One never returns “borrowed” power
Not quite correct, it is possible for example to rescind delegation. Nothing in the world can be undone as we seem to live in a universe of rising entropy. But since sustained vs. temporary access is an important distinction both for rational planning as well as having an excellent negotiating position, the ability to rescind access amounts to an important ability to have power returned to you.
One of my favorite things about resouce-based power is that it’s ablative—if you spend money to excercise your will (as opposed to investing to maximize returns), you have less money afterward. Self-limiting power is awesome. Other types of power (social, governmental) gets stronger when used, as it trains people to obey.
Self-limiting power can be argued to be a useful feature for society. For the common good some wills should be contested rather than let loose. Some desires and goals should not be realized.
But for an individual ablative power does not seem as desirable as durable power. The individual presumably aspires to agency in the world and therefore wishes to actualize their will and values in the world. It would be strange to imagine a person that does not, however many psychological epicycles they might add on top.
It is true that sometimes self-distrust can be the right course of action, because of an outside view that suggests inside view irrationality. Self-distrust implies trust in something else. When you willingly tie yourself to the mast like Odysseus, someone else is steering the ship, hopefully your loyal crew and friends. An unsteered ship however meets an unsightly end either by Scylla or Charbydis.
Particularly with mistakes that cannot be survived unsteered outcomes are not desirable. Navigating existential risk requires steering.
Distinguishing what kinds of power are durable goods and which are not, produces the best long term results. We are always at the mercy of chance of course. Work on fundamentals doesn’t necessarily actualize the most power, it is merely the only thing that can raise the ceiling of achievable power.
This is an excellent analysis of a particular aspect. Firstly I do want to emphasize that this mindset is already very rare, few people reason from the existence of traditions of sound knowledge and begin thinking how to access them. The exercise for most remains, pardon the pun, academic.
The only thing I would add is less of an emphasis of universities and more on particular institutions such as branches of government or particular companies. This represents a kind of institution that, assuming a sound career or skill-set, those in middle age are better positioned to understand and make use of. Particular social circles can fulfill this function as well. Further those in middle age can and do easily gain access to postgraduate education of high quality but seem to do so less frequently. As a very practical example I could cite Robin Hansons reorientation towards the social sciences after a successful stem career.
Great example! Talking to him made it clear he was one of the clearer social thinkers around. His project certainly deserves more attention.
You correctly describe these incentives. Assuming both incentives and distribution of information are such, the obvious next research step becomes clear.
A key problem is conveying the reality of such trade secrets and the value of finding them to those without practical or scholarly experience in the area. Only having found such information can one then try to aim to achieve particular outcomes, trying to do so without appropriate knowledge results in wasted or misdirected efforts.
Indeed, he was one of the major influences on my views of society, epistemology and knowledge.
Mortimer Adler uses the same argument in How to Read a Book to argue for reading original texts, because they are known to have allowed for the transmission of relevant knowledge, textbooks sometimes succeed and sometimes fail at this.
I don’t make claim being a strategic player being a desirable or happy state of life. But I can see the connotation you note. It isn’t intentional. The purpose of the model is to help with making predictions as to what happens in the world and in particular to help with decision making and evaluation in adversarial contexts.
I expect there to be large differences in power and skill among the live players so I don’t actually expect much instability.
You are correct that there are systems put in place sometimes to limit such strategic actors, however the actors either bypass the systems or the systems are themselves maintained and modified in an adaptive way by other live players.
Then one has to examine the motivation of the live players maintaining the systems. Arguably the most common one is to use them as vehicles of personal power against other live players.
The realistic extent of Russia’s sphere of influence after 1991 was merely the Post-Soviet republics. The wider sphere that the Soviets held in Eastern Europe, East Africa, the Middle East and Asia effectively implodes then. A demonstration of this is Russia’s policy being essentially irrelevant to the Balkan conflicts.
Excellent exercise! It seems a good way to evaluate content, initially building out or explicating one’s own models before comparing it to someone else’s, I will remember to do this.
I’m happy to hear you’ve found the model I present on useful and interesting!
Yes! It was intended to be a simple introduction to the concept.
I agree in-depth exploration of social technologies being a valuable kind of writing & research, but to include them in this piece would balloon it quickly. The “examples” given are not instances, but categories. I don’t even claim it is an exhaustive list of useful categories of social technology. There will be future pieces that reference back to this one, with detailed object level examples for each category.
As an example for a in-depth treatment of a category of social technology I would recommend David Friedman’s book on law and even that doesn’t exhaust the category.
I’m going to follow this up in later pieces if there is interest… In particular an overview of existing theories and also laying out my own.