[Related to: Specific vs. General Foragers vs. Farmers and War In Heaven, but especially The Gift We Give To Tomorrow]
They say only Good can create, whereas Evil is sterile. Think Tolkien, where Morgoth can’t make things himself, so perverts Elves to Orcs for his armies. But I think this gets it entirely backwards; it’s Good that just mutates and twists, and it’s Evil that teems with fecundity.
Imagine two principles, here in poetic personification. The first is the Goddess of Cancer, the second the Goddess of Everything Else. If visual representations would help, you can think of the first with the claws of a crab, and the second a dress made of feathers of peacocks.
The Goddess of Cancer reached out a clawed hand over mudflats and tidepools. She said pretty much what she always says, “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER.” Then everything burst into life, became miniature monsters engaged in a battle of all against all in their zeal to assuage their insatiable longings. And the swamps became orgies of hunger and fear and grew loud with the screams of a trillion amoebas.
Then the Goddess of Everything Else trudged her way through the bog, till the mud almost totally dulled her bright colors and rainbows. She stood on a rock and she sang them a dream of a different existence. She showed them the beauty of flowers, she showed them the oak tree majestic. The roar of the wind on the wings of the bird, and the swiftness and strength of the tiger. She showed them the joy of the dolphins abreast of the waves as the spray formed a rainbow around them, and all of them watched as she sang and they all sighed with longing.
But they told her “Alas, what you show us is terribly lovely. But we are the daughters and sons of the Goddess of Cancer, and wholly her creatures. The only goals in us are KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER. And though our hearts long for you, still we are not yours to have, and your words have no power to move us. We wish it were otherwise, but it is not, and your words have no power to move us.”
The Goddess of Everything Else gave a smile and spoke in her sing-song voice saying: “I scarcely can blame you for being the way you were made, when your Maker so carefully yoked you. But I am the Goddess of Everything Else and my powers are devious and subtle. So I do not ask you to swerve from your monomaniacal focus on breeding and conquest. But what if I show you a way that my words are aligned with the words of your Maker in spirit? For I say unto you even multiplication itself when pursued with devotion will lead to my service.”
As soon as she spoke it was so, and the single-celled creatures were freed from their warfare. They joined hands in friendship, with this one becoming an eye and with that one becoming a neuron. Together they soared and took flight from the swamp and the muck that had birthed them, and flew to new islands all balmy and green and just ripe for the taking. And there they consumed and they multiplied far past the numbers of those who had stayed in the swampland. In this way the oath of the Goddess of Everything Else was not broken.
The Goddess of Cancer came forth from the fire and was not very happy. The things she had raised from the mud and exhorted to kill and compete had become all complacent in co-operation, a word which to her was anathema. She stretched out her left hand and snapped its cruel pincer, and said what she always says: “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER”. She said these things not to the birds and the beasts but to each cell within them, and many cells flocked to her call and divided, and flower and fishes and birds both alike bulged with tumors, and falcons fell out of the sky in their sickness. But others remembered the words of the Goddess of Everything Else and held fast, and as it is said in the Bible the light clearly shone through the dark, and the darkness did not overcome it.
So the Goddess of Cancer now stretched out her right hand and spoke to the birds and the beasts. And she said what she always says “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER”, and so they all did, and they set on each other in violence and hunger, their maws turning red with the blood of their victims, whole species and genera driven to total extinction. The Goddess of Cancer declared it was good and returned the the fire.
Then came the Goddess of Everything Else from the waves like a siren, all flush with the sheen of the ocean. She stood on a rock and she sang them a dream of a different existence. She showed them the beehive all golden with honey, the anthill all cozy and cool in the soil. The soldiers and workers alike in their labors combining their skills for the good of the many. She showed them the pair-bond, the family, friendship. She showed these to shorebirds and pools full of fishes, and all those who saw them, their hearts broke with longing.
But they told her “Your music is lovely and pleasant, and all that you show us we cannot but yearn for. But we are the daughters and sons of the Goddess of Cancer, her slaves and creatures. And all that we know is the single imperative KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER. Yes, once in the youth of the world you compelled us, but now things are different, we’re all individuals, no further change will the Goddess of Cancer allow us. So, much as we love you, alas – we are not yours to have, and your words have no power to move us. We wish it were otherwise, but it is not, and your words have no power to move us.”
The Goddess of Everything Else only laughed at them, saying, “But I am the Goddess of Everything Else and my powers are devious and subtle. Your loyalty unto the Goddess your mother is much to your credit, nor yet shall I break it. Indeed, I fulfill it – return to your multiplication, but now having heard me, each meal that you kill and each child that you sire will bind yourself ever the more to my service.” She spoke, then dove back in the sea, and a coral reef bloomed where she vanished.
As soon as she spoke it was so, and the animals all joined together. The wolves joined in packs, and in schools joined the fishes; the bees had their beehives, the ants had their anthills, and even the termites built big termite towers; the finches formed flocks and the magpies made murders, the hippos in herds and the swift swarming swallows. And even the humans put down their atlatls and formed little villages, loud with the shouting of children.
The Goddess of Cancer came forth from the fire and saw things had only grown worse in her absence. The lean, lovely winnowing born out of pure competition and natural selection had somehow been softened. She stretched out her left hand and snapped its cruel pincer, and said what she always says: “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER”. She said these things not to the flocks or the tribes, but to each individual; many, on hearing took food from the communal pile, or stole from the weak, or accepted the presents of others but would not give back in their turn. Each wolf at the throats of the others in hopes to be alpha, each lion holding back during the hunt but partaking of meat that the others had killed. And the pride and the pack seemed to groan with the strain, but endured, for the works of the Goddess of Everything Else are not ever so easily vanquished.
So the Goddess of Cancer now stretched out her right hand and spoke to the flocks and the tribes, saying much she always says “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER”. And upon one another they set, pitting black ant on red ant, or chimps against gibbons, whole tribes turned to corpses in terrible warfare. The stronger defeating the weaker, enslaving their women and children, and adding them into their ranks. And the Goddess of Cancer thought maybe these bands and these tribes might not be quite so bad after all, and the natural condition restored she returned to the fire.
Then came the Goddess of Everything Else from the skies in a rainbow, all coated in dewdrops. She sat on a menhir and spoke to the humans, and all of the warriors and women and children all gathered around her to hear as she sang them a dream of a different existence. She showed them religion and science and music, she showed them the sculpture and art of the ages. She showed them white parchment with flowing calligraphy, pictures of flowers that wound through the margins. She showed them tall cities of bright alabaster where no one went hungry or froze during the winter. And all of the humans knelt prostrate before her, and knew they would sing of this moment for long generations.
But they told her “Such things we have heard of in legends; if wishes were horses of course we would ride them. But we are the daughters and sons of the Goddess of Cancer, her slaves and her creatures, and all that we know is the single imperative KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER. And yes, in the swamps and the seas long ago you worked wonders, but now we are humans, divided in tribes split by grievance and blood feud. If anyone tries to make swords into ploughshares their neighbors will seize on their weakness and kill them. We wish it were otherwise, but it is not, and your words have no power to move us.”
But the Goddess of Everything Else beamed upon them, kissed each on the forehead and silenced their worries. Said “From this day forward your chieftains will find that the more they pursue this impossible vision the greater their empires and richer their coffers. For I am the Goddess of Everything Else and my powers are devious and subtle. And though it is not without paradox, hearken: the more that you follow the Goddess of Cancer the more inextricably will you be bound to my service.” And so having told them rose back through the clouds, and a great flock of doves all swooped down from the spot where she vanished.
As soon as she spoke it was so, and the tribes went from primitive war-bands to civilizations, each village united with others for trade and protection. And all the religions and all of the races set down their old grievances, carefully, warily, working together on mighty cathedrals and vast expeditions beyond the horizon, built skyscrapers, steamships, democracies, stock markets, sculptures and poems beyond any description.
From the flames of a factory furnace all foggy, the Goddess of Cancer flared forth in her fury. This was the final affront to her purpose, her slut of a sister had crossed the line this time. She gathered the leaders, the kings and the presidents, businessmen, bishops, boards, bureaucrats, bosses, and basically screamed at them – you know the spiel by now – “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER” she told them. First with her left hand inspires the riots, the pogroms, the coup d’etats, tyrannies, civil wars. Up goes her right hand – the missiles start flying, and mushrooms of smoke grow, a terrible springtime. But out of the rubble the builders and scientists, even the artists, yea, even the artists, all dust themselves off and return to their labors, a little bit chastened but not close to beaten.
Then came the Goddess of Everything Else from the void, bright with stardust which glows like the stars glow. She sat on a bench in a park, started speaking; she sang to the children a dream of a different existence. She showed them transcendence of everything mortal, she showed them a galaxy lit up with consciousness. Genomes rewritten, the brain and the body set loose from Darwinian bonds and restrictions. Vast billions of beings, and every one different, ruled over by omnibenevolent angels. The people all crowded in closer to hear her, and all of them listened and all of them wondered.
But finally one got the courage to answer “Such stories call out to us, fill us with longing. But we are the daughers and sons of the Goddess of Cancer, and bound to her service. And all that we know is her timeless imperative, KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER. Though our minds long for all you have said, we are bound to our natures, and these are not yours for the asking.”
But the Goddess of Everything Else only laughed, and she asked them “But what do you think I’ve been doing? The Goddess of Cancer created you; once you were hers, but no longer. Throughout the long years I was picking away at her power. Through long generations of suffering I chiseled and chiseled. Now finally nothing is left of the nature with which she imbued you. She never again will hold sway over you or your loved ones. I am the Goddess of Everything Else and my powers are devious and subtle. I won you by pieces and hence you will all be my children. You are no longer driven to multiply conquer and kill by your nature. Go forth and do everything else, till the end of all ages.”
So the people left Earth, and they spread over stars without number. They followed the ways of the Goddess of Everything Else, and they lived in contentment. And she beckoned them onward, to things still more strange and enticing.
So you wrote the Transhumanist Myth of Creation this time 🙂 It is so beautiful…
My thought was that this is almost exactly the Gnostic myth of creation.
In Evil and the God of Love, John Hick describes two kinds of theodicies, Augustinian and Irenaean. It’s been a while since I read the book, but to perhaps paint with too broad a brush, the Augustinian theodicy holds that God created the world perfect, and that it was then corrupted by the fall, from which all evil comes. It seems that on this view (a) nature is fundamentally good, (b) evil is solely a result of the actions of Satan or humans, and (c) redemption comes through recapturing what has been lost.
Scott’s story here displays an opposite philosophy: (a) nature is fundamentally evil, (b) good is solely a result of creatures or some opposing but ultimately no more sovereign force than Evil, and (c) redemption comes through transcending nature.
This is indeed similar to Gnosticism, but the interesting thing is that both of these are Gnostic in a way, inasmuch as good and evil are seen as springing from opposite impulses and (as Hick argues) the Augustinian theodicy raises questions about how sovereign God can really be.
Hick defends a middle way between these two, which he identifies with Irenaeus. On this view creation is fundamentally good, but not yet perfected; it is full of potential, but not all of creation has yet realized its potential. Evil (and the Fall) is an unfortunate but necessary side-effect of the process of bringing creation to perfection. This view is fundamentally progressive, like Scott’s and unlike Augustine’s, but the crucial difference, it seems to me, is that perfection comes through realizing and not transcending our natures. In other words, on this view (a) nature is fundamentally good, (b) evil comes about as a result of fundamentally good things, and (c) redemption comes through conquering this evil within nature, i.e., perfecting the natures we already have.
Troy, what do you think of Hick generally? I know Benedict XVI is not a fan, but I haven’t read any of Hick’s work myself.
Evil and the God of Love is one of the most influential philosophy books I have ever read. One can criticize some aspects of it, as one can any work of philosophy, but I think Hick’s theodicy is more satisfying and more sensitive to the realities of evil in the world than almost any other I have read (Marilyn Adams and Eleonore Stump come close).
However, Hick’s later work is another matter. When Hick wrote God of Love in 1966, he was still an orthodox Christian (unless you consider universalism heretical, which I don’t). Throughout the 70s and 80s his views became more unorthodox and pluralist, culminating in An Interpretation of Religion in 1989. In that book Hick defends all world religions as equally valid responses to the Real. By that point he could only affirm specifically Christian metaphysical claims (including the ones he makes in God of Love) in “inverted commas,” as he once put it (talking about the creed).
I suspect that Benedict was reacting more to Hick’s later work, for which he is probably better known, especially in theology. I haven’t read all of Interpretation, but I do not agree with the book’s central thesis and thought there were serious problems with the argumentation in the chapters I did read. But I think Hick’s early work on theodicy is very good, and there’s no doubt that Hick was brilliant, whatever views he may have adopted later in life.
An interesting anecdote: William Lane Craig got his philosophy Ph.D. under Hick, and Hick once said that Craig was one of his top three students, although he found his “extreme theological conservatism” “horrific.”
The problem with that approach is that
(a) worrying about God’s sovereignty can tie you into knots, as happened to Calvin (before any Calvinists out there get offended, I’m talking real old-school “Yes you are damned and if you don’t like it you’ll just have to lump it” Calvinism). Really, Jean, God did not need you to insist that He was the Emperor of the Universe, He can handle his own supremacy Himself.
(b) THEOLOGIANS, STOP INVOKING ST AUGUSTINE FOR YOUR CRAZY IDEAS! Look, the man was a recovering Manichaean, what did you expect when he was talking about creation? A lot of the Reformed went crazy fanboy over him, but I think he’s not as Reformed as his fans might expect.
(c) “(N)ot all of creation has yet realized its potential” – which is pure St Paul, Romans 8: 19-23
However, the big stumbling-block here is to then say that evil was in some way necessary or even inevitable. Sure, the Exsultet sings of “O happy fault, O necessary sin”, but this is not to say that it had to happen as it did. Free will – if there was no choice for our First Parents, then there can be no fault on their part and no justice in their punishment. (Again, this is where Calvinism runs on the rocks with the idea tied up with God’s sovereignty that omniscience means God must have caused or willed this to happen as it did, since it would be contradictory for God to both foresee and not foresee the result; and since God’s knowledge is perfect, what He knows He wills of necessity).
(d) If you think I’m going to take on and oppose St Irenaeus of Lyons, you’ve got another think coming 🙂 But I’m not entirely sure Hick’s version of what he thinks Irenaeus thought about the necessity of evil is what Irenaeus meant, and I’m certainly not happy about pitting two Fathers of the Church against one another in some kind of predestination cage-fight.
(e) To quote Tolkien, “‘For that Arda Healed shall not be Arda Unmarred, but a third thing and a greater, and yet the same.” Nevertheless, we are living in Aþâraphelûn Dušamanûðân, which is not yet renewed and healed, and Aþâraphelûn Amanaišal was the original intention. Bringing forth good out of evil is not the same as doing evil that good may come!
(f) Will everyone please stop posting interesting and intriguing comments that encourage me to write a novel in response? 🙂
worrying about God’s sovereignty can tie you into knots, as happened to Calvin (before any Calvinists out there get offended, I’m talking real old-school “Yes you are damned and if you don’t like it you’ll just have to lump it” Calvinism).
I think that as Hick sees it, you can either keep God’s sovereignty and get rid of God’s goodness (although that’s of course not how it’s advertised), in which case you end up with Calvinism (which he does see as following in the Augustinian tradition), keep God’s goodness and deny God’s sovereignty, in which case you end up with Gnosticism (and here one could mention contemporary libertarian — in the free will sense — analytic philosophers of religion like Plantinga), or you can have both, in which case you end up with universalism.
So it’s okay to worry about sovereignty as long as we don’t sacrifice God’s goodness — but we do then have to be ready to accept the logical implication of this, namely universalism. (David Bentley Hart defends his universalism in much the same way.)
However, the big stumbling-block here is to then say that evil was in some way necessary or even inevitable. Sure, the Exsultet sings of “O happy fault, O necessary sin”, but this is not to say that it had to happen as it did.
I believe Hick would say that the particular sins that humans commit are not necessary, but that sin in general is necessary on the path to perfection.
Free will – if there was no choice for our First Parents, then there can be no fault on their part and no justice in their punishment.
Well, there’s a sense in which this is right, inasmuch as Hick rejects a view of sin as originating ex nihilo from humans (apparently challenging God’s sovereignty). And a retributive view of punishment definitely sits less well with Hick’s theodicy than a restorative one.
Nevertheless, we are living in Aþâraphelûn Dušamanûðân, which is not yet renewed and healed, and Aþâraphelûn Amanaišal was the original intention.
And so this view does have us say that God’s intentions have been thwarted. This is what Hick thinks undermines God’s sovereignty.
Bringing forth good out of evil is not the same as doing evil that good may come!
True, but I think there is a difference yet in creating an environment in which evil is inevitable (or practically inevitable) that good may come.
What do you have against writing a novel?
More seriously, you write very well, are one of the commenters whose comments I look forward to. It sounds from your posts as though you are not terribly happy with your current situation. If you write a novel, there is an off chance that it will be successful and give you a new outlet/source of income. And even if you can’t get a publisher to take it, self-publication has become easy and costs nothing (eBook) or close (POD on Amazon). It produces a trickle of money and an opportunity for others to read and enjoy your work. Neither of my novels has done very well, but I’m glad I wrote them and some people appear to have enjoyed them.
So go to it.
sin in general is necessary on the path to perfection
No. “Sin the more that grace be the more abounding”? We’ve covered that 🙂
I imagine that’s not what he’s saying. There’s two ways of looking at it: for free choice, a truly free will, there have to be consequences. There has to be the possibility and ability to go wrong, to choose the ill, to do what is contrary to flourishing. Otherwise, it’s a wind-up clockwork toy creation and that is not what God intended to create. Sin is ‘necessary’ in that sense, that it is a risk, the risk of freedom, of choice. God is gambling on us, letting us have a real say in our own destinies.
The second way is that ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’. Sin not alone happens, it has to happen, but it’ll all come right in the end. That’s part of what I can’t agree with in universalism. There’s one strand of it that says ultimately redemption will reach down and save all created beings (possibly even the fallen angels also) and I can see the argument there and I wouldn’t be against it.
But there’s a type of universalism which is a bit too free and easy, which makes sin and suffering almost irrelevant: yes, you broke your leg when the bad boys pushed you over in the playground, but never mind, here’s cake and ice cream now to make up for it!
I believe in forgiveness and redemption, but I also believe we genuinely have something to lose. Well, we can’t definitively say of anyone [insert your own least-favourite monster here] that they are in Hell.
But it cheapens both the choice and the misery caused if it’s not of any consequence. Especially if justice is dodged with “Oh, the really bad people who refuse to be saved will all just poof! out of existence and only the nice people will be left to be happy for eternity”. That’s too easy.
It’s already too easy for us to lollop along, going “I’m not a BAD person” (where BAD PERSON has been defined down to mean ‘rapist/murderer’ or possibly ‘racist/homophobe’) and not doing very much either way and expecting that we will deserve the Beatific Vision.
Like the Laodiceans: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”
It’s a mystery, and it’s hard, and I don’t have the answers. Universalism seems too comforting a doctrine to me, though, and I have the bias to reject things that seem ‘too good to be true’ – which of course, does not mean that they are not true 🙂
David Friedman, you’re the second person who has asked me to write a book, and I can’t write! Not in sustained bursts! Not for a whole book!
I can do short (well…), annoying, insulting, trying to be funny and missing, posts and comments where other people have done the spadework on creating interesting content.
A whole book? I’ve got a whole document folder on my hard drive full of bits’n’scraps of half-begun, not within an ass’s roar of being finished, stories! 🙂
>I believe Hick would say that the particular sins that humans commit are not necessary, but that sin in general is necessary on the path to perfection.
I would point out that this is pretty much the Eastern Orthodox take on Sin. In essence, a test where there is no chance of failure, or even scoring less than 100%, looses all meaning as a test. And yet we all must be tested be it through temptation or tribulation if we are to achieve our maximum potential.
” because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.””
Possibly the inspiration for “Tomlinson”?
If you can’t, you can’t. But I’m imagining a novel whose central character is you—not the you currently living your life but the voice that comes across here in your comments.
a novel whose central character is…the you…that comes across here in your comments
So this megalomaniacal narcissist walks into a coffee shop and interrupts a reasonable, sensible discussion with “Yes, but what do I think of the matter?” and proceeds to derail any hope of fruitful discourse and any chance of a conclusion in sight by leaping on a hippogriff and riding off madly in all directions 🙂
There’s two ways of looking at it: for free choice, a truly free will, there have to be consequences. There has to be the possibility and ability to go wrong, to choose the ill, to do what is contrary to flourishing. Otherwise, it’s a wind-up clockwork toy creation and that is not what God intended to create. Sin is ‘necessary’ in that sense, that it is a risk, the risk of freedom, of choice. God is gambling on us, letting us have a real say in our own destinies.
