I’m from a parallel Earth with much higher coordination: AMA

Related: My April Fools Day Confession; Inadequate Equilibria

On April 1, Eliezer Yudkowsky ran a dath ilan AMA on Facebook:

I came from a parallel Earth that successfully coordinated around maintaining a higher level of ability to solve coordination problems. Ask me anything.

With Eliezer’s blessing, I’ve quoted the resultant discussion below, leaving out threads that were repeats or didn’t go anywhere.

Guy Srinivasan: Did parallel Earth coordinate around a specific day each year for everyone to play with falsity?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Not a specific day as such. There’s very much a tradition of leading somebody down a garden path, and also of pretending to be led down the garden path — similar to the “MIRI pomodoro: 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of trolling” — but there’s a verbal handshake you’re supposed to give at the end to prevent that from going out of control and any tragic errors.

Emielle Potgieter: What is parallel earth’s biggest problem, then?


Eliezer Yudkowsky: I’d assume that Artificial General Intelligence is being seen by the Senior Very Serious People as a big problem, given the degree to which nobody ever talked about it, how relatively slow computing progress was compared to here, and how my general education just happened to prepare me to make a ton of correct inferences about it as soon as anybody mentioned the possibility to me. They claim to you it’s about hypothetical aliens and economic dysfunction scenarios, but boy howdy do you get a lot of Orthogonality and Goodhart’s Curse in the water supply.

Stācia Gāel: Why did you come here?

Jean-Baptiste Clemens: @Stācia Gāel Everyone on parallel Earth was attempting to meet for lunch in the absence of communication and Eliezer was wrong about the Schelling point.


Eliezer Yudkowsky: No clue, then or ever.

Erica Edelman: How do you transition babies into job holding adults?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: That covers a lot of territory! But if I tried to zoom in at the most general level of difference, there’s very much an understanding among Very Serious People that if you require anything to get access to a job (like a credential) that is difficult to get or has finite supply, people can burn the whole surplus value of the job to them in order to get it, even if that thing is of lower value to the employer. In other words, they would recognize “occupational licensing” or college as a sickness and move to prevent it while it was still getting started. In general, demanding something from somebody other than their actual job skill is recognized as a potential civilizational problem. So this means:

  • A focus on testing for the actual job skills, rather than for peripherally related things like having paid to attend a particular institution. Not even talking about tests vs. attendance, I mean that they watch you doing the actual job.

  • Older children teach younger children things that the older children have been watched doing, because the older children have the knowledge and can teach it, and you wouldn’t want to demand any more qualification than that. With monitoring and external validation to prevent ignorance from iterating upon itself, of course.

  • There’s no minimum age to work, because demanding a higher age isn’t something that the person doing the job actually needs.

  • You don’t need a business license because that would, again, be an instance of something they recognize as technical debt /​ overhead /​ cruft for the civilization.

  • The economy runs hot enough that there’s generally enough jobs on offer; the Very Serious People would regard it as a huge issue if people had to look for a job instead of choosing which job, and they would ask how we could possibly have gotten into that position when jobs were available 1000 years earlier and the economy had gotten a lot more productive since then.

  • The degree to which the employee sees themselves as doing the employer a favor, vs the employer seeing themselves as doing the employee a favor, is much more symmetrical than it is here—if that wasn’t true, the Very Serious People would look at it and ask “What’s going wrong with this supply-demand balancing price level, why isn’t this bargain behaving more symmetrically?”

  • I can speculate about what other conditions contribute to that, but unfortunately it wasn’t my actual field of study before I left. But in general, think of the situation among Silicon Valley programmers: you display the ability to do the work rather than competing on credentials, and it’s as common to find a precious employee through connections as to find a precious job through connections. This would be equally true about haircuts in dath ilan; somebody who wants to expand their hair salon needs to somehow find an employee to do that and will have trouble doing so, unless they’re much more profitable than average and can offer above-average salaries for that reason.

  • They have an actual concept of “matching people up with jobs is a huge allocation issue for the whole economy” and have already put serious sweat into experimenting with different ways to discern kids’ native talents and figure out what that would match up to, obviously including have the kid actually try doing lots of different things. The notion that you get a whole college degree before spending one day trying out the actual job would be insane.

So the overall answer to your question is that a kid learns skills from older kids, or from more specialized teachers or apprenticeships if it’s a sufficiently complex skill to require that, after all kinds of “try doing this for a week” microapprenticeships so they can figure out where their niche is, and then when they know enough to do the job they can start doing it. If that sounds utopian, it’s because the Very Serious People recognized it as a central issue for the whole economy and put literally any thought and experimentation at all into figuring out what would optimize it.

Ben Pace: I’m surprised this is how it works on your planet. I am probably missing a basic piece of knowledge here, but in my experience it is very hard to put people to useful work, and if you give me a set of 100 people and ask me to cause them to do useful work, I will be able to do so with a team of 5-10 of them and then either I can help the rest form teams (if we’re lucky that takes up most people), and if I’m forced to give the rest jobs many people will be left with bullshit jobs.

(I mean, there are more interesting mechanisms I would use, like producing financial rewards for tasks completed that incentivize the rest to self-coordinate etc, but I don’t feel like I can count on this to give everyone a job.)

(Also like 15% of people have a low enough IQ that they cannot be given anything useful to do without on the order of 1-1 oversight. Not a defeater, but another major hurdle.)

If you stop all the people doing bullshit jobs on your planet, do the rest of the people really find productive ways to build products and provide services, or is there something else that a lot of the population spends their time doing?


Tom Pandolfo:

> There’s no minimum age to work, because demanding a higher age isn’t something that the person doing the job actually needs.

@Eliezer Yudkowsky How does your planet avoid the problem of child labor—that is, a 10-year-old being required to work in a factory in order for them or their family to afford food?

(As distinct from a 10-year-old shadowing/​apprenticing someone whose job they passionately want to do when they grow up.)

Or is that not seen as a problem?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: The fact that only 10 people can do the work you have for them doesn’t mean that the other 90 people can’t do work that other people have for them? I mean, that’s kind of how the whole economy works?

Civilization has enough productive capacity that when somebody is born who just can’t make it in Civilization for whatever reason, there are places where you can go to live out the rest of your life in peace, provided that you have not previously had any children.

One of the things I’d expect people from this world to find relatively off-putting is that dath ilan has comprehended that happiness is heritable and they teach a sight that extends over generational times and thinks ahead to the equilibrium; so it’s understood that, except in very exceptional circumstances, if you’re unhappy on average for any reason, it is your duty to the next generation not to have kids who might inherit this tendency.

So the number of people who go to the Quiet Cities is more like 5% than 15%, because those who would have otherwise been the parents of people who went there did not have kids. And the rest of the world is mostly happy, because transmitting constitutions that can be happy in a civilized world is itself a solvable coordination problem.

Ben Pace: (Sad react, but glad the people are able to look at sad things and take appropriate action and deal with it, and I respect those ~10% of people who do this a great deal.)


David Schneider-Joseph: @Eliezer Yudkowsky What about those who are unhappy because they see a problem with the civilization which will take many generations to solve, and are motivated to start the work of fixing it? Does that count as one of those very exceptional circumstances?

Jim Babcock:

“@Eliezer Yudkowsky How does your planet avoid the problem of child labor—that is, a 10-year-old being required to work in a factory in order for them or their family to afford food?”

UBI, obviously? On Earth, we have a political narrative that people must be threatened with poverty, or else they will choose not to work. And yet, if you look at the most impoverished people, you mostly find people whose ability-to-work has been damaged by the consequences of their poverty. It seems wildly overdetermined that, in a sensible system, there would be a UBI, and it would be high enough that not-having-food can’t happen without something else going wrong other than lack of money.

Bruce Barrett Banner: @Jim Babcock it seems plausible to me that some suitable notion of economic democracy would justify, or even require, a UBI, and hence protect, not just children, but humanity at large from the degradation of wage slavery, which produces ruined workers as you suggest, and much other misery at well. It also makes a reality of political democracy as a side effect, to its credit.

Jim Babcock: If “the degradation of wage slavery” sounds like a good summarization of the point to you, I think you may have a pretty important confusion? (A very common confusion, which is why I’m choosing to highlight it.)

The “ruined worker” is typically not a wage slave, but someone who, at a key point, had no wage, and suffered malnutrition, medication lapses and assorted traumas as a result. It’s pretty common for people to get confused about this, and try to put additional demands on employers, which wind up decreasing the availability of low-end jobs and increasing the number of people starved.

One of the most important things I learned, being very into nutrition-research, is that most people can’t recognize malnutrition when they see it, and so there’s a widespread narrative that it doesn’t exist. But if you actually know what you’re looking for, and you walk down an urban downtown and look at the beggars, you will see the damage it has wrought… and it is extensive.

Tom Pandolfo: @Jim Babcock I’m not so sure that it’s obvious. I’m skeptical of a purely monetary UBI, as I haven’t been convinced that it won’t just drive up the price of Literally Everything in the long run (without some serious regulatory intervention). On our Earth, at least, I’m much more in favor of a robust system of public housing/​food/​healthcare for free to everyone who needs it, and tepidly in favor of UBI as a temporary/​transitional solution.

That said, I’m interested in what solution Eliezer thinks is obvious to the denizens of dath ilan.

Jim Babcock:

“I’m skeptical of a purely monetary UBI, as I haven’t been convinced that it won’t just drive up the price of Literally Everything in the long run (without some serious regulatory intervention).”

This is something economists understand very well, actually! Not at the intro-course level, and not if you get your economists through a politics-optimized filter, but if you put an economics department directory on a dartboard and throw three darts, I expect you’ll get the same (or compatible) answers from all three.

UBI is spending, which causes inflation, but not if it’s replacing other government spending or offset by comparable taxes on any bracket. The price of supply-constrained goods, like housing in a strictly zoned area, or medical care from guild-approved doctors, may rise; the price of food, manufactured goods, and housing in low-density unzoned areas, will not.

Eliezer Yudkowsky:

“What about those who are unhappy because they see a problem with the civilization which will take many generations to solve, and are motivated to start the work of fixing it? Does that count as one of those very exceptional circumstances?”

