TagLast edit: 13 Jan 2021 22:36 UTC by plex

Moloch is the personification of the forces that coerce competing individuals to take actions which, although locally optimal, ultimately lead to situations where everyone is worse off. Moreover, no individual is able to unilaterally break out of the dynamic. The situation is a bad Nash equilibrium. A trap.

One example of a Molochian dynamic is a Red Queen race between scientists who must continually spend more time writing grant applications just to keep up with their peers doing the same. Through unavoidable competition, they have all lost time while not ending up with any more grant money. And any scientist who unilaterally tried to not engage in the competition would soon be replaced by one who still does. If they all promised to cap their grant writing time, everyone would face an incentive to defect.

The topic of Moloch receives a formal treatment in the sequence Inadequate Equilibria, particularly in the chapter Moloch’s Toolbox.


Scott Alexander linked the name to the concept in his eponymous post, Meditations on Moloch. The post intersperses lines of Allan Ginsberg’s poem, Howl, with multiples examples of the dynamic including: the Prisoner’s Dilemma, dollar auctions, fish farming story, Malthusian trap, capitalism, two-income trap, agriculture, arms races, races to the bottom, education system, science, and government corruption and corporate welfare.

From Allan Ginsberg’s Howl:

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!

See also: Eldritch Analogies, Game Theory, Group Rationality, Social Reality

Med­i­ta­tions On Moloch

Scott Alexander30 Jul 2014 4:00 UTC
74 points
7 comments47 min readLW link

Moloch’s Toolbox (1/​2)

Eliezer Yudkowsky4 Nov 2017 21:46 UTC
133 points
77 comments33 min readLW link

Stud­ies On Slack

Scott Alexander13 May 2020 5:00 UTC
128 points
28 comments24 min readLW link

Moloch games

Chris van Merwijk16 Oct 2020 15:19 UTC
75 points
5 comments4 min readLW link

Mazes Se­quence Summary

Zvi23 May 2020 16:40 UTC
70 points
2 comments7 min readLW link

Moloch feeds on opportunity

toonalfrink12 Dec 2019 21:05 UTC
30 points
8 comments2 min readLW link

Moloch’s Toolbox (2/​2)

Eliezer Yudkowsky7 Nov 2017 1:58 UTC
97 points
54 comments24 min readLW link

A Taijitu sym­bol for Moloch and Slack

Bob Jacobs25 May 2020 20:03 UTC
80 points
3 comments1 min readLW link

What Mul­tipo­lar Failure Looks Like, and Ro­bust Agent-Ag­nos­tic Pro­cesses (RAAPs)

Andrew_Critch31 Mar 2021 23:50 UTC
147 points
58 comments22 min readLW link

Moloch in whom I sit alone

KatjaGrace3 Oct 2018 23:40 UTC
49 points
16 comments1 min readLW link

5 gen­eral vot­ing patholo­gies: lesser names of Moloch

Jameson Quinn13 Apr 2018 18:38 UTC
63 points
16 comments10 min readLW link

Pri­son­ers’ Dilemma with Costs to Modeling

Scott Garrabrant5 Jun 2018 4:51 UTC
111 points
20 comments7 min readLW link

Gen­er­al­ized Effi­cient Mar­kets and Academia

johnswentworth30 Apr 2020 21:59 UTC
45 points
29 comments2 min readLW link

Moloch: op­ti­mi­sa­tion, “and” vs “or”, in­for­ma­tion, and sac­ri­fi­cial ems

Stuart_Armstrong6 Aug 2014 15:57 UTC
35 points
59 comments3 min readLW link

An Equil­ibrium of No Free Energy

Eliezer Yudkowsky31 Oct 2017 21:27 UTC
109 points
49 comments27 min readLW link

Com­ment on SSC’s Re­view of Inad­e­quate Equilibria

Ben Pace1 Dec 2017 11:46 UTC
12 points
5 comments2 min readLW link

The Thing and the Sym­bolic Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of The Thing