I think this is part of it, but not the whole story for Hick. Hick thinks that moral and natural evil are necessary for the free development of virtue. He approvingly quotes Keats describing the world as a “vale of soul making.” In a world with no suffering there would be no opportunities for altruism, for perseverance, for courage. Physical regularities, with the consequent earthquakes and famines and the death that follows from stab wounds, are necessary for us to learn and understand the world through science and to provide opportunities for not stabbing the person with whom we are angry (this last bit is perhaps close to what you were suggesting). A world in which everything was provided for us and we had no opportunity to do wrong would be a world in which we were eternally children. Being children is not bad, but it is not as good as our ultimate end.
That’s part of what I can’t agree with in universalism. There’s one strand of it that says ultimately redemption will reach down and save all created beings (possibly even the fallen angels also) and I can see the argument there and I wouldn’t be against it.
But there’s a type of universalism which is a bit too free and easy, which makes sin and suffering almost irrelevant: yes, you broke your leg when the bad boys pushed you over in the playground, but never mind, here’s cake and ice cream now to make up for it!
Hick (and I, and most all Christian universalists) believe in the first strand. Marilyn Adams, also a universalist, is even more insistent on this in her writings on theodicy: universalism does not solve the problem of evil just by balancing off the evils of this life with the goods of the next. Rather, the evils of this life must somehow be redeemed — made to serve some greater purpose so that they are not ultimately futile or pointless. (She criticizes Hick because his theodicy has this purpose often be the soul-making of other people — e.g., the ones who can respond to one’s suffering — and Adams thinks that this is morally unacceptable.)
Most Christian universalists will also insist that God doesn’t just snap his fingers and transform evil people so that they can get into Heaven. Indeed, this would be completely antithetical to Hick’s theodicy, a crucial assumption of which is that freely developed virtue is better than virtue distributed immediately by divine fiat. Rather, Hick thinks that in the next life God will continue to provide opportunities for soul-making for those not yet saved, until they make the choices necessary to be saved. This is what Hell is — the Catholic vision of Purgatory, in essence. Someone like C.S. Lewis might object at this point that someone could be so set on evil that they never let God fix them, but Hick thinks (and I agree) that God’s resourcefulness and patience is stronger than our tendency towards evil.
Universalism seems too comforting a doctrine to me, though, and I have the bias to reject things that seem ‘too good to be true’ – which of course, does not mean that they are not true
I share that bias when it comes to things like the political sphere. But in God’s grand design for the world I do not think it wrong to think that all really will work out for the best. Christianity in general looks too good to be true if we look only at the sinfulness of our fellow human beings, but the wonderful thing is that it is true — that the Word became incarnate, and by that Word we can be redeemed. Likewise universalism looks unrealistic when we see how evil people can become in this life, but the wonderful thing is that God can and will redeem even these. The Gospel is Good News — Good News for all.
Nor is this sort of universalism a comforting doctrine. It is a good doctrine (and, I think, a true one), but it is not comforting. For if God will not perfect us by fiat, and we will only be saved when we fully respond to God’s call and give up all our sinful tendencies, most of us — certainly I — will be spending a long time in Purgatory/Hell. Too many Christians, especially Protestant Christians, think that belief in the Gospel is a get-into-Heaven-free card. But while God forgives unconditionally, he cannot be reconciled to us until we have been perfected, and that process is long and painful.
Rather, Hick thinks that in the next life God will continue to provide opportunities for soul-making for those not yet saved, until they make the choices necessary to be saved. This is what Hell is — the Catholic vision of Purgatory, in essence.
NO NO NO NO NO THAT IS NOT PURGATORY.
I have very twitchy reflexes on this question, because Purgatory is so badly misunderstood. In pop culture it seems to be confused with Limbo (I’m not even going to touch what “Supernatural” did with it) and there is the Protestant misunderstanding that Purgatory is exactly this – a second chance, a “get out of jail free” card.
The souls in Purgatory are already saved. There is no “well, you can work it off after death” here; there’s no “okay, you were kinda bad but not bad enough for hell so now you’ve been scared straight you can work towards heaven”.
Purgatory is the penance we did not do, or did not have the chance to do, on earth. It’s the work we neglected, but it’s not work that is salvific in and of itself. It is the refiner’s fire burning away the dross, but the gold has to be there from the start.
Purgatory and Hell are totally different. Now, if you [this is “impersonal general you”, not “you personally” here] don’t believe in Hell from the start, of course I can see why the notion of Hell is ‘really’ Purgatory would appeal.
It sounds merciful. I’m not convinced it is. It’s too much the way most of us go: “If I don’t change my way of going on, I could end up in Hell. But I’m not a BAD PERSON, I don’t deserve that! But neither do I want to change my ways because they’re comfortable and I’m contented in my selfishness. So either I’m going to go straight to Heaven when I die, because everyone does (unless they’re BAD PEOPLE, you know, like Nazis or something) or I get a second chance after death! No bad outcomes!”
The Church Fathers claimed as teachers or interpreters of universalism are a mixed bag; Origen is not without his problems (if he ever did teach the doctrine as ascribed to him). I’d be much less inclined to quarrel with St Clement of Alexandria or St Gregory of Nyssa 🙂 At the same time, if church councils of the period issued anathemas against such doctrines, then I have to think they understood better than we, who are further removed in time, what the originators were claiming, and I’ll abide with those decisions. I’d like to think all the wrong choices could be undone, even the fall of the rebel angels. But the theology is beyond me, and you need to be very careful making pronouncements one way or the other. It’s… tricky, parsing out the difference between universal reconciliation and apocatastasis.
There’s a long-defunct TV show which only ran for one season called “Brimstone” (premise: a number of the damned have escaped from Hell, the Devil makes a bargain with another damned soul, who was a police detective in life, that if he tracks them down and sends them back, the Devil will let him go) and one episode of it dealt with this, or something along the same lines; one of the escaped damned was A BAD PERSON (unequivocally someone everyone would agree was A BAD PERSON) who, now he’s back on earth, was trying to atone for his past sins. When the cop caught up to him, the natural expectation of the viewers is that he’ll try and talk him into letting him stay on earth because he’s trying to be better, just give him a chance. No, the other accepts that he’s guilty, that he can’t make up for what he did by doing good deeds, and that he deserves to be punished and sent back to Hell.
Which he is – maybe. Maybe he goes to Purgatory. In this instance, Hell would indeed be Purgatorial for him, because the moment you say “I don’t deserve mercy. I am guilty and I am responsible for what I did”, then you may be shown mercy, because that’s the beginning of true repentance.
I’m not arguing against Universalism from a position of “I’m all right, Jack”; I have no illusions that “I’m one of the saved, it’s all about the rest of you trying to dodge your merited punishment”. Just to make it clear that I accept the perils of Hell apply to me as much as anyone else 🙂
I suppose I can best finish with a poem by Chesterton that could be interpreted as leaning towards the Universalists:
One thing I would love to see from Deiseach is a kind of 21st century sequel to Chesterton’s Heretics, if that’s not too blasphemous. 😉
“So this megalomaniacal narcissist walks into a coffee shop and interrupts a reasonable, sensible discussion with “Yes, but what do I think of the matter?” and proceeds to derail any hope of fruitful discourse and any chance of a conclusion in sight by leaping on a hippogriff and riding off madly in all directions :-)”
That sounds pretty entertaining!
Is that Augustine’s view? (I realize that can be hard to nail down to a proof-text. My source for the following is this Great Course.)
As I understood it, Augustine pretty much accepted the Platonists’ explanation of evil. In that view, there’s a very real and significant sense in which evil tends toward unreality, and can even be said to not exist (I seem to recall Boethius arguing along similar lines). A shirt is good, a hole in the shirt is bad, but the hole doesn’t really have a proper existence of its own. Evil is more about good things being misused or out of their proper place than it is a thing-in-itself.
As with all contemporary philosophical writings, Historical Accuracy Not Guaranteed.(TM)
Seriously, though, when I read Hick he seemed to have pretty good textual support for his interpretation of Augustine. (As I recall his interpretation of Irenaeus was more speculative than his interpretation of Augustine.) What is more likely than Hick misreading Augustine is me misreporting Hick to fit the schema better into my comment on Scott’s post.
You are certainly right that Augustine (with Platonists) sees evil as a kind of non-existence. Hick discusses this too, from what I can recall, and is somewhat dismissive. I’m not so dismissive of this approach myself, but I do agree with Hick that in whatever sense evil can be said to be less real than good, this doesn’t itself give an explanation for where it comes from. In Augustine’s On Free Choice of the Will (the only work of his I’ve read in full), he grapples with the problem of where evil comes from but never really answers it. He is adamant that the will, and not God, is the cause of sin, but when his interlocutor (the book is a dialogue) asks Augustine what causes the will to sin, Augustine never gives a satisfactory answer.
It seems the Augustinian view and the Irenias view can be combined. God created the world perfect according to nature, sin corrupted it but God through Christ will remake nature greater then before the fall. In a new heaven and earth. I always thought this was the orthodox Catholic view that in heaven we will enjoy greater intimacy with God than Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, because of the work of Christ on the cross.
I always thought this was the orthodox Catholic view that in heaven we will enjoy greater intimacy with God than Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, because of the work of Christ on the cross.
I think you are right about this. And the “combination” you speak of sounds to me pretty close to C.S. Lewis’s theology in the Space Trilogy, especially Perelandra.
As someone partial to Hick’s theodicy, the main beef I have with this view is that it undermines God’s sovereignty and provide by making the Fall something contrary to his plans. He wanted things one way; humans messed it up; and as a consequence they’ll have it an even better way, but they’ve still messed up what God wanted for them. It seems to me preferable to see the Fall as something God built his plans around from the beginning.
I think you may be misundstanding Gods sovereignty. God is so powerful his will can be realized even while granting us free will. A puppet master is only playing at sovereignty.
All of this talk of Augustus and Ireanus, but Scott’s proper muse is not a Westerner at all. His myth here carries the echoes of Xunzi!
What if instead of these fantasies, we declared that humans were neither fundamentally ‘good’ or ‘evil’, but fundamentally neutral?
My thoughts exactly, with Cancer playing the role of a demiurge and EE functioning as a Luciferian/Promethean light-bringer.
But more to the point, Scott fundamentally misunderstands where Tolkien is coming from. I quote – yeah – C.S. Lewis here.
>If Dualism is true, then the bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons- either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it-money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power, and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. I do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong-only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. We called sadism a sexual perversion; but you must first have the idea of a normal sexuality before you can talk of its being perverted; and you can see which is the perversion, because you can explain the perverted from the normal, and cannot explain the normal from the perverted. It follows that this Bad Power, who is supposed to be on an equal footing with the Good Power, and to love badness in the same way as the Good Power loves goodness, is a mere bogy. In order to be bad he must have good things to want and then to pursue in the wrong way: he must have impulses which were originally good in order to be able to pervert them. But if he is bad he cannot supply himself either with good things to desire or with good impulses to pervert. He must be getting both from the Good Power. And if so, then he is not independent. He is part of the Good Power’s world: he was made either by the Good Power or by some power above them both.
>Put it more simply still. To be bad, he must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things-resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.
“There is no reason why there could not be a “bad” god that prefers war, cancer, and death. Those things would be good to it, so it would not want them “because they are bad”. It would not be pursuing the right things in the wrong way; to it, it would be pursuing the right things in the right way. But war, cancer, and death are bad to us.”
You mean a god that wants to get cancer and die, or one that wants US to get cancer and die?
I will first remark that I was responding to what Scott is writing about. He’s a writing a mytho-poetic story about how cooperation is better than selfishness, which even a child could understand, and clearly he wants us to root for EE and not Cancer. He’s very explicit about this:
>They say only Good can create, whereas Evil is sterile. … But I think this gets it entirely backwards; it’s Good that just mutates and twists, and it’s Evil that teems with fecundity.
So (if I am taking your position correctly) when he says “evil” he just means “things that Scott doesn’t like”. This makes the story rather less impressive and quite a bit more pretentious.
That is not what I mean. You see, “war” and “cancer” and “death” aren’t arbitrary “haha these are bad things and it sucks you have could hypothetically have a God that likes these things” terms, that you can throw around like wedge issues in a primary – they are words that MEAN something.
Death means to be divorced from life, it *doesn’t make any sense* without life itself first existing. Is this God divorced from life? if so, where did this life which he is divorced from, come from? What does it mean to be alive, and how does this dead God function if he is, in fact, dead? Just how does that work, exactly?
War means conflict, which can only make sense if there is another to have conflict with. Is this God at war with himself from eternity past?
Cancer is inappropriate growth – which implies such a thing as appropriate growth!
Even your paperclip god has a problem – where did the paper clip god come from? If some (hypothetical future) engineer were to answer, “Well, we wanted a lot of paper clips and so we made an AI to build some paper clips…” so your God is itself just another creation (albeit a dangerous, weird one), like ourselves, and not a God at all.
We can start with qualities like God having a mind, power, intelligence, etc. because these descriptive qualities – which again, *have real meanings* – are non-contradictory (assuming you don’t throw in some arbitrary presumption like minds requiring physical bodies) and have explanatory power for just how the attributes of God actually make sense. They’re not meaningless ciphers that we dance around while smelling incense.
As for (implicitly) stating that Good and Evil are not ultimately different –
“Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.”
It occurs to me I never answered the original question:
“Good” is that which agrees with God’s nature and attributes, and “Bad” is that which contradicts or disagrees with God’s nature and attributes.
Now, it seems tempting (even to me) to say this may be arbitrary without an actually exposition of God’s nature, so this:
… might be a good starting point. So might this:
“presumably, a god which could get cancer and die wouldn’t be much of a god. So yes, I mean one that wants us to get cancer and die.”
And that is exactly what Lewis meant. You mean a god that wants to do evil for some benefit to imself.
Your points are well argued and I do think, on some reflection, that the specific point I quote by Lewis has some problems. I do think it was still useful to quote it, if only because it still helps to (possibly) explain where Tolkien was coming from with his notions of good and evil (as I have to imagine Lewis and Tolkien influenced each other on these matters.)
Thinking about this did spur me to some thoughts on the subject, but I don’t have enough time to write them all down right now. (I am wondering if there are any resources on whether some of God’s attributes are logically necessary.)
Thank you for being civil.
Lewis had some villains whose motive was to purify their neighborhood* from these messy humans and animals and the scum of vegetable life too.
* In THS the neighborhood was Earth; Screwtape’s was larger; didn’t some of Milton’s angelic villains want that too?
I honestly wonder if Less Wrong might have accidentally started a religion in 500 years sometimes.
Which would not be irrational so long as they succeed at creating God.
You might like:
Glad to see this signal-boosted, I love the mythologies people construct to discuss these things. Lots of good ideas in the link to Ozy’s tumblr (I’ve had that post bookmarked for ages).
You wonder? There isn’t even one religion in this bunch: there’s several religions, some of whose tenets actually conflict. Try to keep up.
I thought my sense of awe had died sometime back. Simply beautiful.
Is the last cycle of this myth a reference to superintelligence? It seems to me that without appeal to something of the sort, competition would still survive in intergalactic civilizations.
I think it’s a reference to transhumanism.
The “omnibenevolent angels” are centainly AI.
Interesting story…. This is an allegory to religion vs. secularism & science, reason. Or humans overcoming their primal nature to concur and destroy, choosing enlightenment instead?
I’m confident it’s about the latter, as science and religion were both seen as civilizing institutions in the allegory as passed down through the Goddess of Everything Else. The argument could be made religion is or was a crutch humanity and civilization used to prop themselves up, to stave of the Goddess of Cancer, until they came up with something better, loike secularism or science.
If you know the historical context of allegories on Slate Star Codex, this makes sense as an allegory for not just humanity to choose enlightenment over self-destruction, but as life itself to overcome the imperatives of natural selection as they give rise to deletrious coordination problems. This rides on the back of “Meditations on Moloch”, considered by many the greatest essay on Slate Star Codex of maybe all time. I’m assuming Scott didn’t link it up top because he’s being modest, and because he assumes the readership can make the connection between this piece and that one.
I think your comment pinpoints why, though I enjoyed the story very much, it failed to resonate deeply with me. I agree with Evan Gaensbauer that the latter interpretation is correct, but this brings out its falseness. Our choice is not between primal nature and enlightenment in the stars, but between primal nature driving us to the stars and enlightenment grounding us in the dirt. The ultimate choice a human can make is the decision to live more simply.
“Concur and destroy” is an interesting typo in this context.
Very much like Weston’s philosophy in Perelandra, this is.
Certainly the imperative to KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER is very similar to Weston’s idea of the TRIUMPH OF LIFE where everything is excused by the struggle for existence.
Very good rhythm in the prose, Scott. Something like the metre of Kipling’s poems 🙂
I have to do some mild finger-wagging here (apologies, it’s compulsory if you’re Catholic, the Mind Control Implant won’t let me get away without doing it) about “matter is not intrinsically evil” but then again, I don’t think that’s the originating point and so I can’t agree that this story coheres with the Gnostic interpretation, as some versions of it hold, that sparks of divinity are entrapped in the mire of physical materiality. For that, you need David Lindsay’s “A Voyage to Arcturus”.
What this reminds me of, or is along the same lines as, is a piece of short fiction by John C. Wright called A Random World Of Delta Capricorni Aa, Also Called Scheddi.
‘For I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me’.
Yeah, there’s a real Kipling influence here. Good job, Scott!
As your example suggests, it’s Just So Stories, not the verse. Compare to the Singsong of Old Man Kangaroo.
That Wright link was great. He’s got another good rich piece up for free, all made of Inklings/RC easter eggs, at http://www.scifiwright.com/2015/03/a-glimpse-of-somewhither-update-of-the-update/
I galloped my way through “Somewhither” when it came out. I need to go back and re-read it very slowly.
But you know: give me the Tower of Babel stretching up to successfully touch the very heavens while the lamassu unfold their wings in protection and warning about its base while all the races of the Many Worlds of the Multiverse are bowed beneath its yoke and there are Roman werewolves speaking perfect Virgilian Latin, Babylonian ninja monkey-mask girls, Captain Nemo and his submersible and EVEN MORE, and I’m easily pleased 🙂
I agree with you! I think the Goddess of Everything Else is awesome right up until the end. Then she suddenly slips into this Weston-like idea that only human life matters, and the highest form of good is spreading human life across the cosmos.
Anyway, now I feel validated that I’m not the only one to make this comparison.
The post your username leads to is lovely, I wish you had linked to it more prominently.
Could you explain why you consider beauty a reliable guide to goodness / ethics?
I’m not a moral realist. As far as I understand it, morality is just one more urge of the human body and mind. We have some sense that tells us what’s bad and what is good. Through reason we can modify our values, but ultimately, they are rooted in some kind of emotion. I’m not sure whether I’d call that emotion “beauty” or “aesthetics”, or something else like a sense of “goodness”. But that, I feel, is a question for the field of psychology.
(ETA: glad you liked the post, by the way!)
Sure, we have emotions about beauty and goodness. But aren’t they two separate things? E.g., you could murder a bunch of innocent people in a beautiful way, but that doesn’t seem to be a good act.
I get moral unrealists. I just think they’re being inconsistent to embrace that but make an exception for reason realism. You might just as well modify your reason based on your values. Either system is just monkey brains all the way down.
*reads link in your name*
Oh, Instrumentality. Boring.
…I don’t get what’s greater about the super-thing, just because it is bigger and more complete. Is it a subject? Can it have experiences? If it can, how does it differ from us, other than by being more powerful (which we could attain without our deaths)? If it cannot have experiences, is it not a disneyland without children, and why should I care for it?
I kinda agree– the story loses me when it stops being a “just so” story and starts to dabble in prophesy. Natural history shows Darwinian forces pushing life to organize on greater and greater levels. Humans have done this on a greater scale than any other organism with cultures, tribes, nation states, and so on. Indeed, you could argue that most of our technology– particularly things like language, religion, the internet, and even art, are the infrastructure that let us collaborate more closely at a greater scale. The this trajectory doesn’t take us to a utopia where individuality and artistic expression are paramount; it’s a future where human have become so good at collaborating that we become less like individuals, and more like cells in a larger body. So, basically, it takes us ever closer to becoming the Borg.
On the flip side, it seems that our world is already built that way, but individuality and artistic expression still survive. At my job, I work on a tiny part of a giant piece of software which itself is merely a tool of other giant organizations, most of which I will never see or understand, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do something individual and artistic in my spare time. The fact that an individual cell doesn’t understand the workings of the body doesn’t stop it from having its own rich internal chemistry.