It does not. There are people who can manage to be happy and cheerful in their daily lives while tackling big problems. If you were unhappy and you wanted more people tackling big problems, you’d offer to pay for their childcare, not have kids yourself.

Nora Ammann: Is there an overarching social narrative (at some level) they all share and that plays a significant role in their ability to coordinate? If so, what are its characteristics?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Several, of course, but this feels like a large enough question that I’m having trouble answering. Any individual cultivates a sense of <untranslateable 23>, their personal sense of This Is Who I Am, This Is What I Do, which will generally include I Can Correctly Analyze Coordination Problems And Do My Part In Solving Them. It’s understood that this is meant to be personal and individualized; and at the same time, society is utterly unable to coordinate against all the people who metaphorically talk about Civilization’s <untranslateable 23> and argue about what it is or should be. If you take a step back, this reflects a narrative about It Is Your Pride And Your Responsibility To Choose Your Own Narrative And Then Be Fucking Awesome At It. And of course that idea is going to spill over to Civilization too.

People are aware of Goodhart’s Law, but that doesn’t stop the Very Serious People from Very Seriously And Prudently talking about particular figures-of-merit for all Civilization that we are still going to talk about while keeping an eye out for anybody trying to game them; figures-of-merit from productivity to scientific progress to health and happiness; and when you see a graph with those lines supposedly going up, it becomes part of a narrative about how Civilization is not doing too terribly at living up to its own <untranslateable 23>.

Nora Ammann: Is their ability to coordinate relying on growth? Would [they] still be able to coordinate if [their] economy stagnated? [...]

Eliezer Yudkowsky: It seems to me that the structure of what they’re doing would carry over to a case without growth—you can ask about steady-state coordinated equilibria. There might be a bunch of specific things that would break and need changing, but people would be thinking about what those were.

Rocco Stanzione: Why did you choose the first day of April to reveal yourself?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Plausible deniability!

Jeff Dubin: Economic system?

David Spearman: This. Also, legal system?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: You’re both gonna need to be more specific.

David Spearman: Suppose that A is in a conflict with B over some perceived violation of whatever passes for rights. They both recognize the coordination problem for what it is, but they can’t agree on which of them is actually the highest-value user, in the Coaesian sense, of whatever the object of the dispute is. Do they just whistle up a Very Serious Person to resolve the dispute? What sort of training does the Very Serious Person have for that sort of value assessment? Or is there some kind of auction system that’s somehow less negative-sum than the current all-pay auction/​lawyer system? What do they do about interpersonal disputes (battery or murder, say)? If a metaphorical hawk shows up in the grand game of Hawk and Dove that is society, what happens?

Jeff Dubin: Sure!

How is it decided who gets what stuff? Is there a “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” framework? Is there some sort of competitive market system? What can and cannot be owned as property by an individual or family? How are the needs of children, elderly and disabled persons, etc met?

David Spearman: I’d also like to hear what sort of intellectual property system they have.

Also, what is the difference between how the system handles malfeasance from a Very Serious Person versus from a rando?

Jeff Dubin: @David Spearman Or, have the VSPs somehow been trained not to Malfease?

David Spearman: @Jeff Dubin I would be disappointed if this was the answer, unless there’s a very detailed explanation of what that training entails.


Eliezer Yudkowsky: I want to say that there’s the basically obvious Georgist system of private property with public capture of economic rents, but in this Earth I hardly know what’s “obvious” anymore. I’ll put it the way it would be put in dath ilan second grade.

There’s a planet everybody lives on, of which conceptually everybody ought to start out with an equal interest in the raw resources thereof; the raw resources in untransformed states are not directly very valuable, but labor requires access to these resources in order to be valuable and value-add to them.

If your economic system is that Bill Gates owns all land and permanent installations and doles out scraps of food in exchange for labor, then even if this could look from a libertarian standpoint like a “private property” system in which Bill Gates happens to own all the property, this is not equitable and everyone who isn’t Bill Gates ought to shrug off the consensual hallucination claiming that all the matter in the universe is tagged with a tiny private property tag saying that Bill Gates owns it.

At the opposite extreme, to the extent that the result of labor adding value to resources is the expropriation of the transformed resource, labor has less incentive to add value and is being expropriated. Or if you look at it from the perspective of the labor, versus the person who gets to keep what the labor produces, they’d have an interest in spending some of their labor to band together to fend off the bandit who takes away most of the transformed resource, which is why, once labor has transformed a resource and added value to it, there’s a reason to let the laborer keep or trade that transformed resource.

And then we introduce the second-grade notion of an “economic rent” which is that some things, like land, are valuable in a way where we don’t get any more of them, depending on who’s said to own them—unlike the way we get more labor, if the laborers can keep what they make; and the second-grade notion of trade and allocation, which is that different resources are worth different amounts to different people, and if you let people bid differently on those resources, that introduces a factor where people who can use the resource to produce more will bid more highly on it, modulo another acknowledged factor where people who have more resources available can also bid higher.

This all combines into a notion of taking the planet’s prior endowment of arable land, minable ores, livable land, etcetera; and establishing an ongoing auction-lease system for renting them, where people can pay excess amounts to establish propertylike momentum around places where they want to build permanent installations; but there’s still a system that demands ongoing rents, in order to encourage reallocation, and in order to give everybody in the world a share of that rent in order to represent their interest in respecting the “property” coordination-hallucination at all, in the way they wouldn’t have any such interest in coordinating to respect a pretense of private property where everything was tagged as being owned by Bill Gates.

There’s an explicit understanding of concepts like “value added to land in virtue of its proximity to other land where people live”, so rather than distributing the economic rent equally to everybody, like you would for a minable ore, it makes sense to direct some of that rent to a citylike entity that can reinvest the increased local rent it created in making that city larger and more valuable by producing goods with inherent coordination-nature like roads (where the value of any one road segment is dependent on the value of other segments next to it, and where multiple entities with veto ability could each try to capture all of the value-added from the whole road, giving the road a public-good-nature).

Basically, the kind of private property system you would invent if you understood that you were inventing it rather than codifying some pre-existing natural law.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Intellectual property in eg the form of “patents” the way Earth does it, is a needless special case of property with the veto-nature where you want to avoid ending up with multiple entities that can each veto the good being produced, which gives each of them an incentive to try to capture all of the value and produces a coordination problem in producing the good. For this reason, nobody on dath ilan would consider introducing an Earth-style patent system, even leaving aside the extent to which the US patent system malfunctions on its own terms and patents lots of things that are obvious to any practitioner skilled in the art.

If you create an invention that benefits an industry, it’s understood by a solider and sharper-toothed honor system that the industry is expected to donate back 15% of the marginal value thereby produced to the original inventor or invention group, and there are external-auditor-like agencies to sign off on accounting (accounting is generally much simpler in dath ilan because they do not have a regulatory process that has gone completely out of control); the closest thing in Earth terms would be a mandatory shall-license patent system.

If you did the equivalent of what BioNTech did and invented a Covid-19 vaccine, and Moderna had no mRNA vaccine of their own (meaning this was something that only BioNTech could do), anybody would be allowed to produce it, but EVERYBODY would be honor-bound to donate rather a LOT of money to BioNTech and to the inventors and discoverers of RNA vaccines; who donated how much money would be a public fact and your friends might look at you funny if you donated nothing; with some of that money tending to be in the form of donations to let the inventors of mRNA vaccines set up their own scientific funding agencies, to make the way easier for the next generation of scientists. All of this would be the sort of thing that Very Serious People had heated debates about in newspapers; and all of the solutions inside their Overton Window would be about equally good in the larger scheme of things compared to Earth solutions, regardless of which exact details ended up being picked.

Copyright doesn’t face the same collision issue where multiple parties can extract all value, and by one of those weird little coincidences, dath ilan has the same 14-year copyright rule that was originally baked into the US Constitution (albeit with no renewals allowed, because it happens to not be an exact coincidental collision). 14 years is enough for people to make a profit on copyrighted creations, thereby incentivizing its existence; and then that work goes into the same pool of public domain that implicitly helped create that copyrighted work and whatever shoulders it stood upon.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Very Serious People are not rulers invested with formal authority; their work, by its nature, consists of public debates with other Very Serious People. Any “malfeasance” in the obvious sense would have to consist of saying the wrong thing in a public debate, but then if other VSPs didn’t catch it and call them on it, couldn’t they just claim it was an honest mistake?

I guess you could have an instance where a Very Serious Person pretended to have important anecdotal evidence from their own life history about something, and then was caught out on having made it up. I can’t actually remember hearing about a case like that, per se; the big deal tends to be groups of Very Serious People making Very Serious dire predictions and then turning out to be totally wrong, which is considered especially iffy because of how making a dire prediction about the conditional result of doing X can prevent anybody from actually testing X and thereby finding out the dire results. Albeit that dath ilan is much more likely to set aside a little hamlet where people try doing X anyways, which is how the Very Serious People get caught being too pessimistic.

But it’s still understood that when it comes to, say, messing around with breeding viruses, it is reasonable to say that this is a direly dangerous thing even to experiment with. In fact it is emphasized oddly strongly how totally reasonable this would be, if Civilization ever did run into something that could plausibly wipe it out in one shot; and that the fact that somebody could have an incentive to gain attention by warning direly against ever trying X, then escaping falsification through X not being tried, must not mean that we reject arguments of this type out of hand; because then Civilization is inevitably and undignifiedly doomed if it ever runs into anything that actually can wipe it out in one shot.

The very strong emphasis here makes more sense to me now that I realize that AGI issues were probably secretly in the background informing some of the top people.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: To a first approximation, everybody in dath ilan is an economist, in the same way that everybody on Earth is a scribe and a calculator from the perspective of Earth’s medieval era. So when it comes to things like setting up courts, people understand that you get what you pay for and you pay for what you measure and that measuring things is dangerous.

