Mazes Sequence Roundup: Final Thoughts and Paths Forward

post by Zvi · 2020-02-06T16:10:00.405Z · score: 65 (14 votes) · LW · GW · 20 comments

Contents

    Moloch’s Army
    Moloch’s Puzzle
    Good News, Everyone!
    Conclusion
  Paths Forward
  Acknowledgements
None
20 comments

There are still two elephants in the room that I must address before concluding. Then I will discuss paths forward.

Moloch’s Army

The first elephant is Moloch’s Army. I still can’t find a way into this without sounding crazy. The result of this is that the sequence talks about maze behaviors and mazes as if their creation and operation are motivated by self-interest. That’s far from the whole picture.

There is mindset that instinctively and unselfishly opposes everything of value. This mindset is not only not doing calculations to see what it would prefer or might accomplish. It does not even believe in the concept of calculation (or numbers, or logic, or reason) at all. It cares about virtues and emotional resonances, not consequences. To do this is to have the maze nature. This mindset instinctively promotes others that share the mindset, and is much more common and impactful among the powerful than one would think. Among other things, the actions of those with this mindset are vital to the creation, support and strengthening mazes.

Until a proper description of that is finished, my job is not done. So far, it continues to elude me. I am not giving up.

Moloch’s Puzzle

The second elephant is that I opened this series with a puzzle. It is important that I come back to the beginning. I must offer my explanation of the puzzle, and end the same place the sequence began. With hope.

Thus, the following puzzle:

Every given thing is eventually doomed. Every given thing will eventually get worse. Every equilibrium is terrible. Sufficiently strong optimization pressure, whether or not it comes from competition, destroys all values not being optimized, with optimization pressure constantly increasing.

Yet all is not lost. Most of the world is better off than it has ever been and is getting better all the time. We enjoy historically outrageously wonderful bounties every day, and hold up moral standards and practical demands on many fronts that no time or place in the past could handle. How is this possible?

Here is my answer:

It is possible because old things that get sufficiently worse eventually die, and get replaced by new things that are better. It is possible because competition is never perfect, and optimization for a fixed set of metrics is never total. People need and demand slack, and care about many factors on many meta levels. No matter how many times we say it is difficult, not game theoretically sound or even impossible, coordination continues to happen all the time.

Moloch wins when all things are equal and the situation is at a strict static equilibrium. Things are not equal. The situation is not static or strict. While there are some places where Moloch has not won, exit to those areas serves as an additional safety valve.

We have spent the bulk of this sequence dealing with mazes. Mazes are, among other things, a case of what happens when all of that breaks down – when we strip away the protections. They then go on to create all sorts of strange negative feedback loops, and make life inside them, and if left unchecked life even much of life outside of them, quite bad. In many ways, even this sequence has only scratched the surface of the dynamics involved.

Good News, Everyone!

To the extent that this makes one estimate that the world is a worse place, and its people are less happy and less likely to succeed or improve, this is bad news indeed.

But, to the extent that we already knew there was a problem, to the extent that we already knew how functional our world was and how happy people are, this is not bad news. This is good news. We already knew there was a problem and had an amorphous sense of hopelessness and doom. Now that we know more about what the problem is, we have a more specific source of hopelessness and doom that we can try to do something about. We can explore further. We can limit the damage on a personal level, seek to get things done, and perhaps even improve conditions in general.

The other good news is in our estimates of the effectiveness of doing object level things. We know about how much real and useful stuff is actually created and accomplished, in the sense that we know what useful stuff we get to use and we live real lives. If we are screwing people up this much, we are wasting this much of everyone’s time, and otherwise getting in our own way, then what does that say about how powerful it is to actually do things? If only a handful of people at a major corporation are producing all the value while everyone else plays politics, then what does that say about that handful of people?

If, as my model holds, people who are allowed to actually do real things  consistently output insanely great things, then imagine what would happen if we let more people do that. Then realize there are still places where this is possible. Imagine what you could accomplish if you did that.

I hope this journey has been enlightening, and that it inspires further explorations along with concrete actions. Perhaps we can create useful common knowledge. With luck, some people will avoid falling into maze traps as the result of what has been written here. With even better luck, this can improve the fate of some organizations, or even lead to broader motions towards taking down maze levels.

Conclusion

The central (Immoral) Mazes sequence is now complete.

I wrote it because someone had to, and no one else would. This was the best model I could come up with, presented as clearly as I know how to do so.

