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Open, Free, Safe: Choose Two 2021-03-20T16:42:33.306Z

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Comment by jaspax on How do you deal with people cargo culting COVID-19 defense? · 2021-06-24T13:26:20.359Z · LW · GW

What you have described is a ban. It may not be a ban with criminal penalties, but "an additional sentence" in the official guidelines together with "social expectations that will reduce the amount people talk" is exactly what I was referring to when I talked about a ban on talking.

EDIT: Okay, I talked myself out of this. There is indeed a difference between a ban and a strong suggestion, and I'll allow that you intended to describe the latter.

The strength of my reaction was based on the fact that COVID-tide has already been extremely damaging to people's social lives, with many deleterious downstream effects, and inhibiting talking in trains is proposing to inflict even more damage just to shave off a handful of micro-covids. I don't think this tradeoff is remotely worth it.

Comment by jaspax on How do you deal with people cargo culting COVID-19 defense? · 2021-06-24T03:13:11.406Z · LW · GW

I don't see what's so hard about saying: "Please only speak in public transport when necessary to reduce the chance of infecting other people"

I suppose it's not terribly hard to say that, but it's going to be much harder to enforce it, and will get much harder pushback. Masking by itself tedious and uncomfortable; trying to enforce a ban on talking would be horrifying and dystopian.

Comment by jaspax on Covid 6/17: One Last Scare · 2021-06-19T09:22:05.883Z · LW · GW

FWIW, I think that mind uploading is much less likely to work than a purely synthetic AI, at least in reasonably near-term scenarios. I have never read any description of how mind uploading is going to work which doesn't begin by assuming that the hard part (capturing all of the necessary state from an existing mind) is already done.

Comment by jaspax on If individual performance is Pareto distributed, how should we reform education? · 2021-05-26T05:07:26.516Z · LW · GW

I'm not sure that I agree with the notion that one needs to teach reasons before behaviours. When it comes to socialisation, one needs to teach the desired behaviours first, and the complicated rationale later, if at all. And we do this precisely because we DO care about outcomes: people (including highly intelligent, nerdy people; let's not flatter ourselves) are much better at applying heuristics and rules learned in early childhood than they are deriving proper action from first principles. I think that the general shape of childhood education in this matter is actually correct: first you teach people to do things because It's The Right Thing To Do; later, in an advanced course, you can break out the game theory to show how the prescription is derived.

Comment by jaspax on If individual performance is Pareto distributed, how should we reform education? · 2021-05-25T15:19:46.891Z · LW · GW

They have no formal lessons on prosocial behaviours

Um?

  • How and when to say "please" and "thank you"
  • How to address and talk to police, firemen, and other public officials
  • The importance of "sharing", etc.
  • The bad of "bullying", etc.
  • How and when to write thank-you letters and other social niceties
  • Appropriate ways to talk to someone who lost a family member

These and others were all things that I recall from my grade school years. One could critique the means and content of these lessons all day, but it seems unsupportable to claim that there are no lessons on such behaviours.

(If you're autistic, your problem may be that you were taught the explicit, formal, and decontextualised rules that schools include, but failed to pick up the implicit, informal, and contextually-dependent behaviours that schools don't include.)

Comment by jaspax on D&D.Sci May 2021 Evaluation and Ruleset · 2021-05-15T04:39:28.449Z · LW · GW

I just want to add how much I enjoy reading about these, even though I haven't had the time to actually participate in the puzzle-solving.

Comment by jaspax on Academia as Company Hierarchy · 2021-05-13T12:55:38.246Z · LW · GW

Well, he successfully got someone other than the OP (me) to answer, thus deflecting any potential embarrassment or recrimination off of himself. I, meanwhile, don't actually care if I somehow made things awkward for the OP, so we've engaged in a mutually beneficial arbitrage of social liabilities!

Comment by jaspax on Academia as Company Hierarchy · 2021-05-13T06:50:03.164Z · LW · GW

"Active Personal Life" = sex. Unless I've wildly misunderstood the OP.

Comment by jaspax on Sympathy for the ferryman of Hades, or why we should keep Trump off Twitter · 2021-05-10T06:26:28.165Z · LW · GW

This title is something of a bait-and-switch. The headline talks about removing Trump from Twitter, but the actual argument presented is an argument againstTwitter in its entirety, at least as it currently exists. As far as that goes, I am in favour of keeping Trump off of Twitter if and only if it's a first step towards keeping everyone, everywhere off of twitter.

