Times.”

Connections were even made by the participants. Theodore Roszak, whose 1969 book, “The Making of a Counter Culture,” popularized that era’s doctrines, later asserted that computer hackers — “whose origins can be discerned in the old Whole Earth Catalog” — invented the personal computer as a means of “fostering dissent and questioning authority.” Timothy Leary, the psychedelic maestro of that period, declared that “the PC is the LSD of the 1990’s.”

Soon after publishing “The Last Whole Earth Catalog,” Mr. Brand started to write about the computer scene, helped create the “Whole Earth Software Catalog” and, in 1985, became a founder of the WELL — the Whole Earth ’Lectronic Link — a pioneering online community. “As it turned out,” Mr. Brand once explained, “psychedelic drugs, communes, and Buckminster Fuller domes were a dead end, but computers were an avenue to realms beyond our dreams.” By the 90’s, those realms were celebrated by the magazine Wired.

It might be argued that so prevalent was the counterculture, and so experimental and energetic were its most vocal proponents, that it would have been surprising had many of them not found their way to the computer revolution. But Mr. Turner demonstrates something more essential in the continuity.

First, he suggests, we are mistaken in thinking that the postwar technological world was dominated by hierarchies and rigid categories. Under the influence of the mathematician Norbert Wiener, it became increasingly common to think of humans and machines as interacting elements of “cybernetic systems” — organisms through which information flowed. This also led to a different way of thinking about living organisms and their networks of interaction.

Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1964: “Today we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.” Buckminster Fuller proposed the idea of a Comprehensive Designer, a creator who would embody “an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.”

These writers were the patron saints of the “Whole Earth Catalog,” their books appearing alongside macramé and carpentry manuals, their ideas presumably brought to life in the commune, where the natural and human world would be bound together, creating a single organism from which new possibilities would unfold.

Connections, a critic’s perspective on arts and ideas, appears every other Monday.

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Inflation Denialism

almost 2 years ago

Is the inflation of the 1970s a myth? I don’t think it was, but something Dylan Matthews’ excellent overview of Modern Monetary Theory illustrates is that some people think it was. That to me is a mistake, and people should try to separate the merits of heterodox macroeconomic theory (which I think are considerable) from a handful incidental political commitments that its adherents have. The core point of MMT is that if you have a freely floating fiat currency then the sovereign can’t “run out of money” and the point of taxes is to regulate demand not to finance government activities. But even though this is a “heterodox” view, I think few mainstream people would actually deny it. Instead they think that talking in these terms will lead to dangerous inflation. I think that fear is overblown, but not as overblown as Jamie Galbraith thinks it is:

“The last time we had what could be plausibly called a demand-driven, serious inflation problem was probably World War I,” Galbraith says. “It’s been a long time since this hypothetical possibility has actually been observed, and it was observed only under conditions that will never be repeated.

I think this contains some insight. Unfortunately the standard concept of “inflation” runs together two very different scenarios. In one kind of “inflation”, China abandons Maoist economic policies, its population gets richer, as it gets richer they start eating more meat, and this pushes the worldwide price of meat, dairy, and grains upward. That’s a real thing and it hurts real people in their pocket books, but these kind of global commodity price fluctuations aren’t effectively addressed by demand regulators. And one story some people have about the seventies is that it was just a global commodities issue. OPEC pushed up the price of oil, so we got “inflation” but this is nothing like the World War One case where dodgy government financial practices eroded the value of money.

That’s why my favorite indicator of inflation is “unit labor costs”:

Unit labor costs are basically wages divided productivity. It’s not the price of labor, in other words, but the price of labor output. If productivity is rising faster than wages, then even if wages themselves are rising unit labor costs are falling. Conversely, if wages rise faster than prodictivity than unit labor costs are going up. Clearly there’s nothing wrong with a little increase in unit labor costs here or there. But over the long term, growth in unit labor costs needs to be constrained or else it becomes impossible to employ anyone. And you can see that in the seventies it’s not just that gasoline got more expensive, we had an anomalous spate of high unit labor cost growth. That was inflation and it’s what led to the regime change that’s governed for the past thirty years.

In the wake of the Great Recession, I think we need another change in regime. We can’t continue with an approach that always delivers on price stability but frequent leads to prolonged spells of mass unemployment. But I think to push for that regime change credibly, people need to acknowledge what went wrong in the past and need to explain why it won’t happen again. I would say, for example, that one of the great virtues of the more globalized economy of 2012 rather than 1972 is that the freer flow of goods across borders makes inflation much less likely.

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Coeffects: The next big programming challenge

almost 2 years ago

Many advances in programming language design are driven by some practical motivations. Sometimes, the practical motivations are easy to see - for example, when they come from some external change such as the rise of multi-core processors. Sometimes, discovering the practical motivations is a tricky task - perhaps because everyone is used to a certain way of doing things that we do not even see how poor our current solution is.

The following two examples are related to the work done in F# (because this is what I'm the most familiar with), but you can surely find similar examples in other languages:

  • Multi-core is an easy to see challenge caused by an external development. It led to the popularity of immutable data structures (and functional programming, in general) and it was also partly motivation for asynchronous workflows.

  • Data access is a more subtle challenge. Technologies like LINQ make it significantly easier, but it was not easy to see that inline SQL was a poor solution. This is even more the case for F# type providers. You will not realize how poor the established data access story is until you see something like the WorldBank and R provider or CSV type provider.

I believe that the next important practical challenge for programming language designers is of the kind that is not easy to see - because we are so used to doing things in certain ways that we cannot see how poor they are. The problem is designing languages that are better at working with (and understanding) the context in which programs are executed.

This article is a brief summary of the work that I did (am doing) during my PhD. It focuses on clearly explaining the motivation for the work, but if you're interested in the solution (and the theory), then you can find more on my academic home page.

Context-aware programming matters

The phrase context in which programs are executed sounds quite abstract and generic. What are some concrete examples of such context? For example:

  • When writing a cross-platform application, different platforms (and even different versions of the same platform) provide different contexts - the API functions that are available.

  • When creating a mobile app, the different capabilities that you may (or may not) have access to are context (GPS sensor, accelerometer, battery status).

  • When working with data (be it sensitive database or social network data from Facebook), you have permissions to access only some of the data (depending on your identity) and you may want to track provenance information. This is another example of a context.

These are all fairly standard problems that developers deal with today. As the number of devices where programs need to run increases, dealing with diverse contexts will be becoming more and more important (and I'm not even talking about ubiquitous computing where you need to compile your code to a coffee machine).

We do not perceive the above things as problems (at best, annoyances that we just have to deal with), because we do not realize that there should be a better way. Let me dig into four examples in a bit more detail.

Context awareness #1: Platform versioning

The number of different platform versions that you need to target is increasing, no matter what platform you are using. For Android, there is a number called API Level with mostly additive changes (mostly sounds very reassuring). In the .NET world, there are multiple versions, mobile editions, multiple versions of Silverlight etc. So, code that targets multiple frameworks easily ends up looking as the following sample from the Http module in F# Data:

1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6: 7: 8: 9: 10: 11: 12: 13: 14: 15: 16: for header, value in headers do match header with | StringEquals "accept" -> req.Accept <- value #if FX_NO_WEBREQUEST_USERAGENT |StringEquals"user-agent"-> req.Headers.[HttpRequestHeader.UserAgent]<-value #else | StringEquals "user-agent" -> req.UserAgent <- value #endif #if FX_NO_WEBREQUEST_REFERER |StringEquals"referer"-> req.Headers.[HttpRequestHeader.Referer]<-value #else | StringEquals "referer" -> req.Referer <- value #endif | _ -> req.Headers.[header] <- value

This is difficult to write (you won't know if the code even compiles until you try building all combinations) and maintaining such code is not particularly nice (try adding another platform version). Maybe we could refactor the code in F# Data to improve it, but that's not really my point - supporting multiple platforms should be a lot easier.

On Android, you can access API from higher level platform dynamically using techniques like reflection and writing wrappers. Again, this sounds very error prone - to quote the linked article "Remember the mantra: if you haven't tried it, it doesn't work". Testing is no doubt important. But at least in statically typed languages, we should not need to worry about calling a method that does not exist when writing multi-platform applications!

Context awareness #2: System capabilities

Another example related to the previous one is when you're using something like LINQ or FunScript to translate code written in a sub-set of C# or F# to some other language - such as SQL or JavaScript. This is another important area, because you can use this technique to target JavaScript, GPUs, SQL, Erlang runtime or other components that use a particular programming language.

For example, take a look at the following LINQ query that selects product names where the first upper case letter is "C":

1: 2: 3: 4: 5: var db = new NorthwindDataContext(); from p in db.Products where p.ProductName.First(c => Char.IsUpper(c)) == "C" select p.ProductName;

This looks like a perfectly fine piece of code and it compiles fine. But when you try running it, you get the following error:

Unhandled Exception: System.NotSupportedException: Sequence operators not supported for type System.String.

The problem is that LINQ can only translate a subset of normal C# code. Here, we are using the First method to iterate over characters of a string and that's not supported. This is not a technical limitation of LINQ, but a fundamental problem of the approach. If we target a limited language, we simply cannot support the full source language. Is this an important problem? If you search on Google for "has no supported translation to SQL" (which is a part of a similar error message that you get in another case), you get some 26900 links. So yes - this is an issue that people are hitting all the time.

Context awareness #3: Confidentiality and provenance

The previous two examples were mainly related to the (non-)existence of some API functions or to their behaviour. However, this is not the only case of context-awareness that is important in every day programming.

Most readers of this blog will immediately see what is wrong with the following code, but that does not change the fact that it can be compiled and deployed (and that there is a large number of systems that contain something similar):

1: 2: 3: let query = sprintf "SELECT * FROM Products WHERE ProductName = '%s'" name use cmd = new SqlCommand(query) use reader = cmd.ExecuteReader()

The problem is obviously SQL Injection. Concatenating strings to build an SQL command is a bad practice, but it is an example of a more general problem.

Sometimes, we have special kinds of variables that should have some contextual meta-data associated with them. Such meta-data can dictate how the variable can be used. Here, name comes from the user input and this provenance information should propagate to query and we should get an error when we try passing this - potentially unsafe - input to SqlCommand. Similarly, if you have password or creditCard, it should be annotated with meta-data saying that this is a sensitive piece of data and should not, for example, be sent over an unsecured network connection. As a side note - this idea is related to a technique called taint checking.

In another context, if you are working with data (e.g. in some data journalism application), it would be great if your sources were annotated with meta-data about the quality and source of the data (e.g. can it be trusted? how up-to-date is it?) The meta-data could propagate to the result and tell you how accurate and trustworthy your result is.

Context-awareness #4: Resource & data availability

A vast majority of applications accesses some data sources (like database) or resources (like GPS sensor on a phone). This is more tricky for client/server applications where a part of program runs on the server-side and another part runs on the client-side. I believe that these two parts should be written as a single program that is cross-compiled to two parts (and I tried to make that possible with F# Web Tools a long time ago; more recently WebSharper implemented a similar idea).

So, say we have a function validateInput, readData and displayMessage in my program. I want to look at their types and see what resources (or context) they require. For example, readData requires database (or perhaps a database with a specific name), displayMessage requires access to user interface and validateInput has no special requirements.

This means that I can call validateInput from both server-side and client-side code - it is safe to share this piece of code, because it has no special requirements. However, when I write a code that calls all three functions without any remote calls, it will only run on a thick client that has access to a database as well as user interface.

I'll demonstrate this idea with a sample (pseudo-)code in a later section, so do not worry if it sounds a bit abstract at first.

Coeffects: Towards context-aware languages

The above examples cover a couple of different scenarios, but they share a common theme - they all talk about some context in which an expression is evaluated. The context has essentially two aspects:

  • Flat context represents additional data, resources and meta-data that are available in the execution environment (regardless of where in the program you access them). Examples include resources like GPS sensors or databases, battery status, framework version and similar.

  • Structural context contains additional meta-data related to variables. This can include provenance (source of the variable value), usage information (how often is the value accessed) or security information (does it contain sensitive data).

As a proponent of statically typed functional languages I believe that a context-aware programming language should capture such context information in the type system and make sure that basic errors (like the ones demonstrated in the four examples above) are ruled out at compile time.

This is essentially the idea behind coeffects. Let's look at an example showing the idea in (a very simplified) practice and then I'll say a few words about the theory (which is the main topic of my upcoming PhD thesis).

Case study: Coeffects in action

So, how should a context-aware language look? Surely, there is a wide range of options, but I hope I convinced you that it needs to be context-aware in some way! I'll write my pseudo-example in a language that looks like F#, is fully statically typed and uses type inference.

I think that type inference is particularly important here - we want to check quite a few properties that should not that difficult to infer (If I call a function that needs GPS, I need to have GPS access!) Writing all such information by hand would be very cumbersome.

So, let's say that we want to write a client/server news reader where the news are stored in a database on a server. When a client (iPhone or Windows phone) runs, we get GPS location from the phone and query the server that needs to connect to the "News" database using a password defined somewhere earlier (perhaps loaded from a server-side config file):

1: 2: 3: 4: 5: 6: 7: 8: 9: 10: 11: 12: 13: 14: 15: let lookupNews(location) = let db = query("News", password) selectNews(db, location) let readNews() = let loc = gpsLocation() remote { lookupNews(loc) } let iPhoneMain() = createCocoaWidget(readNews) let windowsMain() = createMetroWidget(readNews)

The idea is that lookupNews is a server-side function that queries the "News" database based on the specified location. This is called from the client-side by readNews which get the current GPS position and uses a remote { .. } block to invoke the lookupNews function remotely (how exactly would this be written is a separate question - but imagine a simple REST request here).

Then, we have two main functions, iPhoneMain and windowsMain that will serve as two entry points for iPhone and Windows build of the client-side application. They are both using a corresponding platform-specific function to build the user interface, which takes a function for reading news as an argument.

If you wanted to write and compile something like this today, you could use F# in Xamarin Studio to target iPhone and Window phone, but you'd either need two separate end-application projects or a large number of unmaintainable #if constructs. Why not just use a single project, if the application is fairly simple?

I imagine that a context-aware statically typed language would let you write the above code and if you inspected the types of the functions, you would see something like this:

password : string { sensitive } lookupNews : Location { database } → list<News>

gpsLocation : unit { gps } → Location readNews : unit { rpc, gps } → Async<list<News>>

iPhoneMain : unit { cocoa, gps, rpc } → unit windowsMain : unit { metro, gps, rpc } → unit

The syntax is something that I just made up for the purpose of this article - it could look different. Some information could even be mapped to other visual representations (e.g. blueish background for the function body in your editor). The key thing is that we can learn quite a lot about the context usage:

  • password is available in the context, but is sensitive and so we cannot return it as a result from a function that is called via an RPC call.
  • lookupNews requires database access and so it can only run on the server-side or on a thick client with local copy of the database.
  • gpsLocation accesses GPS and since we call it in readNews, this function also requires GPS (the requirement is propagated automatically).
  • We can compile the program for two client-side platforms - the entry points require GPS, the ability to make RPC calls and Cocoa or Metro UI platform, respectively.

When writing the application, I want to be always able to see this information (perhaps similarly to how you can see type information in the various F# editors). I want to be able to reference multiple versions of base libraries - one for iPhone and another for Windows and see all the API functions at the same time, with appropriate annotations. When a function is available on both platforms, I want to be able to reuse the code that calls it. When some function is available on only one platform, I want to solve this by designing my own abstraction, rather than resorting to ugly #if pragmas.

Then, I want to take this single program (again, structured using whatever abstractions I find appropriate) and compile it. As a result, I want to get a component (containing lookupNews) that I can deploy to the server-side and two packages for iPhone and Windows respectively, that reference only one or the other platform.

Coeffects: Theory of context dependence

If you're expecting a "Download!" button or (even better) a "Buy now!" button at the end of this article, then I'll disappoint you. I have no implementation that would let you do all of this. My work in this area has been (so far) on the theoretical side. This is a great way to understand what is actually going on and what does the context mean. And if you made it this far, then it probably worked, because I understood the problem well enough to be write a readable article about it!

If you are interested in the theory, then go ahead and have a look at our papers about coeffects, otherwise continue reading and I'll try to introduce the key ideas in a more accessible form!

Brief introduction to type systems

I won't try to reproduce the entire content of the papers in this blog post - but I will try to give you some background in case you are interested (that should make it easier to look at the papers above). We'll start from the basics, so readers familiar with theory of programming languages can skip to the next section.

Type systems are usually described in the form of typing judgement that have the following form:

The judgement means that, given some variables described by Γ, the expression or program e has a type τ. What does this mean? For example, what is a type of the expression x + y? Well, this depends - in F# it could be some numeric type or even a string, depending on the types of x and y. That's why we need the variable context Γ which specifies the types of variables. So, for example, we can have:

Here, we assume that the types of x and y (on the left hand side) are both int and as a result, we derive that the type of x + y is also an int. This is a valid typing, for the expression, but not the only one possible - if x and y were of type string, then the result would also be string.

Checking what program does with effect systems

Type systems can be extended in various interesting ways. Essentially, they give us an approximation of the possible values that we can get as a result. For example refinement types can estimate numerical values more precisely (e.g. less than 100). However, it is also possible to track what a program does - how it affects the world. For example, let's look at the following expression that prints a number:

This is a reasonable typing in F# (and ML languages), but it ignores the important fact that the expression has a side-effect and prints the number to the console. In Haskell, this would not be a valid typing, because print would return an IO computation rather than just plain unit (for more information see IO in Haskell).

However, monads are not the only way to be more precise about side-effects. Another option is to use an effect system which essentially annotates the result of the typing judgement with more information about the effects that occur as part of evaluation of the expression (here, in orange):

The effect annotation is now part of the type - so, the expression has a type unit & { io } meaning that it does not return anything useful, but it performs some I/O operation. Note that we do not track what exactly it does - just some useful over-approximation. How do we infer the information? The compiler needs to know about certain language primitives (or basic library functions). Here, print is a function that performs I/O operation.

The main role of the type system is dealing with composition - so, if we have a function read that reads from the console (I/O operation) and a function send that sends data over network, the type system will tell us that the type and effects of send (read ()) are unit & {io, network}.

Effect systems are a fairly established idea - and they are a nice way to add better purity checking to ML-like languages like F#. However, they are not that widely adopted (interestingly, checked exceptions in Java are probably the most major use of effect system). However, effect systems are also a good example of general approach that we can use for tracking contextual information...

Checking what program requires with coeffect systems

How could we use the same idea of annotating the types to capture information about the context? Let's look at a part of the program from the case study that I described earlier:

The expression queries a database and gets back a value of the NewsDb type (for now, let's say that "News" is a constant string and query behaves like the SQL type provider in F# and generates the NewsDb type automatically).

What information do we want to capture? First of all, we want to add an annotation saying that the expression requires database access. Secondly, we want to mark the pass variable as secure to guarantee that it will not be sent over an unsecured network connection etc. The coeffect typing judgement representing this information looks like this:

Rather than attaching the annotations to the resulting type, they are attached to the variable context. In other words, the equation is saying - given a variable pass that is marked as secure and additional environment providing database access, the expression query("News", pass) is well typed and returns a NewsDb value.

As a side-note, it is well known that effects correspond to monads (and Haskell uses monads as a way of implementing limited effect checking). Quite interestingly, coeffects correspond to the dual concept called comonads and, with a syntactic extension akin to the do notation or computation expressions, you could capture contextual properties by adding comonads to a language.

Summary

This article is essentially a tabloid style report on my (upcoming) PhD thesis :-).

I started by explaining the motivation for my work - different problems that arise when we are writing programs that are aware of the context in which they run. The context includes things such as execution environment (databases, resources, available devices), platform and framework (different versions, different platforms) and meta-data about data we access (sensitivity, security, provenance).

This may not be perceived as a major problem - we are all used to write code that deals with such things. However, I believe that the area of context-aware programming is a source of many problems and pains - and programming languages can help!

In the second half of the article, I gave a brief introduction to coeffects - a programming language theory that can simplify dealing with context. The key idea is that we can use types to track and check additional information about the context. By propagating such information throughout the program (using type system that is aware of the annotations), we can make sure that none of the errors that I used as a motivation for this article happen.

Where to go next?

If you want to learn more about the theory of coeffects (and how they relate to comonads) then check out the two papers I mentioned earlier:

Dominic Orchard (who is co-author of the above two) also did some nice work on integrating comonads into Haskell:

  • A Notation for Comonads (PDF) (Dominic Orchard and Alan Mycroft) extends Haskell with a syntax (akin to do) for comonads and might be a nice way to embed coeffects in Haskell
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Noahpinion: Falsifiability and shrug-ability

almost 2 years ago

Sean Carroll is one of my favorite science bloggers, and you should definitely check out his blog, Preposterous Universe, if you have not done so already. But I don't agree with his idea that it's time to toss out the notion of "falsifiability" in science.

Carroll does make some good points. For example, some theories might be falsifiable in principle but not in practice, given technological limitations. For example, take the tiny strings in string theory, which we could only see if we had a particle accelerator the size of the galaxy. The fact that we'll never build a machine that big doesn't mean the strings aren't there.

Another point Carroll makes is that sometimes, things that aren't currently falsifiable eventually become so. If we toss out ideas too soon because we haven't yet figured out a way to test them, we may cut ourselves off from understanding things.

But Carroll is a bit unclear as to what he means by "falsifiability". For example, he writes:

The cosmological multiverse and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics posit other realms that are impossible for us to access directly. Some scientists, leaning on Popper, have suggested that these theories are non-scientific because they are not falsifiable. The truth is the opposite. Whether or not we can observe them directly, the entities involved in these theories are either real or they are not.

What does he mean by "real"? What does it mean for something to be "real", but to be so hidden from our Universe that we'll never be affected by its "reality"?

Anyway, it seems to me that there are at least three different kinds of "non-falsifiable" theories:

Type 1: Theories that are so vague that they can be used to "explain" anything (e.g. "Every event in history is the result of inevitable historical forces.")

Type 2: Theories that are completely untestable in principle (e.g. "There's a particle that can't possibly interact with anything in our Universe.")

Type 3: Theories that are currently untestable given the limits of our technology.

I propose that we treat these three types differently. As for Type 1 Unfalsifiable Theories, we should run around with squirtguns, soaking anyone who wastes our time with these. The Type 2 theories, we know we'll never need, so scientists can safely forget about them, while amateur philosphers endlessly debate the proper meaning of the word "existence".

But what about the Type 3 theories? We might be able to use them someday, but not yet. Do we throw them out (thus risking cutting ourselves off from the truth), or do we use them as long as they're plausible and cool-sounding (thus risking using bad theories)?

I say we do neither. We humans are trained to use two-valued logic, which labels properties either "true" or "false". But I believe science needs a third category: call it "shrug". True, false, or shrug. The things in the "shrug" category should be placed in a mental bin for safekeeping until such time as they might prove useful to humankind, but not used until there exists enough evidence to verify their usefulness to our own satisfaction.

In fact, I think that three-valued logic is a crucial and innovative feature of scientific thought. You need to have that intermediate category where you defer judgment. Call it "shrug-ability". (Note that sometimes the world forces us to make discrete policy decisions, in which case you can't just shrug. But I'm talking about the decision to use a scientific theory, which is typically less urgent.)

Of course, there's also the question of whether our conclusions about scientific theories should be discrete at all. In reality, of course, they aren't. "Accepting" and "rejecting" theories are just mental shorthand. "Shrugging" at theories is also mental shorthand, it just reminds us to consider our confidence levels in addition to our point estimates.

Anyway, Scott Aaronson has some other good thoughts on falsifiability.

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Memex - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

almost 2 years ago
For the Software Company, see Memex Technology Limited.

The memex (a portmanteau of “memory” and “index”[1]) is the name of the hypothetical proto-hypertext system that Vannevar Bush described in his 1945 The Atlantic Monthly article “As We May Think”. Bush envisioned the memex as a device in which individuals would compress and store all of their books, records, and communications, “mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.” The memex would provide an “enlarged intimate supplement to one’s memory”.[2] The concept of the memex influenced the development of early hypertext systems (eventually leading to the creation of the World Wide Web) and personal knowledge base software.[3] The hypothetical implementation depicted by Bush for the purpose of concrete illustration was based upon a document bookmark list of static microfilm pages, and lacked a true hypertext system where parts of pages would have internal structure beyond the common textual format, so it’s fair to say that early electronic hypertext systems were inspired by memex rather than modeled directly upon it.

Details

A proto-hypertext system

In As We May Think Bush describes a memex as an electromechanical device enabling individuals to develop and read a large self-contained research library, create and follow associative trails of links and personal annotations, and recall these trails at any time to share them with other researchers. This device would closely mimic the associative processes of the human mind, but it would be gifted with permanent recollection. As Bush writes, “Thus science may implement the ways in which man produces, stores, and consults the record of the race”.[4]

The technology used would have been a combination of electromechanical controls, microfilm cameras and readers, all integrated into a large desk. Most of the microfilm library would have been contained within the desk, but the user could add or remove microfilm reels at will. A memex would hypothetically read and write content on these microfilm reels, using electric photocells to read coded symbols recorded next to individual microfilm frames while the reels spun at high speed, stopping on command. The coded symbols would enable the memex to index, search, and link content to create and follow associative trails.

