Meditations on Moloch certainly wasn’t promoting evil, but I think it was (inadvertently) promoting ignorance. For example, it paints the fish farming story as an argument against libertarianism, but economists see the exact same story as an argument for privatization of fisheries, and it works in reality exactly as economists say!
The whole essay suffers from that problem. It leaves readers unaware that there’s a whole profession dedicated to “fighting Moloch” and they have a surprisingly good framework: incentives, public goods, common resources, free rider problem, externalities, Pigovian taxes, Coasian bargains… Unfortunately, dry theory is hard to learn, so people skip learning it if they can more easily get an illusion of understanding—like many readers of the Moloch essay I’ve encountered.
That’s the general problem Charlie is pointing to. If you want to give your argument some extra oomph beyond what the evidence supports, why do you want that? You could be slightly wrong, or (if you’re less lucky than Scott) a lot wrong, and make many other people wrong too. Better spend that extra time making your evidence-based argument better.
Even shorter: I don’t want powerful weapons to argue for truth. I want asymmetric weapons that only the truth can use. Myth isn’t such a weapon, so I’ll leave it in the cave where it was found.
I’m bad and I feel bad about making this kind of argument:
I don’t want powerful weapons to argue for truth. I want asymmetric weapons that only the truth can use. Myth isn’t such a weapon, so I’ll leave it in the cave where it was found.
Register the irony of framing your refusal to use the power of mythical language in a metaphor about a wise and humble hero leaving Excalibur in the cave where it was found.
The issue is that we are all being pulled by Omega’s web into roles, and the choice is not whether or not to partake in some role, but whether or not to use the role we inhabit to our advantage. You don’t get to choose not to play the game, but you do get to pick your position.
Nice! I agree I should’ve left out that last bit :-)
If you want to give your argument some extra oomph beyond what the evidence suggests, why do you want that? You could be wrong, and make many people wrong. Better spend that extra time making your evidence-based argument better.
I deeply respect that, and your choice.
I think I want the same end result you do: I want truth and clarity to reign. This has led me to intentionally use mythic mode because I see the influence of things like it all over the place, and I want to be able to notice and track that, and get practice extracting the parts that are epistemically good. And I need to have a cultivated skill with countering uses of mythic language that turn out to have deceived (or were intentionally used to deceive).
But I think it’s totally a defensible position to say “Nope, this is too fraught and too symmetric, I ain’t touchin’ that” and walk away.
My goal is almost always behavior change. I can write all sorts of strong evidence-based arguments but I despair of those arguments actually affecting the behavior of anyone except the rationalists who are best at taking ideas seriously.
Said another way, in addition to writing down arguments there’s the task of debugging emotional blocks preventing people from taking the argument seriously enough for it to change their behavior. I think there’s a role for writing that tries to do both of these things (and that e.g. Eliezer did this a lot in the Sequences and it was good that he did this, and that HPMoR also does this and that was good too, and Meditations on Moloch, etc.).
Meditations on Moloch is not an argument. It’s a type error to analyze it as if it were.