Comment by jaspax on Academia as Company Hierarchy · 2021-05-10T06:18:57.045Z · LW · GW

I think you are correct in identifying the fact that Sociopaths are mostly not the be found with academia itself. Instead, I think you need to look outside of the university structure to identify the people who profit from what universities do. The main social function of the university today is to generate "expertise" and Science™, which in turn are used to legitimise political and economic power; consequently, the Sociopaths of academia are those outside the universities who take academic output and use it to turn a personal profit. So basically (a certain subset of) politicians, businessmen, and activists.

Comment by jaspax on What topics are on Dath Ilan's civics exam? · 2021-04-27T10:06:22.685Z · LW · GW

You don't have a measure of this.

How do you propose that one could measure this? Do you have a counter-example of a highly coordinated society that DOESN'T have a shared mythic/legendary/literary canon? I reject the implication that I have to have a quantitative measure on hand in order to suggest that something is valuable.

One note is there are highly successful individuals and entire nations who know absolutely none of any of these specific bits of knowledge regarding American civics

Irrelevant. I am not suggesting that American civics are important to every society ever, but that they're important to American society, precisely because these legends are part of what give American society its American character. (If you aren't American, feel free to substitute the founding legends of your own country.)

knowledge of the characters and superpowers of the MCU is also a way to gain access to a "mythopoetic commons"

I agree, but I don't see how this is a counter-argument. The exact content of your society's legendarium is always to some degree arbitrary (though it certainly has downstream effects), but its arbitrariness doesn't prevent it from functioning as cultural glue.

knowing about the MCU, no matter how cool, doesn't pay rent

Is not "enables socialization" a form of rent?

Comment by jaspax on What topics are on Dath Ilan's civics exam? · 2021-04-27T06:25:42.902Z · LW · GW

A point in defence of George Washington and literature: having a shared culture, with a common background knowledge of legends and sacred texts, is extremely important for maintaining high trust and coordination. These stories have an enormous utility as such, even if the information is not directly useful. The reason why we teach children about George Washington is not because the historical facts about him are directly, instrumentally important, but because we want to maintain the mythopoetic commons by ensuring that everyone has a common grounding in the founding myths and sacred values of the civic religion.

The same is doubtlessly true of Dath Ilan, unless part of the fiction is that humans there are psychologically very different from our own humans.

Comment by jaspax on [ACX Linkpost] Prospectus on Próspera · 2021-04-16T04:22:25.932Z · LW · GW

The most illuminating comments on the ACX article (ie. those that weren't written by salty leftists) was the ones pointing out that the other instances of "free cities" that worked out were all located by important trade routes or natural resources. Prospera isn't, which limits the kinds of success it could have.

Or rather, it means that the only industries likely to succeed there are those which aren't highly dependent on place. The most likely candidates are tech and medical tourism, and it's not clear whether those alone are enough to sustain the place. (I suppose one should add regular, non-medical tourism, as well, which seems to me the main existing attraction on Roatan.) Nonetheless, I wish them luck.

Comment by jaspax on Affordances · 2021-04-05T06:33:25.012Z · LW · GW

The concept is definitely relational; no disagreement there.

My objection is more narrowly linguistic: the syntactic structure used to describe the "affordance" relationship is Object affords Action to Agent. All of your quotes from Wikipedia follow this example, eg. the "set of steps... does not afford climbing to the crawling infant" (emphasis mine). I find no examples of this syntactic structure being inverted to allow Agent affords Action. Consequently, it seems that the noun "affordance" is best applied to the Object's side of this relationship, and not the Agent side, since the Object is the syntactic subject.

Conceptually, this does matter because the affordance relationship is non-symmetric: what the Object does ("affords") is very different from what the Agent does! Aside from the syntactic objection, I think that it obscures the topic to have the same word used for both sides of a non-symmetrical relation. Your suggestion of using "have an affordance" is possibly usable though I still think that it invites confusion. I do like the phrase " behavioural repertoire", mentioned in another comment, but it does not lend itself to being verbed very well. Another suggestion might be "reciprocate" or "engage": an Agent engages the affordance by carrying out the Action in the manner intended. (Does the existing literature have a verb that slots into this construction?)

