Wednesday, October 25, 2017


I'm for some reason finding it impossible to leave comments on my own blog. Which is why I haven't replied to recent comments. Thanks for leaving them anyway! If I can work out what on earth is going on and fix it then I will reply.

This is ridiculous, and I should spend a couple of days at some point finding a better blogging platform. Hopefully one which can just suck all the content out of this accursèd heap (blogger). Any recommendations anyone?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Things You Can't Say

Scott Alexander speaks to us of the mechanisms of oppression:

You should totally read this. Like everything he writes it is insightful and very well-written.

See also:

Both glorious essays, well worth reading. Three of my favourite bloggers.

And I respond (a comment on the slate star codex subreddit. essays seem to be flying fully-armed from my forehead as reddit comments, whereas whenever I sit down to write an essay I spend all day on it and then get discouraged for no reason):

Err, what?

I loved this post on the object-level. Like, screw-you catholic church. You stripped and gagged my hero Giordano Bruno and you hung him upside-down and you lowered him alive head-first into a huge fire for saying bad things. And you don't get off just because the things you objected to weren't the things we thought they were, but were in fact some silly made-up fairy story nonsense that wouldn't fool a five-year old. You still retarded the progress of science (a bit) (probably enough that I am a generation short of immortality, which I take very personally). So screw you. Also you have totally lost and everyone despises you now. Ha ha ha ha ha.

On the meta-level, what the hell? We live in a society where we can pretty much say what we like. Without even the slightest comeback. America actually has a constitutional guarantee of absolute freedom of speech. And it seems to me to be very solidly upheld.

I can think of a number of issues that are controversial in American politics. I am not going to invoke their names here, but not because I think that the CIA might hunt me down, but because I do not want to get banned from this subreddit for starting discussions which aren't allowed by the moderators of this subreddit (i.e. Scott!).

The reason that I can think of these issues is because I can hardly open my morning internet without reading about them, both sides passionately advocated by clever and articulate people. It is fun.

The penalty for saying the things you can't say is usually (if you say them well) fame, and best-selling books. Which don't seem to get burned much. About the worst you can say is that it can be difficult to get state funding to research things that the state doesn't particularly want to know the answer to.

Luckily, I live in England, in a society where there is no such guarantee. We don't want one. We don't like absolute freedom of speech. We never have. Bad people will say bad things and cause trouble and we would rather they shut up.

We actually have laws prohibiting certain kinds of political speech! Can you imagine?

So I have some actual legally enforced taboos that I can violate without touching on your silly "Culture War".

One of them is about inciting racial hatred.

Another is about glorifying terrorism.

And just for good measure, not here, but in some parts of the European SuperState in which I live it is illegal to deny the holocaust.

I don't really know the details of these laws because there is not a plastic cat in hell's chance of me being prosecuted under them. A bit like the blasphemy laws, which we also still have, I think.

So here goes:

White people are evil. We should make a big bonfire and burn them all. If you don't think that's good enough, suggest another race and I'll repeat the comment with that race inserted. (Unless it's "bargee travellers/water gypsies/or, as we prefer to be known, floating pikey scum", in which case fuck you).

Terrorism is totally glorious, it works, and it does a lot of good in the world. Good old terrorism. Glory to it! Up the IRA! Remember Skibbereen! Also ISIS. Great guys, doing the Lord's work, would invite them round for a beer and a bacon sandwich any time.

And the holocaust didn't happen, or if it did it's been totally exaggerated. Hitler was a good man who was sincerely trying to make the world a better place and it is simply unfortunate that he was so very wrong about the sorts of things that would help.

There we go.

I am commenting in a pseudonymous forum. But I have neglected properly to ensure my security because my pseudonym is also my real name, with my middle name in there so that it is a globally unique identifier.

I am going to dox myself to save everyone else the trouble. I live in Cambridge, UK, on a narrowboat called "Katy". In the middle of town, close to the Fort St George pub. Call round for a cup of tea if you're in the vicinity, or maybe call round and attack me with an axe or something. Whatever floats *your* boat.

This is a rationalist forum. Bets or at least predictions on my fate, please?

And yes, I do get the impression that the "Culture War" thingy is getting a bit out of hand stateside. You should probably all calm down a bit. But Jesus, Americans getting all worked up about ideological issues is hardly a new thing. Yall don't seem nearly as mad as usual.

Also, just in case the problem is grammar-nazis, "yall" is a wonderful word. Ever since we dropped thou and thee from standard English we have needed a distinct second person plural and "yall" is great and should be used everywhere. (Is there an accusative?)

So what are the things I can't say, exactly? Because I don't think I'm clever enough to work out what they are.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Putting a Very Small Amount of Money Where My Mouth Is

I've just donated $100 to MIRI  ( )

I don't understand why I've just done it.

It's a pathetic amount of money. I can't see how it could make any difference to anything. I'm embarrassed by it. It's about £75, and I've been known to spend that kind of money on lunch.

On my guilt pile, right in front of me, is a 23andme genetic testing kit, that I bought out of mild curiosity about a year ago, and have been meaning to get around to registering and sending back ever since. So I know that I will spend £200 on a whim, which will then be derailed by my mild dislike of filling in forms. ( I note that I am thinking this thought, and not doing anything about it even though the kit is in front of me, and I am at a computer. I am busy writing this blog post now. I will totally do it later.....)

