On Communities

So, what is a community and why would I want one? What makes a community?

One way that we can describe a tribe or community is as a network of people that provide some non-fungible value to each other. Each member of your tribe is a unique component of the machine that is the whole, and the whole both supports and depends upon each piece as a non-fungible quantity.

Under this sort of model, there is a synergistic effect to community membership, you can leverage competencies and specializations, you get more work out of the group than you would an equal number of people working in isolation from each other. Communities like this let you choose the stag, and coordinate around that even when you don’t have time to communicate all the details. Being part of a community is a source of power and resources that helps people survive. It’s a form of wealth.

A quick acid test for whether you’re in a community of this sort is how replaceable you see the other members as. If someone left unexpectedly, or had their life fall apart, or died, how would you feel about it? Would you shrug and say “Oh that’s sad.” or would you start figuring out how much you can afford to try rescuing them? In this sort of community, members provide value to each other and the community acts as a value center, so it’s worth costs to maintain the relationships.

We can contrast this with another idea of community. Communities can also be described as groups of humans bound by a shared fellowship with one another, united by their mutual interests, by similar identities, and by their attitudes, perspectives, desires, or goals. Basically fandom/subculture norms.

The difference is in the direction of resource flow. Fanclubs are defined by a shared interest in leisure activities. They’re not value centers, they’re cost centers. You spend your independently generated wealth on fanclub membership and in exchange you have access to the club and its associated identity label.

If you become too poor to continue your fanclub membership, that’s kind of sad but there are other people to take your place. A fan club also has to be fun, because otherwise there would be no incentive to join, it has to be enjoyable because you’re spending resources on it and so you’d better be getting your money’s worth.

Communities are not necessarily fun, they have their own sort of costs associated with membership, often quite high costs in terms of the percentage of your total effort output going to it. So if you’re wealthy enough to not need to form communities for survival, then these fandom style communities are an attractive prospect, because tribal communities are comparatively costly.

You can be a casual fan, and most people are, if you drop the ball on something, it’s not a particularly big deal because it’s all just for fun anyway. But tribe style communities are typically not casual,  they have expectations and put demands on you. Being in that sort of community isn’t a free action the way being in a fandom community can be.

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t costs associated with fandom membership. Fandom style communities also tend towards costly status signaling, identity politics, and social power dynamic games, which further marginalizes poor people and working-class people while claiming to be to their benefit.

Fandom also frequently has a competitive, celebrity-focused value system. How much do you think people would pay to save Scott Alexander or Eliezer Yudkowsky? Celebrities and popular people can be valuable, so everyone is competing to be a cool kid so they can have value. Fanclub membership becomes gamified and pushes people into competition with each other so that they can win the game, so they can be The True Fan, since that’s what makes someone valuable.

If tribal style communities are a solid than fandom style communities are a gas. In a tribal style community, you have members locked into non-fungible roles and there are frequently high entrance and exit costs that encourage people to stick with a thing and not defect. Compare that to fandom style communities where people are constantly coming and going all the time.

One thing that tribe style communities do well is that they reduce the transaction costs associated with doing a particular thing. There’s overhead associated with maintaining an independent relationship with every single person in a community or organization, so if you can just rely on someone being available who already has the context for your project, and knows you and how you work, that significantly reduces the cost of doing business.

That’s why corporations and businesses exist and it isn’t all just independent contractors everywhere. In this sense fandom norms are norms for the wealthy and sheltered because you can only safely do them if you’re wealthy enough that you can afford to pay these massive transaction costs all the time without blinking.

I bring all of this up because rationalist culture is not outside of or somehow immune to these effects, and in many cases also falls prey to them. We frequently have the self-awareness to notice that something is wrong, but oftentimes are unable to correctly address what is going on because we can’t really talk to each other.

