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Why is Mencius Moldbug so popular on Less Wrong? [Answer: He's not.]

9 Post author: arborealhominid 16 November 2012 06:37PM

I've seen several people on Less Wrong recommend Mencius Moldbug's writings, and I've been curious about how he became so popular here. He's certainly an interesting thinker, but he's rather obscure and doesn't have any obvious connection to Less Wrong, so I'm wondering where this overlap in readership came from.

[EDIT by E.Y.: The answer is that he's not popular here.  The 2012 LW annual survey showed 2.5% (30 of 1195 responses) identified as 'reactionary' or 'Moldbuggian'.  To the extent this is greater than population average, it seems sufficiently explained by Moldbug having commented on the early Overcoming Bias econblog before LW forked from it, bringing with some of his own pre-existing audience.  I cannot remember running across anyone talking about Moldbug on LW, at all, besides this post, in the last year or so.  Since this page has now risen to the first page of Google results for Mencius Moldbug due to LW's high pagerank, and on at least one occasion sloppy / agenda-promoting journalists such as Klint Finley have found it convenient to pretend to an alternate reality (where Moldbug is popular on LW and Hacker News due to speaking out for angry entitled Silicon Valley elites, or something), a correction in the post seems deserved.  See also the Anti-Reactionary FAQ by Scott Alexander (aka Yvain, LW's second-highest-karma user). --EY]

Comments (259)

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 16 November 2012 06:59:07PM 22 points [-]

Obviously the LessWrong demographic is self-selected for attraction to people who set out a Big Philosophical System in lengthy blog posts spanning several years. :D

More seriously, we do skew a bit non-mainstream and libertarian, if that's the word for Moldbug, around here. And if you hang around for long enough and your thoughts are sufficiently coherent and well explained, you become part of the public conversation; that seems to have happened to both Moldbug and EY. People don't necessarily come to agree with you, but at least they've heard of you; hence the phrase "public intellectual".

Comment author: TimS 16 November 2012 09:49:25PM 3 points [-]

Moldbug is actively hostile to libertarian thought - he's more royalist / authoritarian.

Comment author: taelor 18 November 2012 03:14:23AM 8 points [-]

If he's become actively hostile to libertarianism, then this is a reverse from his originial position put forth here:

That leaves libertarians. Now, I love libertarians to death. My CPU practically has a permanent open socket to the Mises Institute. In my opinion, anyone who has intentionally chosen to remain ignorant of libertarian (and, in particular, Misesian-Rothbardian) thought, in an era when a couple of mouse clicks will feed you enough high-test libertarianism to drown a moose, is not an intellectually serious person. Furthermore, I am a computer programmer who has read far too much science fiction - two major risk factors for libertarianism. So I could just say, "read Rothbard," and call it a day.

On the other hand, it is hard to avoid noticing two basic facts about the universe. One is that libertarianism is an extremely obvious idea. The other is that it has never been successfully implemented.

This does not prove anything. But what it suggests is that libertarianism is, as its detractors are always quick to claim, an essentially impractical ideology. I would love to live in a libertarian society. The question is: is there a path from here to there? And if we get there, will we stay there? If your answer to both questions is obviously "yes," perhaps your definition of "obvious" is not the same as mine.

Comment author: James_Ernest 20 November 2012 11:54:50PM 6 points [-]

I believe that this statement was not an endorsement of libertarianism, but rather a sop to libertarian readers, based on my knowledge of his style.

Moldbug draws a clear distinction between libertarian policies, which he believes meet straightforward criteria for effectiveness and sanity, and would (not ought to, but would) be implemented by a Responsible Government (see: neocameralism), and libertarianism as a political philosophy and movement.

He identifies the fundamentally Sisyphean nature of advocacy for libertarian politics within a democracy, and also the untenable assumptions of the Rothbardian non-aggression theory of natural rights, which, barring some bizarre change in the present technological-military détente, makes the absence of a geographically-based state with a monopoly on violence equivalent to 'money on the table'.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 17 November 2012 09:25:55AM 22 points [-]

Sometimes I think that Moldbug is an extrapolated libertarian. The world he describes seems to me as something that would naturally happen after a few iterations of the libertarian paradise.

The "unextrapolated" libertarians imagine a balanced market of power, forever. But in real life, local monopolies sometimes happen. Each such monopoly would create what Moldbug calls "sovereign" -- an entity with unlimited power over their resources (including people), but still acting as a participant in the outside market. For the outside market, cooperating with the sovereign, or even just ignoring them, could be a more profitable option than fighting them. (Evidence: What does an ordinary western citizen think about freedom in China? And what about buying cheap products from China?) Moldbug is a few steps ahead; he thinks about what makes sovereigns internally weak or strong.

Comment author: drnickbone 18 November 2012 10:56:25AM *  9 points [-]

I think this is a correct extrapolation of "anarcho-capitalism" (zero state) rather than "libertarianism" (minimal state). The minimal state approach could in principle keep a market balance by breaking up monopolies, and generally preserving basic human rights. It's the zero-state approach which is likely to lead to "firms" owning "territories" and exerting monopoly force within those territories (ie a return to a patchwork of states, though no longer called states).

Intriguingly, on anarcho-capitalist principles, such a firm would be entitled to do whatever it likes with its territory including defining very one-sided contracts to make use of it. Contracts like "Anyone who enters or stays in the territory becomes the firm's property, as do any of their offspring; anyone who leaves any form of matter in the territory accepts that it becomes the firm's property". And if you don't accept that contract, the firm denies permission to use any matter in the territory, such as food, water or air. Alternatively, the firm could - if it chose - define other forms of contracts, for any sort of social organisation it preferred : liberal democratic, socialist, communist, Islamic republic, whatever really. So under anarcho-capitalist principles, a division of the world into state-like bodies, defining whatever laws they like within their territories, is perfectly legitimate and acceptable. Since that is the world as it stands, I don't see what the anarcho-capitalists are complaining about.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 28 May 2013 02:08:44PM -2 points [-]

So under anarcho-capitalist principles, a division of the world into state-like bodies, defining whatever laws they like within their territories, is perfectly legitimate and acceptable. Since that is the world as it stands, I don't see what the anarcho-capitalists are complaining about.

I think you know that they are complaining about not getting their adolescent utopia of doing what they like, and not being beholden to The Man.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 May 2013 02:50:48PM 1 point [-]

You say that like it's not worth complaining about.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 28 May 2013 03:44:52PM 0 points [-]

If it's not possible to fix, is it worth complaining out?

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 November 2012 08:46:42AM *  6 points [-]

Sometimes I think that Moldbug is an extrapolated libertarian.

Pieces like the formalist mainfesto seem to show obvious signs of this.

Comment author: Multiheaded 18 November 2012 05:42:08AM *  4 points [-]

(Evidence: What does an ordinary western citizen think about freedom in China? And what about buying cheap products from China?)

Yet Moldbug somehow argues that external pressure would keep sovereigns from making their patches into slave labor camps (either with physical barriers or propaganda or mind control or something weirder)! So that the tyrants of slave patches sell their slaves' products to the complacent liberal patches, and import catgirls from there for themselves.

+Tyrants are known to enjoy domination and torture of subjects even at cost to themselves (e.g. Hitler, Mussolini, the Kims, Pinochet or the various post-soviet dictators).

I think that's an extremely likely, extremely dangerous failure mode that simply kicks the entire proposal back to the drawing board (and wipes the board clean for good measure). Unless strong further evidence for the defense is forthcoming, I proclaim the case on Patchwork closed.

Note that Moldbug spins some long, unlikely, hyper-Functionalist story somewhere on UR - as an attempt to juggle the Holocaust into a different reference class, maybe?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 November 2012 12:33:26PM *  13 points [-]

Moldbug somehow argues that external pressure would keep sovereigns from making their patches into slave labor camps

In my opinion this is very similar to the standard libertarian argument, except that instead of companies on the free market, MM speaks about sovereigns. And it didn't convince me, too.

I am not defending MM here, I am just trying to understand him and pick the parts of his theory that seem correct to me. This is not one of them.

But to be fair, and fight the status quo, imagine that we are both subjects of the Moldbuggian Kingdom in the alternative universe, and we are discussing pros and cons of democracy, as a hypothesis. In that case, Hitler and Pinochet would be actually arguments against democracy. Like: "Let's imagine that we try this democracy thing here. What makes you believe that people would not vote for an evil charismatic leader like Hitler? Also, even a democratic country needs a strong army, somehow isolated from the election process (otherwise a foreign attack during the election day would defeat the unprepared country). So what makes you believe that an army leader could not take over the power, like Pinochet?" And it would be your turn to convince me that it cannot happen, which would be rather difficult, because in reality, it happened.

To be clear, my point is that horrible evil things can happen in any political regime. Including democracy; including libertarian utopia; including MM's utopia. Therefore "it could happen in a regime X" is not a sufficient argument for democracy. At best, it could be made to a statistic argument about how likely do different horrible things happen in different regimes to an average person.

And we should include all the horrible things that happen, not just those caused by the government directly. To take everything that happens in a country as a result of the government action or inaction. If the tyrant executes one hundred people, that's one hundred people dead. If the small criminals independently murder one hundred people, that's also one hundred people dead. The government is equally responsible for both. Just like the tyrant could decide to not execute those hundred people, so could the government decide to spend a bit more money on police instead of something else. Sovereign government has total power over their territory; therefore also it has total responsibility. All crimes that happen in a democratic country are the crimes of the democratic government. And that is a lot of crimes. Again, no government can bring that crime to zero, but we can still discuss whether government X can bring the total crimes in the country to a lower level than government Y. According to MM, the democratic governments are pretty bad at this.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:42:40AM *  4 points [-]

I proclaim the case on Patchwork closed.

The American patchwork resulted in civil war. The Italian patchwork was eventually invaded.

Both were still extremely productive and raised living standards dramatically and furthermore made innovations that changed the world for the better. I consider the evidence that patchworks are bad insufficient.

