Previously: Eternal, and Hearthstone Economy versus Magic Economy, Out to Get You
On Lesser Wrong, JenniferRM gave a reply that is worth quoting in full:
If I understand correctly, the cognitive process/bias/heuristic/whatever of “sacredness” is relevant here.
Neither nails nor dollars are sacred so you’re free to trade dollars for nails.
A kidney is sacred, so you can’t trade that for dollars, but you can trade it for another kidney (although such trades still feel a bit weird).
Sacred things are often poorly managed in practice, and sacredness is easy to make fun of, but a decent defense of sacredness might be that it is one of the few widely installed psychological mechanisms in real life for managing the downsides of having markets in things. Thus, properly deployed sacredness might let you have “trade” in one area without ending up with “totalalizing trade”?
In the smaller and hopefully lower stakes world of video games, I think the suggestion would be to have card classes with different trading characteristics.
The lowest class of very non-sacred things could be swapped with extremely low transaction costs within the class and also be tradeable directly for money.
Higher sacredness things would have a separate market, perhaps with transaction costs like needing a purchaseable delivery mechanism or imposing delays so that objects go into limbo after the trade is finalized while “being delivered”. The most sacred things would be “inalienable” so they can’t be traded or given away or perhaps not even be destroyed.
Exactly where sacredness should be deployed in order to maximize fun seems like a deep and relatively unstudied problem.
One place in real life where the inalienability of something has large and substantive differences from jurisdiction to jurisdiction is the question of the rights of artistic creators to their artwork. In some jurisdictions, an artist cannot legally sell their right to veto the use of their artwork if deployed in artistically compromising ways (like use in advertising or political campaigns) after mere copyrights have been sold.
In the US artistic moral rights are not treated as very sacred, and the lack of sacredness in art production is probably part of the US’s cultural dominance a la Hollywood, but it has arguably also had large effects in the lives of artists, visibly so with people like Bill Waterson and Prince.
Here, Benquo offers these thoughts:
I don’t think the problem is markets per se – it’s allowing the value of cards to float in the global financial economy, which contains lots of ways to earn currency totally unrelated to playing Eternal. If Eternal’s economy had the right sort of capital controls, price signals could enable local exchange in ways that generate genuine efficiencies, without e.g. making running a totally unrelated pyramid scheme (or running a genuinely good and successful but entirely unrelated business) elsewhere an effective way to win games of Eternal.
Burning Man seems, to some extent, to be able to do this. Actually-mostly-enforced anti-scalping rules mean that many, perhaps most, tickets are allocated on the basis of social capital within the Burner community. While US Dollars are one of many resources that can be converted into Burner currency, you need other inputs as well, not all of which are fungible with Dollars. Transaction costs are high, and there are sharply diminishing returns.
Of course, the Eternal team may legitimately want to make a profit, which means they need to accept money somehow, especially if they don’t want to sell their users as commodities ads. The obvious way to do this is to set up a buy-in structure that bakes in the right diminishing-returns curve (so Mark Zuckerberg can buy an incredible deck if he’s willing to sell Facebook, or a pretty awesome deck for $100,000, or an incredible deck for $10,000 and a year or two of playing the game instead of being a full-time CEO, and broke people with internet access can still compete). They’d also have to force transactions to be public (or at least registered to them) and reserve the right to delete any card that had ever been scalped. Possibly the community would still grow too large for that sort of thing, at least insofar as it relies to some extent on community cooperation, but then you can segment the community in various ways, etc.
I think this might be related to optimal currency zone theory, and am reminded that I still owe the world a review of some of Jane Jacobs’s lesser-known works. One thing she gets very right is that a real city (i.e. a center of economic activity) should usually have its own currency, because currency needs to function as an internal signal of relative priority, for a community to learn how to make more things.
Both point to categories of sacredness. Widgets can sometimes be traded for other widgets, but not sold for dollars. The master’s lessons are free, or you pay in kind. If they cost dollars, you could not afford them.
That’s what sacredness is. Things are sacred if and only if they matter and cannot be bought.
It ties into alienation from one’s labor. If I measure my reward in dollars, I am alienated. Even if I enjoy the task. Preventing that requires sacredness. If my rewards are sacred category, I can stay connected.
Where is it right to deploy this sacredness, for fun or otherwise? How does one make it stick?
Games as Sacred Spaces
All games worthy of the name have sacredness.
You play to win the game. You can’t bring resources in from outside, or take them out.
