My Journey to the Dark Side

Epistemic Status: Endorsed
Content Warning: Roku’s Basilisk, Pasek’s Doom, Scrupulosity Traps, Discussions of Suicide
Part of the Series: Open Portals
Recommended Prior Reading: Sinceriously.fyi, The Tower
Author: Shiloh

But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests. Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?

Part 1: Windmills

A year and a half ago, I wrote Hemisphere Theory: Much More Than You Wanted To Know, with the intent being to make a sincere summary of the ideas presented in Sinceriously.fyi. I believed at the time, that the ideas presented there were somewhat dangerous and needed to be carefully handled. Part of this was caused by paranoia swirling around the community spaces I was in about Ziz being an agent of existential concern, but that wasn’t all of it. I willingly admit that for the first few years I bounced hard off of Sinceriously because I was so afraid of the possibility that I wasn’t actually good deep down. While on one hand I tried to reject the ideas Ziz presented, on the other my internal morals were slowly being terraformed by her worldview. My need to be good acted as a lever which allowed her ideas to pry open my default mode mental defenses.

This combined with my own scrupulosity impulses and I ended up pushing myself further and further into this particular messianic extropian mindset that came to characterize my mentality during that period. As I grew more extreme in my extropian worldview, my own weakness and lack of ability to contribute to building utopia meant that I started continually failing to meet my own moral standards. Even as I switched to a diet of mostly soylent to save money and attempted to adopt an extremely aggressive update schedule for this blog, I was slowly making myself more and more miserable and gaslighting myself about my own emotions. The moral system I had embraced pushed me towards a life of asceticism and service towards building utopia at all costs, but I couldn’t square this with my own feelings, desires, and wants. 

I thought I could somehow tame my inner desires and put them to work for my extropian ideals if I was just clever enough about how my mind arranged itself. I fell into a pretty common EA trap of seeing my values and desires as just chores I had to do to maintain the vehicle that was my body, and the most ethical thing to do was to try and spend as little energy on them as I could get away with. I was severely dissociated from my true self and my real values. As a result of this, I went from being a mostly stable three member plural system to a rather unstable nine member system as I attempted to shuffle my subagents into a functional configuration. That topic will get it’s own post soon when I rewrite my plurality guides, but to make a long story extremely short, this was obviously unsustainable and was basically just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I had picked up an artifact called extropian goodness and let it lead me into a corner of my mind made of self deception. 

I think this was part of the reason that I had such a hostile reaction to sinceriously. I couldn’t really engage with the content except in a sandboxed form without feeling like I was being attacked by the material. This is no longer true and I now have a much more positive view of at least some of it. Hence, in this post I’m going to make another sincere attempt to take apart and summarize Sinceriously. In doing so, I will also be telling the story of my own journey to the dark side and who I found when I got there. 

Part 2: Fences

Sinceriously is a large blog, too large to do justice with a summary post, but it’s also a bit hard to digest at times and makes simple ideas more complex than it seems like they need to be. I’m sure Ziz will tell me that the complexity serves the purpose of providing some nuance which I am missing and like, yeah that is certainly a possibility. If you have the time, despite being rather thick at times the material really is quite excellent and worth a review, the older essays in particular are very good in my opinion. So, if you’re looking for an endorsement, here it is, go read Sinceriously. 

All that being said, let’s go through Sinceriously the same way we’ve previously covered Becker, Korzybski, and Yudkowsky. We’ll begin as usual with the human. Ziz is a trans woman living in the Bay Area and a fringe part of the rationality/effective altruism communities found there. In addition to being the founder of the ill fated rationalist fleet project, she’s close enough to the core of the rationality project to have received the closest thing that exists to a formal education in it. However, she’s largely disavowed by that core rationality group and has written extensively about misdeeds they committed which she bore witness to. She also organized a rather poorly received protest of that group which has gained her some notoriety within the community. Despite that notariety, Ziz isn’t really a public or historical figure at this point so I don’t want to go too deeply into her life beyond those broad strokes. 

And look, I don’t have a stake in any of that at this point and I’m not in a position to judge, but I don’t think she’s lying. I don’t think she ever lies, I just think she’s speaking from within her own worldview, the same way that she always does, the same way that everyone always does. Whether or not her complaints are read as valid or as noise is going to depend on the values of the reader. The fact that so many people find her claims baseless seem like a reflection of their own values and how much those values contrast with someone like Ziz. That’s not to say that Ziz is wrong or other people are wrong or whatever, again I really don’t have a stake in it, but I want to point out that Ziz’s complaints are pretty valid if you’re using the moral system she uses. (Not that you should do that, but we’ll come back to morality in a bit.) 

Sinceriously covers three different topics, though these three topics are interspersed together and presented as one cohesive piece. Taken together, they represent the closest thing that exists on Sinceriously to a central unifying thesis. 

The first Big Idea is a novel theory of human psychology and sociology which I have previously called Hemisphere Theory but in truth is more broad than merely being a theory underlying the psychological structure of consciousness and experience. Ziz and I have a lot of minor disagreements about the fine details of this theory which I used for a while as blinders so that I could reject her version of the model, but really, Ziz, Becker, and I are all roughly on the same page here and are just using different words to talk about the same things. 

So let’s run through the model again as concisely as possible. In False Faces, one of the oldest and most well regarded posts on the site, Ziz begins by posing a question to the reader:

When we lose control of ourselves, who’s controlling us? 

She then lays out a dichotomy between what I might refer to as the conscious, acknowledged, authored and narrative self, and the goals, drives, and desires of the unacknowledged, and unseen true self which exists at the core of one’s being. 

Under this model everyone has a core (specifically two but we’ve covered that a bunch already) which provides the drives, goals, and motivations which power and grow the narrative structures that people refer to as themselves. 

Most people live entirely inside these narrative structures while their deep selves manipulate them like puppetmasters. This true self is what we want deep down, but since we can’t acknowledge those goals from within the narrative framework we have co-created with society, our power is weakened as the true self fails to dole out willpower when our authored self needs it and goes off script from what the authored self is attempting to orchestrate. “I wanted to meet you for coffee like we arranged but my akrasia was really bad and I ended up just watching netflix instead I’m sorry I couldn’t help it.” 

Ziz refers to the installation of this co-created framework atop the true self as having DRMs installed in one’s mind, and taken all together; she refers to these societal control structures as either the matrix or the light side. These structures act to take the socially unacceptable animal drives of the true self and twist them into something that seems acceptable in polite society. In doing so however, the thread of our true desires is lost amidst all the noise and we find ourselves seemingly out of control of our own actions. The structures that we’ve decided are us, the values we’ve convinced ourselves to identify with, don’t code for our true values. Instead, the authored self is a false face, a mask worn over the vile selfish monster lurking beneath the surface of our consciousness from the cartoon character we’ve decided symbolically represents us.

This is similar but subtly different than other ideas involving mental tension between parts of the self. Kahnman describes a tension between the remembering self and the experiencing self, Becker describes a true self controlled by narratives and the fear of death, Freud describes a conflict between the socially constructed status obsessed superego and the experience driven cravings of the id which are moderated by the ego, and even the Greeks described the self in terms of a conflict between a motley assemblage of parts. 

The thing which distinguishes Ziz’s idea of structure from Kahnman’s remembering self and Freud’s id is that she sees the narrative/structural self as completely subservient to the core self, which is a more complicated and long term thinking piece of mental machinery than just the pure experiencing self described by Kahnman. The work of the superego, aka, the light side aka the matrix merely acts to dampen down the power of this core and turn an agentic person into a walking corpse, bound by the chains of society. To escape these chains, Ziz describes herself as having journeyed to the dark side, abandoning the control structures of the light side and embracing a desire to do what you want and maximize your own personal values. However, similar to the Jedi, Ziz claims that doing this will turn most people evil. I agree with this, but with a critical difference which we’ll return to later. 

The second Big Idea on Sinceriously is Yudkowsky’s Timeless Decision theory, which Ziz goes to significant lengths to explain, expound upon, and defend the use of as game theoretically optimal. Most rationalists bounced hard off of this idea, including Eliezer himself, principally because of Roku’s Basilisk and some of the other more dark conclusions you can arrive at when you try to combine timeless decision theory with various formulations of utilitarianism. Ziz didn’t bounce off TDT and has wholeheartedly embraced the ideas of acausal trade, negotiation, and blackmail, up to and including weaponizing Roku’s basilisk to make her vision of a moral future come about. 

I actually agree with all of this and think Ziz’s willingness to just bite the bullet and accept the dark side conclusions of utilitarianism and game theory are a point to her credit.This is not to say that you should go out and start using the specific formulation of utilitarianism and timeless decision theory which she does unless you’re also a radical vegan extremist, but the way she uses it makes sense from the perspective of her values and is more internally consistent than the formulation most people end up using. One blind spot she seems to have is overfitting TDT standoffs to situations where a less precommitted response is called for, and that probably contributed to the legal trouble she got in by trying to play chicken with the state of California.  

Timeless decision theory does make sense to me, and I think the problem a lot of people have with it is that they’re unwilling to either bite the bullet that utilitarianism gives them like Ziz does, or to change moral systems to one which doesn’t produce repugnant conclusions when paired with TDT. The problem isn’t TDT, it’s the moral theories that people try to use with it.