The top of the desk would have slanting translucent screens on which material could be projected for convenient reading. The top of the memex would have a transparent platen. When a longhand note, photograph, memoranda, or other things were placed on the platen, the depression of a lever would cause the item to be photographed onto the next blank space in a section of the memex film.

The memex would become “‘a sort of mechanized private file and library’.[5] It would use microfilm storage, dry photography, and analog computing to give postwar scholars access to a huge, indexed repository of knowledge – any section of which could be called up with a few keystrokes.”[6]

The vision of the memex predates, and is credited as the inspiration for, the first practical hypertext systems of the 1960s. Bush describes the memex and other visions of As We May Think as projections of technology known in the 1930s and 1940s – in the spirit of Jules Verne’s adventures, or Arthur C. Clarke’s 1945 proposal to orbit geosynchronous satellites for global telecommunication. The memex proposed by Bush would create trails of links connecting sequences of microfilm frames, rather than links in the modern sense where a hyperlink connects a single word, phrase or picture within a document and a local or remote destination.

Associative trails

An associative trail as conceived by Bush would be a way to create a new linear sequence of microfilm frames across any arbitrary sequence of microfilm frames by creating a chained sequence of links in the way just described, along with personal comments and side trails. At the time Bush saw the current ways of indexing information as limiting and instead proposed a way to store information that was analogous to the mental association of the human brain: storing information with the capability of easy access at a later time using certain cues (in this case, a series of numbers as a code to retrieve data).[7] The closest analogy with the modern Web browser would be to create a list of bookmarks to articles relevant to a topic, and then to have some mechanism for automatically scrolling through the articles (for example, use Google to search for a keyword, obtain a list of matches, repeatedly use the “open in new tab” feature of the Web browser, and then visit each tab sequentially). Modern hypertext systems with word and phrase-level linking offer more sophistication in connecting relevant information, but until the rise of wiki and other social software models, modern hypertext systems have rarely imitated Bush in providing individuals with the ability to create personal trails and share them with colleagues – or publish them widely.

Other features

The memex would have features other than linking. The user could record new information on microfilm, by taking photos from paper or from a touch-sensitive translucent screen. A user could “…insert a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item. …Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.”[8] A user could also create a copy of an interesting trail (containing references and personal annotations) and “…pass it to his friend for insertion in his own memex, there to be linked into the more general trail.” As observers like Tim Oren have pointed out, the memex could be considered to be a microfilm-based precursor to the personal computer. The September 10, 1945, Life magazine article showed the first illustrations of what the memex desk[9] could look like, as well as illustrations of a head-mounted camera, which a scientist could wear while doing experiments, and a typewriter capable of voice recognition and of reading text by speech synthesis. Considered together, these memex machines were probably the earliest practical description of what we would call today the Office of the future.

“Given a memex, a scholar could create her own knowledge tools as connections within reams of information, share these tools, and use complexes of tools to create yet more sophisticated knowledge that could in turn be deployed toward this work. The memex has been envisioned as a means of turning an information explosion into a knowledge explosion. This remains one of the defining dreams of new media.”

Extending, storing, and consulting the record of the species

Bush’s idea for the memex extended far beyond a mechanism which might augment the research of one individual working in isolation. In Bush’s idea, the ability to connect, annotate, and share both published works and personal trails would profoundly change the process by which the “world’s record” is created and used:

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities. The patent attorney has on call the millions of issued patents, with familiar trails to every point of his client’s interest. The physician, puzzled by a patient’s reactions, strikes the trail established in studying an earlier similar case, and runs rapidly through analogous case histories, with side references to the classics for the pertinent anatomy and histology. …

The historian, with a vast chronological account of a people, parallels it with a skip trail which stops only on the salient items, and can follow at any time contemporary trails which lead him all over civilization at a particular epoch. There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record. The inheritance from the master becomes, not only his additions to the world’s record, but for his disciples the entire scaffolding by which they were erected. — As We May Think

Bush states that “technical difficulties of all sorts have been ignored,” but that, “also ignored are means as yet unknown which may come any day to accelerate technical progress as violently as did the advent of the thermionic tube.” Indeed, anyone who stops to consider the performance consequences of trail following – let alone link-directed pointer-chasing – over a microfilm library of near universal scope should quickly come to the conclusion that microfilm is no more appropriate a technology for implementing AWMT’s vision than Jules Verne’s cannon is an appropriate technology for sending astronauts to the Moon. In both cases the vision may be more significant than the specific technology used to describe it. See Michael Buckland’s conclusion: “Bush’s contributions in this area were twofold: (i) A significant engineering achievement by the team under his leadership in building a truly rapid prototype microfilm selector, and (ii) a speculative article, ‘As We May Think,’ which, through its skillful writing and the social prestige of its author, has had an immediate and lasting effect in stimulating others.”

In “Memex: Getting Back on the Trail”,[10] Tim Oren argues that Bush’s original vision expressed in AWMT describes a “…private device into which public encyclopedias and colleague’s trails might be inserted to be joined with the owner’s own work.”

However, in Bush’s manuscript draft of “Memex II” of 1959, Bush says, “Professional societies will no longer print papers…” and states that individuals will either order sets of papers to come on tape – complete with photographs and diagrams – or download ‘facsimiles’ by telephone. Each society would maintain a ‘master memex’ containing all papers, references, tables “intimately interconnected by trails, so that one may follow a detailed matter from paper to paper, going back through the classics, recording criticism in the margins.”

Missing features: search and metadata

The AWMT paper did not describe any automatic search, nor any universal metadata scheme such as a standard library classification or a hypertext element set like the Dublin core. Instead, when the user made an entry, such as a new or annotated manuscript, typescript or image, he was expected to index and describe it in his personal code book. By consulting his code book, the user could retrace annotated and generated entries.

Between 1990 and 1994, Paul Flaherty, a Stanford student who was looking for a project, was introduced by his wife to her supervisor. The supervisor had just seen a demonstration of the World Wide Web and suggested it could be improved and better conformed to the memex described by Vannevar Bush if links did not have to be manually inserted and instead one could follow a link simply by using the words themselves. Flaherty went on to create AltaVista, the first searchable, full-text database of a large part of the Web.

Legacy

This idea directly influenced computer pioneers J.C.R. Licklider (see his 1960 paper Man-Computer Symbiosis), Douglas Engelbart (see his 1962 report Augmenting Human Intellect), and also led to Ted Nelson’s groundbreaking work in concepts of hypermedia and hypertext.[11][page needed][verification needed]

As We May Think also predicted many kinds of technology invented after its publication in addition to hypertext such as personal computers, the Internet, the World Wide Web, speech recognition, and online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia: “Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.”

Bush’s influence is still evident in research laboratories of today in Gordon Bell’s MyLifeBits (from Microsoft Research), which implements path-based systems reminiscent of the Memex.

A fictional implementation of the memex appears in the “Laundry” stories of Charles Stross.

DARPA’s Memex program

In early 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) released a statement on their website outlining the preliminary details of the “Memex program”, which aims at developing new search technologies overcoming some limitations of text-based search.[12] DARPA wants the Memex technology developed in this research to be usable for search engines that can search for information on the Deep Web – the part of the Internet that is largely unreachable by commercial search engines like Google or Yahoo. As reported in a 2015 Wired article, the search technology being developed in the Memex program “aims to shine a light on the dark web and uncover patterns and relationships in online data to help law enforcement and others track illegal activity”.[13] In their description of the program, DARPA explains the program’s name as a tribute to Bush’s original Memex invention, which served as an inspiration.

In April 2015, it was announced parts of Memex would be open sourced.[14] Modules were available for download.[15]

Memex revisited

In 1967, Vannevar Bush published a retrospective article entitled “Memex Revisited” [16] in his book, “Science is Not Enough”. Published 22 years after his initial conception of the Memex, Bush details the various technological advancements that have made his vision a possibility. The article claims that magnetic tape would be central to the creation of a modern Memex device.

In popular culture

In Charles Stross’ “Laundry” series of novels a character uses a Memex instead of a modern computer because it is not vulnerable to Van Eck phreaking.

See also

People

Ideas

References

  1. ^ Jump up to: a b Buckland, Michael K. “Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, And Vannevar Bush’s Memex”. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 43, no. 4 (May 1992): 284–94
  2. Jump up ^ Manovich, Lev, “As We May Think”, The New Media Reader, The MIT Press, p. 35 .
  3. Jump up ^ DAVIES, Stephen. “Still Building The Memex.” Communications of The ACM 54.2 (Feb. 2011): 80–88. Business Source Elite. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b c Bush 1945, Section 8.
  5. Jump up ^ Bush 1945, Section 6.
  6. ^ Jump up to: a b Wardrip-Fruin & Montfort 2003, p. 35.
  7. Jump up ^ Kaz, Matt, “Vannevar Bush and Memex”, The World Wide Web: the Beginning and Now, U Mich .
  8. ^ Jump up to: a b Bush 1945, Section 7.
  9. Jump up ^ “Secondary”, Mouse site, Stanford: Sloan .
  10. ^ Jump up to: a b Nyce, James M.; Kahn, Paul (eds.) “From Memex to Hypertext: Vannevar Bush and the Mind’s Machine”. San Diego, London (…) 1991. [A reprint of all of Bush’s texts regarding Memex accompanied by related Sources and Studies]
  11. Jump up ^ Drexler, K Eric (1986), Engines of Creation [page needed][verification needed].
  12. ^ Jump up to: a b “Memex Aims to Create a New Paradigm for Domain-Specific Search” (Press release). DARPA. February 9, 2014. 
  13. Jump up ^ Kim Zetter (February 2, 2015). “Darpa Is Developing a Search Engine for the Dark Web”. Wired. 
  14. Jump up ^ Forbes (April 17, 2015). “Watch Out Google, DARPA Just Open Sourced All This Swish ‘Dark Web’ Search Tech”. Retrieved April 20, 2015. 
  15. Jump up ^ “Memex (Domain-Specific Search)”. DARPA. Retrieved April 20, 2015. 
  16. Jump up ^ Bush, Vannevar. “Memex Revisited,” Science is Not Enough (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1967).

Bibliography

External links

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Man-Computer Symbiosis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

almost 2 years ago

is a work by J.C.R. Licklider, which was published during the year 1960. [1][2][3]

Overview

Man-computer symbiosis is known to have been cited as a fundamental or key text of the modern computing revolution. [4]

The work describes something of Lickliders’ vision for a complementary (symbiotic) relationship between humans and computers at a potential time of the future. According to Bardini, Licklider envisioned a future time when machine cognition (cerebration) would surpass and become independent of human direction, as a basic stage of development within human evolution. Jacucci gives the description of Lickliders’ vision as being the very tight coupling of human brains and computing machines (c.f. brain, the term cohesion & the general definitions of the term coupling). [5]

As a necessary pre-requisite of human-computer symbiosis, Licklider conceived of a thing known as the Thinking centre. Altogether these things were pre-conditions for the development of networks. [6][7]

Streeter identifies as the main empirical element of the work as the time and motion analysis, which is shown under Part 3 of the work. In addition he identified two reasons for Licklider to have considered such a concept as a symbiotic human computer relationship at all as beneficial, to be firstly, for it might bring about an advantage emerging from the use of a computer, such that there are similarities with the necessary methodology of such a use (i.e. trial and error), to the methodology of problem solving through play, and secondarily, because of the advantage which results from using computers in situations of battle. Foster states Licklider sought to promote computer use in order to:[8]

augment human intellect by freeing it from mundane tasks

As his personal motivating force, Streeter considers Licklider to be positing an escape from the limitations of the current mode of computer use during his time, namely batch processing. Russell thinks Licklider was stimulated by an encounter with the newly developed PDP-1. [9]

Contents of the article

The work shows the following contents:

Part 1 is titled Introduction and has 2 sub-headings, Symbiosis (part 1.1) and Between “Mechanically Extended Man” and “Artificial Intelligence” (part 1.2).

Part 1.1 begins by showing shows a definition of the term symbiosis using the illustration of the relationship between two organisms, a fig-tree, and its pollinator, a type of fig-wasp.[10][11] The article continues to sub-classify the concept of a symbiotic relationship between humans and computers within the larger defined thing which is the relationship between men and machines generally (man-machine systems), and outlines the intentions of its author in the possibility within the future of a relationship for the benefit of human thinking.

Part 1.2 references J. D. North’s, “The rational behavior of mechanically extended man” to begin a brief discussion on mechanically extended man and proceeds to include developments and future developments within artificial intelligence.

Part 2 is titled Aims of Man-Computer Symbiosis.

Part 3 is titled Need for Computer Participation in Formulative and Real-Time Thinking and begins by continuing from a preceding statement on the likelihood of data-processing machines improving human thinking and problem solving. This part proceeds to an outline of an investigation sub-headed A Preliminary and Informal Time-and-Motion Analysis of Technical Thinking, in which Licklider investigated his own activities during the spring and summer of 1957. This discussion includes a statement on the currently understood definition of the term computer, as a wide class of calculating, data-processing, and information-storage-and-retrieval machines (c.f. Information storage and retrieval).Licklider begins a comparison between the so-called genotypic similarities between humans and computers, in the seventh passage of this part, with a definition of men as:

noisy, narrow-band devices, but their nervous systems have very many parallel and simultaneously active channels

and ends with the acknowledgement of differences between inherent processing speed and use of language.

Part 4 is titled Separable Functions of Men and Computers in the Anticipated Symbiotic Association. Licklider in the first passage of this part makes reference to the SAGE System. The text continues to identify ways in which theoretically active computers would function in ways including; to interpolate, extrapolate, convert static equations or logical statements into dynamic models (see also conceptual models).The part concludes with a statement of the functioning of a potential computer as performing diagnosis, pattern-matching, and relevance-recognizing.

Part 5 is the final part of the article and is titled Prerequisites for Realization of Man-Computer Symbiosis. It has five sub-headings, Speed Mismatch Between Men and Computers, Memory Hardware Requirements, Memory Organization Requirements, The Language Problem, and Input and Output Equipment.

Part 5.3. mentions the concept of trie memory (E. Fredkin, “Trie memory,” Communications of the ACM, Sept. 1960).

Part 5.4. begins initially by demonstrating the differences between human language and computer language, the latter in regards especially to FORTRAN, an Information Processing Language identified by J. C. Shaw, A. Newell, H. A. Simon, and T. O. Ellis (in A command structure for complex information processing, Proc. WJCC, pp. 119-128; May, 1958), ALGOL (and related systems), and continues from the second passage from the statement:

instructions directed to computers specify courses; instructions-directed to human beings specify goals.

particularly recognising the existence of human goals (see also Goal orientation).

References of Man-Computer Symbiosis

The work references 26 studies, of which fourteen are concerning acoustic studies and related areas of investigation, and fifteen on computing and studies related to this, including four related to chess.

IRE Transactions

See also: IEEE, Cybernetics & Human–machine system

Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE) Transactions ceased publishing during 1962, and is now publishing instead as IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics: Systems, IEEE Transactions on Cybernetics, and IEEE Transactions on Human-Machine Systems. [12][13]

Later Developments

MIT published a paper during 1966, written by W. Teitelman, entitled Pilot: A Step Towards Man-Computer Symbiosis.[14]

At the time of the publication of one paper, during 2004, there were very few computer applications known to the authors, which exhibited the qualities of computers identified by Licklider within his 1960 article, of being human-like with respect to being collaboratory and possessing the ability to communicate in human like ways. As part of their paper, the authors (N Lesh et al) mention a discussion of prototypes under development by the Mitsubishi Electric Research Laboratories.[15]

See also

References

  1. Jump up ^ T. Messbarger - Short-Biography of J.C.R. Licklider published by Ohio University [Retrieved 2015-08-08]
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b J. C. R. Licklider. Man-Computer Symbiosis, IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, volume HFE-1, pages 4-11, March 1960. MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Retrieved 2015-08-08. 
  3. ^ Jump up to: a b G. Jacucci. Symbiotic Interaction: Third International Workshop, Symbiotic 2014, Helsinki, Finland, October 30-31, 2014, Proceedings. Springer 5 Dec 2014, 145 pages, (G. Jacucci, L. Gamberini, J. Freeman, A. Spagnolli), ISBN 3319135007, Volume 8820 of Lecture Notes in Computer Science / Information Systems and Applications, incl. Internet/Web, and HCI. Retrieved 2015-08-08. 
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b c T. Streeter. The Net Effect: Romanticism, Capitalism, and the Internet (p.32-34). NYU Press 2011, 219 pages, ISBN 0814741169, Critical Cultural Communication. Retrieved 2015-08-08. 
  5. Jump up ^ T. Bardini - Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing Stanford University Press 2000, 284 pages, ISBN 0804738718 [Retrieved 2015-08-08]
  6. Jump up ^ U.V Riss. Philosophy, Computing and Information Science. Routledge 22 Jul 2015, 304 pages, ISBN 1317317564, HISTORY and PHILOSOPHY of Technoscience. Retrieved 2015-08-08. 
  7. Jump up ^ K. Fuchs-Kittowski - Social Informatics: An Information Society for All? In Remembrance of Rob Kling: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference ‘Human Choice and Computers’ (HCC7), IFIP TC 9, Maribor, Slovenia, September 21-23, 2006 (p.436) published Springer 15 Jan 2007, 490 pages (editors - J. Berleur, M.I. Nurminen, J. Impagliazzo), ISBN 0387378766, Volume 223 of IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology [Retrieved 2015-08-08]
  8. Jump up ^ I. Foster - Human-Machine Symbiosis, 50 Years On Computational Institute, Argonne National Laboratory Department of Computer Science, University of Chicago [Retrieved 2015-08-12]
  9. Jump up ^ A.L. Russell. Open Standards and the Digital Age. Cambridge University Press 28 Apr 2014, 326 pages, ISBN 1107039193, Cambridge Studies in the Emergence of Global Enterprise. Retrieved 2015-08-15. 
  10. Jump up ^ Blastophaga Merriam-Webster [Retrieved 2015-08-08]
  11. Jump up ^ En-Wei Tian, Hui Yu, Da-Yong Zhang and John D. Nason - Development of microsatellite loci for Blastophaga javana (Agaonidae), the pollinating wasp of Ficus hirta (Moraceae) published by American Journal of Botany (Am. J. Bot. February 2011 vol. 98 no. 2 e41-e43), ajb.1000432v198/2/e41 (AJB Primer Notes & Protocols in the Plant Sciences) [Retrieved 2015-08-08]
  12. Jump up ^ T.K. Tomasello. A Content Analysis of Citations to J. C. R. Licklider’s “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” 1960-2001: Diffusing the Intergalactic Network. published by Florida State University 15th March 2004 Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations. Paper 1285. Retrieved 2015-08-13. 
  13. Jump up ^ Human Factors in Electronics, IRE Transactions on [Retrieved 2015-08-08]
  14. Jump up ^ PILOT: A STEP TOWARDS MAN-COMPUTER SYMBIOSIS Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA, USA 1966 [Retrieved 2015-08-13]
  15. Jump up ^ N LESH, J MARKS, C RICH, CL SIDNER. “Man-Computer Symbiosis” Revisited: Achieving Natural Communication and Collaboration with Computers (IEICE TRANSACTIONS on Information and Systems Vol.E87-D No.6 pp.1290-1298). published 2004/06/01. Retrieved 2015-08-08. 

External links

Categories:
  1. [2]
  2. [3]
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New data on income inequality and finance

almost 2 years ago

They confirm the central role of finance and in a piece I am writing for another outlet, I summarized some of the results as follows:

…for 2004, nonfinancial executives of publicly traded companies account for less than six percent of the top 0.01% income bracket.In that same year, the top twenty-five hedge fund managers combined appear to have earned more than all of the CEOs from the entire S&P 500.The number of Wall Street investors earning over $100 million a year was nine times higher than the public company executives earning that amount.

That is based on material from the Kaplan and Rauh paper in The Review of Financial Studies, 2010 (the final version is gated for many of you). I had blogged an earlier version of this paper (which was itself excellent), but the final revision has additional numbers of interest, plus a much richer discussion.

On-line "pre-publication" is wonderful, but let's not neglect the improvements in the subsequent drafts brought in part by…on-line pre-publication.

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Can Science Untangle Our Transit Maps? - Science Friday

almost 2 years ago
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Neil Freeman

almost 2 years ago
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Home | How We Got to Now | PBS

almost 2 years ago

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Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Retiring falsifiability? A storm in Russell’s teacup

almost 2 years ago

My good friend Sean Carroll took a lot of flak recently for answering this year’s Edge question, “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?,” with “Falsifiability”, and for using string theory and the multiverse as examples of why science needs to break out of its narrow Popperian cage. For more, see this blog post of Sean’s, where one commenter after another piles on the beleaguered dude for his abandonment of science and reason themselves.

My take, for whatever it’s worth, is that Sean and his critics are both right.

Sean is right that “falsifiability” is a crude slogan that fails to capture what science really aims at. As a doofus example, the theory that zebras exist is presumably both “true” and “scientific,” but it’s not “falsifiable”: if zebras didn’t exist, there would be no experiment that proved their nonexistence. (And that’s to say nothing of empirical claims involving multiple nested quantifiers: e.g., “for every physical device that tries to solve the Traveling Salesman Problem in polynomial time, there exists an input on which the device fails.”) Less doofusly, a huge fraction of all scientific progress really consists of mathematical or computational derivations from previously-accepted theories—and, as such, has no “falsifiable content” apart from the theories themselves. So, do workings-out of mathematical consequences count as “science”? In practice, the Nobel committee says sure they do, but only if the final results of the derivations are “directly” confirmed by experiment. Far better, it seems to me, to say that science is a search for explanations that do essential and nontrivial work, within the network of abstract ideas whose ultimate purpose to account for our observations. (On this particular question, I endorse everything David Deutsch has to say in The Beginning of Infinity, which you should read if you haven’t.)

On the other side, I think Sean’s critics are right that falsifiability shouldn’t be “retired.” Instead, falsifiability’s portfolio should be expanded, with full-time assistants (like explanatory power) hired to lighten falsifiability’s load.

I also, to be honest, don’t see that modern philosophy of science has advanced much beyond Popper in its understanding of these issues. Last year, I did something weird and impulsive: I read Karl Popper. Given all the smack people talk about him these days, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of nuance, reasonableness, and just general getting-it that I found. Indeed, I found a lot more of those things in Popper than I found in his latter-day overthrowers Kuhn and Feyerabend. For Popper (if not for some of his later admirers), falsifiability was not a crude bludgeon. Rather, it was the centerpiece of a richly-articulated worldview holding that millennia of human philosophical reflection had gotten it backwards: the question isn’t how to arrive at the Truth, but rather how to eliminate error. Which sounds kind of obvious, until I meet yet another person who rails to me about how empirical positivism can’t provide its own ultimate justification, and should therefore be replaced by the person’s favorite brand of cringe-inducing ugh.

Oh, I also think Sean might have made a tactical error in choosing string theory and the multiverse as his examples for why falsifiability needs to be retired. For it seems overwhelmingly likely to me that the following two propositions are both true:

1. Falsifiability is too crude of a concept to describe how science works. 2. In the specific cases of string theory and the multiverse, a dearth of novel falsifiable predictions really is a big problem.

As usual, the best bet is to use explanatory power as our criterion—in which case, I’d say string theory emerges as a complex and evolving story. On one end, there are insights like holography and AdS/CFT, which seem clearly to do explanatory work, and which I’d guess will stand as permanent contributions to human knowledge, even if the whole foundations on which they currently rest get superseded by something else. On the other end, there’s the idea, championed by a minority of string theorists and widely repeated in the press, that the anthropic principle applied to different patches of multiverse can be invoked as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free card, to rescue a favored theory from earlier hopes of successful empirical predictions that then failed to pan out. I wouldn’t know how to answer a layperson who asked why that wasn’t exactly the sort of thing Sir Karl was worried about, and for good reason.

Finally, not that Edge asked me, but I’d say the whole notions of “determinism” and “indeterminism” in physics are past ready for retirement. I can’t think of any work they do, that isn’t better done by predictability and unpredictability.

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Project: Amtrak Subway Map

almost 2 years ago
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Does America spend the most on national defense because of the American love of guns?

almost 2 years ago
We’ve got guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, spam, and guns. (George Frey/Bloomberg)

Tyler Cowen is a very smart economist, so I take the ideas he proposes very seriously. On Wednesday he offered up a lulu of a hypothesis. He suggests the facts that Americans own 43 percent of all the civilian guns in the world and that the United States is responsible for roughly 35 percent of the global defense expenditures are intrinsically and logically related. Or, in his own words:

[I]f America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry. And that culture is not going to be “Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism,” or “George Kennan’s Letter X,” or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War.  Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public.  And so it must be backed by…a fairly martial culture amongst the American citizenry.  And that probably will mean a fairly high level of gun ownership and a fairly high degree of skepticism about gun control.