I don't know. Words are hard. I still think that it's important to have different words for the Object's and the Agent's respective contributions to the activity.

Comment by jaspax on Affordances · 2021-04-03T06:37:42.799Z · LW · GW

My major problem with this use of the "affordance" terminology (which I'm mostly familiar with from the perspective of UX design) is that you are inverting the role of agent and object. In the original usage of the term, and affordance is something that the object has which both signals to the agent that an action is possible and makes that action easy to carry out. Most of your psychological examples make the "affordance" a property of the agent, referring to the agent's predisposition and ability to carry out an action in a particular context. It's not clear to me whether you even noticed that you inverted the locus in your extended examples.

This makes it hard for me to read your examples, and I wish we had a different word for the agent-focused notion of "affordance" and kept the original notion of "affordance" for the object-focused concept.

Comment by jaspax on Canada Covid Update: thinking out loud · 2021-03-23T04:50:01.699Z · LW · GW

We could have been Australia by this point, with zero cases.

Could you really? With the US right there? Or was the US/Canada border closed? Because if it wasn't, I don't see how you could ever have avoided common recurring outbreaks.

Comment by jaspax on Open, Free, Safe: Choose Two · 2021-03-21T04:57:58.199Z · LW · GW

WRT industrialism: I think that the issue is a difference of where it can arise versus what you can do with it once you have it. Early industrialism needed the cultural and material milieu of England and northern Europe in order to form, and a lot of the positive developments we associate with it are in fact baseline attributes of those regions. But once it had been developed, it could be exported to regions with a different cultural and political mix, and in those places it mostly just acted as a force multiplier.

This is very speculative, though.

Comment by jaspax on Open, Free, Safe: Choose Two · 2021-03-21T04:52:32.729Z · LW · GW

This is kind of true, but taken seriously it only leaves "freedom" as an achievable goal, which I don't think is right. I didn't say much about it because it seems to me that this kind of weaponized safety is not a general feature of online communities, but rather a feature particular to the present moment, and the correct solution is on the openness axis: don't let safetyists into your community, and kick them out quickly once they show their colors.

Also, the support for "safety" among these people is more on the level of slogan than actual practice. My experience is that groups which place a high priority on this version of "safety" are in fact riven with drama and strife. If you prioritise actual safety and not just the slogan, you'll find you still have to kick out the people who constantly hide behind their version of "safety".

Comment by jaspax on Return to New York City · 2021-03-15T16:22:32.199Z · LW · GW

Congrats on getting back, getting your shot, and enjoying your trip.

Comment by jaspax on Predictions for future dispositions toward Twitter · 2021-03-15T06:40:13.786Z · LW · GW

I endorse most of these predictions. And I actually don't think it will take 16 years; by the end of the decade, Twitter usage will be regarded as a vice, though like smoking it might be something that a lot of people find difficult to quit.

On a related thought:

information from the internet is scrutinized by an AI for harmful/manipulative information before being shown to a user

This seems very likely, but arguably even worse, because the propaganda value of getting to train the bot would be immense. My prediction is that there will be more than one of these, and with one you use will be politically/tribally coded.

Comment by jaspax on Covid 3/12: New CDC Guidelines Available · 2021-03-14T17:47:54.707Z · LW · GW

Externalities are a thing, and are the main reason why I'm taking any precautions at all. Nonetheless, the same factors which make my own risk small also make my ability to pass it on to others small. This risk is pretty far below the threshold at which I feel obligated to make extraordinary efforts to drive a small risk down to zero, especially as vaccination of the highest-risk populations continues. (I might pass it to someone at the grocery store, but the odds that I give it to someone who suffers serious consequences goes down as the most vulnerable people are vaccinated.)

As others have pointed out, there is definitely some risk, which I don't deny. The question is: how much? And how much is it worth it to avoid that risk? My answer is "very little" and "not worth the trouble."

Comment by jaspax on Covid 3/12: New CDC Guidelines Available · 2021-03-13T16:38:59.370Z · LW · GW

I'm in the "won't get vaccine until legally obligated" group. Since a lot of people seem to think this is baffling, let me explain my reasoning.