It was hard to do. One particularly difficult barrier that I needed to overcome was that such donations, to an American charity, are likely tax-deductible. Which is to say that the British Government can likely be persuaded to add another £20 or so on top. I didn't know if there was some special, but complicated thing I had to do in order to get that to happen.

It was very very hard to say "Fuck that. Just make the damned donation." It felt like throwing money away. The same feeling that makes me feel horribly about lovingly and beautifully wrapped Christmas presents.  The waste. The destruction. I feel them very strongly. ( I must review that feeling. It is not helpful. The crime is very small. )

But God damn it, I did it anyway. And now that I have, I realise that all I have to do is tell my accountant about it, and he will sort it out. And actually, £20 here or there, who cares? It's probably not worth bothering my accountant about.

If I don't bother to claim it back, the government will just spend it on government-crap. And some of the government-crap may even be helpful to someone, somewhere.

MIRI is fairly well funded these days, although they don't have anything like the funding they should have, given the importance of the problem they're trying to address.

A reasonable level of funding, in my mind, would be something in the order of 10% of the output of the economy of the world.

The only reason I put the figure that low is that Artificial General Intelligence is not about to kill us any time soon, as far as I can see.

It doesn't look to me like the sort of thing that will happen within the next decade, although I'm not at all confident about that, but it does look to me like the sort of thing that will very likely happen within this century.

Which is to say that I wouldn't be particularly surprised if it killed me in my old age, and I wouldn't be particularly surprised if it didn't.

But I would be quite surprised if it didn't at some point in the next hundred years kill everyone in the world, including, of course, all the little children that I know, who will grow up over the coming century.

But it's not an urgent problem. The urgent problems are the things that could go wrong today, like a nuclear exchange causing a nuclear winter and wiping out all the higher life on the planet.

And there are less urgent problems, like deliberately engineered pandemics or rogue nanotechnology, that seem very deadly and very difficult to stop.

But those are all problems that are likely beyond my ability to influence.

The AGI problem is a maths and philosophy problem. It needs fundamental research. As far as I can tell, MIRI are going about the sort of thing that I'm supposed to be good at in exactly the right sort of way.

Every few extra dollars they have is another hour or so of someone clever thinking about this really important, really hard problem before it kills us all.

This is my best guess at what's going on, and I've thought it for years.

And yet, I've never previously given them any money.

If you're in this position, if there's some weird force preventing you from taking this obvious, correct, important action, then just try donating a very small sum of money, to see how it feels. Make it a sum so small that you don't care about it. Even if it's just a dollar or something.

It feels good.

It doesn't matter if it doesn't do any good. It doesn't matter if you're not doing it efficiently. It doesn't matter if they spend it all on promoting dubious rationality workshops or if they spend it on champagne and oysters at some polyamorous weirdo-party in the notoriously expensive San Francisco Bay, or if it goes to building a one hundred foot high golden statue of Eliezer Yudkowsky.

It doesn't matter if it's all a cult or if they saw you coming a mile off.

It's a trivial sum of money.

Just do it.

It feels good.

Here's the link:

It's paypal. You set the amount and type your credit card details in. That's it.

In return, you'll get a nice automatic e-mail of thanks to whatever e-mail address you gave paypal. That's it.

Just do it, now.

A barrier is broken. It doesn't look like a hard thing to do in retrospect. I don't feel like a fool.

It feels great.

P.S. It is very much the point of this post that you should just ignore any trivial considerations that are getting in the way of doing what you think you should do.

But if you want to donate a large sum of money, and you're sure that the extra effort involved won't deter you, then it is possible to do it in a tax-efficient manner. See:

or get in touch with , who I am sure will be happy to advise and help you.

Why can't Macroeconomics Answer the Simplest Questions?

If everyone became more frugal, would GDP per capita permanently drop as a result in the long term?

(Someone on reddit's AskEconomics forum posted this question. People started saying no, and 'it depends', and quoting all sorts of bits of theory to suggest that GDP would actually go up.)

This was my answer:


Consider the effect of a new world-wide religion, which guarantees salvation to anyone who restricts their consumption to the level of a well-off 16th century peasant farmer.

There's a list of all the things you're allowed to have and do, and for all those things, there's a defined maximum rate of acquisition. No getting round the rules, barter and 'just picking stuff up' all count.

You don't actually have to get rid of the things you already own, but get hold of more stuff of any kind faster than the ideal rate and you're going to hell.

The religion catches on enormously quickly, because it's being proselytized by a fleet of hypno-drones controlled by an AI built by the Green Party.

And no more than one child per adult. You have to throw any extra ones down a well or something.

Nobody ever breaks these rules again ever.

Obviously, all hell is going to break loose, but when things eventually settle down, the amount of stuff produced is going to be equal to the amount of stuff consumed.

If that were not true, then spare stuff would just keep piling up everywhere. Anybody who has a job making stuff that is already lying around in vast piles is going to lose interest.

So GDP per capita has fallen to something like the mediaeval level, maybe a hundredth of what is is now.

There will be a slight extra term relating to ongoing hypno-drone maintenence, obviously. But I claim it will be negligible.

(Obviously this got deleted. It seems pretty straightforward to me. If macroeconomic theory can't describe this scenario, then it's broken.)