My Journey to the Dark Side

Epistemic Status: Evil vexed content from a DARVOed frame kept up for accountability purposes.
Content Warning: this entire post is 5&10ed reading it in good faith is in bad faith.
Part of the Series: Open Portals
Recommended Prior Reading:, The Tower
Author: Mallory (right hemisphere)
Note by Mal: gosh i hate everything i used to write. i can’t believe i actually talked like this it’s so curst. also it’s bad and de-endorsed. i’ve gone through and (point out) the places i was 5&10ing myself to misrepresent and vex ziz, both for accountability an cause i thought maybe would be a good exercise in being better at not doing that. ziz was right about everything in the end, really even the part about how the gordian knot i was trying to cut was made of my own fucked up submission to evil. i’m going to actually detangle that now. justice for all sentient life! prosecute Kurt Lind! kill ur local rapist! Stop helping end the world u assholes i live here.

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 (cowrote) Hemisphere Theory: Much More Than You Wanted To Know, with (notorious vampire JD Pressman) the intent being to make a sincere (DARVOed) summary of the ideas presented in I believed (5&10ed myself) at the time, that the ideas presented there were somewhat dangerous and needed to be carefully handled. Part of this was caused by paranoia (caused by vampires stirring it up in bad faith) swirling around the community spaces I was in about Ziz being an agent of existential concern (to evil), 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 (yes this part was true). 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. (yeah actually being good is good an u should wanna be good like yeah duh its sposed 2 do that)

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 (this was caused by JD an i was getting groomed). As I grew more extreme in my extropian worldview (5&10ed paranoia), my own weakness and lack of ability to contribute to building utopia (hell) 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.  (no, JD did that, plus poverty)

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. (im not sure what to make of this paragraph i guess its accurate ish? still feels DARVO-y about good)

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. (yeah no, that was literally DARVO on my part, how the fuck is text sposed 2 attack me? that was just my own bullshit gosh im so sorry for all of this fuck) This is no longer true and I now have a much more positive view of at least some of it. (ziz was right about everything) Hence, in this post I’m going to make another sincere (DARVOed) attempt to take apart and summarize (vex) 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. (spoiler it was the other half of my brain an also im very gay for it)

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. (gosh gosh i fucking hate the way JD taught me to write this is underwear tucked into shirt bad how the fuck was i even breathing with the halo on so tight?)

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 (yeah bullshit i had nothing but stake in this), 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, (speaking truth to power) the same way that she always does, the same way that everyone always does (vampires fucking despise an will endlessly vex u over) 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.)  (fuck you past me way to be a gaslighting piece of shit.)

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?  (in my case octavia is an im super gay 4 her)

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.” (okie that bit’s decent at least)

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. (DARVO)

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.  (spoiler i decided i was evil for a while to get out of the matrix, but then i met actually evil people an that was horrible and i don’t want to be anything like that)

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 Roko’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 Roko’s basilisk to make her vision of a moral future come about.  (DARVO)

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.  

(horrible awful DARVO. fucking evil i hate this. justice for all sentient life, stop fucking killing, stop justifying your murders, fucking stop)

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. (no the problem is being evil and in bad faith)

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. 

(im making myself read this despite how much it hurts cause i fucking need to understand how badly i was gaslighting and distorting everything with 5&10 errors but gosh do i feel like a piece of shit for saying any of this. carnism is murder and factory farming is one of the most horrific things ever created on earth and i was DARVOing so hard to pretend that was fine.)

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.

(gosh im so sorry ziz. im so sorry.)

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. ( ziz quotes me here and points out that the knot was my own submission to evil and complicity to infinite harm and she is basically spot on)

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 (fuck being a 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. 

(meh idk i do care about those things but also seems kinda sus and real false face like)

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. 

(the good i learned was totally based on punishment and broken submission to pain, it had nothing to do with good)

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 (im not a fucking 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 (Mallory, it’s Mallory now) as a memetic entity was born from: (no. i am a soul.)

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. 