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 November 2012 09:08:56AM *  1 point [-]

Recall that in Neocameralism/Patchwork CEOs are under plausibly tight control to ensure profit maximization. You are using loaded terminology. Your argument is much better if you talk about profit maximizations not necessarily being as benign as imagined in a transhuman world rather than importing connotations of alpha apes doing anything they want and this ending badly.

+Tyrants are known to enjoy domination and torture of subjects even at cost to themselves (e.g. Hitler, Mussolini, the Kims, Pinochet or the various post-soviet dictators).

Disappointed you would do this. Down voted.

Note that Moldbug spins some long, unlikely, hyper-Functionalist story somewhere on UR - as an attempt to juggle the Holocaust into a different reference class, maybe?

Oh come on. Pot calling kettle black. You kind of do stuff like that all the time my friend. Without linking to the actual article related to this (which I don't recall) is from a consequentalist view of communication nothing but a boo light.

Comment author: Multiheaded 18 November 2012 09:15:59AM *  0 points [-]

Recall that in Neocameralism/Patchwork CEOs are under plausibly tight control to ensure profit maximization.

And? So someone can quite legally buy/acquire all the shares of a patch and order the CEO to do fucking anything, not just "maximize cash flow". Doesn't even have to be a single shareholder. What if the shareholders desire control over their property, huh - who's gonna stop them then? The CEO? What if they promise the CEO a cushy deal?

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 November 2012 09:24:54AM 1 point [-]

What if the shareholders desire control over their property, huh - who's gonna stop them then?

No one. But then don't invoke Hitler or Kim or Stalin, invoke slave ownership.

Comment author: Multiheaded 18 November 2012 09:28:38AM *  1 point [-]

Of course there would probably be more "rational" slave camps on average than "sadistic" ones. I'm going for the worst case scenarios here simply because... why shouldn't I? I see zero evidence that, among a million patches, the worst cases would never ever arise once.

Psychopaths/sadists have amassed capital before, they have amassed influence before, they have gained partners' trust before. Why wouldn't they be able to exchange those for total+secure sovereignity within a Patchwork model?

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 November 2012 11:13:48AM *  7 points [-]

I see zero evidence that, among a million patches, the worst cases would never ever arise once.

Looking at the real world spending of people with power and wealth and the traits these people have it seems to me that you would see many many more Dubai's and Singapore's than summer camps for sadists.

Why is one in a million that terrible? Its a far better track record than democracy or monarchy have... Indeed why would one in a hundred or one in ten be that horrible? Your opinion if this is an acceptable utilitarian trade and even desirable compared to modern third world misery, depend strongly on where you stand on torture vs. dust specks.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 28 May 2013 11:25:24AM 0 points [-]

Looking at the real world spending of people with power and wealth and the traits these people have it seems to me that you would see many many more Dubai's and Singapore's than summer camps for sadists.

In the 20th century, in a world where democracy and human rights are actively promoted, all factors that would be missing from Moldburgia. Look at the real world behaviour of autocrats in the past.

Comment author: eli_sennesh 26 November 2013 11:46:23AM -2 points [-]

Sometimes I think that Moldbug is an extrapolated libertarian. The world he describes seems to me as something that would naturally happen after a few iterations of the libertarian paradise.

Oh LessWrong. Figuring out in 2012 what leftists have been saying for centuries.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 26 November 2013 01:37:44PM *  2 points [-]

I strongly disrecommend all variants of "I told you so".

Comment author: benelliott 17 November 2012 12:40:18PM 5 points [-]

Yes and no, he's mentioned that he 'loves libertarians to bits', and in general seems to think they have a better idea of the problem than most but don't go far enough with their solution.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 16 November 2012 10:08:01PM *  2 points [-]

I don't think Moldbug is literally a monarchist. He just does not like the UK Whigs, and what he thinks the UK Whigs morphed into. The monarchism thing is for effect, it's not a serious proposition.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 18 November 2012 04:06:17PM *  3 points [-]

Based on my impression, Moldbug is more or less a monarchist. Also, talking as if his main point is that he "doesn't like UK Whigs" is extremely odd. He is an American who presents a wide-ranging set of political observations spanning hundreds of years, contemporary UK politics per se is hardly his concern.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 29 May 2013 10:32:12AM 1 point [-]

Based on my impression, Moldbug is more or less a monarchist

One of the many elephants in the room is that monarchy is a system where it was completely normal for the monarch to impose their religion on their subjects. Moldbug makes a big thing about this tenuous, almost invisible Cathedral thingy, but if he gets his utopia he may well find hismelf dealing with the real thing.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 17 November 2012 12:52:01AM 2 points [-]

I disagree. The use of the term "monarch" might be problematic, but Mencius' conception of useful hierarchical authority models puts CEO and Monarch in a similar space.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 17 November 2012 01:17:52AM *  2 points [-]

Mencius' conception of useful hierarchical authority models puts CEO and Monarch in a similar space.

In the sense that there is a single guy at the top, I suppose. But then by that logic you can argue Moldbug ought to have no problems with a parlamentary democracy with a prime minister. The point is not that there is a single guy in charge at the top, but the system of incentives that girds the society and gives it shape. There is a big difference between the British monarchy in the Stuart period ("bring back the Stuarts!"), and what Moldbug is actually advocating.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 17 November 2012 01:21:41AM 5 points [-]

The system being the joint-stock model which Mencius claims effective monarchies approximated.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 17 November 2012 02:50:04AM 2 points [-]

Indeed, 'libertarian' is not the word I really want; it's hard to fit Moldbug into any of the usual categories, but libertarian is probably the closest. I observe that while the state he favours has in principle the right to hang you upside down by the Achilles heels, his predictions for what it will actually do, as a means of maximising its revenue, are all pretty libertarian-sounding, except for the Laffer-maximising tax rate.

Comment author: TimS 17 November 2012 04:04:09AM 8 points [-]

I don't think a libertarian would predict that a government with near absolute power would behave anything like what Moldbug predicts. For example, public choice theory predicts increased corruption and self-dealing (like the monopolies that kings granted to friends and political insiders). Moldbug thinks this will be avoided via "vote with your feet," but doesn't explain why the government would allow this remedy when it doesn't allow any other remedy.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 16 November 2012 09:59:05PM *  20 points [-]

Back maybe 15 years ago, the libertarian techno smarty pants were often anarcho capitalists. I think someone expressed that Moldbug has roots in anarcho capitalism. Neocameralism seems a natural evolution of that. "To a neocameralist, a state is a business which owns a country." So, defense agencies are now tied to dirt (which I find a bow to the reality of defense economics and the practicalities of markets in force), but otherwise the intellectual assumptions (and mistake, IMO), are about the same.

Also, Moldbug's description of the progressive attitude toward conservatives largely matches the Moldbug attitude toward progressives - "They believe in a brain dead orthodoxy that props up an oppressive evil empire". Moldbuggers are the daring new tip of the spear.

One of the benefits of being way out on the fringe is that no one has bothered to make arguments against you yet, so you get to be right. You get to be a critic without being critiqued in turn. Good times.

UPDATE: For the influence of Anarcho Capitalism on Moldbug, and how he is basically an anarcho capitalist focused on the ownership of dirt, see his Formalist Manifesto:

http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/04/formalist-manifesto-originally-posted.html

Particularly on his apparent anarcho capitalist roots:

That leaves libertarians. Now, I love libertarians to death. My CPU practically has a permanent open socket to the Mises Institute. In my opinion, anyone who has intentionally chosen to remain ignorant of libertarian (and, in particular, Misesian-Rothbardian) thought, in an era when a couple of mouse clicks will feed you enough high-test libertarianism to drown a moose, is not an intellectually serious person. Furthermore, I am a computer programmer who has read far too much science fiction - two major risk factors for libertarianism. So I could just say, "read Rothbard," and call it a day.

Comment author: Karmakaiser 18 November 2012 01:40:09AM 10 points [-]

One of the benefits of being way out on the fringe is that no one has bothered to make arguments against you yet, so you get to be right. You get to be a critic without being critiqued in turn. Good times.

I like this and I think I'm prone to forgetting this for a few months, then asking questions then realizing plenty of important bits haven't been thought through.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 November 2012 12:26:14AM *  4 points [-]

One of the benefits of being way out on the fringe is that no one has bothered to make arguments against you yet, so you get to be right.

I'm proud to be working on correcting that, as Konkvistador and a few others can testify. I haven't written much so far, and it's scattered all over my comments and stuff, but still... it's another meta-level to the contrarianism pyramid.

Comment author: Curiouskid 18 November 2012 07:32:15AM 2 points [-]

Wait, are you "working on correcting that" on an object-level or the meta-level? (and don't answer yes).

Comment author: Multiheaded 18 November 2012 07:37:17AM *  4 points [-]

Object-level mostly, I'm afraid. I have neither the knowledge nor the experience nor the reputation nor, probably, the gray matter that I'd need to organize a challenge to a powerhouse like Unqualified Reservations on a meta level. :) Seriously, Moldbug is just plain smarter than me; I can only argue against things where he appears deluded.

Comment author: TimS 17 November 2012 03:39:49AM 4 points [-]

I would have thought that Moldbug's theory that the Cold War was an expression of bureaucratic conflict between the US State Department and the US military was sufficiently nonsensical that refutation was unnecessary.

Any point Moldbug might make about the liberal attitude towards conservatives seems more simply explained by "Politics is the mind-killer."

Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 05:42:33PM *  2 points [-]

Any point Moldbug might make about the liberal attitude towards conservatives seems more simply explained by "Politics is the mind-killer."

This doesn't explain the asymmetries we observe. His model does.

Comment author: TimS 17 November 2012 06:12:46PM 2 points [-]

Which asymmetries do you mean? Regardless of merit, conservatives think liberals are wrong and liberals think conservatives are wrong. That's the mindkiller - no further explanation appears to be necessary. The word each side uses to label "wrong" is an expression of local applause lights - basically no substantive content at all.

Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 06:15:02PM *  2 points [-]
Comment author: Viliam_Bur 17 November 2012 07:09:36PM *  11 points [-]

I wish he could say things using less then million words, or at least provide a short summary afterwards. My attempt at a short summary would be this:

People are more likely to prefer solutions that provide more power to them personally. Even if they are trying to choose the best solution for everyone, they still have this bias; they honestly think that a solution which gives them more power is the best for society.

In democracy, everyone has the power, in theory. But when we ask how their opinions are formed, there are two important sources: schools and media.

Therefore we should expect politics to move in a direction where schools and media have more power. (Or perhaps a direction where the average former student, media consumer, has more power? The same thing.) This direction is called "the Left".

Every other direction, e.g. trying to give more power to church, or entrepreneurs, or medieval nobility, or armed forces, or extraterrastrial lizards, or genetically superior mutants, or whatever... faces the same problem: the schools and media have no selfish reason to support them. These directions are collectively called "the Right".

There is no way to fix this, to remove the power from the schools and media, unless we remove democracy.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 18 November 2012 06:13:29AM 1 point [-]

What is this an argument for? I can't figure it out. Is he saying that it's bad that people want more power?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 November 2012 11:43:39AM *  9 points [-]

Whether something is real or not, is independent on whether it is "good" or "bad". So in the first place, MM says that this is what happens: that people in democracies on average vote for more political power for the average Joe, which consequently means more power to those who form Joe's opinions -- the schools and the media.

True or false?

To me it seems essentially correct, with the addition that we should go further and examine who owns the schools and who owns the media, how much those owners influence the content of the message, and what are the incentives for the owners. As I understand MM, he says that successful journalists get their ideas from the schools, the whole school system gets their opinions from university professors, and the university professors are almost independent... except for their dependence on money from government. Which motivates them to descibe the world in a manner that calls for more money from the government to university professors.

Then, as a specific consequence, the university professors have an incentive to promote central planning over free market, because in central planning the government will pay them for research about how to plan things better. This is almost like paying them for saying: "central planning is the correct answer". On the other hand, promoting free market or other forms of citizens deciding independently of government (and professors) is almost like saying: "my job is superfluous, please fire me". Professors will have bias against that.

Only after we decide whether something is true or false, we should look at the consequences. MM says that the consequence of biased government decisions is ineffectivity in general, and specifically higher crime rates. (I did not check his numbers.)

I would say that the "more power" which people get, is mostly illusory for most people. It can make you feel good to have a right to vote for Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians or Greens, but so what? Either way Libertarians and Greens will lose, and both Republicans and Democrats will continue doing the things you hate, such as war, taxes and spying on citizens. On the other hand, the higher crime has more impact on you. So maybe... having more of this "power" is actually a net loss for the average Joe.

Comment author: prase 18 November 2012 06:25:28PM 3 points [-]

... people in democracies on average vote for more political power for the average Joe, which consequently means more power to those who form Joe's opinions -- the schools and the media. [...] To me it seems essentially correct.

Does it seem correct to you because it is the way you would expect the world to be, or because you have good observational data to back it up? I ask mainly because to me it seems a question whose answer is hard to establish; it's true that in all democratic countries the average Joe gained some additional power in the course of the last century, but 1) it was mainly a result of suffrage extension; after establishing universal suffrage over 18 I don't see any systematic increase of average Joe's power, 2) when trying to conclude the direction of a very slow power shift, we need precise ways to define and measure power, unless we want to risk our conclusions being infested by bias and random errors; when asked whether the average José in Spain has more power now than he had fifteen years ago, not only I am unable to answer, but I also lack a clear idea what information to check if I seriously intended to do some research and find it out.

Not only I am not sure whether the average Joe has, on average, more power now than he had ten or twenty years ago (not speaking about countries which went through an abrupt regime change), but I also doubt whether the average Joe actually votes for more (political) power. I see election campaigns putting much emphasis on social security, taxes, crime, healthcare, corruption, even morality and religion in some countries, but comparably few parties promise more power to the citizens. If getting more power was one of the more important goals of the average Joe, why do the parties so rarely include it in their programs?

Another question is whether the average Joe thinks he's an average Joe -- given how self-serving biases work, I doubt it -- and if not, why would he vote for more power for someone else?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 November 2012 07:56:43PM *  2 points [-]

Another question is whether the average Joe thinks he's an average Joe -- given how self-serving biases work, I doubt it -- and if not, why would he vote for more power for someone else?

The average Joe knows that he is not a millionaire, he is not a movie star, and he did not get Nobel price. His biases will probably make him believe that he is between 60th and 70th percentile. He can still vote for less power for the top 10%, or more popularly 1%.

The rest of your questions... I don't really know. Right at this moment it occurred to me that perhaps the feeling of power is more important that the power itself; most people don't notice the difference. Saying "senator Sam will reduce crime and give you free healthcare if you vote for him, Joe" makes Joe feel powerful. Saying "milionaire Mark made his money legally, you can't take his money away and use it as you want, Joe" does not make Joe feel powerful. Even if in reality senator Sam has more money than millionaire Mark, and senator Sam makes some rules that reduce Joe's freedom, while Mark only provides cheap shiny toys for everyone. Generally, if Joe feels that he can influence the state (even if that influence is mostly illusory), a more powerful state will make Joe feel more powerful. But I don't know how to measure this feeling precisely.

Comment author: GabrielDuquette 18 November 2012 09:00:58PM 0 points [-]

I know Moldbug thinks it's true -- as much as anyone can know what that guy really thinks. I just think it's a facile argument in fancy clothes.

What's preferable to letting people feel powerful, even if it's illusory? How opposed to the free market are professors, really? If your summary is faithful, it seems like he's overstating the entrenchment of bad ideas in academia, or at the very least understating the feedback between disciplines where bad ideas are stickier and disciplines where bad ideas are quickly revealed as such. And are there many reasons to believe that application of central planning isn't getting more and more precise over time?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 19 November 2012 08:25:01AM *  7 points [-]

And are there many reasons to believe that application of central planning isn't getting more and more precise over time?

MM does not oppose central planning. His idea of a good state is to hire Steve Jobs and make him a dictator (or dictator's minister). Supposedly Steve Jobs is smart enough to prescribe central planning where central planning works better, and prescribe free market where free market works better, and measure the efficiency of both.

On the other hand, a democratic government decides between central planning and free market based on the popular opinion, which is based on professors' advice, which is driven by their desire to get more grant money. This leads to a choosing a policy not because it gives the best results, but because it is the best topic for writing papers about. For example: nobody really understands Keynesian economics, probably because it does not really work, which allows professors to publish many papers about it, which makes it popular among professors, and journalists (with some hyperbole here).

Essentially: Central planning as done in democracy is imprecise because academia introduces systematic biases into central planning. A non-democratic ruler could avoid this bias.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 November 2012 11:12:57PM *  -1 points [-]

Your description omits the most important question: why are the schools and media for things other than democracy that we know to be "Left" ideologically - e.g. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or feminism, or other such stuff? Where have they got those memes originally? Me, I'm saying Robert Nisbet and Zizek are right: Progressivism derives directly from 1st Century Christianity (although its road was long and twisted).

Comment author: taelor 18 November 2012 03:21:16AM 8 points [-]

Me, I'm saying Robert Nisbet and Zizek are right: Progressivism derives directly from 1st Century Christianity (although its road was long and twisted).

Moldbug has made similar claims.

Comment author: Multiheaded 18 November 2012 03:35:48AM *  -2 points [-]

His "Calvinism" thing looks completely baseless and arbitrary to me, though, especially in the face of Nisbet's argument. Could it be more of an attempt to sweeten the pill for the "conservative" part of the audience by avoiding blaming "mainline" Christianity?

Or maybe Moldbug is just bad at processing/modelling religious feeling due to him being... neurodiverse... in a way that inhibits religion-connected parts of the psyche? I bet that's so.

Nisbet argues that the Christian idea of progress is a fusing of Greek and Jewish concepts and that "nothing in the entire history of the idea of progress is more important" than the Christian incorporation of Jewish millenarianism, resulting in an understanding of time which is optimistic and progressive.

I think this is precisely and amazingly correct. And Nisbet's argument has been around in "approved", non-contrarian science long before Moldbug!

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 November 2012 10:54:40AM *  14 points [-]

His "Calvinism" thing looks completely baseless and arbitrary to me, though, especially in the face of Nisbet's argument. Could it be more of an attempt to sweeten the pill for the "conservative" part of the audience by avoiding blaming "mainline" Christianity?

You are plain wrong on this. I find this suspicious and strange since you didn't used to be.

He explicitly states that American progressivism is the descendant of mainline protestantism. As to his audience if anything most of his "conservative" non-atheist readers are probably protestant and nearly everyone reads him as blaming at the very least mainline protestantism too if not Christanity as a whole. Moldbug does rant less on Catholicism but I think that is because he sees the same thing Muflax speculated on:

There is one idea though that I’ve been thinking about recently. I wondered, what exactly makes the Catholic Church not progressive, in the Moldbugian sense? It has been argued that Christianity is progressivism (and vice versa), and that seems really plausible to me. It’s fundamentally a monist, universalist, transgressive salvation movement.1

Then I got this idea. (And I feel really stupid for only getting it now, when I’ve personally argued every single component of it before.) Catholicism is a containment procedure. The point of the Catholic faith is to defeat Christianity. It’s a long troll.

The first thing Catholics did was to pwn every single Christian movement until only they were left. Marcion got censored, bowdlerized and just plain trolled. Gnostics, Jews and Cynics were absorbed, itinerant and charismatic preachers were shut down, prophecy was officially forbidden.