There’s much more of an emphasis on courts producing judgments where they write out all of the reasoning used, in a way that superior courts and ultimately cities and delegates can check over, and less of an emphasis on “His Honor said so, so shut up and respect him, peon”. But you’re paying courts for a certain kind of reliable reproducible reasoning that’s supposed to reflect a particular set of agreed-on standards and agreed-on rules, not just for having a very scary honorable person in robes hand down a dictum that everybody has to agree with; the emphasis on writing out all the reasoning is to try to make it easier to measure what you’re supposed to be paying for. If it was a big enough issue, you’d pay for two courts so you could check if they agreed.


Ben Pace: This [method for incentivizing intellectual innovation] is a bit harder in art. Like, I can indeed track down the authors that I think influenced me the most (my puns from Scott, my titles from Hanson, my concepts from you, etc) and pay them money, but it’s harder to enforce than if I am using the vaccine built by BioNTech. It’s harder for others to see that happened.

That said, I can also imagine publicly ”taking” people‘s ideas is just good and encouraged, such that it’s more natural. Right now I don’t say that I stole my writing style from people too much, in part because it can be seen as bad form to copy people’s intellectual/​artistic work, but if it were more encouraged then accounting would be easier too.

Matthew Graves: I assume this is also tied to a crowdfunding-like invention system, instead of a monopoly-profits-driven invention system? Or does the honor extend all the way up the stack?

Motivating example: suppose there are 10k people with a disease, who in aggregate would be willing to pay $10k each to not have the disease, so there’s $100M of value ‘on the table’ for curing it. Alice develops a treatment, hoping to sell it to each of those people and get $100M in revenue, and then Bob produces it at marginal cost (say, $100 each), makes $1M in revenue, and has no profits to donate to Alice.

One could imagine all of the customers deciding that, well, they need to donate $1.5k to Alice to pay her back for the invention. But this is substantially less than Alice would have gotten in monopoly revenues, and (more importantly in my eyes) requires all 10k customers to track the question of whether or not their treatment supplier has honorably discharged their duty to reward Alice. But also how much that duty is depends on how much those patients actually value not having the disease.

(And if I employ one of those patients, do I have a duty to reward Alice for the increased productivity? Or to track whether or not my employees have rewarded Alice enough?)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Ben: I wouldn’t need to pay anybody for having written HPMOR—that kind of inspiration is just considered part of the common pool where everybody is inspired by everybody else. Paying an author for their quoted work is payment enough.

Matthew: You’re not supposed to capture all of the value you create. If the treatment is worth $10k each to the treated, $1.5K is a very reasonable amount for them to donate to Alice.

Jean-Baptiste Clemens: Did successful coordination require an authoritarian government or dictatorship and omnipresent surveillance to ensure compliance?

Because I don’t see how else this could work with billions of people, the vast majority of them being strangers to each other, when even a small group of close friends can have trouble reaching a consensus on something as simple as where to have lunch.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Leviathan is what people here do instead of having everybody in the room know what a coordination problem is, work out a coordination solution (including coordinated enforcement of the solution if there’s large defection incentives), pool their solutions to all work together, and then all do the thing. This requires previously having coordinated your Civilization well enough to make sure that everybody in the room knows the abstract theory and has practiced it across many trials, but the equilibrium is stable once you get there, especially if everybody knows what the equilibrium is and how important it is to keep it stable.

Jean-Baptiste Clemens: @Eliezer Yudkowsky Right, that’s a good point. The social contract is this Earth’s sub-optimal arrangement, but I’m interested to know how everybody on parallel Earth initially came to understand coordination problems and reach a consensus on how to solve these problems in the first place, despite the statistical inevitability of so many people having competing and incompatible ideas, priorities and preferences. Does everybody on parallel Earth have a shared mind/​consciousness?

I would like to rephrase my original question but I feel it would be unfair to edit it after Eliezer has already responded, so I will rephrase my question here:

Did the initial coordination necessary to reach a stable equilibrium of successfully solving coordination problems require an authoritarian government or dictatorship and omnipresent surveillance to ensure compliance during the initial coordination problem solving period?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I don’t think we can get better coordination the way I suspect that dath ilan wandered into it, certainly not before AGI. Gregory Cochran (IIRC) has a theory about how the secret sauce of the Industrial Revolution was the children of shopkeeper classes starting with a larger inheritance and outreproducing others. As I previously mentioned a couple of comments up, a lot of dath ilan’s earlier history is considered a Highly Unpleasant Thing It Is Sometimes Necessary To Know and a mild cognitohazard, but my suspicion is that a lot of the real work was done by a historical accident of this sort.

Luca Ross: How did they solve competing access needs?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Be more specific?

Luca Ross: @Eliezer Yudkowsky I think of competing access needs as a sort of coordination problem, probably. In that it seems like coordination is the only feasible solution prior to the Glorious Transhumanist Future. Stuff like people with severe dog allergies or phobias and people with service dogs needing access to the same space at the same time. Or people who are triggered to self harm by seeing images with self harm scars in them, and people who need a place where they can post normal pictures of themselves without their scars being brought up needing access to the same support groups. People who have audible stims and people who are noise sensitive but need to be able to hear other things in the same environment (like class).

Anything where people’s needs are mutually exclusive but they need access to the same thing.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Diversity of places! On Earth you have dozens of countries with nearly cookie-cutter regulatory systems and equilibria, containing thousands of nearly identical cities. On dath ilan, the whole reason for having different places is either to mine natural resources, to run an experiment, or to pick a different public equilibrium of this kind.

Daniel Powell: @Eliezer Yudkowsky oh, so you don’t have competing access needs because everyone with aphonia and experience distress from sounds lives in one dimension where they don’t have to interact with people who need a clicker to stim!

That’s a lot of parallel NYC subway systems. How long does it take to phase to the right one?

David Spearman: Besides the whole “kink and macroecon” thing, are there any other ways they were consistently worse than Earth? In particular, how is the economy not a constant, negative-sum war between price fixing cartels, consumer cartels, etc. What stops otherwise-competitive producers from coordinating around “charge the monopolistic price and don’t overproduce”?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: That’s an excellent question! The first thing I’d say in reply is to point out that some individual at the head of one of these concerns, does not themselves capture the whole value of the cartel—maybe the cartel makes a billion dollars, but that person doesn’t get to take home the whole value themselves. But they do get to take home a terrible reputation for having knowingly acted against the interests of Civilization at scale.

On Earth, you have puddled reputational pools where somebody gets to go home with their fellow cigar-smoking villains and have a high reputation among them as a great successful villain. If something like that started to develop on dath ilan, it would be a Huge Problem and all the Very Serious People would see it as a Huge Problem and it would be on all the news programs once uncovered, and if they had to pay a billion dollars to set up a new competitor to drive that concern out of business among all the good people who would immediately boycott it once uncovered, the Kickstarter would be funded the next morning.

Where the Huge Problem, to be clear, would not so much be the price-fixing aspect, as the fact that a separate reputational puddle had developed in which powerful people could hoard a reputation as villains; who knows, maybe next up they’re going to develop a bioweapon and wipe out half the planet so they can brag about that to their friends.

So long as this separate reputational puddle hasn’t been allowed to develop, then a would-be price-fixing cartel would have to comprise a lot of people who didn’t get to take home all the money captured themselves, whose spouses and kids were all raised to believe that your pride and honor rest in coordinating good equilibria for Civilization, not for coordinating with a few people to defect in a way that benefits you a little and damages Civilization a lot. And if that starts to go wrong, there can be actual boycotts, Kickstarters to develop a new competitor, and lots of people who will remember your sins and still boycott you five years later. It’s not a perfect equilibrium, but it’s not that unstable once you’re in it. The key difference is that everybody is seeing the global equilibrium and thinking five moves ahead and that’s the way all the newspaper stories are written.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg: ^ lots of Marx and Engels here but this comment is the Marx-iest of all.

David Spearman: @Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg not really. His comment equally applies to a consumer consortium which unionized to gain unwarranted monopsony power. Though I will note that it assumes a no-cartel equilibrium where the VSP’s can just play whack-a-mole as cartels arise. I’d expect a many-cartel equilibrium, at least at first, with no obvious path from there to the no-cartel state where the moles can be whacked case-by-case.

Ben Pace: This aspect of the civilization sounds like there’s a lot of cultural homogeneity within the civilization. Ensuring that everyone has a shared set of values regardless of decisions about upbringing and morality and way of life reduces cultural variance quite a bit. It’s harder to have the Ravenclaws who as a point of their culture sit in an ivory tower reading/​writing books and never leave to act on the world (though will answer questions occasionally). It’s harder to have the Quakers who live technologically backward because they think the tech damages their community. It’s harder to have a group that leaves broader civilization for 30 years because they think it’s failing and they need to think clearly on their own and bring up children elsewhere.

But I guess it doesn’t actually sound that hard, nor costly enough to make it not worth it. Just have a set of agreements with these people when they set up their cultures, about how to interface with the outside world, and check in occasionally to ensure agreements are being kept. Sounds deeply worth it.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Global homogeneity, local variations. 99% of the planet may be thinking the same way about something because that’s what the textbooks say, but it’s also much easier than on Earth to set up a town somewhere that does one particular thing very differently. It’s understood that being Able To Run Experiments is an important feature of Civilization.

Ben Pace: More global coordination and more local experimentation.

David Spearman: What is their fiction like? What would the most-cited pages of their equivalent of TVTropes look like?

(Alternative framing: if they had an equivalent to Warhammer 40k, what would the different factions look like?)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: All my brilliantly original work over here is me just writing completely stereotypical dath ilan cliches and cackling to myself. HPMOR would be their equivalent of a Harlequin romance or a Kindle Unlimited dungeon-core cultivation monster-girl harem novel.

Alex Zavoluk: What’s the best food on your home planet?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Swedish meatballs!

Adam Priest: Do people have jobs?

Are [workplaces] unionised?

What prevents the bosses exploiting the workers?


Eliezer Yudkowsky: Yes, no, and the economy runs hot enough that a hair salon has to work hard to find labor if they want to be able to expand. As for why, if you asked dath ilan why they always have enough job openings to compete hard for labor, they’d give you a puzzled look and point out that since people could afford to pay for labor 1000 years ago when technological productivity was much lower, obviously today there should be lots of people who can pay at least survival food and shelter for some bit of labor they want done; and indeed, since there are many more payable jobs like this than laborers, employers have to pay much more than this for labor they want done; so employees can choose which job they want, and can tell abusive bosses to either fuck off or pay them a huge premium for putting up with it.

