18: Simulacra Levels, Moral Mazes, and COVID-19 with Zvi Mowshowitz

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Hosted by
Will Jarvis

In this episode, we are joined by Zvi Mowshowitz. We discuss simulacra levels, moral mazes, and our civilizational response to COVID-19. Zvi writes the blog Don’t Worry About the Vase

Links/more reading:

Simulacra levels

Moral mazes

Efficient-market hypothesis


today on this episode we have zv moshowitz i’m also joined by my friend quinn i learned a lot talking with sv i hope you enjoyed this episode so hey folks today on the podcast we have zv zv writes the blog don’t worry about the vase which focuses on gaming rationality philosophy economics trading life optimization and a lot more he’s been a professional trader and market maker and he was the ceo of the personalized medical startup metamed and he’s also a member of the magic magic the gathering hall of fame which actually a lot of my friends are really excited about that fact which i think is cool um how was that bio anything else you’d like to add i think those are the highlights um i am currently making a digital card game so oh really cool yeah i hope to bring that to people sometime next year um we have a alpha and we are getting ready to make the game itself but you know that’s not something i’m ready to talk about yet uh it’s ready when it’s ready as we apologize very cool we’ll be on the lookout for that um so quinn you had a question about simulacra levels to get started would you like yeah i’m pretty interested in uh i’ve been following the blog for a while and uh that’s been a very helpful concept for me um it’s given me a vocabulary to talk about some stuff so i thought we would sort of uh maybe go over the basic concept because we’re on a podcast and uh then i have some questions about application uh if you’re watching them yeah so the the very simple uh the part of the problem is there are multiple different sources for the simulacrus and therefore there are multiple overlapping but subtly different definitions but uh the simplest one to get people started is level at level one uh symbols have meaning and everything is roughly accurate territory map uh relationships hold so when you say there’s a line across the river what you’re trying to do is communicate to someone else that there is in fact a lion across the river uh you may or may not have other reasons to choose to do that but that is how they will that is how they will interpret the statement that is how you expect them to interpret the statement that is how they expect you to amend the statement then you move to level two and people start saying there’s a line across the river because you will interpret it as meaning there is a line across the river not because there necessarily is a line across the river so we introduced lying basically and deception uh and now someone else’s model is not necessarily something you try to make accurate it’s something you try to make whatever is useful and that is a very different level of acting right like it’s a completely different mindset and whenever we it’s important to keep in mind whenever we do anything whenever we say anything we are acting on all the different levels and so we have to consider the consequences on all these different levels right how well are we updating this person’s map towards truth how are we obtaining this person’s map towards what we would find useful to what we would want to exist in the world those are two separate things you often have to consider both of them level three is where you consider what your statement says about um your affiliations associations what so the idea is that when you say at level three there’s a line across the river you mean i’m with the cool kids who don’t want to cross the river that like it is you know the position of the in-group that there is a line across the river it does not necessarily mean that there is a line across the river uh there are forces that pull people even at level three towards saying troops true statements more often than false statements if there is no countervailing force in a particular situation we have all the statements of all of all the animals that might be across the river if there’s a lion there you might as well say lying if what you want is someone not to cross saying tiger only creates confusion creates an opening and so on but so at level three you were concerned with coalitional politics uh often more often than anything else your concern of associations and status and impressions and then level four is where you consider that to be what is is this the relationship between four and three is the relationship between two and one so the idea is at level four you are doing something as a move on the chessboard in some sense in order to change what perceptions are about level three or the earlier levels but you’re not necessarily trying to impose a map so the idea is at level one everybody believes that you should have a map that corresponds to the territory and level two you believe that everyone has a map that’s trying to correspond to the territory and you can change that map and if they change their map they will change how they act because they believe the map at level three nobody really believes right the little three men level three mindset doesn’t believe the map corresponds to the territory it believes that it would be an important gotcha if someone’s map were to be demonstratively not corresponding to the territory because then the out group could say gotcha and could make you look bad and that would be bad so there is a relationship that ties it back but everybody you know there is a collective like you know you can’t creating common knowledge your map does not respond does not correspond to the territory is bad but your map corresponding to the territory is not something you inherently care very much about and you don’t expect anyone else to as well right you wouldn’t convince someone there was actually a line across the river if you wanted them to not cross the river unless you expected them believing there was a lion to stop them from crossing at level two you think that’s a good thing you think they would stop they wouldn’t cross because they understand that when they believe there’s a line across the river they don’t want to get eaten by a lion so they shouldn’t cross at level three you don’t necessarily believe this would stop anybody and that’s an important distinction and then at level right and then at level four all of these associations break down entirely and now there is no shame whatsoever there is no perception by anybody that the statements are corresponding to truth necessarily or to anything on the object level whatsoever they are moves in a game and people who are thinking on level four don’t even think like carefully with a map of the game because that is alien to the perspective of level four the whole idea that there is no there are troops and there aren’t maps means that they don’t have a map of how they are acting in the non-me the non-accurate map space in order to achieve an end what they are doing is they are acting on heuristics intuitions general systems that they’ve developed over the years that tend to move things in positive directions in general now you can then combine all four of these whenever you have an interaction in your life when we have this conversation right i have to think about what’s going to happen on all of these levels if you want to change the world if you want to have a real impact if you want to know what you’re saying to matter you have to think about all of these things right you can’t just cheat and like stay on level one act like well i didn’t know that that was something that the wrong people were saying i mean you can say it but it won’t carry any weight right yeah you can sometimes nurture relationships where one is a strong default uh my relationship with my parents has decades of precedent behind the uh which i’m not sure how to recreate that with strangers out in the world but i think it can be done it you’d definitely be done you can definitely create situations through a history especially and the shared trust where the expectation is other people perceive you on being primarily level one but it still doesn’t get doesn’t get you out of the the thing that like someone who was like sufficiently on the spectrum and just blissfully unaware that other people thought about levels two three and four would be and therefore just ignore the fact that it makes things weird things happen are happening at other levels uh more commonly what you have to do is you have to be very careful to cancel all those effects out and to make other statements that create sums to zero pretty much everywhere and to be very very careful to keep things on level one so like it’s actually much harder to not operate on higher levels in a world that we live in than it is to operate um on all the levels at once because that’s just the natural way of humans but like my view of the default is that the default is that most conversations are mostly about level one and this used to be even more true than it has to be in the world in order for everybody to successfully like you know have three meals and put on pants and like so on which they still mostly managed to do it’s worth noting right like a person who seems to act like a complete idiot is still doing the sensible thing 99 of seconds right any given second of the day unless they’re just talking right and maybe they’re talking nonsense but like they’re still doing reasonable individual actions almost all the time they are connected they have a map of the physical world in their brain if they didn’t things would be very very bad right that makes a lot of sense do you think this has changed over time yes very strongly yes i think that even over my lifetime so i was born in 79 i’m 41 years old and you can absolutely sense that like conversations that used to be on the first and second level or even on the first level are now primarily conducted on the third level and now increasingly on the fourth level as their primary mode right so you would never have a politician that didn’t know which side they were supporting when they made a statement in any age and they would a good politician would always be thinking about this the law you know the implications of everything that they were doing but you know there is this unmooring that has taken place recently between people’s statements and any real attempt to model the territory that it didn’t that it never happened before but the magnitude and frequency is completely new in our lifetimes and i believe this has been getting steadily worse for some time uh i think that it was the peak was sometime um the peak of the good thing was like sometime in the 19th or 20th century um but it’s very hard to know when gotcha and what causes do you think what do you think is going on is this just like more information technology driving this what do you think so i do think that there is a cyclic effect over the long term and and also locally in the short term uh so basically you can think of it as right you can think of a shorthand as four beat three beats two beats one beats four gotcha instead of orange sets or actually more accurately four beats three beats two beats one beat zero which is the actual physical world that people are manipulating which kicks four in the ass gotcha right like what happens is you sort of you have a physical world and people were trying to put on pants and hunt things with bows and arrows and otherwise like get through their day and then they figure out to communicate with symbols what’s happening and they do much better and then people get to lie to them and they do better than that people example coalitions and they beat the liars and then people manipulate those coalitions and they beat the coalitions and while they’re playing all these weird high-level semantic games barbarians come and sack the city right there’s still the real world right or like everybody you know everybody just suddenly gets covered 19 because like in all of your weird debates over exactly what symbolized what nobody actually did anything to protect themselves very effectively