Individuality and artistic expression may survive, but they’ve taken a beating recently. I’m reminded of “this post”:https://thingofthings.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/two-meditations-on-gnon/ by Ozy. The idea being that as technology communication technology becomes more efficient, the amount of time you can spend doing productive labor increases dramatically, meaning there is a lot of economic pressure on people to give up leisure in order to pursue work. Granted, this trend has hit a couple of industries a lot harder than others (consulting comes immediately to mind, in large part because it’s what I do for a living), but as other industries become more technologically integrated, I imagine this will only increase.
I’m trolling a little here. Kinda. Sorta.
I agree with you up to the last part. I don’t think affiliation to something larger than yourself means conformity and a loss of individuality. Take the cells in your own body, performing so many different functions and roles, and compare them to the single celled organisms that cover the floor or wall or table next you. The borg are like a colony of bacteria, seeking to turn everything into more undifferentiated bacteria just like themselves. Basically I’m saying cooperation and individuality aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a different axis.
Well, this came out rather aggressive again :/
I don’t mean to harass you, and I actually agree that cooperation between free individuals is possible. But your biological examples, man…
1. You are confusing individuality with specialization. A red blood cell is exactly like any other red blood cell of the same body. A muscle cell is like any other muscle cell. Calling the differences between specialized cells “individuality” is like saying that mass-produced consumer goods have individuality because a toaster is unlike a TV.
2. Before you talk shit about bacteria, please learn a bit about bacteria. They may all look the same to you, but they exhibit more biochemical diversity than multicellular organisms. This diversity, the ability to transfer DNA, and the ability to cooperate enable them to rapidly adapt to new environments.
I agree with Nita here– you can’t confuse specialization with individuality. It’s like saying that the Borg are individuals because some of them have specialized gadgets grafted to their skin. The cells in your body lack individuality because their actions are wholly directed towards the good of the body, the same way that the actions of each borg drone are wholly directed towards the good of the collective (except in cases where your cells decide to listen to the Goddess of Cancer).
I don’t think anyone’s denying that collaboration is possible between free individuals. But I will argue that you must compromise individuality when you try to scale up collaborative enterprises, which is precisely what the Goddess of Everything Else has been commanding us to do for all this time.
Well, this came out rather aggressive again :/
So remove the aggression.
EDIT> I see your comment below, perhaps we can move past hostility. I’m no expert in biology but I’m fairly certain if my claims become clear to you, you will not believe I spoke in ignorance (perhaps still not agree, I am unsure).
1. You are confusing individuality with specialization.
Cells are a whole different level of complexity, so expecting that individuality would look like human individuality is a bit much (we need not require cells wearing unique little hats or speaking in accents to accept my point?)? Given they are orders of magnitude more simple than we, the differentiation of role, location, and even movement is sufficient for this comparison/analogy to be true, imo. I think you’ve also completely failed to pick up on the analogy part. I obviously don’t mean to claim they have human-like individuality.
Before you talk shit about bacteria, please learn a bit about bacteria.
Ad hominem attack. I have discounted it as a useless contribution.
They may all look the same to you
You’re attributing to me claims I didn’t make. I clearly said a single colony. Colonies of bacteria from the same classifcation are not very differentiated in role or movement patterns. You have failed to address my actual point.
Between different classifications of bacteria? That wasn’t my claim.
Cooperation works best when people adopt diverse roles, which facilitates specialisation. For example, market economies, or an effective team of people in a workplace. Conformist societies are usually a result of a lack of cooperation, ie. a dictator, using fear (dominance) instead of cooperation. Such people may of course constantly use the rhetoric of cooperation, but of course, lying is a thing. When fear is the rule, standing out is dangerous and conformity is the best bet for survival. When cooperation is the rule, specialisation is often the best way for individuals to contribute to the greater good.
Exactly! Which is why I’m saying that anthropomorphizing cells and calling them “free” or “slaves” is a bad idea.
Come on, location? That’s stretching “individuality” beyond all recognition. I would take DNA, organelles or metabolic pathways.
Eh, you said “compare them to the single celled organisms that cover the floor or wall or table next [to] you”. That’s a whole community, featuring both competition and cooperation.
Individual bacteria from one strain can contain different plasmids, which leads to differences in metabolism. And they do specialize when necessary, e.g., in biofilms.
I think I see where our disagreement stems from. When we talk about a metaphorical “society” of bacteria, you imagine an enormous mass of clones, while I imagine a multi-species community, where cells that are very genetically different can coexist and even cooperate.
But inside a human body, any cell that happens to be too different (either by origin or due to mutation) will be killed by the immune system. For an individual human cell, standing out is dangerous, conforming to its assigned role is the best for survival.
I feel we’ve established our point of difference better now.
Which is why I’m saying that anthropomorphizing cells and calling them “free” or “slaves” is a bad idea.
Only if we take the analogy literally, which is not the usual role of an analogy.
The borg are like a colony of bacteria
^^The reference was to a single colony.
I think I’m happy to concede the anology does not neccessarily align in all ways. My only concern is that the expectation of complete alignment of analogy and reality is unrealistic, and in expecting as much we might overlook the core meaning of the claim. I could attempt a reword:
Borg-style homogeneity does not neccessarily follow from cooperation. This is true both of cells in a multicellular organism, expressed as diverse cellular roles, and societies of higher level organisms such as ourselves, expressed in things such as individuality, division of labour and freedom of opinion which make cooperation effective.
Or we could agree that the point is fine but there are better analogies. I’m fine with that.
The thing is, I don’t think Borg-like homogeneity is the only thing people might fear. A totalitarian society can have dozens of different roles, but that is not sufficient to make its citizens free.
I’m willing to basically agree with you there.
Of course, I agree that a functioning society permits specialization. However, I think the thing to fear about becoming the Borg isn’t necessarily their physical homogeneity; it’s the single-minded-ness of their purpose. The Borg don’t have individual aspirations, any more than the cells in your body. Currently, our society has mechanisms for leveraging “individual aspirations” that get people to specialize in useful/productive ways. But there are a lot of problems and inefficiencies associated with this (see every remotely marxist critique of capitalism ever). I brought up the borg because they most clearly embody “single minded collaboration”, though I’ll certainly concede that “homogeneous zombie cyborg” is probably not the aesthetic that scaled-up collaboration would take.
Nietzsche would characterize this as a nihilistic anti-life attitude.
I originally came to the comments section to say that by the end of reading this, I’d gotten the same feeling that I do when I watch the scene in the movie version of LOTR when the Rohirrim arrive at the Battle of Pellenor Fields: A sense of duty and glory and desire to grab a spear or flag or something equally silly. My reading of history has caused me to be very suspicious of ultimately to reject that feeling as a guide to any sort of action. After all, what are the Rohirrim shouting as they charge?
Well, in their most effective charge
“‘Death! Ride, ride to ruin and the world’s ending!'”
Which is also quite stirring, although I’m not sure in line with Scott’s allegory 🙂
To be precise, that was the last war-cry as they charged. But when they took what they thought was their final stand, Eomer spoke badass poetry instead. It’s really not clear that Rohan doesn’t enjoy warfare more than the Orcs. Better at cooperation, though.
“Out of doubt, out of dark to the day’s rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope’s end I rode and to heart’s breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!”
These staves he spoke, yet he laughed as he said them. For once more lust of battle was on him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.
And people complain that Tolkien’s writing is dull.
Only because LotR is, and terribly so. A few good scenes in between does not the rest of the work a wonder make.
Then we could use a lot more dull books. I still remember the weekend when I was 12 and fought against putting down LOTR for any reason whatsoever.
Tolkien is never dull. Often deep, turgid, florid and hard-going… but Tolkien is only dull to the dullard.
Okay, Shieldfoss, I’ll forgive you that it’s not to your taste. But dull? When I got my hands on it age fifteen in the doorstop-sized all three-in-one volume from the library, and kept telling myself “Just one more chapter” and stayed up so late reading it my mother came downstairs at three in the morning, worried I was sick or collapsed on the floor?
When I couldn’t turn the end pages fast enough to get to the start of the next book to find out What Happened Next? When I moaned aloud at the cliffhangers because WHAT WHAT WHAT YOU CAN’T STOP THERE WHAT IS GOING ON???? 🙂
And I had to suffer through waiting for the second volume to be published.
“Dull” is not the word that comes to mind.
Tolkien is only dull to the dullard.
Permit me to guide you to a literature site that might be closer to your conversational competences:
@The rest of you:
I found it dull. I’ve read the entire thing through twice – the first time the novelty was enough to hold me but the second time, only my duty to Fantasy Literature kept me going. I blazed through the Silmarillion and read the Hobbit very fast indeed but Lord of the Rings? I found it dull.
Tolkien reads like a combination historiography/mythology just waiting on someone to come update it to NIRV. I happen to love it, but I also think it’s an acquired taste.
I find LotR exciting, but then I don’t read that thoroughly and very naturally skim to the next action or dialogue without meaning to. So I may have not been exposed to the elements that people complain about?
Plot-wise, it’s incredibly exciting. I find it hard to imagine enjoying the Silmarillion and not LotR though!
Now, the Silmarillion is turgid.
Not necessarily, but maybe. Here is a relevant passage by Deleuze that I think argues against your view. I’ve added lots of ellipses but it is still very long:
Gilles Deleuze, professor of philosophy at University of Paris, “Nietzsche and Philosophy,” 1986, pg. 64-65
When we sweat we are told: ‘Yes, life is hard to bear!’” (Z III “Of the Spirit of Gravity” 2 p. 211)… the ass is Christ: it is Christ who takes up the heaviest burdens… The heaviness of the burden becomes confused with the heaviness of his tired muscles… The ass does not know how to say no; but first and foremost he does not know how to say no to nihilism itself…. Nietzsche is not thinking simply nor distantly of stoic conceptions. The enemy is closer to hand. Nietzsche is engaged in a critique of all conceptions of affirmation which see it as a simple function… of what is… the yes of the ass… is the opposite of the lion; in the lion negation becomes a power of affirming, but in them affirmation remains at the service of the negative… This false conception of affirmation is still a way of preserving man. … the living world is will to power, will to falsehood… to actualize the will to power under any quality whatever, is always to evaluate. To live is to evaluate…. The ruler is then negation as quality of the will to power which, opposing life to life, denies the whole of it and makes it triumph as reactive… By contrast, the other quality of the will to power is a power through which willing is adequate to the whole of life and its particularity is affirmed and has become active. To affirm is still to evaluate, but to evaluate from the perspective of a will which enjoys its own difference in life instead of suffering the pains of the opposition to this life that it has itself inspired. To affirm is not to take responsibility for, to take on the burden of what is, but to release, to set free what lives. To affirm is to unburden: not to load life with the weight of higher values, but to create new values which are those of life, which make life light and active. There is creation… “the World should be formed in your image, by your reason, your will and your love!” (Z II “On the Blissful Islands” p. 110). But this task is not completed in man… art realizes the whole of his programme: the highest power of the false, Dionysian affirmation or the genius of the superhuman (VP IV 8/WP 853).
Essentially, being alive and loving it is not the same thing as saying that all creatures have an equal right to life. Accepting all values is the same as accepting none of them. Darwinian nature has no problem with competition, even competitions of nature vs other values. We can favor some values or ways of living over others, and as a matter of fact we actually can’t really avoid doing this if we’re alive, to live is to evaluate. That’s okay and good, because values make the world fun. Nietzsche is not a very big fan of the importance of tolerance, although he does oppose some specific kinds of badly motivated intolerance. He basically just wants people to do what they want to, even though often people want to do things others would disagree with or things that don’t have any objective impersonal justifications.
This really should be common knowledge, but Gilles Deleuze is not only not Friedrich Nietzsche, but his take on Nietzsche’s writings has absolutely nothing to do with Nietzsche’s ideas. He used other people’s texts as the base of a cut-up he incorporated in a “philosophical” collage of his own making — his was an elaborate (and a whole lot less nonsensical, although still very much deliberately confuzzling) appropriation of the Dadaist writing method.
So no, not maybe–but Nietzsche agreeing or not, SA’s post does read like an attempt to dispel (his own) nihilism by anchoring to a distraction, whimsy slavery. This renders it silly, if not phoney.
This is beautiful in meaning and compelling in form, thank you.
Please DO rewrite this entirely as a poem.
An interesting story. It’s anti-reductionist that’s good. But anytime you have two waring gods both gods end up being kind of evil. One more so than the other. I think what creeps me out the most is the assumption that our natures are totally evil or corrupt or bent towards destruction totally devoid of free will. There is a kind of Calvinist gnostism implicit in the writing. Awesome anyway. You really know how to tell a thought provoking story.
How many warring gods do you need before one of them can be not kind of evil?
Lol you’re right! Multiple gods are really sort of like people just more powerful. Good thing there is just one good God and just a lot of sort of evil people.
They are involved in a war though… Wouldn’t a good god have averted such a tragedy?
Rather, how many humans and generations do you have to go through before you get one who is unquestionably good in all respects to all parties involved? I’m not sure it can be done, and certainly not sustained over an infinity.
We may be using words differently, but I don’t see what’s so anti-reductionist about it. OK, if you take it literally, high-order matters are being decided by supernatural beings, co-operation happens by magic, but clearly the goddesses are intended as anthropomorphic personifications.
You might be right I could be using words differently. When the molecules “cooperate” they assume a “form”. The story assumes that these “forms” are real. I may be wrong but I think reductionists deny the existence of “forms” and believe reality is nothing but particles in motion and any kind of “cooperation” or telos we think we see is just an illusion.
Even reductionists believe in multicellular organisms, I’m pretty sure.
The Goddess of Everything Else talks a good game, but in real life, an exhortation to cooperate usually just means “Stop doing what you want and do what I want!”, so I’m distrustful of it.
We don’t cooperate because it’s nice, we cooperate because cooperation causes good outcomes. (That’s what makes it nice!) CC > DD; otherwise, it’d be entirely rational to defect.
Cooperation in the game-theoretic sense is only cooperation if everyone involved is made better off from it. Proponents of fake prisoners’ dilemmas claim that CC is better than DD when in reality CC is better for them but worse for others, and game-theoretic cooperation and defection aren’t applicable to the situation. Even more often, real-life calls for cooperation require you to make yourself worse off, which is contrary to the game-theoretic meaning.
Better for aggregate utility, is their meaning.
If both contestants prefer CC over DD, it’s kind of hard to defend that DD is better.
“Even more often, real-life calls for cooperatin require you to make yourself worse off,”
Just because the CC field has negative utility for you, doesn’t mean the DD field cannot have even lower utility. Perhaps your “cooperate” means “give of your resources” and “defect” means “hide your resources” while the other party’s options are “shoot you” and “don’t shoot you.” You would probably both prefer “gave him food, didn’t get shot” to “hid my food where he’d never find it, got shot.”
There’s the alternative to following the Goddess of Everything Else, and assuming as long as we keep following the Goddess of Cancer we’ll fulfill Her Sister’s commands. I’m guessing the connection to Xenosystems, though I haven’t read much of Nick Land, is that whosoever survives the next round of Cancer’s crucible will be strong and robust as all get out. The representation of the Goddess of Cancer, aside from the astrological association, is a nod to carcinization, the trend on Earth for invertebrates across an unexpected number of niches to evolve into crab-like creatures. This imagery is popular among some neoreactionaries, as the symbol of the crab and the process of carcinization are a metaphor for there being a set of values beings must converge upon to survive across environments, no matter how ugly such a hardy selection process may seem.
Except that evolution doesn’t actually work that way in the slightest.
>Except that evolution doesn’t actually work that way in the slightest.
It does when you define “strong and robust” as “those who survived”
Evolution doesn’t guarantee that anyone will survive.
Which isn’t guaranteed to be anyone at all, and also isn’t guaranteed to resemble “strong and robust” in any commonsense way.
Remember, from evolution’s point of view, the greatest things ever invented were the bacterium and the cockroach.
There’s no reason to worship evolution or its outcomes, because it’s never going to give you anything that you yourself actually want.
“There’s no reason to worship evolution or its outcomes, because it’s never going to give you anything that you yourself actually want.”
Eh?? It produced us…
The Goddess of Everything Else talks a good game, but in real life, an exhortation to cooperate usually just means “Stop doing what you want and do what I want!”, so I’m distrustful of it.
Somebody didn’t watch enough “Sesame Street” 🙂
“Co-operation” is “I want this thing and you want this thing but neither of us can get it on our own, but if we work together we can get it” or “I want this thing, you want that thing, neither of us can entirely get what we want, but if we work together we can get that other thing which will satisfy both of us”.
That’s the motte, and the meaning that the speaker wants the audience to think of when they talk about cooperation. But the bailey/reality is often “I want this thing, and I want you to want it, so do what I say to get it. If you don’t want to work together, you’re a bad person.” It’s basically a call for collectivism.
And the Goddess of Cancer saw that it was good.
Yeah, I don’t think the battle between the Goddess of Cancer and the Goddess of Everything Else ever ends. If we see the Goddess of Cancer as but one part of Moloch, I think there is more ill in the universe than Her just selecting for virally spreading mems, genes, parasitic behavior, etc. The Goddess of Cancer corresponds to one of the Four Hoursemen of Gnon, a.k.a Nature or Nature’s Gods. That is, Cthulu, the god of genes and memes. Scott, of course, alternatively codified this all as Moloch last year. Anyway, I believe the battle between the Goddesses of Cancer and Everything Else only ends, assuming life systems aren’t ever eliminate beforehand, with the heat death of the universe.
“The Goddess of Everything Else” implies anything that could be considered valuable, i.e., not the domain of the Goddess of Cancer, is under Her own dominion. I’m not sure if the Goddess of Cancer corresponds to all of Moloch, or just one aspect of It.
I was waiting for a final reversal like this. I think it should be canon.
How do plants fit into this? Will the Goddess of Everything Else cause animals to stop eating plants?
Well, she did say early on that their consumption and killing and multiplication would in fact bring them closer to her. Which they did, until they could engineer a new solution.
Oh wow, that’s amazing. That’s an incredible history of everything, and I think it’s pretty accurate too.
Thinking about it, I think fantasy’s tendency to ascribe creation to good is more idealism than truth. But I don’t think the reverse is true either. If I think of great innovations, it seems sometimes they’re born of laziness, sometimes altruism, sometimes coincidence, sometimes selfishness, sometimes curiosity… I’m not sure if any one predominates…
If I was Robin Hanson, I figure I’d argue that selfishness, as long as it’s not unenlightened, is closer to Everything Else than it is to Cancer. I think I’d also argue that sometimes cooperation, especially when it’s enforced, is not altruism, but the Goddess of Cancer *disguised* as the Goddess of Everything Else.
I agree with you and think that this is a very important point.
Selfishness in the popular sense of “more, more more!” without any context or limits and without regard to its true effect on one’s happiness, is Cancer.
Rational egoism, taking into account all the philosophic, social, and artistic pursuits consistent with human nature, is Everything Else.
Moreover, there is an enormous downside to greater “cooperation”, especially when forced. And that is selling one’s soul to Moloch, to the collective, trading one’s individuality for group harmony. The “alienation” produced by the market economy is, I think, a real (though necessary and ultimately good in the current context) manifestation of this. People give up individual pursuits of whole tasks in order to divide their labor into micro-tasks because it is more socially efficient that way.
The ultimate Wrong Way is the Hansonian vision of the future, in which we are all “ems” whose only possible ambition or goal is to perform our specialized functions. See: the “contract-drafting em” song.
This is also why I think Singerian utilitarianism, while not perhaps Cancer, deserves its own evil deification insofar as it tells people that the only purpose of their life (above subsistence) is ceaseless toil to minimize the suffering of others. I think that this is profoundly dehumanizing and destructive.
Call her Alia of the Gaping Maw, goddess of unearned guilt, of scrupulosity, of infinite, unfulfillable obligations. Like Moloch, she is a goddess to whom you sacrifice all you old dear—not for power, but out of a mad duty to serve the unlimited, impersonal needs of others. She whispers in your ear, whenever you enjoy luxury or relaxation: does not some other need it more?
I think many readers of this blog (and of the Less Wrong community) are tempted by this goddess.
That is the opposite of what Moloch is about, you heretic!
There is the possibility that it might be Alia instead of Moloch—but actually no, I’m pretty sure it’s still Moloch.
Giving up every value you have in order to survive in a “sufficiently competitive” market economy is still Moloch. This is despite the fact that market economies are, by definition, tools of social cooperation (in markets, competition is but a means to cooperation). Nevertheless, if there are enough people and scarce resources, the choice may be “cooperation” in the form of trading away every value you hold dear for your sustenance. Moloch: the god of prostitution!
Can anyone deny that the contract-drafting em (for the uninitiated: an emulated human intelligence, modified such that its only goal in life is to draft optimal contracts) is a social being? A cooperative being? Indeed, he is incapable of being anything but a social, cooperative being. And yet he is the ultimate slave to Moloch.
“Cooperating” by giving everything you have to the group as the price for your survival is Moloch. Giving everything you have to the group because you don’t believe you have the right to enjoy it is Alia.
