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Meditations on Moloch (2014) (slatestarcodex.com)
221 points by abhaynayar 75 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 106 comments

My favorite thing he’s ever wrote. I think the Moloch metaphor is really powerful for thinking about accelerationism and is in fact the metaphor of our age.

Look at climate change, student debt, housing, or basically any other issue on which we’re kicking the can down the road and you can see a certain Molochian bargain: we sacrifice our children for sake of the status quo.

I would go one step further - Meditations on Moloch is my favorite post on the internet, bar none. I first read it in 2014, and now I go back to it every now and then and I'm still awe-struck. Back when I first read it I felt he was saying something true and new. These days I've read a bit more and I know he's not the first to frame up this exact idea, but I've never read anyone frame it up quite so well.

I have to give it to Unsong, but that's a hell of a long favorite. My favorite bit in Unsong is the chapter where God gives an answer to the problem of evil, but there are so many other good bits in there too.

Meditations on Moloch is fantastic for sure. I also really love Universal Love, Said the Cactus Person. Oh, and Idol Words, a more recent one that I really liked.

I like Scott best when he's doing that particular weird brand of fiction he does, where he mixes sci-fi and philosophy and religion and kinda mashes them into a cool new thing. Unsong is the longest example of course but he's released lots of cool little one offs in that vein through the years.

Some links:







If you can think of any other examples of this kind of thing from Scott that you like, post a link, I'm sure there's some I haven't found yet.

There's this bit of fiction: https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/10/30/sort-by-controversial/

I was blown away at the time, but I seem to remember didn't get much love when discussed on here. I thought about it a lot during the Covid information wars.

Oh yeah, that is a good one for sure! Definitely hits a nerve when I look back at the last few years.

Moloch is not exactly about kicking the can down the road.

It's about competitive forces forcing individual actions (sacrifices) to gain an advantage that seem rational when viewed in separation, but since everyone will be competing the same way, making same sacroficies, gain no one anything in aggregate.

The stuff that didn't make it to the blog is disturbing too (like the weird conclusion to the Moloch essay):


Apparently lots of the blog and his neoreactionary FAQ was set up to get people into some of the ideas if neoreactionaries like eugenics stuff.

There was a whole trove of stuff that released a bit after the NYT article on Slate Star Codex that kind of proved its suspicions right.

His whole schtick is that he engages with ideas, even terrible ones, on their own turf rather than just dismissing them. He was never "for" neoreaction, he started out against it and wrote lengthy essays from that perspective (it's kind of disingenuous to mention the anti-neoreactionary faq without the "anti" part, by the way), and concluded to his own satisfaction that a lot of it was wrong or dumb.

The problem is, he seems to believe that if he can't show something to be false then it must be true. That's what those emails are saying, I think: he didn't go in believing the race/iq stuff, but once he researched it and failed to prove it wrong, he had no choice but to accept it. He's too smart/stubborn to consider the obvious third possibility, that he can fail to disprove something despite it being wrong.

Scott has (naturally) written about this phenomenon, of how he reacts to situations where there’s strong arguments for the position, and only invective against:

“When I was a teenager I believed in a conspiracy theory. It was the one Graham Hancock wrote about in Fingerprints Of The Gods, sort of a modern update on the Atlantis story. It went something like this:

Did you know that dozens of civilizations around the world have oddly similar legends about a lost continent that sunk under the waves? The Greeks called it Atlantis; the Aztecs, Atzlan; the Indonesians, Atala.

“Various ancient structures and artifacts appear to be older than generally believed. Geologists say that the erosion patterns on the Sphinx prove it must be at least 10,000 years old; some well-known ruins in South America have depictions of animals that have been extinct for at least 10,000 years.

“There are vast underwater ruins, pyramids and stuff. We know where they are! You can just learn to scuba dive and go see them! Historians just ignore them, or say they’re probably natural, but if you look at them, they’re obviously not natural.

“Teenage me was impressed by these arguments. But he also had some good instincts and wanted to check to see what skeptics had to say in response. Here are what the skeptics had to say:

Haha, can you believe some people still think there was an Atlantis! Imagine how stupid you would have to be to fall for that scam!

“There is literally ZERO evidence for Atlantis. The ONLY reason you could ever believe it is because you’re a racist who thinks brown people couldn’t have built civilizations on their own.

“No mainstream historians believe in any of that. Do you think you’re smarter than all the world’s historians?