If we say the wrong thing, we cost ourselves, we lose standing in the competition for attention and social capital, which is capital. In a fandom style community, every individual member is expected to be largely self-sufficient, and the community isn’t really expected to provide for anyone. This prevents specialization, everyone still needs a job, and you can’t have people working on the fandom full time except in limited cases predicated on making a product for others (furry porn of Princess Leia).

We often wonder things like why our kind can’t cooperate. We can’t cooperate because we live in a society run on competition where defection is rewarded, and we’ve not been able to solve the coordination problem associated with that enough to move into a different state of community. The rationalist community, by and large, is still using fandom norms, but that puts things in a hard spot because for what rationalists claim to want to do, you can’t do that. You can’t afford to waste your limited resources on that sort of nonsense. The world will burn.

From “On Dragon Army” :

If every few years, you hold a vote on whether to leave the European Union and destroy your economy, or to end your democracy and appoint a dictator, eventually the answer will be yes. It will not be the ‘will of the people’ so much as the ‘whim of the people’ and you want protection against that. The one-person case is no different.

I think that if anything, Duncan under-states the importance of reliable commitment. His statements above about marriage are a good example of that, even despite the corrective words he writes about the subject later on. Agreeing to stay together for a year is a sea change from no commitment at all, and there are some big benefits to the year, but that is not remotely like the benefits of a real marriage. Giving an agreement an end point, at which the parties will re-negotiate, fundamentally changes the nature of the relationship. Longer term plans and trades, which are extremely valuable, cannot be made without worrying about incentive compatibility, and both sides have to worry about their future negotiating positions and market value. Even if both parties want things to continue, each year both parties have to worry about their negotiating position, and plan for their future negotiating positions.

You get to move from a world in which you need to play both for the team and for yourself, and where you get to play only for the team. This changes everything.

The above is a quote by Zvi discussing the Dragon Army, the bolding is mine. You may recognize this quote from an older post of mine, and it continues to be extremely important and relevant.

The problem with living in a world where everyone is constantly in a state of perpetual competition with each other is that it is very difficult to trust the other party to have your back and have your best interests at heart. The need for exit rights and an ejection seat from bad situations has had the negative side effect of significantly impacting people’s ability to trust each other and work together.

We don’t have people who have our backs anymore, our communities don’t under most circumstances, which puts people, even ones with relatively secure resource access, into a paranoid and competitive mindset that burns mental cycles on protecting their resources from being ‘stolen’ by everyone around them.

On our Homeworld, on the First Earth, we lived in tribes. As civilization rose and those tribes were subsumed by cities and nation-states, particularly after the rise of industrialization, the competition started shifting from tribe vs tribe to individual vs individual. The safety net represented by your tribe/extended family went away as people moved into cities. The world didn’t get more cutthroat, it was always as cutthroat as it is, it’s just that the groups started shrinking down until the only groups left were the nuclear family and the individual.

In many cases, especially if someone is independently wealthy, this is largely seen as a good thing. It’s more freeing, liberating, the power goes to the individual, people can express their weirdness and if their families disown them, who cares? This force, what Scott calls Elua, is a good thing, so we should let it keep going and break things down even more, right?

This is one thing that Silicon Valley/startup/tech culture does all the time, it’s their business model. They try to find ways of breaking down transaction costs so you can have fewer non-fungible relationships. They’re market makers, demand generators, they’ll find you a random person to literally take your garbage down to the curb from your apartment because you’re too deep into your latest coding project to give a damn.

And that’s honestly a part of why settling in the Bay Area was such a bad idea for the ratsphere, it’s practically an anti-community. It’s a thing which is dedicated to destroying the vestigial relationships we have left and replacing them with new markets. Seattle and Boston aren’t really much better on that front, but the communities there are at least marginally more working class.

If we want to build real communities that actually let people achieve their full potential, we need to get out of the attitude of constant competition and move towards a greater level of cooperation and coordination. If we want to actually nurture people’s intrinsic motivations than we have to liberate them from the extrinsic fear of destruction by poverty and resource denial that characterizes everything about our culture and modern civilization.

