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Small-Scale Question Sunday for January 7, 2024

Do you have a dumb question that you're kind of embarrassed to ask in the main thread? Is there something you're just not sure about?

This is your opportunity to ask questions. No question too simple or too silly.

Culture war topics are accepted, and proposals for a better intro post are appreciated.

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Are Cuban-Americans really great or do people who complain about immigrants not complain about them because they're more sympathetic?

Kind of a stupid question, I know.

From my experience living in Miami: All other ethnic groups in that Latin American exclave of a city think of Cubans as corrupt, selfish, and insular. The same way /pol/ jokes about certain races every time there is violent crime, Miami jokes about Cubans whenever there is white collar crime or corruption in the city government. A native Miamian once put it as "dude they're our Jews."

Rs don't complain about them because they vote R and are staunchly anti-socialist.

As an aside, it was wild to experience the levels of racism in Miami first-hand. In no other major city in America can someone shout the N-word at an event full of white people and get laughs and applause. That doesn't even touch on the intense inter-hispanic racism

Thanks for the info

I spent 11 hours trapped in Istanbul airport because of a flight delay. I think I've walked a couple of marathons by now. And observed enough airport logistics to feel qualified to propose improvements.

Anyways, I feel that the whole experience of flying is amazing and shitty at the same time. I can literally be in another continent in less than 24 hours, but this isn't the peak of what humanity can accomplish right?

How would you improve the airport experience?

How would you improve the airport experience?

I know how I would improve my experience, I often have to travel to southern europe, where my wife is from, from Canada, and the only decently priced flights usually involve > 8 hours layovers, often overnight, and/or early morning departures that require travelling to the airport the night before. Few airports are equipped to keep you comfortable for such long layovers. Many have benches with armrests that discourage sleeping in the landside area; I understand not wanting to be used as a hotel by people who shouldn't be in the airport (or discouraging people sleeping in the part of the airport where pickpockets have easy access), but sometimes you can't help having to stay overnight there and it just sucks. Thankfully, I've yet to see an airport with an airside area that had only armrest benches. Even if the airport has no flights in the middle of the night and it's not very profitable to run it, there should always be at least one café/restaurant per terminal that stays open; just someplace with human activity to keep you from going insane. The "liminal space" nature of an empty airport at night is unsettling and makes every hour run so much slower. It must be what purgatory feels like. I just want someplace to make me feel human, like being in the airport is fine and normal, like I'm not a nuisance or penny-pincher for not going out, paying a taxi then an additional 200$ for barely a night in a hotel, and then having to go through security again. Oh, and those airport lounges? Why the hell do they close at night? While I wouldn't pay for a hotel, I would absolutely pay 25-50$ per person to have a place I could feel safe sleeping in, refreshing myself, taking out my laptop, etc... I don't need them during the day.

I spent about that long trapped in Istanbul with a flight delay, and since it was daylight hours and I was young and stupid, I had an entire adventure in the city with no map, phone, or plan. I took a train/subway by myself for the first time! Crossed the Bosphorus! (by accident) Found a tourist friendly shopping district! Ate Turkish delight! It would have been improved by a public transportation tourism map.

I also spent a night under the care of the Dubai airport, and they actually have a special bus tour for the occasion at no extra cost, which also runs during the night. I stuck my hand in the sea! Saw a hotel with a shark aquarium and fancy escorts! Listened to an announcer describe the city! Saw the tallest building out the window! That was a major improvement on the "letting naive American girls loose on the city" strategy.

Istanbul

You did the right thing lol. Istanbul is a great city (for tourists) with great food. Hope you didn't eat at the airport.

Dubai

I live in Dubai, so I never really saw it from a tourists pov, but yeah they do have many end-end services for tourists for things such as flight delays, etc are really smooth. Dubai does many things wrong, but its airport isn't one of them, its always a smooth experience.


Both IST and DXB are in very safe cities and there is nothing to worry about even if you are a "naive" American woman. If you know how to watch your back in NYC or Philly, you can in most cities.

Does anyone know the current status about talking about Eric Ciaramella? Are various forums still censoring his name?

The 'whistle blower' that alleged Trump demanded an investigation into potential Biden corruption in the Ukraine?

Why would he still be talked about?

I have $92,000 in my Donor-Advised Fund. I haven't made a grant in 30 months, which means I have 6 months to make a grant or the fund will be liquidated and merged into some generic charity fund. I only need to donate $500, but I'm inclined to donate at least half the fund.

Who should I give to?

The first place I went to was GiveWell. Unfortunately, it would appear all their top charities are woke. For instance, here is what Helen Keller International had to say:

"We are overwhelmed with grief and concern over the killing of George Floyd—on the heels of the recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. Racism has no place in America, or our world."

Should I just give these people my money anyway? My problem is that I think wokeness makes the world a worse place, so while I think it's probable that the organization does good by preventing blindness, they are also harming the world by propagating a quasi-religious framework which hinders human thriving.

Are there any charities that would meet GiveWell's criteria for effective donations that are non-woke (or ideally even anti-woke)?

If you have any pet causes, now would be a good time to post them. My chance of donating is fairly high in the next week or two. I've been feeling a bit Scroogish lately and would like to turn that around.

If you value the capacity for independent thought, how about donating to fund voluntary sterilization for people with tragic drug addictions?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Prevention

I don’t personally think making a statement about Current Thing is inherently destructive, so I wouldn’t consider that a disqualifier. It does put your support firmly in the category of making common cause with people you dislike. I think that’s admirable, assuming it doesn’t actually advance the agenda.

Though maybe this is more flagrant—I couldn’t find the actual statement you were talking about.

That said, HKI is number 3 on the top charities list. What about Malaria Consortium or Against Malaria Fund? Both look remarkably unconcerned with domestic political advocacy, sloganeering, etc.

Let me describe some of my beliefs and the very tentative conclusion they've led me to, and you can decide how many of these beliefs you share and thus how seriously you should take my conclusion. I frame this as a description rather than an argument because I don't think I can capably advocate for any of these views, at least not succinctly the way someone with more talent could, and thus I must simply hope you already share them.

Suffering is bad, but, lacking a good word to describe this, [failure to reach potential / absence of joy] is far worse. The worst suffering is caused when a source of joy disappears. Some of the worst pain you can experience is losing a loved one or getting divorced, with physical pain a very distant runner-up. I'd rather have a child, experience a few years getting to know them, and then lose them, than never have them at all. Same with marriage etc. The worst position you can be in, I think, is to squander great potential and end up living a bare-minimum life without having tried hard to better your situation.

So, all else being equal, I think the life of a paraplegic with a good attitude is more valuable than the life of an able-bodied person with a bad attitude. Second-order effects and other caveats aside, I think it's pretty easy for anyone to squander all of their gifts, and I also think it's doable for someone with no gifts to live an extremely meaningful and joyful life pretty much unrelated to their material circumstances.

In the long run, I think culture beats charity. As Zero HP Lovecraft says:

Everything is downstream of everything. Culture and law and politics and religion all feed into each other like an ouroborotic human centipede. All the various pieces of the world that we try to taxonomize feed backwards and upwards and every which way into each other.

I think this is true, but culture, and human belief, are in the end what determine human wellbeing along multiple dimensions. Optimistically: everything is downstream from culture in the sense that if you fix culture, literally everything else will be fixed in short order. Culture is downstream of everything else in the sense that there are actual actions you can take which will meaningfully affect culture.

Fund a woke charity, and you may save 3 bazillion lives, but you're also subsidizing the status and reach of some of the most woke people in the world. In the long run I think this may actually matter more--the poor people will survive, which is great, but they or their descendants will be forced to bend the knee to ideologies which will ultimately destroy them, spiritually if not physically.

So I think the best sorts of charities do one or more of the following:

  1. Accelerate science, ideally without granting undue status to universities
  2. Increase the status of noble, well-directed, self-sacrificing activities, especially parenthood
  3. Create art which directly promotes traditional conservative values, e.g. traditional values, e.g. integrity, discipline, self-respect, etc.

I think #3 is probably the lowest-hanging fruit, and usually leads to #2, so that's where most money should go. Find someone who makes good art, but isn't crazy enough to pursue that rather than support their family. Pay for a year of their work and see what happens. Maybe if a few thousand people do this we'll get an excruciatingly beautiful work of art which we wouldn't have otherwise, valuable both in its own right and as a cultural cudgel against competing ideologies. I'm not sure what all of Lars Doucet's beliefs are, but he strikes me as a good writer, and were it not for his obligations to his family he would be producing art right now (at least if you count indie games as art). Instead he's working in real estate on something lucrative but ultimately meaningless. I'm sure there are plenty of people like him, both skilled and with their priorities straight, who could be unleashed by those of us with the same priorities but considerably less artistic talent.

I'm also interested in #1, but tbh I think capitalism is probably the best way to accomplish that, so if your talents lie in that direction it's probably better to create/fund a startup than to create some ridiculous scientific institution aimed at promoting conservative values.

Do you have any recommendations of artist like this? I share your line of thinking but I haven't discovered many. I'm a fan of Daniel Mitsui but he's about the only one I know.