so why is level three staple-ish i mean i get that it’s not long-term staple but you would think if no one actually cared about truth and this was mutual knowledge why would common knowledge be dangerous to that society i mean so right so the idea is that you need a certain kind of deniability where first of all like most people to be in the coalition convince themselves of the police of the coalition even if they are technically nonsense so like if you think about issues where like the left has one universe of beliefs and the right has one completely contradictory universal beliefs and you can i’m sure whoever you are think of at least one example where the other side’s beliefs you think are just completely off the wall bonkers and obviously false to one minute of examination regardless of which side you’re on i mean i’m confident this is true and if you’re off to the side you can think of examples where both either of the two sides as bonkers but certainly one of them and that doesn’t work if there’s common knowledge of what happened right you have to create plausible deniability you have to create and maintain doubt uh and in general like it is considered a basically one of the things that is most effective when there is you know an in-group and an out group and there’s a blue tribe and a red tribe when there’s us and them is they are liars is still a great coalitional move we have the truth and you are liars right right or we have the truth or you know it’s the it’s the irregular verb we have the truth you know you are listening he’s a liar uh but either way the idea is if i could demonstrate that they were lying in a way that they would have to accept that they were lying or that like everybody observing would know that they were lying unless i would have a very large majority or anything like that then they would their coalition would lose face right their colors would lose power would lose status uh it’s not necessarily about the fact that when i have the right map of this particular issue that we do better that we get to do better things in the world often the question is symbolic or implies group action that doesn’t actually help anybody in particular right so like if the two of you disagreed about you know something like climate change where like it’s not going to impact your life or your ability to wield power in any times horizon that anybody is actually worrying about it’s a question of what actions will cause what effects over a long term then like you can have whatever position you want be how your coalition is based the goal is to you know make it so that your coalition gets stronger because it is in a stronger rhetorical position and for you personally to indicate your support for your side and potentially to help your side be better rhetorically and therefore do better and because in general by default true things are easier to not get proven false than false things and also happen to have better supporting arguments when you haven’t looked because they happen to be true so on average a a level three battle right can still be sort of an ordinary decent political fight right where both sides want their side to win but we’re guided by the beauty of our weapons even so right the idea that the true side still ends up winning right so like i think this is a part of a lot of human behavior right the idea is that we spend you know 99 of our effort you know on positional conflicts and you know competitions and things that don’t matter but that’s because we only need that other one percent to actually figure what’s going figure out what’s going on or build the building or discover the cure or whatever it is we actually need there’s a lot of ruinonation there’s even more ruin in people like i mean i do almost nothing all day compared to just the number of minutes i have to do things if you just count useful things but i’m still an extraordinarily productive useful person compared to you know what i need to be in order to you know be an averagely producing member of society that keeps the lights on makes sense how do you think this plays in with with tech stagnation and you know it seems like we’re a lot better at it you know actually doing the thing right so it’s like we were able to get to the moon quickly we’re able to you know you know the manhattan project but how do you think that plays in right so the way we got to the moon was we put we got put ourselves in this we were put in a situation in which it would be very very valuable to get to the moon and it was not practical to pretend we got to the moon you either get to the moon or you don’t and so once kennedy says we’re putting a man on the moon even if he has no idea if we can or how by the end of the decade and we’re turning him safely to the earth now like our best coalitional move in our battle against the outgroup of the soviets is to actually put a man on the moon and actually return him safely to the earth because if we tried to fake it we would be caught and because the russians are actually like pretty good at figuring out that we’re faking it and pointing this out so we have to do it for real so we do it for real it doesn’t mean it’s just trivial because we have to do it we do it but it turns out that like there’s this thing in star trek where there will be a certain need for technology that has not been developed or a technique that has not been uncovered right in order to have people not die or so this new civilization this new world not collapsed or something awful not happen and within the next 15 minutes people will start saying words and come up with ideas and suddenly do the thing right and that was basically nasa for a number of years and at first i thought this was just nonsense and this was not a realistic thing that ever happens yeah and now i think it’s basically accurate that if you have a bunch of like properly trained you know in the relevant background smart people and they suddenly actually have to figure things out because they’re the ship is about to explode and it’s hard to shut up and do the impossible they actually reasonably often just will and the other half of that is that they will also blatantly ignore the implications of the thing they just developed almost every time right at the end of the episode it’s like well that could actually revolutionize shut up