We need to learn to work together again.

The Nature of the Soul

Epistemic Status: Speculative. Experiences and conjectures based on them.
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, De-Biasing Infohazard
Recommended Prior Reading: Falses Faces, Building up to an IFS Model, Highly Advanced Tulpamancy 201

I said I’d return to my continued exploration of self “soon” when I wrote The Silence Hidden in the Sound in September. Well, sometimes soon has a way of becoming a nearly year-long ordeal during which large chunks of your life and many things you took for granted are ripped up, burned down, violently restructured, and shaken vigorously until it feels like years have passed since you’ve successfully written anything. 

This pressure cooker environment had one useful effect in that it forced a lot of interesting system things to the surface in a form that made them really obvious and easily poked at, which brings us to our topic today. 

There are many conflicting recent models of the self, and here I’ll be talking about my attempts to syncretize some of these models into something coherent and then apply them to my own experiences. 

The Neurons As Agents Model
The first model is the Neurons Gone Wild model discussed in earlier tulpamancy essays. In very brief, the Neurons gone wild model of cognition advocated by Dennett, Simler, etc is that the concept of a central self-agent, an optimizing force that could be referred to as “I” is an illusion that breaks down on analysis into a mess of conflicting, competing, and cooperating subagents, which then themselves break down into more competing subagents, and so on, and so forth, all the way down to the level of individual neurons competing for resources in the brain. There is no master coordinator, no central organizer, no source of willpower from all these agents derive, the power of a particular subagent or cluster of subagents is determined by its ability to negotiate with the agents around it, to form alliances, gang up on conflicting subagents, and distort cognitive power and neurotransmitters in the direction of its cluster of cells. 

This is the most strongly no-self of the various theories I’ll be looking at. It says that the illusion of unity is just that, an illusion, the self-agent exists after the fact at the narrative layer, and is used to rationalize the decisions of lower level subagents. This does a good job of explaining things like addiction, parts of the addict’s mind don’t want to do heroin, but other parts of his mind do want to do heroin, and those parts are in competition with each other. 

The Core and Structure Model
The second model is The Core and Structure model. I first encountered this concept on this blog and I’m unsure if it’s an original creation of the author or if it’s sourced from somewhere else, but according to Ziz:

“Core is something in the mind that has infinite energy. Contains terminal values you would sacrifice all else for, and then do it again infinity times with no regret. Seems approximately unchanging across lifespan. Figuratively, the deepest frame in the call stack of the mind, capable of aborting any train of thought, everything the mind does is because it decided for it to happen. It operates by choosing a “narrative frame”, “module”, “algorithm”, or something like that to run, and is responsible for deciding the strength of subagents. There are actually two of them. In order to use some of my mental tech, they must agree.”


“Structure is anything the mind learns and unlearns. Habits, judgement extrapolations, narrative, identity, skills, style, conceptions of value, etc. Everything but actual values. It lacks life on its own, is like a tool for core to pick up and put down at will.”

Under the core/structure model, everything from tulpamancy to self-help is related is relegated to the narrative and structural layers, as a set of strategies for building and using and manipulating structure. This is the most self-centric of the models, and basically proposes that everything in the mind is under the control of something and fundamentally everything we do, we’re doing because we think it will be a good strategy to achieve our values, and the values are the thing that exists at the bottom of the stack. 

The Internal Family Systems Model
The last model we’ll be comparing is the IFS model I first described in the Silence Hidden in the Sound post. IFS Goes a bit more into the gears of structure, saying that we have managers trying to keep your life in order and micromanage to prevent bad things, firefighters trying to deal with bad things when they happen and shield you from harm, and exiles which you have kicked out of your sense of self which the rest of your mental system tries to manage and keep buried and under control. IFS also has a self which acts as a central coordinator for all the parts and embodies, ahem, curiosity, connectedness, compassion, and calmness. 