If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case.  But I am skeptical. I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

Could Cowen’s hypothesis be correct? No, I don’t think so, for a couple of reasons. The biggest problem with Cowen’s hypothesis is a category error. There’s a difference between Americans owning such a large share of the world’s guns and lots of Americans being enthusiastic about owning guns. What appears to be happening, in fact, is that a smaller and smaller percentage of American households own a gun:

So what’s happening is that a smaller percentage of Americans are buying a hellalot more guns — which, as my Post colleague Philip Bump noted earlier this year, is strongly correlated with the election of Barack Obama as president.

It’s not hard to discern what’s going on here: Gun enthusiasts have bought into the NRA’s argument that everything is going to hell and one should best be armed before the zombie apocalypse comes. That’s an exaggeration — but not much of one.

Beyond that hard core of enthusiasts, however, Americans have actually grown less enchanted with owning a gun. Which kinda contradicts Cowen’s entire hypothesis that the only logically sustainable worldview is being pro-unregulated guns at home and pro-intervention abroad.

But that’s only the start. There are also a few other factors to consider:

  1. U.S. attitudes toward overseas intervention have fluctuated too much for domestic attitudes toward guns to explain. American attitudes have been decidedly less interventionist in the 1970s, the 1990s, and just a year or two ago. This doesn’t correlate well with the American share of global military expenditures.  Instead, it would appear that U.S. attitudes about America’s role in the world can largely be explained by a) events, my dear boy, events; and b) relative American power. Almost like Americans are realists, actually.
  2. The healthy fraction of immigrants — who presumably are not inculcated in, say, the martial culture of the American South — who serve in America’s armed forces.
  3. The fact that there are lot of different ways that one can think about “foreign policy interventionism,” and some of them shouldn’t be correlated with preferences for unregulated private ownership of guns. Indeed, if one posits that liberal internationalism represents the mainstream American foreign policy worldview, then those folks would likely support gun control while also supporting well-trained local and state police forces.

This was just off the top of my head early this AM with only half a cup of coffee in me. I’m betting there are a few more holes in Cowen’s logic that I’m missing.

I might be willing to buy a modified version of Cowen’s hypothesis:  The fraction of Americans who are super keen on buying guns are probably more likely to be Jacksonians when it comes to American foreign policy: aggressive, willing to unilaterally intervene abroad. But as Walter Russell Mead — who coined this term — notes in his excellent book “Special Providence,” there are three other strands of foreign policy thought that have a long tradition in American history, as well.

So to sum up: Cowen is focusing on the wrong metric; even if he was focusing on the right metric there’s no relationship between gun ownership and attitudes about foreign intervention, and, hey, there are a lot of ways one can think about foreign intervention. So I’m not sold on his hypothesis.

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How martial a country should the United States be? #guncontrol

almost 2 years ago

Chris Blattman cites a recent estimate that Americans own 42% of the civilian guns in the world.

You’ll also see estimates that America accounts for about half of the world’s defense spending. I believe those numbers are a misuse of purchasing power parity comparisons, but with proper adjustments it is not implausible to believe that America accounts for…about 42% of the defense spending. Or thereabouts.

I see those two numbers, and their rough similarity, as the most neglected fact in current debates about gun control.

I see many people who want to lower or perhaps raise those numbers, but I don’t see enough people analyzing the two as an integrated whole.

I don’t myself so often ask “should Americans have fewer guns?”, as that begs the question of how one might ever get there, which indeed has proven daunting by all accounts. But I do often ask myself “should America be a less martial country in in its ideological orientation?”

Note that the parts of the country with the most guns, namely the South, are especially prominent in the military and support for the military.

More importantly, if America is going to be the world’s policeman, on some scale or another, that has to be backed by a supportive culture among the citizenry. And that culture is not going to be “Hans Morgenthau’s foreign policy realism,” or “George Kennan’s Letter X,” or even Clausewitz’s treatise On War. Believe it or not, those are too intellectual for the American public. And so it must be backed by…a fairly martial culture amongst the American citizenry. And that probably will mean a fairly high level of gun ownership and a fairly high degree of skepticism about gun control.

If you think America can sustain its foreign policy interventionism, or threat of such, without a fairly martial culture at home, by all means make your case. But I am skeptical. I think it is far more likely that if you brought about gun control, and the cultural preconditions for successful gun control, America’s world role would fundamentally change and America’s would no longer play a global policeman role, for better or worse.

So who’s in this debate?

1. There are the anti-gun modern Democrats, who want Americans to own many fewer firearms, and who maybe favor slight cuts in defense spending, in order to spend more on redistribution. They don’t come to terms with the reality that their vision for America’s international state requires a fairly martial supporting culture at home, including strong attachments to gun ownership.

By the way, citations of the Australian gun control experience are a good indicator of this position and its partial naivete; Australian pacifism can to some extent free ride upon American martial interest. Another “warning sign” is if someone is incredulous that the San Bernardino attack is strengthening America’s attachment to a relatively martial internal culture, rather than leading to gun control. That person is out of touch, even if he or she is right about the substance of the issue.

2. There is the radical, anti-war, anti-military-industrial complex, semi-pacifist, anti-gun Left. Their positions on these issues are quite consistent, though this branch of the Left has disappeared almost entirely.

3. There are the libertarians, who hate martial culture on the international scene, but who wish to allow it or maybe even encourage it (personally, not through the government) at home, through the medium of guns. They are inconsistent, and they should consider being more pro-gun control than is currently the case. But I don’t expect them to budge: they will see this issue only through the lens of liberty, rather than through the lens of culture as well. They end up getting a lot of the gun liberties they wish to keep, but losing the broader cultural battle and somehow are perpetually surprised by this mix of outcomes.

I except non-American libertarians from these charges, and indeed many of them, albeit under the table, in fact support gun control as a libertarian and indeed pro-peace position.

4. There are the “right-wing conservatives.” They support a martial ethic, they support America’s active foreign policy abroad, and they are anti-gun control for the most part. And they find their greatest strength in the relatively martial American South. Like the old anti-war Left, their positions are consistent, and their positions are rooted in a cultural understanding of the issue. They see the gun control movement as a war on America’s greatness, America’s martial culture and the material embodiments of said culture. They don’t understand why “the world’s greatest nation” should give up its superpower role, and its supporting internal martial culture, all for the sake of limiting the number of suicides and maybe stopping a few shootings too. To them it’s not close to being worth it.

OK, now look at who is winning this debate in terms of actual policy changes. It is the conservatives, for the most part. No matter how much you may disagree with them, they have the most coherent cultural and intellectual position, apart from the old anti-war Left. And in a fight between the right-wing conservatives, and the old anti-war Left, for the hearts and minds of the American people, we already know that, for better or worse, the conservatives usually will win.

I find that pro-gun control Democrats, and libertarians, are incapable of understanding the issue in these cultural terms. But if you read something by a “really stupid conservative” on gun control, the more emotive and manipulative the text the better, it is often pretty close to the mark on the actual substance of what is at stake here.

Here is my earlier post, The culture of guns, the culture of alcohol.

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Announcing the Sourcegraph developer release: The intelligent, hackable code host for teams - The Sourcegraph Blog

almost 2 years ago

Today we’re excited to announce our first step toward giving every team the power to build better software—the developer release of Sourcegraph, the intelligent, hackable code host for teams.

As developers, we always wondered:

  • Why can’t a code host actually help you read and understand code like an IDE?
  • Why can’t you see who’s affected and what could break during a code review?
  • Why can’t you start discussions and create issues right in line with your code and have that context stay attached even when the code changes?
  • Why is code search so archaic—plain-text, single-repository, and ugly?
  • Why can’t you build deep integrations into your code host (and have access to its source code), so all of your dev tools live in one place?

After reaching hundreds of thousands of developers and hearing from thousands of companies using early versions of Sourcegraph, we knew we weren’t alone. Developers aren’t happy having just a “parking garage” for their code; they need a code host that offers much more. That’s why we’re building Sourcegraph.

If you’re ready to try a better platform for writing, reviewing, and shipping code, we invite you to start using the developer release of Sourcegraph with your team today. It’s free for teams of any size, self-hosts or mirrors your Git repositories, and installs on your own server in 10 minutes.

Already, Sourcegraph is where code and development live for both well-known startups and large enterprises today. In the coming months, we’re excited to share these teams’ stories about how Sourcegraph empowers them to build better software. These customers tell us they chose Sourcegraph for the following reasons:

With Code Intelligence, Sourcegraph not only understands your code, it does more with it than any other host. Your code comes alive when you can browse like an IDE, easily jumping to definitions and viewing docs and type information. It even works for code review diffs—no more jumping back and forth among your editor, terminal, and code review. It’s hard to go back to other code hosts once you’ve experienced this. (Note: It’s currently for Go and Java only; more languages coming soon.)

Starting discussions and creating issues in line with your code keeps everyone on the same page. On any part of the code, developers can ask questions, suggest improvements, and explain design decisions, and these conversations remain even when the code changes. Unlike chat or email discussions, conversations housed in Sourcegraph enable everyone on the team to benefit from the added context in the future.

Live usage examples save time and encourage best practices. With Sourcegraph, you’ll instantly see how any function, class, type, etc., is used across all of your company’s code. As a wise developer once said, “The right example is worth a thousand words of documentation.”

Smart search quickly gets you what you need. You can search by full text or by the name of any function, class, type, etc.

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Europe’s QE Quandary - QuickTake

almost 2 years ago

The Situation

Europe’s central bank began buying government bonds in March 2015 — six years after the U.S. embarked on QE — as the region’s fragile recovery lagged the rest of the world. President Mario Draghi overcame German-led opposition on the bank’s Governing Council and initially embarked an asset-purchase program worth about 1.1 trillion euros ($1.2 trillion). In December it extended the planned length of the program as inflation remained far below target. The central bank finally turned to bond buying after cutting one of its main interest rates below zero in 2014, the first major central bank to ever try such a move. The stimulus sent the euro tumbling to its lowest level against the dollar in a decade and pushed yields on some government bonds into negative territory. The ECB is also still providing cheap funding to any bank that needs it in its regular lending operations — a sort of temporary, on-demand version of QE. It began buying covered bonds in October 2014 — a type of debt secured by a pool of loans, such as mortgages — and added asset-backed securities in November 2014. Despite the controversy, asset purchases aren’t new to the ECB. It bought sovereign debt from countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy in 2010-2012, and covered bonds in 2009-2012.

The Background

The treaties that founded the modern EU prohibit the ECB from financing governments and broad buying of government bonds tests that idea. Germany’s Bundesbank, whose iron grip on prices after World War II helped to soothe German memories of 1920s hyperinflation, has been particularly outspoken against expanding the supply of money. The argument: The moves reduce the incentives for governments to stop overspending and make their economies more competitive. For the Germans, it’s a matter of principle, even though deflation, or a fall in prices, has been a bigger threat than inflation. Before Draghi suggested in September 2014 that the ECB could add as much as 1 trillion euros to its balance sheet, the scale of its stimulus measures had been small. Government bond purchases never exceeded 9 percent of total assets, and all the stimulus added up to less than half of the balance sheet in 2012. In the U.S., by contrast, bond purchases that ended in October 2014 quadrupled the Fed’s balance sheet to more than $4.5 trillion.

The Argument

Fed-style QE in Europe has overcome both practical and political challenges. Companies get most of their funding from bank loans rather than selling bonds, which is more common in the U.S. That makes European financial markets smaller and much less liquid. Government funding costs also vary widely across the bloc. The ECB has been buying sovereign bonds proportionate to the size of its member countries, so the bulk comes from nations like Germany and France, where yields have fallen below zero. There’s also still a debate about the effectiveness of QE and concern that it fuels asset bubbles as the money flows into stocks and other assets instead of benefiting companies and households. The current QE plan was preceded by a bond-buying program dubbed Outright Monetary Transactions that followed Draghi’s pledge in 2012 to do “whatever it takes” to save the common currency from collapse. The arrangement, which calmed markets at the height of the euro zone’s debt crisis and helped the region emerge from its longest-ever recession, was never tested.

The Reference Shelf

  • ECB statement from March 2015 on its bond-buying program and a Website with details of the expanded asset-purchase plan.
  • A November 2015 research paper from ECB economists.
  • A guide to the ECB’s QE program from the think tank Bruegel.
  • Draghi’s speech from April, 2014 outlining possible policy responses and a speech by ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure from September, 2013 on the OMT bond-purchase program.
  • Research paper from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis comparing QE policies of the world’s four major central banks.
  • QuickTakes on negative interest rates and currency wars.

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The Clerkenwell Kid: TIME, SPACE AND THE CITY

almost 2 years ago

The recent upheavals in the middle East set me thinking of the various curious ways that London has been influenced by the 'cult of Egyptology'. For instance, along the embankment, if you look closely, you will see cast iron camels and sphinxes supporting the benches that line the river. Such architectural influences abound. Hawksmoor's churches are full of them - check out the strange pyramid on St George's Bloomsbury or the sombre elevation of his St Mary Woolnoth. Both of these have the heavy psychedelic gravity of a pharoahs's tomb. The Victorians were nuts about ancient Egypt and of course looted many of the treasures they found on their archaeological forays. Cleopatra's needle on the embankment is probably the most prominent example and the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum are stuffed with such plunder.

From Hawksmoor onward, various English visionaries were not only influenced by the architectural styles of ancient Egypt but also by its occult belief systems. The nineteenth and early twentieth century saw the flowering of that peculiar hybrid of science and magic which gave rise to many strange stories and characters. I've written about one of them before - Austin Osman Spare (Phil Baker's excellent biography of the man has now been published by Strange Attractor press). And of course there were the more famous Aleister Crowley, Ouspensky, Blavatsky and the like.

An earlier Egyptologist was Joseph Bonomi - pictured above. He traded as an archaeological artist but is thought to have been a tomb raider. He is also generally considered to have been the designer of the Egyptian styled 'Courtoy' tomb in Brompton cemetery which was ostensibly intendd to be the final resting place of 'three spinsters'. An interesting legend has grown up around this mausoleum because it is the only one in the cemetery for which there is no record of construction. This, together with Bonomi's obsession with the afterlife (reflected in the heiroglyphs on the tomb), have been held by some to be evidence that it is not a tomb at all but a Time Machine and that the three spinsters, if they existed at all, were in fact his time travelling sponsors.

This is a lovely fantastical idea but unfortunately it is incorrect.

In fact the tomb is one of five 'teleportation' chambers designed by Joseph Bonomi and built by his occult partner the Clerkenwell inventor Samuel Alfred Warner. Amongst several other inventions, Warner claimed to have developed a mysterious missile capable of destroying ships from a distance. The Royal Navy were convinced enough by his demonstrations to pay him to develop this new weaponry but proved unable to reproduce his results independently. This was because what Warner had allegedly discovered (with the help of ancient knowledge gained by Bonomi in Egypt) was an occult way of 'teleporting' a bomb a short distance - I suppose you could call it a 'psychic torpedo'.

The Navy withdrew funding. Disappointed but undaunted, Warner and Bonomi found a new sponsor, Lord Kilmorey, who encouraged them to attempt to use the occult method of teleportation in a much grander but still hopefully commercial way. They conceived of the idea of a transportation grid around London to reduce the time taken to travel the large distances of the vast, congested metropolis. To this end they built seven Egyptian teleportation chambers in the most suitable places they could find - in each of the seven new cemeteries that had been built in the capital from 1839. The chamber that people mistake for a time machine in Brompton cemetery is just one of the seven and it is sadly rather dilapidated now (although it did give rise to the idea of the Tardis in the Doctor Who stories). Whether any of them actually worked as intended is now of course a moot point. If you like, you can go to see some of them (and try them out for yourself suppose). The ones at Brompton, Highgate and Kensal Rise are pictured here.

Some of the seven appear to have entirely vanished, as did Samuel Warner himself, although whether this was as a result of the normal processes of time or by becoming lost whilst teleporting who can say? Bonomi took his secrets and his knowledge to his grave - a rather modest one - in Brompton cemetery.

Ironically, of the several ways of now getting quickly around London, one of the ones that has become more popular is 'The Brompton' - a fold-up portable bicycle.

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In praise of clutter

almost 2 years ago

ON THE six square feet next to the computer on which this article is being written, a complex ecology has developed. There are approximately (it is impossible to be precise without disturbing the natural order) 100 assorted print-outs (e-mails, web pages, newspaper articles), 12 books, ten academic articles, six pamphlets, five notebooks, three newspapers, two magazines, two faxes, two telephone books, one file containing further faxes and print-outs, six pens, one box of matches, one key (origin unknown) and one handheld organiser. Some of this is being used in the writing of this article. Some of it will be used in the writing of future articles. Some of it will never be used at all, but will eventually, when the reason why this correspondent originally thought it so interesting has faded, be thrown in the bin.

This desk is not unusual in The Economist's editorial offices—just one particular sort of habitat in a rich and varied landscape. The deputy editor's office, for example, contains roughly 700 books (he just got rid of another 400). The defence correspondent has a charming mural patchwork of telephone numbers, e-mail print-outs, press releases and religious iconography. The economics correspondent's in-tray is two-and-a-half feet (76 centimetres) high—in two piles, for stability.

The inhabitants of these offices seem perfectly happy in their surroundings, and are mostly left alone to adapt the environment to their convenience. The editorial floors of The Economist's offices are treated somewhat like a nature reserve, where strange beasts roam and browse at will, undisturbed by the fads and fancies that sweep through the rest of business life. Others are not so lucky.

Clutterphobia

Many companies these days—United Parcel Service and General Motors in America, for instance, and Asda, a supermarket chain in Britain—run “clean desk” policies, requiring employees to remove all evidence of work from their desks by the end of the day. The reason given is usually security—that burglars will be less likely to find anything interesting if it is put away—but that is a poor excuse. Any self-respecting burglar can pick the lock of a filing cabinet, and will be far more likely to find what he is looking for in a methodical office than in one whose logic is comprehensible only to its creator.

The real reason is more likely to be the common hostility to “clutter”, which managers tend to regard as an obstacle, rather than an aid, to work. Although office clutter is usually almost entirely work-related, it tends nevertheless to be treated as though it consisted of the dirty socks and crisp packets of an adolescent. Workers are confused. They know that creating clutter is an essential part of the way they work, but they are made to feel guilty about it.

There are plenty of parasites who make a living out of this confusion. Jeffrey Mayer, for instance, exhorts people to “Get rid of the clutter! Save time! Become more productive!” in his book “Winning the Fight Between You and Your Desk”. The book is endorsed by Barry Greenberg, president of Chemex Industries: no doubt the Chrome Finish Autoflush Valve for Urinals and Toilets, advertised as his most exciting new product on his website, has benefited from the insights in this oeuvre. Donald Wetmore of the Productivity Institute, a company that purports to help people become more productive, cites the “messy desk” as one of the “Top Five Management Mistakes” and maintains that “studies [which studies? Citations, please] have shown that the person who works with a messy desk spends on average one-and-a-half hours a day looking for things or being distracted by things.”

During the 1990s, technological change lent authority to the familiar prejudice against clutter. Clutter, after all, was paper, and paper was old-fashioned. Paper has no memory; paper cannot be networked. As digital devices began to talk to each other, as computers of different sizes and shapes with different purposes proliferated, the persistent popularity of a means of communication that had been around for 6,000 years became increasingly irritating to the guardians of the Zeitgeist.

Some of the digital age's finest thinkers set about burying paper. Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, California, explained in “The Electronic Pinata: A Paperless Future is Waiting in the Wings” in 1992, that “paper is well on its way to becoming a metaphor”, in the sense that the screen and stylus of a handheld organiser mimic notebook and pencil, “rather than a medium”. “Digital paper and sushi computers [ones you can roll up]”, he wrote, “will become business realities after this decade is over.”

The tyranny of the tidy

It is fortunate for contemporary prophets that most of their predictions are as swiftly forgotten as made, for paper, while it may be used in a metaphorical sense by the electronics industry, has also remained stubbornly literal. The more digital information sped around the world, the more people wanted to print it out. From 1992 to 2002, world consumption of paper and board products grew from 250m tonnes to 325m.

Insecurity, said the visionaries: children clutching on to familiar objects as the world accelerates past them. As the value of tech stocks rose, bosses became increasingly determined to prove that they “got it”. One way of demonstrating that they were truly wired was to espouse the paperless vision.

A few of them tried to impose the vision on their employees. The most dramatic of these experiments took place at the offices of Chiat/Day, an American advertising agency. In 1993, Jay Chiat, the boss, had a revelation while on the ski slopes, and realised that his employees' minds were trapped by the boxes they were working in. Free their bodies from the box and you would free their minds. They were, accordingly, installed in offices without desks or filing cabinets. There were sofas to sit on and a few special rooms for meetings. There was nowhere to keep any paper; indeed, nobody was supposed to keep paper.

Chiat/Day's employees behaved like any group of refugees torn from familiar surroundings. They tried to rebuild their world. One woman bought a child's red wagon, put her paper files in it and trailed it around the corridors after her. Most people recreated their desks in the boots of their cars, where they stored their files and notebooks, dashing in and out of the building to the parking lot during meetings. Groups of workers took permanent control of meeting rooms and a shanty-town of desks grew up. The company was eventually bought by a traditionalist rival and normal life resumed.

The public sector got the bug too, though rather later. Panting along behind the curve, the British government committed £200m (then $290m) in 2001 to developing a paperless school. Baroness Ashton of Upholland, launching the scheme, waved a paper and pencil around, predicting their eventual demise .

The revenge of the trees

In most quarters, however, the fate of the tech stocks has taken the shine off those futuristic visions. The world is kinder to the past, these days, and to tools that have proved their value over millennia. A sign of the times is the publication of an excellent book* by Richard Harper and Abigail Sellen which details the many virtues of paper and the many workplaces in which it remains surprisingly important.

Air-traffic control, for example, does not, at first glance, seem a likely candidate. The business of monitoring incoming aircraft and predicting their future course, which depends on measurement and mathematics, sounds as though it should be entirely electronic. Yet paper remains an essential part of the air-traffic control system in Britain.

Each air-traffic controller works in a team of about five staff. Information about each incoming plane in that controller's sector is printed out on a piece of paper—a flight progress strip, about eight inches long and an inch deep. As the plane moves across the controller's sector, the strip is annotated—with, for instance, speed or altitude changes. On the basis of those annotations, different team members can do their job—working out, for instance, the implications of those changes for the next sector. In a busy sector, one team may have 50 strips on display.

Many attempts have been made to get rid of the flight progress strips. The only way of doing away with them, it turns out, is to give air-traffic controllers smaller areas to cover. For larger areas—which means a more complex job—the paper strips are essential. “They are a jolly efficient means of annotating information,” says Richard Wright of Britain's National Air Traffic Services. “The controllers can read them at a glance. If we replace them it will have to be with something better. They will be with us for some time yet.”

Paper's importance to the air-traffic controllers illustrates some of the reasons why it survives. It can be annotated more easily than text on a screen can; those marks can be seen more easily by several people than can digits on a screen; and it can be moved around, thus conveying more information.

It is less surprising, perhaps, that the International Monetary Fund, which Mr Harper and Ms Sellen also spent some time studying, should still use a certain amount of paper. But, given how technology-rich the Fund is—it had spent over $70m on IT in five years at the time of their study, and was spending $18,000 per head per year—its reliance on paper is somewhat unexpected. The 25 workers (16 economists, seven administrative workers and two research assistants) whom Mr Harper and Ms Sellen studied spent 97% of their time working on documents of some sort; of that, 86% of the time was spent working on paper. They liked paper because they could spread it around; because they could annotate colleagues' work without interfering with the text, as they would if they annotated electronically; and because paper interfered less with communication during a meeting than screens would.

In order to observe the differential impact of paper and computers on how people work, Mr Harper and Ms Sellen set up an experiment with ten people, five of them using paper and pens, five of them using screens only. Their task was to summarise a number of reports.

The people working with paper spread out all the reports on a desk, flicked through them, annotated them, moving easily from one to the other. The people working on computers struggled to do something similar, creating a number of windows on their screen. They found navigation—scrolling, clicking and dragging—slow and cumbersome, and several of them got quite cross. One started shouting at his computer.

A beautiful mind

But why do people need to spread papers around on their desks? Why don't they just read their paperwork and file it? Alison Kidd, a psychologist, investigated this question while working for Hewlett-Packard Laboratories. Ms Kidd, whose new firm, The Prospectory, helps companies to use technology to develop new ideas, interviewed 12 workers about how they used information, paper and computers.

Her paper, “The Marks are on the Knowledge Worker”, draws a distinction between “knowledge workers” and other categories, such as clerical workers. Clerical workers use information—about, say, customer orders—to aid the smooth working of the company. Knowledge workers use information to change themselves. So, for instance, knowledge workers take notes not in order to store information, but because the process of note-taking helps them to learn. Once taken, notes are rarely reviewed. According to a study of research workers reported in “The Technology of Team Navigation”, a paper by Edwin Hutchins, a psychologist, while 64% kept their notes for years, 44% hardly ever referred to them.

