Robin Hanson writes about rot as a potential concern as humanity moves more towards a global government. I’ve often thought about the future of humanity and the merits of a multi-agent equilibrium vs a singleton. I intuitively understand why a singleton can be bad and my instinctive reaction is to fear a singleton. A single system encompassing all of humanity means no experimentation, no evolution. Worse, it likely means totalitarianism on a scale unimaginable today and the suppression of thousands of different ways society can be structured in favor of one specific way which happened to be chosen/most competitive at a specific point in history. With no competition comes no incentive to not trample on the lives and rights of the population. My mental reference point for a singleton is a global USSR or Nazi state.
Then again, I think a few intuitions/thoughts make me more sympathetic.
- If the destructive capacity of humanity keeps on rising at a faster rate than our defensive/survivability capacity, then we could conceivably find ourselves in a world where an individual or small group can destroy the world/universe. Imagine if the average PHD at a mid tier university could create unstoppable self-replicating nanotech or an anti-matter bomb. Imagine that gpt-2 like algorithms advanced to the point where any person using them could create memetic viruses 10^50 times more contagious than Christianity or Islam. In such a world, the badness of even 1984 for eternity may be preferable to there being no humanity left.
- If we look at life today, we have far more centralization but also far better lives. Civilization is a tiny part of human history, starting roughly when agriculture started. For most of human history there were countless small bands with extreme freedom. Today we live in far fewer, far more centralized entities with modern states exercising a great degree of control of everything from our shaping when we’re young (education and other forms of indoctrination) to how we can and cannot behave. Yet we have better, safer and I would argue freer (in the scope of action, not freedom from constraint sense) lives than ever before.
- Competition between tribes/states/coalitions has often been violent. Nuclear war would be bad. Maybe future similar techs would be far worse and possibly they would have worse game theoretic equilibrium. Imagine the next-generation of nukes-equivalents is such that a first strike is always successful. In such a future ensuring there is no competition/war by virtue of there being a single hegemon may be the best option.
Overall I’m still undecided. I dislike the increasing degree of global centralization today. I worry it leads to less exploration of different ways of structuring society and consequently that we’re leaving a lot of low-hanging fruit lying around). I worry we risk Still, maybe a global singleton is the only way to prevent moloch from driving humanities’s destiny in the long-run.