“Meanwhile, I learned to scuba dive and checked out a site where Hancock said there were underwater pyramids. They were definitely there!”

And then there is a picture of himself in scuba gear, taken by his scuba instructor, and he is floating underwater next to what appears to be an obviously man-made stepped pyramid underwater - exactly like the conspiracy theorist said, and more importantly, exactly like the anti-conspiracy-theorists mocked you for being so stupid as to expect to see.

Reflect on why that might be convincing for a moment: the conspiracy-theorist camp said “go to coordinates XYZ and you will find an underwater pyramid”, the anti-conspiracy-theorist camp said “you’re stupid”, and when you go to coordinates XYZ you find an underwater pyramid.


That dynamic is evinced very clearly by this email (“not provably not-correct” and “the public response has been abysmal”). I feel like that is a better explanation than “if he can’t prove them wrong he has to believe them, he’s weird like that”.

This reads like a parody, and beautifully sums him up.

Historians: we looked into the Atlantis stuff, and it's not true, see decades of boring science.

Racists: but we'd like it to be true, because it's a bit racist.

Someone on tumbler: only silly racists believe that Atlantis BS

SSC: I don't believe in Atlantis (or support Trump, etc.) but I think the racists who believe in it only do so because liberals are so mean to them, so really it's all their fault.

I’m glad to hear I managed to provide a better summary of the thinking in that email than the previously-offered “he can’t prove them wrong himself so he has to believe them”, that was my goal with that comment.

I think I can sort of see how “I don’t believe in X, but the Xists who believe in it only do so because the anti-Xists are so mean to the Xists, so really it’s all the anti-Xists’ fault” sounds like a parody.

On the other hand, though, I think if you take “only do so because” and replace it with “do so in large part because” it would be basically a correct description and one that SSC might even endorse himself.

Why would Atlantis appeal to racists

> The Atlantis myth, in its many forms, has long been associated with racism. Many writers on the subject—including Hancock back in the 1990s—spoke of the “white” skin of the Atlanteans, who were a kind of master race tutoring benighted brown people in the divine art of piling rocks. The Nazis made use of lost civilization fantasies to support their hunt for a vanished Aryan homeland. Andrew Jackson even used a lost prehistoric civilization claim to justify the Indian Removal Act, which ended in the Trail of Tears. But in recent years, Hancock replaced his white Atlanteans with Indigenous ones and has been a vocal proponent of Native rights. That’s not to say Hancock doesn’t have some nasty classist and colonialist ideas. “Think about it: Could those farmers, who archaeologists tell us never built anything bigger than a shack, really have achieved all this?” he asks at a Maltese temple. Elsewhere, he complains hunter-gatherers lacked “ambition”—the “takers” of the Atlantean world.


Was the Nazi "Atlantropa" plan (draining the mediterranean) connected with that?


I'd love some reasoning for why this guy in particular comes in for such an amount of character assassination.

Is it the fact that he's academically adjacent yet doesn't toe the line?

There are thousands of people with middlebrow blogs out there, why the focus on slatestarcodex?

I think it's because he's basically correct, or convincing enough to seem so, about a set of facts that we've all decided to politely ignore for the good of society.

As the rationalists might say, scientific racism is (seen as) an infohazard that will destroy many useful cultural institutions if it spreads beyond the small community of researchers with sufficient context to understand it, and he's spreading it. The thing about infohazards is that even true information can be hazardous.

Other middlebrow blogs either talk about different things, have less reach, or aren't as vulnerable.

I think we should be clear that scientific racism is a case of an infohazard that is not, in fact, true (even if one can make a convincing, though ultimately fallacy-dependent, argument for it, usually by ignoring the falsification of the "sets of facts" which underpin it). The trouble is that admitting that is also a sort of infohazard, for certain people.

I have absolutely no idea whether it's actually correct or not, make no claims about it, and don't think the object level question matters compared to whether it's harmful. Discussing its validity in any way is falling into the trap of publicising it.

It matters because the topic refuses to stay buried (say, when brought up as an example of a controversial figure's purported views), and the prospect of it not being a closed question invites bad actors to rationalize social inequity, and their own tainted views and actions, through its lens.

This is a topic where a conscientious person should have an idea of its correctness and should stake that claim firmly. Best of all, doing so eliminates one's part in the harm of its nature as an infohazard.

Why are you so confident that it's not true? The best study I'm aware of on the topic is this one:


This concludes that there is 3-5 point genetic IQ gap between blacks and whites. This study is imperfect in a lot of ways, and fundamentally and irreconcilably confounded by the fact that even though the kids grow up in different environments raised by different families, there is no way to blind their childhood experience from the color of their own skin.

