Being good and doing good.

I’ve always thought that the inability to hold contradictory thoughts was bad. I think only small minds cannot hold two horizons. There are many reasons I hold this belief, and many arenas I think it applies. When trying to find the truth, you can never truly understand a different paradigm/worldview from your own without truly believing it strongly enough to step into it. When trying to decide what person you should be, you cannot adopt only one persona. If you do, you only see one side of the world. The prophet sees hope. The politician sees a far grimmer reality. Both are right. I’ve come to believe the same of good and evil. I think being good, truly good, isn’t easy. The evil is so deeply ingrained. It requires burning away everything you are. Burning away the desire to hate and punish. In doing so, you become something else. You rise above caring for yourself or the consequences of your actions. You rise above hate or revenge. You become a pure being. The problem is that purity is so easy to take advantage of. If you want to actually change the world for the better, brutality, cruelty and hard, cynical realism are necessary. I used to think that that was the true cost of doing good. By choosing to wage the war against evil, you gave up your soul and your purity, your chance to be good.

I still think that’s true. You can’t be an angel/prophet and a leader. The latter requires compromise, both with your morals and with reality. That being said, I think the path of the leader has a risk and that risk is that, step by step, you give up the very values you gave up your soul to fight for. Every compromise with your morals, every step in to the dark is a step closer to loosing yourself and, in doing so, loosing your capacity to do good. I think there is a a way to help guard against this. Be in two minds. Don’t be the leader or the prophet. Be both. Be a leader when you need to but every once in a while step out of yourself and into another role, another person and another way of being. I don’t think drawing walls around your actions in this ways stops the corruption. I do think it slows it.

And as always, remember that if you wear the mask long enough and it will consume you.

The moral arc of the universe tends toward evil.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” – Martin Luther King

I think nature makes us evil. Evolution is merciless. It optimizes for one thing: survival, of you and yours. If willingness to kill helps you survive, that trait is passed on. If cowardice, reluctance to challenge the group or, worse, gradual adoption of whatever those around you believe helps you survive, evolution will pass it on. (Too simple. not all traits heritable. maybe goodness is selected for at the group level? No. wishful thinking. Group level selection selects for groups that survive and expand. Group effects also too weak to overcome individual level effects). All we are is a bundle of systems and somehow, as if by magic, a self aware conscious mind on top. Yet our mind’s aren’t free from the constant corrupting influence of nature. They are a product of it. Every evil instinct we have, every urge to tribalism, to hate, to love and agree with the strong and impose our will on/demand submission from the weak are a reflection of our base origins. Even our conceptions of good and evil, and the many evil things we wrongly see as good, are due to it. I think the foundational question of the struggle to be good is how to overcome the slow rot. I’m not sure, but I think it requires simultaneously walking two paths which lead in very different directions. In the longer run, individual action cannot suffice. We have to find some way to stop evolution.

Two sides of goodness

When I was younger, I spent a long time thinking about what it meant to be good. There were two definitions I could see. One was that being good meant doing things which were good. There other was that being good meant having good intentions.

(It might seem like this is just a different way of phrasing the consequentialism vs deontology debate. It isn’t. What makes an action right or wrong is different from what makes a person good or evil)

If you judge people by their intentions, a person who consistently does evil things but believes them to be good is good. A zealot who kids unbelievers in the belief that doing so saves their souls is good. This is wrong.

If you judge people by their actions, someone who tries to do evil but accidentally ends up doing good is good. A man who tries to kill a stranger by injecting then with what they think is aids, but what is actually a cure for cancer, is good. This is also wrong.

It’s difficult to judge a person. I think the reason both intentions and actual effects appeal as ways of judging is because when we ask whether a person is evil, we actually mean two things. First, whether they are a force for good or evil in the world. Second, whether they as a person are good or evil, whether they strive do what is right or choose not to. In recognising this distinction, clarity is achieved.

A good man is one who genuinely tries to do what is right. Even if he’s mistaken, he is still good. Even a retard who kills a child by feeding them medicine is good. Ignorance alone does not deprive you of your moral worth. 

A man in the service of good is one whose actions further the light more than the dark. Even if his motives are as black as sin, as a piece on the playing board he is a piece on our side.

A culture of poverty, russia and the west, Barriers to AI.

Is computational complexity a barrier to AI?