Then the real work began. They imported as many proven institutions as they could and prepared Europe for the Fall of Rome. (Thanks to which European civilization exists today.) Theologically, they completely neutered Jesus. There is no apocalypse, no call to perfection, no immediate salvation, no suffering to overcome, no secret teaching, no hidden God. And the best thing: Catholics inserted fundamental otherness as a good thing into the teaching. That’s the best anti-progressive troll of all!

This massive undertaking was successful at containing Christianity for a long time. It wasn’t until those dirty Protestants realized that the Church has no intention whatsoever to take itself seriously. They didn’t realize that Christ is a basilisk, and there’s a reason He’s so obscured.

You can’t handle the truth and the way and the life!

I wanted to link to his profile too but he seems to have delete his LW account. :(

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 22 November 2012 06:37:52PM 5 points [-]

His "Calvinism" thing looks completely baseless and arbitrary to me,

I'm not sure how it looks to you, but looking from an outside perspective, I can certainly see the similarities between Calvinism and Progressivism (specifically the form you seem to belong to).

In a number of places you expressed utter horror at the notion that people should face what they deserve. This reminds me of the Calvinist idea that everyone deserves to get thrown into hell.

Specifically, both strike me as possessing an alief, if not a belief, that being virtuous requires that one constantly feel guilty. What one should be feeling guilty about differs.

In the case of the Calvinist one should feel guilty about original sin, of which one is reminded whenever one experiences sexual attraction, or enjoys one's food, or has fun when one could be doing work. In the case of the Progressive one should be guilty about one's white/male/upper class/straight/righty/etc. (select all that apply) privilege, of which one is reminded whenever one perceives one is receiving the benefits of said privilege.

Comment author: TimS 17 November 2012 07:01:32PM *  15 points [-]

The article is interesting for how badly it misrepresents American history. Intellectual elitist dominance of US policy is a frequently debated topic throughout the history of the United States. Moldbug is right that certain views flowed from academia to public consciousness. But he ignores a lot of other causal factors.

Regarding US race relations, Moldbug ignores that (1) the trend towards pro-civil rights court rulings predates California's Proposition 14 by at least 40 years in cases like Buchanan v. Warley (1917) and Missouri exrel. Gaines (1938) and (2) the prime mover of US political opinion was probably public unwillingness to support the methods of Bull Connor.

Regarding the political tilt of academia, Moldbug ignores the conservative movement's recent success in creating an academic movement that lead to the appointment of conservative judges who have dramatically rolled back US constitutional and statutory interpretation from the more liberal positions of the Warren Court.

Finally, the disparate treatment of unjust tyrants like Castro and Pinochet in academia (1) ignores the different treatment of those regimes by the US government, and (2) partially reflects a feeling of guilt that the US was involved in establishing conservative regimes by taking actions like supporting the coup against Allende or the assassination of Patrice Lumumba and creation of the Mobutu regime. By contrast, there was relatively little US support for the creation of the Castro regime, and thus less culpability for the injustices that followed.

In short, Moldbug's history is incredibly selective - making it impossible to take seriously any of the conclusions he draws from his historical analysis.

Comment author: Konkvistador 11 December 2012 08:52:16AM *  4 points [-]

Regarding the political tilt of academia, Moldbug ignores the conservative movement's recent success in creating an academic movement that lead to the appointment of conservative judges who have dramatically rolled back US constitutional and statutory interpretation from the more liberal positions of the Warren Court.

That you tout this as a grand example of right wing victory is somewhat surprising, it in my eyes weakens your case considerably for it is a feeble thing compared to the vast cultural shift leftward in the past decades and centuries.

Comment author: TimS 11 December 2012 06:41:25PM *  4 points [-]

As far as I can tell, Moldbug's thesis is:

The current structure of society creates an almost inevitable pressure in favor of "leftist" social dynamics and social norms. Further, academic ideology is a substantial causal factor in the leftward pressure because the students of one generation are the policy-makers of the next generation.

My points were (paragraph by paragraph):
- academic pressure doesn't explain the civil rights movement in the US
- academia is not immune to right-wing ideas
- the evidence that academia is leftist is explainable by other factors beyond ideological bias (with a side helping of policy-makers don't seem as leftist as their professors)

In short, that makes the second sentence of Moldbug's thesis not likely enough for further consideration. I leave it to you to judge whether the first sentence stands without the second. But Moldbug doesn't seem to think so - otherwise, why waste all that energy citing that particular historical evidence at all?

As an aside, if one's political theory really can't distinguish between the victorious community organizer and the defeated business executive, then my evidence is entitled to substantially less weight. But that isn't the consensus usage in the doctrines of history or political science dating back to before the rise of PC concerns (but after the Glorious Revolution - so Moldbug may not care). Further, I assert political theories that can't tell the difference (e.g. political Marxism as practiced) are insufficiently nuanced to be capable of making useful predictions.

Comment author: Konkvistador 11 December 2012 08:49:26AM *  4 points [-]

In short, Moldbug's history is incredibly selective - making it impossible to take seriously any of the conclusions he draws from his historical analysis.

This is a fully general argument against historical analysis. I can't think of a single historian who isn't incredibly selective.

Regardless I didn't mean to invoke the entire article, merely the statement which seems obviously correct in general. The w-force is there and we're not sure what it is. It might be caused by humans moving in a forager direction because of wealth, "moral progress", the same kind of memetic selection that gave us religions... Even if I agree with everything it has done so far and is likely to do in the near future, I probably wouldn't like what it does in a few decades or centuries. As I have no reason to suspect it has conveniently weakened at the time my values are in vogue this scares me.

I fear Cthulhu as I fear Azathot for much the same reasons.

Comment author: TimS 11 December 2012 06:27:18PM *  4 points [-]

This is a fully general argument against historical analysis. I can't think of a single historian who isn't incredibly selective.

No, it really isn't. Our confidence in empirical propositions from the history / social sciences disciplines is structurally lower than our confidence in empirical propositions from hard science. But that doesn't mean that we can't point to some empirical propositions and say "Not likely enough for further consideration."

Even if I agreed with everything it has done so far and is likely to do in the near future, I probably wouldn't like what it does in a few decades or centuries.

We were having a discussion elsewhere about whether "moral progress" and "moral regress" were meaningful labels. Establishing our disagreement on those points seems to be a prerequisite for figuring out what we can and can't learn from history. At the very least, agreement on terminology is necessary to shorten inferential distance enough for us to even have a conversation.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 November 2012 05:04:15PM *  0 points [-]

I'd say he might be using hyperbole to aim his readers at what he perceives as the truth in this regard. Imitating Carlyle and so on :).

I'm still laughing at his model of the USSR though (grim grimy monotonous slum); my parents and grandparents have given me much better and more nuanced information about how it worked. Not to say that it wasn't grim, grimy or monotonous, but...

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 November 2012 06:56:46PM *  24 points [-]

He used to be a frequent commenter on Overcoming Bias before Hanson and Yudkowsky split blogs, and he clearly dazzled readers with his refined brand of contrarianism. I wasn't around to watch, but his comments are occasionally seen under 2007-2008 posts, and later on too. His handle there is/was simply Mencius, search for it.

(Might this belong in Open Thread?)

Comment author: arborealhominid 17 November 2012 01:01:37AM 2 points [-]

Thanks; that explains it. Is there a way for me to move this to Open Thread? (I'm new to posting/commenting here, and I haven't fully figured out the site mechanics.)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 17 November 2012 06:21:41PM *  2 points [-]

Is there a way for me to move this to Open Thread?

No, not really. Just post similar concerns there the next time and you'll be fine. :-)

Comment author: Konkvistador 01 January 2013 02:24:01PM 1 point [-]

His handle there is/was simply Mencius, search for it.

LW search has been giving me some headaches recently. Might you link to the account that LW probably generated for him when it imported stuff from OB?

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2012 06:59:14PM 19 points [-]

This should probably be an open thread comment.

Note that you've seen "several people" out of hundreds recommend Mencius Moldbug. That is not surprising given that he has debated Robin Hanson, and I believe was linked by Robin several times on Overcoming Bias. I'm not sure how you go from "several people" to "so popular". I don't think there's anything to explain.

Comment author: Yvain 16 November 2012 07:21:22PM *  11 points [-]

On the as-yet-unfinished survey, n gbgny bs fvkgrra people identify themselves as "Moldbuggian" and na nqqvgvbany gjb people as "reactionary". Compare this to other categories; for example nobhg avargl rnpu for "libertarian" and "progressive".

(edit: rot13ed number for people who want to predict it in advance)

Comment author: Konkvistador 16 November 2012 08:43:30PM 4 points [-]

V rkcrpgrq n fznyyre funer bs frys-vqragvsvrq Zbyqohttvnaf.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 November 2012 09:24:56PM 0 points [-]

Same here.

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2012 07:23:19PM *  1 point [-]

That sounds about right to me (though sadly I didn't try to predict in advance). I wonder how that differs from other communities that have had significant exposure to Moldbug.

Comment author: Curiouskid 18 November 2012 07:37:22AM 1 point [-]

This would make an interesting post in and of itself. What communities do you have in mind?

Comment author: thomblake 19 November 2012 02:30:42PM 0 points [-]

What communities do you have in mind?

I did not mean to imply existence of such communities.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 17 November 2012 02:15:48PM 1 point [-]

I'd generally suggest saying why you rot13 something (if it's not obvious) before the text rather than after. I tend to ha-ebg guvatf nf V ernq gurz if I can't think of a reason not to, and suspect I'm not the only one.

Comment author: Bruno_Coelho 17 November 2012 06:44:48PM 0 points [-]

I wonder if the choice, "moldbuggery"(in the survey), is made in a serious thought, or for lack of a better word.

Comment author: thomblake 16 November 2012 07:27:34PM 0 points [-]

(edit: rot13ed number for people who want to predict it in advance)

maybe rot13 all the numbers?

Comment author: arborealhominid 17 November 2012 01:05:38AM 8 points [-]

I guess I mistook a small but noticeable minority for some sort of community consensus. In retrospect, that was kind of silly of me.

Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 07:27:16PM *  6 points [-]

The question then becomes why is it noticeable.

Edit: Athrelon has since made an interesting observation.

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 November 2012 01:30:12PM *  23 points [-]

To everyone:

Please accept my sincere and heartfelt apologies for my recent trolling, ideological aggression and disruptive behavior in here. I realize that I've been looking like a hopeless crank to many readers. I stand by my general ideas and value judgments (all or nearly all of them), but I am sorry for wording them in ways that violate LW standards and harm our discourse. I will not retract the offending comments, and have no objection to them being downvoted even further.

For at least a while, I shall refrain from public discussion of those matters. I realize that me trying to take a cold, clinical and unshrinking look at Universalism while simultaneously feeling deep moral + religious devotion to it has caused me severe cognitive dissonance, strained my critical facilities and made me lose awareness of social norms. I have since been recuperating psychologically. I hope that this incident will not leave a permanent stain on my image in the community.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 09 March 2013 10:14:29PM *  4 points [-]

Moldbug defines a "church":

...a church is an organization or movement which tells people how to think.

LessWrong: A community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Funny seeing Moldbug's implicit criticism of LessWrong.

But, I disagree with Moldbug here. Most generally, a church tells people what to value. If one mistakenly believes in objective value, then Moldbug's definition would entail telling people what to value as well, but it doesn't have to. LessWrong could be used by Clippy just as well as you or me.

Comment author: SilasBarta 19 November 2012 01:50:07AM 4 points [-]

I've wondered the same thing. I dislike reading him, not for his ideas, but because it takes him so long to get to the point, and I don't like his writing on the way to the point.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 16 November 2012 06:58:42PM 14 points [-]

Because Less Wrong likes metacontrarians.

Comment author: cousin_it 17 November 2012 06:00:20PM *  8 points [-]

Moldbug's writings have a "guru" overtone that sounds similar to Eliezer to me.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:21:12AM 5 points [-]

How does one emulate this? It seems to be effective in gathering adherents who name their views after you.

Comment author: taelor 19 November 2012 01:08:12AM 8 points [-]
Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 06:07:33PM *  6 points [-]

Robin Hanson read and linked to him, even having a live debate. My impression is he considered many of his ideas interesting and not obviously wrong, but in later interactions lowered his opinion of him (not sure about particular ideas, lots of Hanson's stuff seems at the very least compatible with Moldbuggian ideas).

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 November 2012 09:59:24AM 12 points [-]

He is? Since when?

Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 06:01:39PM *  9 points [-]

You've read at least some of his material (since you commented on the ring of Fnargl thought experiment). I would be very interested in your opinion if you don't think this will cause those who agree or disagree with him to go funny in the head.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 November 2012 07:52:39PM 27 points [-]

Politics mindkilled him; he cannot separate the normative and the descriptive.

Comment author: taelor 18 November 2012 02:08:12AM 14 points [-]

One thing I noticed when I was archive-binging his site was that there was a very distinct threshold (which I think occurred sometime in '09, but don't quote me on that), when the primary message Moldbug was trying to convey abruptly switched from "Silly progressives! Democracy doesn't work like you think it works" to "Democracy is the worst thing that ever happened in the history of forever". This transition was accompanied by a marked upswing in his general level of bitterness.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2012 11:43:07AM 10 points [-]

And his inability to say anything in less than a zillion words. He can't get started in less than a thousand.

In general, life is too short to spend it working out what Moldbug's actual substantive point is.

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 November 2012 01:05:44PM *  7 points [-]

This is in part a strategy to keep out the wrong contrarian cluster. But yes reading say Vladimir_M is a better use of time. Moldbug does have some very good essays though.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2012 02:32:39PM *  8 points [-]

That sounds very like using the reader's sunk cost fallacy as a marketing move.

I did like Moldbug's essay on the problem with academic computer science, and his rants on computer technology in general. I get more of a sense he knows what he's talking about, rather than pontificating as an interested amateur. (Even when I think he's wrong, it seems a more informed wrong.) It could just be greater subject interest on my part, of course.

Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 08:02:02PM 5 points [-]

I think I agree with this.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:24:28AM *  2 points [-]

I too think I agree but I think there is a spectrum when it comes to the separation of normative claims. Example: Both Marx and Kaczynski failed in distinguishing the normative from the descriptive, but Kaczynski less so.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 18 November 2012 03:46:47AM 1 point [-]

I do agree with this.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 18 November 2012 02:39:07PM 7 points [-]

Can you provide an example?

Comment author: CharlieSheen 21 November 2012 05:38:36PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: arborealhominid 17 November 2012 03:48:58PM 5 points [-]

See my previous comment re: mistaking a vocal minority for a group consensus.

Comment author: Athrelon 17 November 2012 07:26:13PM *  16 points [-]

I don't even think they're particularly vocal. I can recall like two loud Moldbuggians: Konk and Vlad_M, who is inactive and doesn't even mention Moldbug by name, to my knowledge.

I think it looks like these Moldbuggians are active because a lot of Moldbuggianism is deconstructing assumptions about how politics works. So there's a lot of mainstream ideological assumptions that aren't seen as ideological at all by most people (democracy is good, the media is an observer not a participant in government, etc) yet are seen as incorrect and/or political claims by Moldbuggians. So then Moldbuggians say things like "wait now, democracy isn't all that great" and it looks like they suddenly injected Moldbuggery in a non-politics thread, when they see it as just adding another comment on an existing politics thread.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 18 November 2012 03:58:03PM *  7 points [-]

the media is an observer not a participant in government

I haven't read Moldbug, so maybe you mean something else by this than what it sounds like, but I don't think I know of anyone with an interest in politics who'd agree with this statement as written. Pretty much everybody thinks that the media has a huge influence on government, up to the point of often determining what decisions the government can make, and which politicians grow popular or fall out of favor. There's a reason why it's called the fourth estate.

Comment author: taelor 19 November 2012 01:17:22AM *  7 points [-]

I think Moldbug's main point is that even if cynical people acknowledge that the media often uses its powers in biased ways, there's still an ideal that the media should be this fair and balanced impartial observer that just provides information and then lets the people decide. Moldbug beleives such an ideal to be naive and unworkable: the media will allways be biased, and will always use its powers to influence the secular political enviroment, and expecting it not to grossly misunderstands what the media actually is, how it operates and what its incentives are.

There's also the fact that when people think of "biased" media, their minds tend to jump immediately to media that is biased against their own political views, while being blind to the biases of their own favorite media source (witness all the liberals, who rightly decry Fox News while putting NPR on a pedastal).

Comment author: James_Ernest 22 November 2012 09:14:23AM 5 points [-]

I think it's also worth noting that (particularly in the context of ideological assumptions about democracy that are not generally perceived to be ideological) there are many forms that bias in the media can take while not even coming close to setting off any warnings of partisan bias.

It is in the basic function of conveyance of seemingly apolitical news that the media continuously privileges the null hypothesis.

Comment author: prase 19 November 2012 11:45:09PM 1 point [-]

Or it may be the case that the biases of media of different affiliation cancel out so that the overall effect of media is near zero (that is, removing media would not dramatically change the public opinion). It is far from obvious that the media have a common systematic bias which is absent in general population.

There's also the fact that when people think of "biased" media, their minds tend to jump immediately to media that is biased against their own political views

Isn't this exactly what Moldbug thinks? Well, he has no favourite media, but that's the fate of all fringe ideologues and extremists; if you move sufficiently away from the mainstream, you'll have to expect finding few allies.

Also, having no favourite media source is not that rare; I recall that in my country not long ago the boss of the strongest right wing party said that all media are either leftist or German leftist, while the chairman of the strongest left wing party claimed that all media are biased against him.

Comment author: taelor 20 November 2012 10:02:10AM *  0 points [-]

[redacted]

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:26:32AM 2 points [-]

You must hang out with smarter people than me.

Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 06:01:15PM *  14 points [-]

I'm not sure vocal is a good word, people who have read Moldbug and his ideas mention him certainly but no more than people who read and cite different bloggers like say Sister Y or Razib Khan.

The main reason I think references to his writing stand out as they seem to is because the models he proposes depart so radically from the formal description our society has for itself, yet is taken seriously by some not obviously crazy people.

Comment author: David_Gerard 18 November 2012 11:57:39PM *  2 points [-]

For "popular", read "gets any attention at all", which he pretty much doesn't elsewhere. (Not, to be fair, that he looks for attention particularly.)

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 17 November 2012 03:13:41AM 8 points [-]

Two words: insight porn.

Also, this belongs in an open thread.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 17 November 2012 07:55:09AM 17 points [-]

The main insight I got from Moldbug is not exactly one that he set out to convey. Moldbug is an outright opponent of democracy. What I learned is just that undemocratic political systems can make sense, that you can have a political philosophy other than democracy. So the main thing I took away is an increased political cosmopolitanism.

Some years earlier, it was comparably educational to read (on American right-wing sites) the idea that the fundamental political ideal of the United States is that it is a constitutional republic - that the rule of law and the protection of individual freedom, not democracy, are its fundamental values. However, this seems to be a minority understanding today, even within America itself.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 17 November 2012 09:20:56AM 10 points [-]

Yeah, most of the value I got out of UR came from being introduced (sometimes with links) to some of the thinkers that were on the "losing side" of history that I otherwise never would have heard of (or if I did hear of them, it was only in the context of demonstrating how evil, ignorant, or outmoded they were).

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:27:40AM 4 points [-]

However, this seems to be a minority understanding today, even within America itself.

even within the right-wing itself.

Comment author: advancedatheist 17 November 2012 06:04:57PM *  4 points [-]

Many science fiction writers have postulated the return of feudal social structures, noble houses, monarchies and such in "the future." The democratic era we live in and take for granted could very well have resulted from a drunkard's walk away from long-term social norms., and if we could survive cryotransport, we might find ourselves in nondemocratic, hierarchical societies in Future World.

