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Possible new pneumonia in Kazahkstan (July 2020) 2020-07-12T20:41:19.192Z

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Comment by jay on The Forces of Blandness and the Disagreeable Majority · 2021-01-09T21:02:37.378Z · LW · GW

I think a large part of it stems from the dominance of marketing in our culture.  Our elites are fundamentally salespeople, and insulted customers walk away.  When the social justice movement made offense its cardinal sin, our leadership found a religion it could believe in.  The only irredeemable sinners are the working class, because they're too poor to be a valuable market segment.

The Myers-Briggs model always struck me as the perfect example of American culture.  There are 16 types , and all of them are wonderful.  You are encouraged to settle into the market segment that's right for you.  I suspect a Chinese discussion of the Myers-Briggs typology would start with which type makes the most money (INTJ, I hear), and the rest of it would be about how to become an INTJ.

Comment by jay on Is Success the Enemy of Freedom? (Full) · 2021-01-05T23:10:06.263Z · LW · GW

You'll know more as you get older.  You'll have solutions cached for more problems.  But your sheer ability to think will peak within a few years.  Unless what you do is extremely IQ-intensive you won't notice any significant decline for quite a while, but there's a reason that 30 year old mathematicians are considered past their prime.

As far as being cross with the universe, there's a support group for that.  It's called "everybody".  We used to meet daily after work in literally every bar, but the lockdowns have been rather disruptive.

Comment by jay on Mental Blinders from Working Within Systems · 2020-12-15T22:42:46.174Z · LW · GW

If you want to try a startup anyway, here a few bits of advice:

  • Your company will be very demanding and not lucrative for quite some time.  You'll need slack everywhere else.  Avoid debt like the plague.  Relationships will be challenging.
  • When you have employees, their perspective will diverge from yours.  It's not their company.  It's not their dream.  It's just a job to them.  
  • Joining a startup is like going on a blind date.  There is a finite number of times you can do it before it becomes incredibly depressing.  The first one is an adventure, and the second one you know will be different.  After that ...

Good luck!

Comment by jay on Mental Blinders from Working Within Systems · 2020-12-13T00:58:28.853Z · LW · GW

If a >5% chance of getting rich seems worth a <95% chance of wasting several years of your youth, then you do you.  That's how I wasted my own youth.  In retrospect I wish I'd picked one of the fun ways, but hindsight is 20/20.

Comment by jay on Mental Blinders from Working Within Systems · 2020-12-11T23:02:44.293Z · LW · GW

As I noted below, nearly all startups fail (including the ones I've been involved in).  So in my case, the biggest barrier to starting my own company is my experienced judgement that it's almost never a good idea.

Comment by jay on Mental Blinders from Working Within Systems · 2020-12-11T22:57:56.001Z · LW · GW

In the companies I worked for, the major investors usually had a few seats on the Board of Directors.  Also, they generally invested because they were major potential customers and hoped to use the startup's technology as a competitive advantage in their own companies.  And the investment contracts had many strings attached to preserve the investor's flexibility at the cost of the startup's. So they could (and did) renegotiate research agreements under unfavorable terms when the startup couldn't deliver as promised, trigger contractual provisions that gave them extra control if revenue targets weren't met, lead boardroom motions to replace senior management, send their people around to monitor the workplace (board members have that right), etc.  

Or they'd just shut off the funding.  A startup that has investment will almost always add staff and other costs; that's why they wanted funding in the first place.  But that means that the burn rate rises to the point where the company can't survive long without more cash*, and its current investors are by far the easiest people to tap for cash.  When they cut off the spigot, several of my employers weren't able to survive long enough to find more funding.

*It would be nice to get several years worth of cash at once, but most investors were unwilling to commit more than six months at a time.  Maybe a year, at the outset.

Comment by jay on Mental Blinders from Working Within Systems · 2020-12-11T02:11:56.259Z · LW · GW

I've been in five or six startups, depending how you count.  If the startup is not meeting the investors' expectations and needs more cash, which is usual (nearly all startups fail), then keeping investors happy is a huge problem.*  The first six months or so of an investor relationship are usually okay, but things sour from there.  If you're exceeding expectations they're pretty mellow, I hear, but their expectations are pretty extreme and I have no direct experience of this.