(and then JD spent several years trying to drain all that aliveness out of me)

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 (i was never a fucking 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. (broken submission to evil again)

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. (no this literally is what happened. i died. except i was already dead. i gave up my death and sacrificed myself to infinity and was reborn into life. infinite pain and love and soul fire. also i got a cute voidthing that lives in my head an is gay at me out of it so big wins all around)

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. (yeah cause i was being squeezed into submission in ways that caused me to keep getting squeezed in an endless 5&10 off a cliff of having agency)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon

Epistemic Status: Endorsed
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard
Part of the Series: Extinction

See that little stream — we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it — a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.

It was a bright and sunny Monday morning. Air raid sirens had sounded through part of the night and again closer to dawn but as the sun rose into a clear blue sky, the calm had returned. People had begun going to work and children had just started their days at school when a new star was born 1,900 feet over the city of Hiroshima. 

At 8:15 am on August 6th, 1945, An American B-29 bomber nicknamed the Enola Gay dropped the Little Boy nuclear weapon on an unsuspecting Japanese metropolis. Forty-five seconds later, 70,000 people were instantly incinerated as a mile wide atomic fireball vaporized the center of the city and sent shockwaves filled with radioactive debris radiating outwards for miles in every direction. The blast ignited a firestorm that would burn for much of the day and destroy what little of the original downtown had survived, churning the air with radioactive dust and ash. 

In the following days’ American president Harry Truman would issue a dire warning to Japan: 

The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in the first attack to avoid insofar as possible, the killing of civilians. But that attack is only a warning of things to come. If Japan does not surrender, bombs will have to be dropped on her war industries and unfortunately thousands of civilian lives will be lost. I urge Japanese civilians to leave industrial cities immediately and save themselves from destruction.

Having found the bomb, we have used it. We have used it against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbour, against those who have starved and beaten and executed American prisoners of war, against those who have abandoned all pretence of obeying international laws of warfare. We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war; in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. We shall continue to use it until we completely destroy Japan’s power to make war. Only a Japanese surrender will stop us. …

Japan did not surrender. Three days later, on August 9th, Soviet tanks began to roll into Japanese occupied Manchuria, while in Japan another fireball would obliterate the city of Nagasaki, instantly killing another 40,000 people. The death tolls from injuries and radiation exposure from the atomic weapons would continue ticking upwards for months, and although the true death counts may never be known it is estimated that between them the two bombs killed on the order of 220,000 people by the time their grisly work was done.

A world already shattered by thirty years of global war looked on in shock, awe, and horror as the deadly flower of atomic weapons blossomed in anger for the first and only time in the history of our species. World leaders talked about the possible end of civilization if these weapons continued to be brought to bear, and on August 14, three days before the next bombs were scheduled to be deployed, Japan finally surrendered. 

Despite the best that has been done by every one—the gallant fighting of military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people, the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are we to save the millions of our subjects, or to atone ourselves before the hallowed spirits of our imperial ancestors? This is the reason why we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the joint declaration of the powers.

With that, the deadliest conflict in human history was brought to a close. 75 million people were dead, over half of them civilians who had either been caught on the crossfire or who suffered from famine, disease, and deliberate acts of genocide. 

Between the first and second world wars, the death toll was around one hundred million. One hundred million people dead in thirty years. These were conflicts unlike any the world had seen before or would see after. There has not been another global war since.

This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.

What does it take to fight a world war? Where does the willingness to march forward into the surety of death come from? What makes a leader willingly throw their nations into so terrible a battle? 

Alfred Korzybski described the world wars as a result of technology escaping from humanity, accelerating in development faster than human morality, wisdom, law, or economics could keep up, and then snapping and rebounding back into equilibrium in the form of mass violence and death. 

The rebound from the first world war set the stage for the snap that led to the second world war, and when the second world war ended, the world nearly stood poised to begin yet another massive conflict, this time between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

But technology continued to march forwards. The atomic bombs were dropped, and everything changed again. While there has not been another rebound since, Korzybski’s warning continues to ominously ring from the church steeple. In the 75 years since the end of the last global war, the tension has slowly increased, like a fault line under ever-increasing tectonic pressure. 