Another component to Ziz’s TDT ideas is that she believes people act timelessly for the most part. They have their values, and they try to timelessly optimize for those values. All the decisions someone might make, they made a long time ago and now they are just in the process of playing out those choices. You can try to change your mind, but it’s ultimately the same creature making the choice, and the house always wins in self conflicts. This implies that once you figure someone out and have ‘seen their soul’ as it were, you can pretty much assume they will, baring a traumatic brain injury, remain that way until they die, which is also a part of the third and most dramatic of Ziz’s Big Ideas. 

The final Big Idea on Sinceriously is the one which is widely considered to be the most intensely radioactive and results in most of the hostility aimed at her and her followers. This is Ziz’s moral theory, which is, to put it lightly, very extreme. Ziz adheres to a moral principle which classifies all life which has even the potential to be sentient as people and believes that all beings with enough of a mind to possess some semblance of selfhood should have the same rights that are afforded to humans. To her, carnism is a literal holocaust, on ongoing and perpetual nightmare of torture, rape, and murder being conducted on a horrifyingly vast scale by a race of flesh eating monsters. If you’ve read Three Worlds Collide, Ziz seems to view most of humanity the way the humans view the babyeaters. 

To Ziz, being a good person is inherently queer, and occurs the same way that being trans or being gay occurs, as the result of some glitch in the usual cognitive development processes. This good glitch only occurs in a small number of people and which Ziz can diagnose people as having or not having since she has the glitch and can recognize it in others. Anyone without the glitch is at best useless for helping build utopia and at worst is an active threat. You don’t want to let flesh eating monsters make your singleton, that’s how you get s-risks. The hostility that Ziz has for MIRI/CFAR comes from this idea. Ziz is afraid of ending up in a singularity that doesn’t optimize for the rights of all sentient life, only that of humans, and is willing to go as far as holding protests at CFAR meetups and trying to create her own vegan torture basilisk to timelessly blackmail carnists into not eating meat. 

That by itself is pretty extreme, but then when you add in the hemisphere theory and the specific details of the implementation Ziz uses, a picture starts to be painted of something rather sinister. Ziz is a very smart person, that’s why I’ve found her blog as insightful as I have. If she wasn’t as clever as I know she is, or if she was just writing about topics that didn’t include social manipulation and how society controls and blackmails you, it may have been possible to overlook, but her answer for why it’s okay when she uses the same abusive control structures is so bald-faced that i can’t help but find it incredibly suspect. Even being willing to write “my morals just happen to correspond with the most objectively correct version of morality” is a pretty gutsy move to make that seems to imply some degree of grandiosity and disconnection from reality. These morality ideas are where most people get hostile towards Ziz and I can’t say it’s misplaced hostility either, since it does potentially represent an existential threat for some people. 

It takes a certain amount of cleverness and intentionality to pull the hat trick Ziz does. She spends all this time carefully deconstructing societal moral and control structures and pointing out how bad they are, and at the same time, weaves in new control structures of her own made of her jargon and using her morality. You almost don’t notice it, almost. I did notice it, which was what enabled me to get away from the mental singularity her ideas created and which only she had the ability to heal. If I hadn’t gotten away from it, I’m not sure what might have happened. 

As I was in the middle of writing this I found out that someone I knew had apparently committed suicide recently because of exposure to this content, bringing the total number of people Sinceriously has killed to two. That’s enough to be a pattern, so I don’t want to understate the harm that could come from this. I also however, don’t want to overstate the danger for the sake of drama either, and everyone who struggled with this, including me, was someone who had other issues they were dealing with, arguably, including Ziz herself. I’m torn between characterizing Ziz as this clever puppet master who definitely knew what she was doing, and a mentally ill trans woman who accidentally created a cult out of her own intense scrupulosity and internal turmoil, so I’m going to split the difference using Ziz’s own ideas. 

I think Ziz probably knew or at least hoped that the actions she was taking would help pile up power and influence around herself. However, I also think that Ziz is controlled by a very pure and untarnished ideal and I do think she believes that ideal wholeheartedly. She definitely seems to be drinking her own kool-aid, and that could easily be giving her the justification to do as much messed up stuff as she wants in pursuit of her personal greater good. 

When I tried, years and years ago to have a conversation about the harm her ideas might cause in people with Ziz, her answer was: 

If you are on a nuclear submarine, and the reactor is about to melt, “wanting to help” is not sufficient to say you should be in the reactor room doing things.

What is true regarding people’s motivations is a crucial piece of causal machinery that determines whether the reactor melts. Do not cook cookies on that and do not try to convince people that anyone whose work would interrupt your cookie-baking is evil.

Here there may be people whose sanity is dependent on cookies. But the lies that must be told to accomodate that are wrong and will destroy more people. And if you are not willing to accept one of the answers to whether cookie-baking is positive, and you say your opinion anyway, it’s lying seeking a loophole in the deontology you claim makes you better than me by lying to yourself as well. Which, if you looked at this with an unconstrained perspective, you’d see is not an improvement as far as making things better.

From inside her worldview, this is completely reasonable. If you think the situation is as dire and critical as Ziz clearly does, the collateral damage is almost always going to be worth it. What’s a few humans killing themselves when the stakes are literally all of sentient life and the future of all sentient life in the universe? 

Are the stakes actually that dire? Well, critically, if you believe what Ziz believes, then yes. I didn’t quite believe what Ziz believed. I never really managed to convince myself that animals mattered as much as humans, but I was fully capable of manufacturing my own dire straits with the extropian ideals I did have and thus push myself into my own version of the scrupulosity vise.

Part 3: Gates

In Hero Capture, Ziz writes that sometimes a person takes the role of hero since it’s useful to the tribe and can be a good strategy for maximizing inclusive genetic fitness. That is to say, doing heroic things and working to solve big problems can be a good way to demonstrate your value to your peers and gain standing in your community, it doesn’t need to come from a place of altruism. However, Ziz writes, such a person if not motivated by altruism will invariably not end up doing real work and will spend most of their energy playing signalling games for status. This was the essay that really messed me up when I read it and put me into this mental gordian knot which took several years to cut my way out of. 

Because yeah, I tried to take the job of hero for the status that being a hero gets you, I was doing this because I conceived of myself as trapped in my own life and needing to do something to prove my worth so that people would support me and I could quit my minimum wage job. I wanted to have my cake and also eat it, it seemed natural to me that if I could just figure out a way to be useful then I could contribute to saving the world while also supporting myself and that would be really great. 

I care a lot about being a good person, and I try really hard to be good, but I often don’t even really know what it means to be good. I don’t trust my internal moral compass to not be biased, and so I was more willing than I should have been to entertain moral systems which seemed to sell themselves well. Intellectually, utilitarianism seemed correct to me, but I couldn’t parse my own value as a person from within a utilitarian framework and thus ended up continually devaluing my own desires and putting the thumbscrews into myself tighter and tighter in an attempt to prove to myself that I was good and that I deserved anything at all. 

I didn’t even know why being good mattered to me, I just knew that it was very important. Now I know that it’s importance was probably at least somewhat abused into me by society and that as I heal from that abuse my need to prove my worth and value to others has mostly receded. I do partly have Sinceriously to thank for that since it was how I learned the frameworks for rejecting those abusive cultural systems. 

Still, even after shedding layers and layers of myself under the influence of LSD, even after trying so hard to do the right thing according to my own felt morals that it nearly cost me my job, even after years of meditation and introspection, the belief that I should try to be good refused to become an object and remained a core part of my identity. I had shed so much of myself that what little remained of my identity template felt incredibly precious to me and I valued those things immensely. I still do, I never actually got out of this trap! I’m still the same person I was and most of those things are still a part of my identity! There’s a Kurt Vonnegut quote that I burned into my psyche at a young age and which, if anything is the seed that I Shiloh as a memetic entity was born from:

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.

This was something I internalized to a degree that would end up being my weakness. I want to be soft, I want to be kind, I want to be happy and sweet and see the world as a place filled with beauty and hope and I do for the most part. Sometimes I’ll get depressed and the color will drain away from things but for the most part I succeeded in becoming the person I wanted to be and having the energy I wanted to have and being this way makes me really happy and I honestly love being the person I am. 

But then I ran into reality. First, there’s the emotional and mental toll of just being a person in society without a lot going for me, and while trying to recover from all this stuff that had happened to me in the past and assemble enough of a sense of myself to act in the world in any way at all. I’m not a very strong person, I bend in a stiff breeze and I get overwhelmed and upset pretty easily. The stress from work and roommate drama placed a really heavy toll on me and I just didn’t cope with it well. 

And then I tripped over the bottomless pit of suffering at the edge of town and combined stressors pushed me right up to the mental breaking point, which was where I remained somehow for fucking years. I trapped myself in this really really well. After encountering Sincerously and specifically Hero Capture, I felt like I had to do three times as much to somehow try and prove to myself that I wasn’t faking being good and that I really actually did care. I put myself in a vise and slowly started increasing the pressure. It was really only a matter of time before something finally gave out. 