right like who is the regulator behind the federation where like you solve aging again yeah don’t talk about it right like oh we could just like replace our transporters with this this is way better yeah yeah and and we are like that right like so like but in going to the moon we had to develop lots of these new physical things and because we were actually in a show off physical things competition with the soviets because the soviets big specialty was look at us we do physical things really well we will bury you in all the physical things and then we pointed out oh by the way no you don’t and you’re terrible like you’re good at like mass producing generic like low-level stuff through command economy and catch-up mode and that’s it and we’re gonna prove it to you basically by like not screwing things up too badly because we can’t afford to right now and then like the soviets were forced to shift to like oh but what about your social justice and then like we had a different set of conversations for a while but they’d already lost the material argument that’s what turned out to matter and eventually we won because they were out of stuff right like we just run the ball down their throat and they just right but the problem is the problem right the problem is now there’s no particular like until covert 19 hit us in the like kicked us in the ass right level zero kicking level four in the face we didn’t have a good we didn’t particularly have a reason why if we didn’t produce more and better stuff if we didn’t find more and better ways of interacting with the physical world that anything particularly bad would happen to us we could just be like we could be like you’re just not allowed to do new physical things in any way that matters to a first approximation and nothing that bad would happen to us because we kind of live in paradise right right right perspective yeah definitely and so we were able to essentially just devote all of the surplus to just fighting stupid you know positional good games and status conflicts and like rhetorical devices and everything just gets tied up more and more knots right and rent gets distracted more and more and as is lots of rent extraction and as the existing um corporations and governments and people of power rely on the current situation in order to continue extracting and have their goods be scarce that they possess so that they can have them have value like it is inherently bad when you are doing all those things and not producing anything new and not innovating and not being picky or useful if someone else goes out and does something somebody just starts doing things well that’s not good right for you because like i mean you already have all the things what do you want with more things like it doesn’t really help you very much and they’re a threat but they’re a threat to your position right like so there’s a lot of different ways to approach this a lot of different ways to explain the causal vectors and like just the way that this occurs to me out loud in the middle of this conversation is that there’s that and also sort of the idea that and i have this in this book long sequence that i’m actually working on turning into a book slowly um called the immoral mesa sequence the idea being that right so that so the core concept is that when you have lots and lots of levels of hierarchy and organization that organization has existed for more than a few minutes like continuously it will get more and more byzantine and the people who the people who favor advancing the people who favor um the people who play the game of advancing in the company cornell’s law yeah that but like will take over but the result of this right is really really toxic and the more levels of organization you have the more toxic it is and the longer it lasts the more the worse it gets and you basically can’t go backwards you can only get worse like the way right so essentially because because once the people who are one of the people who who you once the bureaucrats who favor more bureaucracy take over the bureaucracy you can’t really reform that bureaucracy in a useful way i mean someone like steve jobs can come in and take up the system because he’s a once-in-a-generation talent and maybe you put elon musk in charge of one of these companies he could do something but for the most part these companies don’t go backwards right normal people can’t make them go backwards even with the best of intentions and also they don’t hire the person with the best of intentions to be the new ceo they hire someone with the worst intentions because that’s what they want right that’s the system the system is perpetuating itself but even if you somehow got in charge it’s very hard to do anything about it right like if you if you somehow did have a hero who became the president of the united states and tried to reform the federal government’s problems like they just get nowhere basically right very very little they’d have to have so many supporters coming with them in so many different places and so much just uproar behind them and obviously be better off starting over more or less right and so the idea is the way that you get better is not like you take ibm and you reform ibm and make ibm a good company again no what happens if you found microsoft instead and you beat ibm and you take over from ibm and then microsoft can start over right and doesn’t and doesn’t have these inherent problems you started with a team of people who wanted to build software and offer value and then over time microsoft becomes the same as ibm right develops those problems because you know you can hold it back you can slow it down and for someone like okay right like bill gates can slow this down a bunch but like he’s not going to be in charge forever and eventually you’re going to slip and also once you get big enough like it takes increasingly heroic efforts to stop it from starting and then what happens is no you don’t you don’t get to just reset microsoft either right you get google and then google replaces microsoft like i mean it might be the wrong story but like you know the idea and then you know in theory someone else now replaces google right like at some point because google you know at first it was like these two guys have a search engine who were building a thing and then they tried extraordinarily hard to keep it a culture of producing stuff but increasingly i hear from people who used to be in google or who are in google or who relate to google and i look at google’s products and it’s clear that like they’re losing this battle right they’re not really particularly fast like they’re not they didn’t they quit themselves of honor they brought a lot of value to our society and still happy to own their stock but you know they’re not going to get better right this problem is not going to go away they’re going to collect their monopoly rents they’re going to use their unique position to like acquire things that other people build but like they were to keep making their own products worse because the incentives inside google are no longer to make things better rather than works they are to make things worse rather than better right and this is not to say that google is particularly unique right it just this is how it is and so the problem we have is that too big to fail has come to western civilization basically all right right and this seems particularly pernicious with governments because it’s a lot harder to found a new government and just replace one when they you know you have a monopoly on violence you don’t want to just you know it’s very hard to respect i mean you have a nice thing where like we have different groups and occasionally we switch between who’s in charge so you have somewhat of a small reset right like you sort of have at certain places you do kind of have a reset of you also kind of don’t have a reset if they’re both continuous and that helps navy a little but and like there are certain like physical checks or there used to be right like if you are if you have the things like like the the people will basically say if the government if the economy is bad if we can’t get jobs we can’t put food on the table we’re going to vote out the party in power and replace the people in the congress and replace the president and then smart people say but it’s not their fault they didn’t do anything the president couldn’t have changed that you know like trump is not very little to do with the current gdp right good or bad because it was more of it but you didn’t have any leverage right you could he could have yeah any and he probably couldn’t you probably like you know we’re not gonna get into exactly what counterfactuals could have happened but like the us was not to do south korea right like there’s no like world in which hillary clinton suddenly stays the day and we never have coveted like we’ve all been going to bars for the past six months indoors without worrying about it that just is not was never gonna happen like regardless of whether it’s better or worse but the idea being that they just say okay it’s a good heuristic to say when physical life is hard and bad you just throw the bums out and that way the bums have an incentive to try and make physical life better rather than worse and it’s like well if we tried to be careful and figure out exactly what you did and didn’t do we just get it wrong you just fool us we’re not very we’re not able to get close attention we’re not very smart you know you’re telling us different stories we don’t know who to believe it’s a very reasonable proposition to say well on the margin the people who are swingy just say well do we like what’s going on no who’s not in power that guy right we like what’s going on cool keep the guy we have right it’s much better than random and it keeps people honest and prevents the worst from happening in an important sense which is kind of like what you’re most afraid of right the problem being you know we have we don’t have these physical things staring us in the face the way we used to and the way that we and the way that when we’re scared of it happening we’re scared that this giant superstructure we built is kind of fragile right that like one big institution fails and a lot of things might come down with it right so we can’t let anything call and also because uh asset prices have gone up so high partly because we’ve prevented the creation of new assets but like those assets are are fueling lots and lots of people’s balance sheets that allow those people to not be bankrupt and there’d be a cascading bad a series of bad effect potentially and we don’t know what happens and maybe it’s okay but maybe it’s really really not okay and there’s a period in 2008 where it’s like well maybe if we don’t do this everything goes to hell in two days but we don’t policymakers are thinking this and maybe right and maybe it’s just good instead and we just don’t know but we don’t want to find out we’re not going to be the guys that blow it up right i think it was probably going to be really bad but like it could have you know they’re universities which is fine or like you have to do a little bit to make sure it’s fine but like not the thing you had to do but like you know they did the obviously you know correct and short term more hazard ignoring thing which is make sure the really bad thing doesn’t happen no matter what you have to do to make that happen but if you keep making decisions like that if you keep saving every big thing that’s in trouble effectively unless it’s clearly safe not to if you keep building up these relationships and regulations that bar entry and let more and more rent attraction occur even though we currently have more and more like rents to claim right like things are still like at least up until pretty recently we’re clearly just in my mind physically getting better and many things are still physically clearly much still getting better then you have this situation where you can’t get rid of this the mazes the symbol acro levels like basically you can’t let level zero kick the level four people in the face to wake up the system to like to make them go away and they get replaced by the new system which is operating at level one and then start the cycle over again like to a first approximation you’re just stuck so and then like one of the questions of covet is like does this kick us in the face efficiently right does this help us get kicked in