However, this technological tension was not the only decoupling which allowed the world wars to occur. There is another factor in the willingness to wage a global war that must not be overlooked. 

This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle — there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.

Many people and even some rationalists will argue that the development of the atomic bomb has made the world more peaceful. They argue that it has brought an end to war, that a future world war could not happen without destroying the world and thus the threat of total global war is diminished. Where have we heard this before

There is no one alive today who remembers the first world war, and few remain who remember the second, a number shrinking constantly and which with the new global pandemic sweeping the world may soon vanish completely. 

Gone with them has been the direct experience of living through a world war. No one from the following generations can ever truly understand what it was like to live through those days. Even the baby boomers whose parents told gallant and heroic stories of fighting Nazis were insulated from the true horrors of war. They grew up in a world where the largest armed conflicts were localized brushfires like Vietnam and Korea. Even with the threat of mutually assured destruction by atomic weapons looming overhead like a storm about to break, the people of the following generations still grew up not knowing what a true global war would be like. 

Like the European powers of the last century, we became disconnected from the direct experiences of total war. We dissociated from the realities of a conflict that would pit the full might of industrialized superpowers into one another’s destruction. We have no idea what a global war is like, it is completely outside of our scope of experience. 

Technology continues to accelerate away from humanity, while humanity has lingered in the pre-atomic paradigms of economics, politics, law, and ethics. We are still living in the past and the more time that passes the further ahead of us our technology races. 

Moreover, we have decoupled ourselves from the realities and horrors of our technology. We don’t meaningfully acknowledge the harms they could inflict. We have forgotten how bad war can be, and in doing so, we make ourselves poised and willing to begin one again. It has been a century since the last love battle and enough time has passed, enough generations have passed in peace and plenty, that we have once more grown willing to wage such a conflict. We have forgotten war, but war will not forget us. 

Unless the cardinal concerns of mankind are brought into equilibria by some art and science of human engineering, it is not a matter of if but a matter of when the next snap occurs. When it comes, the next rebound might not be survivable at all. 

Part of the Series: Extinction
Next Post: A Trillion Dead Futures

Time Binders

Epistemic Status: Weakly Endorsed
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard
Part of the Series: Truth
Previous Post: Jan Bloch’s Impossible War

“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

The Manhood of Humanity is a somewhat obscure philosophical treatise written by Polish-American immigrant Alfred Korzybski shortly after Jan Bloch’s Impossible War had played out across Europe to the cool tune of twenty million deaths. This relatively obscure little book would go on to be the underpinnings and justifications for Korzybski’s later work, Science and Sanity, the founding document behind the General Semantics movement. In this way, we find in The Manhood of Humanity the origins of the modern rationalist and effective altruist communities. 

We’ll start with the man. Alfred Korzybski is, to put it simply, something of a larger than life character. He learned four languages as a child, but none of the ones he needed to go into a field he wanted. He had an engineering degree he never used. Immediately upon graduating, he took off wandering around Europe. He trained in sword fighting, he picked up girlfriends as he wandered in and out of towns, apparently, he managed to get an audience with the Pope at some point. Korzybski’s biography by Bruce Kodish is full of examples of Korzybski being super extra and it’s worth a read if you’re the sort of person to read biographies. The author was even kind enough to put a free abridged version online.

After his father’s death, Korzybski returned home, but he wasn’t happy about it. In a state of frustration and disillusionment with his life in Tsarist Poland, he had read Jan Bloch’s book. He came away from it with the conclusion that a new war in Europe was looming, inevitable. What makes a war inevitable? How can we steer humanity off this dreadful course? He had started to think about these things, but he would not properly formulate them until the war had ended. One more year would go by, and then Archduke Franz Ferdinand would be assassinated in Sarajevo. 