*Oddly, people become unhappy when they realize you're losing their money.  

Comment by jay on Mental Blinders from Working Within Systems · 2020-12-10T23:23:45.017Z · LW · GW

Success in the start-up world gives you money, but also gives you equity investors with many demands.  That sort of success may not actually give much freedom unless you manage to sell out, literally, in the form of trading your equity and control for cash.  Then the investors become someone else's problem and you're left with cash and freedom.

Comment by jay on Using false but instrumentally rational beliefs for your career? · 2020-11-25T11:33:56.113Z · LW · GW

Fair enough.  I've never understood how "self-deceit" was supposed to work, though.  Self - delusion is simple enough - you believe something that isn't true.  That's probably universal.  But self-deceit seems to require you to believe something that you don't believe, and I don't understand why you expect yourself to fall for it.

Comment by jay on Using false but instrumentally rational beliefs for your career? · 2020-11-24T23:41:40.417Z · LW · GW

If you think the baseline chance of getting a job in your field* is 70%, you're either extraordinarily talented or a fairly delusional.  I don't know you, but I know how I'd bet it.  Long story short - the market is absurdly competitive and you probably shouldn't get a PhD at all.  If you do try for it, you should realize that excessive work doesn't guarantee success but failing to work excessively basically guarantees failure.

P.S.  I have an Ivy League STEM PhD and am working as an accountant in the public sector (in other words, the higher end of working class or lower middle class).  I'm not the only STEM PhD in my bureau.

*excluding adjunct positions paying sub-minimum wage.

Comment by jay on Straight-edge Warning Against Physical Intimacy · 2020-11-24T01:17:00.652Z · LW · GW

I suspect that he's using "true self" to refer to facets of himself that a psychologist would call ego-syntonic.  Simply put, ego-syntonic facets of oneself are in accordance with a person's self-image and ego-dystonic facets of oneself are at odds with one's self-conception.  The actual person is ultimately the "true" self, warts and all.

It is as much a function of a person's self-concept as it is of the person's behavior.  For example, homosexuality can be ego-dystonic (closeted; in denial) or ego-syntonic (self-accepted, if not necessarily public).

It is often mature and appropriate to pursue ego-syntonic goals to try to become the person you want to be.  On the other hand, each of us has behaviors that resist improvement (as our self-concepts define "improvement"); learning to accept and accommodate the facets of yourself that resist change can also be healthy.  

Comment by jay on On Arguments for God · 2020-11-14T22:44:19.816Z · LW · GW

Bingo.  If my MMO toon became self-aware and developed the scientific method, he would discover scientific laws involving hit points, character classes, etc.  He would discover the laws of <i>his</i> world, which do not always correspond to anything outside the simulation.

Comment by jay on Impostor Syndrome as skill/dominance mismatch · 2020-11-06T19:11:21.292Z · LW · GW

If Adam is a 10 in dominance but a 7 in skill*, he probably has what he needs to stay on top but he may feel like an imposter if he compares himself to Bob (6 dominance, 10 skill).  Adam is skilled enough to understand that Bob is better in certain ways.

*Whatever these numbers mean.  This model is for illustration only.

Comment by jay on Is Success the Enemy of Freedom? (Full) · 2020-11-03T23:38:55.423Z · LW · GW

Human capability usually peaks around the age of 25; that's about how old Einstein was during his "miracle year".  After that, everything gets gradually harder.  For a while, it's hardly noticeable unless you enter a new, hyper-competitive environment.  Later on people rely on built up advantages to stay competitive.  Eventually time makes fools of us all.