that’s the question that’s a millionaire he’s like right it clearly kept basically everybody with any kind of like authority or like reputation in the face right like it’s nobody comes out looking good with notably rare exceptions like bill gates probably comes out looking good right but like almost nobody like certainly like all the people who were like locked down lockdown lockdown like all the standard left all the standard blue tribe people said lots of things that weren’t true and advocated lots of things that didn’t they did a lot more harm than good and all the red truck people do the same thing and they all still are and like the people who weren’t trying to not be either nor didn’t really get it right either they just flailed around in different ways and we exposed how much we can’t do things like even like both by doing things and by not doing things like every time we every time there’s a thing to be done every result points out how bad it is right we made a vaccine right right in less than a year for basically no money yeah and they were like all the vaccine candidates were 95 were like 90 plus percent effective three for three so far it looks like we don’t know the oxford one is a little ambiguous but certainly the first two it’s a brand new type of vaccine that people were just toying around with for years and it’s not like we didn’t have other diseases we wanted vaccinations against and that like we just didn’t think it was that important right we just basically said it wasn’t worth it for us to authorize the ability to actually do vaccine research properly like operation warp speed done on just some other disease that we don’t like rather to get rid of would clearly have been super cost effective yeah and yet and yet we look at the timeline so like my dad is an immunologist he was he taught immunology of colombia and i i was talking to him really early about the the vaccine situation and among other things right and the testing situation so first of all the testing situation like literally he was able to give instructions to a research laboratory there was not a medical facility in any way they just wanted to stay open in order to keep doing medical research in order to keep doing research to develop new things and not have all of their stuff go bad for nobody can come into the office right and they were able to literally just run a covent test on every employee every day in march or they didn’t do it every day because they didn’t have to but like at least once a week they stopped testing everyone caught two positives sent them home nobody else got it right for effectively zero money running the test at the lab and the fda of course was like stop doing this this is illegal this is terrible you give people false information you’re corrupting the statistics you’re you’re doing all these horrible things but there was nothing stopping like he didn’t have any special skills he had ordinary scenes what’s called ordinary skill in the art right he just knew yeah how to create this test because everybody knows how to create the tests and like we could have just had every research facility in the country doing this and not just for themselves but for like a thousand times as many people outside we could just change what they’re doing to be primarily this and we could have solved the whole problem in april we just didn’t right right and like we just it’s like we both ramped up our testing really well compared to a world but we didn’t we’re now doing like 1.5 million 1.6 million a day and like but you see this just steady curve upwards a straight basically straight line you see it’s just a straight line graph like you just see like the x axis the y axis and then just a diagonal line through the zero point over time it’s like yep just yeah that’s how many tests we can run and like why some sort of regulatory barrier unclear why we’re writing all the other tests the fda said no the cdc says no like these people were just telling us no and they look at the vaccine so i asked about the vaccine he’s like i can create a vaccine in a day like again you know he’s not a coronavirus person yeah not a vaccine guy just a normal knowledge he’s like i can create a vaccine candidate like just just like all these that’s the only good accountant i can create this question in one day