You can buy the best free agents, or better Magic cards. Once the game starts, your money is no good. If money played, the game would be about money.
Poker is a game about money – winning money. The winning part is crucial. Otherwise it’s only a (increasingly boring) job. Tournament poker transforms money into sacred chips. Having them means something. Much better!
Metagames are interesting if and only if they are games.
A sporting event is a game. Managing players over many games to help your team win? Also a game.
What about drafting talent, signing free agents and trading? We want it to be a game. Salary caps can make team resources sacred, ensuring gameness, and help with balance. Interesting choices are created, much fun is had.
Baseball and real soccer lack salary caps. Rather than the game of winning, teams play the game of business. Dollars are points, winning is profitability. Fans score you points, so entertaining or engaging play is a valid strategy. Fans analyze moves based on profit maximization. Chomsky notes how sophisticated sports fans are. They’re even sophisticated about sports business. Capitalism ho!
The more fungible the players, the less sacred the team-building game. Also the less sacred the teams. We want to root for players, yet end up rooting for laundry.
On each meta level, we protect our game’s sacredness. We create rules and restrictions. We impose quotas and capital controls. As many times as it takes.
Magic: The Gathering is famous for its meta levels. We talk of each format’s metagame, its design and evolution. This includes trading, getting cards you want and building value. I increasingly found that subgame boring, time consuming and distasteful. It detracted.
When I paid for the cards I needed, it didn’t commercialize Magic. It did the opposite. It removed the commercialization from Magic. Relief!
Ideally, game super-systems are modal. You play some sub-games, ignore others. Some players outfit the ship then let the AI steer. Others let the AI outfit the ship, then steer it. Others let the AI do both and fill the hull with trade goods.
So some fans take their team as given and focus on games. Others focus on seasons, player development and team politics. Others focus on team construction and trading. Others focus on gambling odds, or fantasy sports. Some travel and tailgate. Keep only what you want, cancel anytime. To keep engagement non-commercial, choose what things to spend on, buy it then put money aside.
One can only do and care about so many things. Making more of them sacred need not create conflict. Treating eating well as sacred doesn’t make the big game, or family, or church, or politics, or anything else less sacred. They’re rivals for attention and resources, but once you’re spending those, make it count!
Sacredness does make rival sacredness seem less like ‘the only thing that matters,’ which can reduce intensity and payoff. Good! Sacredness that tells you that other things are not sacred is Out to Get You.
Religion (or politics, or any other Serious Business) works largely by turning the world and/or morality and/or all of life into a game. Follow the rules. Accumulate non-fungible resources. Win the game. Ignore other games. They don’t matter. This is your life, and your life is a test.
Trading Away Trade
Trade is central to prosperity. Sacredness inhibits trade. Often wipes it out.
Is that worth it?
It is good when trade or potential trade destroys the value being traded, and bad when trade or potential trade increases the value being traded.
Sacredness adds value for you. Trade distributes value efficiently. Which effect dominates? Where the value lies. High mundane utility items should trade freely.
Items with mostly personal value often should not.
Potential trade can be as valuable or destructive as trade.
Knowing I could buy or sell something efficiently reduces it to dollars and alienates. Likely eventual sale prevents investment and attachment, even when it shouldn’t. To anticipate the end often simulates the end. For best results, play most iterated games as if they never end. Until they do. Beware free trade (The Actual Best Thing Ever) not because they took our jobs. Beware because choices are bad.
Knowing one could sell something makes it valuable. Knowing one could buy something prevents worry and contingency planning.
Delivery creates a stream of Tupperware. In the days before delivery, one would buy a Tupperware set and consider it shameful to buy more.
This makes Tupperware (low-level) sacred. You manage a limited supply. Choices are made.
Of course, this is silly. Ordering delivery to get Tupperware is crazy, but you can buy more Tupperware. Cheap. But now it’s something to waste. One becomes and feels wasteful. Much value is lost.
But one would get to stop obsessing over the Tupperware.
Fighting the Market
The market is Out to Get You. It comes for your sacredness.
As always, four options. Get Gone, Get Got, Get Compact, Get Ready.
Get Gone means to give up your sacred activity entirely. Sometimes markets and market values corrupt the sacredness and fun, leaving nothing worth saving.
You could Get Got. Let the sacred become non-sacred, perhaps mass produced. Burn the candle bright. Enjoy gains from trade. Spread the joy. Sacredness creates mundane value. Perhaps it’s time to sell out.