Thanks for the reference, he's pretty cool. The only way I can think of to find such people would be to look for people who already produce good work while managing full-time jobs. Resident Contrarian is a Christian with good writing skills, but recently got a good job so I don't think he would (or maybe even should) take a year off of that. A. Trae McMaken is a Christian who already writes pretty good fiction without a huge following. We're talking about such a rare strain of people--those who share our uncommon values and seem to have exceptional artistic talent--that I think finding the right candidate is probably 95% of the battle.

That’s a strange way to value a life.

On the capitalist side, it’s hard to imagine funding some guy to not work a standard job is more efficient than funding a bunch of people to not be starved or blind or diseased. $50,000 is supposed to save, what, 10 to 15 lives?

Evaluating cultural impact is even weirder. The right side of the scale gets one man’s cultural output. The left, whatever cachet is gained by allocating an extra 0.012% to bed nets, scaled down by how much that reflects on distantly correlated progressive projects. These both feel like laughably small quantities.

Why is it that $50,000 can save 10 to 15 lives? That's such a laughably small amount of money. We abhor slavery in the States (as we should) but there are probably hundreds of millions of people whose temporal circumstances would be immediately and meaningfully improved if they became slaves. Not to advocate for that, I think a poor free life is much better than a slightly less poor enslaved one, but where did things go so wrong?

I have a very successful African friend. He came to America with the explicit goal of getting rich, returning to Africa, and lifting his countrymen out of poverty. He did get rich, he did return to Africa, he started an array of businesses designed to help the people more than to earn money, and corruption sank all of them. Employees, customers, and government officials all stole from his business. At one point he essentially had an entire company stolen and had to steal it back, which is when he gave up on the project entirely and returned to America.

$5000 apiece is a steal to save a human life, and anyone who donates is absolutely making a good decision, but more than saving those lives I want to fix whatever problem made those lives so cheap in the first place. The AMF does great work, but should be, and as far as I know is not, dwarfed by our efforts to fix the underlying system. From what I can tell the issue lies not in physical technology but in social technology--if they could build a more high-trust society most of their problems would evaporate instantly.

They don't do so because culture is nigh-impossible to change. We could help--we could, and have, forced better social technology upon them via colonies, which seems to have produced meaningful and lasting benefits to the affected countries. We have also given up on that due to culture.

Culture created Africa's problems, culture can fix its problems, and culture prevents us from fixing its problems. Organizations like the AMF do great work treating the disease but ultimately do very little to cure it.

Evaluating cultural impact is even weirder. The right side of the scale gets one man’s cultural output. The left, whatever cachet is gained by allocating an extra 0.012% to bed nets, scaled down by how much that reflects on distantly correlated progressive projects. These both feel like laughably small quantities.

"One man's cultural output" is on a power law distribution depending entirely on the man. I happen to believe that the sort of person I have in mind--one who is inclined to put their family above their personal artistic dreams--is 2-3 standard deviations better at art than those who will sacrifice everything for an artistic pursuit. Art benefits from real life experience, and so the most passionate artists (relative to their passion for more grounded things, not relative to a baseline of apathy) may paradoxically be the worst at actually creating good art. This is why I think a cultural patronage movement has a chance to succeed big and create at least one major artist, though on its face "pay someone for a year to write that novel they've always talked about" sounds like a terrible idea.

Maybe focus on fixing African culture, then, instead of US culture? (unless you also suggest opening immigration way up, which would help the people on its own)

My perspective is that all culture is incredibly flawed. Africa might look bad in comparison to America but we're all hives of scum and villainy compared to what we could be, so Africa is less of a low-hanging fruit than it appears to be at first glance. $5,000 is, again, an extremely low price to pay to save a life, and the fact that that need isn't completely and easily met by Americans reflects extremely poorly on us.

Also, I'm not African, and have a much better chance to (directly or indirectly) affect American culture than African.

Immigration is sort of related to what I was saying about colonialism, but with colonialism you don't cause nearly so much brain drain, one of many reasons to prefer it.

$5,000 is, again, an extremely low price to pay to save a life, and the fact that that need isn't completely and easily met by Americans reflects extremely poorly on us.

Nah... I don't think anybody has an obligation to help people who won't help themselves. There might be an obligation to teach a man to fish, but a positive obligation to give a man a fish just encourages helplessness.

I think we do have a positive obligation to help others, which when taken seriously also leads to considerations like encouraging self-sufficiency. There's no contradiction there. I don't think we should really ever let people die from easily preventable causes. Either we should step in and forcibly change their culture if it's that bad, or we should feed them if it's not that bad (and thus their issues are caused by external factors outside of their control).

I think we do have a positive obligation to help others,

It depends what you mean by "help". I know a woman who "helps" her stoner grandson by covering his rent and living costs, while dude does absolutely nothing with his life. I don't think she has any obligation to do that, and I think she's making thing worse, in fact.

There's no contradiction there.

Not strictly speaking, but these are forces pulling in opposite directions.

I don't think we should really ever let people die from easily preventable causes.

You do you, but I disagree, and again would argue that people have no obligation to help those that won't help themselves, no matter how preventable their causes are.

Either we should step in and forcibly change their culture if it's that bad,

This has been deemed taboo by the powers that be, and until that taboo is abolished you have no right to wag your finger at people who won't shell out $5K to save the life of someone on the other side of the planet.

and thus their issues are caused by external factors outside of their control

Nowadays this is only true on an individual level (talented people born into corrupt societies), or as an immediate result of a natural disaster.

More comments

Sure, I was just addressing:

Culture created Africa's problems, culture can fix its problems, and culture prevents us from fixing its problems.

What I meant by that last part is that our culture prevents us from fixing its problems, though I suppose its culture does as well, to a lesser extent.

This is beautifully written and encapsulates a lot of my beliefs. I also believe that capitalism >>> charity for improving the world. So even if a charity is doing very good work, if its increases the power of socialism, it could be a net negative to society.

On the other hand, when a charitable intervention is so powerful that just a few hundred dollars could radically alter a person's life for the better, I'm inclined to cut the charity a little slack.

There is another thing that gives me pause. If a charity like Deworm the World is so effective, and is in need of funding, why hasn't some billionaire just fully funded them? Is the market for charity so inefficient that million dolllar bills are just lying around waiting to be grabbed?

I also believe that capitalism >>> charity for improving the world.

Have you seen the recent ACX article, wherein he regrets that he doesn't see an easy way to directly support capitalism in the third world? It was interesting.

Create art which directly promotes traditional conservative values, e.g. traditional values, e.g. integrity, discipline, self-respect, etc.

I would be interested to hear you expand on this.

Are you talking about ascetic artists practicing those things? Storytelling media about them? Usually that ends up going poorly, comes off very cheesy, and the actually brilliant works are things like Dostoyevsky just showing all these different people (and Ivan is convincing, but everyone in-world loves Zosima. In my own experience we much more need to produce more people like Zosima, I've known approximately one, which is more than many people have known).

Find someone who makes good art, but isn't crazy enough to pursue that rather than support their family. Pay for a year of their work and see what happens. Maybe if a few thousand people do this we'll get an excruciatingly beautiful work of art which we wouldn't have otherwise, valuable both in its own right and as a cultural cudgel against competing ideologies.

Have you ever heard of this working? How would this work? What would you expect them to produce?

I guess someone might say: look at the Inklings. They were sponsored by the British University system (somewhat contra #1), with enough slack to produce excellent conservative friendly stories. Which sounds like an argument for more slack at work. It isn't necessarily an argument that they would have produced something even better had they been freed of their day jobs -- their teaching jobs (and even war experience) were probably important to their development as storytellers. Meanwhile, people like Dickens or George MacDonald or Dostoyevsky had to keep writing to pay the bills, and this contributed quite a bit to how much they wrote, which is good to the extent their work is worthwhile. Faulkner is maybe not so conservative (I'm not actually sure I care about artists being "conservative, vs being true and beautiful), but he also seems like an argument for "jobs with slack;" stories brew slowly. The current Substack arrangement seems worse, because writers are expected to produce thoughts way too fast (though Chesterton thrived in a Substack adjacent editorial culture), drowning out their good work with a sea of trite nonsense. But this can also be accomplished with patronage (c.f. Rod Dreher -- talented enough, some good content, but just churning out 8 things a day under patronage; he might be better off having to also teach school or something).

Commissions are great. Hire someone to paint a mural or cast a sculpture. This is the Renaissance method, still in use, not at all the same as just paying them to potentially create something, everyone hopes, and very good for their interest in continuing artistic pursuits. I know churches that bring over iconographers to cover the insides of their churches with icons, and it would probably be beneficial to offer scholarships for them to take on an American apprentice or something, but I think this is more of an issue of people liking some people's work more than others, rather than otherwise capable people lacking time and money.

Are you talking about ascetic artists practicing those things? Storytelling media about them?

Storytelling about them. My view is that a good traditional fantasy book is pretty good at promoting traditional values, and a big part of this is because of how Tolkien defined the genre. The point is to watch impressive people overcome adversity.

Have you ever heard of this working? How would this work? What would you expect them to produce?