The IFS model comes off as fluffy and idealistic to me in its description of self, but it’s model of how subagents interact especially under suboptimal circumstances, seems rather useful, and it’s a useful model for things like PTSD, which could be modeled in some sense as a Guardian pattern matching a situation to one which generated the PTSD exile and responding accordingly. The building up to an Internal Family Systems Model post which I also linked in the recommended reading gives a good overview of this. 

Three Models Collide
I think these three models lie somewhere orthogonal to each other. They don’t actually conflict except in a few places, they simply delineate different parts of the territory, and amalgamating them will yield interesting results. 

First, there’s the layers thing. All three models do things with layering. I think this roughly shakes out to something like the narrative layer, the structural layer, the core value layer, and the neurophysical layer.


So tulpamancy, the naive sense of self, your life story, and most conscious attempts to manipulate the inside of your mind, exist in the narrative layer at the top. You’re telling stories, inserting what essentially amounts to operating systems into the working memory environment. This self-storytelling factor is what lets us connect the past to the present to the future, remembering (in the form of a story) the past, and extrapolating (in the form of a story) into the future. 

The neurons as agents model says that everything below the narrative layer breaks down into subagents doing various things, we can syncretize that decently with the IFS model of various component types, but that leaves us with the IFS self, and the core model would say that all these subagents and components, trigger, action, response, all of that, would be part of the built-up structural layer, with the values lying beneath it. 

IFS probably has the most gearsy of any of the models of the structural layer, but IFS thinks that the values in the core value layer are pretty much always the same and always good. That seems naive and wildly optimistic, conversely, Ziz thinks most people’s core values are evil (by her own standards admittedly). 

Without putting moral valence to it the way Ziz does, I think she’s probably more correct on core nature then the IFS model is. Core values could be described as primitive values, the systems that we evolved with, our most rudimentary desires encoded at the deepest levels. 

So according to the Core/Structure model, all the structures we build, from studiousness to morality to learned trauma response patterns, could be thought of almost like electrical transformers, stepping down the current of willpower through successive layers of justifying things to ourselves, rationalizing, and self-deception, we reign in our values using structures to make them socially acceptable and legible, and to signal our value to the group, and thus make ourselves subservient to the group. 

The core structure model pushes a particular angle really hard, which is the idea that every action and behavior is purposeful, everything that a mind is executing, it is executing for some reason. I don’t disagree with this, but the idea that this cooks out into any coherent set of values that could be ascribed to something like an agent, that’s where I think the first disagreement I have with it comes from.

The core/structure model also seems to posit that core is something relatively static, your values are your values, you come preinstalled with them and they don’t really change. I don’t really agree with this either, and I think what things someone values at the bottom-most layer will in fact change and transform over time as they are subject to outside environmental forces, and I don’t think you can really get ‘under’ that environmental optimizing pressure because there’s nothing there to get under, at that point you’re talking about things that act directly on the neurophysical layer. 

So I think my main point of contention with the core/structure layer is the way that the author conceives of core. This is really the same objection I have to IFS but in the other direction. Ziz says the core of most people is evil, IFS says the core of everyone is good. So, without ascribing morality, what exactly is the core? What’s going on here?

The no-self model, that is the neurons-gone-wild model and the buddhist model, is that there is no core, or nothing that could be described as a core distinct from the subagent layers above it. Core vs no core is a pretty fundamental difference to try and cut across, but even more so, Ziz’s model specifies that people have specifically two cores. 


I find this interesting if for no other reason then that it seems like the most direct intellectual successor to the bicameral mind concept proposed by Julian Jaynes. 

However, Ziz’s cores as clusters of values and traits seem kind of arbitrarily complex to me. I could understand although perhaps still not agree with, a model of the duel cores that specified values along lines that could be differentiated into the traditional left brain/right brain dichotomies.  Instead, however, the way Ziz seems to generate clusters appears more tied to her moral ideas than anything else. Without the heavy-handed morality to differentiate what values go into which core, there doesn’t seem to me to be a lot which would delineate why particular values end up clustered how they are, or why there are two cores at all. Why not three, four, or even more? 