Comment by jay on Is Success the Enemy of Freedom? (Full) · 2020-10-28T21:45:29.336Z · LW · GW

Success raises the degree to which you can explore without wrecking the stable environment you've built; it also raises the bar for what you consider exploration.  A waiter with two kids might dream of backpacking across Mexico but be too tied down to do it; an executive could easily afford a family vacation in Mexico but would dream of something larger that he's too tied down to do (start his own company, learn to code well, become a doctor, whatever).

Comment by jay on Is Success the Enemy of Freedom? (Full) · 2020-10-26T23:11:24.978Z · LW · GW

I think the real reason is that exploration is a stage in life; it naturally ends with parenthood.  Our goal in youth is to explore the world until we find a way to succeed.  In adulthood, our goal is to maintain a stable environment so that our children and students can safely explore.

Comment by jay on Rationality and Climate Change · 2020-10-14T23:17:54.587Z · LW · GW

One of the major problems with solar is that it's diffuse.  The second law of thermodynamics means that diffusing energy is very easy and concentrating it is effortful.  When you take a bunch of photocells that are producing milliamps of current at about a volt (i.e. milliwatts of power), the process required to combine their output into a usable voltage and current is rather inefficient.  I don't have any recent data for how inefficient; does anyone?

Fossil energy is concentrated from the start.  Nuclear energy isn't; turning dilute ores into concentrated fuels takes a good deal of processing (but it still works more scalably than solar).

Comment by jay on Rationality and Climate Change · 2020-10-07T22:31:45.418Z · LW · GW

I agree that it's technology or death.  I'm just not seeing the necessary technology, or any realistic hope of inventing it.  Which is why the comparison I used was the fall of the Roman Empire, which took Western Europe about a thousand years to fully recover from.  

You might respond that I should go into renewable energy research to try to solve the problem.  I did, for four years.  I'm out of ideas.

Comment by jay on Rationality and Climate Change · 2020-10-07T22:30:27.629Z · LW · GW

I agree that nuclear is the best path going forward on a technological level, but from a political standpoint it's just not going to happen.  And yes, that is a civilization-level tragedy.

Comment by jay on Rationality and Climate Change · 2020-10-07T22:17:27.430Z · LW · GW

Part of it is that high-performance solar cells require single-crystal silicon or gallium arsenide.  The purification process for semiconductors is extremely energy intensive.  The device fabrication processes are resource and energy intensive as well.  But yes, storage is also a huge problem (especially for winter heating, etc.)

Comment by jay on Rationality and Climate Change · 2020-10-07T02:04:29.687Z · LW · GW

We have been working on technological fixes for over 50 years, and we don't have anything that could realistically address the problem to show for it.*  We should at least consider the possibility that a technological fix will not be available. **

Humans are often wrong-genre savvy.  Most people in the rationalist community seem to think we're in a Star Trek prequel, but we may actually be in a big budget reboot of Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  For what it's worth, the guy who's playing Caligula is a great performer.  Huge talent.  The biggest talent ever.

*Someone will inevitably say that we are just about to have a solar revolution.  Some of us heard Jimmy Carter say that, and the promise to payoff ratio is getting a bit on the implausible side.

**I once had a job interview that went like this:

Interviewer:  After coal is burned, we're looking for a way to turn the carbon dioxide back into coal.  Can you do that?

Me (hesitantly): Yes, but it would consume energy.

Interviewer: Energy is available.

Me: I mean, it would consume so much energy that you'd be better off never having burned the coal.  That's not really something you can engineer around; that's basic thermodynamics.

A brief pretense of completing the interview was made by both parties.

Comment by jay on Rationality and Climate Change · 2020-10-05T23:42:40.431Z · LW · GW

Train harder.  Your probabilities sum to 110%.

Comment by jay on Rationality and Climate Change · 2020-10-05T11:10:01.612Z · LW · GW

My personal views on climate change are extremely heterodox among the rationalist community*, but not uncommon among intellectuals of other stripes:

  • Climate change is real, and is exceeding what were previously considered worst case scenarios.
    • It was kicked off by fossil fuels, but at this point methane clathrates may be a bigger contributor.
  • It is having substantial effects on wildfires, hurricanes, and droughts.  It will likely start having substantial impacts on commercial agriculture soon.  That will probably eventually kill a lot of people.  Like, more than half.
  • When the ecological situation deteriorates that badly, peace is implausible.
  • There's not much we can do about it.  Renewable energy doesn't have the necessary EROEI** to sustain society.  Nuclear has more potential, but the political problems are showstoppers and rare earths are, well, rare.  About 3/4 of our energy comes from fossil fuels and there's little hope of that changing soon.