BTW, I've noticed from watching The Walking Dead series that feminism, progressivism and democracy have to fall by the wayside when our kind of civilization collapses and the strong males have to take charge to keep the surviving hunter-gatherer bands in business. Why couldn't this also happen in a society which manages to maintain high living standards and technological progress?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 November 2012 06:51:09PM 10 points [-]

Offhand, I can't think of any sf which has explained why a return of a feudal system is plausible. Instead, the story just starts out with a feudal system in place. I believe this is because feudal systems[1] are familiar and lead to interesting stories.

[1] Having been exposed to a little bit of actual history, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if the feudal societies in fiction are gross oversimplifications of real world feudalism.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 18 November 2012 03:42:14AM 6 points [-]

Having been exposed to a little bit of actual history, it wouldn't surprise me a bit if the feudal societies in fiction are gross oversimplifications of real world feudalism.

There is a sizable minority of academic historians that deny there ever was such a thing as real world feudalism (as it is popularly conceived of). See for example, the work of historian Elizabeth A. R. Brown.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 19 November 2012 02:00:00PM 7 points [-]

here is a sizable minority of academic historians that deny there ever was such a thing as real world feudalism (as it is popularly conceived of)

Can you give a quick summary of what they mean by this? This sounds very interesting.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 19 November 2012 02:02:31AM *  5 points [-]

Offhand, I can't think of any sf which has explained why a return of a feudal system is plausible

In the Vorkosigan series, the main events surround a planet with a feudal system. This is explained because the planet lost contact with the larger galactic civilization and regressed in tech level massively. Meanwhile certain powerful bandits and raiders became strong enough in the chaos and passed down their roles on to their children. Then when they ended up being reconnected with the advanced technology societies they became very quickly a feudal culture with advanced technology. One major aspects of the stories is how this is an inherently unstable situation. (I have to wonder if this is in deliberate contrast to something like Dune where society stagnates in a feudal system with advanced tech for hundreds of years.)

Comment author: advancedatheist 17 November 2012 10:14:34PM *  2 points [-]

Wil McCarthy's Queendom of Sol novels, as I recall, provide some backstory for the feudal government in a very advanced civilization with a lot of transhuman tech. The upper class in this society even went out of its way to find the remaining plausible pretenders to royal status, so it made an heir of Tonga's royal family as the queen, and married her to the survivor of some obscure noble family in Catalonia. McCarthy argues that this arrangement would provide stability and reduce the waste of resources on politics because the queen and her consort, like everyone else, would live for really long times and exploit the human tendency to form dominance hierarchies.

Comment author: Karmakaiser 18 November 2012 01:34:29AM 5 points [-]

How resistant are these generalizations from fictional evidence?

Comment author: buybuydandavis 13 January 2013 02:41:53AM *  2 points [-]

The Men in the show are more physically and emotionally capable of the hand to hand violence needed to combat the zombies. Though Andrea is becoming a very good shot. Looks like she will be replacing Shane as the leader of the Ruthless Party.

As for democracy in The Walking Dead, before Rick decided to announce himself group dictator in the last show, I think he had democratic support, if not a formal election result. The deliberations over whether to off that captured fellow seemed fairly democratic as well - though not so much for the captured fellow.

But in an advanced technological society, women are equally capable of engaging in most but not all useful labor, and relegating them back to sitting at home polishing the silver is a waste of half your human capital. To that extent, rolling back feminism is a non starter for high living standards.

Comment author: sboo 29 January 2014 10:28:42PM 0 points [-]

what? no. maybe only strong "compassionate"/"nurturing" females can keep groups of hundreds together without fragmentation.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 13 January 2013 02:27:04AM 1 point [-]

Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.-- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

I'm not that much older than most of you, but that's the basics civics lesson I got through public schools was that government is for protecting your unalienable Rights. A constitutional republic was considered a means to that end.

Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 08:33:50PM *  10 points [-]

Two words: insight porn.

Relevant links:

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 16 November 2012 11:09:33PM 8 points [-]

Simple explanation: LWers respect intellectual courage, and Moldbug has lots of it.

Comment author: TimS 17 November 2012 03:39:19AM 8 points [-]

Your assertion fails to explain the lack of equivalent respect for equally extreme political theories with different object-level moral lessons. Foucault hardly lacked intellectual courage.

Comment author: Manfred 17 November 2012 03:51:03AM 8 points [-]

Time-cube guy 2016!

Comment author: TimS 17 November 2012 03:55:18AM 7 points [-]

<snort>

Seriously, Moldbug does have both intellectual courage and coherence of thought. But so do lots of thinkers who have reached radically different conclusions.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:36:45AM 3 points [-]

Links? Tempt me with mind killing.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 17 November 2012 04:59:08AM 2 points [-]

Foucault hardly lacked intellectual courage.

I don't know. It's hard to say given how mainstream he is in academia.

Comment author: TimS 17 November 2012 12:29:08PM *  7 points [-]

First, he didn't start out that way. In many parts of academia, he's still quite controversial. Anyway, there are other thinkers, just as extreme as Foucault or Moldbug, who don't have a vocal mass of followers locally.

Second, the relevant market (appears contrarian to potential LWer) is measured by distance from folk philosophy mainstream, not distance from academic mainstream.

Comment author: taelor 18 November 2012 11:32:22AM *  4 points [-]

Last month there was a discussion of Moldbug in the Open Thread, and I posted this comment regarding my primary theory of where Moldbug went wrong. I'm not really sure what the ettiquete on reposting posts that you've already made is, but the executive summery is that Moldbug allowed his identity to get so entangled in the fight against Whig history that he fell into the trap of thinking that all you have to do is say the exact opposite of what the Whig historians say and you're guaranteed to be right, a trap which Herbert Butterfield, the original critic of whiggish naratives, warned of. In fact, I think there's an essay somewhere where Moldbug explicitly positions himself as a defender of "Tory history".

Comment author: lukeprog 18 November 2012 03:22:18AM 9 points [-]

If Condensed Moldbuggery is a sympathetic summary of his views like it appears to be, and if the one long post of his I read is representative, then Mencius Moldbug seems to be a very confused thinker, lacking in precision and curiosity.

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 November 2012 08:35:00AM *  9 points [-]

then Mencius Moldbug seems to be a very confused thinker, lacking in precision and curiosity.

In this he doesn't seem obviously worse than most of the political scientists, pundits or philosophers I've read. Politics is the mindkiller and all that. I'm much more interested in object level appraisal of his ideas.

Do you find anything in the summary interesting or correct? What do you find wrong? What do you find not even wrong? What you think about his map of how democracy works in practice? Namely that opinion making institutions bias public opinion in favour of opinion making institutions which translates into political power, while the actual operation and policies of government are mostly determined by civil servants rather than politicians. I'm interested in that primarily because I'm convinced it is correct and seek counterarguments. I'm also particularly interested in what you think about his arguments that the distinction between religion and ideology isn't as useful as is normally assumed since both operate under very similar memetic pressures, are transmitted in similar ways and even have similar adaptations (inbuilt fully general counterargument defences for example).

Comment author: Konkvistador 21 November 2012 05:19:32PM *  7 points [-]

The problem with the Condensed Moldbuggery post is that it just states the outrageous opinions and omits the interesting-but-possibly-insufficient arguments for them which can cause the reader to mis-infer what the arguments must have been.

My original guess was that it isn't worth Eliezer's time to read Moldbug, but that's because it isn't worth Eliezer's time to form a good picture of politics, not because Moldbug doesn't help you form a good picture of politics. So I was surprised he had a formed opinion, the same argument applies to him not yet responding to say Michael's comment asking for specifics. I'm still hoping for it though.

From your previous comments I'm guessing you think a good picture of politics might be valuable. I'm interested in a good picture of politics as well. I just wanted to point out that I'm open to private correspondence if perhaps the bad signalling of such discussion is a concern, I don't mean to rush or coax out of you a response to my other up voted comment asking you for specifics.

Comment author: lukeprog 22 November 2012 12:33:07AM 3 points [-]

I think it's very, very difficult to get a good picture of politics, both due to human psychology and the intrinsic complexity and non-repeatability of the domain. It's almost certainly not worth my time to get a good picture of politics, because that would require my entire life. But if I wanted a good picture of politics, Mencius is very far down on the list of places I would look, given all the red flags his writing raises for me. If I wanted a good picture of politics I would start by hitting up Carl Shulman, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, and lots of other sources. I would probably never even make it down to Mencius Moldbug.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 22 November 2012 01:36:11AM *  8 points [-]

very far down on the list of places I would look, given all the red flags his writing raises for me

Although as Steven Kaas suggested in 2007, some thinkers might be crazy and inaccurate overall (and thus rightfully raise lots of red flags), and yet also have a few genuine insights not easily found elsewhere: if the most all-around-reliable thinkers also make some systematic mistakes (perhaps ideologically- or culturally-motivated), then we would expect some fringe thinkers to have some good ideas simply because they're exploring regions of ideaspace that the more reliable thinkers are neglecting. (I'm not necessarily claiming this applies to Moldbug in particular; this comment is only to point out a consideration to be taken into account when constructing a list of who to read.)

Comment author: lukeprog 22 November 2012 02:13:42AM 7 points [-]

That's a good point, though there are still lots of "fringe" thinkers (not including fringe thinkers already in contact with my community, like Robin Hanson and Patri Friedman) that I would turn to before Moldbug, e.g. Michael Albert, David Benatar, and Noam Chomsky.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 18 November 2012 04:53:53PM 7 points [-]

"Condensed Moldbuggery" is a very poor overview of Moldbug's ideas, and I would say that it deeply mischaracterizes many of them. Moldbug never said "progressivism always wins in the long run", or that "progressives are dangerous and creepy maniacs", or that progressives "try to bring down the military through proxy wars". As far as I can tell, this is all nonsense that comes from the conservative blog post author biasing his account of Moldbug's views in his own desired political direction.