If you showed them Earth’s economy where people struggle to find jobs and employers treat employment as a huge favor they dole out that can come packaged with abuse, they would stare with huge eyes and then try to figure out what the hell had gone so wrong and how it was even possible to build a system like ours in a world with 100x medieval agricultural productivity.

They would start to understand once you listed out all of the different obstacles to an employer employing somebody. But my guess is that if you come at this from the frame of “what prevents the bosses exploiting the workers?”, it might be a long conversation before I could describe how a dath ilan eye parses up the obstacles to employment here, that prevent there from being much more competition for labor here.

Marcello Herreshoff: How are the parallel Earth’s societal coordination mechanisms protected from corruption and conflicts of interest? (On Earth classic, the intended vehicles for solving coordination problems that markets and independent actors cannot are our various governments, but we all know how that’s turning out.)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I’m not quite sure how to answer this—everybody in dath ilan is an economist the same way everybody in the USA is a scribe from the perspective of medieval times, so everybody knows that enforcement is part of the problem of maintaining an equilibrium, that this enforcement is often a nonrival and/​or non-excludable good you have to coordinate to pay for, that you can only enforce what you can see and measure, etc?

In terms of things I can say about that in general… maybe one thing is that dath ilan understands that the first remedy to potential corruption or conflict of interest is visibility and accountability, rather than trying to make sure that no one person has power via committee, or writing big books of regulations to supposedly govern the committee decision. That is, the dath ilan approach is to appoint one person who has to hear things in public, write down their reasoning, publish their reasoning and decision, and get their results checked three years later.

Bill Doherty: How does the dating market differ on your Earth?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: It’s much more the domain of paid professionals, something like a real estate broker where you tell them all about who you are and who you’re looking for, they get together with other real estate brokers to look for matches, and you’d pay them based on results if you were still happy 6 months or 10 years later.

Daniel Sturtevant: How did y’all compensate for “my stake in this coordination problem is more important than yours,” bias in everyday, not-super-deliberative cognition? Or did everyone get eaten by tigers?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I’m not quite sure which problem class you’re envisioning. People here on Earth routinely run into situations, any time there’s a coordination problem, where somebody could conceivably claim their stakes mattered more? And people here on this Earth have a reputation concept and an implicit social capital system, where somebody who claims exceptions too often, and who doesn’t produce compensating value, will start to lose friends, so nobody wants to hang out with them after the third time that they claimed they couldn’t afford to pay for their share of the pizza?

People in dath ilan don’t know they’re supposed to be in a Utopian illustration of people talking about coordination problems all the time, or that they’re supposed to be solving them perfectly. The main difference, if there even is one, is that if somebody repeatedly doesn’t pay for the pizza, everybody has a shared verbal abstract concept of what’s going on, and they can say, “Look, if you don’t believe us about what we think you’re doing, namely defecting in a <dath ilan equivalent of the Prisoner’s Dilemma parable>, we can ask a disinterested third party” or “You’re spending social capital like water, pal” instead of quietly and resentfully dumping the defector.

Ben Pace: Broadly, what do leaders look like in your world? Are there people who are respected and are able to take action for the nations of your world without being punished for it and slapped down? Somewhat relatedly, do they interact with social media more like Elon Musk or more like Paul Graham?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Computing media less advanced, social media doesn’t exist yet and probably wouldn’t be allowed to exist. If they did exist, the Very Serious People would look like Paul Graham but with something closer to Elon Musk’s sense of humor, albeit with the humor more restrained and carefully set apart in most cases.

The Earth concept of “nations” is very much about barriers to immigration and barriers to trade, both of which would be considered harmful in dath ilan. There are huge factions, there are huge special interest groups, there are regions with their local public goods that you are required to pay for if you live there, but people belong to more than one of those; they don’t belong to A Country. Somebody has to run those organizations but it is not assumed that they can Speak For Their People the same way unless somebody has actually set up a voting/​delegation structure for that organization.

It’s understood that it can be dangerous to leave out the details and that governance is dangerous. Imagine if the newspapers consistently described Biden as “the FPTP primary-general Electoral College indirect delegate with a 53% overall approval rating” or some such instead of “The President”, except that the phrase was much shorter because it contained abbreviation symbols that everyone already recognized, like using INTP to describe somebody’s personality. Then as much ability to speak for the citizens as you want to recognize somebody like that as having, that’s how much Biden has.

Open combat where you actually destroy people and property is a huge undignified failure in dath ilan, like, that cannot possibly be on the Pareto equilibrium, what are you doing wrong. If somebody hasn’t gone literally schizophrenic and needed to be restrained, it’s seen as shameful for everybody that it got that far. If you violate regional rules you’re told to leave the region; if you refuse to pay a fine you contracted for, the contract says that your bank can take it from your account.

Since you can move about from one region to another rather than there being this huge Immigration deal, you’re not supposed to be in Your Country that’s the only country you can live and that has to punish you to make you obey its rules; what it tends to do is kick you out, and depending on reason, fewer other countries may accept you for a time. Less prisons, more Australia (actually the continent we’d call Japan, but a totally different place).

So the Grand Authority that concentrates in countries, counties, cities, and police forces as arbiters of violence, is more distributed across factions and regional experiments and people heading up particular organizations. There is less authority that stems from being the person who commands the organization of people with lots of guns, and more authority that stems from enough people having actually explicitly said that they’ll follow you if you say to boycott somebody. The judge who’s contracted to follow a constitution and determines on that basis when to tell somebody “You’re not playing by the experimental rules we set out, get out of this regional experiment” or “You can’t enter this city, based on the public reason you were expelled from your last home” is not a spiritual leader, they are not the holy person entitled to command violence.

It’s not that there are no people trained to use advanced weapons and factories set to be quickly repurposable to making them—people do understand that you don’t want to let the first defector conquer the whole world with just a bread knife—but it’s understood that the actual use of this power to settle conflicts represents a grave danger to everybody; it’s not used routinely the same way it is on Earth. It is possible to coordinate around deploying less pride-injurious solutions instead, where you don’t have to walk around in public being visibly way off the Pareto bargaining frontier.


Eliezer Yudkowsky: I don’t want to make it sound like taxes are voluntary. Different regions will, to different degrees, be trying to produce non-excludable goods, and entry to that region will require an explicit commitment to pay for them. But this is less of an issue of being an Earth-style milkable tax cattle because no other nice place in the world will let you emigrate and be a citizen; local goods like this are more often produced on the city or megacity level than on an enormous national level, so there are a lot of choices in where to pay taxes to, and you can travel a short distance and pay taxes somewhere else. It is more like being a customer of a business establishment and less like being a cow that gets milked, and if that sounds utopian, it’s because people explicitly sat down and thought about the problem and put some effort into optimizing the larger structures that got adopted.

David Moscovici: What typically happens if a regional experiment is engaging in behavior X, that is utterly abhorrent to the people/​leaders in a neighboring bigger/​stronger administration?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Like… preventing people from leaving? Brainwashing kids? Leaving people’s brains to rot instead of freezing them? I can’t recall offhand reading about that happening—the Chroniclers try to write about things in proportion to how many people they actually affect, not how outrageous they are—but I think they’d expect an army to march on them, which is why it wouldn’t happen often.

David Moscovici: How long has it been since the last major bordered administration?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Don’t know, wasn’t a student of history. There wasn’t an epochal moment so far as I know—just trade barriers going down, immigration barriers going down, taxation authority devolving to internal regions.

Ben Pace: Has your world ever coordinated to slow economic progress down (e.g. due to concerns around nanotech/​AGI/​biorisk)? How did that work, what were the main pushbacks, and how were they appeased? And how did society continue to function given that massive numbers of people were told to e.g. not work?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I mean, given that I never heard anybody discussing Artificial General Intelligence and that computing progress was suspiciously slow compared to Earth, somebody clearly did something, but I don’t know what, and in fact I had no clue whatsoever that anything unusual was missing until I got to this Earth. I mean, that is what an actually effective global conspiracy should look like. Some of the logic behind it ought to be clear from the point that, if I’d had any inkling in dath ilan, I would have found the highest-ranked shadarak I could easily get to and told them that I suspected I’d run across a bigass infohazard; and they would have told me what, if anything, to do from there.

I don’t understand what you mean about people being told to not work. Nobody knew they were being told not to work on Artificial Intelligence. They just worked on other things instead.

Ben Pace: What’s the simplest piece of software that over 1 billion people use on your Earth that is net positive and that we don’t have?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Computing in general is less advanced, but we do have some of it. Most of the software that comes to mind is software supporting other political and organizational systems that you don’t have here; the closest pure software I can think of is Kickstarter But In Full Generality, and that may actually exist by now but with not enough people using it or it not being legal to use it for the right things. There’s software that supports a popular multilevel-delegation political system, what I might call a Dunbararchy, and I guess you could conceivably try to build that and let people use it to see what happened, even if you weren’t allowed to make its results politically binding.

Jessop A Breth: Does your planet have humans?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I have no particular reason to expect they’d have any trouble having kids with people from this planet, if you want to define “the human species” the way a species is usually defined.

David Spearman: How does the society figure out what better alternative to the status quo are? Is there some system like Archipelago where you can run small-scale experiments which the VSP’s can go on to signal boost to the rest of the population?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: It’s widely understood that the point of having regions apart from one giant homogenous optimal Megacity is so that you can do a thing differently in different places, yes. Either to house people with different priorities about how to set regional parameters that need a single setting—there is probably somewhere out there where everybody goes naked, though I didn’t particularly look for it at the time—or to run experiments.

Maximilian Schlederer: Are people on parallel Earth more intelligent than on our Earth?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Yes because they have actual education. And even apart from that, it’s almost impossible that they wouldn’t be, if only because there’s a norm against chronically unhappy people having kids, and that probably reduces prevalence of a bunch of low-grade health issues.