For my own part, three narrativized, active agents which consciously communicate seems to work the best inside my own head. Does this somehow cook down into two cores, or do I have three cores? Hard to say. If someone’s mind is best organized as a singlet, are they single-core? 

This is where I think the “number of cores” idea kind of comes apart. I think I’m a bit more comfortable saying “there are core values, they sit underneath the mental structure” without specifying what the core values are, how many of them there are, which of them wins when there’s a conflict, or how they interact at all, then to try and specify a model that declares how any of that stuff plays out. 

I am comfortable saying that the higher layer structures are how it plays out though, and since high layer structures can vary drastically from person to person, so too can the shape that their core values take. Everything is connected to everything else, and signal can flow both ways down those connections. 

Where does this all leave us would be cognitive architects? If this is so then there’s no ground to stand upon, only clusters of values, mental alliances of convenience, and balanced power structures. If you push, something pushes back, your body auto-balances itself. Given that, what method is there to really change something in your head, and is that even possible? 

I think there is an answer here, but I want to let people ponder it and percolate before giving my own answer. We’ll return to this topic after hopefully not nearly as long of a pause as the last one. 

The State of the Stateless

Mukokuseki (無国籍) is the Japanese word for statelessness. Legal statelessness according to international law occurs when someone is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law” and is a major problem for those suffering from it. The United Nations estimates there are around twelve million stateless people around the world today. Legal statelessness can occur for a number of reasons relating to laws around how citizenship is conferred through birth and who’s allowed to confer it and in edge case situations people can be born with no legal nationality. As a result, stateless people are often trapped in a dangerous legal limbo that follows them their whole lives and can be very difficult to get out of, locking them into a perpetual underclass.

Legally speaking, it’s not a very good thing to be stateless.

Nevertheless, I contend there is another way to be, in a sense, stateless, which is much more common, and while not really discussed as a formal bloc (more of an antibloc if anything), this newly emerging “race” may be the most important “ethnic group” to consider in the coming century.

In her novel Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer describes non-geographically locked “nation-strategies” as having become the dominant human organization system, having supplanted nation-states by the time of the novel’s setting four hundred years in the future.

I contend that we are already seeing the birth of this system of organization, and over the next century through various revolutions and reforms, revolts and upheavals, the era of the Westphalian State will come to as ignominious of an ending as its beginning.


Mukokuseki (無国籍) in addition to being the word for statelessness, is also used in a more technical sense in the anime industry to describe a set of characters who seem to defy membership in any particular real-world ethnic group. They want to appeal to as wide of a demographic as possible and thus try to depict characters in a sort of generic way so that most people will be able to relate to them better.

Japan does tend to have a thing about not depicting black people often or very well in anime, but it’s fairly common to have a character who is just sort of ambiguously brown or tan-skinned, like this photoshop of Ariel that’s been circulating.

A lot of this comes down to the fact that manga artists are in a hurry, and are drawing basic faces that they develop a hand for as fast as possible. Since anime (and most western cartoons as well for that matter) don’t use facial profiling, even when the character’s skin color is changed, they don’t really look that much like a member of a particular ethnic group, and in the case of anime, there’s usually an underlying premise that the characters are actually all Japanese. If they look like your own ethnic group…well that’s sort of the whole point, ね? Relatively little detail goes into the design of any particular character and anime faces are designed to be simplistic from the start in many cases, with their large and expressive eyes, minimal nose, and simplified mouth. When you draw all your characters with one of three basic faces and differentiate them from each other with hair, eye, skin color, and costume, weird things happen.

As a result of all this, what begins to emerge is in a sense the opposite of true statelessness, these characters end up almost seeming to belong within their own distinct ethnic group.