The main reason why people my age want to get the vaccine is to be able to resume their ordinary lives. This does not motivate me, because I already resumed my ordinary life nine months ago. I was completely WFH before the pandemic ever started, and my kids have been homeschooled for years, so I experienced no substantial disruption on those fronts. Like everyone else, I spent much of March and April completely confined to my house, but over the summer I gradually came to realise the following:

  • The risk of death or serious to someone of my age and health was 0.1% at most, and probably less
  • The per-weekly risk of catching COVID given my usual mix of activities was 1% at most, and probably less

And then I multiplied those two numbers together and realised that it wasn't worth it to do any more than the easiest and most obvious things to reduce COVID risk. And so I've lived the period since then doing exactly the same kinds and number of activities that I would have before the pandemic, modulo some masks and temperature checks at grocery stores.

Under these conditions, what exactly is the benefit to me of getting vaccinated? I'd still have to mask in public, and my preferred restaurants still wouldn't open for indoor dining. Save my dose for the people who are actually at risk. I won't bother until there's something I want to do that actually requires it.

Comment by jaspax on Heuristic: Replace "No Evidence" with "No Reason" · 2021-02-16T10:55:57.854Z · LW · GW

To pick a nit: science accepts (or should accept) evidence which is not produced "via the scientific method". Ordinary everyday experience, anecdotes from friends, historical records, intuitive arguments about "beauty" or "naturalness", inferences from causal models, and pure math all contribute to scientific knowledge. The reason for privileging scientific experiment over most of these is not that the others cannot be evidence, but that rigorous experiment allows us to more thoroughly rule out alternate explanations and establish causation.

You probably already know this, but it's worth reiterating given the context of the above.

Comment by jaspax on Why I Am Not in Charge · 2021-02-15T05:09:48.728Z · LW · GW

Thanks, this (and the sister comment by Unnamed) makes perfect sense.

Comment by jaspax on Making Expertise Legible: Being right should make you respected, not the other way around · 2021-02-10T12:40:15.333Z · LW · GW

I agree that journalists misrepresent everyone; I disagree that the direction is mostly random, and it's not random precisely because "a typical journalist already has the whole story written before they interview you". In politically-charged situations (a category which includes an ever-growing number of things), this means that an interviewee who is on the same side as the journalist will get favorable representation, while an interviewee on the opposite side will get unfavorable representation. When writing about topics on which there is no particular political orthodoxy, the errors will be mostly random.

You could interview fairly but non-controversially, but this limits you to areas where there is not yet any widespread controversy, a small and shrinking territory.

Comment by jaspax on Still Not in Charge · 2021-02-10T07:28:08.612Z · LW · GW

The main issue here is that the people in question (heads of the FDA and CDC) are not really The People At The Top. They are bureaucrats promoted to the highest levels of the bureaucracy, and their attitudes and failures are those of career bureaucrats, not successful sociopaths (in the sense of Rao's "Gervais Principle").

Comment by jaspax on Why I Am Not in Charge · 2021-02-09T07:39:54.536Z · LW · GW

I'm very confused by the notion of "not having a utility function". My understanding of utility function is that it's impossible not to have one, even if the function is implicit, subconscious, or something that wouldn't be endorsed if it could be stated explicitly.

It seems like when you're saying the CDC chair doesn't have a utility function, you mean something like "the politics term in the utility function dominates all other terms". But perhaps I've misunderstood you, or I misunderstand the meaning of "utility function" in this context.

Comment by jaspax on Making Expertise Legible: Being right should make you respected, not the other way around · 2021-02-08T04:46:40.768Z · LW · GW

This is good thinking, but I worry that implementation is going to run into major difficulties.

  1. Having a journalist who does this has only a little value, but even having one journalist is actually kind of hard. The journalist will need to have support from his editor and the institution as a whole, both of which will need to accept the hit to respectability that will come from the perception that they promote cranks and conspiracy theorists. Hard to pull off. There are already people who are famous for interviewing contrarians and outsiders (this is Joe Rogan's whole schtick), but that fact is precisely what keeps them from being taken seriously.
  2. This sounds like a neat idea, and it would probably work for a small user base like LW or (tentatively) HN. But if it grew much beyond that size the political pressure on it would become extremely distorting. The object lesson of political fact-checking sites is illustrative here: there were a few weeks in which they were genuinely useful and non-partisan, before partisan tribal pressures turned them into a punchline.
Comment by jaspax on Clarifications on tech stagnation · 2021-02-01T15:23:02.611Z · LW · GW

Isn't a vaccine a very clear example of "strengthening the human immune system"? Of course vaccines are more than 100 years old...