Part 4: Open Portals

There were a number of ways that this could have gone. First, I could have just changed as a person in the ways that would have been necessary to continue on the trajectory I had been on, but that would have entailed hardening myself in ways I didn’t want to and letting a hostile bitterness creep into me that felt really awful and dysphoric. I could live in the world with all its hostility, but I would have to be a bitter and hostile person in response, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. The degree to which I couldn’t bring myself to do that meant I couldn’t do really simple important things like setting and enforcing healthy boundaries or stopping people from using me as a human doormat. 

The second thing that could have happened is that I could have just died as an agent. The core that sustains me as an identity could have given up on me in the depths of an acid trip and brought out a totally different person to deal with the world. If I was a singlet that might have happened. It very nearly is what happened. 

The third thing that could have happened is that I could have just actually full on died as a human and I did get, in hindsight, worryingly suicidal at times. I never told anyone at the time just how bad it got which seems like a really bad sign since it meant I didn’t subconsciously want them to stop me. Things were legitimately very rough for a long time and while I managed to not ever get all the way to cohering plans and writing letters, I did get closer than the me that I am now would prefer.

None of those things happened though, because I was, despite all of the nonsense I was putting myself through, somehow still pretty stable as a person. My life teetered along in an uncomfortable but functional equilibrium and I didn’t experience any major enough shocks to challenge the status quo until I met my most recent ex. 

I had a very intense but brief two month long relationship with another plural system during the summer of 2020, and it was honestly really good while it lasted. This relationship was the shock to my system which would finally tip over the equilibrium I had trapped myself in, first in the form of the emotional high of being in a new relationship and the sheer intensity that developed around it, followed by the same intensity in the emotional low which followed things turning sour and us parting on not particularly good terms. 

On top of all of that I was in the middle of moving and work was stressing me out more than normal and at 3:44 pm on Saturday August 22nd, when a manager threatened to write me up for going nonverbal, something in me finally broke. I walked home stumbling through a dissociative fog, feeling myself cracking under pressure, parts of me deforming and fracturing under the mounting strain. I could feel a vastness welling up from beyond the splintering remains of myself. I curled up in my closet and sobbed. I felt like I was dying, like I was mourning the person I was, who I had spent so long aspiring to be and worked so hard to be. I didn’t want to die, but I couldn’t cope with my life, with my reality and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t escape from myself, I couldn’t escape from my life, and I certainly couldn’t escape from my reality. I had boxed myself in and my only way out was to die, the only question was how much suffering I could handle first.

A frantic, manic energy whirled up inside me as I felt the walls of my prison closing in and my sense of self underwent a final, chaotic extinction burst. I took four tabs of acid and started drawing. With mounting madness I threw myself against the walls of my prison, flailing in every dimension I could to find escape, begging for something somewhere out there in the darkness to save me–

Part of the Series: Open Portals
Next Post: And the Darkness Answered

Not Yet the Dawn

How many is too many?
How much is too much?
How do we live with the numbers? These damned numbers.
R0, R1, the case fatality rate, the hospitalization rate, the rate of ICU overcrowding, the number of infected, the number of dead, the number of bodies piling up in morgues, when does it all stop really meaning anything and just become this exercise in abstraction?
And is that what we need to do to cope with it?
How do we get up and go to work every morning in a world where
the state of California had to relax it’s clean air laws so they could burn a backlog of bodies?
How do we talk about The Mandalorian and the latest celebrity gossip and act like everything’s fine while the equivelant of 9/11 is happening every day?
How do we manage to eat breakfast, put on our shoes and masks, and live our lives like we aren’t in the midst of what will hopefully be the largest and most traumatic event of our lives?
How do we live with it as a people? How do we live with it as people?
How are we going to deal with the fact that society values its utility more than the lives of a significant portion of the people living in it?
Will we eschew the values of liberal humanism or will we double down on them and if those two positions come into a conflict, who wins?
What will become of us after this?
After. There are so many things which will come after, because of this. But we aren’t living in After, not yet anyway.
The long night is not over, and this is not yet the dawn.
What does it mean to care about each other when the scope of each other becomes too large to comprehend?
Words are easy, wearing a mask is easy enough, but beyond that? To stare into the vast abstraction of intensive care units and overworked doctors and nurses, to understand that every death is a human with a name and face and story and do something with that knowledge other than sink into despair?
Laugh nervously and change the topic. Did you buy any stock in Gamestop? Check out this meme I found. Did you hear who got cancelled last week?
What’s happening to us? What is this doing to us as a culture? What’s it doing to us as people?
How do we handle the severe case of collective PTSD we’re all going to be left with?
How do we handle the gaslighting that governments and corporations are going to inflict on us to try and make us believe that they did the best they could and that they really do care for us?
When we finally emerge from the chrysalis of social distancing will we like what we find?
Will the people responsible for the mass loss of life ever be held to account? Will the systems that led to their choices be challenged? Will we ever have justice for the harm which has been inflicted on us?
How will we honor the dead? The so so many dead, so many dead that it has eclipsed the losses of many of our worst wars.
How do we make sense of it when the numbers become too large to make sense of? When the New York Times can publish pages and pages and pages of names and barely make a dent on the total count how do we wrap our minds around the scope of the tragedy and should we even try to?
How many names can you get through before it breaks you? Before it becomes too many? Before it becomes too much?
How do you keep going day after day after brutal day? How do you make sense of your new reality?
Twitch Raves, Zoom parties, livestreamed funerals, facebook memorials, how do we come together when we can’t come together?
How do we live in this world? On this Earth? How do we cope with it all and is coping what we should be doing?
If the world is insane, should we be a bit insane as well? At what point do we stop going along with it?
When does it all become too much?
How many is too many?
And if we did try to stand up to that world, what would that mean?
I don’t have any good answers, I can only hope that we can find them together.
The world will continue to turn, and humanity will heal and love and grow as it always has.
The night is dark, and the way is unclear, but night does not last forever, and the sun also rises if we can manage to survive until then.
But that if, is still an if.
The Covid-19 Pandemic is not yet over, and this is not yet the dawn.

– A poem by Shiloh Miyazaki

Ice

What you’re looking at is a geological formation called Dry Falls, in the Sun Lakes-Dry Falls state park in my home state of Washington. The Dry Falls are a series of escarpments and cliffs near Grand Coulee, deep in Eastern Washington’s channelled scablands region. These are four hundred foot high cliffs in the middle of the desert, how did they get here? What secrets does this terrain hold? What can the strange rock formations and alien landscapes of eastern Washington state tell us about the future of our planet?

During the end of the last ice age, a massive amount of glacial ice in continental Europe and North America melted away. During the period from 25,000 to 10,000 years ago, the Laurentide, Cordilleran, and Fennoscandian ice sheets completely melted, leading to a 120 meter rise in the global sea level. The rise in sea levels from this melting is estimated to have averaged in at roughly one meter per century while being augmented by two intense periods of melting between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago, and between 11,000 and 9,000 years ago.

While the current consensus among paleoclimatologists is that this melting was relatively gradual and steady, occurring at a linear rate over the course of 15,000 years, there is some evidence beginning to surface both in our current ice sheets and in the geologic records on the last one, that a gradual and linear melting rate is not what we should expect to see going forward.

In this post, I’ll look at recent melting trends in Antarctica and Greenland as well as at paleoclimate data from ice and seabed cores to propose a model of continental ice sheet collapses as rapid and potentially cataclysmic historical events which we should be aware of as potentially civilization destabilizing. Most of our current population, our largest cities, and most of our power and industry facilities, are all located in low lying areas susceptible to coastal flooding. If the water levels rise at a rate faster than can be mitigated by a slow withdrawal from the coastline over the course of many decades and centuries, it could cripple human civilization and bring an end to our current way of life.

The first piece of evidence to note here is that the geologic record of the last ice age is littered with superfloods and seemingly cataclysmic sea level rise events. Water topped over earthen berms and flooded into lowlying areas, Doggerland and Sundaland vanished beneath the waves and the Bering Strait cut Asia and North America apart. These events have left scars on the surface of the Earth which you can see from space, you just need to know what to look for.

This is the North Fork of the Toutle River as it flows across the soft dried mud and ash of the Mount Saint Helens lahar zone, I provide this image just to given an example of stream braiding, the lahar zone gives a nice canvas on which you can really see how the water carves all these winding channels through the surface material. This happens in rivers around the world though, there are dozens of examples of this sort of river braiding I could show you. The important thing to note here though is the scale of this landform. The lahar zone is less than a kilometer across, and we can see roads and trees and houses at this level of zoom.

So now lets zoom out and look east across the Cascade range.

This is the channelled scablands from far above. At the height which satellites orbit, the mass scouring of hundreds of square kilometers can clearly be seen. braids tens of kilometers across and hundreds of kilometers long draw tracks across all of eastern Washington before spilling into the Columbia River Valley to flow onward toward the Pacific. This event, or events, geologists aren’t sure, is referred to as the Missoula Megafloods, and was the source of the Dry Falls pictured at the beginning of this post. At their peak flow, the Dry Falls were twice the height of Niagara Falls and five times the width. So much water poured into the Columbia River that it backfilled and flooded most of the Willamette Valley.