Zvi30 Jun 2015 0:15 UTC
8 points
0 comments5 min readLW link

[Book Re­view] Destiny Disrupted

lsusr21 Mar 2021 7:09 UTC
54 points
4 comments9 min readLW link

Mak­ing a Crow­dac­tion platform

Bob Jacobs16 May 2020 16:08 UTC
20 points
9 comments5 min readLW link

Liv­ing in an Inad­e­quate World

Eliezer Yudkowsky9 Nov 2017 21:23 UTC
81 points
48 comments20 min readLW link

Lost Purposes

Eliezer Yudkowsky25 Nov 2007 9:01 UTC
121 points
79 comments6 min readLW link

Tal Yarkoni: No, it’s not The In­cen­tives—it’s you

Zack_M_Davis11 Jun 2019 7:09 UTC
89 points
120 comments1 min readLW link2 nominations4 reviews

Win­ning is for Losers

Jacob Falkovich11 Oct 2017 4:01 UTC
30 points
15 comments18 min readLW link

The Road to Mazedom

Zvi18 Jan 2020 14:10 UTC
83 points
20 comments7 min readLW link

Mazes Se­quence Roundup: Fi­nal Thoughts and Paths Forward

Zvi6 Feb 2020 16:10 UTC
79 points
25 comments14 min readLW link

On the con­struc­tion of beacons

Benquo16 Oct 2017 9:10 UTC
21 points
9 comments10 min readLW link

Timer Toxicities

Zvi22 Sep 2019 12:10 UTC
39 points
5 comments15 min readLW link

Perfect Competition

Zvi29 Dec 2019 13:30 UTC
46 points
29 comments7 min readLW link1 nomination

Franken­stein De­lenda Est

eapache10 Jul 2020 14:38 UTC
11 points
1 comment4 min readLW link

Coun­ter­fac­tu­als about So­cial Media

Zvi22 Apr 2019 12:20 UTC
51 points
23 comments6 min readLW link

Moloch Hasn’t Won

Zvi28 Dec 2019 16:30 UTC
143 points
38 comments7 min readLW link3 nominations1 review

The Stable State is Broken

Bakkot12 Mar 2012 18:31 UTC
80 points
43 comments3 min readLW link

Moloch and multi-level selection

thoughtfulmadison11 Aug 2020 7:08 UTC
19 points
3 comments3 min readLW link

Sys­temic risk: a moral tale of ten in­surance companies

Stuart_Armstrong17 Nov 2014 16:43 UTC
37 points
18 comments2 min readLW link

A Pro­posal for Defeat­ing Moloch in the Pri­son In­dus­trial Complex

lululu2 Jun 2015 22:03 UTC
33 points
77 comments4 min readLW link

Marginally Zero-Sum Efforts

Eliezer Yudkowsky11 Apr 2007 5:22 UTC
28 points
14 comments2 min readLW link

A Brief Chat on World Government

eapache13 Sep 2020 18:33 UTC
4 points
7 comments3 min readLW link

[Question] Are there non-AI pro­jects fo­cused on defeat­ing Moloch globally?

eapache14 Sep 2020 2:13 UTC
13 points
19 comments1 min readLW link

The Ax­iolog­i­cal Treadmill

eapache15 Sep 2020 18:36 UTC
6 points
12 comments2 min readLW link

The An­cient God Who Rules High School

lifelonglearner5 Apr 2017 18:55 UTC
13 points
113 comments1 min readLW link

How would you gov­ern Mars?

Bernhard31 Dec 2020 2:32 UTC
4 points
14 comments6 min readLW link

Non-Malthu­sian Scenarios

Wei_Dai26 Sep 2009 2:44 UTC
24 points
89 comments1 min readLW link

Con­trol­ling In­tel­li­gent Agents The Only Way We Know How: Ideal Bureau­cratic Struc­ture (IBS)

Justin Bullock24 May 2021 12:53 UTC
9 points
11 comments6 min readLW link
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