So, in no way do I mean to argue that this study is dispositive in favor of scientific racism. However, I do mean to argue that the existing state of the evidence points in that direction, albeit rather weakly.

>Why are you so confident that it's not true?

>This study is imperfect in a lot of ways, and fundamentally and irreconcilably confounded by the fact that even though the kids grow up in different environments raised by different families, there is no way to blind their childhood experience from the color of their own skin.

That's why. Racism is something that we made up, and then tried to massage circumstances and data to "prove" it. This

>However, I do mean to argue that the existing state of the evidence points in that direction, albeit rather weakly.

is rationalization seeking to uphold that unscientific exercise.

I also put a lie to it with my existence.

Sidenote: "The best study I'm aware of on the topic" is not a convincing argument that it is, in fact, even a serviceable study on the topic. However, it is a study that is often cited as such by the aforementioned bad actors. As with much racist rhetoric (spoken by avowed racists and non-racists alike), it says more about the person who brought it up than anyone else. You seem to be encountering the infohazard I mentioned earlier.

> That's why. Racism is something that we made up, and then tried to massage circumstances and data to "prove" it. This

I listed reasons to doubt the conclusions of the study. The study is generally well done and accounts for just about everything you can (practically) account for. However, it is not without flaws. It is not dispositive. But it is evidence in the direction of what's sometimes called "scientific racism".

That doesn't mean it's true. The jury is still very much out on the question. But what I was asking the GP was not "why are you unsure what's true here", but rather, "why are you so confident that one answer is true over the other".

> I also put a lie to it with my existence.

This is a misunderstanding of statistics. What this study appears to show, if you take it at face value, is that the black/white IQ gap is about 1/3 of a standard deviation. That means there are still plenty of very smart black people, and very dumb white people. It's a statement about population level averages, not individuals.

That being said, I don't take the study at face value. I think there are important confounds and the answer as to the direction and magnitude of the "genetic IQ gap" if any, is still unclear. However, what I definitely do not think is warranted by the evidence is the highly confident statement that the gap is 0.

> Sidenote: "The best study I'm aware of on the topic" is not a convincing argument that it is, in fact, even a serviceable study on the topic. However, it is a study that is often cited as such by the aforementioned bad actors. As with much racist rhetoric (spoken by avowed racists and non-racists alike), it says more about the person who brought it up than anyone else. You seem to be encountering the infohazard I mentioned earlier.

I would sincerely love for you to make me aware of more and better studies on the topic. It's something about which I'm curious, and would relish the opportunity to learn more.

The Flynn Effect is what we call the phenomenon of IQ rates going up across the board over the last 75 years, it's established as true yet nobody will claim that we all got genetically smarter.

That is true, and an important criticism of IQ as a measure in general. However, it's not clear that the Flynn effect is relevant to the conclusions of this study. Why do you think it is?

It was more of a general rebuttal to the idea of "the numbers move so it must be genetic".

The study you linked was interesting but adopted kids are an abnormal case to begin with and the effect indicated was tiny compared to societal things IMO.

The effect size was about a third of a standard deviation, which isn't huge, but isn't trivial either. Assuming it's true and genetically determined, that could have significant effects at the aggregate level.

However, a ray of hope in the study is that, even if you take its confidence intervals at face value (I don't), then there is quite a bit of room for improvement in the nurture sphere, as the black/white IQ test gap is generally much larger than this when not as carefully controlled as this study.

Except that he isn't spreading it.

What his detractors claim is that he secretly believes in some variety of "scientific racism", which makes him a Bad Person. Maybe he does and maybe it does, but believing something secretly isn't spreading it.

I guess it depends on what "it" is. He has (not very often, but more than zero times: see https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/05/26/the-atomic-bomb-consid..., specifically section III) said positive things about the idea that Ashkenazi Jews are on average unusually smart, perhaps as a result of evolutionary pressure arising from centuries of persecution. This isn't usually what people mean by "scientific racism", and it doesn't seem obviously very infohazardous to me. (Maybe a bit infohazardous. I can see ways in which you could start there and end up being Just Plain Racist. But I haven't seen much evidence that this is in any way common.)

In a recent post he said that people couldnt handle the scientific fact that black people are more criminal.