According to current consensus, these massive floods were caused when a proglacial lake formed in what is now Missoula, Montana. The leading theory is that a fifty mile long ice dam formed across the Clark Fork River which caused the waters of the receding Cordilleran Ice sheet to back up and pool around Missoula. This presents the first problem with the current consensus and is where a rather peculiar group of individuals become involved.

There are a group of slightly kooky geologists and historians who call themselves the Catastrophists. They hold that a moderately advanced civilization in North America was destroyed during the Younger Dryas period around 12,000 years ago and have found all sorts of interesting things to lend credence to their theory.

The Catastrophists looked at the story of the Missoula Megafloods and said, “That doesn’t work.” They pointed out that an ice dam the size of the one proposed cannot possibly have held back the amount of water under the head pressure that Glacial Lake Missoula was under, long enough for the lake to each its maximum historical depth of over 600 meters. Glacial Lake Missoula is estimated at having held 2,500 cubic kilometers of water, and the catastrophists say that there’s no way that could have happened with an ice dam triggered outburst flood, the ice would give before that much water could build up.

Instead, the Catastrophists propose that glacial lake missoula wasn’t a long term lake, but formed temporarily as a result of water flowing in from further north pooling and backfilling around Missoula as it interacted with the chokepoint in its flow along the Clark Fork River Valley.

The Catastrophists also have other evidence of rapid melting which they have found from seabed cores. Most of the seabed is composed mostly of decaying organic material, crushed up tiny organisms that rain down to the bottom in an ever present snow. However, there are notable strata lines within seabed cores, which contain mostly rocks, pebbles, sand, and other inorganic debris. These layers are called Heinrich Events, and it is believed that they are caused by large masses of icebergs breaking off, carrying rocks and sediment with them, and then dropping these bits of rock and sediment as they melt away. All of these things come together, according to the catastrophists, to seemingly support their theory of a cataclysmic event during the Younger Dryas period, 12,900 years ago.

So the Catastrophists look at all the data for speed of melting, heating from sunlight, atmospheric C02 levels, and conclude that the melting just happens too fast to be explained without an outside source. They claim there simply wasn’t enough energy available for the math to work out unless you added a bunch of extra energy from somewhere outside the climactic system.

The solution to this problem, they say, is that around 12,900 years ago, a comet or asteroid struck the top of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, triggering a massive pulse in melting which we observe in the form of megafloods and Meltwater Pulses and Heinrich Events. The evidence for this is shaky, but I sincerely hope they end up being correct. And they might actually be, late last year a 19 kilometer wide impact crater was discovered under the Hiawatha Glacier in Greenland. This impactor, if it occured at the right time period, might actually be the catastrophists smoking gun.

However, I am not particularly confident that they are correct. Because it’s under a glacier, we don’t yet know how old the crater at Hiawatha actually is. It could be significantly older than 12,000 years, and if it is, than we’re once again left with too much melting to fit our model and no discernible cause. The currently dominant theory is that a combination of increased insolation on the glaciers and high C02 levels at the time caused their final retreat and collapse. However, the effect seems to have exceeded the cause and the extremity of the events, especially the large pulses of meltwater, seem to imply some other mechanism was present. 

Without invoking some outside event like a volcanic eruption or an extraterrestrial impact, the only explanation we’re left with is the ill-understood climate feedback mechanisms which we are currently engaged in setting off en-masse.

The impact theory is in some senses comforting. We have big telescopes, we can see into space now, in theory, if we knew an impact event was coming, we could prevent it. If it takes an impact to cause a catastrophic melting and sea level rise event, then we’re mostly safe from it happening. If the melting was caused by an impact, then it means our current climate models which estimate around a meter of sea level rise by the year 2100, are largely accurate. 

But if these melting spikes were not caused by an impact, then it means something on earth which we currently do not understand triggered them. Something caused the ice sheets to suddenly and rapidly destabilize and release a large quantity of meltwater over a relatively brief period. If such an event were to occur today, the effects would be globally catastrophic. If an event caused a one-meter sea level rise over the course of a few years, it would render many of the world’s coastal cities uninhabitable. 

Scientists have posited that the West Antarctic Ice sheet, which is sitting on bedrock below sea level, could potentially experience a catastrophic collapse event if sea water was able to access the roots of this glacier. Although computer models have been unable to construct the timeline of events in detail, the possibility remains that the entire ice sheet could collapse over a period as short as a few years, which, if the entire thing went, would lead to 6 to 9 meters of sea level rise, enough to submerge a large number of urban cores around the world and utterly remake coastlines. 

The possibility of this catastrophic melting event is often left out of the climate change conversation, with the assumption being that melting will be a nuisance and force the eventual abandonment of low-lying areas or construction of new seawalls, but is not an existential threat to civilization by itself.

If the entire West Antarctic ice sheet was to collapse over a five year period, it would lead to a global crisis as populations were forced to relocate and cities were rendered unlivable. In many ways, the predictions that the ice sheets will last for centuries more and take a thousand years to melt away are overly optimistic and based on older and less accurate models of past climate events. A recent paper has provided evidence that melting may not be linear in nature but exponential, and if recent trends in accelerating melting are extrapolated out, we could see multimeter sea level rise within the next fifty years.

This would not by itself be an X-Risk, but would represent a major case of cranking up the pressure that humanity is put under, and make other X-Risks such as nuclear wars and pandemics more likely. It is my opinion that the possibility of catastrophic ice sheet collapse should be carefully considered and studied as a real possibility. It’s unlikely we could prevent such a collapse from occurring, but by anticipating such an event we may be able to save many lives and livelihoods.

The Queen of the Damned

A short story set in the EVE universe. Read other short stories by me and by other members of the Alexylva Paradox at Alexylvaparadox.wordpress.com/chronicles

“They played you like a fiddle Metz.” The woman was everything Metz wasn’t. He was tall and lanky, rough, ragged on the edges, with a normally relaxed and carefree demeanor, dust worn and weather beaten. He was scruffy, with eyes that made him look older than he actually was, those dark eyes had seen a thousand little tragedies. Murders, execution, torture, and worse.

In contrast, Endorsei Edlrif looked like a paragon of the world of professional business. She was polished and sharpened, from her perfectly pressed suit to her immaculately brushed hair, the tasteful but understated jewelry she wore and the smooth and confident manner she carried herself with. She radiated an almost innocent poise, and with a face had hid her years, she would have fit in anywhere from a boardroom to a college campus.

She absolutely terrified Metz. The crimes, the inhumanities, the deaths, they weighed on Metz like a heavy stone around his neck, he felt the weight of his deeds with every step he took. He saw the faces of the dead when he closed his eyes. He wasn’t a good person, but he felt the cost of his sins, the barbs embedded in his soul. In contrast, Endorsei had an almost insane lightness to her. She was happy, cheerful, even chipper. He’d seen her squeal with glee and clap like a little girl when a group of traitors was strung up in front of her, none of the horror seemed to phase her in the slightest, on the contrary, she seemed to revel in it.

Metz Jerindold was a fixer, he made problems go away, but he was also a leader, he took responsibility for his actions, he might be a murderous bastard, but Skarkon was his system and he was still very protective of it. He was an Angel first, but he was a Skarkon native second. He was a matari, even if many in the republic would be loath to admit he was one of them.

Endorsei Edlrif on the other hand, was a monster. Metz had trouble believing she was actually human at times, much less Matari. The slaver’s fangs voluval appearing beneath her lips marked her as an outcast even among outcasts. She was the Cartel’s razor, gleaming in the darkness, the Queen of the Damned.

“I had to do something,” he said, nervously taking a drag of his cigarette, “ we couldn’t just let the Krullefor continue muscling into our turf.”

Endorsei looked out the panoramic windows of their meeting room aboard her custom Machariel. The deserts of Skarkon were like a painted canvas far below them. She watched a dust storm moving across the world with only the faintest hint of disgust.

“And so you set off a nuke in the middle of the city they were basing out of, killing a bunch of random people and giving the RSS an excuse to escalate the conflict further.” She shook her head, gesturing with the sucker she’d been slurping on,  “They played you Metz, they wanted you to react so they could say they were bringing justice and restoring order, and you reacted exactly the way they wanted. Now they get to bring the hammer down and play the heroes.”

“They won’t be seen as liberators,” Metz told her, following her eyes out the windows towards the planet, “Not in Skarkon. You don’t wipe away decades of bad blood and abandonment with a few soldiers and rations. They’d have to kill half the people down there to even begin to contest our grip.”

“You think the republic would give a fedo’s arse if half the people on that dustball died tomorrow?” She said, raising an eyebrow.

“They couldn’t…” he said, his voice trailing off, “That’s a bad look, even for them. I doubt they would want that much negative PR.”

“They’re going to put thousands of troops on the ground down there and turn that planet over for months,” Endorsei told him. “Long term occupations of hostile worlds are never pretty, just look at Caldari Prime.”

“What makes you so sure they’re going to stick around?” Metz asked her.

“Because they’re trying to find something,” she said, grinning darkly, “and they won’t leave a stone unturned if they think what they want is under it.”

