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.