Let me just dig out the exact quote so I'm not paraphrasing:

> True facts can be hyperstitious slurs. “Black people commit more crime” [...] This leads to another sort of vicious cycle: half of people understand it’s a true fact that they’re not supposed to say for signaling reasons, the other half have never heard it before and assume it must be a vicious lie, and you end up with situations where someone notices that some police department arrests more blacks than whites, accuses that specific police department of racism, and everyone is afraid to explain what’s going on.


It's a classic from the "I'm not racist, black people are just scientifically interior and I can't let that fact go unacknowledged" school of race-"realism".

And how you get people like Steve Sailer to be regular commenters, saying things like:

> It's OK to be white" was created to be a wholly unobjectionable statement that is still widely objected to. The goal is to demonstrate that wokeness is driven by anti-white racist animus. It works.


You're kinda proving the point here. Scott said that if someone mentions this 100% true and uncontroversial statistic without also including a bunch of defensive verbiage, most people will shoot the messenger.

He didn't say anything about anyone being inferior, you attributed that to him.

Yes it's so clever how he manages to skirt so close to saying it that people like Steve Sailer feel comfortable commenting, but without actually stating it clearly in amongst his multi-thousand word rambles. Probably didnt have room to clarify.

It's all very teenage edgelord. He's triggering the libs with "facts" like black people commit more crime and attracting an audience of people who think that "the jews control the media", "being gay is a disease" etc. How smart and intelligent of him.

Why is "facts" in quotes?

I'll note, again, the passage you linked wasn't about crime rates or african americans. It was about your reaction you're having here.

Yes it was.

He was claming "black people commit more crime" is a valid thing to say, that you can't because woke people can't cope with the truth, though he'd probably be upset if someone said "women get paid less than men".

Oh, you're implying they get paid less for the same work, when really they just choose not to be CEOs because they love babies so much, he'd say, because he knows there's a whole bunch of political baggage that goes along with the "fact" that women are paid less.

He's more than smart enough to know what he's doing when he says these things.

You're doing the thing though, for 3 posts in a row. You're not handling the truth.

You're not ruminating on the societal factors that give rise to these statistics, you're freaking out at the fact that this guy mentioned them at all. Exactly like he said you would.

Yes he trapped me, how clever. I hope he doesnt ask me if I've stopped beating my wife, as that is a similarly inescapable logical prison from which there is no escape. Whatever I say he wins!

It's more like he asked if you stopped beating your wife, and you reacted by immediately beating her.

Our "useful cultural institutions" are irredeemably racist and sexist anyway. Destroying a history of racism and sexism may well be preferable to an enduring status quo where many people are excluded, marginalized and made invisible.

Late comment but thanks for the thoughtful response

> There are thousands of people with middlebrow blogs out there, why the focus on slatestarcodex?

It's got to be the distance between the quality/tone of his writing and the quality/tone of his fansplainers on HN, no?

See also:

* Rick and Morty episodes vs. Rick and Morty subreddit posts

* David Foster Wallace's oeuvre vs. Those who emulate his writing on forums

* Dream Theater vs. the Dream Theater fan who just asked me if I've ever heard of Dream Theater

These particular objects of admiration seem to generate fandoms which are a) ready and willing to educate anyone on the relevant subject matter, and c) sure seem like they only know the relevant subject matter-- if at all-- through that particular niche object of admiration.

Personally, I find that a) people don't like having other people's arbitrary hobby horses explained to them, and b) people really don't like it when the figure out that the explainer seems to be living vicariously through a second-hand explanation of the thing they admire.

I mean, I just can't imagine someone saying, "Hey, that's a fun/witty blog. I should deanonymize the author and ruin their practice." However, I can see that happening after the Nth encounter with a slatestarcodex fan.

Not to say it's fair. And personally, I enjoy both Dream Theater and conversations with their fans. But a few sentences in, those fans probably can tell that I've listened to way too much music and they quickly get off their hobby horse. Others who aren't as musically inclined probably get an unsolicited earful of an unhealthy obsession.

It's mainly the stealth pushing of eugenics.

That's what I'm talking about, you can accuse anyone of "stealth pushing eugenics" with enough text to comb through and a willingness to quote out of context. Heck, plenty of "woke" authors would qualify.

Why him? This went on for years and years before culminating in that NYT article.

He was pretty open here that he uses this as plausible deniability. On some other uncovered stuff that came out after the NYT article I believe he was paying homeless in exchange for getting sterilized, or making plans to. I'll have to dig it up.

edit: I think it was for homeless with partially heritable mental illness, not all homeless

Now there's a claim I'd love to see some evidence for.