There are many things I still want to say, most of which are not mentioned above. Some of them are a matter of putting in the work to write things down. Others I don’t know how to say without sounding crazy, or I don’t understand them myself well enough to write about them. I have experience with mazes, but not with higher maze levels. I can abstractly model that mentality and mode of operation, but I can’t pretend I truly understand it.

The more others can join the conversation and move it forward from here, especially those with more direct experience but that managed to emerge intact enough to tell the tale, the more hope we have for making real progress.

To encourage the story to continue, both for myself and for others, I will now explore the question of Paths Forward. What are the best next questions?

Paths Forward

These topics are not only or even primarily for me. Others can and should take up the mantle as well. Here are some things that seem like good ideas to keep the ball rolling.

I still don’t have (1a) Moloch’s Army in a place where I am ready to post it, but I promise to keep trying. At a minimum, I hope that trying leads to finding more missing concepts and ideas that can help bridge the gap.

I previously tried to bridge into this with The Darwin Game sequence, but that foundation wasn’t enough. If I resumed that line now then I would next talk about (1b) The Rise of Cliquebot. I am still confused on whether that would (eventually) get me where I would need to be.

One of the words I know I will likely need is (2a) Fnord. The word fnord comes from the Principia Discordia. In its original introduction, we are all conditioned when we see the word fnord to not notice it but to become stressed and irritated. Thus, it is peppered into places that people with power want us not to look, but it is entirely absent from things like advertising. Having a name for things that make you not want to notice them, and understanding how that dynamic works, seems important. Mazes, and many aspects of them, are fnords. Another good closely maze-aligned Discordian concept is (2b) The Snafu Principle, whereby communication is only fully possible between equals, leading to Situation Normal All F***ed Up. It should be mostly already covered by implication but is worth a special focus slash better place to link to.

Another key idea I need are (2c) Basilisks, as such things have much more important rolls to play than the example that gave them their name. Needless to say one must proceed with caution. Prior restraint will be a thing, here.

I introduced terms for things related to mazes, including maze behaviors, leading Wei Dei to ask the logical question (3a) What Are Maze Behaviors? It would be good to have a compact link-to-it answer. But I’m also coming around, after having started a draft of this, to the perspective that this is likely asking the wrong question. We could be better served to ask about (3b) Maze Levels and especially about (3c) The Maze Nature, which I also introduced, instead. The Maze Nature is closely related to Moloch’s Army and might be the right way in. Or perhaps it will be the other way around.

One worry is that mazes are the wrong central concept on which to build these metrics and understandings. It might be more helpful, either in general or in some places, to talk about (4) Simulacrum Levels. Ben’s post here [LW · GW] is the best reference created so far, but it definitely needs to be improved upon. I also do not properly understand simulacrum levels, or at least my understanding and Ben’s are importantly different. These things need to be explored carefully, as the dynamics seem central to what is happening to the world.

Many of the proposed solutions, and hypothesized causes, would benefit from more careful treatment. People could gather numbers, make profiles and case studies especially where they have their own experience. Many great comments were (5a) Maze Examples, people talking about the place they work and saying how that fits into the bigger picture. Some claimed they worked at mazes. Many claimed that where they worked should have been a maze, based on size and what not, but that it totally wasn’t one or at least wasn’t as much of one as one would expect.

The question of (5b) How Did They Avoid Mazedom? is a good one for people who claim it was avoided. And of course someone should try to answer the question (5c) How Maze-Intensive Are Our Corporations? A few things to consider along the way,

The first is that these are the people reading DWATV and/or LessWrong. That is not a random sample. The whole point of such websites is to promote a method of thinking that is incompatible with a maze. If you care enough about good methods of thinking to read these websites, you likely have a strong aversion to maze behaviors compared to others with similar levels of human capital, both not tolerating them in others and not being willing to do them yourself. You likely chose your place and class of employment in part on this basis, regardless of how you thought about that decision when making it.

If someone was under full sacrifice-everything pressure from anything, they’re not going to read a book length sequence about it, because they can’t.

The second is that the best way to get comments on the internet is to get someone to tell you that you are wrong. People who think the model is failing in their case are much more likely to comment (or so my model says) than people for whom the model is accurate. That is how commenting typically works. So the sample does not provide much evidence, in that sense.

