A Brief Chat on World Government

[This is the tran­script of a chat con­ver­sa­tion I had with an­other mem­ber of my lo­cal ra­tio­nal­ist meet-up, on the top­ics of Moloch, world gov­ern­ment, and coloniza­tion. Lightly ed­ited for clar­ity, spel­ling, etc. and shared with their per­mis­sion. Cross-posted from Grand, Unified, Empty.]

Me: Here are some thoughts on Moloch. Moloch ba­si­cally guaran­tees that any­body who can figure out how to suc­cess­fully con­vert other val­ues into eco­nomic value will out-com­pete the rest. So in the end, we are the pa­per­clip max­i­miz­ers, ex­cept our pa­per­clips are dol­lar bills.

Scott pro­poses that to defeat Moloch we in­stall a gar­dener, speci­fi­cally a su­per-in­tel­li­gent AI. But if you don’t think that’s go­ing to hap­pen, a world gov­ern­ment seems like the next best thing. How­ever if we es­cape earth be­fore that hap­pens, speed of light limi­ta­tions will for­ever frag­ment us into com­pet­ing fac­tions im­pos­si­ble to gar­den. There­fore we should for­bid any at­tempts to colonize Mars or other planets un­til we have world gov­ern­ment and the tech­nol­ogy to effec­tively man­age such colonies un­der that gov­ern­ment.

Them: The su­per­or­ganisms in his parable only func­tion be­cause of… ex­ter­nal com­pet­i­tive pres­sures. If cells didn’t need to band to­gether to sur­vive, they wouldn’t. If gov­ern­ments don’t have to fend off for­eign gov­ern­ments they will ac­cu­mu­late cor­rup­tion and dys­func­tions.

Sort of re­lated, I’m not per­suaded by the con­clu­sion to his parable. Won’t su­per­in­tel­li­gent AIs be sub­ject to the same nat­u­ral se­lec­tive pres­sures as any other en­tity? What hap­pens when our benev­olent gar­dener en­coun­ters the ex­pand­ing sphere of com­pu­tro­n­ium from five galax­ies over?

Me: Cells were sur­viv­ing just fine with­out band­ing to­gether. It was just that cells which banded to­gether re­pro­duced and con­sumed re­sources more effec­tively than those which didn’t. Similarly, I think a well con­structed world gov­ern­ment could sur­vive just fine with­out com­pet­i­tive pres­sure. We haven’t nec­es­sar­ily found the form of that gov­ern­ment yet, but liberal democ­racy seems like a de­cent first step.

Re­gard­ing com­pet­i­tive pres­sure on AI, he deals with that off hand by as­sum­ing that ac­cel­er­at­ing self-im­prove­ment gives an un­break­able first mover ad­van­tage. I don’t think that’s ac­tu­ally true, but then I’m much less bullish on su­per-in­tel­li­gent AI in gen­eral.

Them: It would “sur­vive,” but we don’t want a sur­viv­ing gov­ern­ment, we want a com­pe­tent, benev­olent one. My read on large or­ga­ni­za­tions in gen­eral is that they nat­u­rally tend to­wards dys­func­tion, and it’s only com­pet­i­tive pres­sures that keep them func­tional.

Me: That pro­duces a dis­mal view of the uni­verse. We are given a So­phie’s Choice of ei­ther tiling the uni­verse in eco­nomi­cium in or­der to com­pete and sur­vive, or in­stan­ti­at­ing a global gar­dener which in­her­ently tends to­wards dystopic dys­func­tion.

My read on large or­ga­ni­za­tions in gen­eral is that they nat­u­rally tend to­wards dys­func­tion, and it’s only com­pet­i­tive pres­sures that keep them func­tional.

This is cer­tainly mostly true, but I’m not yet con­vinced it’s nec­es­sar­ily true.

com­pet­i­tive pressures

I think this in par­tic­u­lar is too nar­row. Hunter-gath­erer bands were or­ga­ni­za­tions that stayed rel­a­tively “func­tional”, of­ten not due to com­pet­i­tive pres­sures with other bands, but due to pure en­vi­ron­men­tal sur­vival pres­sures. We prob­a­bly don’t want a gov­ern­ment that stays func­tional due to en­vi­ron­men­tal sur­vival pres­sures ei­ther, but I’m gen­er­al­iz­ing to an in­tu­ition that there are other kinds of pres­sure.

Them: There are other kinds of pres­sure, but you bet­ter be damn sure you’ve got them figured out be­fore you quash all ri­vals.

Me: 100%

Them: And to be pre­cise, yeah, there’s a sec­ond thing keep­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions in­tact, and that’s the floor im­posed by “so in­com­pe­tent they self-de­struct.” But I think they de­grade to the level of the floor, at which point they are no longer ro­bust enough to sur­vive two crises tak­ing place at once, so they col­lapse any­way.

Me: Hmm, so it be­comes im­pos­si­ble to in­stan­ti­ate a long-term sta­ble gar­dener of any kind, and we’re stuck tiling the uni­verse in eco­nomi­cium re­gard­less.

Them: Well I think it might be pos­si­ble (in the short term at least), but you have to be cog­nizant of the risks be­fore you as­sume re­mov­ing com­pe­ti­tion will make things bet­ter. So when I imag­ine a one-world-gov­ern­ment, it’s more like a co­or­di­nat­ing body above a col­lec­tion of smaller states locked in fierce com­pe­ti­tion (hope­fully just eco­nomic, cul­tural & ath­letic).

Me: At the risk of clar­ify­ing some­thing which is already clear: I was never ar­gu­ing that we are ready for world gov­ern­ment now, or should work to­wards that soon; I was just say­ing there are some things we shouldn’t do un­til we have a good world gov­ern­ment. We should make sure we can gar­den what we have be­fore we go buy­ing more land.

Them: Hmm, okay, I think that’s some im­por­tant nu­ance I was over­look­ing.

Me: Though per­haps that is an in­her­ently use­less sug­ges­tion, since the co­or­di­na­tion re­quired to not buy more land is… a global gar­dener. Other­wise there’s com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in get­ting to more land first.

Them: So its a fair point. I as­sume that any pan-global body will not be well-de­signed, since it won’t be sub­ject to com­pet­i­tive pres­sures. But its true that you might want to solve that prob­lem be­fore you start prop­a­gat­ing your so­cial struc­tures through the uni­verse.

Me: I’m now imag­in­ing the par­allel ar­gu­ment play­ing out in Europe just post-Colum­bus. “We shouldn’t colonize North Amer­ica un­til we have a well-gar­dened Europe”. That high­lights the ab­sur­dity of it rather well.