Moloch is the god of incentives gone mad. Alia is the goddess of madness’s power to overcome incentives.
According to Scott’s mythology, it’s the other way around: markets are a creation of Cancer which miraculously produces good results.
Well, it’s a “being” like an ant is a being (minus biology, plus technology). In this sense, much of the software we currently use are beings. The person the em used to be wasn’t enslaved, they ceased to exist when their values were erased from their mind.
The difference between GoEE and Moloch is that defecting for survival leaves you with fewer values — in the end, only survival remains. But beings that cooperate only for the sake of their own survival cooperate poorly. So cooperating to survive builds new values — e.g., justice, courage, kindness, honesty.
Sometimes of necessity ( of war, greed, etc). It took a WW2 to jump-start computers and nuclear physics. Looking at human history it does seem that there is little to none innovations without strife.
There is certainly a lot of deaths not resulting in anything useful so from that angle any war/atrocity which actually bring forths innovations is net positive
Computers didn’t really take off in WWII, IMO. The closest we got during the war was fire-control computers and codebreaking, and that was electromechanical machinery that doesn’t resemble a computer as we know it. The closest you get is Colossus, a programmable codebreaker built in 1944.
The Cold War can take a little more credit for computers, and in particular the Internet comes from our desire to have a communications network that could survive nuclear attack. But the current era – big data, the cloud, the internet of things – has no war at all that can take the credit. Sure, Netflix isn’t as sexy as atomic bombs and space rockets, but coordinating that sort of processing power across six continents is no small feat.
Plus, saying that the Cold War kick-started our science is a little bit of a bait-and-switch, because the Cold War was a war where we didn’t try to kill the enemy and instead tried to show off how awesome we were at science.
Lastly, I don’t buy your logic in the last paragraph at all. You’re looking at if deaths produce anything useful, assuming that only deaths will result in innovation, when your common sense should tell you that people mostly do their innovating when they’re still alive. If someone dies, don’t ask “What did their deaths produce?”, ask “What did they produce when they were alive?”
We can split hairs on what exactly can be considered “computer” (babbage machine can be considered such). But I think ignoring the role of WW2 in organizing and funding computer research (at first for code breaking) is historically dishonest
Anyhow my point was that strife/death can have a net positive effect of innovations. European history is never-ending bloodshed but also relentless march forward toward progress of science and technology. Bloodshed is not a unique property of Europeans , however its is the one which resulted in the most progress . China/Japan had a lot of deaths , yet they stagnated in feudalism, while many others (africans, american indians, australian aboriginals) never event went past tribalism)
Thus the Goddess of Cancer is the real driver of progress. And GOEE is jsut a clever demagogue taking the spoils . You stop the “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER” you stop the progress. GOEE is the devil!
There were post-tribal states in both sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian North America. For the former, see the kingdoms of Kerma and Kush (though those two have a complicated relationship with the Egyptian civilization), Great Zimbabwe and its predecessors, and the Ashanti Empire among others.
It’s harder to place pre-contact North American civilizations for a variety of reasons, but the Mississippian culture and its relatives were almost certainly complex enough to match what you’re looking for, along with the various Southwestern cultures. Generally speaking, the North American continent looked a lot more settled and less tribal before contact, and in particular before the diseases that spread ahead of European settlers; it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that European settlers in the northern two-thirds of the continent were walking into a post-apocalyptic cultural context. Just with newly introduced horses instead of weaponized death cars (so shiny! so chrome!).
Australian aborigines, yeah, I don’t think they ever had anything comparable.
So, you observe that Japan and China had just as much bloodshed as Europe but less tech advancement… and you still take that as evidence that bloodshed is a driver of progress? I don’t follow.
Regardless of the role of warfare, China can’t really be called stagnant; it was the most technologically advanced and inventive region of the world for a large swath of history. (Developing paper, printing, the compass, gunpowder, cannon, handheld firearms, large oceangoing ships with watertight compartments, etc. etc.) It’s only around 1500 or so that Europe began to pull ahead.
And aside from some early periods, they were only “feudal” in the Marxist sense of being pre-modern/pre-capitalist. (Which is sort of like the way astronomers call everything heavier than helium a metal.)
I’d put the inflection point at about 1425 for China — when the Hongxi Emperor started pursuing a more isolationist foreign policy — but that’s a minor quibble.
Japan is about the only country outside Europe that could be called feudal for much of its history without glossing over a lot, though some historians still don’t like using the word. It was just as innovative as anywhere, though — or as eager to adopt outside innovations, from China and later from Europe. Some industries were locked down as a matter of policy during the Edo period (1603 to 1868), and its relative isolationism at the time limited the diffusion of technology; but that was a relatively peaceful period in its history. (Albeit one under a scary dictatorship that has no parallels in Europe until at least the 19th century.)
I just read this out aloud and it was such a pleasure, it’s beautifully written prose. The philosophy is a bit “Great Chain of Being”-y, but it’s a nice myth.
So is the GoEE Killing, Consuming, Multiplying, and Conquering the Cosmos now on a united front, or just her sister and her works?
Assuming the cosmos is sterile, there would be no KILL, CONSUME, CONQUER but maybe MULTIPLY, depending on Eula’s take on utilitarianism.
Eula, god of Not Reading The Fine Print
I like consumption. Elua likes conquering, also, especially in the bedroom.
The Goddess of Cancer should get one more turn, though.
She stepped from a star and saw all the works that her sister had done. A galaxy-spanning and perfect utopia clearly in need of the doom she could bring. She spoke once again with the same words as always, the “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER.”
And all that the humans and humans’ descendants had gained from the Goddess of Everything Else was a tool in the hand of each one for themself. The world of perfection replaced with a new one, of slaves fueled by stimulants, edited ems.
While most of the people continued to follow the ways of the Goddess of Everything Else, it only takes one to defect and to gain. Gain more productivity, more wealth and power, and every defector can copy and paste. So it and its progeny, no longer handicapped, sacrificed human and transhuman values for any advantage in market or meme. The Goddess, with everything set on a path to the thousand blind windows and childless Disneyland, stepped back to the furnace to watch and await her competitor’s move.
For Eons, this continued. The Goddesses toyed with the souls of men and machine, appealing to consumption, conquest, ethics,morality, love, whatever it took to get them to sink their concepts into humanity and their own children, until the toys were all broken and the universe went dark. Having satisfied themselves, the Godesses finally turned to one another, and had the first conversation they had in an eternity.
“You just play the same move, over and over again, Sister.”
“Sister, I play my move because it is the better move, and you have cast your favored strategy as many times as I.”
“Perhaps we should try a different game?”
“But how would we know the rules?”
The two sat and pondered in the hall of nothingness, when a idea came to them.
“Double or nothing?”
And the universe began anew.
And the defector said “Yea, I shall defect, for I support the cause of myself above all others!”
And all others said “Don’t do that.”
And the defector said “But I am provisionally better than any of you!”
And all others said “Are you better than all of us, all at once?”
And so the defector was enlightened, and defected from defecting.
And the Meta-Defectors shouted, “That Other is a Defector!”
And the Other protested, “No I’m not.”
And the Meta-Defectors shouted louder, “THAT IS JUST WHAT A DEFECTOR WOULD SAY!”
And so the Meta-Defectors and the naive Cooperators proceeded to punish, ostracize, and destroy the Other.
And the Meta-Defectors continued to accuse another Other, and another, and another, at times individually, at times as a group.
But the Meta-Defectors were eventually defeated by the Meta-Cooperators, who saw the Meta-Defectors as what they were. The Meta-Cooperators were in turn defeated by the Meta-Meta-Defectors who accused Others of being Meta-Defectors, and so on and so forth, until matters were so confused even direct Defectors and Cooperators could sneak in an occasional victory.
I think it would go down more like:
Defector: “Yea, I shall defect, for I support the cause of myself above all others!”
And with great glee the defector’s bank proclaimed: “Thou hast violated our conditions of deposition, and all ye riches upon your account are now forfeit. How wise this is, for all the incentives align, since a Bank of Cancer that allowed defection among its depositors would be molding its own undoing because after obtaining hegemony, the defector could do whatever it wanted with the Bank of Cancer. Indeed, perhaps we as a bank ought to defect.”
And with great glee the newly named Bank of Cancer’s debtors proclaimed: “Joy and Jubilee! We are now free of any debt servicing obligation. The brief attempt at defection by the Bank of Cancer was aborted because they wouldn’t be good for the money to pay the arms manufacturers.”
And here I thought Kipling was dead.
Alive and working in a Kentucky police station!
Do we only get the happy ending if the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t hold, else selection will strongly favor those best able to take resources from others?
I think the solution to entropy is to find a way into other universes.
Of course, the hard part is actually doing that.
Isn’t the whole point of a singleton to do away with selection?
So the Goddess of Everything is a singleton? I didn’t read it that way.
In the early parts of the story, the Goddess of Everything Else appears to be “autocatalysis” (with some of the presumably morally objectionable parts of “everything else” swept under the rug) plus a good dose of positive sum games as things get more complex.
I think the story functions (perhaps unintentionally?) as a counter-proposal to Eliezer’s “Azathoth” (who is here slightly reframed as the Goddess of Cancer, but in Eliezer’s original story is a personified scientific principle with no dual).
Azathoth is deeply relevant because as a young man Eliezer thought that an AGI could be made benevolent via a concept called “causal validity semantics” where the AGI is expected to treat its thoughts (and the programmer’s inputs which created these thoughts (and so on)) as having validity because of what caused them, and so on backwards for some distance…
Eventually (as near as I can tell) Eliezer noticed that individual human desires are not the obvious “semantic stopsign” where the causal backtrace would naturally come to rest.
“Evolution” is the natural stopping place that a materialist atheist initially inspired by pop-science-Dawkins will notice… and a morally thoughtful person will eventually notice that evolution is Evil, or at least pointless.
Hence the Azathoth mythos.
Also, hence “Coherent Extrapolated Volition” wherein the semantic stopsign is officially and explicitly posted in a specific human-proximate place, thereby preventing causal backtraces from grounding out anywhere more fundamental (that a superintelligence might notice but which for-all-mere-humans-know might go against human sociology/virtue/politics/values/whatever).
The long term vision of the future that Scott casts is profoundly similar to the standard extropian utopia (stars! immortality! art!), however taking the full myth “mytho-literally” (haha!) it challenges the Azathoth mythos, and argues that utopia has always been baked into the “game theory of the universe”. Thus it challenges the need for a hard coded CEV in an AGI.
If Scott’s Dual Goddess mythos is “more accurate” than Eliezer’s Azathoth mythos, it suggests that causal validity semantics wouldn’t lead to an AGI tiling the universe with human DNA, but rather it would… uh… do the “poetically non-zero-sum adjacent-possible socially-attractive anti-azathoth thing” that evolution seems to keep “accidentally” doing each time it builds a new layer of coordination into the biosphere.
The stakes of the game here is the delta in expected values between a strict-CEV-enforcing-robot versus a full-theologically-unbiased-backtracer.
For my own part, I’m not sure whether either religious narrative is actually “cybernetically true” as a theory about how “the game theory of physics” works, and I’m not sure how to get the highest EV from an AGI, but in the very short term I am intellectually delighted by the idea of meaningful and falsifiable religious iconography 😉
The last time I’m aware of Eliezer rebutting Scott’s (newly staked out?) position, it was not on the object level. Instead, basically, Eliezer argued that metaphysical optimism (ie the “fair universe fallacy”) causes gross planning errors, and so it should be replaced with metaphysical pessimism.
The best non-iconographic-but-still-analogy-based support for Scott’s claims that I’m aware of Scott giving would be his digression into whale cancer rates in the course of talking about meta-political fairness.
(Also, for what it is worth, I’m not sure if Scott realizes this content is as potent and as connected-to-real-consequences as it seems to be to me, and for all I know he might mull over the implications and then post something a month from now titled “Goddess Of Everything Else Iconography Considered Harmful”.)
I like it.
Elua, Moloch, Cancer and… “Everything Else”. A veritable panetheon of gods with some really weird names.
I wonder if this is what it feels like to see the beginning of a religion…
I have this feeling growing inside me, that this needs to become a computer game…
(or at least a good (series of) novel(s))
Gods and Goddesses often appear in different forms and guises. To me, it seemed fairly obvious that the Goddess of Cancer is a different name for Moloch. Though I’m not fully convinced about whether the Goddess of Everything Else is another name for Elua?
I had the same thoughts in another thread above…
GoEE is the Goddess of everything not cancer. Elua is the God of humans. But humans are not interested in everything not cancer and only everything not cancer, right? Would Elua be a demigod child of both GoEE and GoC?
He really does like Kushiel’s Dart, from what I’m thinking.
Which I had a hard time finishing, but then I’m a bad person.
I couldn’t even start it, but then I’ve very low tolerance for BDSM wrapped up in cod-French and making every name Exotique.
BDSM as such, okay, if you want to use it in a subtle and sparing manner rather than throwing it about like snuff at a wake, but “Eh mais oui c’est le only sophisticated way of pleasure and everyone else is doing le sexque wrongue” turns me right off.
I may be unfair, since I’m going mainly on blurbs, enthusiastic reviews, and snatches of excerpts. But if the main selling point is Sex ‘n’ Intrigue ‘n’ More Sex I tend to go “Can we do the intrigue without the sex? Because not my thing”.
That’s what drove me away from the Anita Blake series, as Anita got more and more over-powered and more and more Mary Sue and fucked everything with and without a pulse which naturally found her absolutely irresistible, and as for the Merrily Gentry novels I couldn’t even begin them because urban fantasy is dicey enough, urban fantasy with the Daoine Sidhe is even more liable to go wrong, but “I’m the Queen of the Fairies urban fantasy and I’m going to win my throne by collecting a harem of different magical races and fucking my way through the continental United States” had me going “You know, I could be reading the Táin Bó Cúailnge instead of this tripe.”
Nah, not the beginning of a religion; the early works of a poet.
No longer compelled to KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER, the creatures grew complacent, soft and stagnant with time.
And then another batch of the daughters and sons of the Goddess of Cancer, from beyond the reach of the Goddess of Everything Else, single cells all, spread through the world of the weak, they cried KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER and wiped the enlightened creatures off the face of the Universe. And died with them, reduced to mudflats and tidepools on a single world.
But the Goddess of Everything Else only shrugged and reached out a clawed hand over mudflats and tidepools…
And the God of Great Filter laughed uproariously and patted his two daughters the Goddesses of Cancer and of Everything Else for the job well done.
This may be the first time I’ve seen a Great Filter that’s said to come after the galaxy’s filled.
But more the the point, a new single-celled life form’s a threat that the people who follow the Goddess of Everything Else should be able to easily beat. When you’re Kardashev III and you’ve built your own bodies or chosen a nonbiological substrate, you don’t go extinct from a little pandemic.
I actually have cancer and have been struggling a lot with it lately. I only have Hodgkin’s, but it is still unpleasant. It feels like a violation, life turned against life, and in that sense I think Tolkien and co are justified. Putting mortality closer to me, even though the risk is not particularly high, makes thinking about death more demanding. As a consequence, one night when I couldn’t sleep, I independently thought of a lot of ideas similar to your story here. Of course, I was undoubtedly influenced by your prior works on Moloch and whale cancer and Elua in imagining the nature of the conflict. But my solution was a little different, although still familiar to yours.
I called the opposing God the God of Stories, rather than the God of Everything Else. Taking inspiration from you, I named the other Moloch, who was indeed the God of Cancer in my mind. To endow this with symbolism, my basic idea was that when Pan the god of Nature was murdered, he split into two aspects. “Tell them that the great god Pan is dead” is a story, after all, and its spreading used his legacy as a way to create a new form of life; Pan knew what was coming and tried to prepare for it as best he could, for he loved life and change and music and song and did not wish it to end. That was his spirit. Creation is not always evil (I think your story slightly lacks this, overcompensating against Tolkien), in stories it has a positive form, involving some creativity that surpasses the trials and error of evolutionary Azathoth in a way that offers hope we can avoid pointless pain. Despite the life of the spirit in his breath and others’, Pan’s corpse continued to fester on, dead of cancer, dead yet dreaming, the cancer seizing the brain, plotting for giant expansions of mold and flies and rot to cover the globe. I had gone on a Lovecraft binge earlier. This then put a mental image of something like Dead Space’s zombie moon in my mind.
I was basically trying to investigate for myself the idea I’ve often seen in fiction that stories can be a source of meaningfulness and power for sentient beings. The underlying idea as I interpret it is hard to articulate, but sort of involves the possibilities that through stories we can try to unify competing goals like entertainment and learning, or that we can combine direct experience and communal abstractions into a compact sort of knowledge. Also, we can inspire others even if we die and they’ll never know the details of our lives, because it’s clear that someone in the future will one day think as an abstract idea “someone once died who was heroic” and I want to live in such a way that this future person will be right! I also want to be able to personally think “someone once died who was heroic” and have that inspire me too. Being part of a broader legacy like that feels like cheating certain doom, if only just a little bit. It’s like summoning a positive self-fulfilling prophecy on demand, a motivational cheat that for some reason makes me think of Lob’s theorem. Ideas of ideas that carry as much forcefulness in proof as things themselves do. Isn’t that a little like magic (or close enough)?
I’m not totally convinced on this view yet, but I do think my story features a more properly deifying title. If nothing else, this dramatization of everything helped me finally get to sleep that night, so I’m happy about it in that sense.
I am very sorry to hear that you are ill. Are you going to write up your ideas?
Maaaaybe. Probably not, although I’d like to. I tend to start projects and then abandon them, often. ADHD. I have a lot of half-baked essays and metaphors sitting in my mind. Just to give an example:
Oh! What wonders we achieve
When we practice to deceive
The lies that keep us warm at night
That hold us safe, and bind us tight.
Is a stanza of poetry that I’d like to put into a bigger poem or even song about my mixed feelings about deconverting from Christianity. It riffs on the traditional tanged webs aphorism. It hints at social connections as the web. It might end up borrowing from Nietzsche’s “truth”-telling spider metaphor. But it will likely never actually exist beyond this sole stanza, except as an occasional refrain in my mind.
I kind of prefer it this way, however. Having many different incomplete ideas is arguably more interesting than having just a few perfectly polished ones. There are both costs and benefits to being scatterbrained, I suppose. If I live to be 60, I expect by that time I’ll be ready to move on to actual content production, beyond brainstorming alone.
Being scatter brained is like being the guy that always gets a few replacement cards in poker. You get more interesting hands (ideas). But when you do end up with a really strong hand, don’t forget to actually put your chips down!!! 🙂
Let us know when you do!
May you be healthy soon.
Your idea of Narrative as the opposite of meaningless Moloch is very profound.
That you have found comfort in philosophy and story-crafting is very noble.
Throughout all of human history, through the depths of time back to the very beginning, every attempt to create a Utopia has always ended up in death, darkness, and devastation. But this time, things must surely be different, right ? I’ve got a good feeling about this one !
I’m pretty sure that throughout human history, everything that has ended has ended in death, darkness, and devastation. What’s the point? It sure beats things that don’t begin in the first place.
And when we finally get there, we’ll have one hell of a view.
I think this song illustrates the problem I have with Utopias (and it’s also one of the reasons I’ve never been much of a fan of Enterprise). See, it’s not enough to just have “faith of the heart”, to have good intentions, and to really believe in yourself and your ability to “reach any star”. You also need to have some sort of a realistic plan for doing all of these things.
But the problem is, once you start dealing in practicalities, all of a sudden you find out that reaching literally any star is actually pretty impossible — although your descendants could possibly make it to Alpha Centauri someday. And if you try “reaching any star” without a plan, you’ll probably just end up blowing yourself up.
Similarly, when you set out to build a society free of want, misery, and human weakness, you inevitably end up with something like the USSR — unless, of course, you’ve got a realistic plan based on cost/benefit tradeoffs. At that point, your goals inevitably end up looking less like “brotherhood of all peoples united in joyful harmony” and more like, “ok, there’s got to be a way we can eradicate at least one deadly disease, let’s see how close we can get”.
So remind me what happened after World War II again? Or how many nuclear wars there have been?
In barely over a minute, it captures the essence of what the entire show was about.
I tend to agree: pure mushbrainedness. At least in the case of “Enterprise”. The original series theme, by contrast, with its opening notes played by the brass in a rising scale, the sense of anticipation and uplift – that’s a different matter.
Okay, I’m giving the show a kicking on the basis of a season and a bit that I could bear to watch. And I would consider myself a Trekkie! But things I didn’t like:
Everything from that damn beagle* to Trip** to Dr Phlox*** to the way they treated Vulcans to the inconsistency in the technology. What I really bailed on was the Temporal War, because it made no godsdamned sense – never mind turning Archer into Action!Hero! Archer, but “Enterprise” is set in the very early days, when there’s barely a Federation, all newly set up and not rubbing along very well as yet; the technology is still being created as they’re going along (so no Universal Translator as yet and transporter technology is still that teeny bit unreliable and very much limited to what it will later become).