Connor Heaton: How much closer are they to general AI?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Impossible to even guess. I imagine that they’re treating their ability to take it slowly as a huge resource, which implies that they’re doing a bunch of capabilities research and restricting the results. I have no idea at all how far they’ve gotten with the lower computing resources they have.

Tom Pandolfo: Does your world have a minimum standard of living guaranteed by law?

(That is, every person has adequate housing, is adequately fed, and has reasonably adequate healthcare—and these are guaranteed by law, not as an “inevitable consequence of The Market.”)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: The mineable resources of the world have economic rents that’s captured via Georgist principle and is available equally to all citizens as an income, but there’s no attempt to protect that income from taxation or treat it as a Universal Basic Income that ought to be sufficient to live on; it’s just the rent that people get paid for respecting the existence of a property system at all.

People donate around 15% of their income to good causes in one form another, and while that’s always been very competitive, it’s also always been enough to support the existence of Quiet Cities where you can go to retire from Civilization if you haven’t had any kids. If you did have kids, your kids would have other options for being supported, but you might be allowed to starve; and if you tried to steal to support yourself, you’d be deported until only Australia (actually the territory we’d call Japan) would accept you, and then you might die there. You’re not supposed to be having kids if you aren’t sure of your ability to support yourself in Civilization, and it’s understood that there should be some incentive structure against that.

If you randomly get injured in an avalanche, there’s insurance for that kind of thing, and if somehow you ended up with Real Genuine Unforeseeable Unavoidable Bad Luck after having kids, your relatives or friends or some Very Serious Person might serve as a safety net. But the socially general safety net is deliberately and consciously restricted (for reasons of avoiding Malthusian equilibria and societies full of unhappy people) to people who have not had any kids.

David Bahry: Is oligopolistic collusion considered a market failure, or an admirable instance of solving a coordination problem?


Eliezer Yudkowsky: It’d be considered a failure of the consumers to coordinate on starting a non-oligopolistic competitor, I’d guess? And depending on what exactly had happened, I would expect a swarm of Very Serious People writing Very Serious Essays about some larger civilizational dysfunction that had allowed it to happen in the first place. See previous answers about individual oligopolists not being able to individually capture most of the monetary value seized by cartels, and on the understood civilizational importance of not having separate reputational puddles of important people who would pay them in prestige for having pulled off an elaborate locally coordinated defection.

David Bahry: Are unions considered a market failure, or an admirable instance of solving a coordination problem?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Everybody in dath ilan is an economist the way everybody in this Earth is a scribe, so they would immediately reply that this is the sort of thing where supply-demand balancing prices seem like a perfectly fine solution; if you presented them with a situation where unions were necessary in order for employees to capture a fair amount of the value they created, they’d ask how the hell some employer had ended up with an effective monopsony on labor. This question sometimes has an answer on Earth; on dath ilan they’d spend their effort on avoiding the monopsony situation rather than on unionizing afterwards.

I think there’s a certain amount of implicit unionization in the sense that, sure, most of the employees in a company could get together and yell something, and it would not be considered very socially acceptable for the company to try to prevent that.

On Earth, formal unions got started when companies were literally bringing in people with rifles to force miners to work. I think dath ilan would agree that unions are an appropriate and indeed overly mild response to this condition, but it is not a problem they are currently trying to solve.

Samy Gallienne: How is the media system funded and distributed while ensuring quality? On our Earth, we haven’t figured this one yet.

Digital information wants to be free, but the labor to produce the information needs to be compensated. As a result, newspapers are struggling. [Government] doesn’t seem to be the problem since that limits competition while risking propaganda.

Meanwhile, distribution is [increasingly] reliant on social media which pushed dubious [ethical] practices like clickbait and rewards outrage-creation over quality.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Among the public goods that gets supported by the 15% of income that people publicly donate to charity, are the Chroniclers of Humankind—somewhere between what judges want to be, what journalists used to pretend to be, what Wikipedia aspires to be but with better writing; they are supposed to be very neutral, very fair, very kind to people who haven’t deliberately massively screwed up, very well-paid, etcetera.

Lots of other people write about things too, of course; but to the extent that there’s such a thing as a Story there, it becomes part of the Story when the Chroniclers start to retell it. If Scott Alexander adopted a special voice that he used to speak when he wasn’t taking sides in any partisan conflicts, he could in that voice be a Chronicler.


David Moscovici: Chron 1. How do Chroniclers avoid (or how is it avoided that Chroniclers) select new truths to ‘declare’ depending what ideology might grasp them? Do they never “fringe out” as most of our thinker/​[analyst] categories do?

Chron 2. Does their Chronicler status become threatened if they do gain a very uncommon understanding of the world?

Chron 3. Who retires their status if their objectivity becomes heavily compromised?

Chron 4. And how have ‘new truths’ become recognized?

Chron 5. What happens when there are apparent and direct contradictions between pockets of Chroniclers?

Chron 6. Does anything actively prevent capture in a certain space by a specific thinkgroup of Chroniclerhood?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: The closest Earthly analogue is Wikipedia, I’d guess, or somewhere between Wikipedia and a high-functioning science journal; except that there’s a common understanding of much more sophisticated discourse norms and reasoning norms, when it comes to saying that Chroniclers should be using standard reasoning to write about things. You need to remember that I am an average kid from that place; I did not invent the stuff I wrote about on Less Wrong but I did know all of it, albeit not with much sense of your Earth’s appropriate citations.

If a Chronicler was writing about something especially controversial using a non-public source, they’d probably call in a senior retired Chronicler to act as witness to the conversation, or something like that. Otherwise, why would there be any need to trust them in the first place? The Chronicler would just show their work.

David Schneider-Joseph: In what way is the parallel Earth doing worse than ours?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: At least some types of people in it are probably having less fun than those people would be having here, if those people were otherwise fairly wealthy in both places; though no especially striking non-socially-harmful examples are coming to mind except for people who want to take a lot of drugs and people into BDSM.

David Schneider-Joseph: @Eliezer Yudkowsky Why would drugs and BDSM be adversely affected by society having a higher ability to solve coordination problems?

John Wentworth: Sounds like a lot of previous answers involve making lots of information available to lots of people, and relying on reputation. How do people decide what to pay attention to? How do people notice when nobody else is paying attention to some important information?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I’m not sure there was any particularly magical solution other than having lots of people walking around knowing that this was an issue and a public good that they had to pay for in money and reputation. It’s like asking why we had scientists actually running replications of experiments; we understood that this was important, and that you actually have to pay in money and honor for important things, not just pay lip service to them, so funding was available and newspapers would report the names of the first two replicators next to the people who’d found the preliminary hinting.

Brett C Allen: Do informational asymmetries exist, or is everyone equally informed at the best resolution they have capacity to interpret?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Of course informational asymmetries exist, they’re still bounded agents for heaven’s sake!

Brett C Allen: But then you cannot solve the class of problem such as the prisoners’ dilemma, because geometries of action and incentive are possible that confer advantage based on a defect strategy?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Allow me to introduce the number one technical thingy I actually managed to partially remember from dath ilan: https://​​arbital.com/​​p/​​logical_dt/​​?l=58f

Thor Taylor: If you could materialise a small city-state on Earth following Dath Ilani norms and customs, would it be robust to international politics? Or does the equilibrium on Dath Ilan require general consensus to be able to punish transgressors? E.g. is the militarisation required for a small state to fend off militant neighbours compatible with the freedoms you consider crucial? Are norms from a cooperative world robust against attack by selfish [foreign] actors playing zero sum or even negative sum games with trade and espionage?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I think that city state would effectively materialize far out of equilibrium, would immediately regard itself as being under siege, and would immediately start to try to build weapons of mass destruction in order to have a credible threat to prevent its conquest by the environment around it, which I’d expect to rapidly go extremely hostile if presented with a non-politely-Facebook-censored version of dath ilan culture. Our kids get explicitly trained on perspective-taking, and wouldn’t have the expectation for an absolutely foreign culture to look very nice and pretty by the norms of suburban pontificators. Your culture makes no such allowances, has no such concept, and is full of “low-decouplers” who literally lack any internal grasp of the mental motion they would need to perform.

Ben Albert Pace: What role does Robin Hanson have in your world? What job does he have?

David Spearman: I imagine “Crazy Idea Guy” is a sub-genre of Very Serious Person.

Ben Pace: I kinda want to know if he runs a university or manages a government department of prediction or (more likely) some third thing I haven’t imagined.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: There are no direct people-level analogues between worlds—even if dath ilan had only diverged 100 years earlier, that would be more than enough to butterfly out of existence almost everybody born more than a couple of years later, and dath ilan must have diverged much much before that.

And there can also be no metaphorical analogue of Robin Hanson, because the whole concept of Robin Hanson is that he understands some particular things that aren’t common knowledge here. You can’t have that one person who goes around loudly observing that “education isn’t about human capital” because dath ilan doesn’t have an education system like that, and because it doesn’t make you a contrarian iconoclast to suggest that you’ll get what you measure and pay for.

Or to put it another way, if there actually was a Robin Hanson back in that world, he was too much smarter than I was, and I was part of the mob of hoi polloi who couldn’t tell the difference between that and any other crazy person.

Ben Pace: What do the contrarian iconoclasts look like in your earth? I expect you’ll say that they’re off running experiments that nobody understands, and somedays they come back with incredible results and then they’re absorbed into the way of being for the whole civilization.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Or not-so-incredible but still-cool results, but, uh, yeah? I mean, what do the contrarian iconoclasts look like inside the little crippled partial tiny fragment of my home culture that I managed to reproduce here? They look like a bunch of outright psychiatric nutcases, a bunch of people being loudly wrong, and a few people who made fortunes outbetting the markets during the Covid-19 crisis.

Patrick Lozada: Which one (or ones) do you use and who decided this.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: All cables had already evolved to their final universal form of USB-C by the time I was born.