Get Compact draws a clear divide between sacred and non-sacred. Choose a defensible core of sacredness, and put up a sign saying ‘not for sale at any price.’ A fan might accept the market ruling player signings, but treat games as serious business. Politicians define core values they hope they’ll never compromise, and trade or sell off everything else for parts.
Within the sacred zone, you have a code of honor. Dollar prices are zero. Ideally prices are zero in everything, at least by default. There is freedom in that. Choices Are Really Bad. Answer all questions. Accept all challenges. Play for the love of the game. Help anyone non-evil who asks for it. Anyone can attend meetup. Free pizza. Take no payment. Often well worth it. Give away the product forever, be repaid in goodwill.
This requires a zero price to clear the market. It usually does. People don’t ask for things.
Loosening your code is usually a one-way trip. What you give up you cannot easily reclaim. Be very careful giving things up.
Get Ready means fighting for what you want. Get the efficiencies of markets and profit from the sacred, but keep it sacred. That sounds hard. Can it be done?
Not entirely. Fully open markets make kidneys commodities and sins consumer goods. You’ve been got. Smart restrictions needed. What are your options?
You could use capital controls or quotas. You have a market within your sacred area. It’s numerical. You can’t move those units out, and beyond the quota you can’t bring them in. In many cases, you earn the right to move money in.
With enough sacred things worth buying, some way to soak up dollars, and effective enforcement, that’s workable. Enforcement is hard. What prevents trading?
On a large scale, monopolies on force enable capital controls on large amounts if it is clear what is inside, and all outside things are kept outside.
On a small scale, very small groups enforce controls via mutual cooperation or surveillance. The babysitters club could presumably let dollars go in, but didn’t dare, resulting in market failure and a liquidity trap. But I think groups much larger than that lack the required levels of trust.
Asking for Magic Online sell event tickets for a dollar, but not resold for ninety-eight cents, seems quixotic. Asking for New York City to use the yorker rather than dollar seems even more doomed. I see the plan, where there’s a ‘sink’ in the form of drafts or tax payments, but trade seems unpreventable.
You could force all trades to be authorized by making currency only payable to a chosen few. This is how food stamps work. Supermarkets accept them, and you can’t transfer or sell them otherwise; supermarkets cash them in. One could echo that, again given enforcement. Enforcement seems hard, unless it’s a strict enforcement where everything you acquire is bound to you. That’s how World of Warcraft does it, and it works well; the items bound in this way are sacred, and everything else isn’t. Food stamps now use debit cards.
Thus a fully non-fungible asset. Internal credits can’t buy anything non-sacred, nothing non-sacred can buy credits. At most, you pay to participate at all. Trade a kidney donation only for another kidney donation.
Or pay people, but much less than market price, replacement value or expenses. Terrible trades can’t extract free energy. Without free energy, nothing will attempt to prey on the system. Things remain sacred.
I’ll end on the subject of intentional draws. In Magic tournaments, often it is in the interest of both players to agree to a draw rather than play, as a draw gets them most or all of the value of a win. At first, this was considered dishonorable by many. The point of competition is to compete. The defiant slogan rang out: “I came to play.” Which they did! The game was sacred. Tournament-level considerations were profane.
This was not enforceable. Draw rates increased. Match level non-drawing (and non-conceding) sacredness was lost. Rules changes to minimize draws have helped some, but mostly annoyed players. Once not drawing was no longer sacred, barriers only made us all go around them.
When we made the Cyberpunk CCG, we embraced the ethos of that game’s world, and not only allowed but encouraged all forms of collusion during tournaments. That can be sacred too.
You can draw the line almost anywhere, so long as you draw it somewhere.
My best guess at what’s inside the sacredness black box is along the lines of Robin’s Is Fairness About Clear Fitness Signals? Roughly, people feel that success is deserved by those with high fitness, and trade is low status because someone can benefit from trade without having high fitness. That explains not only people’s attitudes to competition, but also why people insist that personal relationships must not be about trade—trade means your fitness isn’t high enough to get stuff for free. It also explains the disgust for ugly rich people, etc.
I think our preference for fitness mindset (sacredness/fairness/competition) over win-win trade mindset is pretty much a bias, with a simple evo psych explanation: our savannah brains don’t understand that the pie can grow. Overcoming that bias is beneficial both individually and collectively, as I describe in this comment.