Mukokusekijin(無国籍人) can have hair and eyes of pretty much any color imaginable and can have skin ranging from pure white to a very dark brown, with some less common variants like grey, green, purple, and red thrown in for flavor. Sometimes they may also have animal ears or a tail. Sometimes this is explained in the lore, other times they’re just inexplicably catgirls.

Mukokusekijin are the inhabitants of a fictional, idealized version of Japan (particularly Tokyo) depicted in many anime and they have many particularities that differentiate them from the actual people of real Tokyo.

Japanese people are notoriously hands-off, they don’t even tend to shake hands, while mukokusekijin are much more physical than most actual Japanese people or Americans and use a level of touch more common in tropical and equatorial cultures. The Mukokusekijin also manifest a high number of queer individuals, and gender weirdness is more common among them than among the wider baseline population. The mukokusekijin are a highly ritualized people compared to America, and possibly even compared to actual Japan, and have many ceremonies and rituals and practices, most but not all of these are traditional Japanese rituals depicted in a more lighthearted way, but a few are anime originals and products of the intersection between American and Japanese culture, like maid cafes and sailor uniforms.

The depiction of traditional Japanese life in anime also tends to play up the best parts of it and hide or downplay the worst aspects and is really quite distinct from actual real Japan. It is a vibrant and friendly culture, collectivist, outgoing, affectionate, and kind. To someone like me who grew up in the atomized wasteland of America, they were clearly something to aspire to. To someone who grew up with a dearth of culture, the stateless but highly cultured nation of the mukokusekijin felt more like a home to me than any real place on Earth. 


It’s 2019, and as a pink-haired anime-otaku living in a major city, an enclave for the weird and interesting, I find that I am not alone. I run into lots of other people with pink hair, and purple hair, and blue, and green, and every other hair color imaginable. Sometimes I wonder, if you just counted the number of people with technicolor hair, how many would there be?

The very most urban areas of the world have or are in a sense, in the process of shedding their parent states, in culture if not in literal governance. Scott Alexander talks about Elua, a culture that devours and consumes everything it comes into contact with, integrating it into itself, and this is somehow good. Neoliberalism yay I guess? 

But what grows out of this environment? Because it is clearly not sustainable, however much the elders would like to believe it is. I think we’re starting to see it with things like group houses and pride parades, with the way a lot of the queer communities I’ve moved within are much more high-touch than the surrounding society. Is anime to blame for corrupting the youth? Maybe, I hope so.

However, something to remember is that while the values you see in children’s cartoons are the values that a society most wants to carry forward and believes itself to hold, that doesn’t mean that shows aimed at 12-year-olds are a particularly realistic portrayal of life in that society. So while anime Japan is a lovely and technicolor place, actual Japan is, while still a lovely country, not quite as amenable to human life.

current mood

And I think that this experience is one that many people across many nations can relate to. When we were growing up, we were fed an image of a bright, colorful, human-friendly world, a place that was kind and where people took care of each other, where the world was largely benevolent and society existed to support humans instead of to enslave them. Then we grew up and were tossed into the meat grinder that is our current civilization in #currentyear.

We were sold on a lie, and the truth was much less friendly, resulting in mass disillusionment, the collapse of societal norms and values, and the obliteration of many of our senses of agency and ability to act meaningfully in the world.

But out of all of that wreckage, we still have our values, and the lies we were told have become the moral truth we strive towards. The world isn’t like Star Trek, but it should be. Compassion, humanism, universalism, and a possibly naive belief that more is possible than the decaying cyberpunk dystopia we were handed. We took these things away with us, and if society didn’t reflect them, that was something that needed correcting, not coming to terms with.

So if you’re a queer, liberal, rainbow-haired city-dweller, who rides the train to work and likes tea and cats, maybe without even realizing it, you’ve left your old society behind and become one of the mukokusekijin, working to build that imaginary Tokyo here on Earth.