The third is that mazes are things people do not want to see, and people will select for choosing exactly the mazes they do not notice. If they did notice them, and were of the type to be reading this, they would probably avoid them. My estimate of the maze levels of several of my jobs jumped dramatically in the months after I left, because I had the chance to get perspective and to experience life without that aspect of things. Even if you are not yourself being eaten by the maze in question, it is instinctive to not notice it, or to justify what you are experiencing as normal and healthy and reasonable, or at least not so bad, when it is nothing of the kind.

It is also inevitable that some people have already self-modified to adapt to the mazes and that this makes it harder for them to notice what is going on. Not only does it mask this thing especially hard, it masks noticing things in general. Eventually, this would drive people away from reading such things, but inertia in such matters can last a while.

I am sure reading this sequence helps (in a probabilistic sense) but it is a hard problem. It is clear to me from the comments that I am not yet getting the full situation across successfully to many readers.

One thing someone will need to at some point write (6a) Mazes That Are Not Within Organizations, discussing dynamics that produce similar results without people strictly being bosses and subordinates. And generally (6b) What Types of Things are How Maze-Like, (6c) To What Extent do People At Large Have the Maze Nature, (6d) Close Examination of Maze Interactions, and so on.

The model of perfect competition presented early in the sequence proved very non-intuitive to many people and got a lot of push back. A lot of that was my using technical economic terms that trigger strong intuitions about what the answers are. I think a lot of this is that these terms are usually taught in a school context,  where there are right answers and right principles that these things are supposed to illustrate, and the models always work a certain way. I was using them a different way, changing the assumptions and what things would be implied versus not implied, in order to provide justification for the transition to the later part of the sequence.

If I had to do that over again, I’d look for a way to take a different approach entirely, because it looks like it was more confusing than I expected, and the objection I felt I needed to overcome was much weaker than I expected it to be slash to the extent it existed the people who had the objection didn’t feel satisfied by the explanation. So it didn’t really work the way I wanted it to. I do stand by what I wrote, and think there’s important stuff there, but kill your darlings and all that.

However, there’s a whole series of posts I could write (7a) On Competition, going deeper into what I was getting at there. Or even (7b) On Ultimate Human Value and all that, which is kind of a big deal, but again, super hard and I’m constantly terrified of writing to advocate ethical positions because I assume others with better rhetoric and academic chops in the area would just blow anything I write to shreds and nothing would be accomplished. That doesn’t mean I think I’m wrong or anything, but it’s a problem, and it’s why the old “(7c) Can I Interest You In Some Virtue Ethics” post never got written after the last paths forward. Still, (7d) How Consequentialism Is Ruining Things And What To Do About It might be more tractable. I thought our decision theory would be better than this by now, but alas.

Another valuable thing to do would be to give people practical advice. Advice on how to choose fields of study and careers and jobs and where to live, and other major life choices, to avoid the dangers of mazes, while taking into account the many other things that matter. We have things like 80,000 Hours, but that leads to a consequentialist calculation with many of the key terms missing because they haven’t been quantified, and many of the best options never considered because they can’t be standardized, which is playing right into the hands of mazes. It’s the same as the usual social pressure to go work for mazes, if hopefully a little more efficient about collecting at least something in return. So, (8) Practical Career Advice to Avoid Mazes, A Continuing Series.

In particular, we need (9a) How to Start a Small Business. Not a start-up –  I don’t think creating or joining one of those is a bad idea, but the how of that is something we are much more familiar with already – but a small business that actually does business. A way of life that involves buying things and then making or transporting things and selling things and having the things you sell generate revenue that pays expenses plus the rent. The kind of thing immigrants often do to great effect, except you can do even better if you are already integrated into the culture and have better connections and seed funding.

More fundamental would be the simple (9b) How to Do Business. There is specialized knowledge of how to start a business, but the most important doing-business related skill is simply how to do business. Start-ups backed by VCs are different because they fundamentally do not (yet) do business. They might do some facsimile of business by getting customers, or even unit economically profitable customers. But that’s a completely different model of how to succeed than trying to find customers and make money from them and use that money to pay the rent and the surplus to grow the business. What such start-ups are actually doing is the performance art of “doing business” aimed at the VCs that are their bosses. Doing business is a different thing entirely.

One hint you might be in a maze is that you are “doing the thing” in quotation marks rather than doing the thing.