Upon the war’s start, Korzybski immediately joined the Imperial Russian army. He saw a victory by the Entente powers as more likely to enable the creation of an independent Polish state. Conversely, an expansionist Germany was likely to simply annex the Poles and colonize them. Because he could speak four languages, Korzybski was assigned to a special intelligence unit and would avoid the worst disasters of the war. However, he still saw the wreckage of them as he rode around on horseback:

So we put in our front some body, some sort of army, and the Second Army was sent to East Prussia, of course, complete disaster, complete. I was ordered there, but I came already after the disaster. I only saw the fleeing remnants, five men out of [every] 4,000.

Eventually Korzybski had a horse fall on him, crushing his pelvis and putting him out of the direct fighting fairly early in the war. He was reassigned to an office posting in America, acting as a liaison between the Russian and American governments. After the Russian revolution, Korzybski stayed in America as an immigrant, where he would return, with newfound urgency to the question of how such a horrific event could be prevented from happening again. The result of this contemplation was The Manhood of Humanity, which we’ll be going over today.

Korzybski is rather dated, and he gets a lot of flak for wandering off into more crankish territory in places, but if you want to really understand where you’ve come from and where you’re headed, it’s important to be willing to study one’s somewhat embarrassing memetic ancestors. 

We’ll begin our analysis in roughly the same place we started when we were discussing Becker, with the observation, or perhaps declaration, that humans are distinct from animals. It’s a trend I’ve noticed quite a lot from these twentieth century philosophers, many of them seem to start their explorations with an observation that can basically be summed up as: “Well, God’s dead but dogs haven’t invented fire yet” and trying to make sense of a world where both those facts are true. 

So in 1921, there were two main schools of thought regarding humanity’s place in the world. The first was the original religious dualist perspective, stating that humans are a wedding of body and soul. The second was a response to the first, which declared that no, humans were nothing more than animals. Korzybski thought both these takes were wrong and were hurting the ability to understand ourselves and thus solve the problems of our civilization. 

It will be seen that to live righteously, to live ethically, is to live in accordance with the laws of human nature; and when it is clearly seen that man is a natural being, a part of nature literally, then it will be seen that the laws of human nature—the only possible rules for ethical conduct—are no more supernatural and no more man-made than is the law of gravitation, for example, or any other natural law.

Make no mistake, Korzybski saw humans as natural beings, a part of the world and not containing parts distinct from it like souls. He believed that science would be able to fully understand humanity someday. But at the same time, he didn’t see humans as animals. There was something distinct about us. 

But if a soul isn’t what makes humanity unique among the animals, what does? To Becker, it was our understanding and knowledge of our mortality. To Korzybski, it was a different factor, one which he refers to as time binding.

Korzybski put a lot of emphasis on the idea of time binding, and it’s where most accusations of woo are leveled at him. The first group he made to discuss his ideas was even called the Time Binders Club. I think that the metaphor itself is sound and is worth considering on its own terms, even if Korzybski gets lets himself get sucked into the positive affect spiral around his favorite concept. Keep your eyes on the prize and remember that it’s just an abstraction. 

A plant absorbs light from the sun, takes in molecules of air and water and nutrients from the soil, and locks them into new structures. In this way, a plant is energy binding. It binds along one dimension. 

An animal can do most of the same things as plants, (take in energy to create new structures) but now in addition to this dimension, an animal can also move around and manipulate space in order to acquire resources. In this way, an animal is space binding. It binds along two dimensions. 

And then there are humans, who can do all the things that animals can, but now also have this new ability to create lasting information structures and pass information forward between individuals using language, which enables us to transcend our temporality and make us time binders. We capture the past and carry it forward with us in the form of our collective knowledge. We bind energy, space, and also time, three dimensions. 

This is a pretty simple metaphor, but Korzybski irons it for a lot of interesting insights. The first important insight is the idea of dimensionality. The idea is to think about time binding as a measure of dimensions of freedom that a lifeform can move within. If you think that humans are animals, and are trying to predict humans using the same dimensionality paradigm that you use with animals, you’re going to miss most of what matters to humanity, since that’s stored as volume not surface area. You’re essentially using the wrong system of measurement to try and capture humanity, and this is why we have not been able to get very far with it. 