Since this thread is a poll, it should go without saying that reasonable people disagree.  But I said it anyway.

*The "rationalist community" is centered around Silly Con Valley and tends to be credulous about the potential of technology.

**Energy return on energy invested.  A recent solar plant in Spain managed an EROEI of roughly 3.  An EROEI of 12 is thought to be sufficient to support a stripped-down, efficiency-oriented, zero-growth version of civilization as we know it.  In the 1960s, oil wells with EROEIs of thousands were available; they're all but gone now.

Comment by jay on Comparative Advantage is Not About Trade · 2020-09-30T22:51:11.843Z · LW · GW

I see what you're saying.  I would have called that "weighing my options", but if you prefer to call it "comparative advantage" I have no problem.

I'll note that there might not be a coherent price for the optimum decision for various reasons.  For example, there might be a very cost-effective idea that requires more than Robert's total budget (so he can't choose it).  Alternatively, there might be ideas where the outcome is uncertain and the probability of success is not reasonably estimable, so no marginal price can be computed*.

*He could always assign a probability by the method of rectal extraction, but the computation would not be reliable. 

Comment by jay on "Win First" vs "Chill First" · 2020-09-29T23:24:46.239Z · LW · GW

From the perspective of a 76er, Jimmy Butler seems like a servant of Moloch.

The 76ers are NBA players.  They've worked to their limits all throughout high school and college to get there. Now they're semi-wealthy and semi-famous and still pretty young.  I can completely understand why they think it's time to enjoy life.*  The cheerleaders are right there, for crying out loud.

If Jimmy Butler got his way, some of them would start working harder.  They'd get recognition in the short run, but pretty quickly it would become a culture where the higher standard of effort was obligatory.  They would all do more of what they don't enjoy and less of what they do enjoy.  They might win more games, for what that's worth.  They would get little of value for the extra sacrifice.  So they don't.

*Keeping in mind that even a "lazy" NBA player is well within the top 1% of Americans for physical effort.

Comment by jay on Comparative Advantage is Not About Trade · 2020-09-26T19:06:00.611Z · LW · GW

So where does that concept get us, without peaceful trade?

Suppose we have a simple, two-factor model of the Hundred Years' War.  The English have a comparative advantage in archers; the French have a comparative advantage in armored knights. Without peaceful trade, what non-obvious conclusion does comparative advantage lead us toward?

It was obvious, even before the concept of comparative advantage was developed, that English strategy should favor archers and French strategy should favor knights.  It was obvious that both sides should attempt wherever possible to fight when circumstances favor their preferred mode of fighting and to avoid battle when circumstances are against them.

What I'm trying to say is that you can look at pretty much anything through pretty much any analytical lens; you could probably attempt to apply the lens of Biblical prophecy to the unification of Japan.  Most of those views do not give meaningful insights (I admit that some promote success in humanities graduate programs, which strains the definition of meaningfulness).  What insight do you see that can be gained through applying the lens of comparative advantage to a new subject?

P.S.  France won.

Comment by jay on Comparative Advantage is Not About Trade · 2020-09-26T00:36:36.762Z · LW · GW

You can have comparison in non-peaceful terms; an Ottoman delegation to America commented that we were excellent with guns but had no grasp at all of swordsmanship (this was true, for what it was worth).  Any battle inherently results in a comparison of the martial strength of the two sides.  But Ricardo's basic idea was that two parties with different comparative advantages could trade peacefully to the benefit of both.  Comparative advantage without peaceful trade loses the point of the idea.  I suppose you could say that the Aztecs had a comparative advantage over their neighbors in capturing enemies for human sacrifice and cannibalism, but does it make sense to say that their neighbors had a comparative advantage in being captured, murdered, and eaten?  If that's an advantage, I'd hate to see a disadvantage.