I could also perhaps do (10a) Some Businesses Worth Starting, (10b) Some Start-Ups Worth Starting, (10c) Some Ways To Make Money I Made Work Before, and/or (10d) Some Ways To Make Money I Didn’t Do But I’m Confident Will Work. I’m sure good versions of 10c and 10d would be appreciated, but it’s a truism that no one cares about your start-up idea, whether or not they should, so perhaps not 10a and 10b.

Looking at the potential causes in more detail, and attempting to better understand their dynamics, would also be valuable. (11a) To What Extent Do We Need Large Organizations?, (11b) The Demand for Blamelessness, (11c) The Illusion of Security, (11d) The Dynamics of Rent Seeking, (11e) On Atomization, (11f) Education as a Maze, (11g) Education as Maze Indoctrination, and so on.

We could also look further at the solutions. One valuable place to go if we could do it well would be (12) How to Explain Mazes. We could also look at (13a) The Full Alternative Stack in much more detail. The biggest problem starts with (13b) How to Tell if Someone has the Maze Nature slash (13c) How to Tell if Someone Has Edge (or just (13d) Edge). That will need a better name because edge is a massively overloaded term. Here edge means the tendency to ‘angle shoot‘ or otherwise take every opportunity to take local advantage in underhanded ways. Do you always need to be ‘on guard’ against someone, or can you relax?

The other half is a post or series (13e) On Being a Source of Money. This is a huge unsolved problem. The moment anyone sees you (where you can be a person, or a group or organization, or anything else) as a source of funds, even a possible future source of funds, it corrupts all interactions even when everyone involved has the best of intentions. You always have to worry someone is after your money. The people around you are likely to be there largely because of your money. Others have to worry about whether you think they’re after your money even when they totally aren’t, and you can never rule such a thing out entirely. There is a reason a lot of rich people keep their wealth (or at least their giving/funding) a secret. Consider the chapter of Skin in the Game titled Only the Rich are Poisoned. Money can be shockingly useless or backfire, so what to do?

The other solutions to mazedom are largely political actions, where I am loathe to get more into the weeds for mostly-obvious reasons, or at least so far I have chosen to strive to be maximally apolitical throughout not only this sequence but on the entire blog. That’s another thing mazes do. They encourage us to stay out of such questions because they create an amorphous feeling that getting involved might backfire against us at some point in some way. Talking more about (14) How Mazes Scare You in such ways might be important. Of course, a lot of it is also that I do not need or want the trouble of arguing or advocating politics on the internet, nor do I expect much good to come of such a thing, and all that. And once I start down that road it is very easy to make oneself only seen from that perspective. It’s mostly a massively over-determined decision. But perhaps that decision is wrong, or will become wrong?

One more-related-to-this-than-you-would-first-think thing I’ve wanted to do for a while but that would require a lot of work and which might not come together, and which is motivated by this post, is to tell (15) The Journey of the Sensitive One. It would look over the story of the artist Jewel, as told, in explicit content in chronological order across her first five albums.

It might be most valuable of all to simply get case studies. I would love to see someone take this perspective and in particular examine (16a) What Happened to Boeing? Something seems to have happened that caused them to rapidly have higher maze levels, to the extent that they were unable to produce a plane that did not crash, ignoring huge quantities of written warnings that they were in fact producing a dangerous plane, and despite this being a very very bad thing for such a business to do. Steve Jobs was mentioned as a potentially interesting special case, so someone looking into (16b) Apple and Mazes could be interesting, especially to see if maze levels declined there when he came back and if so how he did that. And so on.

If one wanted to do a full extension of the project, (17) On The Gervais Principle could be anything up to and including its own sequence. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I consider Gervais Principle and Moral Mazes to be fully compatible, and Gervais Principle has a bunch of stuff that expands upon the model.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a lot of other stuff, as well. And of course, I have other things I need to and/or want to write, both about gaming and about other stuff. The game I’m creating is almost ready to get rolling, so I’ll probably want to focus on the gaming side even in my writing more and more over the coming months.

I seem to have already written close to a book’s worth of stuff. The main sequence (excluding this post, Quotes from Moral Mazes and Moral Mazes and Short Termism) is about 40,000 words long, there are a lot of places I could expand upon, and a quick Google says that the average business book is 50,000 to 60,000 words long. If anyone is seriously interested in publishing were I to turn this into a book, or has the know-how to make that happen and thinks it would be a good idea, please contact me with your thoughts and what that would look like. If it would be worthwhile to rewrite this in proper full book form I am open to that idea. If not, it might still be a good idea to print some copies mostly as-is to help reach more people.