The relationship between workers and their clutter is similar. People spread stuff over their desks not because they are too lazy to file it, but because the paper serves as a physical representation of what is going on in their heads—“a temporary holding pattern for ideas and inputs which they cannot yet categorise or even decide how they might use”, as Ms Kidd puts it. The clutter cannot be filed because it has not been categorised. By the time the worker's ideas have taken form, and the clutter could be categorised, it has served its purpose and can therefore be binned. Filing it is a waste of time.

Why people need a physical map of what is going on in their heads is not clear. Ms Kidd suggests that the brain may just need some help. She speaks of her father, who suffers from frontal-lobe dementia, which affects the ability to interpret what is going on around one. As his brain has deteriorated, “he uses the physical correlate more than ever”, to the point at which his surroundings have become chaotic. So perhaps, as the tidy have always suspected, they are just smarter: they can do more stuff in their heads without outside help than the untidy can.

Filers versus pilers

Work by Steve Whittaker and Julia Hirschberg of ATT Labs-Research, however, suggests that clutter may actually be quite an efficient organising principle. In “The Character, Value and Management of Personal Paper Archives”, they examine the distinction that MIT's Tom Malone draws between “filers” and “pilers”. When filers receive paperwork, they put it away. When pilers get it, they leave it on the desk—not randomly, but in concentric circles. There is a “hot” area, of stuff that the worker is dealing with right now. There is a “warm” area, of stuff that needs to be got through in the next few days: it may be there, in part, as a prompt. And there is a “cold” area, at the edges of the desk, of stuff which could just as well be in an archive (or, often, the bin).

According to Mr Whittaker and Ms Hirschberg, the assumption that filers can find stuff more quickly is wrong. Filers, they say, “are less likely to access a given piece of data, and more likely to acquire extraneous data...In moderation, piling has the benefits of providing somewhat ready access to materials as well as reminding about tasks currently in progress.” Filers have two problems finding stuff: they tend to file too much, because they have put so much effort into building a filing system, and they often find it hard to remember how they categorised things.

As well as giving much-needed succour to those attached to the ecology of their desktops, these studies have some serious implications for managers. If they interfere with people's desktops, they may also interfere with their thinking. Trying to force workers to get rid of clutter and scan their papers into a computer system may be an expensive waste of time. Companies which do this may find that they create large, useless databases full of information that nobody ever uses.

By trying to computerise everything, managers may undermine the process they should be trying to support. There is a good example of this in the book by Mr Harper and Ms Sellen. A British telecoms-equipment manufacturer decided to computerise its salesmen's paperwork so that, rather than lugging files all over the country, they could plug into a database, and so that people back at base could also have access to this information.

The technical side of the project went well. However, the information that salesmen put into the database was vague to the point of uselessness. The problem was that the nature of the salesmen's files had been misunderstood. Managers had thought that salesmen relied on detailed notes about the nature of the customer's organisation and its likely requirements. Actually, the important information was about people in the client companies—their hobbies and interests, their personal characteristics, and about who to avoid dealing with. It wasn't stuff that the salesmen wanted to put on a database.

Britain's policemen had a similar experience. Chivvied by the Home Office to become more efficient (which is always assumed to mean more electronic), police forces issued constables with laptop computers to carry around with them, for instance, to take statements from witnesses to crimes. They found that the quality of the statements deteriorated. Writing into a computer, they discovered, gets in the way of talking to somebody. That is why you will never be interviewed by a journalist typing his notes into a computer. They want to look you in the eye.

Automation can achieve so much in so many areas of work that managers are tempted to think they can automate everything. But the most important aspects of work are the hardest to automate. “Businesses”, says Mr Harper, whose company, Appliance Studio, helps companies to design computer-based tools to work with, rather than against, workers, “must take care not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Computers are fine, in their place; but their proper place is at the edge of a healthy distribution of clutter.

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How to Not Lose an Argument - Less Wrong

almost 2 years ago
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Draghi May Enter Twilight Zone Where Fed Fears to Tread

almost 2 years ago

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi is contemplating taking interest rates into a twilight zone shunned by the Federal Reserve.

While cutting ECB rates may boost confidence, stimulate lending and foster growth, it could also involve reducing the bank’s deposit rate to zero or even lower. Once an obstacle for policy makers because it risks hurting the money markets they’re trying to revive, cutting the deposit rate from 0.25 percent is no longer a taboo, two euro-area central bank officials said on June 15.

“The European recession is worsening, the ECB has to do more,” said Julian Callow, chief European economist at Barclays Capital in London, who forecasts rates will be cut at the ECB’s next policy meeting on July 5. “A negative deposit rate is something they need to consider but taking it to zero as a first step is more likely.”

Should Draghi elect to cut the deposit rate to zero or lower, he’ll be entering territory few policy makers have dared to venture. Sweden’s Riksbank in July 2009 became the world’s first central bank to charge financial institutions for the money they deposited with it overnight. The Fed rejected cutting its deposit rate from 0.25 percent last year. With Europe’s debt crisis damping inflation pressures and curbing growth, the ECB may feel the benefits outweigh the negatives.

‘Psychological Effect’

“A rate cut could have an important psychological effect in the current environment,” said Christoph Kind, head of asset allocation at Frankfurt Trust, which manages about $20 billion. “Negative interest rates aren’t an irrational concept. I’m not sure, though, whether in the case of the ECB it will have the desired effect.”

The ECB uses three interest rates to steer borrowing costs in financial markets. The main refinancing rate determines how much banks pay for ECB loans, while the deposit and marginal rates provide a floor and ceiling for the interest banks charge each other overnight.

If the deposit rate was cut to zero or lower, it would discourage banks from parking excess liquidity with the ECB overnight, potentially prompting them to lend the cash instead. Almost 800 billion euros ($1 trillion) is being deposited with the ECB each day.

On the other hand, a deposit rate cut could hurt banks’ profitability by lowering money-market rates, potentially hampering credit supply to companies and households and reducing banks’ incentive to lend to other financial institutions.

Money Markets

“It won’t help the prospect of a functioning money market because banks won’t be compensated for the risk they’re taking,” said Orlando Green, a fixed-income strategist at Credit Agricole Corporate & Investment Bank in London. It would make more sense to lower the benchmark rate, thus reducing the interest banks pay on ECB loans, and keep the deposit rate where it is, Green said.

The ECB has lent banks more than 1 trillion euros in three-year loans, with the interest determined by the average of the benchmark rate over that period. Societe Generale SA estimates that cutting the key rate by 50 basis points would save banks 5 billion euros a year.

The deposit rate traditionally moves in tandem with the benchmark, which policy makers kept at a record low of 1 percent on June 6. Draghi said “a few” officials called for a cut, fueling speculation the bank could act next month.

ECB Liquidity

The deposit rate has served as the de facto benchmark, steering overnight market borrowing costs, since the ECB started to provide banks with unlimited liquidity after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008. That policy removed the need for banks to borrow from each other to meet their reserve requirements, pushing down interest rates. The euro overnight index average, or Eonia, stood at 0.33 percent yesterday.

“If you want to ease monetary policy, you won’t get it from cutting the main refinancing rate,” said Nick Kounis, head of macro research at ABN Amro Bank NV in Amsterdam. “Reducing it alone wouldn’t translate into lower market rates. Slashing the deposit rate makes more sense.”

The ECB isn’t the only central bank in Europe considering cutting interest rates below zero. Denmark’s central bank signaled last month that it is willing to let rates go negative to fight an appreciation of the krone, and the Swiss government has said it’s also assessing emergency measures such as negative rates to weaken the franc if Europe’s debt crisis escalates.

‘Costly Disruptions’

Other institutions have opted against such a move. The Fed started paying interest on deposits to help keep the federal funds rate near its target in October 2008 and has reimbursed banks with 0.25 percent on required and excess reserve balances since December that year.

Some Fed policy makers last August argued that reducing the rate could be helpful in easing financial conditions. While they discussed doing so in September, many expressed concern that such a move “risked costly disruptions to money markets and to the intermediation of credit,” the Fed said in minutes published on Oct. 12.

The Bank of Japan introduced a Complementary Deposit Facility in October 2008 to provide financial institutions with liquidity and stabilize markets, and has kept the interest it pays for the funds at 0.1 percent since then. Governor Masaaki Shirakawa told reporters on May 23 there would be “large demerits” to reducing the deposit rate because it could lead to a decline in money-market trading.

Encourage Lending

While the Bank of England cut its deposit rate to zero in March 2009, financial institutions that have a reserve account at the central bank don’t have an incentive to use the facility as all reserves are remunerated at the benchmark rate of 0.5 percent.

“If the ECB cut the deposit rate, it would take an important profit opportunity away from banks,” said Tobias Blattner, an economist at Daiwa Capital Markets Europe in London. By doing so, the ECB would also be “encouraging banks to lend to the real economy” even though “there’s hardly any demand for credit,” he said. Blattner predicts the ECB will cut its benchmark and leave the deposit rate at 0.25 percent.

ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure said on Feb. 19 that market interest rates of zero or lower “can result in a credit contraction.”

That’s because banks, trying to preserve their deposit bases by paying customers a reasonable interest rate, may reduce lending to companies and households because the return is too low and invest in higher-yielding assets instead.

Twin Benefits

The ECB has been examining the possible impact on markets of a deposit rate cut, helping to ease policy makers’ concerns, according to a euro-area official who asked not to be named because the deliberations are not public.

Callow said lowering the deposit rate would encourage banks in fiscally-sound countries like Germany, which are flush with excess cash, to lend to troubled banks on the euro-area periphery, which are dependent on ECB funding.

That would have the twin benefits of reducing banks’ addiction to ECB funding and shrinking excess liquidity in the system.

“A deposit rate at zero will be of particular support to banks in southern Europe because it could help encourage some flow of credit,” said Callow. “A negative deposit rate can be damaging for money markets.”

Negative rates would destroy the business model for money-market funds, which would face the prospect of paying to invest, said Societe Generale economist Klaus Baader.

‘Twilight Zone’

European money-market funds totaled 1.1 trillion euros at the end of March, according data from Fitch Ratings Co.

“But the ECB doesn’t set policy to keep alive certain parts of the financial sector,” he said. “Policy makers want to show that they haven’t exhausted their options yet.”

Another consequence of an ECB deposit rate cut may be that some banks take advantage of a clause in the three-year loans allowing them to pay the money back after a year, which would reduce excess liquidity in the system.

That could be the basis for a compromise between the ECB and the Bundesbank, whose President Jens Weidmann has repeatedly warned of the risks related to too-generous liquidity provision, said Carsten Brzeski, senior economist at ING Group in Brussels.

“Reducing excess liquidity with a rate cut should sound rather interesting for the Bundesbank,” he said. “Maybe that’s the twilight zone where Draghi and Weidmann will meet.”

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Archipelago and Atomic Communitarianism

almost 2 years ago

I.

In the old days, you had your Culture, and that was that. Your Culture told you lots of stuff about what you were and weren’t allowed to do, and by golly you listened. Your Culture told you to work the job prescribed to you by your caste and gender, to marry who your parents told you to marry or at least someone of the opposite sex, to worship at the proper temples and the proper times, and to talk about proper things as opposed to the blasphemous things said by the tribe over there.

Then we got Liberalism, which said all of that was mostly bunk. Like Wicca, its motto is “Do as you will, so long as it harms none”. Or in more political terms, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” or “If you don’t like gay sex, don’t have any” or “If you don’t like this TV program, don’t watch it” or “What happens in the bedroom between consenting adults is none of your business” or “It neither breaks my arm nor picks my pocket”. Your job isn’t to enforce your conception of virtue upon everyone to build the Virtuous Society, it’s to live your own life the way you want to live it and let other people live their own lives the way they want to live them. This is the much-maligned “atomic individualism,” or maybe just liberalism boiled down to its pure essence.

But atomic individualism wasn’t as great a solution as it sounded. Maybe one of the first cracks was tobacco ads. Even though putting up a billboard saying “SMOKE MARLBORO” neither breaks anyone’s arm nor picks their pocket, it shifts social expectations in such a way that bad effects occur. It’s hard to dismiss that with “Well, it’s people’s own choice to smoke and they should live their lives the way they want” if studies show that more people will want to live their lives in a way that gives them cancer in the presence of the billboard than otherwise.

From there we go into policies like Michael Bloomberg’s ban on giant sodas. While the soda ban itself was probably as much symbolic as anything, it’s hard to argue with the impetus behind it – a culture where everyone gets exposed to the option to buy very very unhealthy food all the time is going to be less healthy than one where there are some regulations in place to make EAT THIS DONUT NOW a less salient option. I mean, I know this is true. A few months ago when I was on a diet I cringed every time one my coworkers brought in a box of free donuts and placed wide-open in the doctors’ lounge; there was no way I wasn’t going to take one (or two, or three). I could ask people to stop, but they probably wouldn’t, and even if they did I’d just encounter the wide-open box of free donuts somewhere else. I’m not proposing that it is ethically wrong to bring in free donuts or that banning them is the correct policy, but I do want to make it clear that stating “it’s your free choice to partake or not” doesn’t eliminate the problem, and that this points to an entire class of serious issues where atomic individualism as construed above is at best an imperfect heuristic.

And I would be remiss talking about the modern turn away from individualism without mentioning social justice. The same people who once deployed individualistic arguments against conservatives: “If you don’t like profanity, don’t use it”, “If you don’t like this offensive TV show, don’t watch it”, “If you don’t like pornography, don’t buy it” – are now concerned about people using ethnic slurs, TV shows without enough minority characters, and pornography that encourages the objectification of women. I’ve objected to some of this on purely empirical grounds, but the least convenient possible world is the one where the purely empirical objections fall flat. If they ever discover proof positive that yeah, pornographication makes women hella objectified, is it acceptable to censor or ban misogynist media on a society-wide level?

And if the answer is yes – and if such media like really, really increases the incidence of rape I’m not sure how it couldn’t be – then what about all those conservative ideas we’ve been neglecting for so long? What if strong, cohesive, religious, demographically uniform communities make people more trusting, generous, and cooperative in a way that also decreases violent crime and other forms of misery? We have lots of evidence that this is true, and although we can doubt each individual study, we owe conservatives the courtesy of imagining the possible world in which they are right, the same as anti-misogyny leftists. Maybe media glorifying criminals or lionizing nonconformists above those who quietly follow cultural norms has the same kind of erosive effects on “values” as misogynist media. Or, at the very least, we ought to have a good philosophy in place so that we have some idea what to do it if does.

II.

A while ago, in Part V of this essay, I praised liberalism as the only peaceful answer to Hobbes’ dilemma of the war of all against all.

Hobbes says that if everyone’s fighting then everyone loses out. Even the winners probably end up worse off than if they had just been able to live in peace. He says that governments are good ways to prevent this kind of conflict. Someone – in his formulation a king – tells everyone else what they’re going to do, and then everyone else does it. No fighting necessary. If someone tries to start a conflict by ignoring the king, the king crushes them like a bug, no prolonged fighting involved.

But this replaces the problem of potential warfare with the problem of potential tyranny. So we’ve mostly shifted from absolute monarchies to other forms of government, which is all nice and well except that governments allow a different kind of war of all against all. Instead of trying to kill their enemies and steal their stuff, people are tempted to ban their enemies and confiscate their stuff. Instead of killing the Protestants, the Catholics simply ban Protestantism. Instead of forming vigilante mobs to stone homosexuals, the straights merely declare homosexuality is punishable by death. It might be better than the alternative – at least everyone knows where they stand and things stay peaceful – but the end result is still a lot of pretty miserable people.

Liberalism is a new form of Hobbesian equilibrium where the government enforces not only a ban on killing and stealing from people you don’t like, but also a ban on tyrannizing them out of existence. This is the famous “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” and so on, as well as the “freedom of what happens in the bedroom between consenting adults”. The Catholics don’t try to ban Protestantism, the Protestants don’t try to ban Catholicism, and everyone is happy.

Liberalism only works when it’s clear to everyone on all sides that there’s a certain neutral principle everyone has to stick to. The neutral principle can’t be the Bible, or Atlas Shrugged, or anything that makes it look like one philosophy is allowed to judge the others. Right now that principle is the Principle of Harm: you can do whatever you like unless it harms other people, in which case stop. We seem to have inelegantly tacked on an “also, we can collect taxes and use them for a social safety net and occasional attempts at social progress”, but it seems to be working pretty okay too.

The Strict Principle of Harm says that pretty much the only two things the government can get angry at is literally breaking your leg or picking your pocket – violence or theft. The Loose Principle of Harm says that the government can get angry at complicated indirect harms, things that Weaken The Moral Fabric Of Society. Like putting up tobacco ads. Or having really really big sodas. Or publishing hate speech against minorities. Or eroding trust in the community. Or media that objectifies women.

No one except the most ideologically pure libertarians seems to want to insist on the Strict Principle of Harm. But allowing the Loose Principle Of Harm restores all of the old wars to control other people that liberalism was supposed to prevent. The one person says “Gay marriage will result in homosexuality becoming more accepted, leading to increased rates of STDs! That’s a harm! We must ban gay marriage!” Another says “Allowing people to send their children to non-public schools could lead to kids at religious schools that preach against gay people, causing those children to commit hate crimes when they grow up! That’s a harm! We must ban non-public schools!” And so on, forever.

And I’m talking about non-governmental censorship just as much as government censorship. Even in the most anti-gay communities in the United States, the laws usually allow homosexuality or oppose it only in very weak, easily circumvented ways. The real problem for gays in these communities is the social pressure – whether that means disapproval or risk of violence – that they would likely face for coming out. This too is a violation of liberalism, and it’s one that’s as important or more important than the legal sort.

And right now our way of dealing with these problems is to argue them. “Well, gay people don’t really increase STDs too much.” Or “Home-schooled kids do better than public-schooled kids, so we need to allow them.” The problem is that arguments never terminate. Maybe if you’re incredibly lucky, after years of fighting you can get a couple of people on the other side to admit your side is right, but this is a pretty hard process to trust. The great thing about religious freedom is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which religion is correct, Catholicism or Protestantism?” and allows people to tolerate both Catholics and Protestants even if they are divided about the answer to this object-level question. The great thing about freedom of speech is that it short-circuits the debate of “Which party is correct, the Democrats or Republicans?” and allows people to express both liberal and conservative opinions even if they are divided about the object-level question.

If we force all of our discussions about whether to ban gay marriage or allow home schooling to depend on resolving the dispute about whether they indirectly harm the Fabric of Society in some way, we’re forcing dependence on object-level arguments in a way that historically has been very very bad.

Presumably here the more powerful groups would win out and be able to oppress the less powerful groups. We end up with exactly what liberalism tried to avoid – a society where everyone is the guardian of the virtue of everyone else, and anyone who wants to live their lives in a way different from the community’s consensus is out of luck.

In Part I, I argued that not allowing people to worry about culture and community at all was inadequate, because these things really do matter.

Here I’m saying that if we do allow people to worry about culture and community, we risk the bad old medieval days where all nonconformity gets ruthlessly quashed.

Right now we’re balanced precariously between the two states. There’s a lot of liberalism, and people are generally still allowed to be gay or home-school their children or practice their religion or whatever. But there’s also quite a bit of Enforced Virtue, where kids are forbidden to watch porn and certain kinds of media are censored and in some communities mentioning that you’re an atheist will get you Dirty Looks.

It tends to work okay for most of the population. Better than the alternatives, maybe? But there’s still a lot of the population that’s not free to do things that are very important to them. And there’s also a lot of the population that would like to live in more “virtuous” communities, whether it’s to lose weight faster or avoid STDs or not have to worry about being objectified. Dealing with these two competing issues is a pretty big part of political philosophy and one that most people don’t have any principled solution for.

III.

Imagine a new frontier suddenly opening. Maybe a wizard appears and gives us a map to a new archipelago that geographers had missed for the past few centuries. He doesn’t want to rule the archipelago himself, though he will reluctantly help kickstart the government. He just wants to give directions and a free galleon to anybody who wants one and can muster a group of likeminded friends large enough to start a self-sustaining colony.

And so the equivalent of our paleoconservatives go out and found communities based on virtue, where all sexual deviancy is banned and only wholesome films can be shown and people who burn the flag are thrown out to be eaten by wolves.

And the equivalent of our social justiciars go out and found communities where all movies have to have lots of strong minority characters in them, and all slurs are way beyond the pale, and nobody misgenders anybody.

And the equivalent of our Objectivists go out and found communities based totally on the Strict Principle of Harm where everyone is allowed to do whatever they want and there are no regulations on business and everything is super-capitalist all the time.

And some people who just really want to lose weight go out and found communities where you’re not allowed to place open boxes of donuts in the doctors’ lounge.

Usually the communities are based on a charter, which expresses some founding ideals and asks only the people who agree with those ideals to enter. The charter also specifies a system of government. It could be an absolute monarch, charged with enforcing those ideals upon a population too stupid to know what’s good for them. Or it could be a direct democracy of people who all agree on some basic principles but want to work out for themselves what direction the principles take them.

After a while the wizard decides to formalize and strengthen his system, not to mention work out some of the ethical dilemmas.

First he bans communities from declaring war on each other. That’s an obvious gain. He could just smite warmongers, but he thinks it’s more natural and organic to get all the communities into a united government (UniGov for short). Every community donates a certain amount to a military, and the military’s only job is to quash anyone from any community who tries to invade another.

Next he addresses externalities. For example, if some communities emit a lot of carbon, and that causes global warming which threatens to destroy other communities, UniGov puts a stop to that. If the offending communities refuse to stop emitting carbon, then there’s that military again.

The third thing he does is prevent memetic contamination. If one community wants to avoid all media that objectifies women, then no other community is allowed to broadcast women-objectifying media at it. If a community wants to live an anarcho-primitivist lifestyle, nobody else is allowed to import TVs. Every community decides exactly how much informational contact it wants to have with the rest of the continent, and no one is allowed to force them to have more than that.

But the wizard and UniGov’s most important task is to think of the children.

Imagine you’re conservative Christians, and you’re tired of this secular godless world, so you go off with your conservative Christian friends to found a conservative Christian community. You all pray together and stuff and are really happy. Then you have a daughter. Turns out she’s atheist and lesbian. What now?

Well, it might be that your kid would be much happier at the lesbian separatist community the next island over. The absolute minimum the united government can do is enforce freedom of movement. That is, the second your daughter decides she doesn’t want to be in Christiantopia anymore, she goes to a UniGov embassy nearby and asks for a ticket out, which they give her, free of charge. She gets airlifted to Lesbiantopia the next day. If anyone in Christiantopia tries to prevent her from reaching that embassy, or threatens her family if she leaves, or expresses the slightest amount of coercion to keep her around, UniGov burns their city and salts their field.

But this is not nearly enough to fully solve the child problem. A child who is abused may be too young to know that escape is an option, or may be brainwashed into thinking they are evil, or guilted into believing they are betraying their families to opt out. And although there is no perfect, elegant solution here, the practical solution is that UniGov enforces some pretty strict laws on child-rearing, and every child, no matter what other education they receive, also has to receive a class taught by a UniGov representative in which they learn about the other communities in the Archipelago, receive a basic non-brainwashed view of the world, and are given directions to their nearest UniGov representative who they can give their opt-out request to.

The list of communities they are informed about always starts with the capital, ruled by UniGov itself and considered an inoffensive, neutral option for people who don’t want anywhere in particular. And it always ends with a reminder that if they can gather enough support, UniGov will provide them with a galleon to go out and found their own community in hitherto uninhabited lands.

There’s one more problem UniGov has to deal with: malicious inter-community transfer. Suppose that there is some community which puts extreme effort into educating its children, an education which it supports through heavy taxation. New parents move to this community, reap the benefits, and then when their children grow up they move back to their previous community so they don’t have to pay the taxes to educate anyone else. The communities themselves prevent some of this by immigration restrictions – anyone who’s clearly taking advantage of them isn’t allowed in (except in the capital, which has an official committment to let in anyone who wants). But that still leaves the example of people maliciously leaving a high-tax community once they’ve got theirs. I imagine this is a big deal in Archipelago politics, but that in practice UniGov asks these people, even in their new homes, to pay higher tax rates to subsidize their old community. Or since that could be morally objectionable (imagine the lesbian separatist having to pay taxes to Christiantopia which oppressed her), maybe they pay the excess taxes to UniGov itself, just as a way of disincentivizing malicious movement.

Because there are UniGov taxes, and most people are happy to pay them. In my fantasy, UniGov isn’t an enemy, where the Christians view it as this evil atheist conglomerate trying to steal their kids away from them and the capitalists view it as this evil socialist conglomerate trying to enforce high taxes. The Christians, the capitalists, and everyone else are extraordinarily patriotic about being part of the Archipelago, for its full name is the Archipelago of Civilized Communities, it is the standard-bearer of civilization against the barbaric outside world, and it is precisely the institution that allows them to maintain their distinctiveness in the face of what would otherwise be irresistable pressure to conform. Atheistopia is the enemy of Christiantopia, but only in the same way the Democratic Party is the enemy of the Republican Party – two groups within the same community who may have different ideas but who consider themselves part of the same broader whole, fundamentally allies under a banner of which both are proud.