Computational complexity theory describes the steep increase in computing power required for many algorithms to solve larger problems; frequently, the increase is large enough to render problems a few times larger totally intractable. Many of these algorithms are used in AI-relevant contexts. It has been argued that this implies that AIs will fundamentally be limited in accomplishing real-world tasks better than humans because they will run into the same computational complexity limit as humans, and so the consequences of developing AI will be small, as it is impossible for there to be any large fast global changes due to human or superhuman-level AIs. I examine the assumptions of this argument and find it neglects the many conditions under which computational complexity theorems are valid and so the argument doesn’t work: problems can be solved more efficiently than complexity classes would imply, large differences in problem solubility between humans and AIs is possible, greater resource consumption is possible, the real-world consequences of small differences on individual tasks can be large on agent impacts, such consequences can compound, and many agents can be created; any of these independent objections being true destroys the argument.


Will the breakdown of Moore’s law delay AI?

Brain emulation requires enormous computing power; enormous computing power requires further progression of Moore’s law; further Moore’s law relies on large-scale production of cheap processors in ever more-advanced chip fabs; cutting-edge chip fabs are both expensive and vulnerable to state actors (but not non-state actors such as terrorists). Therefore: the advent of brain emulation can be delayed by global regulation of chip fabs.


Russia in Syria. Next steps in the game.

It is not going to be a trivial fight by any stretch of the imagination:

  • There are two S-400 complexes guarding Khmeimim, and several Pantsir systems.
  • Though composition varies from month to month, there are usually around a dozen air superiority fighters (Su-35, Su-35) and a dozen other fighters, as well as a few military helicopters.
  • Around 4o Pantsir systems total in Syria
  • Two Kilo submarines are currently in the region, though not the formidable Moskva cruiser, with its S-300 system
  • Two Bastion anti-ship coastal defense systems
  • Stand-off cruise missiles (Kh-32, Kh-50, Kalibrs) can be fired from deep within Russia, or from Caspian/Iranian airspace

But here are the forces ranged against them:

  • A single carrier such as the USS Harry S. Truman has around four to five dozen F-18s
  • Hundreds of F-15s and F-16s in US bases in Turkey, Jordan, Qatar, and the UAE
  • Hundreds of Tomahawks can be fired from US Navy ships
  • The air forces of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France and Britain, and possibly that of Israel and Turkey
  • B-52 bombers from half a world away

This is a totally lopsided match, which even the optimistic Russian military analyst Andrey Martyanov acknowledges


A culture of poverty.

But just before the first exam, the daughter, Eliza, is physically assaulted outside the school. She takes the test despite having a sprained wrist, and being shaken up. She doesn’t think she did well on it — and this puts Dr. Aldea in a difficult position. He is a basically honest man, but he’s so desperate for his daughter to escape life in Romania — which he regards, basically, as a shithole country — that he enters into the world of corruption to attempt to guarantee her a way out. In other words, he becomes the kind of man he wants her to escape. TAC alumnus Tim Markatos reviews the film in the new Fare Forward. Caution: the review contains spoilers. Here’s an excerpt:

Eliza doesn’t want any part of this rule-breaking, but in the warped logic of this universe Romeo’s exhortation to vice is practically a virtue. For in the slice of Romanian society depicted in Graduation the adults have effectively grown so used to corruption and responding to their circumstances immorally that they have all forgotten what it looks like to do good in the first place. Critic Victor Morton has astutely called the film’s world a “Structure of Sin,” an apt description for the web of rationalized bad behavior that [director Cristian] Mungiu spins tight across each one of the movie’s 128 minutes. According to Morton, “Graduation is not the story of a good man corrupted but a corrupt man trying to do ‘good’ (when it serves him and his) because society runs on corruption.”

Indeed, while Mungiu’s shaky cam and tight editing keep our anxieties high, society here appears to be getting along just fine—with the caveat that the only way anyone in it knows how to respond to sin is through the logic of sin.

NGO Idea #1: Get corporations to spend their charitable donations better

M&S is a supermarket chain with a revenue of £10 billion, 70’000+ employees and a 135 year history. I spent the first 6 months of my professionals life in M&S and as far as I could guesstimate from the information I had access to, M&S has raised roughly £50 million per year for charity for the past decade. In a shockingly unsurprising twist, most of this money went to highly ineffective charities. I doubt M&S is exceptional in this regard.

Like M&S, most large corporations have CSR schemes which raise significant amounts of money. Like M&S, most direct the money raised to popular, well known charities without much regard for effectiveness. This is a waste and, I think, an opportunity. An NGO aimed at persuading blue chips to fund effective charities would not be a bad way for some practically minded effective altruists to do a great deal of good.