And of course, thanks to you for reading, and hopefully thinking about and building upon all of this.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Ben Hoffman, Sarah Constantin and Michael Vassar for providing the impetus to read Moral Mazes and take it seriously. It takes a lot of motivation to get through a book that heavy.

I would like to thank Ben Hoffman, Michael Vassar, Raymond Arnold, Ben Pace, Oliver Habyrka, Zack Davis, Jessica Taylor and my wife Laura Baur for helping me edit the sequence. Without strong editorial feedback, this sequence would likely not have come to be, and if it did it would have been much weaker.

Ben Hoffman in particular was vital early on in helping me wrap my head around the problem, Michael Vassar later on for making sure I didn’t miss the important points, and Raymond Arnold for making sure what I wrote would have a fighting chance of being understood. Many thanks.

I’d also like to thank the commentators, including the ones who made comments I found frustrating and wrong, but especially the ones who challenged me in ways that improved my thinking.

And also those that helped keep up morale so I could finish. Engagement matters, and knowing you have people you respect interested matters too. Little notes of appreciation can go a long way. It’s important to give praise [LW · GW]. This includes Scott Alexander, and also Robin Hanson, who said he would read Moral Mazes on the strength of the quotes I provided. I look forward to seeing both their takes.

I’d also like to thank the person who got How to Identify an Immoral Maze to be featured on Hacker News. The majority of hits I get come from being featured somewhere, in one form of another. I do my best not to let that change what I write, other than being happy to edit posts to make them stand on their own better if this is standing between them and being linked in this way. If that is ever the case and the modifications seem reasonable, please do let me know.

Finally, thanks again for reading. I hope the time you have invested has proved worthwhile.

 

 

 

20 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Raemon · 2020-02-06T22:43:56.267Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Weird meta note, but I find myself wishing we had implemented stub-a-post features that meant, when one writes posts like this, when you get to posts you're planning to write, you can type: #How To Explain Mazes and have it 

a) automatically created a little stub post

b) people can click 'I wanna see this post actually written' to indicate how much demand there is for it.

comment by Zvi · 2020-02-07T01:41:03.790Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agree that would be cool if it was good enough that it got used. Unknown how good it would have to be before it would get used.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2020-02-06T22:28:54.697Z · score: 19 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How Consequentialism Is Ruining Things And What To Do About It

I would like to see this post. I have a sense that there's a significant number of LWers who are against consequentialism and this is a crux in many disagreements, but we haven't really had a proper debate about it (at least not in recent memory).

BTW, the version of consequentialism I currently find appealing is not making decisions purely by explicit reasoning about consequences, but training/using one's intuitions to predict and evaluate consequences, or using a combination of explicit reasoning and intuitions, which gets around the objection that (act) consequentialism is infeasible for humans.

(Also, BTW, you misspelled my name as "Wei Dei". Leaving a public note here because I see this misspelling pretty often including around here and this note will probably cause people to be a bit more careful when they try to type my name in the future.)

comment by Raemon · 2020-02-09T21:42:25.856Z · score: 12 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was recently re-reading Social Status II: Cults and Loyalty, for unrelated reasons.

As I write this, it occurs to me that loyalty interacts with prestige in a way that illuminates both phenomena.

Within an existing team (including friendship "teams" of size two), your prestige reflects your value to your teammates. More precisely, it's the expected value of all your future contributions to the team — your NPV, if you will.

Now, in light of this, how might you go about increasing your prestige?

One strategy is to improve yourself — by learning new skills, for example — so that you'll be able to accomplish things of greater value. You thereby increase the expected size of your future contributions to the team.

But there's another, complementary strategy: try to increase the expected number of your future contributions. How? By convincing your teammates that you're likely to stick around longer.

The transaction is simple. In return for your loyalty, you earn your teammates' trust. And the interesting thing about trust — arguably, the essential thing — is that it isn't portable. When you leave a team, you can take everything else with you (skills, knowledge, money), but all that accumulated trust stays behind.

In other words, prestige has two components: a general-purpose "global" component and a team-specific "local" component. Global prestige includes everything valued on the outside market: skills, knowledge, money, relationships with outsiders. Local prestige includes everything not transferable to the outside market — trust, relationships with teammates, and team-specific knowledge and skills.