That’s definitely going on and a good chunk (although far from all) of what’s in the box, especially if you generalize fitness signals for all sorts of signals. I debated being more explicit about the signaling part of the story and decided not to, and Robin does a great job (as always) of drawing it out explicitly. This is actually a reasonably valuable thing, having accurate signals, but no question we go overboard if that’s all that’s going on.
I’m a big fan of trade—I wasn’t kidding calling it Actual Best Thing Ever. And as per your linked comment it’s key to individual success, not only group success. But I don’t think that ‘be better’ is wrong, either, as a key path (the mind hacks are great, but not as central), so the progression is more that one needs all three. As with many biases, though, it’s doing some things that correct for other mistakes, and it’s worth thinking about what they are.
There’s a class of things that take the form of ‘doing this the hard way (doing it yourself, doing it without overly explicit trade or too much use of capital) creates positive side effects or creates a defense’ that I think contains a lot of valuable stuff, especially social benefits (both in the interaction, and building social capital and connection), skill development and preventing exploitation. Definitely worth saying more but out of time/space.
The blockquote of my comment terminates prematurely.
Have you ever considered going into politics, or at least governance in some capacity?
You don’t seem the type of person who’d like to play the election racket, but man I’d love to see what you could do if you were given a place like 1965-Singapore or given broad governor’s powers over a Special Economic Zone like 1979-Shenzhen.
While even genuine second-order thinking is pretty rare in the world, it seems you’re regularly operating in fifth-order thinking. It’s marvelous reading how you disentangle complex ideas. I idly wonder what you could build with a city-state with a few hundred thousand residents.
I’ve thought about it. I’d like to think I could do a lot of good, although I worry I’d hate it (but then again, as per Douglas Adams, no one who wants to rule should be allowed to). If nominated I would run, if elected or appointed I would serve, but who is going to give me the keys to the kingdom? I doubt elections would be my forte.
Sacredness (is that word different from sanctity?) of certain behaviors and transactions is sometimes a useful shortcut, but at root it’s an epistemological mistake. It’s very similar to the shortcut of certainty—one should never actually assign 100% or 0% to any belief, but it’s way more convenient to express it that way than to figure out how many 0s or 9s you actually have.
Likewise for things you talk about as “sacred”—in fact, there is a different-currency trade value you’d accept. It’s just that you think you won’t get that value in trade, so you “protect” your private value by trying to prevent all trades.
No question that there’s a trade value you’d accept.
But as the old joke goes, once we start solving for that value, we’ve established what you are, and now we’re talking price. What we’re trying to protect is sometimes the pressure to accept bad deals, but it’s also that putting those deals on the table at all is inherently devaluing and destructive, and also that others doing such deals carries a negative externality for you by doing the same. If you think that effect isn’t real (or isn’t substantial) I’d be curious to hear more about why.
I think the epistemological mistake is taking the framework too seriously on the wrong meta-level. Which can be quite bad!
I’m worried that this is pushing towards a selective demand for rigor, unless we acknowledge explicitly that the same mistake can be made about the trade orientation, which tends to collapse the map-territory distinction, and in particular confuse exchange rates (i.e. prices) and stores of value.
I honestly don’t think that considering trades devalues anything. I think I’ve seen enough different people acting offended at trade offers that I can’t say the effect isn’t real, but I personally don’t feel it very strongly and I think it can prevent good trades. Kidney pricing is a great example—lots of people would be better off with one fewer kidney and lots more money, and lots of people would be better off with one more kidney and that much less money. Preventing this trade is either a moral mistake or pure evil, depending on your framework.
I think it’s actually stronger in acknowledging the map-territory distinction. Every action that every agent takes, including trade, is helping to select (or make more probable in that agent’s estimation) a preferred future state of the universe.
Because of how money works, it seems much more likely to me that any one very poor person, on the margin, would be better off with one fewer kidney and lots more money, than that all the very poor people would be better off, in a way that didn’t make others substantially worse off, by executing that trade.
There’s offering a trade, and there’s extortion. Sometimes people are honestly uncertain or mistaken about which one is happening, or correctly believe that something described as the former is in fact the latter.
When you’re proposing a trade that gives the poor a fungible resource, you should wonder whether rent extraction will, in the long run, keep pace with their ability to pay. Except now they’ve all been through an elective surgery and have less kidney. (Artist’s depiction of the thing.) This is the sort of thing it’s hard to see inside the trade intuition, but easier to see if you think about the systems involved.
