New food science, Moloch and Jesus's Wife
Neologism #18, 22.01.2023
Meditations on Moloch
The emergent properties of competition that pressure societies into a race to the bottom.
The monarch isn't free of moloch, if he has become moloch. He isn't free of himself. He is not selfless. He can't embody selflessness, because that would paradoxically require freedome from selflessness. It's an unachievable ideal. He can however try to destruct everything and everyone. That would be another form of selflessness. Thus, selfishness is a necessary property of being.
Moloch is introduced as the answer to a question—C. S. Lewis’ question in Hierarchy Of Philosophers—what does it? Earth could be fair, and all men glad and wise. Instead we have prisons, smokestacks, asylums. What sphinx of cement and aluminum breaks open their skulls and eats up their imagination?
And Ginsberg answers: Moloch does it.
There’s a passage in the Principia Discordia where Malaclypse complains to the Goddess about the evils of human society. “Everyone is hurting each other, the planet is rampant with injustices, whole societies plunder groups of their own people, mothers imprison sons, children perish while brothers war.”
The Goddess answers: “What is the matter with that, if it’s what you want to do?”
Malaclypse: “But nobody wants it! Everybody hates it!”
Goddess: “Oh. Well, then stop.”
The implicit question is—if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And Ginsberg answers: “Moloch.” It’s powerful not because it’s correct—nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything—but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.
The implicit question is – if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And Ginsberg answers: “Moloch”. It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything – but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.
Bostrom makes an offhanded reference of the possibility of a dictatorless dystopia, one that every single citizen including the leadership hates but which nevertheless endures unconquered. It’s easy enough to imagine such a state. Imagine a country with two rules: first, every person must spend eight hours a day giving themselves strong electric shocks. Second, if anyone fails to follow a rule (including this one), or speaks out against it, or fails to enforce it, all citizens must unite to kill that person. Suppose these rules were well-enough established by tradition that everyone expected them to be enforced.
So you shock yourself for eight hours a day, because you know if you don’t everyone else will kill you, because if they don’t, everyone else will kill them, and so on. Every single citizen hates the system, but for lack of a good coordination mechanism it endures. From a god’s-eye-view, we can optimize the system to “everyone agrees to stop doing this at once”, but no one within the system is able to effect the transition without great risk to themselves.
Meditations on Moloch is a deep dive into game theory, multipolar traps, and coordination problems. It posits that by the laws of life/nature/evolution/competition/propagation, any collection of agents in competition (without sufficient system-wide regulation) is necessarily doomed to non-optimal outcomes. Alexander’s bias is along the lines of “AI is the looming existential threat that will kill us all,” which I find pretty optimistic, but the gist of his arguments still lands (I suggest skipping part IV-VII if you have no interest in AI risk/transhumanism).
Read Meditation on Moloch by Slate Star Codex
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The Unbelievable Tale Of Jesus’s Wife
A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.
Still one of my favorite pieces of investigative journalism ever.
Read The Unbelievable Tale Of Jesus’s Wife by Atlantic
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The kitchen of 2020 looks mostly the same as that of 1960. But what we do in it has changed dramatically, almost entirely for the better—due to a culture of culinary innovation.
Food science created new recipes, and indeed whole new categories of recipes. Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey’s “no-knead bread” (published in 2006) is an example of this new attitude in action: we don’t need to follow traditional bakers’ three-day sourdough recipes; we can make delicious bread overnight with almost no work
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