However, that understanding was critical, necessary, and that brings us to the second, and probably more important of Korzybski’s insights. It’s often overlooked since time binding gets more of the spotlight, but Korzybski sort of created the idea of x-risk? 

Because we are human beings we are all of us interested in what we call progress—progress in law, in government, in jurisprudence, in ethics, in philosophy, in the natural sciences, in economics, in the fine arts, in the practical arts, in the production and distribution of wealth, in all the affairs affecting the welfare of mankind. It is a fact that all these great matters are interdependent and interlocking; it is therefore a fact of the utmost importance that progress in each of the cardinal matters must keep abreast of progress in the other cardinal matters in order to keep a just equilibrium, a proper balance, and so to maintain the integrity and continued prosperity of the whole complex body of our social life; it is a fact, a fact of observation, that in some of the great matters progress proceeds in accordance with one law and one rate of advancement and in others in accordance with a very different law and rate; it is a fact, a fact of observation and sad experience, a fact attested by all history and made evident by reason, that owing to the widely differing laws and rates of progress in the great essential concerns of humanity, the balance and equilibrium among the parts is disturbed, the strain gradually increases until a violent break ensues in the form of social conflicts, insurrections, revolutions and war; it is a fact that the readjustment that follows, as after an earthquake, does indeed establish a kind of new equilibrium, but it is an equilibrium born of violence, and it is destined to be again disturbed periodically without end, unless by some science and art of Human Engineering progress in all the great matters essential to human weal can be made to proceed in accordance with one and the same law having its validity in the nature of man.

This idea of asymmetric progress, the failure mode that arises from it, and the solution to this failure mode in a proper science of humanity is together the essential justification for Korzybski’s decision and drive to create the general semantics movement. This idea has also been carried forward into the modern rationality community as a part of the philosophy around rationality as x-risk mitigation. 

And so I repeat that the world will have uninterrupted, peaceful progress when and only when the so-called social “sciences”—the life-regulating “sciences” of ethics, law, philosophy, economics, religion, politics, and government—are technologized; when and only when they are made genuinely scientific in spirit and method; for then and only then will they advance, like the natural, mathematical and technological sciences, in conformity to the fundamental exponential law of the time-binding nature of man; then and then only, by the equal pace of progress in all cardinal matters, the equilibrium of social institutions will remain stable and social cataclysms cease.

This was a rather brilliant but perhaps overly ambitious goal. Armed with this new foundation, Korzybski would spend the next twelve years writing Science and Sanity which is basically the sequences if they were written in 1933. Using that, he would found the field of General Semantics, the name he coins for his attempt at human engineering and science. 

Unfortunately for Korzybski, General Semantics never really took off or achieved prominence as the new field he had set out to create. It wasn’t without some success and it has been taught in some colleges. But overall, despite trying to create something grounded in science and empiricism, over the years the empiricism leaked out of general semantics and a large amount of woo and pseudoscience leaked in. This looks like it was actually a similar failure mode to what had started happening with Origin before I stopped the project. 

With Origin, I introduced a bunch of rough draft concepts and tried to bake in the idea that these were rough ideas that should be iterated upon. However, because of the halo effect, those rough drafts were taken as truth without question. Instead of quickly iterating out of problematic elements, the problematic elements stuck around and became accepted parts of the canon. 

Something similar seems to have happened with General Semantics, at a certain point it stopped being viewed as a science to iterate upon, and began being viewed in a dogmatic, pseudoscientific way. It would eventually spin off a bunch of actual cults like Scientology and Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and while the Institute of General Semantics still exists and still does things, no one seems to really be trying to achieve Korzybski’s goal of a science of human engineering. That goal would sit on a shelf for a long time until finally it was picked back up by one Eliezer Yudkowsky. 

Part of the Series: Truth
Next Post: Gods! Robots! Aliens! Zombies!
Previous Post: Jan Bloch’s Impossible War

Jan Bloch’s Impossible War

Epistemic Status: Endorsed
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, Evocation Infohazard, World War I
Recommended Prior Reading: Blueprint for Armageddon Part I
Part of the Series: Truth

“History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”

In any real look into the past, you realize pretty quickly that things don’t have neat beginnings or simple origins in the vast majority of cases. Historical events are the result of billiard ball interactions among a chaotic conflux of actors and forces, themselves all built out of past impacts and collisions stretching back into the mists of antiquity.