"An open letter to progressives" is not the best place to start with Moldbug. It's unusually circumlocutory, even by MM's standards, and contains a large helping of off-topic rambling. I recommend "A formalist manifesto" for a clearer and less hyperventilated introduction to his views.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:20:32AM 2 points [-]

Are you sure? I'm guessing you've read all of his output. Those statements seem to match my memories of his material.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 19 November 2012 12:41:08AM *  6 points [-]

I haven't read all of his output but a fair amount of it. I realize that I misinterpreted the last one to mean actual wars when he must have meant propaganda wars against the military, which Moldbug has probably actually claimed. The first two seem really odd as 1) Moldbug repeatedly refers to progressivism as the default modern Catholicism and doesn't imbue mania on progressives, just status quo thinking, 2) I've never seen him have an attitude defeatist towards his own ideas like "progressivism always wins in the long run". If it always wins, then what would be the point of writing hundreds of pages about the possibility of moving towards other systems? I am also drawing from the experience of having met and talked to Moldbug in person.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 19 November 2012 12:49:14AM *  1 point [-]

I thought R.A.G.E. was a gedankenexperiment meant to demonstrate the actual extent of power of the cathedral. If he really believes it is a plausible path he is farther down the crackpot path than I thought.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 22 November 2012 01:20:08AM 2 points [-]

and if the one long post of his I read is representative

Huh. That's an interesting post. There's a core idea that might be valid but it is lost in claims like:

Its core beliefs are claims about the spirit world, which no Catholic (except of course the Pope) has experienced firsthand.

Which is such a confused claim about Catholic doctrine that I'm not sure where to begin.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 25 November 2012 03:24:24AM 1 point [-]

There's a core idea that might be valid but it is lost in claims like:

Its core beliefs are claims about the spirit world, which no Catholic (except of course the Pope) has experienced firsthand.

Which is such a confused claim about Catholic doctrine that I'm not sure where to begin.

I think an accurate summary of Catholic doctrine is this: all Catholics, the Pope not excepted, have only one channel of communication to God, namely prayer. However, when speaking in his role as Universal Pastor, the Holy Spirit prevents him from teaching error. Lay Catholics are occasionally admitted to have spiritual experiences of a different kind, called charisms. However "discernment of charisms is always necessary. No charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Church's shepherds". In other words, the Catholic hierarchy treats lay "firsthand spiritual experiences" skeptically.

That is, it seems to me that your quoted passage is mistaken (or taking liberties) in a routine, understandable, and easily corrected way. Is it a mere "gotcha", or does it really poison the rest of the essay?

Comment author: JoshuaZ 25 November 2012 03:28:12AM *  0 points [-]

It is at best a massive oversimplification of both official and practical theology in the Church (decisions about whether a charism is genuine or not are often decided at levels well below the Pope). But yes, this wasn't the only example in the essay, just the first one in chronological order.

Comment author: Sewing-Machine 25 November 2012 03:34:34AM 1 point [-]

Since Catholic theology is massively specious to begin with, I think you should have a higher threshold for what kinds of simplifications count as oversimplifications. Anyway I do.

Comment author: cata 16 November 2012 11:36:06PM 7 points [-]

Moldbug always writes things that make me think hard, and he writes them well, in a delightful style. What more can one ask for?

Comment author: Manfred 17 November 2012 03:49:50AM *  19 points [-]

Falsifiability :P

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 November 2012 02:00:04PM 14 points [-]

Has Moldbug ever mentioned finding out that he was wrong about something? About something important?

His frequent use of insults suggests to me that it might be hard for him to change his mind.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 November 2012 06:54:00PM 5 points [-]

Let's go for second best. Has Moldbug publicly changed his mind, even though he didn't say he'd changed his opinions?

Comment author: taelor 18 November 2012 03:07:29AM *  5 points [-]

It's been a while since I read his blog, but I think he's mentioned that he no longer stands by his whole BDH-OV class analysis, though I don't think he ever really explained why. That's the only thing that comes readily to mind.

Comment author: gwern 18 November 2012 04:01:30AM 11 points [-]

One negative example would be his Anti-Versity essay. Despite his early promises years ago, he has yet to publish anything on the topic or acknowledge his failure to do so. The obvious explanation is that he realized his idea is crap but is embarrassed to admit it.

Comment author: prase 18 November 2012 02:07:40PM 1 point [-]

What's BDH-OV?

Comment author: Konkvistador 18 November 2012 02:25:49PM 6 points [-]

Brahmin, Dalit, Helot, Optimates, Vaisya

See Castes of the United States

Comment author: FiftyTwo 17 November 2012 04:32:10PM 6 points [-]

he writes them well, in a delightful style

Really? I read a few of his articles and found him undearably smug, and excessively verbiose.

For example his "introduction to UR" spend pages on a overwrought matrix metaphor before saying anything substansive.

Comment author: arborealhominid 17 November 2012 06:49:21PM 3 points [-]

De gustibus non est disputandum, I suppose. For what it's worth, I loved the writing style of his earlier posts (like this one), but find the writing style of his more current stuff (like this) kind of obnoxious.

Comment author: Kal 24 November 2012 05:52:17AM 3 points [-]

I recently read his Fnargl series of posts and the posts on his political journey from Mises to Carlyle and why he is no longer a Libertarian.

I have also read and tried to understand (I probably misunderstand) Eliezer's posts & debates on FOOM, CEV etc.

So, here is a (mostly tongue-in-cheek) scenario combining both Eliezer and Moldbug's ideas.

The FAI (obviously having the powers of the Fnargl-Alien and more) functions as the ideal global Sovereign/Govt - ie, it perfectly enforces all rights of all sentient creatures, functions with an infinite time horizon and protects the planet and all future abodes from other-worldly threats (asteroids and so on).

Whether CEV leads the FAI to the same conclusion, I cannot know. But I sure hope so.

Comment author: Peterdjones 01 December 2012 08:23:23AM 2 points [-]

The FAI (obviously having the powers of the Fnargl-Alien and more) functions as the ideal global Sovereign/Govt - ie, it perfectly enforces all rights of all sentient creatures, functions with an infinite time horizon and protects the planet and all future abodes from other-worldly threats

Sounds like Iani M Banks's Minds.

Comment author: Multiheaded 25 November 2012 12:00:22PM *  3 points [-]
Comment author: Kal 26 November 2012 01:07:58PM 1 point [-]

Thanks, Multiheaded.

Wonder what a FAI would know about human motivations, dynamics and joys that we don't and thus it chooses differently from the scenario above.

Based on my understanding thus far, this would be a consummation devoutly to be wished. Separating man from man, except where they voluntarily choose to interact. Of course, I likely misunderstand.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 17 November 2012 09:52:31AM *  3 points [-]

Coincidentally, I was recently reading Moldbug, and I though: "What would his LW fans think about his opinions on global warming?"

Second question: "If you are Moldbug's fan and you disagree with him on this topic, do you treat it as an evidence against his other opinions?"

Comment author: Konkvistador 17 November 2012 05:51:31PM *  8 points [-]

I'm a Moldbug fan in the sense that I think his model of the Cathedral and power in America is probably correct or at the very least useful.

He is right on the state of climatology and while and global warming pretty much clearly is happening we simply are not good at predicting the climates future behaviour. This makes cost benefit analysis for policy hard. Since the early 2000s it seems to have obviously become attached to a political struggle where the actual truth of the matter has little relevance to the tribes involved.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 November 2012 02:50:21PM *  6 points [-]

I think his views on anthropogenic global warming are, on balance, bollocks. The science is settled.

I wouldn't say I am a Moldbug fan, but I did read an exorbitant amount of his writing. I do treat his views on AGW as evidence against his other opinions, in the same way I would if he wrote a similar tract on evolution, general relativity, the germ theory of disease, etc.

(I don't currently have the time to go re-read the linked essay of approximately 15,000 words, so this comment is based solely on my memory/impression of his arguments. Memories being what they are, please take my comment with as much salt as appropriate.)

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 18 November 2012 02:45:12PM *  6 points [-]

Don't worry, I just did reread it, and it is just as I remembered. A lot of applause lights for the crowd that believes that the current state of climate science is driven by funding pressure from the US government DoE. His "argument" is based almost exclusively on the tone of popular texts, and anecdotal evidence that Joe Romm was an asshole and pushing bad policy at DoE during the Clinton administration. Considerations of what happened during the 8 years of a GWB administration that was actively hostile to the people JoeR favored are ignored.

Temperatures are described as "flat since the 90s" which is based on a massive misreading of the data, giving one exceptionally hot year (1998) the same evidentiary weight as the 8 of 10 hottest years on record which have occurred since then. Conveniently, when he wants to spread FUD about the current state of climate science, he will talk about natural variability and uncertainty in the climate. OTOH, he judges the shape of the data since the 1990s in a way that completely ignores that variability and uncertainty.

Bollocks is spot on and I absolutely treat his writings on global warming as evidence against his other opinions. That said, I am hardly a fan, and consider his argumentation logically weak, full of applause lights and other confusing nonsense across the board. Generally in a agreement with lukeprog.

I've read as much as I have, because he is from a vastly different tribe, and willing to express taboo opinions, which include some nuggets of truth or interesting mistakes worth thinking about.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 November 2012 09:29:10PM 5 points [-]

Temperatures are described as "flat since the 90s" which is based on a massive misreading of the data, giving one exceptionally hot year (1998) the same evidentiary weight as the 8 of 10 hottest years on record which have occurred since then.

"Flat since the 90s" is a statement about the rate of change of temperature. "8 of 10 hottest years on record [...] have occurred since then" is a statement about the value of the temperature. These are almost entirely unrelated factoids, are completely compatible with one another, and I wish people would stop presenting the latter as some kind of slamdunk refutation of the former. It doesn't support the warmist case, it weakens it.