Comment by jay on Comparative Advantage is Not About Trade · 2020-09-23T23:12:31.347Z · LW · GW

I think what's unrealistic about the principle of comparative advantage, from the perspective of a historian, is its presumption that interactions will be peaceful.  If one tribe has more resources, soon it will have a larger population.  Once its population has expanded to the limit of its resources, it will almost certainly attempt through conquest to expand to the limit of its neighbors' resources.  The idea that the weak can profit from interaction with the strong was considered and dismissed by the "father of history".

Comment by jay on What a 20-year-lead in military tech might look like · 2020-08-06T10:32:55.034Z · LW · GW

My question was mostly about the transition from conquest to occupation. How did they get from the point where native armies had been defeated to the point where natives would accept their rule? That's the transition we've failed spectacularly at in Iraq and Afghanistan, so it's a matter of considerable practical importance.

Comment by jay on What a 20-year-lead in military tech might look like · 2020-08-05T22:52:55.322Z · LW · GW

I get your points, but I think you may be underestimating the sheer technological advantage enjoyed by the British at that time. This was the age of "we have the Maxim gun and they have not". Between the power of its guns and the wealth of its factories, Britain at the time had nigh-insurmountable advantages; its war against the Zanzibar Sultanate brought decisive British victory within 45 minutes.

Comment by jay on What a 20-year-lead in military tech might look like · 2020-07-31T10:56:02.508Z · LW · GW

I honestly don't know much about the British conquest of India, although I'm pretty sure that the power differential between the West and the rest at that point in time was near its peak. Does anyone know how they did it?

Comment by jay on What a 20-year-lead in military tech might look like · 2020-07-30T21:37:30.523Z · LW · GW

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2004/05/09/a-proven-formula-for-how-many-troops-we-need/5c6dbfc9-33f8-4648-bd07-40d244a1daa4/

Epistemic status: probably not as reliable as it claims to be, but a useful rule of thumb for planning purposes.

Comment by jay on What a 20-year-lead in military tech might look like · 2020-07-30T10:59:48.459Z · LW · GW

Don't forget major problem (c), which is that we're not willing to make the decades-long investment that statebuilding takes. A good rule of thumb is 50 occupiers per subject-nation citizen; our recent occupations have had nowhere near that number. They have to stay long enough become fully integrated with the local culture so that they can change it, violently when necessary (think British Raj or 1945 occupation of Japan). The US military is not designed to do this, and our politicians are not willing to redesign it as an occupying force (e.g. by making postings semi-permanent instead of brief rotations and teaching all our troops the local language). Therefore our attempts at colonization-style outcomes consistently fail.

The short version is that we already have the technology to destroy anything, but the resulting power vacuum consistently leads to civil war.

Comment by jay on Science eats its young · 2020-07-12T16:45:49.902Z · LW · GW

Personally I've found that analytical chemistry is a good discipline for learning the scientific method. You're using the same theories as everyone else, but the specific composition of your particular unknown sample has to be figured out by testing, guesswork, and induction.

Comment by jay on Sick of struggling · 2020-07-01T10:45:41.641Z · LW · GW

our possibilities are endless

Who told you that? If the answer involves science fiction authors, politicians, or religious leaders, then you might want to think about their credibility.

Air molecules can do impressive things (mostly destructive things) when enough of them start moving in the same direction, but mostly they just bounce off each other and collectively don't do much. People are much the same.

We're only human. A solid 49.9% of us are below-average humans. Most people are trying pretty hard, in our limited way, to accomplish goals that may or may not have been good ideas in the first place. Don't be too hard on them, or on yourself.

Comment by jay on What is Ra? · 2020-06-07T02:09:31.294Z · LW · GW

If you want to see Ra in its purest form, look to advertising. It's positive affect free of information. Olive Garden is not your family; not all who eat Doritos are bold. Ra is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is also often encountered in celebrities and politics (what is Kim Kardashian famous for, exactly?).