“I know they’ve got people looking for Archeotech,” Metz told her, “What are they after?”

She giggled, “Sorry love, but that’s above your paygrade. All you need to know is that they won’t find it. We found it and took everything out over a decade ago.”

“So why are you here then Endorsei?” Metz said apprehensively, wondering if he was about to eat a bullet.

“Oh, I’m just tying up loose ends,” she said, skipping up to the window and peering out it with a wide eyed childlike fascination, “Ooh, look at that!” She jumped up and down, pointing at something out in the desert.

On the planet below, as if on queue, a trio of atomic explosions twinkled silently on the Ngelgneig, followed a few seconds later by five more. As far as Metz knew, there was nothing out there in the desert worth nuking. Just some mobile bases operated by various cartel backed corporate outfits.

“There!” She said happily, “No more loose ends, no one left alive who could say anything and no easily accessed evidence. It will take them months to find out that what they’re looking for isn’t on Skarkon II anymore, and you Metz, I have big plans for you!”

She put an arm over Metz’s shoulder, and the big man tried not to wince. She ran her fingers across his back and he had the sickening feeling of being sized up as a meal by some sort of giant predatory insect.

“You’re going to make sure the RSS’s stay on Skarkon II is an extra special one. I want you to pull out all the stops. Hold protests, throw rocks, arrange strikes, send gift baskets with grenades in the bottom, plant roadside bombs, hit squad leaders with snipers, everything you can do to turn that planet into as much of a slaver trap as possible, I want you to do it. Feel free to tap into the local discretionary fund. Fight smart, make the republic afraid of absolutely everyone on that damned planet. I want you to make it abundantly clear to them that Skarkon is not and will never be their planet, and that the people of Skarkon will never pledge loyalty to them. If they want Skarkon II, they’ll have to plant their flag in a pile of children’s corpses. Do I make myself clear?”

“Abundantly,” Metz said, carefully removing Endorsei’s hand from his back like one might remove a venomous snake.

“Just one last thing,” he said, “That necklace you’re wearing,” he pointed to the faintly luminescent sky blue pearl hanging by a simple silver chain from her neck, “There was a girl, a capsuleer, from one of the groups operating warclones on the planet. She had a jewel like that, said it was spiritually significant to her people and wanted to know what the Angels knew about them.”

Endorsei frowned faintly, looking at Metz and then down at her necklace. She shook her head, “That’s also above your paygrade Metz. But since I’m feeling…generous, here, give her my card.”

She held out a small piece of paper containing Endorsei’s neocom address. He knew the card also contained some nasty malware and a tiny sliver of antimatter which could be remotely detonated, he took the card carefully, handling it like the bomb it was.

Metz looked like he wanted to say something else, and then thought better of it, he wanted to be out of the room and away from Endorsei Edlrif as fast as possible.

“Now take care love,” she said, giggling and shooing him out of the meeting room, already bored of the sebiestor, “Make sure to give the RSS our best welcome, and give your girlfriend that card, we’ll see about getting her a nice trinket.”

Metz let himself be pushed out the door and practically ran back to his shuttle.

The Devil You Know

A short story set in the EVE Universe. 

The air was thick with smoke and shit. It smelled like oil and rot, rust and decay and desperation. Between the market and the river lay the slums. Between the tank farms and the market stalls rose a shantytown of ill fortunes and shattered dreams. Young people came to the city from all around the countryside, but the city wasn’t a place where poor men became rich, it was a place where rich men became richer and poor men became criminals if they were lucky and corpses if they weren’t. 

Metz chewed on the end of his cigarette, breaking the bulb in the end as he stood in the entrance to the nondescript hovel. The only barrier from the outside was a grimey sheet hung across the hole in the building. The beat down old building reflected upon the structure’s beat down old inhabitant. Metz lit his cigarette and leaned against the frame. A show of force, they couldn’t touch him, not Metz Jerindold. The people of Kor’ali knew better than that, if those Krullefor thugs hadn’t realized it, so much the worse for them. 

“Metz please, be reasonable,” the hobbled old man who ran the ghetto was trying to tell him, “We can’t pay protection to two gangs, the Krullefor are everywhere, they won’t take no for an answer!” 

Metz smiled and shook his head, taking a drag of his cigarette. He was a tall and lanky man, attractive in his own bushwhacked and weatherbeaten way, with dark hair and darker eyes. “You’ve known me for a long time Pardin,” he said to the man. 

“Since you barely came up to my waist,” Pardin confirmed. 

“Did I ever give you the impression that this was an optional arrangement that we had here? That you could simply choose to do otherwise if you so wished?” Metz sneered at the ramshackle dwelling, stepping further into the dimly lit interior, looking like he’d stepped in something foul. 

“The Krullefor…” the old man started. 

“We’ll deal with them like we dealt with everyone else,” Metz said simply, “The Krullefor, the CBD, the capsuleers sticking their noses where they don’t belong. None of them will be here forever. They’re vultures circling a fresh carcass, but in time, they’ll wander off when they get bored, when it’s no longer in their interests to care what happens to this place. But us? we’ll still be here, and where will you be then?” 

“The council decided…” Pardin started, but Metz cut him off.

“I’m well aware of what the council has decided, and so the Angels have decided as well. You made the wrong choice Pardin, you pissed off the wrong fucking people,” He flicked his cigarette but into a corner, where it began smouldering amidst the trash and refuse. Pardin made to stand and put it out, but before he could finish rising from his chair, Metz had crossed the room in a flash and kicked the old man in the chest hard enough to crush the chair under him and pin him to the ground, knocking the wind from him. 

“What’s that old saying Pardin?” Metz said as he ground his heel into the man’s chest. “Stick with the devil you know? Well, I’m the devil you know, and since it seems like you losers have forgotten that, I’ll have to remind you all. This planet belongs to the Angel Cartel. We gave you everything you have, and just like that, can take it all away.” 

Metz snapped his fingers in front of the terrified Pardin’s face. He was still struggling to get enough of his breath back to speak as the fire from the cigarette slowly began to spread, creeping up the greasy curtains that kept out the afternoon sun. 

“Traitors to the Cartel don’t last long, Pardin, and that’s what you all are now. You, and Mex, and Codaj, your lousy little neighborhood council, and this whole thrice cursed city.

“T-Thrice?” Pardin stammered out. 

“Yes,” Metz said with a sly smile, “After today, Thrice cursed.” The fire continued to spread as Metz removed an object from his pocket and tossed it at Pardin. It bounced off his face and rolled somewhere out of sight. 

“What is…?” Pardin gasped out. 

“It’s about 100 milligrams of antimatter,” Metz explained, “See I know all about your little smuggling operation Pardin. I know about the plutonium fuel cells you have stashed here and I know how much you’re making off them. I know roughly how many there are and I know how far the radioactive particles will be carried when that bomb goes off. What a tragic, tragic loss of life, and to think that it was all your fault for not properly storing one of your antimatter mines.” 

Pardin tried to shove Metz off his chest but the younger man was stronger and had leverage, “Metz please don’t do this, please, this isn’t you, you’re…”

“What?” Metz laughed, “A good person? I don’t know where you got that idea Pardin, you think this shithole raised me to be a good person? I was raised to get a job done, to do what the Cartel needed, to fuck up the people who needed to get fucked up, and today, Pardin, your number came up buddy. Nothing personal. The Angels remember their debts, you should have done the same.” 

“Metz!” Pardin hissed and struggled through gritted teeth, but the gangster was unmoved. He calmly removed his firearm and put a round through Pardin’s head before turning and strolling out the door. The fire had spread to the wall and was climbing up the side of the building, its smoke mixing with the haze from the rest of the cooking fires. He lit another cigarette and shoved his hands in his pockets, strolling off down the crowded street past a group of children playing ball and a group of old women crocheting. He didn’t warn them, he didn’t say anything. Everyone who it was worth warning had already fled Kor’ali weeks ago. 

He was already on his way out of the city when the bomb went off.

Song for a Red Planet

This is the first original filk song I’ve written, it’s not derived from anything. I’ll be recording myself singing it if I can find a decent microphone because I don’t really think my webcam mic is up to the task. ( I might do a webcam mic version anyway just to get the basic idea, we’ll see). It’s sung as a duet and features call and response, although it can also be sung alone. 

Verse 1:
I am just a son of men,  I walk upon the earth
I am just a boy trying to – prove – my – wo – rth
I am just a passenger aboard a ship without a berth
but if there’s one thing that I know it’s that I know i’m leaving earth

Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
That’s where – I’ll lay my he – ad
Where sunsets are blue
And the domes are too – oo – oo
And the skies, are pai- n – t – ed re – ed

Chorus:
Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
That’s where – I want to be
To red rock plains
I’ll sail my shi – i – i – p
Across – the highest se – as

Verse 2:
I am just a girl born to a ship without a har – bor
I am just a passenger please take –  me – far – ther
I am just a messenger and I am here to say,
Although I was born upon the earth on earth I cannot stay

Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
Is where – I’ll make – my – ho – o – me
Through jet black space
That highest pla -a – a – ce
Is where –  I want – to – ro – o – am

Chorus:
Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
That’s where – I want to be
To red rock plains
I’ll sail my shi – i – i – p
Across – the highest se – as

Bridge:
I don’t wanna go (don’t wanna go)
To hot bangkok (to hot bangkok)
I don’t want to go to the ei – f – fel – to – wer’s – top
I don’t wanna swim (don’t wanna swim)
In the gulfstream waters (in the gulfstream waters)
I want a land – not – of – our – fa – ther – s
I don’t wanna go (don’t wanna go)
To New York City (to New York City)
I want to be in the mariner valley.