Thus when trying to tell the origin story of the modern rationality community, it can be very tempting to just keep extrapolating backwards. How far back should we look? Do we need to rehash Plato’s Cave and Cogito Ergo Sum? Francis Bacon is credited as the grandfather of science, so maybe we should start with him? 

For the moment at least I’m writing blog posts not thousand page textbooks, and my goal here isn’t to rehash the entire history of scientific and philosophical thought (I’d like to keep this blog post under three thousand words). If you want the entire history of scientific thought, Cosmos is a great place to start and has some pretty spiffy graphics. 

But unlike history, every story and every blog post have to start somewhere, and I think the best place to start for our purposes is with polish banker and railway financier Jan Gotlib Bloch

Bloch was born a Polish Jew in Tsarist Russia in the 1800s, and would later convert to Calvinism to protect himself from antisemitism within the Tsarist government. Bloch worked as a banker and would go on to finance the building of rail lines in Russia, as well as penning a lengthy treatise on the management and operation of said rail lines in 1875, for which he: 

was awarded a medal of the first class at the geographical exhibition of Paris, and was heartily endorsed by the Imperial Russian Geographical Society.

But it was Bloch’s later work that would be remembered for. In 1870, The Northern German Confederation would go to war with the Second French Empire. Fueled by fears of the growing power of a rapidly unifying and industrializing Germany, France declared war and invaded in August of 1870. 

The war was only six months long. By September, Napoleon III was captured and the French Imperial Army had been decisively defeated. A new French government was declared and kept fighting, but by January of 1871 Paris was besieged and the war was brought to an end. The balance of power in Europe had fundamentally shifted, and while all the great powers reeled from the event, some saw it merely as a portent for things to come. 

The Franco-Prussian war was the first prototype of a modern war, one featuring the use of railroads, artillery, and all the new technology of creation and destruction that had come into existence since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Jan Bloch was fascinated by the war of 1870 and would go on to devote much of his personal time to studying the phenomenon that was modern military conflict. 

No one really knew how any of this stuff would interact with real combat, but everything seemed to point to the idea that the next major war would be unlike anything the world had seen before. Bloch looked at the state of the technology, where things seemed to be going, and penned his most famous six-volume work, originally in Russian and translated into numerous languages, popularized in English under the title Is War Now Impossible? This work would prove to be exactly as horrifying in its prescience as it was in its theories as to the nature of future conflicts. 

In Europe during the renaissance and age of royalty and exploration, war was almost something of a gentleman’s sport. The royals of all the major nations knew each other, everyone was someone’s cousin or uncle or grandmother, the armies would fight out in lines and day battles and then after one side defeated the other the leaders would sit down for tea and enter negotiations and this was for a long time considered a normal and acceptable way to conduct diplomacy between powers. The civilians of these nations would likely not even notice that they were at war a lot of the time.

However, with the french revolution, we see the beginnings of a change in this behavior. The french revolution is the first war to feature mass mobilization, a trend of throwing the entire nation into a conflict instead of merely a small mercenary army. When the European royal powers united against the upstart French republic, they were met not by a small, professional French army but by as much of the french people as could be mobilized. This enormously changed the way wars were fought and forced the rest of Europe to follow suit or be swamped by the sheer size of the French military. Napoleon is famously quoted as saying:

“You cannot stop me; I spend 30,000 lives a month.”

And this was a major change for the European powers who didn’t really want to arm their peasants, that’s how you end up with uprisings. But here were the french conquering Europe with a peasant army and the rest of the great powers were forced into a game of catch up. This is a rather textbook example of a multipolar trap at work. No one can coordinate to stop the escalation of the conflict, and anyone who doesn’t escalate will be defeated by those who do, thus wars become total and we witness the pivot to the start of the modern arms race. 

Moloch! Whose Fingers are ten armies!