David Bahry: Does marriage exist (monogamous or otherwise), does divorce exist, and how common are they?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Monogamous heterosexual marriage is The Rule to an even greater extent than in the modern USA, and this is one of the places where I suspect our Earth is doing slightly better. Either social pressure is actually and effectively producing sexual conformity in dath ilan, or the general sense of “If you’re an unhappy misfit, don’t have kids” or “Don’t lie to yourself and others about who you are” caused homosexuals to actually not reproduce or not be in fake heterosexual marriages with kids, over several generations, and they actually became a smaller population segment. 🙁

Daniel Powell: What method do you use to determine how to distribute scarce resources?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: If they’re raw resources, conduct a Georgist auction to capture the economic rents from them, modulo a premium-paid to establish ownership-momentum if you have to build permanent installations near them, but with continuing rents due. If they’re resources produced primarily by value added by scarce labor, those resources are owned by the producer and you trade with them. If that doesn’t answer your question, what do you have in mind?

Daniel Powell: @Eliezer Yudkowsky so there’s even more poor people, and the lines for Hamilton tickets are even longer?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I don’t get it. :confused pikachu face:

Daniel Powell: Well, the people who overestimated the mineral rights value of Gaul couldn’t participate in the bidding on Brittania or anywhere since, so they and their heirs have been locked out ever since.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: That’s the “continuing rents due” part? You don’t just bid a little on the mines and own them forever.

Daniel Powell: Yeah, they overestimated the first thing to auction off, and the person who bought the lease from them overestimated it less. Forever after they can’t afford to purchase any rights unless everyone with an average amount of currency underestimated the value.

Michael Blume: Do private cars exist and if so how many people own them and how much explicit legal structure is there for handling their costs?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I mean, I’d expect there to maybe be regions for ore-mining where they just pave a road and have humans drive over the road, instead of paying the additional expense to set up automated car lines, because it’s not worth the added expense considering the very small amount of irregular traffic—something like that? But if you let humans drive cars, they crash into each other and kill people, and much worse they occasionally crush the brain and destroy the soul. If there were regions where people go to crush their souls, I didn’t hear about them. The length dath ilan goes to in order to avoid brain-destruction scenarios is finite, but large, and humans driving cars at high speeds sure do cause that.

Jessica Evans: A world with more coordination sounds like a world with less liberty for the same basic reasons that democracy consistently produces tyrannies of the majority. Explain how you get “more coordination” for the same price at any level of complexity or be ridiculed.

Putting it another way, I wish to a genie for “more coordination”. Why doesn’t the genie instantly solve this by making the world homogeneous in opinion, or making fringe disagreement dramatically more costly, or some other horrifying thing.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Coordinatees who understand coordination better? That world wasn’t the product of the genie wish you just described?

Richard Wilde: How did climate change work out for you?


Eliezer Yudkowsky: Better-coordinated people can do the same amount of Science and Engineering with a smaller global population, meaning that we reached a roughly equivalent technological level with around a tenth of the population, so we didn’t put a significant amount of CO2 into the atmosphere before transitioning to liquid-phase fission reactors as the primary energy source.


Ben Pace: I hadn’t notice how path dependent the issue of climate change was!

Jim Syler: @Eliezer Yudkowsky Waaait, but doesn’t innovation scale with population, because you have a larger number of smart/​lucky/​innovative/​etc. people?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Innovation scales poorly with population, and even more so here than there. On my home planet you are much more likely to see a big company producing an amount of innovation that is, like, proportional to the square root of the company’s employment, which is to say that it is increasing at all with population size; as opposed to here on Earth where tiny startups are often around equally innovative with entire established companies.

Richard Wilde: And how did you manage to keep your population so low?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: It wasn’t a coordination thing, it was just a question of igniting earlier along the population-growth curve. We didn’t know our population was “low” because we weren’t comparing it to Earth.

Erica Edelman: Given that nobody is happy all the time, how do you separate out unhappy people (who shouldn’t have kids) from not unhappy people? Is there an objective test that tells you your current happiness rating? Is there an absolute number on the happiness scale you should be, or is it like… the lowest 10% of the population. If it’s an absolute number did a very large percentage of people not meet standards when this system first rolled out?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: You could literally spend the rest of your life reading all the Very Serious People arguing about that. I would personally yell “Bottom 20%!” and then run away before they got me.

Erica Edelman: Don’t you worry that doing bottom 20% over lots and lots of generations is going to eventually lead to a world where everyone is… psychotically happy /​ mentally ill levels of happy?


Eliezer Yudkowsky: (runs faster)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: (summons David Pearce to distract her)

Ymir Vigfusson: How does the police on your Earth bargain with pairs of prisoners who have been arrested for an alleged crime?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: For one thing, the people who do the arresting are not the people who run the interrogation who are not the people who do the prosecuting who are not the people who run the prisons! See https://​yudkowsky.medium.com/​a-comprehensive-reboot-of-law-enforcement-b76bfab850a3 for an elementary concept of how an economic literate might look at this kind of thing. Offering prisoners clemency in exchange for them purporting to inform on each other runs into all kinds of obvious horrible incentive problems within the court system that any Very Serious Person would point out before five seconds had elapsed.

Steve Jackson: What types of tokens do they use to signal where the problems are, and how do they make sure the tokens keep moving?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Uh, are you referring to money? They use money.

Steve Jackson: How do they make sure their money signals problems that need solving well? Or do they do that?

Kelley Meck: Put another way:

Do you have loans at interest? If yes, what did/​do you do with the bad kind of lenders? If no, how does the market clear between now-problems and later-problems?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I’m confused. Surely the punishment for being a bad lender is that the bad lenders lose money? The public policy intervention here is not to bail them out, there, you’re done; private insurance on deposits will now price-signal the riskiness of those deposits.

Andrew McKnight: How do para-people notice when their problems are caused by coordination failure?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: In virtue of literally everybody knowing what a Nash equilibrium is, what a Pareto optimum is, classroom situations that show them blowing up in practice, newspaper stories that analyze things in those terms, Very Serious People debating edge cases in Very Serious Debates? This is like asking how economists notice when something is balancing supply and demand, or when an arithmetician knows that it’s time to count or add or multiply something; it’s a form of literacy that is understood to underpin Civilization in much the same way as counting or reading, so the Very Serious People are constantly being Very Concerned any time it shows a 5% drop in one state region.

Andrew McKnight: Eliezer Yudkowsky ahh, basic coordinacy to go with their literacy and numeracy. I see.

If I may add a follow-up, are there major problems on para-Earth with false coordination where para-folks overcoordinate when they should just do the standard Earthly thing?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I get the impression they could be overthinking a few things—nothing specific comes to mind, just the general level of overhead and how often Very Serious People have Very Serious Takes on things, sort of like looking at Earth and saying that it spends too much on “Left vs Right” takes on things. But whoooa nelly does it look like it’s better to spend too much thought on coordination problems than too little. If there’s a Golden Mean Earth, it’s probably 80% of the way to dath ilan.

Ben Pace: I’m a bit confused by this. One of the advantages of noticing that there’s a supply problem, is that the supplier can unilaterally change their price. Prices are indeed set by buyers unilaterally outbidding each other, and sellers unilaterally underbidding each other.

Yet with coordination problems, even if everyone recognizes that something is a coordination problem (and has the concepts of Nash equilibria), you still often have to do much more surprising/​novel things to switch equilibrium. I mean, you can just use politics as usual (“Let’s all jump at the same time because we’re in a bad Nash equilibrium!”), and that will go more easily if everyone understands the concept.

But I was expecting you might say something more like “In my world is a much better reward mechanism for people who successfully solve such problems. If you manage to move your school/​business/​community into a better equilibrium, you are massively rewarded even if you did not monetize it, because at each level there is an equilibrium team whose job is to pour money into the bank accounts of people who do this.” Or something. That probably doesn’t work, but it sounds to me slightly more like it could.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Obviously you’d win an insane amount of social marbles if you somehow coordinated a really big jump toward a much better equilibrium, but that presumes that a much worse equilibrium was somehow allowed to develop in the first place and that you were the first person to spot it and see a solution. This is actually hard to pull off in dath ilan, because when a good solution is visible the activation energy is actually available to jump there. Part of the reason I was so quickly able to spot adequacy fantasies in this world as psychologically dysfunctional, is because I’ve been in the world where it’s actually hard to spot big problems and big fixes, and that world looks very different from this one.

Ben Pace: Okay. I think I have a picture of how it works on your Earth.

I’m imagining the situation with the QWERTY keyboards, and Bob realizing that what was good for the old typewriters (not hitting keys next to each other) is not needed any more for our new keyboards.

At this point in time there’s lots of companies (i.e. 10-50) making these newfangled ‘personal computers’ in lots of countries and lots of different languages.

I’m imagining Bob talking to each company, and saying (a) “this is sort of maximally inefficient for our hands” and (b) “we’re gonna be pretty soon in a Nash equilibrium where none of us can unilaterally improve it and everyone’s learned the old one”.

Then the companies probably give Bob command over when they all jump to the new one, because there’s standard social protocols around doing this (and, though it’s not something Bob actually thinks about, Bob knows in the back of his mind that if he were to use it corruptly they would follow through on punishing him, letting his community/​employer know the sort of person he is, etc). He also knows he will get financially compensated by all of the companies, to the tune of like $5k (peanuts for them, adding up to a year’s salary for him).

Once Bob has got 50% of them, the others quickly follow into line, because you know that when a Coordinator has got 50% of parties ready to jump, they’re to be trusted and jumped with. Then after maybe 4-6 months of work (traveling and persuading initial companies), he hits jump, they all commit to changing keyboards on their upcoming computer, and the customers will just be forced to learn, with a slight dip in the economy for a bit followed by slightly faster growth after.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: If you built a better school than an Earth-school baseline, people would be like, “Okay, 5% of the story is about this awesome person here, to whom all due congratulations are due, and 95% of this story is about WHAT THE HELL FUCK WERE WE DOING?”

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Bob in your story is, like… three hundred Very Serious People arguing with each other in newspapers for several months.