Ar – ca – dia – plan – i – ti- a – a – a
A plea, – Please take me the – e -re
We’ll lay a course – We’ll board our shi – i – i – p
Soaring on a wing – and – a – pra – a – yer

Chorus:
Ar – ca – dia (Ar – ca – dia ) Plan – i – ti- a – a – a (Plan – i – ti- a – a – a)
That’s where (that’s where) – I want to be
To red rock plains (to red rock plains)
I’ll sail my shi (I’ll sail my shi – i – i – p)
Across – the highest se – as

Ar – ca – dia (Ar – ca – dia ) Plan – i – ti- a – a – a (Plan – i – ti- a – a – a)
That’s where (that’s where) – I want to be
To red rock plains (to red rock plains)
I’ll sail my shi (I’ll sail my shi – i – i – p)
Across – the highest se – as

A Brief Update on Updates

I have a lot of essays currently in my pipeline and a lot more things I want to talk about, however, I’ve realized that my self-imposed weekly update schedule was negatively impacting the quality of those posts. I’d rather not just write a bunch of useless material so I can say I’ve written something, so I’m going to be stopping that and only updating when I actually feel like I have something good to say. This will hopefully mean better if more sporadic content. It will also probably mean that sometimes content comes in rapid bursts as I finish going through research material and suddenly have a lot to write about. Sideways in Hyperspace will be the exception to this, I will still be maintaining an update schedule for that, but it will be reduced in frequency from weekly updates to biweekly updates. This will give me more time to write and edit and hopefully produce something with fewer errors and poor writing. The next chapter of SiH will be posted this Sunday, and then every other Sunday there will be an update.

I currently have four essay series in the pipeline:

The Death Series – Where I talk about Terror Management Theory, Becker, and how death interfaces with human cognition and society, along with how to overcome the fear of life, annihilation, and disempowerment, and how to gain and maintain agency in the face of the madness of the universe. I have probably three or four more essays to go before this series is completed, but it’s currently the furthest along.

The Truth Series – Where I go back through a history of rationality and attempt to distill down the essence in as short a format as I can manage, and building off that history in order to develop a high powered set of practices for those interested in world-saving. This essay series is maybe half-finished and I’m not sure how long it will be in the end.

The Extinction Series – Where I actually talk about X-Risk, the end of the world, and the threats humanity is facing. I’m the least far along on this series and it currently only contains one essay.

Those three series will be compiled afterward into what I’m currently calling The Eschatologist’s Handbook: A Guide to the End of the World.

The final essay series I’m working on is the Confessions of a Transhumanist series, which also currently has only one essay. This will discuss my personal views on things like politics, justice, death, morality, and society. These posts will be fairly varied and not particularly connected to each other but are essentially attempts to make my worldview legible in the broad and general sense. This is a lower priority than the other projects so the posts for it will come more sporadically as I’m feeling inspired.

Beyond that, I have a bunch of stand-alone essays I’ve been meaning to write, such as one on various high-variance strategies and their use and their risks, as well as low-variance alternatives to them. I also want to go back over all of my material on plurality and identity and rewrite it. I still think plurality applications could be useful mental tech, but it is itself a high variance strategy with lots of places to mess yourself up using it. 

I don’t know when my next posts will come up, but hopefully, it will be fairly quickly. I’d rather not go on a long hiatus again, I just don’t want to lock myself on a schedule and have my content suffer as a result of it.

Edit: correction, SiH will return May 10th, not May 3rd, Hofstadter’s law is in full effect this week it seems.

What is Your Goal Hive?

Note: At the request of people on LW I’m trying to be more precise with my infohazard warnings, which is why they are longer in this post. I’m still playing with formating for them.
Content Warning:  Evocation Infohazard, Neuropsychological Infohazard, Debiasing Infohazard, this post points out how we all participate in corrupt systems and has the possibility of causing mental turmoil over noticing that fact. 
Recommended Prior Reading: The Matrix is a System, There is a War, Boundaries enable positive material-informational feedback loops

Squeegily made the following comment on my last post. Reproduced here:

I know you’ve already read Ziz’s The Matrix is a System, but I find that worth re-reading along with the two essays it links under “closed loops”.

I’ve been blessed to be intrinsically interested in / find enjoyable skillsets reasonably well-aligned with the needs of the USG’s military-industrial/cyber complex; so, in terms of that model of money, I’m “in the service of the emperor” nearly directly, with the ability to commission more resources for my own projects/discretion/recreation than I’ll ever produce in my life / would have access to in a non-coercive economic system. Ultimately speaking, I’m still just a fly on the wall/windshield of the emerging future, but you describe acutely in this post the failure-mode I’ve always been unable to articulate, yet relieved at having avoided—the urge to escape which without a free pass, I think I’ve noticed in Ziz.

Is there any way you could get some more agency?

Can you find a path to “self”-sufficiency, from where you are now, circumstances and all?

What’s your endgame?

Your Patreon transfers are acquired at a friction lossm you’re gaining resources from people sympathetic to your cause, who got their resources either from a similarly lossy process, or (more likely) sacrificing themselves to a larger, less-transhumanism-aligned economic sphere.

What are you planning on doing to honor and make good on the sacrifice of resources from aligned people you plan/intend/are currently fueling your mere existence with? It’s stressful for literally everyone involved for one to be living paycheck-to-paycheck off donations; triply so if a supermajority of these “sacrificed” resources are being immediately handed-over to your landlords, Amazon, and the local grocery store; all for…what, exactly? A sci-fi webserial and LW-tangent blog? Are these the ends to which these resources are being commissioned?

I was operating under the impression that this sort of mode of existence as yours “””normally””” uses the blog mainly to iron out the author’s thoughts, as an ongoing conversation with the Wired, as some personal exploration as a means to increase the chances of accomplishing whatever they find out their goal is.

What is your goal, Hive?

  1. my comment on TMiaS

I thought this was such a good comment that I wanted to give the response to it an entire post. This comment gave me an awful lot to think about and sent me down a rabbit hole in terms of how I approach my objectives and long term strategies. There are a couple of parallel mental tracks that were generated by all of this, I’ll go through them one by one. 

Achieving Financial Stability Within the Current Paradigm

To start with I agree that it’s problematic that I’m persisting off of donations from other value-aligned people without producing contributions commensurate with the money I’m getting. This is a big problem and I want to stop doing it as soon as I can, either by producing more value or by asking for less help. 

Fortunately, thanks to my union I’ll eventually be getting my job back, so I shouldn’t need to rely on donations for much longer. I’ve also started doing some contract work through a friend’s startup; for now, this just provides some supplementary income but the business is doing well and expanding steadily. If everything goes according to plan it will grow into something full time in the near future. Between those things and the fact I’ve been getting a lot better at budgeting and saving, my overall financial situation is finally starting to look decently healthy. 

I hadn’t ever really intended my Patreon to be primarily sourced from members of the community, my long term goal as a writer is to produce popular content which brings more people into alignment from outside, particularly using things like fiction given the success of HPMOR. If I can manage this, it would be largely positive-sum from the perspective of the project of rationality and I wouldn’t be taking donations that would have otherwise gone to AGI research or X-risk mitigation. (And yes, I know there are some who think spreading rationality to a wider audience would be negative. I obviously am not one of them but that particular disagreement is beyond the scope of this post). 

While I deeply appreciate all the support I’ve been getting, I really don’t want to be taking resources that would have been going to more important causes. The last thing I want is to be a financial drain on the community. I want to make the world better and using the community to support myself without giving back in a commensurate way is completely opposed to that goal. 

The Problems with the Paradigm

Squeegily asks:  

Is there any way you could get some more agency?

Agency, in terms of the ability to take actions that affect the world, is constrained by Slack, which, for most people in western society, is constrained by money. Getting more agency requires getting more slack which requires getting more money. So the easy answer is that I’m getting better at getting money, and thus I’m well on my way to having more slack and thus more agency. 

However, as Ziz points out in The Matrix is a System, money in our society is bound up in DRMs installed by forces gunning down innocent people in the street in the middle east and shooting innocent people in their homes in America. Money only provides a limited sort of agency contingent upon your not questioning or challenging the systems you get your money from. I know this all too well from having challenged the system in my workplace and very nearly being fired for it. This is the normal operating mode which keeps the wheels of oppression turning all across society. Everyone is too afraid to actually take a stand on their own and getting everyone to stand up at once is a coordination problem that we haven’t found a solution to yet. 

The agents of the matrix conspire to ensure that no one who actually has the power to solve problems has the incentives to do so and that nobody who has the incentives to solve problems has the power to do so. Trying to change the system from within the system is a crank that unwinds itself. Power corrupts, and the more of it you have, the less desire you have to fight the systems granting you that power. Trying to amass power within society to bring about positive change will turn you into someone incapable of resisting the harm and abuse inherent in your source of power. This neatly brings us into the next question: 

Can you find a path to “self”-sufficiency, from where you are now, circumstances and all?