I think this helps explain why loyalty-signaling practices are so powerful, and produce such dramatic effects. Watch how loyalty-signaling can quickly escalate out of control:

  1. We begin with an initiate, who wishes to raise his value by demonstrating loyalty to his group. Words aren't enough: he needs to make honest (costly) commitments, i.e., by doing things that make it harder for him to leave the group. Techniques here include: severing ties with outsiders, doubling down on relationships with insiders, and undertaking lifestyle changes (diet, clothes, living arrangements) that make it harder to interact with the outside world.
  2. In return for these demonstrations of loyalty, the initiate is rewarded with trust, i.e., local prestige — something that increases his value within the group, but which has no benefit to him if he decides to leave. In other words, his reward for binding himself to the group is... something that further binds him to the group.
  3. Unfortunately local prestige, like global prestige, is a zero-sum game. So in order to compete for it, team members need to out-do each other, e.g., with even more extreme loyalty displays. This kind of competition is similar to what we find in any other prestige tournament (art, music, sports, academia, etc.). The main difference lies in the direction competitors are selling themselves for prestige: artists and athletes sell themselves outward, while loyalty-signaling teammates sell inward.
  4. Finally, if processes 1–3 are strong enough, most group members will end up fairly committed to the group. They'll draw their admiration largely from other group members, and they'll experience a large drop in status if they ever try to leave. All this, in turn, gives everyone a strong incentive to make sure everyone else remains loyal to the group. The peer pressure that results is likely to be intense.

Religions often take these processes to an extreme. Adherents scramble to signal commitment as a way of jockeying for local prestige. In this context, everyone is anxious to do and say the right things. Schelling points for "proper" beliefs and behaviors are established quickly, resulting in capricious orthodoxies and bizarre ritual practices. And because loyalty is what's at stake, the group will tend to prefer beliefs and behaviors that are costly to maintain and perform. Orthodox Jews spurn food from non-Kosher kitchens. Fundamentalist Christians deny evolution. Christian Scientists refuse blood transfusions. Mormons wear special underwear. And every religion asks for weekly devotion. In each of these "transactions," adherents sacrifice their status with outsiders as part of a calculated gambit to earn greater status among their co-religionists.

And when the conditions are just right — when the incentives to signal loyalty are strong enough, and the countervailing incentives weak enough — a community can undergo something like gravitational collapse. These groups then become perfectly insular communities, social black holes from which escape is all but impossible.

This all felt pretty relevant. 

I was actually re-reading the post mostly in the context of personal relationship and small groups of friends, wherein I think trust and loyalty are actually good qualities (and possibly one of the core things I value). I don't currently have a principled distinction between when loyalty and loyalty-signaling is healthy vs unhealthy, but in general it makes sense that 'things that made sense in small groups or village-sized-entities become unhealthy when industrially scaled up'

comment by Zvi · 2020-02-11T12:29:34.271Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Trust and loyalty seem to me to clearly be virtues if placed wisely and in moderation. Like all virtues, you go too far and bad things happen. Industrial scaling gives you new ways to backfire, but there's certainly very non-industrial ways to go way overboard on either or both. Cults can be very small.

comment by korin43 · 2020-02-06T18:00:39.103Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I held off commenting more because you said this would be addressed at some point, but the early articles talked about what you call "Moloch's Puzzle" and then the later ones talk about something completely different (how maze-like organizations are created by politics / insufficient information / mismatch between organization and personal goals).

Sufficiently strong optimization pressure, whether or not it comes from competition, destroys all values not being optimized, with optimization pressure constantly increasing.

Yet all is not lost. Most of the world is better off than it has ever been and is getting better all the time. We enjoy historically outrageously wonderful bounties every day, and hold up moral standards and practical demands on many fronts that no time or place in the past could handle. How is this possible?

I maintain that the answer is right there: In a sufficiently competitive market environment, the values being optimized are the things that you're surprised still exist. Of course wonderful bounties etc. exist because that's what competitive organizations optimize for! If they optimized something that people don't want to buy, they would be out-competed by someone else.

I'm sorry to keep pushing on this, but it's important because your solution is exactly wrong (reducing competition!?). Less outside competition increases slack inside the organization, creating more space for internal politics.

You mention having worked in mazes, but given the composition of this site, I'm guessing the mazes you've worked for are highly profitable (and therefore low-competition). Companies like Google and Microsoft can afford to be mazes because of patents and copyright (legal competitive protection).