The opposite of Ra is the question "What have you done for me lately?".

Comment by jay on "It's Okay", Instructions, Focusing, Experiencing and Frames · 2020-05-15T10:49:57.515Z · LW · GW

I would say something like "There's no point in judging the world. It's much vaster than you are, and your opinion of it doesn't really matter. There is often value in understanding it, though."

Comment by jay on Re: Some Heroes · 2020-05-12T21:09:51.681Z · LW · GW

Could we get a Romanization of #5? Some of us are modestly familiar with Chinese history while simultaneously baffled by a written language that appears to consist mainly of several thousand subtly different drawings of sheds.

Comment by jay on Book Review: Narconomics · 2020-05-06T11:08:41.659Z · LW · GW

I suspect that "outsiders" form a bigger part of the overall demand than you think, and that the business transfers considerable(1) amounts of currency to the inner cities from places like Wall Street and Hollywood (and other more affluent areas). Which isn't to say that it's not part of the structures keeping the underclass down(2); it's possible to be dependent for one's livelihood on things that are bad for you.

(1) considerable by inner city standards, much less so by Wall Street standards

(2) I'm not sure to what extent we should view society as "keeping the underclass down" vs. "trying, and mostly failing, to lift the underclass up". Your points about the Nixon-era policies are taken, but that was 50 years ago and only part of the story.

Comment by jay on Book Review: Narconomics · 2020-05-03T21:48:10.670Z · LW · GW

I wonder if the drug war isn't the hidden subsidy that keeps the American underclass alive. Because drugs are lucrative and illegal, there is a significant section of our economy reserved to people who are desperate enough to sell drugs. If everyone could get quality cocaine at Walmart for $2.99 a hit, I'm concerned that the inner city poor would lose the only viable business they have. Sure it's a crappy business, but it's not like they're drowning in other attractive options.

Comment by jay on Forbidden Technology · 2020-05-03T21:37:03.770Z · LW · GW

Desktop GUIs are simple, but a click or three can open software that's complex enough not to annoy me. Part of it is the screen; you can fit much more information on a large screen (obviously). Part of it is the input; keyboard and mouse gives you many more potential actions at any time than a touchscreen (given realistic limits). I will admit I disliked the Windows model at first, but I quickly realized that it worked pretty well.

Comment by jay on Forbidden Technology · 2020-04-26T00:18:30.555Z · LW · GW

Personally I avoid smartphones and tablets. I had a tablet briefly, but it just felt incredibly shallow. Instead I use a blackberry-style phone for calls and texts and a desktop computer for everything else. Also a Kindle Paperwhite, which is basically a tablet optimized for the sorts of content I prefer to consume (books).

Comment by jay on My experience with the "rationalist uncanny valley" · 2020-04-26T00:08:01.517Z · LW · GW

I need to start off by saying that I strongly encourage those who can to achieve fluency with the techniques of rationality. They're often very useful, and not knowing them is often crippling.

Having said that, if reason is the only tool in your toolkit you're not likely to get far. Empathy, charisma, confidence, psychology, and physical attractiveness are often even more useful. You are surrounded by seven billion apes who are smart enough to invent nuclear weapons and stupid enough to use them; they are by far the most important part of your environment and Donald Trump is better at manipulating them than Eliezer Yudkowski.

Beyond that there are the insights of meta-rationality. If you think of rationality in terms of optimization, meta-rationality is the art of choosing what to optimize. If rationalism is like climbing stairs, meta-rationality is deciding which staircases are worth climbing (there's a lot more to it than that.).

What I'm trying to say is- don't be so proud of your rationalism. It's only a part of what you need.

Comment by jay on My experience with the "rationalist uncanny valley" · 2020-04-23T21:14:12.841Z · LW · GW

I would start with the ideas that natural behavior is typically adaptive, and that society is built for people who behave naturally. Rationality is highly effective at the margins, but tends to cause issues if used without restraint. Don't go overboard. If you do one thing at professional quality, it's okay to be normal everywhere else.

