Meditations on Moloch
Spoiler: The whale carcass consists of oil.
The authoritarian philosopher-king looks like a pretty insignificant evil compared to most other alternatives. It is an irresponsible luxury to pretend anything else. And if not even he is capable of defending our garden-reservation, such as it may be, then all that is left to do is to transfer this responsibility to the super-human - but man-made - technological gardener who has the power to exterminate all the encroaching weed of the universe.
Bootstrap? I return to my reflections on Here Be Dragons:
What do we really want?
What do we want our future techno-selves to want?
What do we want our smarter-than-us (and possibly also wiser-than-us) AI to want?
If we ask it to find out what we really want, we will be sorry - for several reasons:
we don't know
we don't want to know
we can't agree (not even with ourselves); and
what we want isn't really what we want anyway.
So what if we instead ask the AI to find out what we (objectively) should want...
if there even is such a thing
if we are able to formulate the question
if we are able to understand the answer
if we are able to verify it
if we are able to comply
...well, then we will also be sorry, for that is surely not what we want.
So what do we want? We want to strive for, but not attain, any and all of the goals that could plausibly appear as candidate answers above. The journey is the goal.
We must get into the habit of restraining ourselves - and others. And to find satisfaction in doing so.
It is only in relation to boundaries that we may find meaning and harmony.
My allegorical take on conservatism versus progressivism:
Oh, you intolerable upstart. This is exactly why we, the keepers of the arcane, can never entrust its secrets to you and your like. There are forces at work here that you will never fathom. Secrets revealed and manifested through generations, ingrained and fortified in the walls of our burgs and castles, and in our palaces.
I will grant you a boon, satiate your desire. I will do the unthinkable and tell you why what is hidden must remain hidden. Why it cannot and must not be revealed. I will let you glean the double-edged sword of true power. I will do that which no other will, and so further enhance your conviction and destructive potential.
In the end it will avail you naught.
You challenge the keepers to tell you what it is they know that you do not, and they tell you that your insistence is pointless. You suspect that their reluctance springs from ignorance and indifference rather than strength of character and a sense of a higher purpose. From the fear of narrow minds rather than noble ones.
And in this you are right! So there you have it - the one edge of the sword you so desperately seek to wield.
But even the most narrow-minded of keepers intuitively know and accept that the knowledge and power needed to wield the sword can never be articulated fully, nor mastered by any one man. And they know that failure to accept this is the most dangerous hubris of all. They also know that the pinnacle of self-control is to keep the sword sheathed, lest the temptation of using but the one edge, ever so sharp and alluring, ultimately brings destruction to all.
This knowledge is bound to the very walls of our castles and palaces. And we, as their guardians, are part of it.
You and your like will never see beyond the obvious. Not before every wall has crumbled and you are left with nothing but chaos and when in the ruins of an old world, the best you can hope for is to build a new world in its image. We will not allow your naïveté to set us all back.