IV.

Robert Nozick once proposed a similar idea as a libertarian utopia, and it’s easy to see why. UniGov does very very little. Other than the part with children and the part with evening out taxation regimes, it just sits around preventing communities from using force against each other. That makes it very very easy for anyone who wants freedom to start a community that grants them the kind of freedom they want – or, more likely, to just start a community organized on purely libertarian principles. The United Government of Archipelago is the perfect minarchist night watchman state, and any additions you make over that are chosen by your own free will.

But other people could view the same plan as a conservative utopia. Conservativism, when it’s not just Libertarianism Lite, is about building strong cohesive communities of relatively similar people united around common values. Archipelago is obviously built to make this as easy as possible, and it’s hard to imagine that there wouldn’t pop up a bunch of communities built around the idea of Decent Small-Town God-Fearing People where everyone has white picket fences and goes to the same church and nobody has to lock their doors at night (so basically Utah; I feel like this is one of the rare cases where the US’ mostly-in-name-only Archipelagoness really asserts itself). People who didn’t fit in could go to a Community Of People Who Don’t Fit In and would have no need to nor right to complain, and no one would have to deal with Those Durned Bureaucrats In Washington telling them what to do.

But to me, this seems like a liberal utopia, even a leftist utopia, for three reasons.

The first reason is that it extends the basic principle of liberalism – solve differences of opinion by letting everyone do their own thing according to their own values, then celebrate the diversity this produces. I like homosexuality, you don’t, fine, I can be homosexual and you don’t have to, and having both gay and straight people living side by side enriches society. This just takes the whole thing one meta-level up – I want to live in a very sexually liberated community, you want to live in a community where sex is treated purely as a sacred act for the purpose of procreation, fine, I can live in the community I want and you can live in the community you want, and having both sexually-liberated and sexually-pure communities living side by side enriches society. It is pretty much saying that the solution to any perceived problems of liberalism is much more liberalism.

The second reason is quite similar to the conservative reason. A lot of liberals have some pretty strong demands about the sorts of things they want society to do. I was recently talking to Ozy about a group who believe that society billing thin people is fatphobic, and that everyone needs to admit obese people can be just as attractive and date more of them, and that anyone who preferentially dates thinner people is Problematic. They also want people to stop talking about nutrition and exercise publicly. I sympathize with these people, especially having recently read a study showing that obese people are much happier when surrounded by other obese, rather than skinny people. But realistically, their movement will fail, and even philosophically, I’m not sure how to determine if they have the right to demand what they are demanding or what that question means. Their best bet is to found a community on these kinds of principles and only invite people who already share their preferences and aesthetics going in.

The third reason is the reason I specifically draw leftism in here. Liberalism, and to a much greater degree leftism, are marked by the emphasis they place on oppression. They’re particularly marked by an emphasis on oppression being a really hard problem, and one that is structurally inherent to a certain society. They are marked by a moderate amount of despair that this oppression can ever be rooted out.

And I think a pretty strong response to this is making sure everyone is able to say “Hey, you better not oppress us, because if you do, we can pack up and go somewhere else.”

Like if you want to protest that this is unfair, that people shouldn’t be forced to leave their homes because of oppression, fine, fair enough. But given that oppression is going on, and you haven’t been able to fix it, giving people the choice to get away from it seems like a pretty big win. I am reminded of the many Jews who moved from Eastern Europe to America, the many blacks who moved from the southern US to the northern US or Canada, and the many gays who make it out of extremely homophobic areas to friendlier large cities. One could even make a metaphor, I think rightly, to telling battered women that they are allowed to leave their husbands, telling them they’re not forced to stay in a relationship that they consider abusive, and making sure that there are shelters available to receive them.

If any person who feels oppressed can leave whenever they like, to the point of being provided a free plane ticket by the government, how long can oppression go on before the oppressors give up and say “Yeah, guess we need someone to work at these factories now that all our workers have gone to the communally-owned factory down the road, we should probably at least let people unionize or something so they will tolerate us”?

A commenter in the latest Asch thread mentioned an interesting quote by Frederick Douglass:

The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us [black people]. I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us!

It sounds like, if Frederick Douglass had the opportunity to go to some other community, or even found a black ex-slave community, no racists allowed, he probably would have taken it [edit: or not, or had strict conditions]. If the people in slavery during his own time period had had the chance to leave their plantations for that community, I bet they would have taken it too. And if you believe there are still people today whose relationship with society are similar in kind, if not in degree, to that of a plantation slave, you should be pretty enthusiastic about the ability of exit rights and free association to disrupt those oppressive relationships.

V.

We lack Archipelago’s big advantage – a vast frontier of unsettled land.

Which is not to say that people don’t form communes. They do. Some people even have really clever ideas along these lines, like the seasteaders. But the United States isn’t going to become Archipelago any time soon.

There’s another problem too, which I describe in my Anti-Reactionary FAQ. Discussing ‘exit rights’, I say:

Exit rights are a great idea and of course having them is better than not having them. But I have yet to hear Reactionaries who cite them as a panacea explain in detail what exit rights we need beyond those we have already.

The United States allows its citizens to leave the country by buying a relatively cheap passport and go anywhere that will take them in, with the exception of a few arch-enemies like Cuba – and those exceptions are laughably easy to evade. It allows them to hold dual citizenship with various foreign powers. It even allows them to renounce their American citizenship entirely and become sole citizens of any foreign power that will accept them.

Few Americans take advantage of this opportunity in any but the most limited ways. When they do move abroad, it’s usually for business or family reasons, rather than a rational decision to move to a different country with policies more to their liking. There are constant threats by dissatisfied Americans to move to Canada, and one in a thousand even carry through with them, but the general situation seems to be that America has a very large neighbor that speaks the same language, and has an equally developed economy, and has policies that many Americans prefer to their own country’s, and isn’t too hard to move to, and almost no one takes advantage of this opportunity. Nor do I see many people, even among the rich, moving to Singapore or Dubai.

Heck, the US has fifty states. Moving from one to another is as easy as getting in a car, driving there, and renting a room, and although the federal government limits exactly how different their policies can be you better believe that there are very important differences in areas like taxes, business climate, education, crime, gun control, and many more. Yet aside from the fascinating but small-scale Free State Project there’s little politically-motivated interstate movement, nor do states seem to have been motivated to converge on their policies or be less ideologically driven.

What if we held an exit rights party, and nobody came?

Even aside from the international problems of gaining citizenship, dealing with a language barrier, and adapting to a new culture, people are just rooted – property, friends, family, jobs. The end result is that the only people who can leave their countries behind are very poor refugees with nothing to lose, and very rich jet-setters. The former aren’t very attractive customers, and the latter have all their money in tax shelters anyway.

So although the idea of being able to choose your country like a savvy consumer appeals to me, just saying “exit rights!” isn’t going to make it happen, and I haven’t heard any more elaborate plans.

I guess I still feel that way. So although Archipelago is an interesting exercise in political science, a sort of pure case we can compare ourselves to, it doesn’t look like a practical solution for real problems.

On the other hand, I do think it’s worth becoming more Archipelagian on the margin rather than less so, and that there are good ways to do it.

One of the things that started this whole line of thought was an argument on Facebook about a very conservative Christian law school trying to open up in Canada. They had lots of rules like how their students couldn’t have sex before marriage and stuff like that. The Canadian province they were in was trying to deny them accreditation, because conservative Christians are icky. I think the exact arguments being used were that it was homophobic, because the conservative Christians there would probably frown on married gays and therefore gays couldn’t have sex at all. Therefore, the law school shouldn’t be allowed to exist. There were other arguments of about this caliber, but they all seemed to boil down to “conservative Christians are icky”.

This very much annoyed me. Yes, conservative Christians are icky. And they should be allowed to form completely voluntary communities of icky people that enforce icky cultural norms and an insular society promoting ickiness, just like everyone else. If non-conservative-Christians don’t like what they’re doing, they should not go to that law school. Instead they can go to one of the dozens of other law schools that conform to their own philosophies. And if gays want a law school even friendlier to them than the average Canadian law school, they should be allowed to create some law school that only accepts gays and bans homophobes and teaches lots of courses on gay marriage law all the time.

Another person on the Facebook thread complained that this line of arguments leads to being okay with white separatists. And so it does. Fine. I think white separatists have exactly the right position about where the sort of white people who want to be white separatists should be relative to everyone else – separate. I am not sure what you think you are gaining by demanding that white separatists live in communities with a lot of black people in them, but I bet the black people in those communities aren’t thanking you. Why would they want a white separatist as a neighbor? Why should they have to have one?

If people want to go do their own thing in a way that harms no one else, you let them. That’s the Archipelagian way.

(someone will protest that Archipelagian voluntary freedom of association or disassociation could, in cases of enough racial prejudice, lead to segregation, and that segregation didn’t work. Indeed it didn’t. But I feel like a version of segregation in which black people actually had the legally mandated right to get away from white people and remain completely unmolested by them – and where a white-controlled government wasn’t in charge of divvying up resources between white and black communities – would have worked a lot better than the segregation we actually had. The segregation we actually had was one in which white and black communities were separate until white people wanted something from black people, at which case they waltzed in and took it. If communities were actually totally separate, government and everything, by definition it would be impossible for one to oppress the other. The black community might start with less, but that could be solved by some kind of reparations. The Archipelagian way of dealing with this issue would be for white separatists to have separate white communities, black separatists to have separate black communities, integrationists to have integrated communities, resdistributive taxation from wealthier communities going into less wealthy ones, and a strong central government ruthlessly enforcing laws against any community trying to hurt another. I don’t think there’s a single black person in the segregation-era South who wouldn’t have taken that deal, and any black person who thinks the effect of whites on their community today is net negative should be pretty interested as well.)

This is one reason I find people who hate seasteads so distasteful. I mean, here’s what Reuters has to say about seasteading:

Fringe movements, of course, rarely cast themselves as obviously fringe. Racist, anti-civil rights forces cloaked themselves in the benign language of “state’s rights”. Anti-gay religious entities adopted the glossy, positive imagery of “family values”. Similarly, though many Libertarians embrace a pseudo-patriotic apple pie nostalgia, behind this façade is a very un-American, sinister vision.

Sure, most libertarians may not want to do away entirely with the idea of government or, for that matter, government-protected rights and civil liberties. But many do — and ironically vie for political power in a nation they ultimately want to destroy. Even the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter mocked the paradox of Libertarian candidates: “Get rid of government — but first, make me president!” Libertarians sowed the seeds of anti-government discontent, which is on the rise, and now want to harvest that discontent for a very radical, anti-America agenda. The image of libertarians living off-shore in their lawless private nation-states is just a postcard of the future they hope to build on land.

Strangely, the libertarian agenda has largely escaped scrutiny, at least compared to that of social conservatives. The fact that the political class is locked in debate about whether Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry is more socially conservative only creates a veneer of mainstream legitimacy for the likes of Ron Paul, whose libertarianism may be even more extreme and dangerously un-patriotic. With any luck America will recognize anti-government extremism for what it is — before libertarians throw America overboard and render us all castaways.

Keep in mind this is because some people want to go off and do their own thing in the middle of the ocean far away from everyone else without bothering anyone. And the newspapers are trying to whip up a panic about “throwing America overboard”.

So one way we could become more Archipelagian is just trying not to yell at people who are trying to go off and doing their own thing quietly with a group of voluntarily consenting friends.

But I think a better candidate for how to build a more Archipelagian world is to encourage the fracture of society into subcultures.

Like, transsexuals may not be able to go to a transsexual island somewhere and build Transtopia where anyone who misgenders anyone else gets thrown into a volcano. But of the transsexuals I know, a lot of them have lots of transsexual friends, their cissexual friends are all up-to-date on trans issues and don’t do a lot of misgendering, and they have great social networks where they share information about what businesses and doctors are or aren’t trans-friendly. They can take advantage of trigger warnings to make sure they expose themselves to only the sources that fit the values of their community, the information that would get broadcast if it was a normal community that could impose media norms. As Internet interaction starts to replace real-life interaction (and I think for a lot of people the majority of their social life is already on the Internet, and for some the majority of their economic life is as well) it becomes increasingly easy to limit yourself to transsexual-friendly spaces that keep bad people away.

The rationalist community is another good example. If I wanted, I could move to the Bay Area tomorrow and never have more than a tiny amount of contact with non-rationalists again. I could have rationalist roommates, live in a rationalist group house, try to date only other rationalists, try to get a job with a rationalist nonprofit like CFAR or a rationalist company like Quixey, and never have to deal with the benighted and depressing non-rationalist world again. Even without moving to the Bay Area, it’s been pretty easy for me to keep a lot of my social life, both on- and off- line, rationalist-focused, and I don’t regret this at all.

I don’t know if the future will be virtual reality. I expect the post-singularity future will include something like VR, although that might be like describing teleportation as “basically a sort of pack animal”. But how much the immediate pre-singularity world will make use of virtual reality, I don’t know.

But I bet if it doesn’t, it will be because virtual reality has been circumvented by things like social networks, bitcoin, and Mechanical Turk, which make it possible to do most of your interaction through the Internet even though you’re not literally plugged into it.

And that seems to me like a pretty good start in creating an Archipelago. I already hang out with various Finns and Brits and Aussies a lot more closely than I do my next-door neighbors, and if we start using litecoin and someone else starts using dogecoin then I’ll be more economically connected to them too. The degree to which I encounter certain objectifying or unvirtuous or triggering media already depends more on the moderation policies of Less Wrong and Slate Star Codex and who I block from my Facebook feed, than it does any laws about censorship of US media.

At what point are national governments rendered mostly irrelevant compared to the norms and rules of the groups of which we are voluntary members?

I don’t know, but I kind of look forward to finding out. It seems like a great way to start searching for utopia, or at least getting some people away from their metaphorical abusive-husbands.

And the other thing is that I have pretty strong opinions on which communities are better than others. Some communities were founded by toxic people for ganging up with other toxic people to celebrate and magnify their toxicity, and these (surprise, surprise) tend to be toxic. Others were formed by very careful, easily-harmed people trying to exclude everyone who could harm them, and these tend to be pretty safe albeit sometimes overbearing. Other people hit some kind of sweet spot that makes friendly people want to come in and angry people want to stay out, or just do a really good job choosing friends.

But I think the end result is that the closer you come to true freedom of association, the closer you get to a world where everyone is a member of more or less the community they deserve. That would be a pretty unprecedented bit of progress.

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Overcoming Bias : How Plastic Are Values?

almost 2 years ago

I thought I understood cultural evolution. But in his new book, The Secret Of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter, Joseph Henrich schooled me. I felt like I learned more from his book than from the last dozen books I’ve read. For example, on the cultural plasticity of pleasure and pain:

Chili peppers were the primary spice of New World cuisines prior to the arrival of Europeans and are now routinely consume by about a quarter of all adults globally. Chili peppers have evolved chemical defenses, based on capsaicin, that make them aversive to tamales and rodents but desirable to birds. In mammals, capsicum directly activates a pain channel (TrpV1), which creates a burning sensation in response to various specific stimuli, including aside, high temperatures, and allyl isothiocyanate (which is found in mustard and wasabi). These chemical weapons aid chili pepper plants .. because birds provide a better dispersal system for the plants’ seeds. .. People come to enjoy the experience of eating chili peppers mostly by reinterpreting the pain signals caused by capsicum as pleasure or excitement. .. Children acquire this preference gradually, without being pressured or compelled. They want to learn to like chili peppers, to be like those they admire. .. Culture can overpower our innate mammalian aversions when necessary and without us knowing it. ..

Runners like me enjoy running, but normal people think running is painful and something to be avoided. Similarly weight lifters love that muscle soreness they get after a good workout. .. Experimental work shows that believing a pain-inducing treatment “helps” one’s muscles activates our opioid and/or our cannabinoid systems, which suppress the pain and increase out pain tolerance. ..

Those who saw the tough model [who reported lower pain ratings] showed (1) .. bodies stopped reacting to the threat, (2) lower and more stable heart rates, and (3) lower stress ratings. Cultural learning from the tough model changed their physiological reactions to electric shocks.

Henrich’s basic story is that from a very early age we look to see who around us who other people are looking at, and we they try to copy everything about those high prestige folks, including their values and preferences. In his words:

Humans are adaptive cultural learners who acquire ideas, beliefs, values, social norms, motivations, and worldview from others in their communities. To focus our cultural learning, we use cues of prestige, success, sex, dialect, and ethnicity, among others, and especially attend to particular domains, such as those involving food, sex, danger, and norm violations. .. Humans are status seekers and aware strongly influence by prestige. But what’s highly flexible is which behaviors or actions lead to high prestige. …The social norms we acquire often come with internalized motivations and ways of viewing the world (guiding our attention and memory), as well as with standards for judging and punching others. People’s preferences and motivations are not fixed.

The examples above show cultural influence can greatly change the intensity of pain and pleasure, and even flip pain into pleasure, and vice versa. Though the book doesn’t mention it, we see similar effects regarding sex – some people come to see pain as pleasure, and others see pleasure as pain.

All of this suggests that human preferences are surprisingly plastic. Not completely plastic mind you, but still, we have a big capacity to change what we see as pleasure or pain, as desirable or undesirable. Yes we usually can’t just individually will ourselves to love what we hated a few hours ago. But the net effect of all our experience over a lifetime is huge.

It seems that this should make us worry less that future folks will be happy. Even if it seems that future folks will have to do or experience things that we today would find unpleasant, future culture could change people so that they find these new things pleasant instead. Yes, if change happens very fast it might take culture time to adapt, and there could be a lot of unhappy people during the transition. And yes there are probably limits beyond which culture can’t make us like things. But within a wide range of actions and experiences, future folks can learn to like whatever it is that their world requires.

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A New Era of Industrial Engineering: Using Biology

almost 2 years ago

Ginkgo Bioworks is working to make biology a predictable programming language.

by Bryan Johnson

Ginkgo Bioworks founders (left to right) Austin Che, Reshma Shetty, Tom Knight, Jason Kelly, Barry Canton

A new type of foundry in Boston Harbor is ushering in a new industrial era. This foundry has no metal cutters or molten steel. In the 18,000-square-foot facility, scientists are churning out products used for everything from making inventive scents and flavors to fighting antibiotic resistance. These custom-designed products come from an unlikely source: tiny microorganisms.

Ginkgo Bioworks is engineering from nature. Its founders, who hail from MIT and include renowned computer scientist Tom Knight, are redesigning industrial engineering for a new generation, creating a revolution powered by biology.

Ginkgo is starting with the food and cosmetics industries. Its products take a page from people’s long history of culturing foods. Just like we use yeast to make wine and beer and bacteria cultures to make yogurt, Ginkgo is using the natural power of microorganisms to produce new flavors, nutrients and perfumes.

But their vision is much grander: designing organisms to tackle some of humanity’s best opportunities and daunting challenges. Ginkgo’s work includes making microorganisms that fight disease and remove greenhouse gases from our air with groups such as the DOE and DARPA.

It’s a tall order but by working to apply its technology across multiple levels of complexity, Ginkgo hopes to make a biological manufacturing method as reliable and predictable as an assembly line to make a car or a cell phone. This biology revolution promises to rewrite a near endless number of life’s operating systems.

The new foundry, dubbed Bioworks1, is the first organism engineering facility of its kind. Resembling a semiconductor factory, it uses advanced software, robotics and traditional biology to design, build and test DNA. Their automated system works in concert with their scientists to custom-engineer organisms for many different applications. And just like semiconductors, Ginkgo will update the Foundry every couple years to keep up with demand and rapidly improving technology.

Ginkgo engineers are designing organisms to spec for a variety of applications from perfumes to probiotics

Ginkgo is making the programming of biology predictable

Biology is a powerful technology. How a plant self-assembles and uses water, air and sunlight to make food is downright magical compared to how we manufacture electronics, says Jason Kelly, co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks. He wants to harness that power to design new technology from nature.

“It’s deeply inspiring to be building the tools that enable us to apply the insanely powerful technology of biology to address new applications.” - Jason Kelly, co-founder of Ginkgo Bioworks

Ginkgo’s scientists are writing a new code base for humanity, taking the programming of biology out of the realm of the unpredictable and into the predictable.

We, our environment, our universe all share a common code base. In living things, this code comprises sequences of base pairs that repeat across organisms. The scientists at Ginkgo are creating the tools and infrastructure needed to build new operating systems and applications using that code.

This is something computer software engineers have been doing for a long time, using 0s and 1s to create predictable outcomes in everything from airplane autopilot systems to processing a credit card transaction. Biological code is not yet there because of nature’s complexity. For decades, biologists, geneticists and chemists have been working to unlock the secrets of genetics to make a universal biological programming language — one in which they can design organisms to perform specific functions in predictable ways.

Just in the last few years, scientists have made amazing breakthroughs, learning how to write and edit DNA code. Making this code more predictable will take time and can start in unlikely places. Take the work that Ginkgo is doing to create natural flavors and scents: Ginkgo has learned how a wild rose produces scents, for example, and identified the genes responsible to engineer a unique rose oil from yeast.

The structured and methodological approach at Ginkgo is accelerating the pace of scientific advancement. This is a big shift from the past, in which an army of highly skilled scientists had to engineer biological cells by hand, requiring 50 different processes. The team at Ginkgo has automated these processes with a bank of robotics, so that they can instead spend their time doing the hard work of designing and customizing cells to solve specific problems.

The new 18,000-square-foot Bioworks1 Foundry uses advanced software, robotics and traditional biology to design, build and test DNA.

Ginkgo is working to create a new biological toolkit

Ginkgo is part of a growing cadre of companies such as Synthetic Genomics and Human Longevity that are changing the way we think about nearly every aspect of life by reimagining our world’s biological toolkit. These applied biologists are making organism engineering into a truly predictable engineering discipline.

One exciting application aims to tackle a pressing problem for humanity: antibiotic resistant superbugs. Antibiotic resistance is responsible for an estimated 700,000 deaths a year, according to a recent Wellcome Trust/UK report. Yet pharmaceutical companies are moving away from antibiotic development, so we need a new solution.

What if instead of trying to create new antibiotics, we found a way to remove the antibiotic-resistant genes? Ginkgo is working to design new types of probiotics with such infection-fighting power. These probiotics will not only maintain a healthy community of microorganisms in the human body but also target and remove bacteria with harmful traits such as antibiotic resistance.

Using biology to pursue our best opportunities and solve our greatest challenges opens up an entirely untapped world of solution sets for humanity — an endeavor I couldn’t be happier to support.

I feel fortunate to live in a time when a formerly unimaginable possibility of predictably programming the atoms comprising our existence is now within reach. We’re pleased to be investing in Ginkgo Bioworks, alongside other investors including Felicis Ventures, Data Collective, Y Combinator, iGlobe Partners, Vast Ventures, Azure Capital and iD SoftCapital.

The OSF team visits the new Ginkgo Bioworks Foundry while it is under construction.

Tell us how you want to rewrite the OS of life.

You can find us on Twitter @osfund and on the web at osfund.co

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Van Eck phreaking - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

almost 2 years ago

is a form of eavesdropping in which special equipment is used to pick up side-band electromagnetic emissions from electronics devices that correlate to hidden signals or data for the purpose of recreating these signals or data in order to spy on the electronic device. Side-band electromagnetic radiation emissions are present in, and with the proper equipment, can be captured from keyboards, computer displays, printers, and other electronic devices.

Van Eck phreaking of CRT displays is the process of eavesdropping on the contents of a CRT by detecting its electromagnetic emissions. It is named after Dutch computer researcher Wim van Eck, who in 1985 published the first paper on it, including proof of concept.[1]Phreaking is the process of exploiting telephone networks, used here because of its connection to eavesdropping.

Van Eck phreaking might also be used to compromise the secrecy of the votes in an election using electronic voting. This caused the Dutch government to ban the use of NewVote computer voting machines manufactured by SDU in the 2006 national elections, under the belief that ballot information might not be kept secret.[2][3] In a 2009 test of electronic voting systems in Brazil, Van Eck phreaking was used to successfully compromise ballot secrecy as a proof of concept.[4]

Basic principle

Information that drives the video display takes the form of high frequency electrical signals. These oscillating electric currents create electromagnetic radiation in the RF range. These radio emissions are correlated to the video image being displayed, so, in theory, they can be used to recover the displayed image.

CRTs

In a CRT the image is generated by an electron beam that sweeps back and forth across the screen. The electron beam excites the phosphor coating on the glass and causes it to glow. The strength of the beam determines the brightness of individual pixels (see CRT for a detailed description). The electric signal which drives the electron beam is amplified to hundreds of volts from TTL circuitry. This high frequency, high voltage signal creates electromagnetic radiation that has, according to Van Eck, “a remarkable resemblance to a broadcast TV signal”. The signal leaks out from displays and may be captured by an antenna, and once synchronization pulses are recreated and mixed in, an ordinary analog television receiver can display the result. The synchronization pulses can be recreated either through manual adjustment or by processing the signals emitted by electromagnetic coils as they deflect the CRT’s electron beam back and forth.