On the other hand, restaurants are so intensely competitive that you call it "super-perfect competition", but suspiciously, restaurants generally aren't mazes. Even more suspiciously, the more competitive the area, the less-maze-like the restaurants. Your response is that somehow they must actually not be as competitive as they seem, but there's a simpler answer: Mazes can't survive competition.

comment by Zvi · 2020-02-07T01:40:16.331Z · score: 16 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was never my intent to say that the solution to mazes is less competition between corporations or between organizations. If you look at the solutions that were proposed, none of them were about decreasing competition.

The idea I was going for in terms of mazes, as I tried to explain here (it is entirely possible I botched this explanation on top of the initial confusion), was that super-perfect competition between people to get ahead within an organization (or larger system that likewise has not enough slots for too many people) is the problem here.

I also maintain, as a distinct claim, that if we were to see true perfect or super-perfect competition in the overall world, that would have some very bad effects, and that the reason we don't see this is because perfect competition is a really weird set of assumptions that are not that close to applying in those situations, and I do think exploring these things more is interesting in its own right but isn't what I'm trying to centrally do. Related to that I would argue that no, sufficiently competitive markets don't do the thing you think they do, they do something else that can in some ways and situations be wonderful or even optimal, but that depends on what you care about and a lot of detail, and you can also get a big disaster.

Barring a massive edit or additional post creation I don't know how to do better than that in terms of responding.

comment by jmh · 2020-02-08T14:15:12.624Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've often wished to see some pubic choice type research into the internal working of large corporations. All too often it is assumed that the external competition will result in the internal efficiencies that are typically assumed in most economic theory. The problem, I think, is that large corporations are such joint production settings that marginal unit of analysis is something much larger than individual pay, job class pay.

Internally I suspect the really economic decisions are more like the political economic decisions about distribution and not as much about marginal allocation and marginal pricing.

I wonder if such an approach might not shed some additional light on this type of interaction regarding the role of competition and any effect on maze behaviors.

comment by Raemon · 2020-02-06T21:14:40.585Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As someone who has been (and still is) pretty enthusiastic about the sequence, I do think this is a pretty core concern I share about it.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2020-02-09T10:23:39.146Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Snafu Principle, whereby communication is only fully possible between equals, leading to Situation Normal All F***ed Up.

This seems true to me in one sense of “equals” and false in another. It seems true to me that dominating and submitting prohibit real communication. It does not seem true to me that structures of authority (“This is my coffee shop; and so if you want to work here you’ll have to sign a contract with me, and then I’ll be able to stop hiring you later if I don’t want to hire you later”) necessarily prohibit communication, though. I can imagine contexts where free agents voluntarily decide to enter into an authority relationship (e.g., because I freely choose to work at Bob’s coffee shop until such time as it ceases to aid my and/or Bob’s goals), without dominating or submitting, and thereby with the possibility of communication.

Relatedly, folks who are peers can easily enough end up dominating/submitting-to each other, or getting stuck reinforcing lies to each other about how good each others’ poetry is or whatever, instead of communicating.

Do you agree that this is the true bit of the “communication is only possible between equals” claim, or do you have something else in mind?

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2020-02-09T10:35:23.080Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For anyone just tuning in and wanting to follow what I mean by “dominating and submitting,” I have in mind the kinds of interactions that Keith Johnstone describes in the “status” chapter of “Impro” (text here; excerpt and previous overcoming bias discussion here.)

This is the book that indirectly caused us to use the word “status” so often around here, but I feel the term “status” is a euphemism that brings model-distortions, versus discussing “dominating and submitting.” FWIW, Johnstone in the original passage says it is a euphemism, writing: “I should really talk about dominance and submission, but I’d create a resistance. Students who will agree readily to raising or lowering their status may object if asked to ‘dominate’ or ‘submit’.” (Hattip: Divia.)

comment by Raemon · 2020-02-09T20:29:27.503Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, Johnstone in the original passage says it is a euphemism, writing: “I should really talk about dominance and submission, but I’d create a resistance. Students who will agree readily to raising or lowering their status may object if asked to ‘dominate’ or ‘submit’.”