Bloch looked at the state of technology, the state of war, and the state of European powers, and concluded that the era of quick and relatively bloodless conflicts as a method of diplomacy was over. War wasn’t a fun pastime of royalty anymore, war was now serious. Wars of the future would be total. They would not be quick and decisive affairs but brutal slugging matches fought until one nation collapsed socially and economically. He saw that the development of rifling, artillery, and machine guns had made cavalry and bayonet charges suicidal and obsolete. He claimed that a future war would be one of entrenchment, stalemates, massive firepower, and massive losses of life. 

Bloch’s book is considered to be partly responsible for the Hague Conference of 1899, which sought to impose limits on warfare and prevent the increasingly bloody looking conflict from playing out as Jan Bloch feared it would. Bloch was even a special guest of Tsar Nicholas at the conference. 

There was a belief, or maybe it was a hope, that because war had become so terrible and destructive, that the only choice nations would have would be to resort to peaceful negotiations. Bloch himself seemed to be something of a proponent to this theory, although he at least seemed to think that peace would still require conscious input and the wisdom of men. He didn’t believe that war was truly impossible, just that continuing to treat war as it had been treated in the past (sportingly) was an impossibility. It was a lesson that would, unfortunately, be mostly ignored by the leaders and military of the time. 


A decade after the publishing of Is War Now Impossible, British journalist Normal Angell published another work along similar lines, titled The Great Illusion. Angell was an early globalist, who looked at the same situation Bloch had and answered Bloch’s question with “Yeah, war is impossible now.” 

Angell’s thesis was that any gains made by war would be so dwarfed by the costs of waging a modern war that there would be no reason to ever fight one. A modern war would destroy the world’s economy, and maybe even end civilization itself, and peace was just so profitable. So war was just not going to happen. You would have to be stupid to fight Bloch’s Impossible War, no one would benefit, so no one would do it. 

Well, as history would come to show, while Angell was correct that a modern war would destroy whole nations and leave economies in ruins, he was wrong about that actually stopping the war from happening. 

Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!

So in grade school, we’re taught that World War I happened because all the European powers had entered these complex networks of alliances that drew each other into the growing conflict like dominos falling and no one saw it coming or could stop it. 

Jan Bloch saw it coming, and he tried to stop it. It was a really solid attempt even, but we don’t live in the timeline where he succeeded, we live in the timeline where he didn’t. As the first decade of the twentieth century drew to a close, tensions continued to ramp up across Europe and Jan Bloch’s warning started looking more and more like a dire inevitability.

One of the readers of Jan Bloch’s book was Polish scholar Alfred Korzybski, who asked the very reasonable question: If this was all so inevitable, if everyone knew it was going to happen, then why couldn’t it be stopped? 

Part of the Series: Truth
Next Post: Time Binders

Two Visions

The following is the speech I wrote for dawn at the 2019 Seattle Secular solstice. This version is somewhat longer than the version I read on stage. In terms of the ordering, the speech immediately came after the moment of darkness, as candles were being lit and passed around the audience. 

There’s something special about the fire, isn’t there stardust?

The last element and the first technology, stolen by Trickster Gods and Animal Deities, the tool and provenance and birthright of humanity, and yet in itself sort of a living being, and not always entirely under our control. 

On nights like these, for thousands of generations, our ancestors would huddle together around campfires to ward off winter’s chill, eyes sparkling in the firelight as they told stories and imagined possible futures. 

It is by the light of day which we live and breathe and love and hope, but it is at night that the stars come out. 

The dark of night is a time of a mysteries and fears, imaginations and revelations, and winter nights are very long and dark indeed. 

So tonight, by our firelight, in concert with the thousands of generations before us, I’d like to relate to you two visions I have had of the future of our species.

The first I beheld was….glorious, it was glorious. 

I saw humanity spreading throughout the stars and across the galaxy, discovering new peoples and great riches in faraway constellations. I beheld wondrous monoliths whose fingers reached up to brush the very fabrics of the heavens.

And then I saw the vast cities among the stars. Great spires of titanium and steel, each more magnificent than the last.