Imperfect evidence but claim was made with screenshot accompanying in above linked Twitter, see that one: https://nitter.lacontrevoie.fr/ArsonAtDennys/status/13621874...

I'm honored by the nickname, thanks :)

choosing a sex partner is stealth eugenics

Seems like the background behind that is that Scott Alexander has sometimes entertained weird ideas. He's been open about at one time believing a conspiracy theory himself, for a little while.

That screenshot doesn't actually say what about neo-reactonary stuff he thought was interesting, just that there is some. The rest is left to your imagination, and Scott Alexander's enemies want you to imagine the worst.

> He's been open about at one time believing a conspiracy theory himself, for a little while.

Absolutely disgusting. How could he?? But which one? MKULTRA*? Operation Northwoods*? Flat earth? Illegal domestic surveillance by the NSA*? Operation Gladio*? Tell us which one, so that we may denounce him!

* Oops, this one's real lol

Lost underwater city.

There are some suspiciously man made looking natural rock formations underwater that look like part of a pyramid. Scott even scuba dived there to check them out. I'm not sure how much conspiracy is involved.

I think people underestimate how hard it is to evaluate the validity of ideas. Most people think they are open to new ideas, but actually have a pre-configured bias system that automatically accepts or rejects any incoming ideas. If you are actually willing to entertain new ideas, you have to run with something for a while while you figure out if it makes sense or not. You have to suspend parts of your existing belief system and reexamine assumptions you have made before. You will probably change your conclusion a couple of times in the process.

Dismissing conspiracy theories is the safe thing to do. It also does not require any effort, intelligence or insight on your part. I admire people who are willing to actually engage with ideas like that, even though it does not seem feasible everywhere all the time.

And conspiracy theories is one of those places where bullshit asymmetry is a large problem. The vast majority of actors are arguing in bad faith, and attempting to determine if the individual is arguing in good or bad faith requires an immense amount of energy in itself. Simply put attempting to entertain anyone here will almost always lead to failure. This then leads to people thinking that every conspiracy theory is worth ignoring which leads to another type of failure in the cases they are not.

> My favorite thing he’s ever wrote.

Exactly the same for me.

the parable of talents is also way way up there.


Meditations on Moloch (2014) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26129062 - Feb 2021 (2 comments)

Meditations on Moloch (2014) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23734235 - July 2020 (43 comments)

Meditations on Moloch (2014) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19756487 - April 2019 (54 comments)

Meditations on Moloch (2014) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17577913 - July 2018 (1 comment)

Meditations on Moloch - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10532551 - Nov 2015 (2 comments)

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!


Allen Ginsberg

"Attacks on NAMBLA stink of politics, witchhunting for profit, humorlessness, vanity, anger and ignorance ... I'm a member of NAMBLA because I love boys too -- everybody does, who has a little humanity."

Source: https://www.nambla.org/ginsberg.html

> Children screaming under the stairways!

He's repugnant and the art does not redeem him in any way. Reading the poem feels like picking up million dollars that's covered in shit. It's still a million dollars. But it's still covered in shit.


"Egregore (also spelled egregor; from French égrégore, from Ancient Greek ἐγρήγορος, egrēgoros 'wakeful') is an occult concept representing a non-physical entity that arises from the collective thoughts of a distinct group of people."

For example, a state or AI - something that consistsnof people, but has a distict goals of its own.

I've been running into egregores (or at least the concept of egregores) a lot lately!

Human beings are not the top-level cognitive agents, there are egregores at higher levels of organization (related to memeplexes, meta-organisms, etc). It's just hard to define and talk about them concretely, our language is not well-suited to reason about agency above the human level. One century-old example of identifying an egregore is the meme "A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism." It's nothing supernatural, just like a combination of neurons computing each their own thing gives rise to a new agent (human), a combination of humans computing each their own thing gives rise to a superhuman agent (spectre of communism).

My opinion is that the Earth is the top level cognition with a hierarchy of lesser intelligences going all the way to the single cell. We exist in between and that is why the human condition is so depressing.

Thank you, I hadn't heard of the word before and I think it'll stick with me.

I think there may be some crossover or resonance with the ideas of:

- Carl Jung's collective unconscious and archetypes

- Arnold Toynbee and Oswald Spengler's view of civilizations as (pseudo) organisms.