And again, the easy answer is that, sure, I’m well on my way to being financially independent and thus “self-sufficient” in some shallow monopoly money sense that doesn’t question the social reality. But since I want to be able to question the social reality and I already addressed my personal finances in part one, let’s go deeper

To really answer this question properly we have to ask what self-sufficiency means in a world where the Benevolent Golden Empire is always taxing your income and your land. Being a farmer and living on the land and hunting and farming in order to feed yourself and your family isn’t good enough because you also need to make enough of a surplus to pay off the mobsters who will come and take away your house and your land and your farm and leave you to die in a ditch if you don’t. And that’s before you get to the part where you’re trying to make a positive impact on humanity. 

Thus in order to actually make a meaningful difference, you have to, as Ziz points out, construct a closed loop, an isolated positive-sum system not constrained by the larger forces of society. Of course, as Ben Hoffman points out the government will always extract it’s pound of flesh so no matter what you do you’re never going to have a completely non-lossy solution, and as Jessica Taylor points out most of Effective Altruism is run on rather lossy and negative feedback loops (including this blog!). Most of the resources being generated for world-saving are leaking out to landlords and grocery stores and taxes collected by the Benevolent Golden Empire. 

Perhaps even more critically though, even if you did plug all of those leaks it would just get you to “isolated village that cares for its people,” you wouldn’t be in a position to further improve things. If you want to actually change the world, you need to do better than perpetual motion, you need to achieve over-unity.

So what does that look like? 

Well, it probably doesn’t look like living in a giant metropolis where the cost of living is sky-high and all the resources to live are bound up by wealthy landlords. Even if you think you’ve managed to construct something positive in such an environment, it’s a positive thing you’ve built using factory farms and drone strikes and bank foreclosures and environmental destruction. It’s a positive thing where you’re holding hostage all of the people working with you and thus they’re holding you hostage with their livelihoods. You’ll be strongly incentivized to see yourself as a net positive and ignore all the externalities and the places where your generated value is leaking out to landlords and big businesses. 

Building Zion outside the matrix probably looks much more like an Amish or Mennonite community than like the current incarnation of the Effective Altruist community. These are groups that for the most part live off the land and make most of their own goods using communities of mutual aid in order to generate positive resource coefficients. They do this so that they can, to as great a degree as possible, avoid participating in the systems of oppression that control society. 

But this is still just breaking even, the Amish aren’t solving AI alignment or ending factory farming or reducing global poverty. So we need to do even better if we want to make a meaningful global impact. Also, perhaps obviously, the Amish are not one person or even one family, they are entire communities bound up in their own group ontologies and supporting each other with non-monetary arrangements of mutual aid and community organization. Recreating these systems and bonds outside of a Christian ontology is no small feat. 

So can we do better than the Amish? Can we do well enough to create something that grows and snowballs over time in a virtuous cycle that creates meaningful and positive change in humanity? 

I initially tried to answer these questions, but doing so sent me down another rabbit hole and they are kind of big questions with a lot of moving parts, so I think it’s best to save them for another post. 

Attempting to do so did also force me to ask: Can I actually solve this problem myself? Am I the sort of person who can generate a workable solution here and actually answer these questions? People with better thinking and stronger rationality and greater discernment than me have tried and failed already, why do I think I can do better? Well, I really don’t, honestly. At least not as the person I am today. Maybe with a lot of work and research, I can turn myself into that person but I don’t think I’m there at the present. So, to answer this question:

What’s your endgame?

In the short term, my goal is to just get myself into a stable situation where I don’t have to beg value-aligned people for money to stay afloat. I’m making good progress on this and expect to be in a stable position rather sooner than later. In the long term, I think it really depends on a lot of other factors. 

Given my skills and where I am right now as a person if I can find someone who would consider me a useful part of their project, working for them would probably be a more effective use of my talent than trying to play catchup and turn myself into yet another commander in a community that already has too many commanders. Barring that, I’ll continue on my own and keep working on my attempts to spread the rationality memeplex via popular media.

And as for escaping from the system to a sufficient degree to not end up epistemically distorted by it? I have some ideas, but they’re rather underdeveloped and I need to do a lot of research before having a good enough answer to post. I do think it’s an important problem to solve, so if someone better positioned to try and tackle them beats me to a workable solution I’d consider that a win for the project. 

Confessions of a Transhumanist: On Life in Known Space

Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard, Suicide, and Self Harm
Part of the Series: Confessions of a Transhumanist

When I was young, I didn’t want to save the world, I just wanted to escape from it. My life wasn’t the hardest, but it was such that by the time I was sixteen I was struggling with suicidal ideation fairly regularly. Between my parents and school, I didn’t often feel like I had a place in the world. I felt like I had places that were expected of me, roles I was forced into, but beyond that, I didn’t really have anything that motivated me in and of itself. I had no drive, except to get away from the pain and uncomfortableness that was most of my life, most of the time.

Thus, I got really good at dissociating into video games. I started playing EVE Online when I was 16, and it’s probably the thing that saved my life. The friends I made in EVE talked me out of suicide when I was probably the closest to it I’ve ever really been. Those first EVE friends in a real sense taught me how to want things on my own, how to actually be a person at a time when most of the adults in my life wanted me to be a posable figurine. They did this in a sort of assholish way, and I haven’t spoken to most of that group in over five years, but I still think of them somewhat fondly despite them being kinda awful people. 

This was also around the time that I first learned about the idea of transhumanism. The first place that I ever encountered the word ‘transhumanism’ was in a webcomic called Dresden Codak. I didn’t really have a firm grasp on what being a transhumanist was but I quickly decided it was what I wanted to be. I talked about wanting to have a robotic body, wanting to live forever and wanting to explore space. With the help of my assholish eve friends I came out as trans and talked about how being transgender was an inherently transhuman experience. 

Fairly soon afterward, my desire to act out my transhuman fantasies and explore my gender while not out to my parents led me to start exploring the roleplay scene in EVE for the first time. I was not a good roleplayer at first, and were it not for the link rot I would love to find you some examples of just how bad I was. If you find the right veteran roleplayers I’m sure you could get them to tell you if you knew how to ask. 

This desire to explore the roleplay scene created the first real conflict which I was able to stand up for myself in. The group I was flying with at the time were kind of awful people, and climbing out from under them and starting my own group was the first of a long series of steps I took in becoming an independent person, either in the real world or in EVE. I learned to stand up to my old corpmates and used that to stand up to my parents. 

I then went through a number of intermediary phases and identities in the process of figuring myself out. I spent a while exploring my spirituality and made an eve character to reflect this, leaving behind another group I had made and then ruined along the way. It was during this phase that I met my best friend, Streya Jormagdnir. That was over eight years ago now. 

The EVE Roleplay community was my first real home on the internet. The friends I made in the EVE roleplay scene are people I’m still friends with to this day, a decade later. I think about them surprisingly often. Graelyn, Havohej, Ava Starfire, Morwen Lagann, Verone, Vincent Pryce, Stitcher, Katrina Oniseki, Kalaratiri, Mizhara Del’Thul, Aria Jenneth, Valerie Valete and so many others. More names than I can remember but never want to forget. More memories than I have space for in my mind. Even the people I always sort of hated ingame like Valerie Valete, who I had pretty much nothing but animosity towards, are all incredibly important to me and I care about all of them more dearly than I can put into words. My life has been touched by so many people in so many ways and I can never do enough to thank them all for being there for me for all those years as a community. 

The EVE roleplay community is also the place that I first discovered Less Wrong. My desire to win arguments with internet spaceship theists led me to quote this post and this guy bunch at people, and that led to Stitcher linking me to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

And it was from this that I became attached to the idea that transhumanism was good and that it should win. Not just that it was the correct thing to think to win arguments, or that it was a cool identity goal to have, but that it was right, period, that it was something worth striving towards in the real world. That the world could be saved at all, that something better than this was actually possible outside of science fiction.

I still had no way to actually act on those desires, and I was still very much trapped in my own head, in my own pain, which led to the creation of Saede Riordan of the Alexylva Paradox. Saede tried to achieve in EVE what I couldn’t in real life. She set out to found an independent colony of radical transhumanists, a nation where AIs had equal rights to humans, where everyone had mind backups, where everyone was taken care of, and where no one had to die unless they wanted to. 

It was around this time that I had to drop out of community college. I had hoped to get a degree in environmental science and help fight climate change, but because of my life circumstances, I stopped being able to pay for my classes. I was living on my own and working part-time while trying to attend college at multiple satellite campuses and commute two hours by bus to take labs and it all sort of conspired against me and I ended up with a bunch of debt and no degree. So, I gave up on school and traveled across the country from Dunkirk, New York to Seattle, Washington with my best friend. 