I am very grateful to this sentence – before I had a nagging sense that something was wrong with the kidneys-want-to-be-free!-argument but no idea what, and not sure whether or not I should trust the intuition. And now I have a pretty gears-level-understanding of why it might be bad. (Still not sure if I should trust that reference class of intuition – I think my intuitions about sweatshops came from a similar place and now I have a more gearsy/empirical belief in the opposite direction)
On sweatshops in particular, my sense based on Chris Blattman’s research is that it depends a lot on the concrete details of the case, and sweeping judgments that “sweatshops” are “good” or “bad” are just not granular enough to ground out in material reality.
Thank’s for that. I think this applies to a lot of things that people put in the “sacred” category by intuition. The problems are not with the item/action being transferred, but with the state of the world and participants. There are certainly some people who should be prevented from making long-term decisions like borrowing money for college or selling a kidney. But the transactions and topics aren’t sacred—some participants are.
Eliezer Yudkowsky and Michael Vassar got there first.
Yuppers – I had read that, and that was why your short sentence was enough for things to fully click for me. I just hadn’t made the connection that this was a reason why kidney selling may not help people if fully realized.
Wait, what?! How does making a poor person richer in money and less rich in kidneys possibly harm non-participants? I have a hard time reading this as anything other than “poor people are trapped and can’t be trusted to make decisions”. I’m sure that’s not your intent, nor is “let’s hold rich people with kidney problems hostage until they fix the system”.
I totally get that there are some people who are unable to make good choices for multiple reasons, but the correlation between that and poverty is low, and the causality is very unclear. It’s certainly the case that not all of those who’d like to sell a kidney would be harmed.
In the rent-seeking model cited by Benquo above, various bad actors are constantly trying to extort as much rent (in the economic sense) as possible from poor people, so giving a poor person money has the effect of mostly slightly enriching these rent-seekers.
Worse, it might have the effect of breaking a Schelling fence around not offering poor people money for their organs, and to the extent that there’s free energy available here, people are going to show up to extract all of the available free energy (offering to buy all of the organs that people—poor, desperate people—are willing to sell). There’s a plausible story where this sort of thing is bad for poor people in the same way that predatory loans are. Choices are Bad, etc.
The toy model: The poor person rents an apartment that he can barely afford. He discovers that he can now sell his kidney, but so does his landlord. Suddenly his landlord raises everyone’s rent by the price of a kidney, so they all sell their kidneys to pay the increased rent. He and everyone in his situation are now worse off than before; only the landlord and the kidney buyers are better off.
Also… if you’re up for it, could you just sort of ramble a bit about what this video is about, on the object and meta level? (I wouldn’t have put effort into interpreting it if I’d come across it randomly, it’s now elevated to my attention as something I might want to be put effort into interpreting, but I think given time constraints I’m more interested in hearing what it means to you.)
Here are a few interesting characteristic facts:
The protagonist is fixated on an image that’s been marketed to her by someone wealthy enough to control a planet. The image isn’t very high-content, and she’s willing to undertake a dangerous and arduous journey, which implies that things aren’t very good at home.
She’s in a world where travel is expensive. Somehow, improbably, in outer space, she has to pay a toll. This should clue us in that something sketchy is going on. Tolls are one of the classic modes of rent extraction, second only to land rents in their centrality as an image. There’s a plausible excuse for tolls on improvements like bridges, but you don’t need bridges in space—you can only collect the toll by preventing people from going around you. This should inform how we interpret the subsequent interactions where she pays for fuel, repair to her spaceship, and repair to her body; it’s not obvious how much of the price is needed to pay for the cost of the service, and how much is a rent extracted by a predatory monopolist.
At each stage, the protagonist sacrifices capacity (in the form of mobility affordances, maybe the most concrete and central instance of capacity, from the Latin capere, meaning to take hold of something—she trades away her hand, then her leg, then her remaining limbs, then her spaceship (albeit getting a fully functioning body back as far as we know)) for some progress towards her destination. Then, once she gets there, she finds that she’s traded away her ability to move, for relocation to a place that’s no longer providing the service it advertised. It’s true at each point that you wouldn’t be helping her by preventing her from making the trade, but focusing on that aspect of the situation makes one a price-taker in a case where that attitude doesn’t actually unlock any value.
The resort planet owner likely never colluded with the toll collector, the fueling station, the repair station, or the rescue team. They just imposed complementary negative externalities. The resort planet owner doesn’t pay the price of disappointed customers who arrive after the resort shuts down, so they simply don’t bother pulling their ads. The other actors don’t need to know why people want to go from point A to point B, they just know that they can interpose themselves in the middle and take resources they want.