it’s just about testing it to see if it works see if it’s safe if we had used challenge trials if we had not gone through step by step by step like why do we need i think i don’t understand why do we need to wait for three two months of safety data from phase three trials we already did a phase two safety trial can’t we use phase two to do safety yeah and that’s even assuming we can’t just do challenge trials can you challenge trials and also like yeah if we just if we did challenge trials again we could have had the vaccine candidates in march done challenge trials and safety trials in april at the latest had the tubal safety data in june be distributing the same thing by late june

nothing was stopping us except we don’t have a will but like that’s the star trek thing right if we actually if this thing was instead of being one percent deadly 50 definitely you’re damned well we sure we would have had it right right it just we didn’t care enough this wasn’t good enough we would rather do the hamstonian thing of destroying our economy and people’s livelihoods and a year of their lives rather than authorize a bunch of challenge trials and a bunch of payments for safety data to be acquired quicker like if i was the president there would have been a freaking vaccine trial draft if there had you’re getting this out next week i don’t care what it costs the safety data starts coming in tomorrow exactly like i don’t care if i have to be on television being the first person to get it to show people that we’re serious i’m getting a skin in the game and we’re doing this thing yep because that’s what you do but that’s a that would be a civilization that cared right alternatively we could just automatically just do what south korea did or australia did and actually just use the stupid tools enough right just more like basically south korea was just like so you’re saying i could use more daca okay sure i’ll just use more daca and like a culture that actually listens to people who tell them what to do instead of just being you can’t push me around right exactly i mean there’s i’m not telling you anything you already know there’s more going on here than lack of will benjamin hoffman has some blog posts about i think it’s the engineer and the diplomat about people um fluidly effortlessly coordinating to prevent interesting conversations from happening and i’ve been reading your covet posts and i’m seeing people actively coordinating to prevent stuff from getting done it’s not just that they don’t care enough to do it it’s the oh yes but like yeah yeah sorry i just still don’t understand why i mean i have things i can say that sound like reasons but they don’t seem strong enough to predict the effect right so like the reason why i keep writing a 5 000 word column every week yeah it’s not because we need 5 000 words a week to tell people what to do about kovid in terms of their physical actions this week you don’t right that’s way overkill you need 500 maybe the reason why i do it is probably so i can have an excuse to organize my thoughts and keep on top of it partly and because other people find it useful interesting but largely because i want to get exactly that message across i want people to see you know to see what’s going on you know like i can see the matrix like i can see why that like this is not a failure like i say a failure of will right i simply mean if we carried enough in a positive direction to if we care enough and act if we wanted to do these things we could do these things very easily but it is not simply right like the idea that like well we actually need 10 units of caring and we only have one so let’s take it as 10 times as long as it needed to is not the right model the right model is actually 20 units of anti-pressure that actually wants to stop this from happening in any reasonable fashion and then the people who are slowly struggling to do it anyway eventually get it done that is a much more reasonable portrait of what is happening and there was there are quickly schizophrenic situations going on like with the vaccine there were a lot of people who actively just really really wanted a vaccine and then there were the regulators who actively didn’t want them to be able to break any of the standard rules and force them to go through all the normal procedures right and then there was everything about our society which is coordinating effortlessly and automatically to stop them from doing it and yes the question is why

um and this is where like you have to just show people the physical evidence that it’s happening over and over and over again and let them figure it out kind of on their own because it sounds completely insane to just say if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes in one form or another that like all of the people who have any ability to steer the conversation are to a first approximation not all of them but like most of them are silently effortlessly coordinating without talk without talking to each other without actually coordinating they’re implicitly coordinating without even being consciously aware of what they are doing most of the time to prevent anybody from doing anything useful to stop anything productive from happening right to stop interesting conversations taking place is the equivalent in the ben hoffman’s example but to prevent people from doing things that would be effective

because effective things like so one of the concepts in moral mazes is if you notice that somebody has a moral compass and we’ll do things because they are right and wrong and right and wrong does not mean good for my advancement and bad for my advancement it does not mean good for this division’s perceptions by the division above it or bad for this division of perceptions by the division above it it means you know makes more people happy right or lets more people not die or even makes the company more money right then if you notice that that is highly suspect right like i mean for example suppose you were running for office as a republican or a democrat or any right and somebody noticed that occasionally you realize that that your group but the in group’s position was kind of stupid or wrong on a particular fact or strategy and therefore you advocated something that was not part of the in-group well you wouldn’t merely say oh this person got this one wrong you would say this person is not a reliable ally this person’s this person’s priority is not to do all the things that our group does and to oppose all the things that their group does this person’s priority is to put food on people’s tables and to get people healthcare and to like allow the world to be a better place and that might be their position