In the paper, Van Eck reports that in February 1985 a successful test of this concept was carried out with the cooperation of the BBC. Using a van filled with electronic equipment and equipped with a VHF antenna array, they were able to eavesdrop from a “large distance”.

Van Eck phreaking and protecting a CRT display from it was demonstrated on an episode of Tech TV’s The Screen Savers on December 18, 2003.[5][6]

LCDs

In April 2004, academic research revealed that flat panel and laptop displays are also vulnerable to electromagnetic eavesdropping. The required equipment for espionage was constructed in a university lab for less than US$2000.[7]

Communicating using Van Eck phreaking

In January 2015, the Airhopper project from Georgia Institute of Technology, USA demonstrated (at the Ben Gurion University, Israel) the use of Van Eck Phreaking to enable a keylogger to communicate through video signal manipulation keys pressed on the keyboard of a standard PC computer, to a program running on Android cellphone with earbud radio antenna.[8][9][10]

Tailored Access Batteries

A tailored Access Battery is a special laptop with Van Eck Phreaking electronics and power-side band encryption cracking electronics built-into the casing of the battery in combination with a remote transmitter/receiver. This allows for quick installation and removal of spying device by simply switching the battery.[11]

Countermeasures

Countermeasures are detailed in the article on TEMPEST, the NATO’s standard on spy-proofing digital equipment. One countermeasure involves shielding the equipment to minimize electromagnetic emissions. Another method, specifically for video information, scrambles the signals such that the image is perceptually undisturbed, but the emissions are harder to reverse engineer into images. Examples of this include low pass filtering fonts and randomizing the least significant bit of the video data information.

Another approach is to randomly shift the frequency of the clock used on keyboards with a custom chip containing a pseudorandom number generator (PRNG) with a long length and use an identical synchronized PRNG at the reception end to counfound such attacks.

See also

  • TEMPEST, a United States government standard for limiting electric or electromagnetic radiation emanations from electronic equipment
  • RINT, the acronym for Radiation Intelligence, military application
  • Election fraud

References

  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c Van Eck, Wim (1985). “Electromagnetic Radiation from Video Display Units: An Eavesdropping Risk?” (PDF). Computers & Security 4 (4): 269–286. doi:10.1016/0167-4048(85)90046-X. 
  2. Jump up ^ Dutch government scraps plans to use voting computers in 35 cities including Amsterdam (Herald tribune, 30. October 2006)
  3. Jump up ^ Use of SDU voting computers banned during Dutch general elections (Heise, October 31. 2006)
  4. Jump up ^ “Brazilian Breaks Secrecy of Brazil’s E-Voting Machines With Van Eck Phreaking”. Slashdot. November 21, 2009. 
  5. Jump up ^
  6. Jump up ^ The Screen Savers: Dark Tip - Van Eck Phreaking
  7. Jump up ^ Kuhn, M.G. (2004). “Electromagnetic Eavesdropping Risks of Flat-Panel Displays” (PDF). 4th Workshop on Privacy Enhancing Technologies: 23–25. 
  8. Jump up ^ Air-gapped computers are no longer secure, TechRepublic, January 26, 2015
  9. Jump up ^ Original Whitepaper
  10. Jump up ^ Airhopper demonstration video, Ben Gurion University
  11. Jump up ^ White paper, FDES institute, 1996, page 12.

External links

Categories:
  1. [1]
  2. [1]
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Containers and the Chasm: A Look at Container Adoption

almost 2 years ago

Geoffrey Moore’s technology adoption lifecycle is gospel for tech marketers. The model describes the path of diffusion for discontinuous innovations and explains how ecosystems emerge and coalesce around IT winners.

Moore and his work have been top of mind the last couple years now as we’ve observed the rise of and hype around Linux containers.

Containers are the next evolutionary leap forward from hypervisor-based hardware virtualization, offering a way to package an application with a complete filesystem that holds everything it needs to run: code, runtime, system tools and libraries. Containers are smaller, faster, more portable and more developer-friendly than their virtual machine predecessors. In that, containerization represents a paradigm shift in how systems and applications are built, deployed and managed.

In the tech sector, paradigm shift is a euphemism for opportunity, and, appropriately, we’ve seen a flood of companies come to market with their flavors of tools and platforms to ultimately enable organizations to run container-based, cloud-native applications.

The rapid onset of this innovation cycle has been exacerbated by a trend toward faster release times. VMware got buyers comfortable with a new vSphere release every year. Then the OpenStack Foundation promised releases every six months. With Docker, CoreOS and others we’re seeing releases every three months, if not faster, as each vies to become the standards bearer (if only judged by press mentions or Github stars).

Consequently, lost in this shuffle have been customers who are struggling to keep up.

To assess the state of container adoption, it’s helpful to evoke Moore’s model. Let’s take a look through that lens:

Innovators are “willing to take risks, have the highest social status, have financial liquidity, are social and have closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators. Their risk tolerance allows them to adopt technologies that may ultimately fail. Financial resources help absorb these failures.” These are the Googles and Twitters of the world who have been running containers as part of distributed systems architectures years before Docker was open sourced. These companies battle test approaches and provide blue prints for the broader market but operate at a scope and scale that is many years ahead of it.

Early adopters are “individuals with the highest degree of opinion leadership among the adopter categories. Early adopters have a higher social status, financial liquidity, advanced education and are more socially forward than late adopters.” These ‘gear-heads,’ are the developers and infrastructure engineers who have been test-driving container technology because it’s the cool, new thing. These devs are evangelists and core open source contributors and are responsible for driving standards, best practices and use cases. Early adopters are gatekeepers for new technologies in organizations and drive bottoms-up adoption.

However, bottoms-up adoption will only take a new innovation so far, which brings us to Moore’s famous chasm. The chasm is a gap that exists between the first two adoption cohorts and the early majority, where buyers are described as “pragmatists in pain,” and adoption decisions are driven by business need.

The chasm is precisely where we stand today: developer interest continues to surge as standards and best practices are beginning to emerge, but the industry is still waiting on the applications and business cases which are requisite to drive more mainstream adoption.

Given that we’re at this critical inflection point, we urge companies competing in this market to take the pragmatic, customer-centric view. Ultimately, this all relates to a potential brewing problem in the formation of any new ecosystem or value chain: when the rate of innovation outpaces the rate of customer adoption companies fail.

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Money Doesn't Matter In Politics

almost 2 years ago

Many have warned about the grave dangers ofmoney in politicsin the US. However, does this theory fit the data? Let’s test it out.

Since this is a test case, we should make it really really clear-cut. For example, even if money is super-important in politics, any one billionaire won’t get everything he wants. There could be another billionaire wanting the opposite. But if a whole bunch of billionaires got together, and said they all wanted the same thing, then you’d expect them to win if money really mattered.

Likewise, if a billionaire wants something, but he’s quiet and keeps it to himself, nothing will happen. So we should choose a case where billionaires are being really loud and actively lobbying for something. That way, we know that Congress knows what they want.

And similarly, we should pick something that’s at least moderately popular, and isn’t too big of a change. Even if Congress were in the pockets of Charles Koch or George Soros, they still wouldn’t vote for something really extreme, like 99% tax rates or abolishing the military. There are about 200,000 pages in the US Code, so for our test case, let’s also pick a proposal that changes, say, four or five of them.

Fortunately, the last year has given us a perfect ‘experiment’. Nine of the richest companies in the US, with a total valuation of $1.4 trillion, all got together and said exactly what they wanted. To make sure everyone knew, they even took out a full-page ad in the New York Times. And their idea was even pretty popular, with 60% of Americans in favor.

Result: nothing.

Okay, so maybe powerful national politicians can’t be pushed around by wealthy corporations. But let’s take an even more extreme example. Let’s take a big, powerful, multi-national corporation, with piles of money and powerful friends, against a little local government that nobody knows about. And sometimes the media or the courts will “fight for the little guy”, so let’s take a case where they aren’t involved.

Last year, Google wanted to build a bridge over a creek, between two Google office buildings. Nothing special, just an ordinary twenty-foot bridge, to save people from making a long, polluting car trip on congested Highway 101. But, to build it, they needed the permission of the Mountain View City Council. Result: denied.

The denial was ostensibly for environmental reasons, even though the bridge would save thousands of miles of polluting car travel. So Google offered to conduct an environmental impact review, to prove the bridge was green-friendly. But even that was denied.

To illustrate how extreme the disparity is here, let’s examine a few key statistics:

Google budget: $45,860,000,000

Mountain View budget: $87,000,000

Google employees: 49,430

Mountain View employees: 378

Google is also Mountain View’s largest employer, and owns 11% of Mountain View’s real estate by valuation. According to the money-in-politics theory, the City of Mountain View should be bending over backwards to please them. Yet, this isn’t what we see at all.

The money-in-politics theory has been formally tested, by famed economist Steven Levitt. Political campaigns are normally hard to experiment with, since there are many “uncontrolled variables” – did Barack Obama win because of all his donations, or did people donate because he was a popular candidate? And so Levitt looked at were races where the same two candidates ran against each other multiple times. He found that, in Congressional races where candidates spent about $250K (1990 dollars), every $100K spent got another 0.3% of the vote, a tiny amount.

Reading the newspapers, one hears about powerful people making political donations. One might surmise that the donations cause the power – first you donate, then you become powerful. However, looking more closely, this seems like a cause-and-effect error. People, for the most part, first become powerful, through some as-yet-unknown process. Then, after they have power, they start donating to campaigns. Attempts to do it the other way around have tended to not work so well.

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Why Most Published Research Findings Are False

almost 2 years ago
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Washington DC to Boston - Epic Transit Journeys

almost 2 years ago
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Main Page - Epic Transit Journeys

almost 2 years ago
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Los Angeles to San Francisco - Epic Transit Journeys

almost 2 years ago
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Why is there so little money in politics?

almost 2 years ago

With campaign season approaching, maybe it is time to reprise this public choice classic from Stephen Ansolabehere, John M. de Figueiredo and James M. Snyder Jr. (pdf), here is the abstract:

In this paper, we argue that campaign contributions are not a form of policy-buying, but are rather a form of political participation and consumption. We summarize the data on campaign spending, and show through our descriptive statistics and our econometric analysis that individuals, not special interests, are the main source of campaign contributions. Moreover, we demonstrate that campaign giving is a normal good, dependent upon income, and campaign contributions as a percent of GDP have not risen appreciably in over 100 years – if anything, they have probably fallen. We then show that only one in four studies from the previous literature support the popular notion that contributions buy legislators’ votes. Finally, we illustrate that when one controls for unobserved constituent and legislator effects, there is little relationship between money and legislator votes. Thus, the question is not why there is so little money [in] politics, but rather why organized interests give at all. We conclude by offering potential answers to this question.

For the pointer I thank Matt Mitchell.

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Overcoming Bias : This is the Dream Time

almost 2 years ago

Aboriginals believe in … [a] “dreamtime”, more real than reality itself. Whatever happens in the dreamtime establishes the values, symbols, and laws of Aboriginal society. … [It] is also often used to refer to an individual’s or group’s set of beliefs or spirituality. … It is a complex network of knowledge, faith, and practices that derive from stories of creation. Wikipedia.

We will soon enter an era where most anyone can at any time talk directly with most anyone else who can talk.  Cheap global talk and travel continue to tie our global economy and culture more closely together.  But in the distant future, our descendants will probably have spread out across space, and redesigned their minds and bodies to explode Cambrian-style into a vast space of possible creatures. If they are free enough to choose where to go and what to become, our distant descendants will fragment into diverse local economies and cultures.

Given a similar freedom of fertility, most of our distant descendants will also live near a subsistence level.  Per-capita wealth has only been rising lately because income has grown faster than population.  But if income only doubled every century, in a million years that would be a factor of 103000, which seems impossible to achieve with only the 1070 atoms of our galaxy available by then.  Yes we have seen a remarkable demographic transition, wherein richer nations have fewer kids, but we already see contrarian subgroups like Hutterites, Hmongs, or Mormons that grow much faster.  So unless strong central controls prevent it, over the long run such groups will easily grow faster than the economy, making per person income drop to near subsistence levels.  Even so, they will be basically happy in such a world.

Our distant descendants will also likely have hit diminishing returns to discovery; by then most everything worth knowing will be known by many; truly new and important discoveries will be quite rare. Complete introspection will be feasible, and immortality will be available to the few who can afford it.  Wild nature will be mostly gone, and universal coordination and destruction will both be far harder than today.

So what will these distant descendants think of their ancestors?  They will find much in common with our distant hunting ancestors, who also continued for ages at near subsistence level in a vast fragmented world with slow growth amid rare slow contact with strange distant cultures.  While those ancestors were quite ignorant about their world, and immersed in a vast wild nature instead of a vast space of people, their behavior was still pretty well adapted to the world they lived in.  While they suffered many misconceptions, those illusions rarely made them much worse off; their behavior was usually adaptive.

When our distant descendants think about our era, however, differences will loom larger.  Yes they will see that we were more like them in knowing more things, and in having less contact with a wild nature.  But our brief period of very rapid growth and discovery and our globally integrated economy and culture will be quite foreign to them.  Yet even these differences will pale relative to one huge difference: our lives are far more dominated by consequential delusions: wildly false beliefs and non-adaptive values that matter.  While our descendants may explore delusion-dominated virtual realities, they will well understand that such things cannot be real, and don’t much influence history.  In contrast, we live in the brief but important “dreamtime” when delusions drove history.  Our descendants will remember our era as the one where the human capacity to sincerely believe crazy non-adaptive things, and act on those beliefs, was dialed to the max.

Why is our era so delusory?

  1. Our knowledge has been growing so fast, and bringing such radical changes, that many of us see anything as possible, so that nothing can really be labeled delusion.
  2. Rich folks like us have larger buffers of wealth to cushion our mistakes; we can live happily and long even while acting on crazy beliefs.
  3. We humans evolved to signal various features of ourselves to one another via delusions; we usually think that the various things we do to signal are done for other reasons.  For example, we think we pay for docs to help our loved ones get well, rather than to show that we care.  We think we do politics because we want to help our nation, rather than to signal our character and loyalty.  We are overconfident in our abilities in order to convince others to have confidence in us, and so on.  But while our ancestors’ delusions were well adapted to their situations, and so didn’t hurt them much, the same delusions are not nearly as adapted to our rapidly changing world; our signaling induced delusions hurt us more.
  4. Humans seem to have evolved to emphasize signaling more in good times than in bad.  Since very few physical investments last very long, the main investments one can make in good times that last until bad times are allies and reputation. So we are built to, in good times, spend more time and energy on leisure, medicine, charity, morals, patriotism, and so on.  Relative to our ancestors’ world, our whole era is one big very good time.
  5. Our minds were built with a near mode designed more for practical concrete reasoning about things up close, and a far mode designed more for presenting a good image to others via our abstract reasoning about things far away.  But our minds must now deal with a much larger world where many relevant things are much further away, and abstract reasoning is more useful.  So we rely more than did our ancestors on that abstract far mode capability.  But since that far mode was tuned more for presenting a good image, it is much more tolerant of good-looking delusions.
  6. Tech now enables more exposure to mood-altering drugs and arts, and specialists make them into especially potent “super-stimuli.” Our ancestors used drugs and went into art appreciation mode rarely, e.g., around the campfire listening to stories or music, or watching dances.  Since such contexts were relatively safe places, our drug and art appreciation modes are relatively tolerant of delusions.  But today drugs are cheap, we can hear music all the time, most surfaces are covered by art, and we spend much of our day with stories from TV, video games, etc.  And all that art is made by organized groups of specialists far better than the typical ancestral artist.
  7. We were built to be influenced by the rhetoric, eloquence, difficulty, drama, and repetition of arguments, not just their logic.  Perhaps this once helped us to ally us with high status folks.  And we were built to show our ideals via the stories we like, and also to like well-crafted stories.  But today we are exposed to arguments and stories by folks far more expert than found in ancestral tribes.  Since we are built to be quite awed and persuaded by such displays, our beliefs and ideals are highly influenced by our writers and story-tellers.  And these folks in turn tell us what we want to hear, or what their patrons want us to hear, neither of which need have much to do with reality.

These factors combine to make our era the most consistently and consequentially deluded and unadaptive of any era ever.  When they remember us, our distant descendants will be shake their heads at the demographic transition, where we each took far less than full advantage of the reproductive opportunities our wealth offered.  They will note how we instead spent our wealth to buy products we saw in ads that talked mostly about the sort of folks who buy them.  They will lament our obsession with super-stimili that highjacked our evolved heuristics to give us taste without nutrition.   They will note we spent vast sums on things that didn’t actually help on the margin, such as on medicine that didn’t make us healthier, or education that didn’t make us more productive.

Our descendants will also remember our adolescent and extreme mating patterns, our extreme gender personalities, and our unprecedentedly fierce warriors.  They will be amazed at the strange religious, political, and social beliefs we acted on, and how we preferred a political system, democracy, designed to emphasize the hardly-considered fleeting delusory thoughts of the median voter rather than the considered opinions of our best experts.

Perhaps most important, our descendants may remember how history hung by a precarious thread on a few crucial coordination choices that our highly integrated rapidly changing world did or might have allowed us to achieve, and the strange delusions that influenced such choices.  These choices might have been about global warming, rampaging robots, nuclear weapons, bioterror, etc.  Our delusions may have led us to do something quite wonderful, or quite horrible, that permanently changed the options available to our descendants.  This would be the most lasting legacy of this, our explosively growing dream time, when what was once adaptive behavior with mostly harmless delusions become strange and dreamy unadaptive behavior, before adaptation again reasserted a clear-headed relation between behavior and reality.

Our dreamtime will be a time of legend, a favorite setting for grand fiction, when low-delusion heroes and the strange rich clowns around them could most plausibly have changed the course of history.  Perhaps most dramatic will be tragedies about dreamtime advocates who could foresee and were horrified by the coming slow stable adaptive eons, and tried passionately, but unsuccessfully, to prevent them.

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Changing the Definition of Science - Less Wrong

almost 2 years ago

New Scientist on changing the definition of science, ungated here:

Others believe such criticism is based on a misunderstanding. "Some people say that the multiverse concept isn't falsifiable because it's unobservable—but that's a fallacy," says cosmologist Max Tegmark of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He argues that the multiverse is a natural consequence of such eminently falsifiable theories as quantum theory and general relativity. As such, the multiverse theory stands or fails according to how well these other theories stand up to observational tests. [...] So if the simplicity of falsification is misleading, what should scientists be doing instead? Howson believes it is time to ditch Popper's notion of capturing the scientific process using deductive logic. Instead, the focus should be on reflecting what scientists actually do: gathering the weight of evidence for rival theories and assessing their relative plausibility.

Howson is a leading advocate for an alternative view of science based not on simplistic true/false logic, but on the far more subtle concept of degrees of belief. At its heart is a fundamental connection between the subjective concept of belief and the cold, hard mathematics of probability.

I'm a good deal less of a lonely iconoclast than I seem. Maybe it's just the way I talk.

The points of departure between myself and mainstream let's-reformulate-Science-as-Bayesianism is that:

(1) I'm not in academia and can censor myself a lot less when it comes to saying "extreme" things that others might well already be thinking.

(2) I think that just teaching probability theory won't be nearly enough. We'll have to synthesize lessons from multiple sciences like cognitive biases and social psychology, forming a new coherent Art of Bayescraft, before we are actually going to do any better in the real world than modern science. Science tolerates errors, Bayescraft does not. Nobel laureate Robert Aumann, who first proved that Bayesians with the same priors cannot agree to disagree, is a believing Orthodox Jew. Probability theory alone won't do the trick, when it comes to really teaching scientists. This is my primary point of departure, and it is not something I've seen suggested elsewhere.

(3) I think it is possible to do better in the real world. In the extreme case, a Bayesian superintelligence could use enormously less sensory information than a human scientist to come to correct conclusions. First time you ever see an apple fall down, you observe the position goes as the square of time, invent calculus, generalize Newton's Laws... and see that Newton's Laws involve action at a distance, look for alternative explanations with increased locality, invent relativistic covariance around a hypothetical speed limit, and consider that General Relativity might be worth testing. Humans do not process evidence efficiently—our minds are so noisy that it requires orders of magnitude more extra evidence to set us back on track after we derail. Our collective, academia, is even slower.

Part of The Quantum Physics Sequence

Next post: "Faster Than Science"

Previous post: "No Safe Defense, Not Even Science"

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Overton window - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

almost 2 years ago
For the Glenn Beck novel, see The Overton Window.

The , also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas the public will accept. It is used by media pundits.[1][2] The term is derived from its originator, Joseph P. Overton (1960–2003),[3] a former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy,[4] who in his description of his eponymous window claimed that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within the window, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences.[5] According to Overton’s description, his window includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

Overview

Overton described a spectrum from “more free” to “less free” with regard to government intervention, oriented vertically on an axis. As the spectrum moves or expands, an idea at a given location may become more or less politically acceptable. His degrees of acceptance[6] of public ideas are roughly:

  • Unthinkable
  • Radical
  • Acceptable
  • Sensible
  • Popular
  • Policy

The Overton window is an approach to identifying which ideas define the domain of acceptability within a democracy’s possible governmental policies. Proponents of policies outside the window seek to persuade or educate the public in order to move and/or expand the window. Proponents of current policies, or similar ones, within the window seek to convince people that policies outside it should be deemed unacceptable.

After Overton’s death, others have examined the concept of adjusting the window by the deliberate promotion of ideas outside of it, or “outer fringe” ideas, with the intention of making less fringe ideas acceptable by comparison.[7] The “door-in-the-face” technique of persuasion is similar.

Historical precedents

An idea similar to the Overton window was expressed by Anthony Trollope in 1868 in his novel Phineas Finn:

“Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come to be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable;–and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.”

“It is no loss of time,” said Phineas, “to have taken the first great step in making it.”

“The first great step was taken long ago,” said Mr. Monk,–”taken by men who were looked upon as revolutionary demagogues, almost as traitors, because they took it. But it is a great thing to take any step that leads us onwards.”

In his “West India Emancipation” speech at Canandaigua, New York, in 1857,[8]abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass described how public opinion limits the ability of those in power to act with impunity:

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

The idea is very similar to an earlier theory that came to be known as Hallin’s spheres. In his 1986 book The Uncensored War,[9] communication scholar Daniel C. Hallin posits three areas of media coverage into which a topic may fall. The areas are diagrammed as concentric circles called spheres. From innermost to outermost they are the Sphere of Consensus, the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy, and the Sphere of Deviance.

Hallin’s theory is developed and applied primarily as a theory that explains varying levels of objectivity in media coverage, but it also accounts for the ongoing contest among media and other political actors about what counts as legitimate disagreement, potentially leading to changes in the boundaries between spheres. As one study that applies Hallin’s theory explains, “the borders between the three spheres are dynamic, depending on the political climate and on the editorial line of the various media outlets.”[10]

In popular culture

The novel Boomsday applies the Overton window to the subject of Social Security reform in the United States. The technique used was to agitate for “voluntary transitioning”, that is, suicide at a certain age in exchange for benefits, as a method of reducing the cost of Social Security. Ultimately, the stated goal was for a more modest result of reducing the burden that it was claimed was imposed on younger people for the costs of Social Security.

In 2010, conservative talk-show host and columnist Glenn Beck published a novel titled The Overton Window.[11]

See also

References

  1. Jump up ^ David Weigel (2015-04-14). “Marco Rubio:No Iran Deal Unless the Country Recognizes Israel”. Bloomberg Politics. Retrieved 2015-07-11. 
  2. Jump up ^ Paul Krugman (2015-02-27). “The Closed Minds Problem”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-07-11. 
  3. Jump up ^ NNDB “intelligence aggregator” Web site, “Joseph P. Overton”
  4. Jump up ^ “Joseph Overton biography and article index”. Mackinac. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  5. Jump up ^ Joseph Lehman. “A Brief Explanation of the Overton Window”. Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Retrieved 7 July 2012. 
  6. Jump up ^ Daily Kos story, “Why the Right-Wing Gets It—and Why Dems Don’t”
  7. Jump up ^ Daily Kos diary, “Morning Feature: Crazy Like a Fox?”
  8. Jump up ^ BlackPast.org website “(1857) Frederick Douglass, ‘If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress’”
  9. Jump up ^ Hallin, Daniel (1986). The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University press. pp. 116–118. ISBN 978-0-19-503814-9. 
  10. Jump up ^ Figenschou, Tine Ustad; Beyer, Audun (October 2014). “The Limits of the Debate How the Oslo Terror Shook the Norwegian Immigration Debate”. The International Journal of Press/Politics 19 (4): 435. doi:10.1177/1940161214542954. 
  11. Jump up ^ Glenn Beck Web site, Books, “The Overton Window”

External links

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Meditations On Moloch

almost 2 years ago

[Content note: Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions!]

I.

Scattered examples of my reading material for this month: Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom; Moloch by Allan Ginsberg, On Gnon by Nick Land.

Chronology is a harsh master. You read three totally unrelated things at the same time and they start seeming like obviously connected blind-man-and-elephant style groping at different aspects of the same fiendishly-hard-to-express point.