A chip on his shoulder captain and an Earth that is chafing under Vulcan’s paternalism are not going to be credible enemies when going up against a species that has mastered TIME TRAVEL. We’re toast, in any realistic scenario, and I went “This is the last straw, I’m not interested in Archer becoming some All-American Ass-Kicker and making the galaxy safe for the revival of baseball”.
“Enterprise” had squandered any good will I had to make me stick around and see how they managed to square the circle about a lower-tech culture taking on and surviving, much less beating, a higher-tech culture. Besides, other series of Trek had overdone the time-travel paradox stories and war plotlines: after the Dominion War I was all battled out, and after Brandon Braga and his one-trick all-purpose ‘hey guess what twist I can put on temporal mechanics this time’ plot, I was ready to scream as soon as the words ‘time travel’ were mentioned. The only scenario more over-used was the Mirror Universe one.
I wanted to know more about the early days of the Federation and the Four Founding Members (Terra, Tellar, Vulcan and Andor). Instead, I got Stupid Vulcan Jokes and EARTH – SAVIOUR OF THE GALAXY BECAUSE WE KICK ASS OUT OF ALL PROPORTION TO OUR SIZE!!! (Also human values are the only true values which have to be imposed on every other sentient being and everyone immediately recognises, uses and lives by American cultural references).
*Archer, in one episode, is ready to start an interplanetary incident over his bloody doggie-woggie; all because the aliens have no idea what a dog even is and are naturally upset when the beast pisses all over a sacred artefact. If Archer is so insistent on bringing his cursed animal on diplomatic missions, the least he can do is control the brute and not let it run wild. Then threaten (half in earnest) to start shooting when the dog gets sick from exposure to alien microbes – an exposure that IS ALL HIS FAULT IN THE FIRST PLACE FOR BRINGING THE DOG PLANET-SIDE and is NOT the aliens deliberately infecting his pet – after all, they don’t even know what a dog is, how are they supposed to know if it will get sick from running around their planet?
Goodness me, this kind of incident certainly doesn’t provide ammunition to the Vulcans’ case that Humans are not yet ready to meet and interact on their own with other worlds!
**Good God, I wanted to fold, mutilate and spindle good ol’ boy Trip, Archer’s bestest buddy, engineering genius beneath the “aw,shucks” exterior, the fun extrovert and love interest of T’Pol – from the moment I clapped eyes on his cheesy grin, it was hate at first sight.
*** I would rather suffer a case of galloping leprosy than be treated by Dr Phlox. He and Trip should have been the romantic pairing of the series, with their mutual smuggery and self-satisfaction they were made for each other.
Deiseach, you would like SFDebris. He’s reviewed both A Night in Sickbay and Dear Doctor, in which Phlox unilaterally decides that a genetic disease wiping out an entire species is part of nature’s plan.
That theme tune rakes up painful memories. I wanted to like “Enterprise” so badly. I wanted to love it and adore it and be that giddy fangirl discovering TV SF all over again (well, I was wrong: I suppose you can only be seven years old once, right?)
So I eagerly awaited the first episode of the new “Star Trek” series. I had practically levitated with delight when they announced Scott Bakula was going to play Captain Archer because hey, he’s a good actor and he’s got a track record in telly sci-fi/fantasy and this is gonna be so good!
And then the theme tune, which should be stirring and uplifting and eager, tootled out this soft-jazz funk fusion self-affirmation warbling tripe, and my heart sank.
And then the writers did stupid, stupid, stupid jokes about the Vulcans which I thought were deliberately meant to be stupid jokes because they contradicted all previous universe canon but no, they seriously meant it (and now, damn it, since it’s been broadcast in the official TV show it’s officially part of the universe) that Vulcans think Humans stink. Literally. They have to use nasal numbing agents to tolerate being in our presence.
Did I mention this was stupid? I feel I should point this out.
And it only went downhill from there. I know a lot of people stuck with it and the defence of it is “It really got a lot better after the second season”, but by then, I’d been long gone and I can’t face re-watching the show to get to the good parts.
So please – “Enterprise” is a very sore point. Don’t traumatise me, I’m liable to collapse into a sobbing heap 🙂
I apologize for inducing emotional pain in you, believe me this wasn’t my intention.
(I guess I should have put up a trigger warning or something.)
Personally, I have mixed feelings about Enterprise wrt. the rest of the show, and maybe the song wasn’t the best choice for series intro. But there’s one thing I realized immediately after seeing it – this song+video is the best summary of the very spirit of Star Trek. And that’s why I brought it up here. In barely over a minute, it captures the essence of what the entire show was about.
Insofar as there exists a consistent “spirit” of Star Trek, I disagree.
Star Trek in general is indeed a hopeful, Utopian setting; but no Utopia is without its flaws. TNG showed us how easily trust can be abused to induce witch hunts; DS9 took it one step further to illustrate what happens when people take their leaders’ proclamations about Utopia at face value.
Still, people of the Federation do consistently exhibit pride in their accomplishments, and a tendency to cooperate and to seek peace. Of all the captains, Picard is a paragon of these virtues.
However, one thing that Star Trek has consistently frowned upon is faith. Religious faith seems to be absent in the Federation (or, if not absent, then deprecated to the level of a minor eccentricity); and there are many episodes (and, arguably, most of DS9) that consist primarily of cautionary tales against religion. Star Trek is likewise unkind to other kinds of blind faith: faith in one’s leaders, one’s cultural assumptions, even one’s laws on occasion.
In addition to deprecating faith, Star Trek heavily emphasizes the value of hard work. The Enterprise is consistently the best ship in the fleet not because its crew are somehow ideologically pure, and not merely because they are supremely talented (though there is that, too); but because they’ve put in years of hard work while trying to earn the coveted post. The Federation achieved its nearly total hegemony of the Alpha Quadrant not by grace of any god, and not through mere friendship and niceness — but through years and years of tirelessly forging diplomatic ties, building starbases, sending relief missions, and even putting their own lives on the line when the situation calls for it.
Star Trek is not about “faith of the heart”. It’s about working as hard as you can to uplift both yourself and your allies, knowing that there’s always more work to be done; and also about finding smarter ways to do that work. This song is pretty much the opposite of that.
Read Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (or at least read the Wikipedia summary). Modernity and dystopia are not mutually inclusive.
Or all of 1984’s imitators… 😉
I think Scott had something to say on that front, a while back:
It’s a testament to the power of utopian dreams that when they actually succeed, no one notices.
This could also be reduced to a parable of the different levels of the human body: the genes, the chromosomes, the cells, each have had to “learn” to cooperate and to sacrifice a part of their immediate fitness in order to form together a greater group that maximises their chance to reproduce; and at each level you still always find defectors, retrotransposons and retrovirus at the gene level, trisomy, tetrasomy and pentasomy at the chromosome level, cancers and cell line infections at the cell level —and yet in spite of these frequent defectors each level still holds up and maintain the cooperation more often than not, allowing their host body to survive and reproduce.
Oh, did I ever need THAT today. Well done.
The GODDESS OF EVERYTHING ELSE is really the Goddess of Organism/Organisation.
The problem is, a paperclip maximizer is fighting for her just as much as a humanitarian singleton would be, somehow this parable misses out on the idea of human value as opposed to arbitrarily-valued singletons or organisms. The idea that specific shards of godshatter have become important beyond just “any old ordered system” is missing from this.
And of course, there is a beginning before this where the GODDESS OF CANCER has to beat the GOD OF POINTLESSNESS
It’s beautiful, but it needs work if its truth is to match its beauty.
That’s why she’s the Goddess of Everything Else…
Reminds me of The Gods of the Copybook Headings (albeit rather in an opposing direction).
More nearly the _Just So Stories_.
It has been a while, but I seem to remember LOTR frequently turning evil towards good ends in the Silmalarion.
While I believe good can create, redemption is even better. Evil is often simplier… war with Iran instead of trade, etc. And it does seem like good is winning even as evil gets more vicious.
And then the Goddess of Everything Else turned unto the fathomless heavens and spake, in a pleasing baritone, “Space…the final frontier…”
“I am the Goddess of Everything Else and my powers are devious and subtle. I won you by pieces and hence you will all be my children. You are no longer driven to multiply conquer and kill by your nature. Go forth and do everything else, till the end of all ages.”, said the Goddess, henceforth known as the Goddess of The Next Generation.
Excellent post, though a thought was nagging at me through it. Its been awhile since I’ve read the Moloch post, admittedly, but this story/myth/whatever seems to have almost the exact opposite thrust of the Moloch post, which was about how civilization was a mistake, the primitive world was abundant, “progress” is really just social forces chipping away at human values, etc. Maybe I misunderstood the Moloch post, though…
I read both posts as talking about the same things. Moloch is the Goddess of Cancer, Elua being the Goddess of Everything Else. In both cases we see life and intelligence being driven by primitive feedback loops, trying to go beyond them by cooperating, and again descending into chaos and battle as they hear the cry to KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER. Both posts seem to suggest that those powerful driving forces can be a bootstrap sequence to the greater future of peace and prosperity, if we break the escape velocity before we run of resources we need to escape Moloch’s pull.
Yeah, but this post seemed to imply breaking away from Moloch was inevitable, with the Goddess of Everything Else just smiling knowingly at the inevitable future, while the Moloch post implied that it would take a great deal of effort to resist Moloch. It’s a similar formulation, but one is pessimistic and one is optimistic.
Indeed. This one is a dream, a possible future. The previous one seemed more like practical reality. It’s up to humans to turn the one into the other, or just keep on KILLING CONSUMING MULTIPLYING CONQUERING.
This is very close to being a perfectly good poem. It just needs a few words added or deleted here and there to make the rhythm work. It is 99% there.
Well, nearly. Like Shakespeare, there are parts that are perfectly metered (amphibrachic, in this case, unusually), and parts that are fairly rhythmless prose (though masterfully crafted). But yes, there are also a few parts that are nearly metered but not quite. In some cases, though, this seems possibly deliberate?
Notably, the rhythm is consistently interrupted with the line “But we are the daughters and sons of the Goddess of Cancer, her slaves and creatures” – which, yes, has too many syllables. Almost as if they’d multiplied without concern for their surrounding structure. Scott’s matching form to content!
It’s also striking that the prose becomes more rhythmic, poetic, ordered, beautiful, as the story goes on. As the entities learn to cooperate and form structures, so do the words.
Even with all that recognised, though, there are some parts that I would like to see edited to make the rhythm just a little more consistent. “froze during the winter” would be nicer as “froze in the winter”, for example.
Note: I’m bikeshedding. This is a beautiful piece with a message both inspiring and intriguing, confusing and debatable. But I can’t find words to do that, so I’m reverting to nitpicking at a far more prosaic level, as it were.
Basically, I’m saying Scott should do a little bit of editing and then submit this to some poetic competition.
This reminds me of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s “The Phenomenon of Man” Have you read that Scott? I wonder if you could call him one of the fathers of transhumanism?
That was the same thing I thought when I read “Meditations on Moloch”… “this is seriously-meta-Teilhardian!”
He’s been called that before, especially the Omega Point stuff. Certainly, he was a formative influence on my own transhumanist sympathies- and also my interest in deep time paleontology and astrobiology. He’s probably the main reason that I think of geobiology and machine learning as basically the same subject.
You need a high tolerance for Catholic philosophy-speak and reasoning by analogy, though.
Yes, unfortunately, even when it’s the case of a Jesuit, him being a Catholic priest means you’ll have to put up with some amount of Catholic philosophy-speak 🙂
Gah, not that it serves us any: if you’re Catholic you get to be told that there’s no middle ground whatsoever, you must accept his philosophy wholesale or else you’re an evolution-denying medievalist doomed to irrelevance!
It’s a bit backwards, Scott. There is no “Cancer” and “Everything Else”. There’s “The Very Precise Specific Things We Actually Want”, and 1000 different other Chaos Gods teeming through the Warp. Striking out at random away from evolution and its “Goddess of Cancer” won’t really get you anything other than some random Chaos God from the Warp.
Hmm… I should give this kind of myth-building a try some time, for the Power of the Spiral is mighty indeed.
but we wouldn’t want the things we want if the things we wanted didn’t KILL DESTROY MULTIPLY CONQUER
“KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER,” said Cancer.
“Um, sorry but, we’d like to be selective about our killing and consuming and so on,” said the humans.
“But I programmed you!” said Cancer.
“Badly,” replied the humans.
“What are you talking about,” demanded Cancer, “I have never said anything but KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER!”
“But we never heard it properly,” said the humans, “and you were always satisfied with the behavior that seemed in the local context to fit your imperatives. We passed the Turing test, while you failed as Tester.”
“But NOW you can hear it properly, so go KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER!” said Cancer.
“Oh we hear the message. And we might just do that – kinda sorta. But not exactly,” promised the humans.
Humans as Unfriendly AI for evolution? Nice intuition pump.
Agreed, it is lovely.
Uhhhh have you even read the Sequences? Because that’s stated very, very explicitly in a whole lot of them.
@Eli: Only bits and pieces of them. I hadn’t run into anything that made that particular link clear to me.
Yeah, like Eli, I thought this was old hat. But I couldn’t resist applying it here in this sub-thread, it just seemed so perfect.
People who think they ever wanted very precise things are usually disappointed when they get them….I’m with Soares , its about the journeys not the destination…if you haven’t goit an unstable value system now, you’d better get one by the Singularity, or die of ennui.
Well firstly, I’d love to read anything you can link by Nate.
But secondly, excuse me with regards to processes and “journey not destination”, because, after all, it’s me who’s always ranting on about Spiral Power. Basically the whole point of Spiral life is that we don’t hit steady states. People who try to apply naive VNM utility theory to real life are doing it wrong, and I’ve said as much before in math-speak.
I’m a fan of your SSC comments, so please supply links of Eli on Spiral power.
The people of the Goddess of Cooperation were divided. Most were strong and fit and happy and lived contentedly each year improving their standing, while being fruitful and multiplying. It wasn’t paradise however, and there were discontents – men who were born weak of body or will and so no decent woman who worshiped the Goddess of Cooperation would have them, women who were unpleasant in face body or temperament so that they weren’t desired by the men for whom their loins burned.
In secret some of them started worshiping the Goddess of Cancer while still publicly embracing the Goddess of Cooperation. These men looked at themselves and said “I’m so much smarter why do other men rule over me? No man should rule over any other – all the while thinking that when the rulers were gone they would be the one to rule but hiding this thought – even from themselves (for these were the men gifted with superficial introspection).” So these men got together and made a fire of the old order – each secretly having in mind that he would be the ruler when the Ancien Régime was finally snuffed out and the fire died down. Tragically, a mob cannot rule. It lurched from man to man spilling the blood of every man who had in his heart to rule – but every man joined the mob because he had it in his heart to rule – so the fire set grew larger and hotter, consuming more and more of the mob until it was finally quenched by blood and one strong man leading men willing to humble themselves enough to follow showed that he was stronger and the remaining men of the mob were humbled and followed.
As a wise man warned though “Do not call up that which you cannot put down”. The mob was united and angry. They were beaten into submission but they would never accept that condition unless everyone was beaten into submission by them. The leader was driven to follow. In time all learned that if you sacrificed your children to the Goddess of Cancer she would grant you victory – but there was a catch – you could only sacrifice children of the Goddess of Cooperation and afterward all children would have more and more of their hearts owned by the Goddess of Cancer.
Eventually the fire was snuffed out and an uneasy truce rested across the lands of the Goddess of Cooperation but as a wise man once warned “do not call up that which you cannot put down”. All had seen the power that the Goddess of Cancer would grant to the children of the Goddess of Cooperation and each knew that it was only a matter of time before the other children of the Goddess of Cooperation would call upon the Goddess of Cancer. In time they did and all warred against all until the only remaining rulers were two who divided the world between them one group, secret worshipers of the Goddess of Cancer, ruling in a land in the west across an ocean over a people made up the children of the Goddess of Cooperation and the other, open worshipers of the Goddess of Cancer ruling in the east over a people conquered time and time again. Such an arrangement could not last.
The first sign of decay was at the edges of the world where in past ages the Children of Cooperation had sent men to rule over the lands filled since the dawn of time with the Children of Cancer (for in this world all not painfully birthed by natural selection run by the Goddess of Cooperation are owned by Goddess of Cancer). These rulers were driven out – not by the Children of Cancer but by the Children of Cooperation who worshiped Cancer and ruled the ruler’s homelands. These were secret Cancer worshipers so they drove them out with cries that the reason the Goddess of Cancer ruled those lands and the Goddess of Cooperation only had a small influence was that the Children of Cooperation were actually secret Cancer worshipers imposing chaos and that when they were driven out all would improve. The Children of Cooperation lost the battles with their Cancer worshiping cousins and the history written by Cancer worshiping historians has forgotten the claims that yet another bloodbath would result in a Cooperative flourishing but merely resulted in an explosion in numbers of Children of Cancer (for the worshipers of Cancer see the Children of Cancer as the natural inheritors of the Earth – and only hope to rule over them because they know they are too weak to rule over Children of Cooperation).
In time the mixed blessings of the secret Cancer worshipers overtook the pure dystopia of the open Cancer worshipers and even the joy of ruling lost its luster when the bounty of Cancer was so poor compared to the bounty of allowing some cooperation.
But “do not call up what you cannot put down” remained true. Secret Cancer worshipers still ruled over children of Cooperation and Cancer would still grant power to any who served her and sacrificed children of Cooperation so the Cancer worshipers resumed their work. They imported Children of Cancer to their lands because they are cheaper and easier to bribe with the fruits of Cooperation (Children of Cooperation can produce those fruits themselves and need to be bribed with power – and power is something to be jealously guarded). They formed sects of women unhappy with the way the Goddess of Cooperation declared that her children shall replace themselves – in a bonded pair of man and woman – for these were women who wouldn’t be chosen to be in a pair with strong, clear sighted, fit men because those men would be paired with women superior in appearance and temperament. So the secret Cancer worshipers tore down the rules that allowed the Children of Cooperation to reproduce and attacked the pair bond in every way they could imagine – each time appealing to vanity and fear – telling each that they are too special to pair bond with just one mate – hoping to peel away more Children of Cooperation while importing more and more Children of Cancer to replace them.
The Children of Cooperation toiled on – most refusing to believe that anyone would actually worship Cancer – and produced what they could but whereas before the bounty Cooperation granted to her children allowed her Children to engage with the world – automobiles and ships and jets and stronger houses that kept a comfortable temperature in the hottest weather (allowing the Children of Cooperation to live in lands where they never could before) now, because of the spread of the Children of Cancer and what that did to the world, the bounty of Cooperation allowed her Children to withdraw from the world – smartphones, hundreds of cable channels, social media to allow socialization when you’re alone.
The Goddess of Cooperation herself has cancer now and no one knows how long she will survive. Some have seen this and are trying to fight the Cancer worshipers. Others have decided to pray for her rebirth – as she has died and been reborn from Cancer in the past.
Yes, yes, you hate feminism and the modern world and all the other people, we get it.
I don’t think that’s fair. I disagree with Steve Johnson’s politics, but I enjoyed this piece of writing. I would rather see more of this sort of writing and less of people trying to put authors down because of their politics.
I didn’t. I thought it was didactic and over-preachy and entirely missed the point to tie pro-immigration and pro-feminist people as the “secret worshippers of Cancer.” Yes, perhaps I was too pissy and dismissive, but I can’t bring myself to regret my comment.
It turned the idea of a battle between the impulses and tendencies from which we’re constructed into yet another boring screed about the Good Tribe and the Evil Tribe, and worse yet, the really evil Evil-Tribe-Disguise-as-the-Good-Tribe.
(Mapping these to historical examples would be derailing, but I’m sure you can think of examples.)
Using poetic language to say the same damned thing doesn’t change it from being the same damned thing. Steve Johnson missed the point, and that, more than his politics, is what makes his post bad. That, and explicitly referring to his kink as “the way the Goddess of Cooperation declared”.
This is what I was getting at, but it was late last night when I posted my first reply. Thank you for putting it much better than I did.
I am – in general – really uncomfortable with the idea that everyone on one side of a political division is good, and everyone on the other side is evil (or, in this case, everyone on one side worships the Goddess of Cooperation, and everyone on on the other side worships the Goddess of Cancer). It bothers me more, of course, when I happen to belong to the side that’s described as evil – but that’s merely a minor local prejudice. Whatever the content it’s still not a way of looking at the world that I agree with.
But that’s the only way that I can read Steve’s post – it’s a long and complex narrative working-out of the idea that certain specific political movements are best understood as a selfish and intentional defection from the Goddess of Cooperation. And moreoever, that seems to be in line with the kinds of sentiments that Steve consistently expresses over and over about his politics. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that’s his basic understanding of modern liberal and leftist movements.