J. Caitlin Elizondo: Do you guys run on the same meat hardware, with the same type and degree of inclinations e.g. towards sex, love, status? If so, how do you manage for those whims not to sidetrack everything into oblivion?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: It seems to me like pretty much the same meat hardware to the same extent that, say, Ashkenazic meat hardware is the same as Eskimo meat hardware? And I’m not really sure how to answer your question, maybe something like, “Greater economic literacy and conscious awareness of short-term incentives means that people have put a lot more deliberation into being aware of where short-term incentives point and trying not to misalign them.” Nobody has ever invented Twitter, and if anyone did, there would be immediate unanimous coordination around jumping to something else with better incentives and no 280-character limit, and if Twitter somehow still existed despite that, it would be taken for granted that you didn’t want it inside the same web browser as your work web browser.

One of the aspects of dath ilan civilization that I’d expect an Earth-person to find much more relatively offputting is the degree to which anybody in the top 75% (not a typo, I mean the top three-quarters) of personal attractiveness would be expected to wear a veil, or makeup to look uglier, applying to both men and women but with a lower threshold for women. If there were any such thing as a beach with people wearing scanty swimwear, it would have all kinds of Cognitohazard signs slapped all over it and nobody would ever publish any photographs of it.

Why? So that if you go into a bedroom with somebody and get naked, you’re not comparing them to the attractiveness of the top 0.1% of the population. If you want to shoot yourself in the foot like that, you’d have to go out of your way to do it and tromp past a lot of warning signs, because the rest of Civilization has comprehended “ability to be attracted to the average naked person” as a public good and is coordinating around preserving that public good. It lends all of Civilization a very deliberate and abstract quality that I’d expect to put off a lot of Earthers, and not without reason. But if Earth civilization doesn’t immediately blow up in a vast orgy of sex and cookie-eating, it definitely shouldn’t be surprising that dath ilan manages to walk on.

Jay Schweikert: @Eliezer Yudkowsky But what does that mean for the dating landscape? It sounds like dath ilan probably doesn’t have the equivalent of Tinder, or at least it’s not widely used for the same cognito-hazard reasons. But is relative attractiveness a factor at all when people are trying to figure out who they want to date?

That is, I can understand “ability to be attracted to the average naked person” as a public good, and that a well-coordinated society could have social enforcement mechanisms like you describe. But assuming people still are actually more attracted to more attractive people, it’s harder to understand that people would just give up on trying to signal this information, or give up on trying to read those signals.

So, for example, if you’re in a smaller groups of friends, can you take off the veil, or is that basically always required for anyone but a romantic partner? Are people expected to wear sweatpants and sweatshirts when they work out? Is there a whisper network for figuring out how attractive people actually are? How scandalous would a “no makeup singles bar” be? Is pornography a thing at all, or is it locked behind major warning gates?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: If pornography is a thing, it was locked behind warning gates big enough that I was literally not exposed to the concept before Earth! There’s sex manuals illustrated with carefully 20th-percentile unattractive people. There’s a kind of loose robe-like clothing you’d wear to work out that would also serve the purpose of absorbing sweat and preventing it from getting all over the equipment, which honestly still seems like a pretty good idea to me, if I’m not just being homesick.

Computing in general is less advanced, I assume because somebody knows about AGI, and dath ilan never started having social media. If they started getting results remotely similar to Earth’s social media it would all be shut down.

So no, no Tinder. But a lot of deliberate understanding of the matching problem in dating. Some Very Serious People who are Very Concerned about Where It’s All Headed would say that it’s too deliberate, and people should just, like, fall in love at first sight properly. But roughly speaking, what they have instead of Tinder is real-estate brokers; you tell somebody all about yourself, they get to see you naked and take pictures; and if they can find you a mate by talking to their fellow brokers, then they get a bounty that’s supposed to reflect 5% of the value-added of being in the better-than-you-could-have-found-on-your-own relationship they found you.

When there’s a big problem, expect dath ilan to have paid professional specialists to solve it; and everybody in dath ilan is an economist the same way that everybody on Earth is a scribe from a medieval perspective, so they will be very careful about what they measure and pay for. The problem of finding good people to date is a big one with lots of value dependent on it, so obviously of course there’s going to be a well-paid professional class devoted to it, which people actually use, with payouts dependent on results because they know you get what you pay for.

J. Caitlin Elizondo: This doesn’t matter but how do people decide/​figure out what attractiveness percentile specific people are in? Does everyone know their number, like an IQ score?

Ben Pace: I do anticipate that you can pay for sex and for dates and things on Dath Ilan, and that there is some price discrimination there, and that generally the people you pay are attractive and agreeable and extraverted and so on than average (though with lots more buying niches than are available on earth e.g. disagreeable quiet people). This would be valuable for all sorts of people e.g. people unable to get a mate, busy people, etc.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: If you’re more attractive than people you see on the street presenting as, don’t let yourself look more attractive than that.

Raymond Arnold: Huh, does this mean you don’t have anime catgirls?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: We don’t.

That is like super a thing that the Very Serious People would be super against.

JJ Treadway: Is there a reason you don’t instead raise the attractiveness of less attractive people (using e.g. plastic surgery or genetic engineering or mind-uploading into attractive artificial bodies) in order to reduce attractiveness-inequality? Do you just lack the technology to do this cheaply/​safely, or is there some more subtle reason why this would be a bad idea regardless of its technological feasibility?

Raymond Arnold: A thing that sticks out in my mind is that it’s a runaway arms race, that doesn’t really have a point (assuming a model that this is a domain where you just hedonically adapt, which you might or might not buy)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: We don’t have the tech? I don’t think anybody would object to raising everybody’s attractiveness and refiguring where the 25% cutoff was.

Raymond Arnold: Oh, to clarify – when I said anime catgirls, I meant, like, “anime shows, that feature catgirls” as opposed to actual catgirls. I’m assuming the answer is the same based on the porn one but just doublechecking we communicated successfully

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Right. They try not to present people with fantasy worlds more attractive than reality. Respectable fantasy novels will generally start the protagonist off with a disadvantage and force them to reform some awful place, for the same reason.

Rodrigo Moreno Nuñez: “Everybody in dath ilan is an economist the same way that everybody on Earth is a scribe from a medieval perspective” makes dath ilan so much more believable in [one] sentence. props!

J. Caitlin Elizondo: Woa, do other people (here) walk down the street and have a clear sense how people compare in attractiveness to them?


J. Caitlin Elizondo: “If pornography is a thing, it was locked behind warning gates big enough that I was literally not exposed to the concept before Earth.” Why wouldn’t you suspect the same might be true of kink?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Maybe there were special regions where it was different, but I think the standard background of departure was very much in a headspace of, “You want somebody to hurt you? Injure you? Cause you pain? That’s not being Light-aligned. That’s not how a biological organism is supposed to work. What’s wrong with you? Do you have psychological damage? And you who want to cause pain, that’s just called being Evil. Force it down, and if that makes you sufficiently unhappy, don’t have kids so they won’t be unhappy too.” Even if there were places that were experimenting with having things be different, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to look for them, and I expect a lot of other potentially kinky people wouldn’t have looked for them either, or ever be exposed to the stimuli that could have made them realize they were kinky.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: To be clear, I think that if dath ilan got a good look at the Earth equilibrium, they wouldn’t just go into denial about it, there would be a Huge Very Serious Blowup about what had happened.

J. Caitlin Elizondo: What had happened to Earth? Or them?

David Moscovici: Would a category-fetish/​preference, with criteria like hair color, or race, or profession be seen as Light-deviant?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: What had happened to them—it is understood that having more fun is in some sense the ultimate purpose of existence.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: David—no, that’s just individual taste (or so they would agree). The nonobvious step for them would be distinguishing the desire to hurt somebody and cause them pain in a sexual way, versus, say, the desire to kill them in a sexual way. Among other things, you need to realize there are people who want in a sexual way to be hurt, which is not something you can necessarily figure out from inside of your head; there’s a multi-step cognitive inference problem here.

David Moscovici: Would pursuit of subservience to the point of non-physical ill-treatment be seen as Light-deviant?

And/​or would offering such treatment be Light-deviant?

(Just testing the bounds of such cultural freedoms beyond violent kink)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Yes and yes.

Kelley Meck: What is music like on parallel earth? Is it still used for marketing of products? Is it still used for dancing?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: More melodic, fewer words, the popular stuff is less repetitive and less based around very loud beats. I’m enough of a barbarian that I actually like Earth music better. It doesn’t try to be respectable.

Advertising is understood to be mostly a negative-sum game where people try to steal customers from each other or from other business sectors, and slightly a positive-sum game that could theoretically produce more informed consumers if for some reason the Chroniclers and Very Serious People and lesser reporters were all asleep on the job.

It’s not illegal, but it’s understood that if you saw a Pepsi advertisement and switched some of your consumption from Coke to Pepsi, or from orange juice to Pepsi, or from pretty LED jewelry to Pepsi, you’d be contributing to a negative-sum game, which would generally go against your self-concept.

But if Pepsi had an actual superior product they would, like, obviously go pay one hundred Very Serious People a small token fee to spend ten minutes trying their product. If they were trying to play great music along with having their product shown on TV, I think everybody would watch that and go, “How dumb do they think we are?! What does this music have to do with the product?!”

Rhythmic sound and dancing is older than writing. That hasn’t changed.

Alex Gunning: “dath ilan” is an anagram of “thailand”, was this an intentional decision?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: How could that possibly be true? Oh, you mean if it was a joke? If counterfactually this was all a joke, I don’t see why I’d have anagrammed Thailand or what I could have meant by that.

Jared Collins: How did you incorporate the bottom 10% distributions of the population on measures of intelligence, conscientiousness, industriousness, and agreeableness? I would think people in these demos, especially overlapping more than one, would be most inclined to defect or, worse, be mentally unable to think abstractly enough to govern their own behavior based on coordination values.

There is a not-insignificant portion of the population, for example, who could not pass your second grade even as an adult based on cognitive ability or conformity deficit grounds. If you exiled all of them, the Australia equivalent would start looking worryingly crowded and fractious to the point of a human rights crisis.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Australia (actually Japan) is where people go when they’ve violated the regional rules to the point that no region wants them. If you haven’t stolen or committed violence, and haven’t had kids, then there are plenty of charity-supported Quiet Places that will accept you. We have 100X medieval productivity just like Earth ought to, and we’re not setting all our resources on fire, so it’s not hard to support any number of Quiet Places where people can go if they can’t handle Civilization.