right or may be completely different from either of our positions and it might be that they might think that i’m trying to stop that from happening any number of bad things could happen but most importantly they’re not going to back our play as well as somebody who didn’t care about that stuff right what you want is you want like so that obama has a quote in his memoir that he’s trying to sell mcconnell in theory he claims he’s trying to sell the at the white house on the benefits of some bill and yeah and the kyle says you’re talking to me as if i care right like literally because mcconnell is like you know capable in this context of just telling the truth of being like why are you acting as if i care about the consequences of the policies i’m trying to win a political fight and get power i don’t now the difference is because because it’s obama advocating position because the blue because because tribe won because the yeah because the out group was trying to pitch to the in group someone in the group support the out group he doesn’t care at all about whether the privacy would be good or bad he just knows he needs to oppose it but that’s different from if the if somebody in the in group proposes a policy right so suppose i say we should build more housing because then more people could live in houses where they want to live and houses would cost for less and life would be better right and the economy would grow and blah blah now this is highly suspicious because it might work right because if i’m advocating something if i’m not english if i’m not in glacis and advocating for building more houses because it would work that i’m not advocating for building more houses because it is the in-group position to build more houses and i might advocate for other not in group positions because they might work so i i am a pariah for even suggesting something that might work however if i suggest something that clearly doesn’t work the opposite happens right if i say we should shut down the playgrounds because of insufficient mass compliance thus forcing the kids to play indoors then anybody paying attention knows that i am saying the shippings of my side that i am supporting my side’s position i am playing a good level three soldier and that i support the coalition because i can’t possibly be saying that because i think that the children playing on the playground without mass is dangerous what kind of idiot am i there is no world in which i thought about this reached the conclusion for the physical world this was bad and therefore i should oppose it no so what’s going on is i see children that are four years old playing the playground in worldwick they don’t have a mask on if i think this is a bad thing i might not oppose it because then i might be suspected of opposing a bad thing because it was bad but if it’s a good thing then i know i’ll be rewarded for acting against it because i am now clearly calling out somebody to be scapegoated i am sacrificing to the gods by offering up this thing of value in the name of the thing that i am trying to raise in importance and status and to support my side so there is this bias right what i’m debating as the governor which things to shut down to shut down exactly the things that don’t help it is not merely that i don’t have sufficient incentive to figure out what helps it is not merely that we are incapable of running experiments right which we are because experiments might cause if you run an experiment you might learn what is good and bad and that might cause people to support what is good over what is bad despite being in your coalition and that is bad so we can’t let them run the experiment and get the information that would be bad and so you know there is the theory that it’s entirely possible that everything else that was done by the federal government since the beginning of the pandemic was actively acts of sabotage except for operation warp speed which helped get the vaccine there faster and that was a huge network potentially it could have been a huge net win despite every single other action being an active act of sabotage banditry or piracy there’s a period where they were literally engaging in benetry and piracy it’s worth remembering this yes

so when you talk about sacrificing to the gods the gods are the coalition for the symbols of the coalition or so the gods are like so the idea is that the gods are this you know this made-up thing that must be appeased by sacrifices yes uh so it’s not necessarily sacrificing to the coalition generating to the coalition itself would be a different thing it’s more we must engage in symbolic so sacrificing the gods is symbolic action that destroys value in order to demonstrate that you have destroyed value in the name of symbolic action which therefore leaves you not blameworthy because you did the destructive action but points but allowed you then blame others for not engaging in similarly destructive action in behalf of the same symbolic result so i basically i don’t think there’s much difference in terms of functionality between shutting down the playground for insufficient mass compliance and butchering a goat at apollo’s temple uh no i they’re a lot closer than us moderns would like to admit except the priests get to eat the goat that

that’s fascinating

gwen do you have a question i’m just putting things together it’s like the toxoplasma of rage but for policy rather than facts you know that scott post about on people backing deliberately weak cases because it’s a stronger in-group signal right it’s exactly the same phenomenon right because if you backstage if you backed a case because it was a good case it’s not a very strong signal of anything it’s also unlikely to get attention from the from the other side and get pushed back because it’s a good case but you don’t want to provoke the conflict in ways that will make it clear what everybody is doing and yes except that’s just about information that’s just about facts and i said the word just obviously doing a lot of work there but that’s not you know that that’s not the kind of horror you should actually be looking for and the true horror is trying to do maximally destructive things in the name of your side because it is much more to your benefit to destructive things rather than beneficial things and people have figured this out and they’re in like they don’t even think about it right like they don’t consciously think what can i do that will be destructive you think what can i do that people will like that will that will like help me accomplish my goals and their brains automatically have learned pick the thing that doesn’t work gotcha good lord oh you also have a post about asymmetric justice which seems like a application of the copenhagen interpretation of ethics yes right i directly i directly actually call out the copenhagen interpretation i believe like right at the beginning so that came out of the conversation actually ben hoffman and another person where we were we were talking back in new york we met in person back when that was allowed right before the pandemic it was kind of cool and we walked around and we talked about some stuff and it was clear that this person hated uh like most almost all large institutions especially and concepts like capitalism even because they caused specific harm that they because that wasn’t necessarily even like more likely or directly caused by them but more like they were interacting they were interacting with the problem it’s more like a you know copenhagen interpretation like level thing sometimes but also just directly like you know if you have winners and losers right you’re responsible for the losers that makes you a horrible person and i basically argued but what about the winners i asked the question right and the answer was don’t care right like you might be right there might be winners but i don’t care it’s horrible to create losers i mean there’s a certain amount of like you know you stop three yeah you you shoot one innocent person and suddenly your entire 20-year career as a policeman is forgotten helping people what’s up with that right like that doesn’t seem fair but when we understand why in that situation that’s that’s a reasonable thing to say but like if you think about it like if you are if you found a cup if you found a company and you sell a product you make a product for one dollar and you sell it for ten dollars the average person who buys it if they’re willing to buy it probably gets you know fifty dollars a hundred dollars of value out of that thing so you’re capturing and that’s if you’re lucky you’re capturing a very small portion of the net utility right like i get like if you think about it like when when when sergey brin right and when sergey and and and company founded google and larry page they created one of the world’s most valuable corporations but captured well if you had to guess what percentage of the value created by google right more or less more or less than one right like right but if someone has a specific harm against google they can sue and collect not only the damages but punitive damages on top of that and people will call them out for specific things that google did wrong and roast them in the press and call for them to be split up or regulated or attacked or whatever and the same thing is true for a person right like if you if i offered like advice one of the things that like um i will write in the column sometimes is this is not medical advice this is not but i don’t even say this is not investment advice sometimes right like i’ll just did that with anything like totally like just keep repeating not investment advice not invested advice that’s advice don’t do this don’t do this don’t do this and so obviously the point of conveying this type of information is so people can do better make better decisions and learn about the world but also make better decisions and obviously a lot of things i share are so that there is an implied piece of advice that if you just follow the logical conclusions of the things that i’m saying you would figure out what you probably should be doing and more likely i could do it but if i am giving advice then anybody whose life turned out badly because they did that advice instead of something else and anytime you invite someone to change their behavior in order to either make sure not to get covered or make sure not to let their life pass them by while avoiding covet that someone will either at some point get covered when they wouldn’t have or miss out on something when they wouldn’t have and their life would be worse and they could theoretically sue my ass right and that would be very bad and it’d be true even if every single person reading that made the right decision but they got unlucky