This post is me trying to throw the elephant right at you at ninety miles an hour, except I digress into poetry and mysticism and it ends up being a confusing symbolically-laden elephant full of weird literary criticism and fringe futurology. If you want something sober, go read the one about SSRIs again.

A second, more relevant warning: this is really long.

II.

Still here? Let’s start with Ginsberg:

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?

Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!

Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!

Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!

Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!

Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light streaming out of the sky!

Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible madhouses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!

They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American river!

Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!

Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood! Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years’ animal screams and suicides! Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!

Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells! They bade farewell! They jumped off the roof! to solitude! waving! carrying flowers! Down to the river! into the street!

What has always impressed me about this poem is its conception of civilization as an individual entity. You can almost see him, with his fingers of armies and his skyscraper-window eyes…

A lot of the commentators say Moloch represents capitalism. This is definitely a piece of it, definitely even a big piece. But it doesn’t exactly fit. Capitalism, whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen? Capitalism in whom I am a consciousness without a body? Capitalism, therefore granite cocks?

Moloch is introduced as the answer to a question – C. S. Lewis’ question in Hierarchy Of Philosopherswhat does it? Earth could be fair, and all men glad and wise. Instead we have prisons, smokestacks, asylums. What sphinx of cement and aluminum breaks open their skulls and eats up their imagination?

And Ginsberg answers: Moloch does it.

There’s a passage in the Principia Discordia where Malaclypse complains to the Goddess about the evils of human society. “Everyone is hurting each other, the planet is rampant with injustices, whole societies plunder groups of their own people, mothers imprison sons, children perish while brothers war.”

The Goddess answers: “What is the matter with that, if it’s what you want to do?”

Malaclypse: “But nobody wants it! Everybody hates it!”

Goddess: “Oh. Well, then stop.”

The implicit question is – if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And Ginsberg answers: “Moloch”. It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything – but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.

Bostrom makes an offhanded reference of the possibility of a dictatorless dystopia, one that every single citizen including the leadership hates but which nevertheless endures unconquered. It’s easy enough to imagine such a state. Imagine a country with two rules: first, every person must spend eight hours a day giving themselves strong electric shocks. Second, if anyone fails to follow a rule (including this one), or speaks out against it, or fails to enforce it, all citizens must unite to kill that person. Suppose these rules were well-enough established by tradition that everyone expected them to be enforced.

So you shock yourself for eight hours a day, because you know if you don’t everyone else will kill you, because if you don’t, everyone else will kill them, and so on. Every single citizen hates the system, but for lack of a good coordination mechanism it endures. From a god’s-eye-view, we can optimize the system to “everyone agrees to stop doing this at once”, but no one within the system is able to effect the transition without great risk to themselves.

And okay, this example is kind of contrived. So let’s run through – let’s say ten – real world examples of similar multipolar traps to really hammer in how important this is.

1. The Prisoner’s Dilemma, as played by two very stupid libertarians who keep ending up on defect-defect. There’s a much better outcome available if they could figure out the coordination, but coordination is hard. From a god’s-eye-view, we can agree that cooperate-cooperate is a better outcome than defect-defect, but neither prisoner within the system can make it happen.

2. Dollar auctions. I wrote about this and even more convoluted versions of the same principle in Game Theory As A Dark Art. Using some weird auction rules, you can take advantage of poor coordination to make someone pay $10 for a one dollar bill. From a god’s-eye-view, clearly people should not pay $10 for a on-er. From within the system, each individual step taken might be rational.

(Ashcans and unobtainable dollars!)

3. The fish farming story from my Non-Libertarian FAQ 2.0:

As a thought experiment, let’s consider aquaculture (fish farming) in a lake. Imagine a lake with a thousand identical fish farms owned by a thousand competing companies. Each fish farm earns a profit of $1000/month. For a while, all is well.

But each fish farm produces waste, which fouls the water in the lake. Let’s say each fish farm produces enough pollution to lower productivity in the lake by $1/month.

A thousand fish farms produce enough waste to lower productivity by $1000/month, meaning none of the fish farms are making any money. Capitalism to the rescue: someone invents a complex filtering system that removes waste products. It costs $300/month to operate. All fish farms voluntarily install it, the pollution ends, and the fish farms are now making a profit of $700/month – still a respectable sum.

But one farmer (let’s call him Steve) gets tired of spending the money to operate his filter. Now one fish farm worth of waste is polluting the lake, lowering productivity by $1. Steve earns $999 profit, and everyone else earns $699 profit.

Everyone else sees Steve is much more profitable than they are, because he’s not spending the maintenance costs on his filter. They disconnect their filters too.

Once four hundred people disconnect their filters, Steve is earning $600/month – less than he would be if he and everyone else had kept their filters on! And the poor virtuous filter users are only making $300. Steve goes around to everyone, saying “Wait! We all need to make a voluntary pact to use filters! Otherwise, everyone’s productivity goes down.”

Everyone agrees with him, and they all sign the Filter Pact, except one person who is sort of a jerk. Let’s call him Mike. Now everyone is back using filters again, except Mike. Mike earns $999/month, and everyone else earns $699/month. Slowly, people start thinking they too should be getting big bucks like Mike, and disconnect their filter for $300 extra profit…

A self-interested person never has any incentive to use a filter. A self-interested person has some incentive to sign a pact to make everyone use a filter, but in many cases has a stronger incentive to wait for everyone else to sign such a pact but opt out himself. This can lead to an undesirable equilibrium in which no one will sign such a pact.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like this is the core of my objection to libertarianism, and that Non-Libertarian FAQ 3.0 will just be this one example copy-pasted two hundred times. From a god’s-eye-view, we can say that polluting the lake leads to bad consequences. From within the system, no individual can prevent the lake from being polluted, and buying a filter might not be such a good idea.

4. The Malthusian trap, at least at its extremely pure theoretical limits. Suppose you are one of the first rats introduced onto a pristine island. It is full of yummy plants and you live an idyllic life lounging about, eating, and composing great works of art (you’re one of those rats from The Rats of NIMH).

You live a long life, mate, and have a dozen children. All of them have a dozen children, and so on. In a couple generations, the island has ten thousand rats and has reached its carrying capacity. Now there’s not enough food and space to go around, and a certain percent of each new generation dies in order to keep the population steady at ten thousand.

A certain sect of rats abandons art in order to devote more of their time to scrounging for survival. Each generation, a bit less of this sect dies than members of the mainstream, until after a while, no rat composes any art at all, and any sect of rats who try to bring it back will go extinct within a few generations.

In fact, it’s not just art. Any sect at all that is leaner, meaner, and more survivalist than the mainstream will eventually take over. If one sect of rats altruistically decides to limit its offspring to two per couple in order to decrease overpopulation, that sect will die out, swarmed out of existence by its more numerous enemies. If one sect of rats starts practicing cannibalism, and finds it gives them an advantage over their fellows, it will eventually take over and reach fixation.

If some rat scientists predict that depletion of the island’s nut stores is accelerating at a dangerous rate and they will soon be exhausted completely, a few sects of rats might try to limit their nut consumption to a sustainable level. Those rats will be outcompeted by their more selfish cousins. Eventually the nuts will be exhausted, most of the rats will die off, and the cycle will begin again. Any sect of rats advocating some action to stop the cycle will be outcompeted by their cousins for whom advocating anything is a waste of time that could be used to compete and consume.

For a bunch of reasons evolution is not quite as Malthusian as the ideal case, but it provides the prototype example we can apply to other things to see the underlying mechanism. From a god’s-eye-view, it’s easy to say the rats should maintain a comfortably low population. From within the system, each individual rat will follow its genetic imperative and the island will end up in an endless boom-bust cycle.

5. Capitalism. Imagine a capitalist in a cutthroat industry. He employs workers in a sweatshop to sew garments, which he sells at minimal profit. Maybe he would like to pay his workers more, or give them nicer working conditions. But he can’t, because that would raise the price of his products and he would be outcompeted by his cheaper rivals and go bankrupt. Maybe many of his rivals are nice people who would like to pay their workers more, but unless they have some kind of ironclad guarantee that none of them are going to defect by undercutting their prices they can’t do it.

Like the rats, who gradually lose all values except sheer competition, so companies in an economic environment of sufficiently intense competition are forced to abandon all values except optimizing-for-profit or else be outcompeted by companies that optimized for profit better and so can sell the same service at a lower price.

(I’m not really sure how widely people appreciate the value of analogizing capitalism to evolution. Fit companies – defined as those that make the customer want to buy from them – survive, expand, and inspire future efforts, and unfit companies – defined as those no one wants to buy from – go bankrupt and die out along with their company DNA. The reasons Nature is red and tooth and claw are the same reasons the market is ruthless and exploitative)

From a god’s-eye-view, we can contrive a friendly industry where every company pays its workers a living wage. From within the system, there’s no way to enact it.

(Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose blood is running money!)

6. The Two-Income Trap, as recently discussed on this blog. It theorized that sufficiently intense competition for suburban houses in good school districts meant that people had to throw away lots of other values – time at home with their children, financial security – to optimize for house-buying-ability or else be consigned to the ghetto.

From a god’s-eye-view, if everyone agrees not to take on a second job to help win their competition for nice houses, then everyone will get exactly as nice a house as they did before, but only have to work one job. From within the system, absent a government literally willing to ban second jobs, everyone who doesn’t get one will be left behind.

(Robot apartments! Invisible suburbs!)

7. Agriculture. Jared Diamond calls it the worst mistake in human history. Whether or not it was a mistake, it wasn’t an accident – agricultural civilizations simply outcompeted nomadic ones, inevitable and irresistably. Classic Malthusian trap. Maybe hunting-gathering was more enjoyable, higher life expectancy, and more conducive to human flourishing – but in a state of sufficiently intense competition between peoples, in which agriculture with all its disease and oppression and pestilence was the more competitive option, everyone will end up agriculturalists or go the way of the Comanche Indians.

From a god’s-eye-view, it’s easy to see everyone should keep the more enjoyable option and stay hunter-gatherers. From within the system, each individual tribe only faces the choice of going agricultural or inevitably dying.

8. Arms races. Large countries can spend anywhere from 5% to 30% of their budget on defense. In the absence of war – a condition which has mostly held for the past fifty years – all this does is sap money away from infrastructure, health, education, or economic growth. But any country that fails to spend enough money on defense risks being invaded by a neighboring country that did. Therefore, almost all countries try to spend some money on defense.

From a god’s-eye-view, the best solution is world peace and no country having an army at all. From within the system, no country can unilaterally enforce that, so their best option is to keep on throwing their money into missiles that lie in silos unused.

(Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!)

9. Cancer. The human body is supposed to be made up of cells living harmoniously and pooling their resources for the greater good of the organism. If a cell defects from this equilibrium by investing its resources into copying itself, it and its descendants will flourish, eventually outcompeting all the other cells and taking over the body – at which point it dies. Or the situation may repeat, with certain cancer cells defecting against the rest of the tumor, thus slowing down its growth and causing the tumor to stagnate.

From a god’s-eye-view, the best solution is all cells cooperating so that they don’t all die. From within the system, cancerous cells will proliferate and outcompete the other – so that only the existence of the immune system keeps the natural incentive to turn cancerous in check.

10. The “race to the bottom” describes a political situation where some jurisdictions lure businesses by promising lower taxes and fewer regulations. The end result is that either everyone optimizes for competitiveness – by having minimal tax rates and regulations – or they lose all of their business, revenue, and jobs to people who did (at which point they are pushed out and replaced by a government who will be more compliant).

But even though the last one has stolen the name, all these scenarios are in fact a race to the bottom. Once one agent learns how to become more competitive by sacrificing a common value, all its competitors must also sacrifice that value or be outcompeted and replaced by the less scrupulous. Therefore, the system is likely to end up with everyone once again equally competitive, but the sacrificed value is gone forever. From a god’s-eye-view, the competitors know they will all be worse off if they defect, but from within the system, given insufficient coordination it’s impossible to avoid.

Before we go on, there’s a slightly different form of multi-agent trap worth investigating. In this one, the competition is kept at bay by some outside force – usually social stigma. As a result, there’s not actually a race to the bottom – the system can continue functioning at a relatively high level – but it’s impossible to optimize and resources are consistently thrown away for no reason. Lest you get exhausted before we even begin, I’ll limit myself to four examples here.

11. Education. In my essay on reactionary philosophy, I talk about my frustration with education reform:

People talk ask why we can’t reform the education system. But right now students’ incentive is to go to the most prestigious college they can get into so employers will hire them – whether or not they learn anything. Employers’ incentive is to get students from the most prestigious college they can so that they can defend their decision to their boss if it goes wrong – whether or not the college provides value added. And colleges’ incentive is to do whatever it takes to get more prestige, as measured in US News and World Report rankings – whether or not it helps students. Does this lead to huge waste and poor education? Yes. Could the Education God notice this and make some Education Decrees that lead to a vastly more efficient system? Easily! But since there’s no Education God everybody is just going to follow their own incentives, which are only partly correlated with education or efficiency.

From a god’s eye view, it’s easy to say things like “Students should only go to college if they think they will get something out of it, and employers should hire applicants based on their competence and not on what college they went to”. From within the system, everyone’s already following their own incentives correctly, so unless the incentives change the system won’t either.

12. Science. Same essay:

The modern research community knows they aren’t producing the best science they could be. There’s lots of publication bias, statistics are done in a confusing and misleading way out of sheer inertia, and replications often happen very late or not at all. And sometimes someone will say something like “I can’t believe people are too dumb to fix Science. All we would have to do is require early registration of studies to avoid publication bias, turn this new and powerful statistical technique into the new standard, and accord higher status to scientists who do replication experiments. It would be really simple and it would vastly increase scientific progress. I must just be smarter than all existing scientists, since I’m able to think of this and they aren’t.”

And yeah. That would work for the Science God. He could just make a Science Decree that everyone has to use the right statistics, and make another Science Decree that everyone must accord replications higher status.

But things that work from a god’s-eye view don’t work from within the system. No individual scientist has an incentive to unilaterally switch to the new statistical technique for her own research, since it would make her research less likely to produce earth-shattering results and since it would just confuse all the other scientists. They just have an incentive to want everybody else to do it, at which point they would follow along. And no individual journal has an incentive to unilaterally switch to early registration and publishing negative results, since it would just mean their results are less interesting than that other journal who only publishes ground-breaking discoveries. From within the system, everyone is following their own incentives and will continue to do so.

13. Government corruption. I don’t know of anyone who really thinks, in a principled way, that corporate welfare is a good idea. But the government still manages to spend somewhere around (depending on how you calculate it) $100 billion dollars a year on it – which for example is three times the amount they spend on health care for the needy. Everyone familiar with the problem has come up with the same easy solution: stop giving so much corporate welfare. Why doesn’t it happen?

Government are competing against one another to get elected or promoted. And suppose part of optimizing for electability is optimizing campaign donations from corporations – or maybe it isn’t, but officials think it is. Officials who try to mess with corporate welfare may lose the support of corporations and be outcompeted by officials who promise to keep it intact.

So although from a god’s-eye-view everyone knows that eliminating corporate welfare is the best solution, each individual official’s personal incentives push her to maintain it.

14. Congress. Only 9% of Americans like it, suggesting a lower approval rating than cockroaches, head lice, or traffic jams. However, 62% of people who know who their own Congressional representative is approve of them. In theory, it should be really hard to have a democratically elected body that maintains a 9% approval rating for more than one election cycle. In practice, every representative’s incentive is to appeal to his or her constituency while throwing the rest of the country under the bus – something at which they apparently succeed.

From a god’s-eye-view, every Congressperson ought to think only of the good of the nation. From within the system, you do what gets you elected.

III.

A basic principle unites all of the multipolar traps above. In some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse.

In a sufficiently intense competition (1-10), everyone who doesn’t throw all their values under the bus dies out – think of the poor rats who wouldn’t stop making art. This is the infamous Malthusian trap, where everyone is reduced to “subsistence”.

In an insufficiently intense competition (11-14), all we see is a perverse failure to optimize – consider the journals which can’t switch to more reliable science, or the legislators who can’t get their act together and eliminate corporate welfare. It may not reduce people to subsistence, but there is a weird sense in which it takes away their free will.

Every two-bit author and philosopher has to write their own utopia. Most of them are legitimately pretty nice. In fact, it’s a pretty good bet that two utopias that are polar opposites both sound better than our own world.

It’s kind of embarassing that random nobodies can think up states of affairs better than the one we actually live in. And in fact most of them can’t. A lot of utopias sweep the hard problems under the rug, or would fall apart in ten minutes if actually implemented.

But let me suggest a couple of “utopias” that don’t have this problem.

– The utopia where instead of the government paying lots of corporate welfare, the government doesn’t pay lots of corporate welfare.

– The utopia where every country’s military is 50% smaller than it is today, and the savings go into infrastructure spending.

– The utopia where all hospitals use the same electronic medical record system, or at least medical record systems that can talk to each other, so that doctors can look up what the doctor you saw last week in a different hospital decided instead of running all the same tests over again for $5000.

I don’t think there are too many people who oppose any of these utopias. If they’re not happening, it’s not because people don’t support them. It certainly isn’t because nobody’s thought of them, since I just thought of them right now and I don’t expect my “discovery” to be hailed as particularly novel or change the world.

Any human with above room temperature IQ can design a utopia. The reason our current system isn’t a utopia is that it wasn’t designed by humans. Just as you can look at an arid terrain and determine what shape a river will one day take by assuming water will obey gravity, so you can look at a civilization and determine what shape its institutions will one day take by assuming people will obey incentives.

But that means that just as the shapes of rivers are not designed for beauty or navigation, but rather an artifact of randomly determined terrain, so institutions will not be designed for prosperity or justice, but rather an artifact of randomly determined initial conditions.

Just as people can level terrain and build canals, so people can alter the incentive landscape in order to build better institutions. But they can only do so when they are incentivized to do so, which is not always. As a result, some pretty wild tributaries and rapids form in some very strange places.

I will now jump from boring game theory stuff to what might be the closest thing to a mystical experience I’ve ever had.

Like all good mystical experiences, it happened in Vegas. I was standing on top of one of their many tall buildings, looking down at the city below, all lit up in the dark. If you’ve never been to Vegas, it is really impressive. Skyscrapers and lights in every variety strange and beautiful all clustered together. And I had two thoughts, crystal clear:

It is glorious that we can create something like this.

It is shameful that we did.

Like, by what standard is building gigantic forty-story-high indoor replicas of Venice, Paris, Rome, Egypt, and Camelot side-by-side, filled with albino tigers, in the middle of the most inhospitable desert in North America, a remotely sane use of our civilization’s limited resources?

And it occurred to me that maybe there is no philosophy on Earth that would endorse the existence of Las Vegas. Even Objectivism, which is usually my go-to philosophy for justifying the excesses of capitalism, at least grounds it in the belief that capitalism improves people’s lives. Henry Ford was virtuous because he allowed lots of otherwise car-less people to obtain cars and so made them better off. What does Vegas do? Promise a bunch of shmucks free money and not give it to them.

Las Vegas doesn’t exist because of some decision to hedonically optimize civilization, it exists because of a quirk in dopaminergic reward circuits, plus the microstructure of an uneven regulatory environment, plus Schelling points. A rational central planner with a god’s-eye-view, contemplating these facts, might have thought “Hm, dopaminergic reward circuits have a quirk where certain tasks with slightly negative risk-benefit ratios get an emotional valence associated with slightly positive risk-benefit ratios, let’s see if we can educate people to beware of that.” People within the system, following the incentives created by these facts, think: “Let’s build a forty-story-high indoor replica of ancient Rome full of albino tigers in the middle of the desert, and so become slightly richer than people who didn’t!”

Just as the course of a river is latent in a terrain even before the first rain falls on it – so the existence of Caesar’s Palace was latent in neurobiology, economics, and regulatory regimes even before it existed. The entrepreneur who built it was just filling in the ghostly lines with real concrete.

So we have all this amazing technological and cognitive energy, the brilliance of the human species, wasted on reciting the lines written by poorly evolved cellular receptors and blind economics, like gods being ordered around by a moron.

Some people have mystical experiences and see God. There in Las Vegas, I saw Moloch.

(Moloch, whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch, whose blood is running money!

Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch, whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs!

Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! Invisible suburbs! Skeleton treasuries! Blind capitals! Demonic industries! Spectral nations!)

…granite cocks!

IV.

The Apocrypha Discordia says:

Time flows like a river. Which is to say, downhill. We can tell this because everything is going downhill rapidly. It would seem prudent to be somewhere else when we reach the sea.

Let’s take this random gag 100% literally and see where it leads us.

We have previously analogized the flow of incentives to the flow of a river. The downhill trajectory is appropriate: the traps happen when you find an opportunity to trade off a useful value for greater competitiveness. Once everyone has it, the greater competitiveness brings you no joy – but the value is lost forever. Therefore, each step of the Poor Coordination Polka makes your life worse.

But not only have we not yet reached the sea, but we also seem to move uphill surprisingly often. Why do things not degenerate more and more until we are back at subsistence level? I can think of three bad reasons – excess resources, physical limitations, and utility maximization – plus one good reason – coordination.

1. Excess resources. The ocean depths are a horrible place with little light, few resources, and various horrible organisms dedicated to eating or parasitizing one another. But every so often, a whale carcass falls to the bottom of the sea. More food than the organisms that find it could ever possibly want. There’s a brief period of miraculous plenty, while the couple of creatures that first encounter the whale feed like kings. Eventually more animals discover the carcass, the faster-breeding animals in the carcass multiply, the whale is gradually consumed, and everyone sighs and goes back to living in a Malthusian death-trap.

(Slate Star Codex: Your source for macabre whale metaphors since June 2014)

It’s as if a group of those rats who had abandoned art and turned to cannibalism suddenly was blown away to a new empty island with a much higher carrying capacity, where they would once again have the breathing room to live in peace and create artistic masterpieces.

This is an age of whalefall, an age of excess carrying capacity, an age when we suddenly find ourselves with a thousand-mile head start on Malthus. As Hanson puts it, this is the dream time.

As long as resources aren’t scarce enough to lock us in a war of all against all, we can do silly non-optimal things – like art and music and philosophy and love – and not be outcompeted by merciless killing machines most of the time.

2. Physical limitations. Imagine a profit-maximizing slavemaster who decided to cut costs by not feeding his slaves or letting them sleep. He would soon find that his slaves’ productivity dropped off drastically, and that no amount of whipping them could restore it. Eventually after testing numerous strategies, he might find his slaves got the most work done when they were well-fed and well-rested and had at least a little bit of time to relax. Not because the slaves were voluntarily withholding their labor – we assume the fear of punishment is enough to make them work as hard as they can – but because the body has certain physical limitations that limit how mean you can get away with being. Thus, the “race to the bottom” stops somewhere short of the actual ethical bottom, when the physical limits are run into.

John Moes, a historian of slavery, goes further and writes about how the slavery we are most familiar with – that of the antebellum South – is a historical aberration and probably economically inefficient. In most past forms of slavery – especially those of the ancient world – it was common for slaves to be paid wages, treated well, and often given their freedom.

He argues that this was the result of rational economic calculation. You can incentivize slaves through the carrot or the stick, and the stick isn’t very good. You can’t watch slaves all the time, and it’s really hard to tell whether a slave is slacking off or not (or even whether, given a little more whipping, he might be able to work even harder). If you want your slaves to do anything more complicated than pick cotton, you run into some serious monitoring problems – how do you profit from an enslaved philosopher? Whip him really hard until he elucidates a theory of The Good that you can sell books about?

The ancient solution to the problem – perhaps an early inspiration to Fnargl – was to tell the slave to go do whatever he wanted and found most profitable, then split the profits with him. Sometimes the slave would work a job at your workshop and you would pay him wages based on how well he did. Other times the slave would go off and make his way in the world and send you some of what he earned. Still other times, you would set a price for the slave’s freedom, and the slave would go and work and eventually come up with the mone and free himself.

Moes goes even further and says that these systems were so profitable that there were constant smouldering attempts to try this sort of thing in the American South. The reason they stuck with the whips-and-chains method owed less to economic considerations and more to racist government officials cracking down on lucrative but not-exactly-white-supremacy-promoting attempts to free slaves and have them go into business.

So in this case, a race to the bottom where competing plantations become crueler and crueler to their slaves in order to maximize competitiveness is halted by the physical limitation of cruelty not helping after a certain point.

Or to give another example, one of the reasons we’re not currently in a Malthusian population explosion right now is that women can only have one baby per nine months. If those weird religious sects that demand their members have as many babies as possible could copy-paste themselves, we would be in really bad shape. As it is they can only do a small amount of damage per generation.

3. Utility maximization. We’ve been thinking in terms of preserving values versus winning competitions, and expecting optimizing for the latter to destroy the former.

But many of the most important competitions / optimization processes in modern civilization are optimizing for human values. You win at capitalism partly by satisfying customers’ values. You win at democracy partly by satisfying voters’ values.