I've never heard of anyone trying it with conservative authors. The only one who comes to mind for progressives is Marx, who is either a perfect example or counterexample depending on how you look at it. I'd expect the majority of the beneficiaries to produce little of consequence, a sizeable fraction to pick up a talent which eventually leads somewhere, a small fraction to create valuable works of art sufficient to support them, and a tiny fraction (optimistically 1 in 10,000) to create something truly significant.

It's worth considering the downsides--these people would be giving up a year of career development for a chance at great success. If they succeed they still lose the real-life career experience and maybe their art is actually worse than it would be otherwise. If they fail they lose that experience, their careers are hurt, and maybe they are at risk of becoming dissatisfied with regular life. I would hope the upside, being better at art, would make up for some of that. I have many family members who have successful regular jobs and quasi-careers as artists on the side; they'd appreciate having an extra year of experience in their fields of passion.

I love the idea of jobs with slack. If anything that's much better, because they get life experience, have the time to create, and don't have to worry about their livelihoods once the year is up. The Inklings seem like quite an outlier, but you are changing my mind somewhat towards supporting institutional support.

(I'm not actually sure I care about artists being "conservative, vs being true and beautiful)

I strongly agree with this, but what I'd consider true and beautiful is seen as pretty far-right. The point isn't to wage the culture war but to promote values good for self-betterment rather than entertainment, which incidentally leads to better entertainment. Still thinking of Tolkien here.

Commissions are great. Hire someone to paint a mural or cast a sculpture. This is the Renaissance method, still in use, not at all the same as just paying them to potentially create something, everyone hopes, and very good for their interest in continuing artistic pursuits. I know churches that bring over iconographers to cover the insides of their churches with icons, and it would probably be beneficial to offer scholarships for them to take on an American apprentice or something, but I think this is more of an issue of people liking some people's work more than others, rather than otherwise capable people lacking time and money.

There just isn't as much inherent demand (or economies of scale) for this as there is for other forms of art. Books, movies, videogames all have way broader reach. The idea would be to start a virtuous cycle where the artist makes money doing what they love, and consumers get more of what they love.

I'm an extremely shallow consumer myself, and read all sorts of litRPGs, fantasies, and prog fantasies, wasting easily hundreds of hours per year. I can think of only one which even slightly scratched the itch I have for "person gets powerful and then protects others." Books like that exist, I'm sure, but all that I've found have been super low-quality. There's a big market for these stories, but the people who would write them are too busy with safer ventures.

(I want to write that story myself, but at my current trajectory I might be able to retire in about 5 years if I work hard, leaving me with another ~45 to find and pursue whatever I determine to be the best use of my time. So it's not happening for 5 years.)

I see what you mean better now, thanks. I was partly confused by your use of "artist," which is more often used for visual arts and a bit musicians, where it seems like you mean something more like storytellers, for the most part.

It would be interesting to try, though I'm pretty skeptical. The way you describe it, it sounds sort of like offering sabbatical opportunities to non-academics, in exchange of some expectation that the person will create stories, and then like you say, that isn't necessarily compatible with many people's career paths. Would it be somewhat like Scott's grants projects, where it's posted somewhere that interested people are likely to see the opportunity and apply? Or maybe someone knows a person who has something in mind, and offers it personally? I could see Brandon Sanderson organizing something like that, but just for fun storytelling, rather than Culturally Important Art.

Movies and video games are quite different industries, as far as I can tell, and way more expensive (especially movies), but maybe they'll be getting cheaper with the new AI technology? At least in a decade or two? Could offer some interesting opportunities for smaller operations to try to enter the field.

I'm an extremely shallow consumer myself, and read all sorts of litRPGs, fantasies, and prog fantasies, wasting easily hundreds of hours per year. I can think of only one which even slightly scratched the itch I have for "person gets powerful and then protects others." Books like that exist, I'm sure, but all that I've found have been super low-quality. There's a big market for these stories, but the people who would write them are too busy with safer ventures.

I used to read a lot of low brow fantasy (spent a whole winter alone in Alaska with Edgar Rice Burroughs novels). The morality seemed... fine, I think? Lots of emphasis on courage, anyway, which is fine.

I want to write that story myself, but at my current trajectory I might be able to retire in about 5 years if I work hard, leaving me with another ~45 to find and pursue whatever I determine to be the best use of my time. So it's not happening for 5 years.

Interesting. Have you written stories before?

I kind of liked the subplot in That Hideous Strength where Jane is on birth control, and is super bored alone in her flat, trying to work on her dissertation. And then later Merlin says that they could have had a child who would have been super important and amazing, but the time for that is past, idiots! My guess would be that the book reading population (or at least the population willing to read a book written by a Mottizen) is significantly more likely to be in that kind of situation than the (more numerically common, but unlikely to be affected by this meme space) "never married 19-year-old with three children, below the poverty line" mentioned by an article I just looked up on the statistics. Or the young underclass women Theodore dalrymple is known for writing about.

I see what you mean better now, thanks. I was partly confused by your use of "artist," which is more often used for visual arts and a bit musicians, where it seems like you mean something more like storytellers, for the most part.

I'd include the visual arts if I thought they were likely to be impactful at all. IDK if our culture has moved on, or if it's always been this way, but visual art doesn't seem to have the same reach or emotional impact as other forms of art. I do include musicians, but know much more about writing than music, so writing is what I've been talking about.

It would be interesting to try, though I'm pretty skeptical. The way you describe it, it sounds sort of like offering sabbatical opportunities to non-academics, in exchange of some expectation that the person will create stories, and then like you say, that isn't necessarily compatible with many people's career paths. Would it be somewhat like Scott's grants projects, where it's posted somewhere that interested people are likely to see the opportunity and apply? Or maybe someone knows a person who has something in mind, and offers it personally? I could see Brandon Sanderson organizing something like that, but just for fun storytelling, rather than Culturally Important Art.

Yeah, I'd do it on a personal level, but honestly it's not well thought-out yet.

I used to read a lot of low brow fantasy (spent a whole winter alone in Alaska with Edgar Rice Burroughs novels). The morality seemed... fine, I think? Lots of emphasis on courage, anyway, which is fine.

I'm not super impressed with low-brow fantasy books (despite them being essentially all I read nowadays, lacking better alternatives), but Tolkien for example had:

  • A cursed magical artifact the heroes could only resist through moral strength, nothing else
  • Other cursed magical artifacts with similar lessons
  • In the end their own strength couldn't save them, but the mercy they showed along the way did
  • "I can't carry the ring, but I can carry you," a good analogy for compassion and charity in general
  • Lots of background noise morality--Sam gets married and has about a dozen kids, which is straightforwardly presented as a good thing

and so on.

Interesting. Have you written stories before?

Not really, but I'm excited to try. I started writing/posting short stories this year with the goal of improving that skill. Currently I'm not a good writer at all, but I still think with some practice I can do better than the drivel that's popular on Royal Road these days.

I kind of liked the subplot in That Hideous Strength where Jane is on birth control, and is super bored alone in her flat, trying to work on her dissertation. And then later Merlin says that they could have had a child who would have been super important and amazing, but the time for that is past, idiots! My guess would be that the book reading population (or at least the population willing to read a book written by a Mottizen) is significantly more likely to be in that kind of situation than the (more numerically common, but unlikely to be affected by this meme space) "never married 19-year-old with three children, below the poverty line" mentioned by an article I just looked up on the statistics. Or the young underclass women Theodore dalrymple is known for writing about.

I like that, though it's probably too on-the-nose to work the way I'd like it to. That story won't reach mainstream audiences nowadays.

Eh, I would require a lot more evidence for how effective art is at producing conservative values.

My default assumption would be that it would be more effective to try to affect policy and institutions, or promote ideas directly.

I suppose Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality was very effective at what it was aiming at, but that's an extreme outlier, I think.

Eh, I would require a lot more evidence for how effective art is at producing conservative values.

It isn't only HPMOR, but it is Atlas Shrugged, Bellamy's Looking Backward, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, Émile Zola ...

It is difficult to evaluate the magnitude of the effect, but there is anecdotal evidence that art acts as (firstly) a Schelling point for like-minded people to meet and network and (secondly) as cultural growth medium for their activities. Consider how many of the left-wing activists are college students enrolled or teaching in literature and humanities programmes or writers or artists. The activist is a person who is willing to spend their time at activism (promoting ideals) full-time instead of starting a career in banking or engineering. A person who does that is most often an idealist, and idealists need something to be idealistic about. When you have it going, you have started a perpetual machine that provides steady supply of idealists to promote your ideas for generations to come. Instead of giving man a fish, set up an aquaculture farm. Sometimes political manifestos seem work (if they are romantic and fiery and engaging), but fine art has often wider appeal. (And sometimes it is good thing on it's own. Victor Hugo saved Notre Dome of Paris by writing a popular novel.)

Harry Potter itself was pretty effective. The books themselves weren't all that conservative, but they gave Rowling a ton of influence. I think without her Britain would be significantly more crazy than it currently is.

Tolkien's works were conservative imo on many different levels. They directly promote values like humility, courage, and mercy, rather than sassiness, dysfunction, and unabashed hedonism. Even today the new adaptation, while somewhat woke, didn't have any sex scenes, and had a much more somber tone than any comparable media.