and so this just keeps being the way things work over and over and over again if you act if you are seen as the one acting yeah then you are responsible for every little thing that goes wrong 100 or even more than 100 and you get credit for very little of the gains right like in the trolley problem right like what is the legal answer to the charlie problem i mean it’s complicated but like the legal equivalent of a non-a non-explicit or like a soft charlie problem if you go to jail right if you if you flip the switch you go to jail right like like if you push the fat man off of the off of the off of the bridge to stop the train and it works you sacrifice two lives to save five not one because you’re going to jail but we’re all worse off i’m not saying you should or shouldn’t do it i’m saying society will not look kindly upon this decision and you know this so act accordingly that’s wild you see that in a lot of a lot of large institutions where um and companies where after a period of time you know no one yeah very few people do anything and they try and avoid doing things because there’s downside risk to doing things right there’s also there’s also the fact that like realistically speaking

a lot of people not everyone but like at least half the people have essentially everything they could ever want to first approximation in some important sense right so like i have a family i have you know a few levels of savings basically you know slash the ability to earn whatever i need to whenever i need to i have all of the entertainments the world has ever created to a first approximation at my fingertips i have good friends and they basically like i have good friends they don’t live down the street but you know i’ve got the rest yeah yeah and and so you know if i try doing something and i destroy someone’s life i could lose everything something goes really wrong i can lose everything if i made a billion dollars that’s just more money more problems yeah it doesn’t right it’s only i mean i might want to like save the world you know create create friendly ai or immortality or whatever i might have big plans myself but for most people in most situations right the upside of being better than upper middle class or certainly better than lower upper class is basically zero right like i i eat exactly what i want whenever i want subject to restaurants being dangerous places to be right right like i i have all the material goods that i actually care about whenever i want them and i’m not that rich right the people who have a thousand times more money than me and you know have gold plated toilets and private jets and you know personal servants and all that are they better off a little maybe probably worse right like so in that situation why would i do anything right in some important sense right that had consequences right like in a world in which you know it used to be like you were king you’ve got a palace of a thousand virgins guarded by eunuchs like literally right and every now and you’d periodically go down there and try to fire as many children as possible because that was like how you won and points a genetic lottery and it was kind of you know so it made sense to try and be the king in some in some sense but in terms of your like today right like it makes you know do you think barack obama increases uh inclu is his inclusive survival fitness by running for president oh god no he got it it went way down right right it just it just you know he’s aging yourself by ten years yeah right like you know doesn’t help you

does this explain is does this at least partially explain why interest rates trend downward and why they you know are now negative to some extent

i mean it could be a little bit of it like but basically there’s just there’s no reason to ex it doesn’t supply and demand right to some real extent like if everybody wants to push their consumption forward yeah right then there’s no reason to charge interest but it’s like a there’s nothing to spend money on because you can’t do anything it’s a kind of really the one way to put it right like if if you suddenly let people do stuff then everybody’s like i want to build some i want to build housing can i borrow some money i’m going to build a factory build all this i wanna build a factory can i borrow some money i wanna do all this research can i borrow some money et cetera et cetera that’d be good investments you could invest this compete for capital the cost of capital would go up the returns would go up but like as it is yeah if you want safe return on capital you know what you can get nothing nothing here is your nothing your actual nothing 100 nothing