Comment by jaspax on Where numbers come from · 2021-01-30T02:48:56.043Z · LW · GW

Lovely! I remember how stunned I was when I first realised that enumeration was a linguistic technology, and was furthermore a technology which had to be invented at a particular time and which not all communities share. Previously, I had assumed that counting was coeval with human language itself, and it was an enormous shift of perspective to realise that this is not the case.

It may be worthwhile to point out that a fully functional technology of enumeration also requires recursion: ie. the ability to count to arbitrarily high numbers by nesting signifiers in a way which implicitly involves concepts of addition and multiplication. The lack of the facility gives you languages in which one can count explicitly up to some low number but no higher, while the ability to recurse lets you count to twenty-three and six hundred  eighty nine and four hundred fifty two thousand seven hundred twelve.

Comment by jaspax on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-25T18:16:28.830Z · LW · GW

The fact that some advances exist is entirely consistent with the thesis that the overall rate of advance has slowed down, as the original article points out.

Comment by jaspax on Who should you expect to spend your life with? · 2021-01-24T20:11:50.341Z · LW · GW
  • People are at a relationship-time-steady-state between about thirty and sixty. I imagine that many people start relationships in that time, so does that mean that they also stop them at about the same rate, or gradually reduce time with their partners at a rate matching others’ forming of new relationships? Are people radically less likely to start relationships after about thirty?

I would wager that it's the last one. New relationship formation goes way down after the 20s, meaning that from the 30s thru the 60s people are mostly maintaining existing relationships, and the new relationships that they do form are being matched approximately by the ones that die out.

Is this a problem? I'm not sure. It does suggest that you should be serious and intentional about your relationship choices when you're in your 20s, because the people you build community with in that period will be the greater part of your relationships that you have for your entire life. Personally, nearing the age of 40, I find that this is mostly correct. The relative strength of various relationships has waxed and waned over time, but I have trouble thinking of too many people I know now that I did not know already in my 20s.

Comment by jaspax on D&D.Sci II: The Sorceror's Personal Shopper · 2021-01-17T09:32:34.969Z · LW · GW

Though I didn't participate in this exercise, I enjoyed reading about it and looking over the answers below. It put me in mind of a particular meta-point, which is that predictability turned out to be the key. The most profitable answers all hinged on noticing which categories the thaumatometer gave accurate readings for, and using those to minimize uncertainty.

Comment by jaspax on Wholehearted choices and “morality as taxes” · 2021-01-12T15:44:01.985Z · LW · GW

Returning to this very belatedly. I actually agree with most of what you say here, and the points of disagreement are not especially important. However, my point WRT the original analogy is that it doesn't seem to me to be compatible with these insights. If the general state of the world is equivalent to an emergency in which a man is drowning in a river, then the correct course of action is  heroic, immediate intervention. But this, as some of your quotes, is totally unsustainable as a permanent state of mind. The outcome, if we take that seriously, is either crippling scrupulosity or total indifference.

The correct move is just to reject the original equivalence. The state of the world is NOT equivalent to an emergency in which a man is drowning in a river, and intuitions drawn from the prior scenario are NOT applicable to everyday existence.

Comment by jaspax on A vastly faster vaccine rollout · 2021-01-12T09:03:12.839Z · LW · GW

A few observations:

  1. Compared to 1947, there are many fewer things that you can do without permission, and many more people from whom you must seek permission. This naturally inhibits quick action.
  2. Institutional incentives are all pointed towards caution, conservatism, and proceduralism. Undertaking decisive action to deal with a new situation is discouraged, and therefore these institutions are full of people without the disposition to even try.

I don't have citations for these, but cf. Zvi's entire series on moral mazes.

To these, we add a corona-specific factor, that we do not have enough vaccine doses to vaccinate everyone, so we have to ration and prioritise our doses. This, in turn, opens up vaccine prioritisation to political input, which means that the two factors mentioned above come to dominate, and we wind up with a vaccine plan which is maximally cautious, procedural, and bureaucratic. If we had enough doses to actually vaccinate everyone, it would be much easier to sell a policy of just vaccinating whoever walks through the door.