I think it’s pretty self evident that groups of people working towards a goal are no less a single brain/organism than an individual human doing so. There’s no argument you can make about humans being an individual that doesn’t apply at a scale higher (and this goes all the way up to include all life on Earth imo.)

Language is just another dimension of message passing between neurons. Once I realized this most religions began to make total sense to me, I had been thinking of gods etc as beings existing independent of this universe-but really the just exist on this “plain” of existence stemming from it.

Scott used to write some fantastic content. The classic SSC posts, this amongst them, were so thought provoking and original. Even when I strongly disagreed with it, I was always glad to have read it. He has lost his spark in recent years, it seems. Something about being de-anonymized, or maybe getting married, has peeled away the mad genius of his content and replaced it with prediction markets.

Scott agrees: 'Why Do I Suck?' (https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/why-do-i-suck)

This recent post has been considered by some a return to form: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/book-review-the-geogra...

Section IV says: The idea of biological or cultural evolution causing a mass population explosion is a philosophical toy at best.

I think it likely that biological and cultural evolution get tangled together. Ponder the Darwinian pressures on the memetic immune system. It gets really complicated when things get Darwinian on two levels. People need a memetic immune system, to protect them against memes such as the Skoptsy[0] or Shakers[1]

Memes themselves need to fit in the obvious sense of telling people to spread them. But in addition to this single level fitness, there is a cross-level concept: a meme is fertile if it encourages its hosts in their biological reproduction. The "be fruitful and multiply" meme has an edge, separate from its own reproductive success, in an increasing number of hosts. A meme is barren if it discourages its hosts in their biological reproduction.

This complicates the Darwinian pressures on the memetic immune system. Assuming that the mechanisms in play are subtle enough to distinguish between fertile memes and barren memes, evolution shapes our memetic immune systems to block barren memes while leaving us vulnerable to fertile memes.

Suppose that being smart correlates with having a subtle memetic immune system. Then we expect differences between smart and stupid people. We ponder barren memes and notice smart people being more resistant than stupid people. That seems natural; memes are basically selfish, being more resistant is good, right? Then we ponder fertile memes, and smart people are more vulnerable than stupid people. Wait! How are smart people getting infected by these memes, aren't they supposed to be smart? Whoops! Gaps in the memetic immune system to let the fertile memes through are favoured by natural selection.



> It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything

However an absolute majority of human beings do believe evil is literally spiritually personified. This is of course part of the appeal of strict materialism: once you accept that there are purely spiritual beings that can have an effect on the visible world, it's pretty much an inescapable conclusion that at least some of the evil we see is their work. One can't deny their possibility or even probability without denying anything non-material. Of course at that point you pretty much lose the ability to talk about evil in any meaningful way. Morality becomes nothing more than an expressed personal preference and like any other personal preference you have no grounds for denying others' right to disagree. You can appeal to some vague concept of "harm" or "rights," but others can just disagree that harm is wrong or that rights must be respected.

> Morality becomes nothing more than an expressed personal preference and like any other personal preference you have no grounds for denying others' right to disagree.

Religious faith makes no difference here. When a radical islamic meets a protestant, all they can do is assert their preferences against each other, until they finally resort to "denying others' right to disagree" - aka coercion.

I do not agree on the personification of evil (especially among Christians, who are whom I know). They believe there are persons who chose evil (the devil and his demons) but they are not the personification of evil.

As persons, their existence is somehow “sacred” and in some sense “good”. This is Aquinas’ explanation which I deem satisfactory for the time being.

One can commit oneself to evil but one cannot become “evil”.

As a consequence, even the devil deserves the benefit of the doubt, as Thomas More said. A human being, so much more.

> it's pretty much an inescapable conclusion that at least some of the evil we see is their work.

It's not inescapable, but it's certainly the first conclusion to jump to. :)

But even then, it's been in a kind of god-of-the-gaps scramble for some time. Even for the families who go around talking about how "blessed" everyone is, there's usually a mom or somebody in there who read and understood one of a thousand child-rearing psychology books. "We're so blessed to have had great pre-K instructors in this community which we researched while looking for communities with decent schools" is a far cry from attributing most of the human condition to spiritual hijinks.

gently disagree and propose that in the same way that they don’t hear you, you aren’t hearing them

I don't like how the writer absolves the individual of any responsibility in perpetuating 'Moloch'. It's not the case that we live in

> a dictatorless dystopia, one that every single citizen including the leadership hates but which nevertheless endures unconquered

- there are people who want the status quo to continue and unilaterally benefit from it.