Huh, that is an interesting and possibly quite important update for me (I'm not 100% sure what I'm updating on – this all seems compatible with the dominance vs /prestige distinction which is roughly my current status model. But, seems at least historically important if Impro had originally described it that way)

comment by Zvi · 2020-02-11T12:31:59.104Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I believe that is mostly right. I would like to get better gears on this, though.

comment by Raemon · 2020-02-06T23:27:37.552Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On Ultimate Human Value and all that, which is kind of a big deal, but again, super hard and I’m constantly terrified of writing to advocate ethical positions because I assume others with better rhetoric and academic chops in the area would just blow anything I write to shreds and nothing would be accomplished

There may be a middle ground thing, where instead of aiming to advocate, you aim to deconfuse, or re-orient. . . I've seen you remark that posts you disagreed with seem to be "asking the wrong questions", and it seems worth talking about What Other Questions One Might Ask. (One frame of this is for you to say 'these are the right questions', and a yet-more-meta-level frame would be 'how would we be able to tell whether these were the right questions or not?'. I guess see also meta-ethics)

comment by Pattern · 2020-02-06T22:13:41.316Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I appreciated this sequence - the posts, and as a whole.

One thing someone will need to at some point write (6a) Mazes That Are Not Within Organizations, discussing dynamics that produce similar results without people strictly being bosses and subordinates. And generally (6b) What Types of Things are How Maze-Like, (6c) To What Extent do People At Large Have the Maze Nature, (6d) Close Examination of Maze Interactions, and so on.

The notes on future works were useful.

One hint you might be in a maze is that you are “doing the thing” in quotation marks rather than doing the thing.

As was this.

I feel like this might get at the heart of the 'why is optimizing bad?' question around this - if mazes are less effective, then how do we get rid of them if not by optimization?*

*One answer is alignment, but optimization offers something to be aligned to.

'Too much optimization = not enough slack' reads like 'optimizing for the wrong things'.

comment by iceman · 2020-02-11T04:50:23.657Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This entire sequence was great. I now have something that I can point people to so we have common knowledge.

One more-related-to-this-than-you-would-first-think thing I’ve wanted to do for a while but that would require a lot of work and which might not come together, and which is motivated by this post, is to tell (15) The Journey of the Sensitive One. It would look over the story of the artist Jewel, as told, in explicit content in chronological order across her first five albums.

I skipped the link on my first read-through, but I shouldn't have. Section 1 is mostly a rehash of Newcomb, but section 2 is absolutely phenomenal. I can kinda see where you're going with the whole, "There is mindset that instinctively and unselfishly opposes everything of value," after reading about The Sensitive Problem, which I assume you see as having the Maze Nature.

I have never really listened to any of Jewel's music other than passively hearing Who will save your soul? on the radio. But I'm now intrigued after reading Hidysmith's article and listening to The Sensitive One in its entirety. Since the full article would be a lot of effort for you, at least what would the playlist be? Maybe I can gleam additional information from just that.

comment by Zvi · 2020-02-11T12:25:50.968Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The plan would be to do a close listen to determine which songs are most important; ideally one would listen to the full albums (Pieces of You, Spirit, This Way, 0304 and Goodbye Alice in Wonderland, in that order), and in general I've updated more and more towards 'respect the artist once you like multiple songs of theirs, and listen to full albums in order' but that's a lot of music.

I think this is the minimum story of the journey I want to talk about.

Who Will Save Your Soul?

Pieces of You

Little Sister

I'm Sensitive

What's Simple is True

Down So Long

Innocence Maintained

Life Uncommon

Jesus Loves You

Serve the Ego

This Way

Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone

Intuition

Sweet Temptation

Yes U Can

Goodbye Alice in Wonderland

Words Get in the Way

Stephenville, TX

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-02-09T14:33:17.711Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
(3a) What Are Maze Behaviors? It would be good to have a compact link-to-it answer. But I’m also coming around, after having started a draft of this, to the perspective that this is likely asking the wrong question.

It seems like the question is problematic because there are different kinds of Mazes. The Mazes describe in Immoral Mazes have specific values. There are mazes that have different incentives on how one climbs the ladder within the organization and those mazes will differ in some of the resulting values.

A person who rises in ranks in a big labor union also had to do a lot to optimize rising the ranks but they show a bunch of signs that are different from those described by Jackal.

In Jackal's studies it's a value to avoid sharing information. It's possible to setup incentives to share information in an organization.

comment by ioannes_shade · 2020-02-18T22:26:41.280Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also feels related: The Return of Conservative Economics (a)

comment by ioannes_shade · 2020-02-17T01:46:29.690Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feels related: The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake (a)