Comment by jaspax on In Defense of Twitter's Decision to Ban Trump · 2021-01-11T18:32:33.587Z · LW · GW

I endorse @remizidae's comment above, and would like to add the following:

Twitter is a private company and not a state actor. The First Amendment does not apply to decisions about whom it allows to use its platform.

Too many smart people are conflating the rights and responsibilities of state actors with those of private companies.

This is legally relevant but morally irrelevant. The distinction between public and private moderation is not due to some fundamental, ontological difference between government and private oppression, but rather because in the conditions under which the 1st Amendment was originally written, the state was the only actor who could effectively suppress speech across the whole spectrum of society. But this is not the case today! Today, large online platforms are able to suppress speech that they disapprove of at an international scale. Even if "only 22% of Americans have a Twitter account", that still gives them a degree of influence comparable to that of the state, and this concern only gets greater if we realise that adding in a few other common social networks brings coverage to close to 100% and all of these platforms have similar moderation attitudes, which results in a homogeneity of "acceptable discourse" which freedom of speech is supposed to avoid. If we actually value freedom of speech as an actual moral principle and not merely as a legal technicality, then we should absolutely be concerned about censorial powers wielded by private companies.

Comment by jaspax on Wholehearted choices and “morality as taxes” · 2020-12-23T12:21:44.718Z · LW · GW

Unfortunately this intuition pump pumps the wrong way for me, or at least it does the moment I look away from the specific example and towards the general type of thing that it's trying to encourage.

If you're going on a walk just once and come across someone who needs help, you should help them. The experience you describe of having regret and sadness over not getting to help them is perfectly accurate. But Singer wants to generalise this kind of obligation to such a large class of problem that it's as if you never get to have a nice walk in the woods again. You will spend your entire life pulling people out from underneath machinery, and every time you do so there will be another person right next to them who needs the same kind of help, and it goes on and on forever, because the scope of the problem, at least relative to your contribution, is infinite. You will beg for a day in which you go outside and don't find another idiot stuck under his fucking car, you will glance longingly at the woods and wish for the day when you can enjoy the swish of leaves around your ankles again---but you know that if you do that, somebody else is going to die, you monster. So eventually you either give up, or you put earplugs in your ears and go enjoy some time in the woods, completely unable to hear the people yelling for help.

Edit: to be clear, I agree with the original choice as presented: I would be glad to give up my walk in the woods to save someone's life in the manner described. My argument is against the generalisation of this intuition to the wide variety of situations that Singer wants to apply it to, and my paragraph above intends to show that even the original example becomes oppressive if you expand it to the appropriate scale.

Comment by jaspax on Covid 12/17: The First Dose · 2020-12-18T10:24:47.765Z · LW · GW

I had the exact same thought. COVID inhabits a liminal zone in which it's simultaneously true that vigorous action could save hundreds of thousands of lives, but many people would individually look at the infection and fatality rates and determine that it wasn't worth it to cancel their entire lives. Given existing political cleavages, it was also entirely predictable that this would wind up splitting down partisan lines.

Comment by jaspax on What is it good for? But actually? · 2020-12-17T06:39:21.561Z · LW · GW

The only part of this that doesn't make sense to me is "they still eliminated their excess population". Unless I'm mistaken about the numbers, no war before WWI ever had a large enough number of combatants or was deadly enough in general to make a real dent in the population. An exception to this might be prehistoric intertribal warfare in which the combatants include "all healthy adult males of the tribe", but that obviously doesn't apply to Iron Age to Industrial Age warfare as you claim.

Comment by jaspax on Unexplored modes of language · 2020-12-11T15:15:44.583Z · LW · GW

Piraha is hardly the only language which has a pure-tonal mode; such things are relatively common throughout the tropics, as I understand it. However, as I understand it the tonal modes of these languages tend to be pretty restricted compared to the full modes, since they lose too much information, and can only effectively communicate a limited suite of phrases and messages composed from those phrases.

Comment by jaspax on Quick Thoughts on Immoral Mazes · 2020-12-11T09:02:20.649Z · LW · GW

Thanks in turn :).