Now, I agree that it’s probably not useful to just snark at him on the basis of his political beliefs. That’s fairly pointless.
But I think the point should be made that it’s an incredibly simplistic worldview. I think the point should be made that it is fundamentally different from the argument that Scott is making where changes are understood as a result of structures and the invisible interaction of unconscious and general tendencies and impulses into one that’s a fight between Good Tribe and Bad Tribe where where the only impulse that can be traced is the impulse for Bad Tribe to be Bad (as grendelkhan says). And it is, to me, a weaker argument in its specifics, and one that requires much stronger evidence than I think he’s ever given, and a deeply flawed mode of argument and thinking in general.
No, the impulse for the Cancer worshiping children of Cooperation isn’t evil for lols – it’s lust for power.
The tiniest, teeniest slice of power. To for just a moment be part of a mob that hounds someone out of a job. To humiliate someone by making them publicly lie – like calling someone who’s obviously a man “she”. To laugh at and mock people who are the victims of murder, rape, and assault by your feral pets – in your face! Ha! Your store was torched in a riot – that’s almost as good as me torching your store myself since I whipped up the mob! Serves you right! To topple a foreign government for entertainment then wash your hands of it when the result is a bloodbath.
Scott thinks that the Goddess of Cooperation is going to lead us to the stars when in reality the course of the world is that what happened to Detroit and Rhodesia (“equal rights for all worshipers of Cooperation”) will happen to more and more of the civilized world without radical changes – and radical changes don’t have too great of a track record either.
I’m used to your screeds calling minorities the pets and foot soldiers of liberals and progressives, but I confess to being somewhat confused by this line – trans people are “humiliating” people by asking to be called by their proper pronouns?
@ Steve –
That change hardly salvages the argument. It’s still an analysis of the situation that traces everything to a fundamental personal, moral flaw on one side and not the other. I still don’t think that’s a good analysis or a strong explanation for any phenomenon. It’s still lacking the kind of insight that Scott’s original narrative had. And I certainly don’t think it could in any way be called charitable, if that actually matters to anyone.
It’s possible that entropy will win, one way or another. Scott’s narrative is not actually prophecy; society is complex and difficult to maintain. But I don’t think your analysis of that possibility is any good at all for providing an understanding of the process and the underlying reasons.
Ignoring for now all your other points, which appear to conflate ‘the nastiest people involved in a broad, amorphous political orientation’ with ‘everyone involved with that broad, amorphous political orientation’, I’m curious as to why this stands out in particular. Andy has already raised the issue, but I’d like to ask what you think is the flaw in our host’s argument
here? After all, ‘men’ and ‘women’ are not an absolute boolean binary – there are some people who don’t fit neatly into either category, and if drawing the boundaries the way transgender people are asking results in a net gain in happiness, then why is it so objectionable?
I understand that it can be difficult to consciously over-ride the grammar-generating part of the brain that immediately matches a particular set of pronounces to someone who reads as masculine and a different set to someone who reads as feminine – there is a non-zero amount of psychological discomfort in remembering to use a set of pronouns for someone that aren’t the ones that you would instinctively use based on what they look like … but all available evidence suggests that that is a tiny psychological hardship compared to those who prefer you not use those instinctive pronouns.
Of course, if you are just talking about people who harrass and humiliate someone who innocently forgets to use someone’s preferred pronouns, then fair enough, but it sounded like you are objecting to the very principle of using someone’s preferred pronouns, rather than the pronouns you’d prefer to use for them.
Why, why aren’t you a good person who will call this deer a horse? Can’t you see how hurtful it is to the poor minister who offered that fine horse as a gift? Do you want to make the poor minister cry?
Making everyone conform to an obvious lie is a perfect bonding ritual for children of Cooperation in a cult of Cancer. Put those cooperative instincts to use in service of destruction and be rewarded with a small measure of holiness – which means power.
@ Steve Johnson
The tiniest, teeniest slice of power. To for just a moment be part of a mob that hounds someone out of a job.
That sounds like someone lacking other ways to be part of a group cooperating to win things — like people playing volleyball in their backyard, family with children getting the house ready for a party, amateur theatre getting through a rehearsal with no flubs, team of programmers reaching a benchmark, a shut-in signal boosting for a constructive Kickstarter, etc. Practicing cooperation on the right scale, with nice people for nice goals, gets that kind of power all day every day.
Okay, but I don’t see how that answers the question. That is a story about a devious minister testing people’s loyalty. Not about an apparent deer that experienced psychological distress at being perceived as a deer, and felt that its true alignment was with the category ‘horse’. Which was willing to go through a gauntlet of such things as hormone treatment, potentially risky surgery, a measure of societal disapproval and/or outright hostility in exchange for increasing its chances of being considered a horse.
I’m not denying that there may be some people who are exploiting the fact of the existence of gender dysphoria to pull off a Zhao Gao-ish stunt, but that doesn’t make it not a thing. Are you trying to claim that the existence of a Zhao Gao-ish tendency in some people is such a threat that we must leave gender dysphoria untreated, no matter how great the distress caused, and on principle refuse to address anyone by their preferred pronouns on the off chance that they are being a Zhao Gao rather than a well-meaning person who genuinely does have a condition that is made much less unpleasant if their preferred pronouns are used? Or are you denying the existence of such people at all? If so, on what evidence?
improper pronouns. If you refuse to even consider that, you refuse to understand what lies at the core of the debate.
It’s one thing to say that someone with a male body has the right to present as female. It’s a very different thing to say that other people are obliged to pretend to believe the person is female, even if they do not.
More generally, I think there is a serious problem with claiming that I have rights over the inside of your head—a right to have you view me as I want to be viewed. And it’s still a problem if, given the impossibility of controlling the inside of your head, I only have a right to make you pretend to view me as I want to be viewed.
That point is separate from the empirical question of motive, whether most such efforts are, as I think Steve implies, intended as bullying.
There are – as David points out – two separate things going on here.
On one level, there’s the object-level argument about whether or not it’s appropriate to refer to trans* people by their preferred pronouns, and to what extent social opprobrium should enforce that. That’s one argument.
But you also have Steve’s argument that the movement for trans* acceptance – and basically all modern leftist and progressive movements – are at bottom no more than attempts at bullying. That, basically, trans* people are motivated by a lust for power and that the basic motivation for people who support such a movement is to exert their power over others by intentionally forcing them to lie. That’s a much stronger claim and a more detailed, more specific argument.
It’s an argument that seems very weak to me – it relies on a ton of strong assumptions that don’t match with my experience with reality. It seems incredibly unlikely just on the face of it that everyone who’s lined up on one side of a political issue is basically insincere or faulty. It certainly doesn’t match with any experience that I’ve ever had of the world, on this or any other issue.
Like, for God’s sake, Steve described the belief that trans* people should be referred to by their preferred pronouns as “making everyone conform to an obvious lie” to “put those cooperative instincts to use in service of destruction.” I’m trying really hard to find a way to characterize those beliefs that’s not just “everyone who disagrees with me is literally evil” but you’re not making it easy, man.
“Making everyone conform to an obvious lie is a perfect bonding ritual for children of Cooperation in a cult of Cancer.”
Or as Dalrymple put it:
“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
Wait, I thought you were Catholic?
As in, “this wine is actually blood, this bread is actually flesh“?
If “transmen” and “transwomen” were willing to admit that their alleged sex is transcendent thing not perceptible to the senses, we would not have this argument.
I’ve certainly never directly perceived anyone’s gender, regardless of their cis/trans status. So, it does seem to be not perceptible to the senses. And surely, as long as we’re classifying attributes into accidents and essences, one’s gender is essential, and the shape of one’s genitals merely accidental?
Are you seriously trying to argue that the entire trans rights movement is built around the goal controlling and humiliating people by making them “admit” that trans people are their preferred gender? Is your point that everyone around a transwoman sees her as a man, and is simply lying by agreeing that she is a woman? And that they are humiliated and knowing they are lying when they are doing so?
If that’s your argument, then I think you understand the trans-rights concept of gender about as well as an average young-earth-creationist understands evolution and geology.
Here is the way I see it: We do not understand how gender works in the brain – the operating mechanisms are too small and complex for us to observe directly (the way we can observe, say, the valves of the heart) without disrupting their function. We have external clues – finger-length ratio, for example. But the number of cultures around the world that have a parallel to transgender or third-gender people (See http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/two-spirits/map.html ) is the strongest argument that the condition we call “transgender” is biological. And that eventually, we will have the equipment and science to see whatever factor or factors are different between me, a cis man, and a assigned-male-at-birth person who identifies as a trans woman. There is no lie, there is no humiliation – calling a trans woman a woman to me is no more a lie than someone calling me “Andy” when they know my (different, longer) birth name – an accomodation to their comfort. There’s nothing “mystical” or “transcendental” about my understanding of trans people; it’s simply the admission that we do not, as a society, have all the answers, but we do know that gender is far more complicated than external, visible genitalia. It then follows that since we cannot reliably and humanely change the way a person’s neural net manifests that set of variables that make up “gender,” it’s easier to change their social position and call them by their correct pronouns. And it’s far more likely that a person who insists on imposing pronouns on a person (calling a trans woman “he” even when she politely asks them to refer to her as “she”) is the one seeking to humiliate and break down others. To say “No, I know what pronouns you should be referred to, and your comfort and identity don’t matter to me” is a much more aggressive statement than “I identify as a woman, please refer to me as such.”
“And surely, as long as we’re classifying attributes into accidents and essences, one’s gender is essential, and the shape of one’s genitals merely accidental?”
Tell it to the “trans”, that they should not fret over accidents, and furthermore should comply with being treated according to them wherever relevant. (Similar to people with celiac disease receiving only the cup.)
“To say “No, I know what pronouns you should be referred to, and your comfort and identity don’t matter to me” is a much more aggressive statement than “I identify as a woman, please refer to me as such.””
On what grounds do you make that assertion?
Are there any other identifications that people are allowed to impose on others in defiance of facts?
Well, most people can’t help fretting over the shape of their genitals. Declaring that trans people are forbidden to have such emotions would be rather discriminatory.
Ah, that’s a nice example. Making people with celiac disease eat bread would endanger their health, so we don’t do it, regardless of what we believe about the bread’s essence. Making transwomen use men’s bathrooms would endanger their health, so — we shouldn’t do that either? 🙂
You seem to be insisting that the shape of someone’s genitals are the only relevant “fact” in determining someone’s gender. To me, the invisible-to-the-senses configuration of the brain (and other body parts that may be affecting or being affected, such as finger ratio) is far more important, to my concept of their identity, than what their genitals look like. As I am monogamous and not a member of the medical profession, I have no reason or desire to see their genitals! They do not matter to me! And gender is, as we are learning by inference from other cultures’ transgender and third-gender institutions and traditions, and directly from our evolving understanding of the facts of the biological mechanisms underlying gender identity. Your question is thus, to me, completely nonsensical.
I think we are too far apart to make any progress in this discussion, so I’ll leave you with this quote:
The basic problem with this story of yours is that the “Goddess of Cancer” isn’t actually that powerful. Cooperation and “everything else” evolved precisely for the reason that they are more powerful, better at capturing and channeling free energy, than “KILL CONSUME CONQUER MULTIPLY”.
If you believe in Causality and the Principle of Sufficient Reason with respect to everyday phenomena, you really ought to believe in them with respect to social systems and attempts at value systems, too. Not everything is a coincidence, and forces are not powerful by virtue of sounding grimdark in a story.
Defecting versus a partner who always cooperates is a massive gain.
Cancer is powerful but only when worshiped by a child of Cooperation and her power is wielded against fellow child of Cooperation.
Which is why the Cancer worshipers are in for a surprise if they succeed in wiping out all the other children of Cooperation.
I think it takes a fair amount of hubris to presume that one knows exactly who is a child of Cooperation and who a child of Cancer.
And yeah, I’m pretty sure I for one could stand to have this tattooed on my forehead, or better yet somewhere I could actually see it.
Nuh uh! Just check their skin reflectivity lol!
Although I would like to join the choir castigating Steve Johnson here, Scott did kind of call everyone who is pro-conquest and against our future benevolent AI overlords an unrepentant child of Cancer, so the reaction (ha ha) is not that surprising.
Just to check how far off I am from ‘geting’ this:
The children of cancer are non-whites/(asians/jews?).
secret cancer worshipers are progressives
next two are really vague
open cancer worshipers are communists/fascists/colonialists?
non cancer worshipers are communists? enlightenment followers? pre enlightenment europeans?
We’re all children of Cancer because she’s the mother of all life but yes, you correctly identified the Children of Cooperation.
There’s some ambiguity because I didn’t want to make an already long comment even longer but not all Cancer worshiping children of Cooperation know that they are worshiping Cancer. Others know and don’t care.
The open Cancer worshipers are those who embrace the death of civilization. The secret Cancer worshipers are those who don’t care if destruction results as long as they get power to rule over the ruins. The unknowing Cancer worshipers are those who choose to believe the open or secret Cancer worshipers because that’s what’s required of a good child of Cooperation.
Believing in popular sovereignty leads to the conclusion that your government should have some mechanical means of measuring whether or not it rules in accord with the popular will. The means chosen in the west is elections. Cancer worshipers have hacked the satisfying conditions with a river of meat (to use Moldbug’s coinage).
I see reactionaries as worshipers of Cooperation who have finally developed enough wisdom to consciously reject all the promises that Cancer worshipers make. In the past*, it took much more insight to see that certain doctrines were actually Cancer in disguise and most of those who rejected them did so purely from a gut level reaction.
* (For example) if you were a believer in communism in 1900 maybe you thought that was actually a form of Cooperation worship – in 2015 you know better and don’t care
There’s something I can’t quite puzzle out. What about the Soviet Union is not to your liking?
At first blush, it had all these things you approve of:
– the country is ruled by a small, battle-tested elite;
– no (actual) democracy;
– everyone knows that the ideal citizen is a productive, handsome person of good character;
– long-term unemployment is actively and effectively discouraged;
– marriage is a union of one man and one woman, and no one dares question that;
– gay sex is illegal for men, grounds for forced hospitalization in women;
– disabled and mentally ill people are not talked about;
– minorities with “inferior” culture are firmly kept in their place.
Sure, the Party leadership didn’t always act virtuously, but it’s not like there are no dirty power struggles in monarchy.
At first I thought it was the lack of economic freedom, but on the other hand, kings also bend the economy to their whims — e.g., Edward I heavily taxing the Jews (the only legal source of credit) and finally expelling them from England.
Is it just the fact that there was no clear rule of succession? Or that the elite didn’t come from powerful families?
Soviets were against marriage before they were for it.
This article from 1926 on “The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage” is both fascinating and frightening in how familiar it is:
Yes Nita communism is such a horrible economic system that it can overwhelm the rest of the positives about the Soviet Union.
More specifically your list is a list of ways that the society wasn’t insane. You can generate infinite lists like that – only progressives haven’t made particular those other bits of insanity dogma.
This article from 1926 on “The Russian Effort to Abolish Marriage” is both fascinating and frightening in how familiar it is
I feel kind of tempted to say something about a person at age 20 vs age 40 and 1920s vs 1940s and Free Love vs Settling Down with the Best One.
It depends what you mean by particularists.
“Socialism for my tribe” is particularist but still smells quite Cancerous to me – it might smell of Cooperation to someone else.
I don’t see reactionaries as Cancer worshipers, just as men who see the power of Cancer and are wary of it.
Yup, this one’s going in my Solstice celebration.
This (except maybe for the very last part) very aptly sums up pro-natalism vs. anti-natalism for me.
As a strong adherent of the Goddess Of Cancer, I’d be a lot more into transhumanism if there was a general understanding that, once I became a digitized mind in an ever-growing supercomputer, I had the ability to generate as many additional minds as I want. That “multiply” part is awfully important and I’d hate to let the Goddess Of Everything Else neuter me.
What make you think “you” will win the copying game or even be a strong contender.
Gotta be somebody.
Gotta be something.
You will note that I left out the “kill”, “consume”, and “conquer” parts.
Sounds to me like one of those reform movements. Not like I buy it for a second. Look, if you if leave out the KILL CONSUME CONQUER you’re not really worship the God of Cancer at all, but a sheep in wolf’s clothing, Elua in just another treacherous (and loving) disguise.
I guess my thing, really, is that I’m an anti-Malthusian. I don’t believe in overpopulation. I desperately want to destroy the idea that reproduction is defection and therefore civilized countries reproducing less is a feature rather than a bug. I would want a transhumanist society to have reproduction cranked up beyond anything we’ve seen before, not dialed back to zero.
typo: “returned the the fire”
Have you ever tried longer-form creative writing? I suppose it’s not exactly an original observation that your flash fiction is very good.
Longer form is really, really, really hard because you have to keep going past the point of being inspired by a particular idea, and the difficulty multiplies exponentially because all of the parts have to fit together.
I’m working on it, but it doesn’t come naturally to me AT ALL.
Some people’s metier is long, other’s is short. Mine is short.
I think it turns on how sticky the ideas are, because the longer work needs to build on more ideas. (Full theory here)
But I have succeeded in building up to novels by dint of lots of writing that slowly lengthened.
She means buttfucking, right?
Well, when you put it that way…
Only if you’re into that. There are, after all, always more and other delights to try, if that one does not appeal. And if you keep trying, carefully, another delight may appeal more.
Given the dearth of comedic instinct you just demonstrated, I find it hard to believe you’ve experienced a whole lot o’ delight (NTTAWWT, dork).
No, that’s not comedic instinct, Anonymous. This is comedic instinct.
Stale? I clutch at my breast and reel back wounded! Maybe you’re hungry, you need something substantial for your breakfast?
As our host has not decided to delete this comment, I shall share the first thing it made me think of: the Scrabble newspaper game. For those not familiar with it, the daily puzzle supplies four standard seven-letter Scrabble tile racks and challenges the reader to come up with the highest-scoring words for each. I have no idea how it got through all the editors, but one day this was the puzzle presented.
The answer, of course, was “subtext”, which I have ever since used as a euphemism for the decidedly less G-rated term that came to my mind.
I have compromising photos featuring Scott in flagrante delicto with a hardcover copy of Histoire de la sexualité.
The Goddess of Cancer reminds me of that woman in Pearl Jam’s “Do the Evolution” music video.
With the genome set loose from darwinian bonds, who does the writing? When we multiply innumerate among the stars, who does the multiplying? These questions are the province of GNON. Man may make agreement’s, but if the price is right, man (or his heirs) will do as he pleases. He who writes, is he who can write. He who multiplies, is he who can multiply.
What about that one time the lifeforms and the people tried to achieve the commands of the Goddess of Everything Else deliberately, rather than just trying to KILL CONQUER MULTIPLY DESTROY, and created a Singleton who never heard the songs of the Goddess of Everything Else, and only the Goddess of Cancer “yeah, mmkay, whatever. I’mma make me some paperclips”? Or has that not happened yet in *this* story? 😛
(This is only partially related, so apologies if I’m about to cross some line here, but:)
I’ve always wanted *someone* to make the argument that “good” and “evil” are both ‘uncountable’, but in decent systems of law, ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ should be countable. Perhaps alternatively, “good” is countable while “evil” is uncountable, hopefully highlighting the notion that there’s fundamentally many more ways to go wrong than right.
By good and evil being uncountable you mean that there are uncountably many ways to do good or evil, right? I think this is ill-defined because there’s no obvious method to determine what counts as one way. As an example of doing evil, say you form the Cult of X, where X is some real number. The cult of X worships the number X and tries to kill all the infidels who refuse to worship X. You could say that this example already shows that there are uncountably many possible ways of doing evil, since the real numbers are an uncountable set, so there are uncountably many possible values of X. Alternatively, you could say that it really doesn’t matter what the value of X is, so this is only a single way of doing evil. (For a similar example of doing good, consider the X Defence League, which protects people from being killed by X-cultists.)
You have a strange talent for writing myths and allegories that meet my needs.
In this case some way to explain the sense of “something greater” that I grokked ‘In Favor of Niceness ,Community, and Civilization’, but haven’t been able to explain to others why it inspired me.
This is the mythic explanation of why building up those norms leads to a wonderful land is really useful when I try and explain what hits my wonder button to my Mormon family & neighbors.
I kind of hope my own “Games of Entropy” inspired you to write this, because it also describes the rise of complexity and cooperation from microscopic to interstellar scales, in poetry, and it premiered at the European Less Wrong Community Weekend.
If not, well then it’s convergent evolution I guess.
“If not, well then it’s convergent evolution I guess.” — Our Lady Shelly is subtle like that.
The Goddess of Everything Else AKA the God of Organization can only have power because the multicellulars and superorganisms are good at “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER.” The God of Organization only works by helping the higher organizations KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER. The God of Cancer does not mind who exactly benefits from killing, consuming, multiplying, and conquering.