Jared Collins: @Eliezer, Quiet Places are the part I missed. What goes on in them? Do they have jobs, factories? It seems like a very obvious sort of disutility to have significant portions (back—of- my- hand math clocks in north of 30%) of the pop base doing nothing because they can’t be made to do so at the efficiency frontier. And many aren’t going to sit around; the willingness to work is ingrained pretty deep. If they aren’t rewarded for working by your civilization, they’ll make their own (suboptimal) options.

And if they can’t handle civilization, they’re not going to respect the self- imposed strictures on reproduction. It can’t have escaped the attention of your VSPs that there’s a real potential for an Eloi/​ Morlock situation being set up (ref. H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’, a culturally-well-known piece of speculative sci-fi from our side).

Karl Nordenstorm: How is Esperanto or other optimized languages doing?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Finished over a hundred years ago. The benefits of having one shared planetary language were just too obvious, and that’s leaving aside how much prettier our equivalent of Quenya is compared to the past’s equivalent of Russian.

Patrick Hunter: Do you know the earliest point of departure from Earth’s history and any significant turning point that put you on the trajectory towards everyone knowing pretty modern economics? In particular were do things fall on the spectrum of economic ideas being invented much earlier vs institutions adapting faster to their existence. Like understanding Nash equilibrium seems pretty important to your society but the Earth concept dates to somewhere between 1838-1951 depending on if you want to count Cournot and even the early end of that postdates the existence of modern states.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I don’t know about any overlap between histories at all, so we’re probably looking at a divergence well before Sumeria.

Patrick Hunter: That explains the size of the divergence. Have you talked to any linguists in/​about your language, and do you have a rough idea of how old the basics of economic theory are in your world?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: How the heck would I talk to a linguist about that?

I don’t actually have much of a sense of how old things are because the phenomenon of genius is less pronounced—people actually do make improvements as they become available, in some sense, rather than leaving them bundled up for one huge genius to take in one huge leap—which means that I don’t have any Big Name like Adam Smith whose century I’ve memorized. I could wave my hands and say “eh maybe three hundred years”?

Patrick Hunter: Ask on social media for linguist followers, and they’ll be able to guide you through what they need to know.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: On reflection, I think this problem is unsolvable? I can’t think of a large-enough batch of place-names or preserved words that are all from the same region, and that could serve as something to pattern-match our pre-Universal languages against ancient Earth languages. Like, let’s say that all you knew is the equivalent of Quenya, a synthetic language, plus a few names of cities that are older than a hundred years. Could somebody on Earth trace back the roots to Sumeria?

Patrick Hunter: I don’t know enough about linguistics to know I’ve just been primed by Glowfic to treat this as a default question for people from other worlds.

Jim Syler: How do you maintain liberalism in a society?


Eliezer Yudkowsky: Question too broad, maybe read answer comments above and then narrow it?

Jim Syler: Hopefully you’re asking me to be more specific rather than to ask a narrower question.

Liberalism is probably the best social system—or at least the best social system for this Earth—honestly [virtuous], non-self-serving, and far-sighted philosopher-kings telling everyone what to think might work better, but that’s not a feasible option here. So we’re left with liberalism, in which no ideas are forbidden to be thought or expressed (which is not to say that every utterance is appropriate in every context, but there’s somewhere you can go to discuss anything without risking being ostracized from society), so that error is tolerated and the best arguments are allowed to rise to the top in the marketplace of ideas. Basically what Jonathan Rauch can’t shut up about, plus the notion of a balance of competing interests that the Constitution was based on.

The problem with this is that it’s in everyone’s interest to have their ingroup rise to the top and suppress all the other groups, so that they’ve got all the power and no one is allowed to question their edicts, so that on this Earth, liberalism seems to be a fragile and unstable equilibrium.

So how does one shape a society so that liberalism is robust and antifragile?

(Note that although this question has both cultural and political aspects, I’m focusing on the social ones, as (I believe) politics is downstream of culture .)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I know of no solution to this problem that uses neither better-educated voters nor philosopher-kings. The dath ilan solution is that the voters explicitly understand the thing about the incentive for some faction, even a majority faction, to burn the free-speech commons, and they’d see where that would go, especially with all the Very Serious People who would yell about it.

Jim Syler: @Eliezer Yudkowsky My question, then, is how you move toward having a populace that is generally aware of that.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Well, I tried.

Justin John Holt: How is babby formed?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: When a mommy and a daddy coordinate with each other very well.

David Bahry: Does sex work exist and if so how is it viewed?


Eliezer Yudkowsky: Visiting an Experienced Professional Sex Worker is viewed as Concerning or Potentially Irreversible because if you have sex with somebody extremely experienced and good at it, who’s focusing entirely on your pleasure, that’s the sort of experience that could potentially ruin you for regular sex. But there isn’t any concept of it being wrong to, I dunno, trade around regular money with regular people in order to remedy some imbalance of regular sex, like, “I’d like to have sex where I don’t have to worry about your orgasm, can I pay you fifty dollars for that” isn’t remarkable any more than asking somebody to do dishes that week in exchange for money. “Okay, I realize this flirtation attempt failed, can I just pay you three hundred bucks up front” might be a little weird and funny but it certainly wouldn’t be illegal.

Being an experienced professional sex worker isn’t illegal either, it’s just one of those things where you’d be honor-bound to warn potential customers what they’re getting into and that reduces the number of customers because people actually pay attention to warnings like that.

(I’d assume that somebody actually did run experiments somewhere about the effect on people of visiting highly experienced sex workers, which would be extremely legal. It would be legal even if counterfactually the rest was illegal for some reason. All kinds of things are legal if you do it on a small scale in the name of Science.)


Kayla O’Brien: I find the first part a bit strange because we don’t assume that having an Extremely Experienced tutor or guide during our first experiences in other arenas to be likely to “ruin” us. Hearing my flute teacher play a particularly difficult piece inspires me it doesn’t “ruin” me. And while my therapist focuses entirely on me and my problems and my thoughts and feelings, it doesn’t make me any worse or “ruined” at talking with my other loved ones (in fact, it makes me better!)

Why couldn’t a Very Experienced Sex Worker help a less experienced partner be a better and more communicative lover just as easily?

Daniel Speyer: Seems like Sex Teacher would be its own role, distinct from normal Sex Worker and probably a bit more prestigious.

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Yup! Sex Teacher is a very different concept from High-Grade Expensive Professional Sex Worker. Your sex teacher is definitely not more attractive than your average partner will be, for example.

Roman Ponomaryov: Who’s cleaning the toilets there? (Meaning, who’s doing all the jobs that no one would be interested in doing provided there is no financial or other kind of pressure).

Eliezer Yudkowsky: People who get paid enough to do it anyways.

Cameron Taylor: How do people coordinate around drug safety, quality and applicability? (What do you have instead of the FDA and a Doctor gatekeeper class.)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Hire several different reputable scientific-investigation companies to run trials and publish the likelihood functions? It’s not that hard? Just strip out the violence from the system and leave the science.

Tomáš Kafka: @Eliezer Yudkowsky Why isn’t 40+ % of a drug market run by charlatans peddling homeopathy and garlic tinctures then?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Same reason that 40% of the furniture on Amazon isn’t made from cardboard, mostly, with a side order of people who can read likelihood functions and old reputable institutions that produce them.

Karl Katz: Are there recreational or social drugs? Same deal as over in the Culture, or not there yet, or something else?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: I can’t really remember hearing about them. I think that, like pornography, it would probably be restricted to special regions or factions where you had to look hard for them and cross some warning signs. The knowledge that there exists a long-term-costly substance you can consume to give you short-term pleasure or relief from psychic pain, is the sort of thing they’d treat as a minor infohazard in its own right, a Highly Unpleasant Thing It Is Sometimes Necessary To Know. The shadarak act as a repository for all the things like that.

Mateusz Drewienkowski: @Eliezer Yudkowsky I’d assume the same goes for alcohol? How about coffee? Tea? Sugar?

Marcello Herreshoff: @Eliezer Yudkowsky

> I think that, like pornography, it would probably be restricted to special regions or factions where you had to look hard for them and cross some warning signs.

I can believe that answer for drugs, but this line about pornography shook my suspension of disbelief.

It feels like it would require things roughly in the vicinity of:

A. Technology like our modern cellphones with their video recording capabilities not being put into the hands of the citizenry at all (or with pretty draconian DRM style restrictions) because serious people think it’s dangerous (which is frankly a kinda reasonable option, given the destructive nature of social media on earth, though not ideal given how much extra economic coordination power their unfettered use gives people.)


B. Some fairly intense norms telling people not to send each other explicit pictures using such devices (this is the sort of thing the horniest 10% of the population is going to do if you give them communication devices with cameras).


C. Some other strong social conventions drawing a boundary on the otherwise slippery slope between the existence of sexting and the existence of mass-distributed pornography.

Which if any of these options did Dath Ilan society pick?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Primarily A from your list; computing technology was less generally advanced and there were bulky cellphones, not smartphones. But people otherwise on boinking terms, trading nude photos with each other, wouldn’t have been seen as problematic in the first place; because it doesn’t introduce the problem of real average people having to compete aesthetically with airbrushed photos of the top 0.01%, which is the part that would be seen as burning a commons of the population’s hedonic treadmill, for somebody’s short-term gain, by way of placing short-term temptations in front of other people.

In other words, had the tech been that easy, it would have been answer C: people would see a very clear and obvious line between tempting people with what they can’t realistically get except at great cost, and tempting people with what they can gain through an ordinary effort.

Ben Pace: What are some of your favorite works of fiction from your Earth?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Considering that I can never read them again, this question is too painful for me to want to answer or think about.

David Moscovic: Why are rereads forbidden?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Because I didn’t get my book collection or any libraries with me when I suddenly found my mind here. Things would be very very different otherwise.

David Moscovici: In our world, re-reads are a fairly niche behavior, even among readers. Is re-reading more common back home than we have it here, and is that for a cultural reason?

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Have you read HPMOR? Most novels in dath ilan are meant to be read at least twice; many more times than that if you want to catch *all* the hints and foreshadowing.