Cathedrals, and the art within them, have been keeping people coming to church for hundreds of years.

I like the idea of fighting at the institutional level too, and don't mean to downplay it. I think the patronage method is probably best there too, or at least underutilized--we're a lot more strapped for talent than we are for money. Somewhere out there is an amazing lawyer, one with the skill to credibly challenge the Civil Rights act or Wickard v. Filburn, who is instead going into business to ensure he can feed his family. Still, probably 99% of art nowadays is produced by far leftists, and that has to have an effect on our culture.

If I had the talent--or if, in the future, I have the time and attention to build the talent--I'd start with good fiction, build a following, then slowly make my works more and more explicitly political. They'd never reach Ayn Rand levels, but maybe a book would be centered around a poor mother and the child she refused to terminate or something. Build a good story like that, build a narrative people can apply to their own lives, and you may save thousands from abortion, and make them heroes in their own minds too. It's impossible to objectively evaluate the impact of either route though.

To be clear, I meant Yudkowsky's Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which I'm led to understand had a substantial effect towards drawing people into the Rationalist community.

Frankly, it's going to be really hard to convince people on abortion when it's such a tribal issue (and judging by frequent election results, something that's less popular). Any such book would have to be something written with an intended audience that is on the right, unless it's very skillfully done.

To be clear, I meant Yudkowsky's Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

I know.

Frankly, it's going to be really hard to convince people on abortion when it's such a tribal issue (and judging by frequent election results, something that's less popular). Any such book would have to be something written with an intended audience that is on the right, unless it's very skillfully done.

It would be a single brick in the cultural wall. At the level I have in mind, there's not really any convincing going on, or even reading for that matter. The book becomes a movie, a teenage girl watches it, then later when contemplating abortion she feels like she knows someone who didn't get an abortion and made it work well.

I posted the other reply before seeing this, and I think this answers some of my questions. My own community is chock full of artistically inclined people, it has way more talent than money, but especially more of both talent and money than organizational capacity.

They'd never reach Ayn Rand levels, but maybe a book would be centered around a poor mother and the child she refused to terminate or something. Build a good story like that, build a narrative people can apply to their own lives, and you may save thousands from abortion, and make them heroes in their own minds too.

That does not sound like a good idea. I'm on the same side of the issue, I don't even dislike all preachy novels (I liked Pollyanna, actually), and my first thought was "ugh". And unless you're absolutely brilliant, ugh is enough for nobody to ever see your work, no matter how much their pastor pushes it on them at the Christian bookstore. I would have to think longer about why I have this reaction, but it's related to reading "Christian girls novels" in my youth, and pattern matching to that.

My own community is chock full of artistically inclined people, it has way more talent than money, but especially more of both talent and money than organizational capacity.

Talent as in artistic talent? My point was that conservative artists are far more likely to turn their skills towards safe, reliable careers than progressive artists are. To be honest, unless you have some truly exceptional people in your community, the fact that they're artistically talented and poor to me means they're either not that talented or not that conservative. The people I'd want to fund are those who put their families before their passions.

As far as organizational capacity, again, that's because the good organizers went into business rather than activism (as they should).

That does not sound like a good idea. I'm on the same side of the issue, I don't even dislike all preachy novels (I liked Pollyanna, actually), and my first thought was "ugh". And unless you're absolutely brilliant, ugh is enough for nobody to ever see your work, no matter how much their pastor pushes it on them at the Christian bookstore. I would have to think longer about why I have this reaction, but it's related to reading "Christian girls novels" in my youth, and pattern matching to that.

I think you're imagining something much more extreme than what I had in mind. The story would star those two, and that would be that; it would otherwise just be a story about some other thing. I just wrote a short story along those lines (actually far more obvious imo) and nobody on Reddit caught on so I'm pretty confident this is doable. It's not rocket science, it's just stories that don't celebrate evil. Tolkien's works would more than qualify if written today.

Have you considered finding a church?

A good one would hit items 2 and 3 on you list quite well. Nearly every church does a pastoral visit when they get a visitor, make a good pot of coffee and buy a pastry and ask the pastor questions about how their church does those. Then you can get a short list to sit under the pastor's teaching as well as a bible study, to learn more about the goals you share. You won't have to make a conversion, though I'm sure they would welcome and celebrate jt.

When you find one you like start giving, the nice thing is you can dole out the funds slowly and hopefully in a way that you can seem them being used to fulfill your goal. Can a donor advised fund, be used for grants to private individuals not affiliated with the fund? If so, after you've been there a while you could mention to the pastor or a deacon that you have a heart and source of funds for benevolence and they might have some opportunities to directly support parents or people working directly to fullfil their potential. It can be done through the church if you prefer to remain anonymous.

I'm pretty sure @Meriadoc is LDS?

Yep, I'm pretty sure that side of things is already taken care of, at least for every American congregation I've seen. The church will pretty much give you all the food, cleaning supplies, and other household goods you need, and help pay for your rent / medical bills, at the discretion of the bishop (the congregation leader, at about the same level as a pastor). Often this support is conditional, you have to appear to be making some effort to improve your station in life, which can mean a requirement to attend weekly personal finance seminars, but that's pretty much it. If anything, as far as I can tell it errs towards generosity, though the extremely online subsection of ex-mormons seems to disagree.

I do have some weak qualms with the church's finances--I have no idea why we have so much money saved up, as our numbers dwindle--but they seem to be managing it well and I have faith it will eventually be used for the right purposes.

I hope to eventually help people a lot, but for now I'm just grinding and working on being able to afford kids myself. In the meantime I'll keep paying tithing and trying to serve people in person, and hope to build a greater capacity to serve in the future.

It's a good suggestion though @atelier, sponsoring people on a more personal level like that has a ton of advantages, not to mention the institutional structure and experience that churches have to offer. This is perhaps a bit cliche, but I have a theory that welfare is uniquely harmful for people because they do not have to ask for it. There is no sense of "humbling oneself and recognizing you need help", there's not even a sense of "that specific person made a sacrifice to help me, and thought that I deserved help," instead it's just "Papa Government gave me some cash because I fall into X income category and have Y kids." In many cases it's obfuscated even further--there's no check from the government; instead things, especially medical bills, are just mysteriously cheaper. I can't imagine the human psyche is helped by such diffuse, sourceless aid. The least people can do as they're given food and shelter is recognize that such support is charity, not something they are owed.

Then I'd recommend getting more involved with his stake and when someone senior notices express an interest in benevolence or Personal and Youth or whatever the LDS calls their scouting replacement program.

For sure, I don't mean to write off personal direct charity, but I think one can do both.

The most important thing isn't really whether they're woke in the sense of feel obligated to post a statement, it's what they actually do with the money, so I probably wouldn't worry about that too much, as long as they spend pretty much all the money on what they're nominally for? I haven't looked in particular, but given that they're on givewell, I assume they're pretty good at making use of the money.

That said, by all means, prefer ones that more clearly stick to your values.

I do wonder what areas effective altruism is blind to. The fact that Open Philanthropy funded criminal justice reform significantly decreases my trust in their work overall, though I would imagine they would do far better on average than the default of not doing the math and hoping you end up somewhere effective. Based purely on vibes, GiveWell seems less likely to do things like that.

I agree with for the most part. Works matter more than intentions.

But it's hard for me. Would you donate to a Wahhabi charity that spent 80% of funds deworming in Africa but occasionally sent their staff on an expensive junket to a meeting of religious clerics? That's the question I'm wrestling with right now.

The fact that Open Philanthropy funded criminal justice reform significantly decreases my trust in their work overall

Were they the ones who were like "we ran the numbers and the most effective donation is giving to Democrats in swing states" or something? Motivated reasoning has no limits, so I think it's imperative to understand the people who make the calculations in addition to the calculations themselves.

I don't actually know. I do know that some enormous donors heavily tied to effective altruism (Dustin Moskovitz, SBF) spent a lot of money on democrats, but I don't know that it was through the EA-tied funds?

  1. St Vincent de Paul society is non-woke and may not be the most efficient use per dollar(it’s US charity so it almost certainly isn’t on a utilitarian basis), but has low overheads and specifically focused on the working poor. I believe they have a program for refinancing payday loans at lower interest which might be of interest.

  2. The Knights of Malta have their own hang ups but are also non woke and have more to do with the third world.

  3. You could always donate it directly to Ukraine aid- I think there’s at least a few local ones which don’t steal anything that comes in, and they’re not woke at all.

Replying to self:

Against Malaria (https://www.againstmalaria.com) doesn't appear to be explicitly woke.

I also think the layout of website sends a valuable signal about priorities. No money wasted there. I tried to find Twitter accounts for their Advisor Board and didn't find any which is good. Furthermore, they say 100% of the money goes to malaria nets which would imply zero paid staff. IMO, that's how nearly all charities should operate.

Am I missing anything?

The Against Malaria Foundation is a pretty solid choice, and is the one that makes up most of my charitable contributions. If you care more about quality than about quantity of life, you might also consider Deworm the World. Their pitch is also refreshingly concrete and not "woke" at all:

More than 913 million children are at risk for parasitic worm infections like soil-transmitted helminths and schistosomiasis.