Comment author: Michael_Sullivan 22 November 2012 04:34:02PM 0 points [-]

the running 11 year average of global temperature has not flattened since 1990, but continued upward at almost the same pace with only a moderate decrease in slope since the outlier 1998 year. The 11 years 2000-2010 global mean temperature is significantly higher than the 10 years 1990-2000.

That is not "flat since the 90s". The only way to get "flat since the 90s" is to compare 1998 to various more recent years noting that it was nearly as hot as 2005 and 2010 etc. and slightly hotter than other years in the 2000s, as if 1 year matters as much as 10 in a noisy data set.

If he had said "flat since 1998" that might be technically true in a way, but it's a little like saying the stock market has been flat since 2007.

That doesn't even consider using climate knowledge to adjust for some of the variance, for instance that El Niño years are hotter, and that 1998 was the biggest El Niño year on record.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 13 January 2013 02:10:07AM 1 point [-]

I think an honest eyeball will recognize a plateau in temperatures going back to 2003. It would be the highest plateau, but still a plateau.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Satellite_Temperatures.png

Comment author: Salemicus 17 November 2012 01:08:12PM 2 points [-]

I'm a Moldbug fan, and I agree with most of what he says about AGW, assuming I have read him correctly. His writings are dense and can be difficult to parse.

As he says, we do not have the scientific tools to make sensible climate predictions for the next, say, 50 years, because there are far too many free parameters, and you cannot do an experiment (i.e. perturb the climate and observe the response in order to establish the parameters). The fact that he mentions macroeconomics next in the article is amusing because there you have the exact same modelling procedures, but the difference is that macro economists freely admit this problem. Moldbug freely concedes the sign of the effect (i.e. CO2 increases temperature) but this is meaningless if you don't know the magnitude. I also agree with him that the assumption that warmer temperatures are purely bad is absurd - of course there will be benefits too.

I think that on climate science, he is saying that there is no conspiracy as such, but that, like in every other scientific field, there is little interest in funding any dis-confirmatory studies. Therefore the only research or modelling that gets carried out is that which is expected to support the consensus, and the only stuff that gets published is that which beats the margin of statistical significance. This is hardly unique to climatology, but the problem is worse there because the field is so politicised; climatologists see their work as part of a public policy debate in a way that (say) biochemists don't, and the effect of government funding is so pernicious. At least that's what I think Moldbug is saying, if he is saying there is a grand conspiracy I disagree. I wholeheartedly agree that Science is often not science, and that Science is an arm of the state, but you don't need Moldbug for that, Hayek wrote extensively and brilliantly on the subject.

Where I disagree with Moldbug is on the precautionary principle. I do think there is a difference between a 3 degree temperature rise caused by humans, and one caused by "natural effects," in that we are more likely to be able to remedy the former than the latter.

None of this is to say that global warming isn't "real," btw.

This neither raises nor lowers my confidence in the rest of his writings.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 17 November 2012 04:42:22PM 5 points [-]

like in every other scientific field, there is little interest in funding any dis-confirmatory studies

Really? There has been masses of funding from groups environmental policy would adversely affect (fossil fuel companies mainly) to find discomfirmatory evidence or muddy the waters, and they leap on any evidence that appears to be on their side (see the 'climategate' emails).

Comment author: ikrase 26 November 2012 05:35:08AM *  3 points [-]

I might be committing a rationalist sin here, but some of his attitudes seem to be driven by unquestioned racism. His interpretation of the Vaiyasa is blatantly incorrect.

Formalisim strikes me as insufficiently utilitarian and also as something which will massively benefit people like Moldbug even though there are better self-interested ideologies.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 16 November 2012 07:31:17PM 0 points [-]

I looked him up after reading this post, his blog seems to have a few interesting things but nothing epic. Could someone link me to things they find particularly impressive/interesting?

(For the record I have no memory of him being mentioned before,)

Comment author: Kal 19 November 2012 02:23:58PM 11 points [-]

On economics, these two essays are very impressive (& useful - in the sense of map matching territory):

The entire Economics sub-section at http://moldbuggery.blogspot.sg/2009/03/collected-writings-of-mencius-moldbug.html?m=1 is worth reading.

Am making my way though his non-Economics writings now. These two are impressive:

P.S. I have been reading LW for years and signed up due to this discussion. Hello from Singapore.

Comment author: James_Ernest 20 November 2012 06:14:42AM 3 points [-]

I am also a long-time LW lurker, and this thread finally made me open an account. I've read most of the main Moldbug sequences (Cathedral/neocameralism/economics) over the past few months.

I was very pleased to find that this thread existed, particularly in the context of the phenomenon identified in that essay which coined the term 'insight porn'. I had previously expended many brain-hours pondering the nature of this set of closely affiliated ideas, and I still don't think I have entirely satisfactory answers.

http://theviewfromhell.blogspot.co.nz/2012/09/trying-to-see-through-unified-theory-of.html

Comment author: Multiheaded 19 November 2012 03:43:34PM *  2 points [-]

Hello from Singapore.

Upvoted for practicing what you preach.

(None of the linked articles are among what I'd recommend, however. I can't say if that's because I can't understand them and am biased, or because they are mostly hot air and rhetoric.

I cannot comment on Austrian economics as I don't know what to believe about any economic theory at all, but here, in 1998, Krugman criticises it as a morality fable that doesn't, in Bayesian terms, pay rent in anticipated experience - and in modern times, he sustains his criticism of its descriptive and predictive worth. Here is some other economist's brief slam of Austrian epistemology.

Generally the Less Wrong 'mainstream' seems to dismiss it out of hand for its non-empiricism and incompartibility with Traditional Rationality.)

Comment author: TimS 20 November 2012 12:58:37PM *  5 points [-]

Very enjoyable, but not particularly rigorous compare and contrast of Keynesian and Austrian economics here and sequel.

My favorite quote (put in the mouth of Hayek in the second video around 3:40): "If every worker was staffed in the Army and Fleet, we'd have full employment - and nothing to eat." (This is aimed at the Keynesian argument that WWII ended the Great Depression.)

Personally, I'm doubtful either theory is better - they both run on fundamental assumptions about what is happening in the market. But if the actual market resembles neither assumption, both predictions will be very misleading.

Comment author: Kal 20 November 2012 12:24:21PM 2 points [-]

When it comes to monetary theory, there are no controlled experiments possible. So, one has to use deduction. Moldbug's article above on 'Crash Course in Sound Economics' is a masterpiece on the topic and thus an excellent starting point. When I introduce the topic of questioning the quality of mainstream economics to friends, I put it this way: "All the various mainstream economic theories cannot be simultaneously right. So, given the number of mutually exclusive theories and the fact that controlled experiments are not possible, one has to deduce from first principles. So, let's do that."

When one deduces from first principles, one just so happens to end up with Austrian (Misesian) Economics. The deduction is not complicated. For LessWrong members, it will be easy, I think.

Misesian Economics does make predictions (i.e., pays rent) but the predictions are about whether a certain economic policy is good or bad for the economy and whether the policy is sustainable. It does not claim to precisely predict either magnitude or timing of economic disruptions caused by bad policies, because the disruptions are dependent on economic actors reacting to both new economic information & to other peoples' reactions to the same information. Given the economic policies we are currently being subjected to, the rent, that a study of Misesian ideas will pay down the road, will likely be substantial.

For those who prefer books, I suggest reading both 'Paper Money Collapse' and 'Currency Wars', in that order. If anyone here is also studying economics (given the economic developments in the last 5 years, I imagine some might be), I would enjoy a discussion.


P.S. With all due respect to Prof Krugman, he is not only wrong about Misesian Economics, he does not even properly understand what he is criticizing. His advice about how to end the current economic malaise is incorrect and thus harmful (though well-intentioned). Those who follow the financial news would have noticed a Prof Sumner being hailed as having "saved the US economy" because his idea of NGDP-targeting has in effect been adopted by the Federal Reserve. Prof Sumner does not seem to understand Misesian Economics either and his advice is also incorrect and thus harmful (and again, I am sure, well-intentioned).

Here is a quick test one can do: Read what Prof Sumner says about Prof Krugman's theories and vice versa. So, who does one follow: The Nobel Laureate or the man the Federal Reserve seems to be following? Perhaps neither? We certainly cannot follow both, if we have any interest in even superficial coherence. And, given the importance of the topic (the wealth of billions), I think we should aim for the highest level of coherence that is humanly possible.

Comment author: pragmatist 21 November 2012 09:20:47PM *  12 points [-]

The leap from "controlled experiments are not possible" to "one has to deduce from first principles" is huge and unsupported. The results of controlled experiments do not exhaust the available empirical evidence by a long shot. We have a lot of data about the effects of monetary policy from around the world. True, inferring causality from this data is not nearly as straightforward as inferring causality from a randomized controlled trial, but it's still a lot more reliable than deduction from first principles, I would think.

Think about how your argument sounds when applied to cosmological theories about the very early universe. We have a number of different theories that cannot be simultaneously right, and we cannot conduct controlled experiments. Would you endorse deduction from first principles in this instance as well?

Comment author: Konkvistador 16 November 2012 08:49:16PM *  7 points [-]

Two pieces of his that I linked to and have been extensively discussed by LessWrong:

You might want to check out the recommendations people make there.

Comment author: taelor 18 November 2012 03:34:40AM 5 points [-]

I'd add this: Idealism is not great

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 18 November 2012 02:58:54PM 6 points [-]

A formalist manifesto is thought-provoking. The bit there about moderates deeply changed the way I thought about "moderates" thereafter.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 November 2012 08:40:48PM 5 points [-]
Comment author: FiftyTwo 17 November 2012 04:37:18PM 2 points [-]

Yes, I looked at a few posts from that before posting. None of it seemed especially interesting. As far as I can see he has a few unique ideas, but they're not explained or substansiated enough to take very seriously.

To clarify, I was hoping for examples of what people considered his 'best' or most readable posts so I could see if the ones I'd read were unrepresentative.