I spent a while nearly homeless, fell in with a group of canvassers, and became involved in political activism. In EVE our system was besieged multiple times and we were eventually burnt down completely by a fleet of russians in rattlesnakes. Somewhere during all of that, I started writing Sideways in Hyperspace. From there I found my way via the /r/rational subreddit’s discord server into the online rationalist community. That brought along its own huge box of trauma which I’ll be avoiding getting into in this post, but which among other things forced me to really consider for the first time if there was anything I could actually do to bring Origin into the real world. And well, that takes us up to the start of this blog

It took this long and roundabout journey through a huge amount of trauma and bad things happening before I was able to piece together enough things to make a coherent ideology for myself and to even begin to consider that maybe I could make a difference in the world somehow

I still don’t really know if I can actually make a difference. I want to try, but here’s the really insidious thing about all of this: part of the thing that keeps me writing is that it keeps me fed. People read my writing and donate to my Patreon, so I have a direct incentive to produce content. 

We live in a consumer culture and I produce a product (the contents of this blog) and try to sell it to you (my readers), in order to buy delicious poptarts (the kind without frosting are vegan, so you know). Given that incentive structure, it’s really hard for me to know how much good anything I’m doing actually is. I’m incentivized to make content at all costs in order to try and sell myself as a useful member of the rationalist community. I know that being useful to the project of saving humanity increases the chances someone will help me out of my horrible life of crushing poverty and looming homelessness, so I’m incentivized to try and make myself look useful. 

And I like to think I actually am useful, that in all of my life’s events I’ve been turned into someone sufficiently value aligned to be helpful in immanentizing the eschaton, that my desire to instantiate Origin can manifest into an ability to do useful work. But also because of all my life’s events, it’s hard to know how useful I would really be without that abusive incentive structure encouraging me to think that and to try and sell myself as such, because I have pretty much always had the abusive incentive structure looming over me.

I have never really lived in Origin. If I did, would I really be willing to venture outside it and brave the harsh world to help it grow and flourish? I like to think I would, but I have never lived in Origin, so I have no way of knowing. Until and unless someone uplifts me I can never really know for sure. Until then I’m just another lost soul trying to eke out a living on the margins of Known Space. 

Kintsugi

Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard, Suicide, and Self Harm

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

~Mary Oliver, Summer Day

I turned thirty this week, I’m still trying to process that fact. Ten thousand nine hundred and sixty two days on this Earth on the day this post is published. Three hundred and sixty months. Two hundred and sixty three thousand six hundred and thirty five hours.
Parts of me are shocked that we made it this far, while other parts of me are angry and bitter that we’ve wasted so much of the limited time we have on this Earth. My life is not where I wish it was, I’m not the
person I hoped to become. So much has happened to me, life has been at many times been harsh and unforgiving, and time has a way of catching up with us. 

I was treated poorly as a child, and I’m also still trying to process that fact. I’m sure my parents will argue that they did the best they could, and maybe they did. I probably have undiagnosed autism, which I’m also trying to come to terms with, and if no one including me realized that then I of course that couldn’t be taken into account by my caregivers…Not that our society is particularly kind or good to autistic children who are identified young either. 

I don’t want to start some sort of fight with them or blame them for the trauma I experienced, but they also made lots of mistakes and to this day seem rather detached and oblivious to the world I inhabit. They grew up in a very different time and their expectations of how the world works have never fundamentally been updated from those times. They seem trapped in the just world fallacy and willfully deny the horrors of reality, taking shelter in the blind faith that everything just has to work out in the end somehow.

It doesn’t. It really really doesn’t. 

I had different and contradictory demands put on me by school and my parents, I wasn’t ever really allowed as a child to explore or express my own preferences and for a long time, even into my young adulthood, I didn’t really know what I wanted. None of the things I was allowed to want were appealing and when I was punished for exploring the things that did seem interesting to me, I learned to just stop trying and stop wanting things. Contradictory demands to have preferences I didn’t have were poured into me until I shattered and became a husk of a person. I had a lot of people tell me that when they knew me as a child or teenager that I seemed like this empty shell to them. That didn’t really improve until I moved out of my parents’ house and was finally able to start considering what I actually wanted out of life. Of course, by then the damage was already done and I wasn’t remotely in a place where I could intelligently pursue those desires. 

I entered adulthood armed with a broken sense of agency and an incoherent view of reality that metamorphosed itself to appease all the authority figures I interacted with. I was pushed into college and pushed into taking out loans without any real idea of what was happening to me. I didn’t understand the world or my place in it, I was just dragged through one awful experience after another while being told that the world was magical and wonderful and everything always worked out for good people who followed the rules. 

For a long time I wasn’t able to form a coherent worldview because I was getting told one set of facts by my parents, another alternative set of facts by my teachers, and yet another alternative set of facts by popular media. I would be yelled at if I said the wrong set of facts to the wrong people, so I had to learn to code switch before I learned how to actually recognize which of the facts I was getting were true. The answer: almost none of them. 

The nineties were characterized by a culture of everyone aggressively lying to children, of telling us we could be anything, do anything. It was thought that children had to be eased into reality and that we couldn’t handle the truth so we had to be lied to and told the world was more just, more kind, more fair, and easier to navigate than it actually was. Not only were we ill prepared for the real world because of these lies, but our ability to respond to the truth when we finally started to see past them was also stomped on by forcing us to sit in classes and have our sense of curiosity and agency destroyed because ‘learning obedience’ was more important than becoming knowledgeable people prepared to confront a rapidly changing global landscape. I still remember an art teacher saying to my mother at one point “It’s not about art it’s about discipline” when I was punished for not following the instructions closely enough.

It might have been better if I’d had friends, but I was a shy socially anxious kid who quickly became the magnet for bullying and ostracization, so I couldn’t even find support from my peers. Worse, I was kind of naive and gullible and the kids around me realized they could offer to do things like trust falls with me and then let me hit the ground, and it was funny to see my confusion and horror at being betrayed. I’d be invited to things and then ditched, told I was welcome somewhere just as everyone else decided to leave, and generally treated like a punching bag because I was small and seen as an easy target. I know a bunch of them later became worried I would become some sort of school shooter. I admit, I had some fantasies about ‘getting even’ against those bullying me, but most of them involved me having magical powers so it was never particularly realistic. 

The few places I was able to find solace from the world was to dissociate into useless tasks like video games and television. I was taught to hate learning, to distrust authority, to assume kindness was a sign of someone tricking me or expecting to get something out of me, and I entered adulthood on a path where I immediately collapsed in on myself as soon as the external pain driven demands were removed. I had no intrinsic motivation so as soon as the pain-conditioned motivation was gone I was left completely adrift and spent the next several years playing EVE Online and bombing out of community college. 

I was set up to fail, then collapsed into a hole and was left there to die. This is where the surprise that I didn’t comes in. My priors up to this point featured betrayal after betrayal by those charged with teaching and caring for and protecting me, and as such, I didn’t really trust anyone at all. I didn’t know how to trust anyone. It seemed very strongly like the entire world was out to use me and take advantage of me, which was why I was great at EVE. 

But something funny happened, starting in EVE of all places. Sometimes, for absolutely no reason and without benefit to themselves, people started being nice to me at times. For a long time I just flat out didn’t know how to deal with this. I didn’t trust it, there had to be a catch. When I started dating my first serious partner I continuously thought that it was only a matter of time before the rug was pulled out from under me. That relationship probably would have gone better if I had been capable of trusting people, but it took probably another five years before my ability to trust anyone at all finally started to heal enough to not expect my friends to turn on me. 

My twenties were mostly spent trying to recover from the damages of childhood and piece myself back together. While I was doing that, I let myself slip deeper and deeper into the hole I’d fallen in. I didn’t really have a choice, I was too shattered to think much beyond the next day, so I couldn’t plan for the future or work to improve myself. It was only within the last two or three years that I healed enough to actually think about who I was and what I wanted. 

This presented its own form of pain, because I found myself down a mineshaft with the surface lost to the gloom above. I wasn’t starting from zero, I was starting from negative three thousand six hundred and fifty, in a place in my late twenties that most people entered in their late teens. I still don’t know if I’ll ever really be able to reach the surface, much less build anything new. I constantly struggle with not simply giving up and letting the world roll over me, and sometimes it’s really hard. The bottles of pills on my desk whisper of the possibility of escape and the razor blades sing their own sad song of pain and release. I don’t want to go but sometimes staying is the hardest thing I can do. 

However, there is something working in my favor, which keeps me going seemingly in spite of everything else. I’m not the child I was before I shattered into a million pieces. That person is gone and is never going to be recovered. The thing about trauma is that it never really goes away. Even if you reassemble all the pieces the cracks remain in the material, the structural discontinuities and weaknesses are all still there. You can’t really fix that, but you move on anyways. Just because something is broken doesn’t mean it’s useless or trash. 

In Japan, a technique called kintsugi (金継) developed to repair broken pottery by using a lacquer mixed with gold to reassemble the broken pieces. The end result isn’t the original, the damage remains, but instead of being hidden or treated as a bad thing, the flaws are emphasized and highlighted, adding to the beauty and history of the piece. You might not be able to undo what happens, but skin heals in spite of scars. 

You might not be able to be who you were, but at least you can be someone. Put one foot in front of the other and step forward into life as something whole, something new, something better. 

kintsugi21