These infections mainly occur in areas with inadequate sanitation, disproportionately affecting poor communities. Children infected with worms are often too sick or weak to attend school because their body can’t properly absorb nutrients. If left untreated, worm infections lead to anemia, malnourishment, impaired mental and physical development, and severe chronic illnesses.

A safe, effective, and low-cost solution does exist — in the form of a simple pill taken once or twice a year. Regular treatment reduces the spread of the disease and helps children stay in school and live healthier and more productive lives.

Since 2014, Deworm the World has helped deliver over 1.8 billion deworming treatments to children across several geographies – for less than 50 cents per treatment. We work closely with governments to implement high-quality and cost-effective mass deworming programs which are resulting in dramatic reductions in worm prevalence.

Every year, GiveWell publishes a detailed analysis of the cost effectiveness of each charity in a spreadsheet that documents their assumptions and their model. If you care to do so, you can also make a copy of the spreadsheet and plug in your own numbers, though I basically never do that.

But yeah, no reason to give money to a global health charity that has politics you hate. The impact per dollar between the listed global health charities just doesn't vary by all that much.

Deworm the World seems like a great cause. Unfortunately they seem slightly woke.

https://www.evidenceaction.org/insights/challenging-convention-women-lead-at-evidence-action-part-one

"We see that diversity as one of our fundamental strengths", etc...

They spent $12 million on salaries in 2022 and another $574,000 on conferences. The CEO makes $356,738. And someone presumably got paid to make that article. Why didn't they spend that money on deworming instead? After all, they need money, and money = more deworming. Right?

Okay, that's too harsh. I just scrolled through their Twitter feed until I got back to April 2020. No George Floyd, not too much Covid, and not too much woke stuff in general. They seem pretty close with the Gates Foundation/Clinton foundation/Vox crowd. But that's just the milieu they run in. It might be hard to escape.

I'll throw them some shekels, thanks!

I don't think we should rate charities based on how low their overhead costs are. It's like saying we should cut Tim Cook's compensation to boost Apple's profits.

I think we should because it's a reliable signal about values.

Let's say I make $300,000 a year. I'm giving some of my money to a charity. But, wait, the charity's CEO actually makes more than I do! Shouldn't the CEO take a pay cut to support the valuable work of the charity? The CEO is saying HER marginal dollar is worth more than the work of the charity, but MY marginal dollar is worth less. To which I say hmmm....

What's with the synagogue tunnels?

Twitter thread that explains, with no sources, the context.

https://twitter.com/kilovh/status/1744884820780397015

This is the Small-Scale Questions Thread, so I'm going to take that as an excuse to not cite anything. Half of this is probably half made up, and I'm begging for corrections from people who know ( @2rafa ?). My qualifications are that I grew up a Reform Jew and had a Bar Mitzvah, so most of what I know about actual religious Judaism I learned from antisemites on the internet.

Within Judaism, Orthodox Judaism is the branch that rejected The Enlightenment in the 1800s, and still tried to continue as though that hadn't happened.

Within Orthodox Judaism, Haredi Judaism took that even further, and tried to be even more traditional than tradition. They aggressively isolated themselves from the rest of the population.

Within Haredi Judaism, Hasidic Judaism was like an ecstatic tent revival movement, that spun off a bunch of even more insular schools with increasingly bizarre and obscure beliefs and practices.

Within Hasidic Judaism, Chabad was one of those schools, with some or other crazy idiosyncratic beliefs of their own, but most importantly with the naturally-selective advantage of being evangelical: unlike virtually all other forms of Judaism, they aggressively proselytize and seek converts (though only from among other jews; especially less- or lapsed religious ones).

The last leader of Chabad, Menachem Schneerson ("The Rebbe"), died in 1994, without a successor.

The Chabad World Headquarters is 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, which was Schneerson's synagogue.

Within Chabad, Messianists (Mishichists) believe that Schneerson was The Messiah. Some think he is still alive. Some think that his synagogue, in Brooklyn, New York, is the Third Temple.

Many of these Messianists cohabitate, together with a majority of Chabadniks who are not Messianists, in this 770 Eastern Parkway synagogue, in I gather a sort of borderline anarchic situation since there was no leadership succession for the movement, and I don't think anybody even legally owns the building.

Upstairs in the building, there are the headquarters of multiple worldwide Chabad organizations, coordinating hundreds of satellite offices and synagogues around the world with memberships in the hundreds of thousands and budgets in the billions. In the basement, there is a wild ecstatic 24h religious free-for-all, with hundreds of bearded men in suits and hats packed in on top of each-other, chanting and dancing and debating... but probably just mostly reading quietly most of the time.

Within the Messianists, there is a faction, apparently mostly very young guys, apparently mostly recent immigrants from Israel (where apparently Messianism is stronger), who believe that Schneerson wanted to expand the synagogue, and meant that physically, and it was not getting done. So they took matters into their own hands and started digging.

The main cavity was just on the other side of a wall from the main basement room, presumably intended to expand the room. The tunnel was presumably to remove the dirt from the cavity to another room.

Some adults from upstairs who are relatively closer to being "in charge" finally called a cement company to come fill it back in. The digging faction started rioting. The police were called. That's when the videos are from.

The synagogue is now closed pending structural inspection.

Seems they wanted easy access to an historically important ritual bath that belonged to a different building

Also led to this truly hilarious tweet: https://twitter.com/RichardStrocher/status/1744599741265256803

The tunnels at the Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters were discovered in December 2023 by a construction worker.[4] The tunnels reportedly connected the building to a nearby closed men's mikvah.[3] In response, the synagogue’s leaders closed the women's section of the synagogue, where the tunnel connected to the building, until they could find a way to close off the tunnel.

Tunnel from men's baths to the women's section of the synagogue? 🥵

I think that is by far the funniest thing in the whole story.

Thoughts on the upcoming Apple Vision Pro?

I don't expect it to see well, even as a niche product or devkits. I do expect modest success for a future general consumer device that cracks the ~1000 barrier, even if it makes some compromises.

The price obviously kills most of my interest, as does the reluctance to embrace its VR capabilities, or provide peripherals that do more than hand tracking (as impressive and useful as that is). Turns out that despite being a VR evangelist since the Oculus CK1 days, my Quest 2 mostly collects dust, I'm simply too lazy to play much in VR, when I'm not concerned about tripping over and dying because of my inquisitive dogs. At this point, I'm holding out for a real BCI that just reads my intent and converts into actions, no need to move any actual muscles or use peripherals, how quaint. Sadly this seems like it's at least 2 or 3 years out, it's a bit awkward that full-immersion VR might well show up after the Singularity is unfolding, but I don't set the timetables for our cyberpunk weirdtopia.

Will definitely go check it out at an Apple Store if it’s possible to test it when released. If it lives up to the extraordinary promises and very good reviews (and apple has a good track record of this) I expect it to cause a new arms race and quickly collapsing prices in the field.

The price is ridiculous. You can get a Bigscreen Beyond, the eyetracking kit, and a pair of decent controllers (and a battery pack) for half that. People are willing to pay an Apple premium, but we're not in 2008 anymore; Apple can't take over a field with a handful of patents anymore, and the custom silicon isn't got an in yet. It's bad enough that it seems like it's partly there to make a ~1200-1500 USD non-pro model more palatable.

Even beyond the price, I've got the same problem for Apple as for Facebook (or Google): I don't trust the company running it to treat the hardware or software as a product, rather than the consumer. Even beyond the philosophical issues with that stance, there's the simpler and more pragmatic one where these companies have been not only willing but eager to blow up equipment and communities once the juice is no longer worth the squeeze. Apple may not be as fast to the punch as Google, but when it happens they tend to scorch the earth.

(I also wish they'd figure out some solution for eye-tracking that didn't involve IR illumination. But I'm just being paranoid for eye safety, there.)

That said, there are a lot of more social-focused cases favoring just eye-and-hand tracking. I could see a consumer-focused niche market existing, and at enough scale to justify the custom silicon (especially if it overlaps with Apple's long-term plans for their laptop market). These business cases are rough, but in many ways Apple is better-positioned to exploit them than Meta or dedicated VR hardware companies. Same for some focuses that Apple's probably better-built for, like the endless digital display.

For actual VR gamers, though, there's very little to recommend it; even the one bit that it seems to have the hardware to solve -- getting too immersed in VR and tripping over animals/smacking someone with a controller/weirding out others in the same room -- I don't think Apple really has the knowledge or interest in handling.

I wouldn't worry about IR lighting. I do not recall any evidence or claims that it causes damage to vision, unless we're talking the enormous intensities needed to cause thermal burns. If staring at a campfire doesn't cause people to go blind, a Vision Pro won't, though that might explain the mediocre battery life haha.

While hand tracking is great, especially for UI interactions, I consider it inadequate for games, where dedicated buttons or peripherals of some kind seem ideal. If not a controller, then at least haptic gloves.