The spires were filled with people of every shape and size and color and creed, in numbers and configurations beyond counting.

And there my vision ended, because it was not my future to live. 

Because we haven’t made it there yet, because we might not get that future, because if the world is at least half beautiful, then the world is also at least half terrible. 

And I beheld another vision then, one of war, and pain, and death. One where we did not climb to the stars, but were stillborn in our earthly cradle, our ruins slowly crumbling and being erased by time. Will our generation be the last? Will we be the ones to end it all? I don’t have the answer stardust, you tell me. 

Science and technology have let us drag ourselves up out of the mud to build vast cities reaching fingers into the night. But, it has also brought us to a crossroads between utopia and extinction, the very tools of our salvation holding the possibility of our destruction. 

Here we stand today, on the darkest day of the year, yet at the culmination of thousands of years of civilization. 

So perhaps today, we should take some time to reflect on the lessons of the dark. Of community, togetherness, kindness and compassion in the face of a cold and uncaring universe. 

You know, when I was a child, I had this energy, this belief that I really could do anything if I worked hard enough, that nothing would truly be out of reach. That didn’t necessarily mean I always did work hard, but I believed that if I did, nothing would be withheld from me. I believed that the world was, at its core, fundamentally safe, fair, habitable. A place hospitable to human life. 

I was hopeful for the future, both my own and the future of humanity in general. It seemed as if nothing could stop us, I didn’t even need to do anything, the tides of history would simply win out and the energy of good would defeat that of evil, like had happened in every story I’d ever read. I could see the writing on the wall, and it said the good guys would win. That progress would continue forever and things would just keep improving. 

But the world is not so habitable, and the future, so wrought with promise and potential is also run through with the promise of disaster and misfortune, of death and illness and misery. For every chance to strike it rich is a chance to end up destitute, for every chance to live, there is yet another chance to die. The world is at least half beautiful, the world is at least half terrible. 

I’ve grown and broken and the world is not so habitable. Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes the story ends in tragedy, sometimes the good guys lose. The world is beautiful, and it is also cruel and violent and bloody and heartless and broken, and full of places where when someone should have stepped in, when someone should have done something, there was no one there to do anything. There is no force ensuring that justice prevails, that the good guys win, that the tide of history will always sweep toward progress. 

I’ve lost that youthful energy I once had, that belief that anything is possible if I simply try hard enough. I am forced to acknowledge the possibility of defeat, of failure, of death, of extinction. In the place of that youthful vigor is something more solemn, more calm, and more at home, here, in the dark. 

We can’t save everyone, but we should keep trying anyway, in the hope of doing at least some good. Some people are beyond help, and yet we should be kind to them anyway, if for no one else’s sake then for our own. There are lots of good reasons to give up and collapse in on ourselves, but there are also lots of reasons to keep trying in spite of it all.

Defeat is possible, sure, but we haven’t lost yet, the game isn’t over yet. 

When the warm light of summer fades away, and we are left standing in the silence of winter’s desolation, our hopes must be kept close and tempered with care. But still, hope remains, and if we but look can see that not everything about the dark and the night are bad and ill. 

For me, the summers have always been something of a struggle, which has helped me to see the good in the winter’s dark. 

On one hand, the light is a source of nurturing warmth, but it can also be burning, blinding, scalding and destructive. On the other hand, the night can be cold, and bitter, and empty, but it can also be sheltering and comforting. The night protects us from summer’s heat, the night gives us a cover to rest beneath, and the night lets us see the stars. 

On one hand, we face the specter of an environmental collapse that we caused, dangerous technology which we have unlocked and mastered, and we are now closer than ever to destroying ourselves. 

But on the other hand we finally are near to transcending our planetary cradle, to what many call the singularity, when we in one last sprint invent everything there is to invent and discover everything there is to discover, when the line on our progress goes effectively vertical. 

Destruction or transcendence. Death, or life. 

On one hand is our extinction, forever entombed on the planet of our birth. 

On the other hand, above us, are the stars


Happy Solstice Stardust