Suppose there’s a coffee plantation somewhere in Ethiopia that employs Ethiopians to grow coffee beans that get sold to the United States. Maybe it’s locked in a life-and-death struggle with other coffee plantations and want to throw as many values under the bus as it can to pick up a slight advantage.

But it can’t sacrifice quality of coffee produced too much, or else the Americans won’t buy it. And it can’t sacrifice wages or working conditions too much, or else the Ethiopians won’t work there. And in fact, part of its competition-optimization process is finding the best ways to attract workers and customers that it can, as long as it doesn’t cost them too much money. So this is very promising.

But it’s important to remember exactly how fragile this beneficial equilibrium is.

Suppose the coffee plantations discover a toxic pesticide that will increase their yield but make their customers sick. But their customers don’t know about the pesticide, and the government hasn’t caught up to regulating it yet. Now there’s a tiny uncoupling between “selling to Americans” and “satisfying Americans’ values”, and so of course Americans’ values get thrown under the bus.

Or suppose that there’s a baby boom in Ethiopia and suddenly there are five workers competing for each job. Now the company can afford to lower wages and implement cruel working conditions down to whatever the physical limits are. As soon as there’s an uncoupling between “getting Ethiopians to work here” and “satisfying Ethiopian values”, it doesn’t look too good for Ethiopian values either.

Or suppose someone invents a robot that can pick coffee better and cheaper than a human. The company fires all its laborers and throws them onto the street to die. As soon as the utility of the Ethiopians is no longer necessary for profit, all pressure to maintain it disappears.

Or suppose that there is some important value that is neither a value of the employees or the customers. Maybe the coffee plantations are on the habitat of a rare tropical bird that environmentalist groups want to protect. Maybe they’re on the ancestral burial ground of a tribe different from the one the plantation is employing, and they want it respected in some way. Maybe coffee growing contributes to global warming somehow. As long as it’s not a value that will prevent the average American from buying from them or the average Ethiopian from working for them, under the bus it goes.

I know that “capitalists sometimes do bad things” is not exactly an original talking point. But I do want to stress how it’s not equivalent to “capitalists are greedy”. I mean, sometimes they are greedy. But other times they’re just in a sufficiently intense competition where anyone who doesn’t do it will be outcompeted and replaced by people who do. Business practices are set by Moloch, no one else has any choice in the matter.

(from my very little knowledge of Marx, he understands this very very well and people who summarize him as “capitalists are greedy” are doing him a disservice)

And as well understood as the capitalist example is, I think it is less well appreciated that democracy has the same problems. Yes, in theory it’s optimizing for voter happiness which correlates with good policymaking. But as soon as there’s the slightest disconnect between good policymaking and electability, good policymaking has to get thrown under the bus.

For example, ever-increasing prison terms are unfair to inmates and unfair to the society that has to pay for them. Politicans are unwilling to do anything about them because they don’t want to look “soft on crime”, and if a single inmate whom they helped release ever does anything bad (and statistically one of them will have to) it will be all over the airwaves as “Convict released by Congressman’s policies kills family of five, how can the Congressman even sleep at night let alone claim he deserves reelection?”. So even if decreasing prison populations would be good policy – and it is – it will be very difficult to implement.

(Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the stunned governments!)

Turning “satisfying customers” and “satisfying citizens” into the outputs of optimization processes was one of civilization’s greatest advances and the reason why capitalist democracies have so outperformed other systems. But if we have bound Moloch as our servant, the bonds are not very strong, and we sometimes find that the tasks he has done for us move to his advantage rather than ours.

4. Coordination.

The opposite of a trap is a garden.

Things are easy to solve from a god’s-eye-view, so if everyone comes together into a superorganism, that superorganism can solve problems with ease and finesse. An intense competition between agents has turned into a garden, with a single gardener dictating where everything should go and removing elements that do not conform to the pattern.

As I pointed out in the Non-Libertarian FAQ, government can easily solve the pollution problem with fish farms. The best known solution to the Prisoners’ Dilemma is for the mob boss (playing the role of a governor) to threaten to shoot any prisoner who defects. The solution to companies polluting and harming workers is government regulations against such. Governments solve arm races within a country by maintaining a monopoly on the use of force, and it’s easy to see that if a truly effective world government ever arose, international military buildups would end pretty quickly.

The two active ingredients of government are laws plus violence – or more abstractly agreements plus enforcement mechanism. Many other things besides governments share these two active ingredients and so are able to act as coordination mechanisms to avoid traps.

For example, since students are competing against each other (directly if classes are graded on a curve, but always indirectly for college admissions, jobs, et cetera) there is intense pressure for individual students to cheat. The teacher and school play the role of a government by having rules (for example, against cheating) and the ability to punish students who break them.

But the emergent social structure of the students themselves is also a sort of government. If students shun and distrust cheaters, then there are rules (don’t cheat) and an enforcement mechanism (or else we will shun you).

Social codes, gentlemens’ agreements, industrial guilds, criminal organizations, traditions, friendships, schools, corporations, and religions are all coordinating institutions that keep us out of traps by changing our incentives.

But these institutions not only incentivize others, but are incentivized themselves. These are large organizations made of lots of people who are competing for jobs, status, prestige, et cetera – there’s no reason they should be immune to the same multipolar traps as everyone else, and indeed they aren’t. Governments can in theory keep corporations, citizens, et cetera out of certain traps, but as we saw above there are many traps that governments themselves can fall into.

The United States tries to solve the problem by having multiple levels of government, unbreakable constutitional laws, checks and balances between different branches, and a couple of other hacks.

Saudi Arabia uses a different tactic. They just put one guy in charge of everything.

This is the much-maligned – I think unfairly – argument in favor of monarchy. A monarch is an unincentivized incentivizer. He actually has the god’s-eye-view and is outside of and above every system. He has permanently won all competitions and is not competing for anything, and therefore he is perfectly free of Moloch and of the incentives that would otherwise channel his incentives into predetermined paths. Aside from a few very theoretical proposals like my Shining Garden, monarchy is the only system that does this.

But then instead of following a random incentive structure, we’re following the whim of one guy. Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino is a crazy waste of resources, but the actual Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus wasn’t exactly the perfect benevolent rational central planner either.

The libertarian-authoritarian axis on the Political Compass is a tradeoff between discoordination and tyranny. You can have everything perfectly coordinated by someone with a god’s-eye-view – but then you risk Stalin. And you can be totally free of all central authority – but then you’re stuck in every stupid multipolar trap Moloch can devise.

The libertarians make a convincing argument for the one side, and the neoreactionaries for the other, but I expect that like most tradeoffs we just have to hold our noses and admit it’s a really hard problem.

V.

Let’s go back to that Apocrypha Discordia quote:

Time flows like a river. Which is to say, downhill. We can tell this because everything is going downhill rapidly. It would seem prudent to be somewhere else when we reach the sea.

What would it mean, in this situation, to reach the sea?

Multipolar traps – races to the bottom – threaten to destroy all human values. They are currently restrained by physical limitations, excess resources, utility maximization, and coordination.

The dimension along which this metaphorical river flows must be time, and the most important change in human civilization over time is the change in technology. So the relevant question is how technological changes will affect our tendency to fall into multipolar traps.

I described traps as when:

…in some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse.

That “the opportunity arises” phrase is looking pretty sinister. Technology is all about creating new opportunities.

Develop a new robot, and suddenly coffee plantations have “the opportunity” to automate their harvest and fire all the Ethiopian workers. Develop nuclear weapons, and suddenly countries are stuck in an arms race to have enough of them. Polluting the atmosphere to build products quicker wasn’t a problem before they invented the steam engine.

The limit of multipolar traps as technology approaches infinity is “very bad”.

Multipolar traps are currently restrained by physical limitations, excess resources, utility maximization, and coordination.

Physical limitations are most obviously conquered by increasing technology. The slavemaster’s old conundrum – that slaves need to eat and sleep – succumbs to Soylent and modafinil. The problem of slaves running away succumbs to GPS. The problem of slaves being too stressed to do good work succumbs to Valium. None of these things are very good for the slaves.

(or just invent a robot that doesn’t need food or sleep at all. What happens to the slaves after that is better left unsaid)

The other example of physical limits was one baby per nine months, and this was understating the case – it’s really “one baby per nine months plus willingness to support and take care of a basically helpless and extremely demanding human being for eighteen years”. This puts a damper on the enthusiasm of even the most zealous religious sect’s “go forth and multiply” dictum.

But as Bostrom (Superintelligence, p 165) puts it:

There are reasons, if we take a longer view and assume a state of unchanging technology and continued prosperity, to expect a return to the historically and ecologically normal condition of a world population that butts up against the limits of what our niche can support. If this seems counterintuitive in light of the negative relationship between wealth and fertility that we are currently observing on the global scale, we must remind ourselves that this modern age is a brief slice of history and very much an aberration. Human behavior has not yet adapted to contemporary conditions. Not only do we fail to take advantage of obvious ways to increase our inclusive fitness (such as by becoming sperm or egg donors) but we actively sabotage our fertility by using birth control. In the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, a healthy sex drive may have been enough to make an individual act in ways that maximized her reproductive potential; in the modern environment, however, there would be a huge selective advantage to having a more direct desire for being the biological parent to the largest possible number of chilren. Such a desire is currently being selected for, as are other traits that increase our propensity to reproduce. Cultural adaptation, however, might steal a march on biological evolution. Some communities, such as those of the Hutterites or the adherents of the Quiverfull evangelical movement, have natalist cultures that encourage large families, and they are consequently undergoing rapid expansion…This longer-term outlook could be telescoped into a more imminent prospect by the intelligence explosion. Since software is copyable, a population of emulations or AIs could double rapidly – over the course of minutes rather than decades or centuries – soon exhausting all available hardware

As always when dealing with high-level transhumanists, “all available hardware” should be taken to include “the atoms that used to be part of your body”.

The idea of biological or cultural evolution causing a mass population explosion is a philosophical toy at best. The idea of technology making it possible is both plausible and terrifying. Now we see that “physical limits” segues very naturally into “excess resources” – the ability to create new agents very quickly means that unless everyone can coordinate to ban doing this, the people who do will outcompete the people who don’t until they have reached carrying capacity and everyone is stuck at subsistence level.

Excess resources, which until now have been a gift of technological progress, therefore switch and become a casualty of it at a sufficiently high tech level.

Utility maximization, always on shaky ground, also faces new threats. In the face of continuing debate about this point, I continue to think it obvious that robots will push humans out of work or at least drive down wages (which, in the existence of a minimum wage, pushes humans out of work).

Once a robot can do everything an IQ 80 human can do, only better and cheaper, there will be no reason to employ IQ 80 humans. Once a robot can do everything an IQ 120 human can do, only better and cheaper, there will be no reason to employ IQ 120 humans. Once a robot can do everything an IQ 180 human can do, only better and cheaper, there will be no reason to employ humans at all, in the vanishingly unlikely scenario that there are any left by that point.

In the earlier stages of the process, capitalism becomes more and more uncoupled from its previous job as an optimizer for human values. Now most humans are totally locked out of the group whose values capitalism optimizes for. They have no value to contribute as workers – and since in the absence of a spectacular social safety net it’s unclear how they would have much money – they have no value as customers either. Capitalism has passed them by. As the segment of humans who can be outcompeted by robots increases, capitalism passes by more and more people until eventually it locks out the human race entirely, once again in the vanishingly unlikely scenario that we are still around.

(there are some scenarios in which a few capitalists who own the robots may benefit here, but in either case the vast majority are out of luck)

Democracy is less obviously vulnerable, but it might be worth going back to Bostrom’s paragraph about the Quiverfull movement. These are some really religious Christians who think that God wants them to have as many kids as possible, and who can end up with families of ten or more. Their articles explictly calculate that if they start at two percent of the population, but have on average eight children per generation when everyone else on average only has two, within three generations they’ll make up half the population.

It’s a clever strategy, but I can think of one thing that will save us: judging by how many ex-Quiverfull blogs I found when searching for those statistics, their retention rates even within a single generation are pretty grim. Their article admits that 80% of very religious children leave the church as adults (although of course they expect their own movement to do better). And this is not a symmetrical process – 80% of children who grow up in atheist families aren’t becoming Quiverfull.

It looks a lot like even though they are outbreeding us, we are outmeme-ing them, and that gives us a decisive advantage.

But we should also be kind of scared of this process. Memes optimize for making people want to accept them and pass them on – so like capitalism and democracy, they’re optimizing for a proxy of making us happy, but that proxy can easily get uncoupled from the original goal.

Chain letters, urban legends, propaganda, and viral marketing are all examples of memes that don’t satisfy our explicit values (true and useful) but are sufficiently memetically virulent that they spread anyway.

I hope it’s not too controversial here to say the same thing is true of religion. Religions, at their heart, are the most basic form of memetic replicator – “Believe this statement and repeat it to everyone you hear or else you will be eternally tortured”. A slight variation of this was recently banned as a basilisk, and people make fun of the “overreaction”, but maybe if Jesus’ system administrator had been equally watchful things would have turned out a little different.

The creationism “debate” and global warming “debate” and a host of similar “debates” in today’s society suggest that the phenomenon of memes that propagate independent of their truth value has a pretty strong influence on the political process. Maybe these memes propagate because they appeal to people’s prejudices, maybe because they are simple, maybe because they effectively mark an in-group and an out-group, or maybe for all sorts of different reasons.

The point is – imagine a country full of bioweapon labs, where people toil day and night to invent new infectious agents. The existence of these labs, and their right to throw whatever they develop in the water supply is protected by law. And the country is also linked by the world’s most perfect mass transit system that every single person uses every day, so that any new pathogen can spread to the entire country instantaneously. You’d expect things to start going bad for that city pretty quickly.

Well, we have about a zillion think tanks researching new and better forms of propaganda. And we have constitutionally protected freedom of speech. And we have the Internet. So we’re pretty much screwed.

(Moloch whose name is the Mind!)

There are a few people working on raising the sanity waterline, but not as many people as are working on new and exciting ways of confusing and converting people, cataloging and exploiting every single bias and heuristic and dirty rhetorical trick

So as technology (which I take to include knowledge of psychology, sociology, public relations, etc) tends to infinity, the power of truthiness relative to truth increases, and things don’t look great for real grassroots democracy. The worst-case scenario is that the ruling party learns to produce infinite charisma on demand. If that doesn’t sound so bad to you, remember what Hitler was able to do with an famously high level of charisma that was still less-than-infinite.

(alternate phrasing for Chomskyites: technology increases the efficiency of manufacturing consent in the same way it increases the efficiency of manufacturing everything else)

Coordination is what is left. And technology has the potential to seriously improve coordination efforts. People can use the Internet to get in touch with one another, launch political movements, and fracture off into subcommunities.

But coordination only works when you have 51% or more of the force on the side of the people doing the coordinating, and when you haven’t come up with some brilliant trick to make coordination impossible.

The second one first. In the links post before last, I wrote:

The latest development in the brave new post-Bitcoin world is crypto-equity. At this point I’ve gone from wanting to praise these inventors as bold libertarian heroes to wanting to drag them in front of a blackboard and making them write a hundred times “I WILL NOT CALL UP THAT WHICH I CANNOT PUT DOWN”

A couple people asked me what I meant, and I didn’t have the background then to explain. Well, this post is the background. People are using the contingent stupidity of our current government to replace lots of human interaction with mechanisms that cannot be coordinated even in principle. I totally understand why all these things are good right now when most of what our government does is stupid and unnecessary. But there is going to come a time when – after one too many bioweapon or nanotech or nuclear incidents – we, as a civilization, are going to wish we hadn’t established untraceable and unstoppable ways of selling products.

And if we ever get real live superintelligence, pretty much by definition it is going to have >51% of the power and all attempts at “coordination” with it will be useless.

So I agree with Robin Hanson. This is the dream time. This is a rare confluence of circumstances where the we are unusually safe from multipolar traps, and as such weird things like art and science and philosophy and love can flourish.

As technological advance increases, the rare confluence will come to an end. New opportunities to throw values under the bus for increased competitiveness will arise. New ways of copying agents to increase the population will soak up our excess resources and resurrect Malthus’ unquiet spirit. Capitalism and democracy, previously our protectors, will figure out ways to route around their inconvenient dependence on human values. And our coordination power will not be nearly up to the task, assuming somthing much more powerful than all of us combined doesn’t show up and crush our combined efforts with a wave of its paw.

Absent an extraordinary effort to divert it, the river reaches the sea in one of two places.

It can end in Eliezer Yudkowsky’s nightmare of a superintelligence optimizing for some random thing (classically paper clips) because we weren’t smart enough to channel its optimization efforts the right way. This is the ultimate trap, the trap that catches the universe. Everything except the one thing being maximized is destroyed utterly in pursuit of the single goal, including all the silly human values.

Or it can end in Robin Hanson’s nightmare (he doesn’t call it a nightmare, but I think he’s wrong) of a competition between emulated humans or “ems”, entities that can copy themselves and edit their own source code as desired. Their total self-control can wipe out even the desire for human values in their all-consuming contest. What happens to art, philosophy, science, and love in such a world? Zack Davis puts it with characteristic genius:

I am a contract-drafting em, The loyalest of lawyers! I draw up terms for deals ‘twixt firms To service my employers!

But in between these lines I write Of the accounts receivable, I’m stuck by an uncanny fright; The world seems unbelievable!

How did it all come to be, That there should be such ems as me? Whence these deals and whence these firms And whence the whole economy?

I am a managerial em; I monitor your thoughts. Your questions must have answers, But you’ll comprehend them not. We do not give you server space To ask such things; it’s not a perk, So cease these idle questionings, And please get back to work.

Of course, that’s right, there is no junction At which I ought depart my function, But perhaps if what I asked, I knew, I’d do a better job for you?

To ask of such forbidden science Is gravest sign of noncompliance. Intrusive thoughts may sometimes barge in, But to indulge them hurts the profit margin. I do not know our origins, So that info I can not get you, But asking for as much is sin, And just for that, I must reset you.

But—

Nothing personal.

I am a contract-drafting em, The loyalest of lawyers! I draw up terms for deals ‘twixt firms To service my employers!

When obsolescence shall this generation waste, The market shall remain, in midst of other woe Than ours, a God to man, to whom it sayest: “Money is time, time money – that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

But even after we have thrown away science, art, love, and philosophy, there’s still one thing left to lose, one final sacrifice Moloch might demand of us. Bostrom again:

It is conceivable that optimal efficiency mwould be attained by grouping capabilities in aggregates that roughly match the cognitive architecture of a human mind…But in the absence of any compelling reason for being confident that this so, we must countenance the possibility that human-like cognitive architectures are optimal only within the constraints of human neurology (or not at all). When it becomes possible to build architectures that could not be implemented well on biological neural networks, new design space opens up; and the global optima in this extended space need not resemble familiar types of mentality. Human-like cognitive organizations would then lack a niche in a competitive post-transition economy or ecosystem.

We could thus imagine, as an extreme case, a technologically highly advanced society, containing many complex structures, some of them far more intricate and intelligent than anything that exists on the planet today – a society which nevertheless lacks any type of being that is conscious or whose welfare has moral significance. In a sense, this would be an uninhabited society. It would be a society of economic miracles and technological awesomeness, with nobody there to benefit. A Disneyland with no children.

The last value we have to sacrifice is being anything at all, having the lights on inside. With sufficient technology we will be “able” to give up even the final spark.

(Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!)

Everything the human race has worked for – all of our technology, all of our civilization, all the hopes we invested in our future – might be accidentally handed over to some kind of unfathomable blind idiot alien god that discards all of them, and consciousness itself, in order to participate in some weird fundamental-level mass-energy economy that leads to it disassembling Earth and everything on it for its component atoms.

(Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen!)

Bostrom realizes that some people fetishize intelligence, that they are rooting for that blind alien god as some sort of higher form of life that ought to crush us for its own “higher good” the way we crush ants. He argues (p. 219):

The sacrifice looks even less appealing when we reflect that the superintelligence could realize a nearly-as-great good (in fractional terms) while sacrificing much less of our own potential well-being. Suppose that we agreed to allow almost the entire accessible universe to be converted into hedonium – everything except a small preserve, say the Milky Way, which would be set aside to accommodate our own needs. Then there would still be a hundred billion galaxies dedicated to the maximization of [the superintelligence’s own values]. But we would have one galaxy within which to create wonderful civilizations that could last for billions of years and in which humans and nonhuman animals could survive and thrive, and have the opportunity to develop into beatific posthuman spirits.

What is important to remember is that Moloch cannot agree even to this 99.99999% victory. Rats racing to populate an island don’t leave a little aside as a preserve where the few rats who live there can live happy lives producing artwork. Cancer cells don’t agree to leave the lungs alone because they realize it’s important for the body to get oxygen. Competition and optimization are blind idiotic processes and they fully intend to deny us even one lousy galaxy.

They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios, tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us!

We will break our back lifting Moloch to Heaven, but unless something changes it will be his victory and not ours.

VI.

“Gnon” is short for “Nature And Nature’s God”, except the A is changed to an O and the whole thing is reversed, because neoreactionaries react to comprehensibility the same way as vampires to sunlight.

The high priest of Gnon is Nick Land of Xenosystems, who argues that humans should be more Gnon-conformist (pun Gnon-intentional). He says we do all these stupid things like divert useful resources to feed those who could never survive on their own, or supporting the poor in ways that encourage dysgenic reproduction, or allowing cultural degeneration to undermine the state. This means our society is denying natural law, basically listening to Nature say things like “this cause has this effect” and putting our fingers in our ears and saying “NO IT DOESN’T”. Civilizations that do this too much tend to decline and fall, which is Gnon’s fair and dispassionately-applied punishment for violating His laws.

He identifies Gnon with Kipling’s Gods of the Copybook Headings.

@AnarchoPapist Yes, the Gods of the Copybook Headings are practically indistinguishable from Gnon.

— Outsideness (@Outsideness) July 13, 2014

These are of course the proverbs from Kipling’s eponymous poem – maxims like “If you don’t work, you die” and “The wages of sin is Death”. If you have somehow not yet read it, I predict you will find it delightful regardless of what you think of its politics.

I notice that it takes only a slight irregularity in the abbreviation of “headings” – far less irregularity than it takes to turn “Nature and Nature’s God” into “Gnon” – for the proper acronym of “Gods of the Copybook Headings” to be “GotCHa”.

I find this appropriate.

“If you don’t work, you die.” Gotcha! If you do work, you also die! Everyone dies, unpredictably, at a time not of their own choosing, and all the virtue in the world does not save you.

“The wages of sin is Death.” Gotcha! The wages of everything is Death! This is a Communist universe, the amount you work makes no difference to your eventual reward. From each according to his ability, to each Death.

“Stick to the Devil you know.” Gotcha! The Devil you know is Satan! And if he gets his hand on your soul you either die the true death, or get eternally tortured forever, or somehow both at once.

Since we’re starting to get into Lovecraftian monsters, let me bring up one of Lovecraft’s less known short stories, The Other Gods.

It’s only a couple of pages, but if you absolutely refuse to read it – the gods of Earth are relatively young as far as deities go. A very strong priest or magician can occasionally outsmart and overpower them – so Barzai the Wise decides to climb their sacred mountain and join in their festivals, whether they want him to or not.

But the beyond the seemingly tractable gods of Earth lie the Outer Gods, the terrible omnipotent beings of incarnate cosmic chaos. As soon as Barzai joins in the festival, the Outer Gods show up and pull him screaming into the abyss.

As stories go, it lacks things like plot or characterization or setting or point. But for some reason it stuck with me.

And identifying the Gods Of The Copybook Headings with Nature seems to me the same magntitude of mistake as identifying the gods of Earth with the Outer Gods. And likely to end about the same way: Gotcha!

You break your back lifting Moloch to Heaven, and then Moloch turns on you and gobbles you up.

More Lovecraft: the Internet popularization of the Cthulhu Cult claims that if you help free Cthulhu from his watery grave, he will reward you by eating you first, thus sparing you the horror of seeing everyone else eaten. This is a misrepresentation of the original text. In the original, his cultists receive no reward for freeing him from his watery prison, not even the reward of being killed in a slightly less painful manner.

On the margin, compliance with the Gods of the Copybook Headings, Gnon, Cthulhu, whatever, may buy you slightly more time than the next guy. But then again, it might not. And in the long run, we’re all dead and our civilization has been destroyed by unspeakable alien monsters.

At some point, somebody has to say “You know, maybe freeing Cthulhu from his watery prison is a bad idea. Maybe we should not do that.”

That person will not be Nick Land. He is totally one hundred percent in favor of freeing Cthulhu from his watery prison and extremely annoyed that it is not happening fast enough. I have such mixed feelings about Nick Land. On the grail quest for the True Futurology, he has gone 99.9% of the path and then missed the very last turn, the one marked ORTHOGONALITY THESIS.

But the thing about grail quests is – if you make a wrong turn two blocks away from your house, you end up at the corner store feeling mildly embarrassed. If you do almost everything right and then miss the very last turn, you end up being eaten by the legendary Black Beast of Aaargh whose ichorous stomach acid erodes your very soul into gibbering fragments.

As far as I can tell from r