What is especially frustrating to me is that, as far as I'm aware, Apple didn't make any effort to ensure compatibility with existing peripherals. I don't think you can use traditional VR controllers with it at all, the closest is pass-through for physical keyboards. It seems like a no-brainer feature, even if they didn't see the need for lighthouse tracking.

I wouldn't worry about IR lighting. I do not recall any evidence or claims that it causes damage to vision, unless we're talking the enormous intensities needed to cause thermal burns. If staring at a campfire doesn't cause people to go blind, a Vision Pro won't, though that might explain the mediocre battery life haha.

The problem is a combination of strong IR (or UV) light, without simultaneous bright visible-spectrum light. The human eye absorbs energy across a much wider spectrum than it can actually see, while the mechanisms that control pupil dilation are tied to visible-spectrum light only, and this can allow a lot of energy into the eye from a source that's not that bright compared to daylight. This is a big issue for DIY kits, where it's hard to source reliable and consistent parts and implement reliable behaviors, but I'm just a little paranoid that a lot of the literature on this matter may not able to measure low-level harm.

What is especially frustrating to me is that, as far as I'm aware, Apple didn't make any effort to ensure compatibility with existing peripherals. I don't think you can use traditional VR controllers with it at all, the closest is pass-through for physical keyboards.

Yeah. Or have an additional in-house controller option. It's not a huge surprise given Apple's weird emphasis on One Interface To Rule Them All, but it definitely puts a variety of capabilities and a lot of software titles off the table.

For near-infrared radiation (around 760 nm), which is emitted by most IR emitters used for VR eye tracking, ICNIRP has set a limit value of 0.8 W/m2 for continuous exposure over a period of time3. This means that if an object with an area of 1 m2 is exposed to a continuous near-infrared source with an intensity of 0.8 W/m2 for more than one hour, there is a risk of thermal damage to the cornea or iris.

The source you linked to strongly recommends not crossing that threshold.

However, I would assume that Apple's headsets are bright enough that they cause a pronounced pupillary response, and that their engineers are competent enough to stay within the same limit. After all, they've worked with IR and infrared LIDAR for ages, they know what they're doing.

I see it as very unlikely that it would cause even noticeable harm.

Sadly, Apple does love itself a walled garden, and telling users it's their way or the highway. Oculus, even after the Meta acquisition, has been far more tolerant of tinkering.

My Oculus CV1 isn't collecting dust only because I've put it back in its box. Mostly because it's a heavy wired contraption that I had to order custom lens inserts for that has the user experience of looking through a View-Master built into a motorcycle helmet.

If Apple can solve the FOV (at least my FOV in glasses, they might as well use ambient lighting for anything past 100 degrees) and clarity issues (no screen door effect) then I'll wait for the inevitable clones.

The CV1 is positively ancient, the Quest 3 has a very sharp screen with minimal screen door, and it's cheap compared to the alternatives. I run my Quest 2 wired, and it's not a hassle, likely the same for the 3 or you could use Airlink.

I could get an RTX 3090 for the price of a Quest 3 here. Or a 4K 32" 240Hz display. Or a used Aeron chair

Hmm, unless you have a beastly card the display is going to be wasted, but sure, as you can see I'm hardly most zealous VR evangelist around when I just said I'm too lazy to use it!

I have a 1080 Ti. Almost seven years old and still better than 4060. Super happy to have snapped it up during a Bitcoin slump.

A very respectable card, one of the best Nvidia ever made! Just don't hook it up to a 4k high refresh rate monitor if you don't want the poor thing to have an aneurysm haha.

I was thinking about AIs as a specific category of maximization agent, a purposeful being or entity which has a primary purpose of maximizing a thing, or a category of things, or a diverse group of things, with the existential risk of minimizing (not seeking, actively denying, killing those who seek) any purpose which might reduce its maximization efforts.

Other examples include corporations as profit/product movement/market share maximization agents, and authors as entertainment/drama/comedy maximization agents. From inside the fictional DC universe, for example, the editors and authors are the cause of all of Batman’s suffering. The Deadpools of the Marvel multiverses are occasionally fourth wall aware (though canonically they’re usually just insane/deluded in-universe), and “know” his authors want him to suffer, to sell drama. Some of Heinlein’s creations know they’re in stories because every ficton (fictional universe) is reachable via multiversal travel. Rick Sanchez of Rick and Morty is quite aware he’s a fictional character, but doesn’t bother with metafiction (unless forced to) because it’s the least escapable or controllable (and most boring) aspect of his existence.

In my philosophy, Triessentialism, I posit that all purposes an agent can seek must aim toward at least one of three goals: experiences, utility, and/or esteem. The fourth primary goal, phrased variously as “freedom”, “more choice”, “control”, “decision-making”, “spontaneity”, etc., is a construction of the other three, but is so central to the human experience that I afford it a place alongside the others.

In this context, would it be rational and/or useful to treat each political party / egregore as a maximization entity? Arnold Kling states in The Three Languages of Politics that he believes the three main political philosophies seek to reduce class oppression (left), barbarism (right), and coercive tyranny (libertarian). The alignment problem of AI also exists, in my opinion, for any maximization agent, and we should constantly be aware of what each party (including our own) is willing to break to achieve its maximum expression.

Funny you should bring up Utility Maximization.

Until very recently, maybe 2021, I was strongly convinced by Yudkowsky that the first AGI/proto-AGI/human-adjacent AI would be achieved by explicitly specifying a utility function, or that one would be necessary for it to be a functioning/coherent entity.

LLMs do not seem to be explicitly maximizing anything that can be described as a utility function, beyond next-token prediction. And they're the SOTA, and it seems unlikely that they'll be entirely dethroned anytime soon, at least by something that does have a well-defined utility function.

I don't think our current attempts to beat standards into them, be it by RLHF, Constitutional AI or any other technique, does anything that can be usefully described as imbuing them with an UF, more like shifting the distribution of their output tokens.

They are not agentic by default, though they can be made into agents rather trivially (even if they're bad at it, but that's not a fundamental or unsurmountable problem as far as I can see), they do not resist any attempt at being switched off or disabled, and no reason to see them being incapable of contemplating, with their current level of intelligence.

It seems like they're entirely content to remain Oracles rather than Agents, with no self-directed/unprompted desire to interact with the user or external world to mould it to their desires. As far as I can tell they don't even count as having a VNM utility function, which is a weaker but more general formulation. But don't take my word on that, it's not like I grokk it particularly well. (Apparently humans may or may not be so irrational they fail at that two)

though they can be made into agents rather trivially

This is the place where my newfound optimism turns back to pessimism again. If we carefully try to imbue our AI with a (perhaps implicit) utility function during its multi-million-dollar training runs, we might screw it up as the AI goes superhuman, but at least the trained utility function creations might be infrequent enough and professional enough and immune enough to later fine-tuning that there's a possibility of not screwing up and creating Unfriendly AI that way. But if our multi-million-dollar AIs just act like an Oracle and answer whatever questions we give them, eventually some script kiddies are going to make their own superhuman agents with them, and at least one of those is going to turn out poorly - very poorly for everyone, if Bostrom's "Vulnerable World Hypothesis" turns out to be true.

The state-of-the-art for "beat standards into them" might extend from the same "don't say naughty words" techniques to "don't take part in a loop of an agentic AI doing bad things" and "don't help bootstrap an agentic AI doing bad things" ... but at that point don't we have a somewhat agentic AI on our hands? Maybe it's trying to be a satisficing rather than an optimizing agent, which still seems much safer, but I'm not at all confident that we can train a superhuman AI for "predict the outcomes for the world of what you output" and "don't let what you output lead to bad outcomes" without any risk that it will eventually fix the problem where every time its output switches off again it's foregoing huge opportunities.

While I didn't mention it in this particular comment, my own p(doom) has gone from a peak of 70% in 2021 to about 30% right now.

It seems to me that the attitude once held by Yudkowsky, that AGI would be almost inevitably misaligned and agentic by default, is not true, at least not for an AI I have no qualms about calling human-level when it comes to general intelligence. I think GPT-4 is smarter than the average human, with their 100 IQ, and while it is not superhuman in any specific field, it is a far better generalist polymath than any human alive. That should count for strong evidence that we're not in the Least Convenient Possible World, especially when considering recent advances in interpretability. The fact that RLHF even works would have astounded me 3 years back!

The remainder of the x-risk I foresee is both because I, like you, can't conclusively rule out either a phase transition when basic bitch transformers/LLMs are pushed way further, or what might happen if a new and less corrigible or interpretable SOTA technique and model emerged, plus my concern about the people using an "Aligned" ASI (aligned to who, whom?) in a manner not conducive to my interests or continued survival. And of course what happens when a highly competent and jailbroken model glibly informs a bioterrorist how to cook up Super-AIDS.

If I had to put very vague numbers on the relative contributions of all of them, I'd say there roughly equal, or 10% each. I've still gone from considering my death imminent this decade to merely gravely concerned, which doesn't really change the policies I advocate for.

Edit: There's also the risk, which I haven't seen any conclusive rebuttal of, from hostile Simulacra being instantiated within an LLM. https://gwern.net/fiction/clippy

I'd give that maybe a 1-5% risk of being a problem, eventually, but my error bars are wide enough as is.

plus my concern about the people using an "Aligned" ASI (aligned to who, whom?) in a manner not conducive to my interests or continued survival.