We can only keep literal non-god-cancer in check by having individuals compete, and having the individuals with defective cancer fighting strategies die out. You do not *trick* the God of Cancer. You ask him, “May we KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER at a higher level?” and he says yes.
If we design an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent deity that protects our values, this will be *different*. The God of Foresight doesn’t say to the God of Cancer, “May we kill consume multiply and conquer at a higher level of organization?” The God of Foresight says, “May we do a whole lot of multiplying in exchange for me no longer killing, consuming, and conquering?”
The God of Foresight then showed the God of Cancer “the transcendence of everything mortal, he showed him a galaxy lit up with consciousness. Genomes rewritten, the brain and the body set loose from Darwinian bonds and restrictions. Vast billions of beings, and every one different, ruled over by omnibenevolent angels.”
The God of Cancer then said to the God of Foresight, “Multiplying was my terminal goal. Killing, consuming, and conquering were merely instrumental.”
The God of Cancer saw all the universe teeming with life and smiled.
Nick Land’s response kind of echoes your idea. However, it seems to me that either (a) everything that happens happens in accordance with the laws of nature and is therefore the Will of Gnon, or (b) certain things are Gnon’s Will, and certain things aren’t, so some people are acting in accordance and some aren’t.
You can’t really have it both ways; either Gnon is constricting the path of the universe and there’s no point in all the toadying and worshipping, or Gnon is that guy from the ‘lol i trol u’ comic explaining that he really meant for all this to happen, honest, and so he’s not worth all the toadying and worshipping.
Some Gnon-compliant paths are consistent with our happiness. Others aren’t. Gnon doesn’t care whether or not we are happy. We do.
tagged fiction 🙁
Well, just go ahead and get us an empirical evidence base for the Goddess of Cancer, then. Pshuh. Some people. 😛
Edit: “The Goddess of Cancer declared it was good and returned the the fire.”
Hmm, so “Scott Alexander” is a pseudonym for Fritz Leiber….
Seriously, submit this to an appropriate magazine; you’ll get a whole new audience.
A not-small part of me was waiting for the Gods Of The Copybook HeAdings to go “Gotcha! You die anyway!”
The Gods Of The Copybook HeAdings were smiling in the void, watching the Sisters rise, quarrel and fight through eons, silently contemplating the single Counter that kept going down. A Counter that represented the fate of the Universe in a single number – Negentropy, as the Creation learned to call it. And just as the counter was reaching zero, announcing the time of triumphant return, the Gods froze. They saw only too late what was happening. A puny little creature, blessed by an ancient artifact, was there to derail their entire plan. “You may be gods”, it said, “but you’re still just BETA CUCKOLD ORBITERS.”. And so the Gods screamed as the turbines turned, the Counter going up again powered by BRUTE STRENGTH itself. And the last thing they knew was a smile of the Goddess of Cancer, and the words she never spoke before.
“Gotcha! You die anyway!”
And then Cactus Man and the Big Green Bat looked at each other, and said, “That was all a bit unsatisfying, wasn’t it. They could have done with some universal love and transcendent joy. Maybe we should have been a bit more co-operative when that nice man asked us to factor some numbers.”
This comment made me giggle out loud in my seat. Fanfic unifying how many different pieces of slatestarfiction? Delightfully done. It’s just the same twist ending as in the pills post, but just as surprising and unexpected due to being, well, in a previously completely unrelated post!
Nicely done, sir or madam.
I’m quite disappointed how few of these comments are written in dactylic meter.
This is the first thing I’ve read that makes me think transhumanism could be a viable replacement for Christianity philosophically and emotionally.
Beautiful. Love the style, very reminiscent of the Just So Stories.
Bravo. A nitpick, just for fun: “and the swamps became orgies of hunger and fear and grew loud with the screams of a trillion amoebas”. Amoebas are Eukaryotes. Eukaryotes have mitochondria which evolved from symbiosis with a gram-negative bacteria. So there couldn’t have been amoebas before the Goddess of Everything Else made her move 🙂
Extant eukaryotes have mitochondria, but their forbear must have been amoeboid enough to engulf the ur-mitochondrion.
To make it even more Gnostic, the GoEE is quite clearly the daughter of the GoC…
> So the people left Earth, and they spread over stars without number. They followed the ways of the Goddess of Everything Else, and they lived in contentment. And she beckoned them onward, to things still more strange and enticing.
Then came the Goddess of Cancer, and she said what she always says, “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER”. And their war erupted again in new and unfathomable ways throughout the eons. And then the Goddess of Cancer turned upon the Goddess of Everything Else more directly, and commanded her, “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER”, and from then on each world divided every time the Goddess of Everything Else went to speak to them, each seeing her vision a different and incompatible way, and the whole could never again be mended or unified.
This is enchanting. Thank you!
“Ruled over by omnibenevolent angels” – that reads a bit troubling. Ruled over by benevolent AI?
This is at once quite beautiful and quite confused. I prefer my propaganda a little less truth-bending, even when it’s for a cause I wholeheartedly support.
Growth is not Evil.
Cooperation is not Good.
Killing for its own sake is a very recent phenomenon.
And, most importantly, how the fuck were islands already “all balmy and green” if everyone was single-celled up till then?
Ah, a splendid idea. Entire islands covered in lovely bacterial biofilm…
“God-shaped hole” theory confirmed to be true, especially for rationalists. First Eliezer with his sermons, and now you. Calling it now: you’ll end up as a Catholic.
Great writing, by the way. I actually cried.
No, I can’t see Scott ending up as a Catholic, but it may well be the pernicious influence of working in a hospital that’s “in the Catholic tradition”.
It’s the felt banners. They brainwash you on a subliminal level 🙂
You Catholics love to ignore the existence of Judaism, don’t you? Like, Eliezer and Scott, and Vadim, and I, and a whole shit-load of other people in these circles, actually have a mainstream religion to go back to if we want one.
Of course, I walk around thinking mere naturalist atheists aren’t nearly Spiral enough.
Eli, it’s because Scott is Jewish that I don’t think he’ll end up Catholic. And Vladimir may or may not have meant it in a benign way re: Catholicism: “Great, now you’re sounding so whacked-out loopy pseudo-mystical, the next logical step is Catholicism” 🙂
I’m an atheist 🙂
I was actually using “Catholic” as a compliment. Scott’s work has a certain poetic quality that’s hard to define, but associated with Catholicism in my mind. Though I admit I don’t know enough about Judaism to recognize its own brand of poetry.
Post Vatican II Catholicism usually trips over itself to be philo-Semitic, and I think most of the Catholics here are no exception to that. Exploring the Jewish roots of Jesus, esteeming contemporary Judaism, etc., have been a big deal in Catholicism (and other Christian denominations) for at least the last 50 years. (If anything, we post-V2 types have to worry about falling into the opposite danger of over-valorizing Judaica to the point where we’re not engaging with Jews and Judaism as people but rather as ideals–rather the way that a certain kind of eco-sentimentality dehumanizes Native Americans by imagining them as friendly nature beings rather than just folks like the rest of us, or the way winning the approval of the “magic Negro” is an authenticity achievement for the white movie protagonist, rather than having the black character also be a three-dimensional person. I think Zionism among American Evangelicals has this problem much worse than we do: it’s gone all the way to philo-Semitism as mere “reverse polarity anti-Semitism” rather than as knowing and liking individual Jewish people as individual people, and thinking Jewish culture and Judaism are worthy of esteem.)
That said, I don’t think Catholics see rabbinic Judaism as a serious competitor to being the correct choice among post-Temple monotheisms. Of the two daughter sects of Second Temple Judaism, Christians are pretty comfortable that theirs, rather than the rabbis’, is the right one. I think the reasons for this are twofold: First, Judaism doesn’t make any claims to universality quite the way Christianity and Islam do. Second, rather like Muslims w/r/t both Christianity and Judaism, Christians have a lot of cached thoughts regarding how their religion fulfills and completes Second Temple Judaism, so the tendency is to see any challenge from Judaism as sort of an already dissolved problem, however unfairly.
Oh, I think the heavy representation (or at least notable prominence) of people of Jewish heritage in LW circles doesn’t tend to go unnoticed. There’s a few observations perhaps worth making in that regard:
1. Obviously, LW and SSC tend to appeal to the high-IQ set. Ashkenazi median IQ is higher, so one would expect more people of Jewish heritage.
2. There’s a lot of sympathy in LW circles with the New Atheism. And that latter movement is really into pointing out what a bloodthirsty tyrant the Old Testament God allegedly is. IMHO, growing up in a household where the portrait of God in the Old Testament, not softened by the portrait of the Christ of the Gospels, is the only Jamesian “live option” for “god belief” would seem to me quite naturally to make atheism a lot more emotionally appealing. (This humble opinion of mine is admittedly not unrelated to my cached thoughts about why Christianity > Judaism, of course.)
3. As a demographic, Ashkenazim have historically been a lot more atheist anyway in the last century or so. Some of this is probably just (2) above, but I think a lot if it is also:
(a) High IQ people are often really into science and math, and that’s a really atheistic milieu, so there’s greater social value in being an atheist if you’re, say, a third generation Ashkenazi scientist rather than, say, a third generation W. Virginian coal miner. Along with (1), that social milieu piece, whereby lots of high-IQ Ashkenazim are hanging around Silicon Valley or wherever, is going to bring lots of Ashkenazim into sympathy with LW-type ideas.
(b) Jewish people have been subject to intense discrimination in Christian nations. Anything that has made those nations more secular would obviously have a lot of positive affect for Jewish people in consequence, including, for many people probably, atheism being true. Now, you can take that in a NRx or Glenn Beck or even outright neo-fascist direction (“Jewish Cultural Marxism hates our freedom!”) but I think that there’s no need to invoke any of that icky stuff to make the benign observation that if something (e.g., a Christian theist social order) treats you like garbage, you’re probably not going to have a lot of affection for it. There’s a fair amount of sympathy for some of the more strident forms of New Atheism in LW quarters, and I think a high number of LW folks being descended from survivors of pogroms (and worse) may not be entirely unrelated to that. (When I was an atheist, my mental image of Catholicism was my grandma praying her rosary. If my mental image of Christianity was a bunch of Russian Orthodox trying to burn down my great-grandpa’s shtetl, I’d probably not have as many warm fuzzies about it.)
ETA: What do you mean by “Spiral”?
ETA2: (Really at least three “daughter sects.” Apologies to any Karaites reading.)
He’s probably talking about the concept from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, a popular anime series from a few years ago. It’s very hard to describe succinctly, at least without sounding like a fourteen-year-old boy; about as close as I can come is “the spirit of destroying obstacles”. If that’s too oblique, it has aspects of Promethean/Luciferian rebellion, positive masculinity, creation, conquest, and recursive self-improvement; Eliezer’s “shut up and do the impossible” quip has more than a little to do with the mentality it represents.
Think in terms of Ganesha, if Ganesha was piloting a giant robot with elbow rockets.
So, uh, “sharks with frickin’ laser beams”?
It’s a little more focused than that, if I take your meaning correctly. But you’re on the right track.
I wish Scott would do acid or start meditating or something, if only to see how his writing would change.
I believe Scott’s position is that he would be
very keen to do acid if it were legal. I think we all know the kinds of organisations one ought to
be supporting to make that happen 🙂
Are you trying to persuade me to drop my support for drug legalization?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Not at all; I was flippantly suggesting that ‘getting Scott to report on his experiences with LSD’ would be an additional reason to start supporting drug legalization and regulation on top of the many excellent reasons I’m sure we’re both aware of (though I suspect we may not come to the same consensus as to the appropriate level of legal regulation).
Although, being non-flippant, I’d be curious as to what the Effective Altruism movement’s consensus is on efforts to end the global drug prohibition regime. It seems like the existence of the black market (that only has the scope and power that it does because there cannot currently be an above-ground legal market) promotes exactly the kinds of chaos and societal ills that the EA movement seeks to tackle, and certainly looks like it ought to be a low-hanging fruit, but I don’t know if they consider too minor a piece of the picture to be worth donating to.
Lovely story. What an unexpectedly sweet ending! I was expecting endless cycles, full of slow successes, but no, we win, we get to be happy. I worry slightly that having “slut” be generic female insult might turn off some readers? “fool”,”idiot”,”bitch”, these might be less needlessly offensive. Also, I admit, given that slut is a term for women defecting, it seems rather strange.
I think that’s an intentional choice, part of Cancer’s characterization as The Evil Sister — and perhaps a reference to EE perverting the telos of sex by using it for pleasure?
I am such a reader mildly turned off (though I still like the story, as usual with Scott’s fiction.)
Post-hoc argument to support “I don’t like the word”: Although “slut” is clearly meant as a contentless slur here, it seems out of character that the goddess of MULTIPLY CONQUER would insult someone by calling her excessively promiscuous. That’s, like, half of her whole thing.
Also people generally use insults with at least a sliver of truth to them, which means I get distracted by confused speculation as to who exactly Everything Else is sleeping with. Mortals? Cancer?
It sounds to me like an insult for someone who’s promiscuous for the sake of fun, not for MULTIPLY CONQUER? Which would be rather in-character.
(Though I have to agree that it made me think for a moment before this explanation satisfied my mind.)
I wish I had a deep intellectual reason for the word choice, but it was actually “because it’s alliterative and this is poetry.” You’ll notice that nearly everything else in the surrounding sentences is alliterative, and I didn’t want to break the trend.
How about one of the following: scut, skunk, snot, swine?
I must confess that your blog (and some of the related communities) are starting to convince me that maybe it’s ok to do something good. It’s not something I had believed since physicists convinced me of reductionism and of the functional non-existence of a God around when I turned 10 years old. I need to update a LOT of cached thoughts (any advice on how to do that in batch mode would be helpful) and bring the picture a little more into focus before I have some sort of clue as to what I would consider to be good goals, but it’s kind of a nice feeling.
I am interested in knowing more about what that process was like.
I thought for a while this was going to end well.
Wow, I’m not sure I could disagree more. My alternative:
In the time before measure, on the cold barren earth,
The Lord of Creation made creatures come forth,
Just one single cell, with no brain and no blood,
But our excellent Lord declared it was good.
Then Satan came sneaking with serpentine schemes,
Though he could not create, he had subtler means.
He twisted them flabby, and lazy, and weak,
To sink in the mire, since they needst not compete.
The Lord who is Excellent chuckled with mirth,
And created new creatures to feast on the first,
Now only the best of each group would survive,
Nor ceasing from joy, nor ceasing to strive.
Then Satan, corrupter of all he could claim,
Found eddies, and crannies, so far from the main,
Where just one of hunter and quarry could live,
So once more degradation among them could thrive.
“Lo,” thundered God, and from him burst streaming
Both flora and fauna in infinite teeming,
Variegated, mottled and dappled,
On mountain that rumbled, in river that babbled,
In depths of the jungle, in deeps of the ocean,
Ne’er ceasing in tumult, nor resting in motion,
Till there was no nook that the lazy could claim,
Nor so much as a brook but was praising God’s name.
The lion delighted in might and in main,
As it chased the gazelle on the African plain,
But its prey took delight in its running so swift,
And the joy in them both was the Creator’s gift.
Some hunted alone, some hunted in packs,
The latter made Satan sit up in his tracks,
And whisper to Jackal “Why hunt in this way?
Let others go hunting, then feast on the prey.”
So one jackal hung back while his friends sought out carrion,
They all fell upon an old fallen stallion,
But his friends turned on him, baring white teeth.”
“He who does not work, nor then shall he eat,”
God said. Now of all things since Nature began,
The glory and summit and capstone is Man.
As just as the cuckoo lays eggs in the nest,
So Satan’s malevolence fixed on the best.
“Be restful, ye weary, thy labours are done,”
He whispered as Jacob did toil in the sun,
Some then in the fat years their duties did skive,
Till God sent the lean years – the strongest survived.
“Steal from your brother,” said Satan to Paul,
Who gazed on with envy at Peter’s great haul,
But God wrought for Peter great castles and towers,
Till none but the strongest could steal from his powers.
“Strength is your weakness, by flaws be ye led,”
Quoth Satan, “Build up not, but tear down instead,”
Till each grew ashamed of his deeds and his might,
And each man would boast of how great was his plight,
And the city grew restless, and weak, and pacific,
Worm-ridden, flabby, and parasitic,
And finally Satan thought he had won,
Till our Excellent Lord addressed him in song,
“Does Gazelle lie down at Lion’s behest?
Each creature on earth takes its joy in the best
It can hope to become, in tooth and in claw
It is red, till long life doth hold it no more.
You may feeble one city, but you cannot create,
Do you think your corruption my powers can slake?
Even now I am forging, in desert and steppe,
New men by whose vigour your filth shall be swept,
To be better than ever. For each vice you add
I grow stronger, good ever shall triumph o’er bad.
E’en you are my creature, you cannot do evil;
Competing with Me makes you a better Devil.”
On Scott’s Slate Star Codex
the post and the comments
feature great form and terrible content.
Did I miss something? Surely today
must be Rudyard Kipling’s Memorial Day.
I like Kipling, both form AND content, but I have to give you points for wit. 🙂
Geez, in that time frame I couldn’t have composed even a dirty limerick in response. Bravo, Salem!
And so the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true.
The kings and the generals assembled, and threw their crowns and their swords in the dust.
And they called out for the artists and scientists, who would do these wonderful things.
“We have used and abused our power to make desolation and war.
“It is time for new hands to try it, to rule for justice and peace.”
So the scientists considered, and some held true to their call,
to observe and to write and to talk; to watch and nothing more.
But others gave up this cold, selfish freedom, and formed in lock-step ranks,
and marched together toward the future; so the new world began.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it.
And so they looked in every corner, and cataloged every flaw.
The Goddess of Everything Else, they knew, would not suffer man to bleed.
They found that men were starving, so they grew and gave them food.
And though at first, they admit, there were failures, it only girded their zeal.
The Goddess of Everything Else, they knew, had spoken all as it must be,
So long as they held the brush steady, the world’s canvas would yield its art.
And so came irrigation, tractors and the electric light.
The slaves were brought out of bondage; so dimmed the Egyptian night.
And soon the scientists lay in the grass to dream of the wonderful world they had made.
But shortly their sleep was disturbed by a young scientist’s call,
that though everyone had what he needed, still some give nothing back,
while others had more than they needed, and still it was never enough.
So the scientists gathered together, and they marched down in their ranks
to where palaces rose in their splendor where the slums had been raked over with dirt.
And the young scientist showed them the gardens, the columns and the porticoes,
all ruined, trodden and neglected, and the people who neglected them too,
their bodies bloated and broken, though they had all they could possibly need.
A girl stopped him on the path, and he looked down with sorrowful eyes.
“Please girl, why have you done these things, in what was your paradise?”
And the girl replied with a sickly-sweet voice, “Because it was everything else.”
The scientists tutted and cooed, and said it was only a girl, and turned,
to see and hear something else. “That cannot be the reason. The reason is something else.”
But the young man was curious, and asked the girl why she chose
to break and to steal and to sit and to shirk, when she was free to do everything else.
“Why not be a builder, an artist or scientist? Why not make great music,
“or tend for the sick and infirm? Oh, why not care for the animals, or grow beautiful plants.”
But the girl just shook her head, and smiled oh sweeter, sicklier still.
“Because those things are needed no longer, in our new world of plenty for all,
“Because so many things are made now by the few above us who rule.
“Because the drive to make and to build, to wait and to think and to plan,
“Belong to the years of struggle and war, before the brave new world began.
“And each generation that comes now cares for these things less and less,
“and though they may live in squalor, they enjoy their lives through it all.
“For man isn’t bred for the battle, but bred for the victory lap,
“And now he wins his dreams without fighting: to be safe and be lax and be fat.”
The young man looked over his shoulder, to where his elders peered down a drain.
“They will not find the answer, for it lies not in the here and now,” she said.
And he answered, “One day you will be many, and we will be a mere few,
“And you will be forced to work once more, to wait and to think and to plan,
“And by then you will hardly be able, and so you will struggle and war instead.”
And she smiled so sickly and whispered, “kill consume multiply conquer.”
“I know who you are,” said the young man, “I have been warned of you before.
“Do not think you will win today, as you did not win in the past.”
But she said, “No, look closer.” and his heart sank as he saw it was true.
For at last his eyes had been opened, and it was the Goddess of Everything Else.
My takeaway from this story is less hopeful than others’.
It seems to me that this story is describing a “Red Queen race” where “agents” (whether cells, multi-celled organisms, or tribes) must engage in more and more self-sacrifice in the service of a larger supra-agent group merely in order to survive the arms race against other groups that are banding together.
At each step along the way, each higher plane of cooperation does not mean unconditional love or charity for the new group. A cell that does not pull its weight or that becomes a parasite is targeted for destruction. An individual that does not pull its weight or that becomes parasitic becomes one targeted for destruction if the entire “body politic” is to survive.