IMO a better discussion of this sort of thing lies in the Anti-Oedipus. Its answer to "What does it?" is fascism. And not in a strict political sense, but in a more abstract psychological sort of sense.

Take for example an elderly person going to their grocery store, who sees one of the workers with their shirt unbuttoned. The elderly person promptly goes to the manager, who apologizes profusely and fires the worker on the spot. This is a sort of fascism that we are all capable of doing, and some make a living out of doing it. It's morality on a post-industrial scale. It's our tendency to think about "the way things are supposed to be", enforced by iron-clad rules.

Everyone should have a family. Everyone should have a job. Everyone should wear a uniform.

The penalties for not doing these things result in much of the strife Scott references (no uniform => no job, no job => homeless). And it's not because we live in a system TM, but because some people actively perpetuate their own beliefs about how the world should work and dole out punishment accordingly. We all have a little fascist in us that tells us what should happen. Some people end up nurturing it more than others, and no one in a position of great power isn't listening to it. Moloch will be defeated when that stops being the case IMO


This is from Foucault's intro to the Anti-Oedipus:

"Last but not least, the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism (whereas Anti-Oedipus' opposition to the others is more of a tactical engagement). And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini—which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively—but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us."

I was just remarking the other day of the danger one particularly self-righteous man can present to many. There was the guy who advocated zealously against separating bike and car traffic, for years, resulting in untold numbers of dead cyclists. There was the guy who advocated zealously for work search reqs as a condition of receiving unemployment, robbing millions of the opportunity to reskill after being fired or laid off. There was the guy who flipped dozens of state houses by planting lies about his party's opponents. There was Richard Nixon and his waves hands vaguely.

This kind of person doesn't even necessarily lead a movement or anything of that sort. He is simply loud, and single-minded, and shrewd about couching his disastrous visions in terms that the go-along-to-get-along majority find agreeable enough to outweigh the discomfort of confronting him.

Getting fired from a job is bad and that seems like an unforgiving place to work. But equating it to becoming homeless and calling it fascist seems a bit much? There are other jobs out there.

A similar argument is used by men who blame women for them being single. Getting dumped is no fun, but...

You can get fired for stealing from the company. You can get fired for attacking a customer. I'm not talking about those things, I'm talking specifically about getting fired because of someone's psychology, even - especially - if that psychology is of the customer. And again, fascism here means something close to but not the same as fascism in a political context.

And from what I know, correct me if I'm wrong; usually if you don't have a job for some time you end up being homeless unless you have some support. Again I might be off the mark here.

Fascism means… whatever you want it to mean?

This isn't an instance of a random person arbitrarily deciding to define fascism in a way that doesn't expressly adhere to the concept of "historical fascism".

Mxkopy is explicitly quoting Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and adhering to the definition posited by Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, and Michael Foucault. If you're unfamiliar with the work, I can understand the confusion, but he's clearly using the term appropriately given that context—not arbitrarily changing the definition to "mean... whatever you want it to mean".

To derail the conversation further (since we’re caught up on the ‘definition of fascism’ but), Aldous Huxley notes the same Will to Subjugate and provided a physical/philosophical answer in The Island: if we all have, in varying doses, the will to subjugate others - we should require those for whom the desire is strongest to engage in activities that force the individual to command power over themselves. In the text, Huxley’s answer was rock climbing.

For those who prefer listening to reading, here's the audio version:


Thanks for the suggestion, great listening to this during cooking.

> Moloch whose mind is pure machinery!

This strikes me as someone following an ideology. The ideology becomes a substitute for thought: an algorithm that's relied upon (obeyed?) when making decisions. Algorithm == machinery.

This makes me think of this wonderful articlep[1] about Tolkien's concept of "the Machine."

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/07/fall-...

> Treating “the algorithm” as a kind of divine power misunderstands where algorithmic power comes from

From "Magic Numbers" https://reallifemag.com/magic-numbers/

Thankfully, in these cases other people who are not into Moloch’s worship unite, forget their differences, and purge him out of existence. The history is full with examples.

Quoting Meditations on Moloch, part VIII:

> Somewhere in this darkness is another god. He has also had many names. In the Kushiel books, his name was Elua. He is the god of flowers and free love and all soft and fragile things. Of art and science and philosophy and love. Of niceness, community, and civilization. He is a god of humans.

> The other gods sit on their dark thrones and think “Ha ha, a god who doesn’t even control any hell-monsters or command his worshippers to become killing machines. What a weakling! This is going to be so easy!”