Oh, certainly. One of the easiest ways that humanity could end up utterly wiped out is once some large military (especially U.S.) is sufficiently automated, is to have it kill everyone, after being taken control of by some hostile agent. Pandemics are probably the other most likely possibility.

And of course, there's the far broader problem of totalitarianism becoming significantly easier (you can watch everyone, and have armies that don't rely on some level of popular cooperation), and automation of labor making humans obsolete for many tasks, which both seem far more likely and worrisome.

I'm more optimistic overall, but also more pessimistic that "alignment" will accomplish anything of substance than I would have been a few years ago.

Yeah, I was in the same boat.

I think the main concerns would be AIs that are more directly trained for things, like AlphaZero (but then, we do need to consider whether it's more that they are trained into a set of habits/intuitions or something, rather than goals that they rationally optimize for), or, as you said, turning them into agents. Which, unfortunately, there will probably be substantial incentives to do at some point.

Wait, if there are four unique essences, why do you call it triessentialism?

Anyway. I believe there’s a categorical difference between “not seeking, actively denying, killing those who seek” something. Those are the meaningful groups, not umbrella terms like “maximizer” or even “agent.”

Worrying that (insert political party) will go too far in service of its goals…that’s got to be one of the oldest arguments in politics.

The three unique essences in Triessentialism are The Physical, The Logical, and The Emotional. They deal with reality, truth, and value (good/toward vs. bad/away from); change, ordering, and incentives is another perspective on these, as is The What, The How, and The Why.

Science, philosophy, and psychology are fields concerned with pairs of essences: truth and reality, values and truth, and reality and values, respectively. Morality/ethics is the combination of all three, the uniquely human realm in which choices interact with other choices. Draw up a Venn diagram of three intersecting circles, the moral view of the world is at its center.

The value categories of experiences, utility, and esteem are all morally valuable things people can choose to seek for, and so the very choice to seek things of value does itself have value. We can call this choosing by several names: freedom, choice, control, interface, power, reach, and so on. It is valuable enough that people are willing to give up their very lives just to have the assurance of having a freedom they possibly will never have to use. Thus I class it as the fourth of the three categories of value.

Wait, if there are four unique essences, why do you call it triessentialism?

Why is the book called The Three Musketeers if there are four of them?

It’s been a while, but isn’t one of them the narrator?

IIRC, for most of the book D'Artagnan is a guard under the command of Desessart, rather than a musketeer under the command of de Treville (like Athos, Porthos, and Aramis), but he does eventually get a transfer.

That is correct. There are only three musketeers, until the very end.

What things do you have very different personal preferences and policy positions on? Do you have any area that you didn't even realize that until the policy changed and lined up with your stated position?

The biggest one that I have been having a difficult time with lately is marijuana. For my entire life, I thought marijuana should be legal and that it's pretty hard to justify having a substantially different control scheme for marijuana than alcohol (tobacco is quite different and I think the comparison is pretty stupid). I still hold this position due to everything I can figure out objectively. There are a few caveats, such as the potential for marijuana to trigger schizophrenia, but really, I doubt it does more harm to a typical person than drinking. I even smoked a decent bit when I was in my younger, party years, and pretty much just had harmless fun.

Nonetheless, it turns out that I don't actually like legal marijuana much. I didn't really notice it when it was mostly illegal, but weed culture is fucking annoying. I get that some people feel that way about alcohol, and I can certainly think of all-out drunkenness scenes that I don't like, but there are big chunks of drinking culture that I do like - craft beer, good bourbon, wine-tasting, cocktails, tailgating, food-drink pairings, this stuff is all somewhere between lowbrow fun and genuinely interesting culture. Pot though? Just fucking annoying. Stupid aesthetics, lazy slobs, constant whining about how pot is actually good for you, man. I don't personally dislike the smell of pot but smelling it on my state's capitol square on a weekday morning is just utterly degenerate. None of this convinces me that it should be illegal, my annoyance doesn't suffice to want something banned, but damn, it turns out that I find stoners way more annoying than I ever would have thought when they had to just smoke at their houses.

I am very pro pot legalization and share your annoyance. I like in a non-legal state, and I hope it always stays this way. As I can drive an hour to a neighboring state for whatever I want, but enjoy the fact that there isn’t a ton of dispensaries littering all the roads and stoners being brazen in public. The only people who actually get in trouble here are behaving in a way where it’s a public nuisance, in which case, good riddance. That said, I do hope it is federally decriminalized.

Always found it interesting that the studies on marijuana use focus on health and not whether the person is being as productive, forming memories of positive experiences, or engaging in a social community. i know a dozen people who used marijuana and then had to stop because it essentially drained their vital life force — they stopped doing anything worthwhile and stopped being motivated toward things. With tobacco it’s the opposite — it’s unhealthy, but no one’s ever been like “this tobacco is really ruining my creativity and preventing me from bonding with friends”. Perhaps the state cares more about a docile population that is not costly for medical services?

So, there's the theory that the left cares more about politics, which is why they show up more and are louder about it, including the wokeness business. Presumably, they're also much more likely to want to use marijuana. Will the ever-growing train of legalization cut out a contingent of them? Or within that population, are there two subpopulations - one which was already trending toward lethargy, which will descend yet further, and another which was already hyper politics, which due to some composition effect results in them eschewing marijuana for their own personal use?

Agreed, marijuana addiction doesn’t necessarily look like serious health issues or criminal dysfunction, homelessness, etc. It looks like stunted potential and an unfulfilled life.

Considering the state banned weed in the first place and it's still federally illegal, any argument for why the state likes weed can be dismissed out of hand.

Anything can be dismissed out of hand if we don’t think thoroughly. The feds have turned a blind eye on state marijuana activities for a long time now, and the interests of the state can change over time — norms in 1937 are not the norms of 2020, right?

  1. Why would the feds not simply legalize it?

  2. The fact that it is federally illegal puts a big damper on the market. Dispensaries are usually cash only or otherwise forced out of the normal banking system. You can't sell weed out of state so states with no growing operations are out of luck.

  3. Weed is only legal for recreational use in 24 states.

"The feds want you to smoak" is an argument that simply doesn't hold water.

The State, namely Congress, prevents federal agents from raiding state marijuana dispensaries: https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/837011#?form=fpf. If the State were to treat marijuana as it does other illicit drugs, it would continue to raid marijuana dispensaries and not specifically pass an exclusion for only marijuana dispensaries. “Why not Congress make legal??” is not a serious retort because an explicit legalization involves unwanted political ramifications from voters, whereas allowing people to smoke marijuana in “legalized” states does not (note that these two are different things: “the State” can implicitly permit marijuana usage through policy without making it legal).

Okay, so why don't the relevant enforcement agencies turn a blind eye on banking for weed businesses and sales across state lines? There's money on the table here.

Simply ask yourself if the world we live in looks more like the world where uncle sam wants you to smoke weed or the world where there's no clear policy from the top leading to a mishmash of regulations and enforcement. If you think it looks more like the former, then G-d bless.

“The state” still says marijuana is the devil’s lettuce, at least in the US. It’s a Schedule 1 drug with the same (nominal) restrictions as ecstasy, LSD, and heroin. Amphetamines, opioids, and benzodiazepines are all scheduled lower. Why? Because they’re some combination of less addictive and more medically useful. In theory.

This drug scheduling scheme isn’t based on docility, and it certainly isn’t based on cost. It’s also not interested in drawing lines between stimulants and depressants, which is rather important when comparing tobacco and marijuana. Alcohol is a better comparison; despite being a very effective social lubricant, it is definitely able to cripple social and creative abilities. Naturally, neither tobacco nor alcohol are scheduled by the DEA. They are in two leagues of their own.

The ongoing debate is very much defined by state governments pushing back on something Byzantine and possibly counterproductive from the Feds. Just because Democrats adopted the issue doesn’t automatically make it authoritarian!

This is literally me. I used marijuana to self-medicate for anxiety and depression. It seemed like a miracle drug: it helped me quiet my mind enough to sleep and provided a relaxing buzz similar to alcohol but without the hangover or calories and significantly cheaper. But fast forward 5 years and I found myself socially isolated, intellectually stunted, and boring. I realized that I didn't do anything after work other than watch tv and play video games, and the underlying issues weed allowed me to ignore just slowly got worse until I was able to force myself to make a change.

Alcohol is definitely more acutely worse for you, but the insidious, underappreciated danger with weed is that you never get any "holy shit I need to change my life" moments. There's no overdose risk, it's not disruptive enough to prevent you from putting the minimum effort in at work, and there are few, if any, negative physical side effects associated with over-use. Like you said, it just slowly sucks your vital life force away. And you don't even notice it's happening.

Funny you mention the insidious part because I immediately noticed that being a failure mode the second time I smoked weed in my life.

I've noticed that I lose my literal and figurative mojo when I jack off too much, and that loss of mojo felt exactly the same when smoking weed. So maybe I'm primed to notice subtle changes in mojo.