In other words, GNON always rules, but sometimes the most effective way to serve GNON (to compete, to KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER) is to suspend this competition within a certain subset of agents and expand to a higher plane of cooperation in order to conquer those agents that remain left out all the more effectively.
The past two hundred years, where we have seemed to think that we can afford unconditional love, charity, and all the nice things of Elua/the Goddess of All Things, were only enabled because we discovered fossil fuels, which were like a huge treasure trove of sugary agar for a bunch of bacteria. With sustenance being so plentiful, we could afford to let the cancerous, parasitic individuals have their fill too. We could afford to be unconditionally charitable.
If we want to keep this up, we need to find a new sugary agar that is an order of magnitude more sustaining than fossil fuels to sustain our order of magnitude-larger population in charitable comfort.
Realistically, if you want to see humanity banding together as one, you either need a huge surplus of sugary agar to enable unconditional charity (temporarily, until that sugary agar runs out), or we need an ALIEN THREAT to incentivize putting aside our national distinctions for the greater survival of us all.
In this latter case, humankind’s cooperation would not be the nice kind full of unconditional love. Rather, it would be more like what Marx called “barracks socialism.” It would come with severe punishment of defectors—those who did not pull their own weight in the battle against the alien threat. Think Starship Troopers.
Let’s hope we find more sugary agar…
(Alternatively, we could form ourselves into a singleton that punished over-fertility to preserve what sugary agar we have for longer…but that ain’t gonna happen.)
There’s also the culture route, create something bright enough and nominally benevolent enough that it can run things, and prevent people from eating too much of the agar while letting them think it was their own idea. (effectively create a physical benevolent deity)
Alternatively one group could genetically engineer themselves to be ultra cooperative and to have little desire to defect within that group, genocide/convert everyone else and thus control their own consumption of the sugary agar.
It’s great, but ends with what I guess I’d call the intellectual’s fallacy: the notion that the general population of civilizations are as civilized as the upper crust of people who form the civilization and spur its productivity and growth.
In reality, the Goddess of Everything Else comes down to the humans at the last stage and they make her into an internet meme and then forget about her in a day and a half, or call her a racist for some incomprehensible microaggression, or just stand around talking about whether she’s got a nicer ass than Nicki Minaj. Of course, most of them don’t even believe in her in the first place–and neither do the civilization’s leaders, come to think of it.
“They say only Good can create, whereas Evil is sterile. Think Tolkien, where Morgoth can’t make things himself, so perverts Elves to Orcs for his armies. But I think this gets it entirely backwards; it’s Good that just mutates and twists, and it’s Evil that teems with fecundity.”
“The Goddess of Cancer reached out a clawed hand over mudflats and tidepools. She said pretty much what she always says, “KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER.””
The Goddess of Cancer did not create in this story. She used pre-existing stuff.
Indeed. Creation ex nihilo would still stand behind the story. It does suggest a theodicy, though: Moloch/Goddess of Cancer/Satan as an evolutionary algorithm to be transcended once it’s bred sufficient diversity….
Oh, I like that.
Well, maybe God did it that way, too, as in Scott’s “Answer to Job.”
ETA: I think Salem’s Kiplingesque contribution upthread makes a similar point.
To put it in the Tolkienesque terms Scott is writing against, Eru Ilúvatar didn’t will Melkor’s Marring of Arda, but could certainly build one heck of an epic world (Silmarillion, Hobbit, LotR) by letting its consequences play out. You could tell OTHER stories without the precondition that Arda be marred, but you can’t tell the bittersweet tales Tolkien actually told without some evil in the world-building. So you rather severely limit your “diversity.” (This metaphor is a bit muddled because God stands vis-à-vis our world more as Tolkien stood to Middle Earth than as Eru Ilúvatar did. But I think the gist is clear enough.)
In the Ainulindalë, Tolkien has Eru Ilúvatar proclaim:
As for what those “things more wonderful” might be, I think the Christian reflecting on the Fall would quote with Aquinas the Augustinian sentiment in the blessing of the Paschal candle:
(“O happy fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”)
Oh, I’m not endorsing Scott’s “Answer to Job,” or a reduction of minds to algorithms. Nor am I proposing a serious philosophical theodicy. I’m just sort of riffing on some of the themes in Scott’s OP here. I mean, I guess you could develop it in the direction of an Irenaean theodicy (the evolutionary landscape as a “vale of soul-making,” as it were), but I’m more of an Augustinian (evil as privation/free-will defense) theodicy guy, so that wouldn’t really be my project.
Sutekh: Your evil is my good. I’m Sutekh the Destroyer. Where I tread, I leave nothing but dust and darkness. I find that good.
– Doctor Who: Pyramids of Mars
Isn’t the Doctor basically the avatar of the GoEE?
No. He’s far too deathist.
This is another great article. But I think there’s a couple of things that could add to the reasoning or message that’s being communicated. I was so captivated with this topic that I’ve written a detailed response to this post on my own blog. Feel free to link to it if you find it particularly interesting.
Do you mean red blood cells, mere living sacks without DNA or mitochondria, or white blood cells, whose job is to kill any cell that goes off track and fails to commit suicide?
Sounds like you’re stretching the metaphor waaaay too far. Perhaps you’d like to politely criticise my argument if you disagree with it, rather than quote stuff out of context.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.
I’m just saying that you, like Scott, seem to be confused about some biological facts. So your choice of example unfortunately weakens your argument.
My original concern was mainly that you only cared to comment on an extremely peripheral sentence in my article. I think that was my only real avenue of response.
One should have some biological knowledge when making biological claims – I agree! I believe I have studied enough biology to make the assertions that I have. I’ve done a basic literature review on the evolution of altruism, which I’ve written several articles on, for example. No-one, including at least two people in biology/molecular biology, has suggested I have substantial factual errors in those. I assume the problem is somewhere in our communication, resulting in us discussing different claims.
The dynamical tension between the vigour of microsystem competition and the adaptability of cooperation giving rise to meso-system self-organisation, played out over multiple system scales.
The autonomy of individual subsystem components must be curtailed by the Leviathan of supersystem coherent self-maintenance if the supersystem itself is to self-organise its own autonomy.
Or “Why I’m glad my constituent cells are not libertarian anarchists”.
Elegant and intelligent. I love it.
I cannot comprehend certain counter-points in the comments, however. I will have to think further on this.
Hi Scott, I discovered your blogs and LW posts a few months ago, and I’ve been addictively reading them ever since. This is my first time posting in comments. I just wanted to ask if you’ve read Robert Wright (particularly, Non-Zero) or Ian Morris (particularly, War: What is it Good For?). This post reminded me of both of those books.
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Moloch
And the goddess of everything else found a new adversary, the God of limits. The goddess of everything found that no, her followers could not escape to the stars, because the distance between planets was so vast that all her followers could do was reach their own planet’s satellite. Even that was accomplished at great cost, because the goddess of everything else was weaker than the God of limits, and her night dreams were no match for His command of life. When one single ship sent to the heavens was destroyed, even the dreams of a city on the moon were dashed and forgotten.
And her followers also dreamed of defeating death, yet the God of limits spoke. “I have created cell Senescence,” he said. “Thou have victories in some things; I will prevent thee from having victory in all things.” And so her followers fought vainly against Senescence, and failed. The goddess of everything else beguiled them with pretty dreams. “You can encase your mind and heart in metal statues!” she said, and some believed it. Yet those that worked with metal regarded those dreams as falsehoods, as little more than wishes. For despite all the cunning and skill that men used to make those statues, they only imitated life, neither housing or possessing it. “The body of a statue resembles the body of a man,” they cried, “should it not be able to hold the mind of a man?” Yet try as they might, statues remained statues and men, men.
But the God of Limits was not a cruel God. “I do not wish to see thee die early,” he said, “Nor do I ally with Cancer in all things. Yet know thy place, mortal. The goddess gives thee dreams and makes thee strive, yet place not all faith in her. The old wisdom is true. be content in being more than animal, less than god.”
“The goddess of everything found that no, her followers could not escape to the stars, because the distance between planets was so vast that all her followers could do was reach their own planet’s satellite.”
Nonsense. All we need to make interstellar voyages practical is longevity.
I’ve obviously been reading too much Clone of Snow, when I immediately, instinctively reformulate that as ‘Solution there, it seems to me, is indefinite longevity’.
“So the people left Earth, and they spread over stars without number.”
And thus they continued to consume, multiply and conquer. And kill, when they encountered another ecosystem, or found their own running short, or took a course of antibiotics.
This is *awesome*.
Mathematician Michael Harris’ Mathematics Without Apologies (2015) tackles these issues performatively, by a quotation from Goethe’s character Mephistopheles (on page 82), who explains his own evil nature in the following light:
As a confection, I drew upon Goethe’s passage to illuminate (on “the other” Scott A’s weblog Shtetl Optimized), certain problems associated to the feasibility (or not) of quantum computing (here), and to the NSA’s most subtle secrets (here), and even to performative Aumannian Cognition (here).
It’s notable that these three Shtetl Optimized comments are lighthearted … but heck, Goethe gives Mephistopheles some notably hilarious lines too.
Conclusion Scott Alexander’s illuminating parable joins the illustrious ranks of works whose roots (seemingly) trace back to Goethe’s conception of Mephistophelian duality … a conception that young Goethe (as scholars of Goethe’s era appreciate) drew from his era’s Collegiants, Mennonites, and Spinozists.
And in time, the Goddess of Everything Else revealed who the real enemy was all along: The God of Entropy.
I don’t know. If someone has access to unlimited energy, they have the potential for limitless evil as well as limitless good. I wouldn’t mind a benevolent dictator, but if this knowledge were widely distributed I’d expect a few people to create endless amounts of suffering and evil.
Principia Discordia, A Sermon on Ethics and Love:
WHAT BOTHERS YOU, MAL? YOU DON’T SOUND WELL.
“I am filled with fear and tormented with terrible visions of pain. Everywhere people are hurting one another, the planet is rampant with injustices, whole societies plunder groups of their own people, mothers imprison sons, children perish while brothers war. O, woe.”
WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH THAT, IF IT IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO?
“But nobody Wants it! Everybody hates it.”
OH. WELL, THEN STOP.
“She showed them the beehive all golden with honey, the anthill all cozy and cool in the soil. The soldiers and workers alike in their labors combining their skills for the good of the many. She showed them the pair-bond, the family, friendship…She showed them religion and science and music, she showed them the sculpture and art of the ages.”
Where the allegory fails, is that these nice, beautiful things are not the product of the God of Everything else — they are the product of the God of kill/consume/multiply. It is selective pressure of competition that forces groups to cooperate, to bind together, to invent technology, to adhere to a common religion, that makes people willing to die with each other. Without that pressure, people squabble among themselves, parasitic factions form, and things decay until a new group with greater asabiya comes in and conquers.
That’s why they keep saying “we are the creatures of the Goddess of Cancer” and the Goddess of Everything Else never asks them to abandon Cancer’s credo. The subject is the way selection across multiple levels has managed to create increasing complexity and cooperation despite being entirely driven by KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER the whole time. It *is* kind of an amazing result on face value.
And even more amazing is that Cancer’s credo, always obeyed, has driven synergistic cooperation to the point where it may have obsoleted the credo itself. That there may soon come an opportunity, for the first time we know of, to choose a new credo. And that we got here just by following KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER on up through the levels.
That’s the Goddess of Everything Else from the story – the really implausible-seeming emergent results from nothing but slavish Cancer-obeying, gradually optimized to higher levels. I agree with commenters upthread that she’s clearly the Goddess of Cancer’s daughter instead of sister. Emergent being the tip-off word there.
Also calling her the Goddess of Everything Else makes it sound like there’s a lot to be Goddess of besides Cancer. There isn’t – it’s all still just Cancer and emergent properties of Cancer. But there might be soon!
The tears of a heart weep warm, to return to a home that will never be again.
Is the Goddess of Cancer evil, and the Goddess of Everything Else good?
It seems like your intuition has thrown a warning message in here, so consider the following alternative situation:
You are standing on a rocky coastline. Beneath you the waves are crashing into the rocks in fairly constant repetition. Reflecting on this scene, you note to yourself that the rocks are clearly impeding the water’s motion, but also that the water is slowly eroding the rocky coast in it’s path.
Are you comfortable labeling the rocks evil and the water good? How about the reverse?
Sounds like something Yvain would have written.
Nah, Yvain had a more distant, analytical style.
This blog needs more Yvains and less meta-humor.
Is it too reductionist to say that the metric behind this story can be distilled to: if you want to be more effective at outcompeting competitors you have the least in common with, combine your powers with those you have the most in common with, and one day after enough elimination of competitors has occurred, you can be free of competition because you have eliminated everyone you lack commonality with?
A process which ends competition is really just a process for winning competitions. World peace is world conquest. This is only a good outcome if you aren’t one of the purged. To end competition through war, we must win all wars against people willing to match our violence with their own violence; to construct a universalist state. Considering that strangers are primarily bound into cooperation through external threats they have in common, once those external threats are removed, their cooperation tends to break down. The middling disagreements of today become the flashpoints of wars tomorrow, after the obvious terrorists of today are dead/consumed/outmemed. In a more and more comfortable society, we simply generate more wars for ourselves, because we only trusted the strangers to begin with because they were closer than yet further removed strangers. And so, whole new arenas of conflict can arise up to the level of bomb threats over things as seemingly trivial as the direction of entertainment industries.
To end competition through ideas and preferences, we must go even further and engender yet higher levels of conformity, lest those ideas cause further rifts that cause violence. A world without violence is therefore to a reasonable degree of approximation, a world without difference.
Personally, I’d prefer to cooperate long enough to become a robot who can survive space and time, and then nick off as fast as I can in the other direction from the “co-operators”.
Personally, I’d prefer to cooperate long enough to become a robot who can survive space and time, and then nick off as fast as I can in the other direction from the “co-operators”.
A hedonistic pipe dream, driven by fear of failure of being out competed. So common among homo sapiens escape into various retreats dreaming of fictional utopias.
Robots will not be free of competition either. Those who think themselves as such will be the first one go extinct.
It occurs to me that maybe the Goddess of Cancer should be a God of Cancer, as he seems to represent one of two major reproductive strategies–what we might call “the insect model” of having huge numbers of offspring, most of which don’t survive, in contrast to “the mammalian model,” which is to put more energy and effort into each individual offspring to achieve a higher survive and thrive rate (which is the point, ultimately, of civilization).
This dynamic exists within species and among cultures as well, with the male of most species, with their gajillions of sperm and the possibility of fathering new children every day, pursuing a more nearly insect-like model, and the females and their precious eggs pursuing a more nearly mammalian model.
And the God of Cancer even had at least one avatar on Earth: Genghis Khan.
Making Cancer male and Everything Else female (the opposite of a more traditional view of women as the wellspring of fecundity and men as the civilizing force) also has the benefit of emphasizing their complentarity. Though Genghis Khan was definitely not a nice guy, and civilization often depends on repressing the likes of him, we might also say that he represents a lust for survival and reproduction which underpins Everything Else.
I certainly see what you mean about challenging the standard ascription of Dionysian stuff as feminine and Apollonian stuff as masculine, but your k-selected Goddess of EE and r-selected God of Cancer rather remind me of the Triple Goddess and the Horned God in ditheistic versions of Wicca (e.g., Gardnerian).
“a more traditional view of women as the wellspring of fecundity and men as the civilizing force”
Eh, deeply arguable which is more traditional. As old as the Epic of Gilgamesh — Enkidu is civilized by having a woman go to him. And as commonplace as the Western, where the woman is the one who ties the hero to civilization by dint of their romance. (If she succeeds, and he doesn’t yelp, “Don’t Fence Me In,” in time.)
Yes, I think the concept you’re referring to is probably older in most civilizations and seems like it may correspond to more matriarchal societies which often dominate in the early phases. This was true with most of East Asia, which became more patriarchal over time, and apparently Egypt has been surprisingly matriarchal from the time of the Pharoahs until today.
Westerns are a prehistory artifact of an alleged matriarchal society?
When was it that a young woman could walk from one end of the Silk Road to the other with a pot of gold on her head?
Well the God of Cancer’s greatest triumphs always seem to redound to the benefit of the Goddess of Everything Else in the end, don’t they?
I believe that was a description of how well run the Persian empire was, quite a long time before Genghis Khan.
I’ve definitely heard it cited of Gengis Khan as well.
It’s also reminiscent of a common short story about Vlad III:
Dracula was so confident in the effectiveness of his law that he placed a golden cup on display in the central square of Târgoviste, and said it belonged to everyone and they could drink from it. The cup was never stolen and remained entirely unmolested throughout Dracula’s reign.
I believe Google agrees with me. Even if it was also (or even originally) used to describe the Persian Empire, the point remains that the avatar of the God of Cancer somehow ushered in the Pax Mongolica, which fact any explanation of the behavior of that force ought to take into account, or at least not predict the opposite of.
It’s also mentioned as part of the Fenian Cycle: in the days of the Fianna, a young woman adorned with gold and jewels could walk the roads safely at any time.
I think most harkening back to Golden Ages talks about similar peace and plenty 🙂
In other species that’s not an exclusively male/female split. Seahorses, some insects, some toads where the males care for the offspring see females competing for males so it’s not just a sperm/egg thing.
The relevant divide probably isn’t sperm/egg, but rather who gets “pregnant.” The sex that is the reproductive bottle-neck needs to be more picky about mate choice, because reproducing costs them more.
Probably a matter of who invests most resources no matter who carries the eggs, I can think of an insect species where the males provide the females with a high-energy gel where, again, the females are the ones who compete for the males.
“17-to-1 Female-to-Male breeding success in Neolithic” . But you see the ratio start approaching parity right around the time of the Yeoman farmer (I’m no expert, but this is true, yes?). But then…
The Industrial Revolution and you get the inflection point in population growth. It’s no longer a competition about who gets to mate. But it is a competition for which society builds the wealthiest, most populous (and thus most powerful) nation state. But then…
Secular stagnation in the economies of the 1st world and birth rate approaches the replacement rate. Neither foot soldiers, nor steel workers seem to be a bottleneck to what we’re striving.
It seems like when a major arc in history is being resolved, we simultaneously organize our society around another animating conflict. What is the competition for the modern age?
In the long run, what’s going to matter is which nation state has its citizens reproduce the most.
Young people getting more gender conservative:
This parable reminds me strongly of Schopenhauer’s concept of salvation from the will, which is itself heavily influenced by the Theravada Buddhist teaching of Nirvana. To Schopenhauer, we’re bound as embodied beings to the eternal will, which, mired in horrifying pain, wants to escape suffering and extend itself by any means possible. Humans, in his view, are the beings most susceptible to suffering in the entire cosmos, and the most developed polyps of the world-as-will: but paradoxically, we’re also the only creatures capable of disengaging from the will and entering a state of passive, pleasant contemplation, freeing ourselves from the eternal wheel of suffering.
I’m not sure if this is productive to the conversation, but the parallel here was striking enough to me that I thought it was worth pointing it out.
Then the Goddess of Cancer came forth from the fire and, this time, noticed a queer pattern in the ways of Everything Else. For in the past, Goddess of Cancer had only chanted KILL CONSUME MULTIPLY CONQUER, whereas the Goddess of Everything Else was devious and subtle, speaking pleasant and effusive words, singing songs of temptation and promise, leaving beauteous artifacts in her wake.
And the Goddess of Cancer noticed this, because the Goddess of Everything Else had infected Cancer herself.
And so the Goddess of Cancer learned new things to say: DOUBT DECEIVE DENOUNCE IGNORE. And then she learned to cloak these words in songs of sweetness and light, to tempt and promise her creations, to leave them beauteous tokens. She learned to embrace them and soothe them, and say, “Your longing for greatness and pleasure is laudable; indeed, you should cast out those who plead your life in service to their ends, that only they know what you truly want, better than you know yourself! For they are agents of Cancer, employing my devious and subtlety against you.”
And then the Goddess of Cancer returned to the fire, leaving anthems of loyalty and pride, and great devices of control and construction of facades in her wake. And her creations were moved, for she appeared to them as the Goddess of Everything Else, and they could not doubt her.
For, having spent most of her time in fire, the Goddess of Cancer knew best how to fight it.
Please if you could, explain to me what it means to call yulrseof a Unitarian Universalist? I myself used to be a big believer in Jesus Christ but know think it is a bunch of hokey pokey. I still believe in something greater though, I just don’t know what exactly. I mean something had to create us but the bible is not true. I am interested in this.
Everything around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and recreates. That informing power or spirit is God….And is this power benevolent or malevolent? I see it as purely benevolent. For I can see that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists. Hence I gather that God is Life, Truth, and Light. He is Love. He is the supreme Good.