nothing at all that that’s that’s sort of interesting and i had one other question it’s unrelated but how do you think about the efficient market hypothesis i know you’re a trader you’re super smart guys it’s false it’s false really okay now that is super fascinating i’d love to dig into that a little bit i mean i didn’t qualify that it’s just false i mean keep in mind that like it is less false than you would think if you just came in with no knowledge of the if you never heard of the efficient market hypothesis or the idea that prices were accurate your model of the stock market and most markets would be much much worse than the person who believes the origin who believes the emh is strictly true if you believe the image is strictly true you have a useful map of the territory that is wrong but will let you do reasonably intelligent things in most situations for most people it’s not importantly wrong in many ways right but it is just wrong like it’s wrong like like like newtonian physics right like it’s just not how it works so think of it this way how does the market price reflect reality right this is sort of the conceptual reason why right why it’s obviously false so if you’re a trader and you look around and what are you looking for you’re looking for something that’s priced wrong right if everything was priced correct everything was priced correctly if the emh was holding everywhere you wouldn’t have a job right right because you’d be like i can make zero dollars by trading why would i do that like most would be off by the cost of executing the trade yeah to be like okay you know maybe it’s trading 38 cents at 40s you know 96.38 at 96.40 cents and it’s really worth 96.38 cents rather than 39 cents so it’s slightly mispriced right and like maybe i get a subsidy from trading on this particular exchange and i can like make like point zero zero three cents by like taking this and then market making to get rid of it and like i have this plan and yeah there are people who operate like that right they basically believe the amh yeah and they’re hyper frequency traders and they try to get a tiny tiny little living yeah but like the reason why it’s charged the reason why it’s the price is accurate is because it’s not right so the idea is that i see that the price is wrong and then i fix it so the reason why i’m wanting to go fix it is because i have a plausible theory that the price is often wrong and if the only people who were trying to fix this price were people who didn’t realize the prices were mostly accurate then they wouldn’t collectively have the intelligence to get the accurate price right right like if i’m a trader right realistically speaking i demand a return on capital that’s much much higher from an intelligent trader than the zero percent you can get in the outside world like when i was at you know jane street capital we had this call we had this concept called what’s the return on capital you need right now to make a trade right what’s the annual return on every trade that you make it’s as good as leaving the money in reserve for the next person to use that capital for the best trade that comes along tomorrow or the next hour or whatever and that number was never that low right like almost ever it was always good things to do that made us money interesting was the question of is this better than the other things we can do to make us money gotcha and it has to be that like again i’m not going to go in and fix a number that’s like maybe a tiny bit wrong unless i have a mathematical model that just on average is the tiny bit wrong i can just do this a billion times and make money right but there’s a lot of human elements in the right price of a stock right there’s a lot of things going on in the world that want to be factored into that price and the only way i’m going to incorporate those things is if the price is clearly wrong enough that i can go through the trade take on the risk tie up the capital unload the thing once people figure out what’s going on and make money if i have a long-term realization it has to be really wrong right like if i so as an example like i noticed that not at the guy that ring arena the new uh way to play the new way to play back the gathering yeah was a much was a much better product than people were realizing and was going to be played by more people than anybody in the stock market who didn’t understand we hadn’t actually just didn’t have the domain knowledge would know now i can choose to buy hasbro stock to reflect this opinion but what amount of error do i have to think is in hasbro stock from this mistake before i’m willing to do this before i buy hasbro instead of doing anything else with my money right i have to i think it’s a really big mistake right so how does that domain knowledge enter the price of hasbro well it enters the price of hasbro because people like me think the number is really wrong and that doesn’t happen unless after we’re done the number is still somewhat wrong gotcha right like when i buy it the stock and it goes from like 8501 to 8502 because i bought you know like a reasonable human person the amount of stuff yeah the price is not like suddenly accurate it’s just maybe it was supposed to be 80 89 right or 96 and if i thought the price was supposed to be 89 13 i wouldn’t have bought it i had better things to do right right i would have bought an index fund at that point why would i why would i risk the buy an individual stock for that little edge i’d either wait for a better opportunity or are you universified so you know the market can only be as accurate as it profits a man to fix that makes sense right and so that’s a limit on how accurate it’s going to be and that’s about how accurate it is it’s accurate enough that like if the opportunity is glaringly clear it’ll be taken until it’s not gotcha but if it’s not clear it’ll stick around right at random like sometimes it’ll be the other direction obviously there’s various forces going around um another way to look at it is there are people who do things for dumb reasons right and so i i sports i did sports gambling for a while right so like one way to one way to bottle sports game was you have your sharps and you have your squares right the startups are people who actually like know all the statistics and watch and like watch the games of a critical eye and like know who’s injured yeah and know the match-ups and have simulations and models that they run on their computers and they do all this stuff and they look at all the lines historically and they figure out what the odds are supposed to be and they have with a large amount of error especially in football but like there’s not huge amount of error they have an idea what the price is supposed to be and the squares are a bunch of fans right a bunch of partisans a bunch of idiots right you know they bet on the achieve exactly but you know they’ve been on the yankees they’ve been on the yankees more often because of the yankees yeah and the lakers because of the lakers they bid on favorites because favorites win and they like rooting for teams that win they’re only over instead of the under they do all these stupid stupid moves and they’re stupid because there’s a lot of squares and there aren’t anti-squares to the same extent right and so you can predictively know the price is wrong and what’s going on is that the the squares will move the price until they’ve created enough value for the sharks to be willing to commit enough capital to balance out the square’s action and the sharks include the sports books themselves that are booking the action right they notice they know who their sharks are they know the right side they’ll they’ll take a certain amount of extra square money and just book it for themselves but the idea being that like it has to add up it’s not going to end up at the fair price almost ever unless the squares happen to not care what the price is and be balanced or like the naive price happens to be correct like the nba sort of has a very very easy to calculate number it’s supposed to be that like the average fan in a bar could figure out what that number is on intuition if they’ve been like looking at numbers for a week right like and so if the number is seven it was supposed to be seven it’s probably just seven or the number just happens to be accurate today but if it’s seven it’s supposed to be if it’s supposed to be seven according to these idiots in the bar and you see a five take the five

right yeah i i actually like important like real tip if you need to make money this will actually work you take a printout of the lines of the nba right you go to a sports bar where they watch the nba and you say who do you like and you find that game where everyone likes the same side and it’s not the home team at that bar and you bet again you just do that every night all you have to do i wish i was kidding and i’m not that’s

fascinating that’s really cool super itching gwen do you have any other questions i don’t think so i have a lot of stuff to put together uh i did want to say thanks for the column it really is um it’s excellent it is and it’s uh you think clearly and that can be bomb sometimes just the um you can kind of relax reading it because things are going to make sense and if they don’t make sense you stare at and eventually it does make sense yeah it does not say that and then if it doesn’t after that you should probably just write a comment and say that didn’t actually make sense what’s going on and then like i’ll have to confront the fact that i didn’t communicate very clearly probably if nothing else right or i might have made a mistake so yeah no i it was weird because it was really scary because like at the beginning of the pandemic i felt like well i’m not a doctor i don’t know anything i just don’t want to say things because i’ll just get them wrong and i was like no actually i know some things that clearly like the doctors don’t know like i know that like it’s like early march and you should be freaking out and getting ready for this right and so i said some things and then i started saying more and more things and realizing that well actually i can make sense of this better than the other sources i know about and people seem to be appreciating this i should keep going and now i just don’t even notice right this idea that i can make that i can actually like think about these processes in real time week to week and make sense and occasionally someone will you know strike back with you know but experts but like they never have any content to their criticisms so i stopped worrying about it so yeah well thanks z uh where should people find your work is there anything you’d like to pub uh send people to so so my blog is uh let’s see t-h-e-z-v-i dot wordpress.com you can also find all of my posts on less wrong if you want to uh i prefer to engage in comments on my own blog i get notifications with them better and it’s sort of my space different norms um i’m sure to be much more open to just discuss whatever i want to discuss and so on uh but both you know feel free to access it how eat whatever way you prefer uh if you find the things useful you know sharing how people find it is always good uh beyond that nothing to pimp right now my hope is that i will have a game to pimp you know within a year but you know it’s been rough on all of us trying to make progress with provide and so you know it’s been slow going but uh you know hopefully soon great well we’re looking forward to it all right thanks v all right bye

well that’s our show for today i’m will jarvis and i’m will’s dad join us next week for more narratives

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