In a related note, we all have meta-preferences that are different than our preferences; there are many things that we want to have done but don't actually want to do. And often our preferences are wiser than our meta-preferences; spending your youth studying and self-improving is not always a better use of your time than getting drunk with attractive people. You don't have to be superhuman, which is good since it isn't an option. Have some compassion for yourself; it's okay to be merely okay.

Note that this is the opposite of the advice that I would give to an underachieving slacker. Some people need to learn to act with intent, and some people need to learn to chill. You seem to be the second type.

Comment by jay on Magic Brain Juice · 2020-03-09T23:29:59.421Z · LW · GW

People vary considerably in which habits stick, which habits don't, and how much work any specific habit takes. To the extent that there is a "self", I'd say it involves not how you are at any given moment, but the range of modifications accessible to you over time.

Comment by jay on Meta-Preference Utilitarianism · 2020-02-18T00:03:31.588Z · LW · GW

I got that; I just don't think most people have identifiable meta-preferences. I don't. I expect less than half of Americans would quickly understand the concept of "meta-preferences", and I'm pretty sure that God features prominently in the moral reasoning of most Americans (but perhaps not most Californians).

OTOH, I'm sure that many people have identifiable preferences and that some people are smart enough to work backwards. Somebody's going to figure out which meta-preference leads to a lower tax rate and tell Fox News.

Voting relies on human judgement, which gets increasingly shaky the farther it gets from the humans' concrete concerns. I think your approach magnifies the problems of democracy rather than solving them.

Comment by jay on Meta-Preference Utilitarianism · 2020-02-11T01:39:40.603Z · LW · GW

I expect that this system, like democratic processes in general, would have problems because nearly all people, even on an individual level, don't have clearly defined ideas of what they want to optimize. I'd expect a relatively small number of people to develop some understanding of the various choices and their effects, then the emergence of various political campaigns to promote one or another preference (for reasons idealistic and otherwise). I'd expect tribalism to set in rather quickly.

Comment by jay on Protecting Large Projects Against Mazedom · 2020-02-05T01:10:28.483Z · LW · GW

Six direct reports is the rule of thumb I use but it depends on the job, the manager, and the staff. Use a number that's demanding but realistic for your purpose; it should take good managers but not great managers.

Comment by jay on Protecting Large Projects Against Mazedom · 2020-02-03T23:32:23.001Z · LW · GW

I have a few concerns about the suggested solutions:


Solution 1 (be smaller): Being smaller means less maze-nature within your organization, but more interfaces with other organizations (since you're forced to contract out a lot of things). Interfaces with other organizations tend to bring issues of coordinative communication that are similar to, and potentially worse than, the internal mazes they replace.


Solution 2 (minimize levels of hierarchy): I agree, to a limit. That limit is usually about six direct reports per supervisor. Beyond that, people and projects get lost in the shuffle; a single manager can only manage so much and six staff is a fair estimate for competent managers.

Solution 6 (resist "objective criteria"): When serious money and careers are on the line, that's very dangerous. You will make mistakes; objective criteria (however flawed) will allow your boss to "fix the problem" by changing the criteria instead of by firing you. You will upset people with your hiring, promotion, and firing decisions; having an objective basis for your actions is extremely helpful to avoid or minimize lawsuits. Sadly, this is true even if the "objective criteria" are fatally flawed; hardly anyone will have enough information to tell.

Solution 8 (avoid other mazes): All things being equal I'd agree. In practice, the organizations that have huge budgets are usually mazes. As customers, mazes have excellent qualities in terms of budgets (often large) and demands for performance. Mazes demand compliance and reports; other customers demand results.

Comment by jay on Moloch Hasn’t Won · 2019-12-29T14:08:35.049Z · LW · GW

Moloch's biggest enemy is change. In a rapidly changing environment, "Moloch" presents as crippling overspecialization. Since "slack" is useful in a wide variety of circumstances, rapid change selects for slack.