Some more interesting stuff I read

An intro to the philosophy of identity from Wait but Why.

Friend networks alone can be used to generate accurate predictions of individual behaviour. We currently give people ownership of their private data. What do we do when public data can be just as revealing?

SSC on the struggle between evolution and meaning.

MRU’s video on why financial intermediaries sometimes fail.

Popehat on Tyranny:“Tyranny is not an abstraction. Tyranny is not faceless government. Tyranny is not some anonymous end boss to be defeated once and then confidently forgotten. Tyranny is us. Tyranny is our inclination to punish and oppress the other. Tyranny is our willingness to abuse our neighbor for not being on “our team.” Tyranny is mouthing platitudes about liberty while cheering its suppression. Tyranny is our capacity to rationalize exceptions to rights for our enemies. Tyranny is our willingness to dismiss violation of rights as unimportant or minimal. Tyranny sold you your morning coffee, greeted you warmly as you walked into the office, made lunch plans with you, and will wave goodbye to you at the end of the day. Tyranny can be you.”

On Peer Review:“When we apply for a grant or want to publish our science, we secretly get the work reviewed by our peers, some of which are competing with us for precious funding, or a bizarre version of fame. Under the veil of anonymity, a reviewer can write anything, included false statements, or incorrect statements to justify a decision. The decision is most often, “do not fund” or “reject”, even if the review is based off of inaccuracies, lack of expertise, or even blatant slander. There are no rules, there are no repercussions. There are few integrity guidelines, or oversight, nor rules of ethics in the review process for the most part. It can lead to internet trolling at a level of high art. In funding decisions, these mistakes can be missed by inattentive panels, but were definitely missed in the CIHR reform scheme before panels were re-introduced. We still have a problem of reviewers self-identifying expertise they simply do not have.

Scientists have to follow strict rules of ethics when submitting data, including conflicts of interest, research ethics, etc.  No such rules are often formally stated in the review process and can vary widely between journals.

This system is historic, back to an era when biomedical research was a fraction of the size it is today, and journal Editors were typically active scientists. The community was small. But as science rapidly expanded in the 90s, so did scientific publishing, and soon editors became professional editors, with some never running a lab or research program. Then, came the digital revolution, and journals were no longer being read on paper and the pipeline to publish increased exponentially.”

A secular Egypt

Kenya moves towards dictatorship.“In the space of just one week, a Kenyan government that proclaims itself a rule-of-law government has repeatedly defied nearly a dozen court orders in an alarming descent toward authoritarianism. When the Kenyan Supreme Court annulled Kenyatta’s reelection in a landmark ruling last year, he promised to “revisit” the judiciary and called the chief justice and his judges “crooks.” “There is a problem, and we must fix it. Going forward we must fix it,” he said shortly after the court’s judgment that a new election would have to be held within 60 days. A few days later, the vice chair of the president’s party, who is widely believed to be a close ally of Kenyatta, openly advocated for a benevolent dictatorship on national television. “What this country needs now is a benevolent dictator. People have been too soft so that things have gone rogue,” David Murathe told KTN News. “You find places like Rwanda are very stable, Uganda is very stable,” he said, quoting two East African nations with notoriously limited space for dissent.

The shameless disregard for the court process, switching off private media outlets, and intimidation of opposition politicians and journalists all build on the intolerance for criticism that characterized Kenyatta’s first term. It began with the vilification of civil society as an “evil society” by senior aides to the president and surrogates on broadcast talk shows until “activist”’ all but became a slur in Kenya. Even as the government borrowed more and more from the West and took in billions of dollars in aid, it accused human rights groups and opposition leaders of being agents of imperialism hellbent on reestablishing colonialism. This is the same administration that is now using colonial laws that Kenyatta’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of a newly independent Kenya, conveniently left in place to cement his own rule. It feels like we’re back to the dark era of Daniel arap Moi, who ruled Kenya with an iron fist for 24 years and is also the political mentor of the current president.”

We should be less concerned about school shootings.

Aliens, Corruption and Skyscrapers in Mumbai

The Fat Leonard scandal.

More on India’s housing crisis. How low floor space indexes limit vertical construction.

Why you (probably) can’t compete with steam. More basic business sense.

A brief overview of Sayyid Qutb’s thoughts and his influence on modern radical Islam.

A story of a fuck-off fund. The message is simple, have a financial reserve or risk being unable to escape bad situations.

Why finding alien life would be very, very bad. Or watch the video.