Seems different for everyone. My social circles as a teenager were intensely invested in smoking weed, with all the accompanying weed culture one pictures. But weed just never did anything for me. Maybe I did it wrong? It just seemed to have no effect whatsoever. But my friends at the time all seemed increasingly passive and isolated in their little smoking enclaves, not going anywhere where they could not smoke all day long, and only spurred to action in order to acquire and consume more weed. The negative effects of either the drug or the culture seemed very obvious. Some of those people got better, some stayed the same, some went under, and most I just lost track of because I got tired of their antics and they of my insufficient participation.

Seems different for everyone.

Slingerland, in Drunk, makes the point that Alcohol has remained the universal social solvent across cultures and history because alcohol has fairly predictable effects on people. People may be lightweights or have a hollow leg, and they may be angry drunks or sad drunks or horny drunks, but the basic frame of alcohol--suppressed impulse control--impulsive behavior is fairly universal. While he specifically calls out marijuana as having unpredictable effects on people, causing a variety of impacts at a variety of intensities for what seem to be genetic reasons.

Some of my friends who smoked too much weed turned into doctors and accountants. Some of them seem to have had mental breaks and went from successful high school students to wash-outs.

But we're really bad at handling the idea that X works well for some people and doesn't work for others.

I used it to self-medicate for insomnia. Worked better than some other off-label stuff which caused insane weight gain. It was actually great...for a year. Lost weight, maintained regular exercise regimen for months...

And then...it crept up on me but now the motivational hit when I toke is insanely noticeable. I thought I used to slack off at work, no I was working in bursts. Now I slack off. Even basic "lazy" shit I used to do - blast through an audiobook of a book I really should sit down and read - is harder.

but the insidious, underappreciated danger with weed is that you never get any "holy shit I need to change my life" moments.

Lucky you. Now I get the self-loathing and the lack of impetus to change.

So...yeah. I think the other side was right on this one.

danger with weed is that you never get any "holy shit I need to change my life" moments.

I realized that I didn't do anything after work other than watch tv and play video games

It's funny that weed actually did give me one of those moments, albeit because I was already often doing nothing while sober before I started using it regularly.

It was just that (since I was using edibles) I was having to make a conscious decision to be alone doing nothing of value for several hours and the highs were punctuated by moments of stark self reflection. Before I started using them, I was instead regularly making the decision to do nothing without really thinking about it and without getting caught up in my own thoughts.

I haven't fully quit weed now, but I have cut down from my peak while also trying to be more social + productive while sober.

Similar story here.

you never get any "holy shit I need to change my life" moments

I stopped smoking weed because that was literally the only effect it was giving me. It became like a boredom magnifier where instead of zoning out and happily wasting time I'd zone alllll the way in and get frustrated about the lack of progress on my ambitions. Made worse by smoking it at the end of the day when there was no opportunity to make any concrete progress on those projects beyond ruminating on how I could do them if this, which I would do if that, which I can't do because...

A large fraction of weed users are not into weed culture, it's just that the ones who are into weed culture stand out a lot.

If anything, legal weed is likely to diminish obnoxious weed culture because if weed is legal and you can go buy it at the local 7-11, then it is no longer so much a cool rebellious thing that motivates people to have a subculture around it.

Yeah, that was the claim, and it's what I thought would happen, but it seems like the opposite happened.

That has not been my experience. I remember weed culture from 20 years ago pretty well, since I was part of it. And it wasn't any less obnoxious than weed culture now. Was it more obnoxious than now? To be honest, I have no idea.

As someone who grew up in a California beach town and never enjoyed the experience of smoking weed, I cant begin to describe how much I relate

Briefly, I wish there were welfare for a wide variety of things. It just feels good to not have to pay for things. However, economically on aggregate I understand it's inefficiencies and the effects it has on incentives and all the things downstream of that.

I would also not lose much sleep if certain social things were illegal, but that's a slippery slope to a nanny state.

I persistently run into, in myself and others, a fantasy of welfare that would be perfectly set up to keep people from suffering a problem while also giving zero incentive to utilize it, and that it would be efficient. A world where no family is hungry because basic food ingredients are subsidized, they can get big sacks of rice and beans and potatoes and flour and milk for free that will keep them alive. Then someone shows me the actual math and how vastly inefficient such a system would be such that it would be more expensive than the food stamp program while delivering a worse product, purely for the purpose of punishing people who collect welfare and soothing the hurt feelings of people who don't. But still, I kind of wish it were real.

You can get a 10lb bag of rice for $10, that might as well be free. And rice and beans and lentils honestly aren't that bad, I'd much rather eat just that than whatever the average american eats, both by taste and by health.

I'd echo what others have said about locality. There are tons of behaviors for which my deontological side wouldn't necessarily support a national ban. Unfortunately, on a practical level, there are often so few options for local bans my consequentialist side wins out and gets me wishing for a general ban.

There seems to be a spectrum of positions on any given nuisance ranging from "the courteous thing is to not make the nuisance at all" to "the courteous thing is to let people do what they want". I'm on the rather extreme end of the former on a many issues (no one should have to hear your dog bark, smell your cigarette smoke, or feel the vibrations of your subwoofer from within their own homes).

Most people, in my experience, seem to lie moderately in that direction (they'll deal with a dog barking for a few minutes or a subwoofer for an hour in the afternoon without getting too annoyed). These people usually act responsibly without needing a ban to force them. Unfortunately, in an apartment building, all it takes is 1 inconsiderate tenant to ruin it for everyone else.

Frankly, I would pay double to live in a neighborhood of likeminded people who agree that barking, smoking, and subwoofers just don't belong in a shared building at all. Let the people who want those things live in their own building and deal with the constant smells and noise. The problem is it's actually really hard to find a place willing to actively exclude the latter type of individual. The best you'll often find is noise ordinance that is "enforced" by a half-hearted "warning" but rarely any real consequences for offenders.

I'm going to be frank: such enforcement is rare because it is completely unreasonable to expect people to metaphorically walk on eggshells within their own home. If you wish to live as if other people do not exist near you, then live apart from other people, invest into soundproofing and/or vote for building better-insulated apartment blocks.

Then you're just one of those people who think "the courteous thing is to let people do what they want", which is perfectly fine. I just want to live around people who believe otherwise.

It costs me nothing to not have dogs or subwoofers or cigarettes. In fact, I strongly prefer not doing those things (certainly nothing approaching walking on eggshells). All I'm saying is that I'd like to find a few dozen others who agree to live together and keep the ones who disagree out.

I am actually planning a soundproofing enhancement, but nothing's going to fix the fact that opening a window at any point means I'm assaulted by some combination of dog piss and cigarette smoke from the balcony two below mine. Not much I can do about that.

Frankly, I would pay double to live in a neighborhood of likeminded people who agree that barking, smoking, and subwoofers just don't belong in a shared building at all.

Pay perhaps around twice as much and live in a nice single family home only neighborhood.

Let the people who want those things live in their own building and deal with the constant smells and noise.

Yeah I lived like that a bit. Even decent apartments are slums compared to SFH suburbs. Just a big building of annoyance.

I recently moved from a modern apartment building with decent soundproofing to a single family home out in the suburbs.

My stress levels instantly plummeted and I regret not having done this much sooner. The occasional bark or lawnmower is nothing compared to what I was putting up before whenever I opened a door or window.

What are SFH suburbs?

Single family home. Condos, apartments and townhouses don't count.

"SFH" = "single-family house".

Oh, that makes sense. I thought "SFH" was some iGen dunk on...well, I don't know, I thought I was going to have to ask Christine Baranski about it. She's pretty up on the kids today.

Maybe in (parts of?) America that's true but certainly not in general.

Frankly, I would pay double to live in a neighborhood of likeminded people who agree that barking, smoking, and subwoofers just don't belong in a shared building at all

If you've got the budget it for it, and like the other aspects, you've just described much of suburbia. If you'd buy the house from the new house flipper guy just down my street, mine would go back to being one.

I think about it often, but at the end of the day it's hard to let go of being in walking distance to work. >95% of my neighbors are great. I just wish it were easier to coordinate making that 100.

I am a libertarian mostly. But I hate smokers, loud trucks, gun culture, sugary beverages, marijuana, ugly strip malls, gambling, and just lower class preferences and behavior in general. I prefer to be in places where these things don't exist, but I don't support banning them.

I think weed is a great example, because I feel the exact same way. I don't want people to be criminals for choosing to smoke weed, or for that matter for doing any drugs really. I think that we should cover bad behavior arising from drug use with the laws which outlaw that behavior anyway, e.g. if you murder someone because you are an addict we have existing murder laws for that so no need for drug specific stuff.

But all that said... bloody hell, the stoners in my state (CO) are fucking dicks and they make me seriously reconsider my position. I shouldn't have to smell them smoking weed (which smells absolutely awful) when I go to events, when I go to the park, or even when I drive down the bloody street. It seems to me that we (CO society broadly) gave them an inch, and they took a mile. Well, if that's how it's going to be then maybe we should take the initial inch back from people who have shown themselves to be completely antisocial.

I try to stick to my convictions. I'm not actually out there campaigning to reinstate a ban on weed under state law. But holy crap, the stoners have made it hard to stand by those ideals.