> But somehow Elua is still here. No one knows exactly how. And the gods who oppose Him tend to find Themselves meeting with a surprising number of unfortunate accidents.

> There are many gods, but this one is ours.

I doubt an LLM will ever be able to write like that.

Wonder if slate/astra will ever become required reading for schools. Shorter than shakespeare.

Maybe in some Upper Div Philosophy class when he inevitably goes down as another cornerstone in the history of Philosophy.

Scott Alexander’s opus magnum, and one incredibly important piece of writing. I remember when it first came out, I used to attend a little social gathering once a month. One of the many things we did was function as an informal reading group of SlateStarCodex posts. That month, the gathering happened to fall just a few hours after Meditations on Moloch was published. We all turned up looking like stunned mullets, just staring at each other and saying “Moloch, right?” before lapsing back into thought.

Every few years I think about putting together a compendium of “Required Reading to Save the World” and this piece is always on the list.

So many beautiful, chilling, inescapable lines:

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.

…Maybe there is no philosophy on Earth that would endorse the existence of Las Vegas. … 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. … 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.

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. … 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.

““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.

Suppose you make your walled garden. You keep out all of the dangerous memes, you subordinate capitalism to human interests, you ban stupid bioweapons research, you definitely don’t research nanotechnology or strong AI. Everyone outside doesn’t do those things. And so the only question is whether you’ll be destroyed by foreign diseases, foreign memes, foreign armies, foreign economic competition, or foreign existential catastrophes.

But the current ruler of the universe – Moloch – wants us dead, and with us everything we value. Art, science, love, philosophy, consciousness itself, the entire bundle. … The only way to avoid having all human values gradually ground down by optimization-competition is to install [a different God to rule] over the entire universe who optimizes for human values. … Once humans can design machines that are smarter than we are, by definition they’ll be able to design machines which are smarter than they are, which can design machines smarter than they are, and so on in a feedback loop so tiny that it will smash up against the physical limitations for intelligence in a comparatively lightning-short amount of time. … In the very near future, we are going to lift something to Heaven. It might be Moloch. But it might be something on our side. If it’s on our side, it can kill Moloch dead.

Moloch is exactly what the history books say he is. He is the god of child sacrifice, the fiery furnace into which you can toss your babies in exchange for victory in war. He always and everywhere offers the same deal: throw what you love most into the flames, and I can grant you power. As long as the offer’s open, it will be irresistible. So we need to close the offer. Only another god can kill Moloch.”

There are many gods, but this one is ours.

Did you ever put together the reading list? Id be curious to check them out.

No, I haven’t, though I will eventually. In the meantime, some other pieces that always come to mind as being definitely on that list are Weaponised Sacredness by Sarah Perry, specifically the section on egregores (https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2015/05/07/weaponized-sacredness/ ctrl-f “The Egregore”), Rene Girard’s Scapegoat, and as antagonistic reading (threatening ideas you must engage with) Spandrell’s IQ Shredder, and Nick Land’s Hell-Baked. In general the list is about coming to understand little-recognized forces that control the world.

I think something like this would be really beneficial. The tough thing with the rationalist sphere, and its dark cousins, is that critical material is spread across multiple forums and blogs, many defunct and difficult to search for. An index for this material would be valuable.

One of the issues that makes an index less valuable is that to make sense of a given rationalist idea you kinda need to have a mental virtualenv set up with most of the rationalist tools already installed (otherwise e.g. when someone says “this is a choice between Good and Evil” you will simply say “I choose Good” as in https://www.yudkowsky.net/other/fiction/the-sword-of-good), and the only reliable way to install all of those tools is to just read most of the rationalist literature. Likewise for the “dark cousins”, to make sense of a given neoreactionary idea you need a mental virtualenv with all the neoreactionary tools installed and to install them you need to read all of Moldbug. And don’t get me started on postrationalist ideas - despite being the most important of all, you can’t make sense of them without having all the rationalist and neoreactionary tools installed in the same environment, and have spent five years marinating in the dependency conflicts, and you also have to be so intractably contrarian that neither rationalist nor neoreactionary thought is contrarian enough to satisfy you…

I still think an index would be helpful, but it does have its issues as well.

Thanks I’ll start with those! Moloch was a great one so I’ll be happy to dive into more.

Thank you, please share more!

Same; I come back to this article every few years, and I’d love to discover other pieces like it.




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