I had read The Refragmentation before, but I reread it shortly after reading your article to make sure I hadn't missed something. I definitely think that Graham is onto something, but I'm just not sure that it actually cashes out into a lower maze level overall. In particular, deregulation seems to have reduced the size of moats around incumbents, but doesn't seem to have resulted in an overall reduction in firm size; instead, what happened is that incumbents were merged or reorganized, and in some cases upstarts replaced them and grew bigger. But this does not necessarily mean that the replacements were less maze-like. Microsoft is now bigger than IBM, but does it actually have less middle-management maze behavior?

I seem to recall stats to the effect that the largest N corporations employ a steadily-increasing portion of the population and the economy, which would support this analysis. Unfortunately, I can't find a data set online that shows this, though I did come up with https://www.bls.gov/web/cewbd/table_g.txt, which has some interesting data in it. (For example, I didn't realize that the number of public sector firms was actually that small.)

I also noticed this, tucked away in a footnote inThe Refragmentation:

More precisely, there was a bimodal economy consisting, in Galbraith's words, of "the world of the technically dynamic, massively capitalized and highly organized corporations on the one hand and the hundreds of thousands of small and traditional proprietors on the other." Money, prestige, and power were concentrated in the former, and there was near zero crossover.

The tiny mom-and-pop store is now much rarer than it used to be. Decades ago, your groceries, home goods, clothes, and gas might all have been bought from retailers that had less than 5 employees, even if they were manufactured by much larger corps. These days you probably get all of them from large organizations.

Comment by jaspax on Quick Thoughts on Immoral Mazes · 2020-12-09T05:03:29.617Z · LW · GW

Hello, LessWrong! Long time reader, first-time commenter.

I think that your description of the counter-maze tendency is wrong, and you've misunderstood some aspects of Zvi's model while being distracted by superficialities in the other. To wit:

  • Startups employ a trivial percentage of the workforce and do not contribute much to the economy. Startups that get big occupy more economic space, but by that point they're no longer startups. So the attributes of startup culture are not really relevant to the economy at large.
  • It's understood by everyone that being a startup is a kind of  corporate childhood -- romanticised, but temporary. It is implicitly accepted by everyone, including startup founders, that growing up and becoming a mature, "adult" company requires becoming a maze with multiple levels of hierarchy.
  • Tech culture is anti-maze only insofar as it consists of startups. All of FAANGM are fully converted to mazes. Consequently, most actual tech workers work within mazes.
  • The change away from suits etc. is a change of fashion with no impact on the underlying dynamics. Arguably it actually helps out the sociopaths because it replaces a fixed, legible standard of dress with an unclear and illegible question of "culture fit", which creates more room for maze games.
  • The move away from "company men" was not a move away from large firms, but rather a move away from a vertical system to a stratified one. In the old system (prior to 1970) you could expect to work your entire life for the same company, and middle and upper management was typically promoted from the rank-and-file. In the newer system, middle and upper management are hired from people with MBAs and other credentials, and they move freely between industries. As a consequence, the maze-nature is transmitted quickly from company to company, and to a certain extent all management everywhere is joined in a super-maze, as all management shares the same culture and experiences which is completely separate from the culture and experiences of the workers.
  • Actually, this last point deserves more elaboration: according to Zvi, the main thing that mitigates against mazes is direct engagement with the object-level reality. This engagement is present in the rank-and-file, and to a certain extent at the very top, but is absent in the middle. However, in a vertical system of advancement, where management hires are made from within, the middle ranks will at least have a memory of working on the object-level concerns of the firm. The rise of a permanent managerial class means that many middle managers are of a type which has never worked directly on the actual product that their company makes, and whose entire education and experience is in the context of immoral mazes.

So I find it unpersuasive to think that any of the cultural changes of the previous decades have done anything to reverse the advance of mazes as the normative corporate structure, and some of the things that you mention as inhibiting maze structures (such as frequently changing companies over the course of a career) have probably actually accelerated them.

An additional, unrelated note: the model of The Dictator's Handbook suggests that incentives push away from the middle, towards total democracy (when there are already a large number of key supporters) or total autocracy (where the number of key supporters approaches one). But don't other models suggest that the middle state of oligarchy is actually the default, and that both democracy and monarchy tend to decay towards oligarchy over time? And aren't examples of this widespread? I notice that I am confused.