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. 

2 thoughts on “What is Your Goal Hive?

  1. > 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.


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