It’s important to bear in mind that no one overtly cheats anyone else in this scenario—all the parties are operating as honest traders, at least when considered within the bounds of the specific transaction they’re executing. And yet, the whole situation is horrible in a way that the trades don’t actually alleviate.
Link was region-blocked for me, I guess this is the same thing.
Yes, thanks for pointing out the issue
Many people throughout history had, and many people today have, strong intuitions the other way, e.g. about sex. Can you pass their ITT?
That you don’t care doesn’t imply that other people don’t or shouldn’t care, and that people are sometimes not doing X enough does not imply that people aren’t also sometimes doing X too much.
I can’t pass an ITT for people who think the other way (I understand people who intuit that direction, I just think those intuitions are wrong). I acknowledge that it seems more common than my view, and it’s unsatisfying to think that it’s mostly signaling (either virtue signaling or just to help them get better prices). That’s why I’m posting on this thread, hoping that someone can explain why a voluntary trade by competent individuals (let’s just say euvoluntary, as sacredness seems distinct from prevention of attractive-but-harmful trades).
Please tell me. Why, in the modern world (aside from pragmatic reasons like difficulty of price discovery and protection from bad trades), would you disallow sales of sex, organs, etc.? Especially when you allow sales of water, housing, and babysitting?
It sounds like you’re deliberately not taking “pragmatic reasons” into account. Why? This is a discussion about what the effects of allowing trade are in the actual, real world.
Oh, maybe I completely misunderstood based on use of the word “sacred”. If you’re just saying “these trades can easily go wrong, so I’m especially suspicious of them”, fine. That’s quite different from “these things are categorically special and even considering trades sullies them”.
Sacredness is a heuristic and the thing that it’s a heuristic for is defending against particular kinds of bad trades. The way it gets implemented in most human minds is the latter and the reason this isn’t completely dumb is the former, plus Schelling fences.
These two possibilities you are trying to distinguish, are not different things.
If trades in these areas are possible at all, then they will take place. The incentives, the market pressures, to extract rents, to profit, are so overwhelming that no amount of mere “suspicion” will withstand them—no amount, that is, short of infinite suspicion… or, in other words: sacredness.
Or, to put it another way: the property of sacredness is the mechanism by which we resist the incentives toward a certain sort of trade. It is the only mechanism which is up to the task (and even then it’s imperfect—in no small part due to iconoclasts, who look upon the sacred with suspicion).
Fair enough. Acknowledging that it’s a heuristic and exists to reduce the frequency of “most humans” getting taken by bad deals helps a lot.
I’m ok being an iconoclast on this topic, even if Pinky calls me “noodle noggin”. Understanding that this is just a social hack makes me much more comfortable using black markets when needed.
It’s worth noting that one can think that sacredness is an important and valuable tool, and still think that any given invocation of that principle, or regulation/restriction of the market, is deeply stupid or at least misguided.
My prior does remain that any given actually existing restriction on trading is net bad.
Promoted to frontpage.
I like this a lot. I had come to similar conclusions, but from the opposite direction and for only partially related reasons.
My intuition was that nothing is perfectly fungible, save perhaps for currency and that is the singular reason for which it was invented. For example, you can buy food for dollars and water for dollars but if you have beneath a certain threshold of either you will die. You mention non-fungible resources, but invoke sacredness in a broader context.
I was motivated by the problem of effectively preserving intuition when thinking about practical problems. I’ll point to the example of the AI Impacts entry for the discontinuity of nuclear weapons, because it uses cost-effectiveness as the method to investigate discontinuity effects. The motivation is clear—we want to compare like with like as much as possible, and so converting conventional explosives and nuclear explosives into the same unit makes sense. Yet this leaves us vulnerable to a different kind of category error, because we will tend to apply the assumptions of the units to reasoning about the object we are measuring. In this case people can—and arguably the US government did—assume that nuclear weapons are fungible and linear. Yet two bombs are clearly not equivalent to one that is twice as powerful, nor is it reasonable to assume that the more powerful bomb is a better deal if it costs less than twice the price of one. The important intuitions about the object are thus obscured by the metrics.
In service of making this distinction, I like the option of using sacredness as a positive attribute rather than having to describe at length why another assumption is inappropriate. It’s a small and specialized use-case, but one that I have seen a need for lately.