No Vast Conspiracies

Hanlon’s Razor is a well-known aphorism that goes something like “never assume bad intentions when assuming stupidity is enough”. In a recent Facebook post Eliezer Yudkowsky, true to form, expanded the definition thusly:

“Never attribute to malice what you can attribute to an enormous complicated System full of conflicting incentives getting stuck in a weird equilibrium. When that weird equilibrium is crushing people in its gears, don’t attribute that harm to a conspiracy of evil powerful people who planned it all and profit from it. There is no master plan behind the US medical system, it’s just an enormous complicated thing that got stuck. Even if there’s a billionaire or politician benefiting from the current setup, they didn’t cunningly plan for the US medical system to be dysfunctional, and they couldn’t make anything be different by choosing otherwise. Conspiracies of evil people plan how to profit from the System’s current stuck state. They don’t decide where it gets stuck”

Another way of grokking Yudkowsky’s modified version is to ask yourself how cohesive a group of people would have to be, and how intelligent it’s members would have to be, in order to be capable of orchestrating the sorts of conspiracies that keep so many otherwise sane individuals up at night.

If your closest friends and family were secretly given a trillion dollars and told to plan and execute a Vast Conspiracy of your choosing, how high would you judge the odds of success to be? How long do you think it’d be before your group began to fight internally, or before someone slipped up and let the secret out, or you ran into unforeseen and unforeseeable complications?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure plenty of people try to be evil masterminds, and maybe they even succeed in a limited way.

But the idea that a black-robed cabal (or a boardroom equivalent) is maneuvering the world into this exact configuration with surgical precision for some sinister end is just ridiculous.

Just to be safe, though, I want any Illuminati who happen to be reading this to know that they can pull off their masks and reveal their true identities, because I will vote for them so hard.

If someone is that much smarter than me, that much more organized than me, and that much more competent than me, then perhaps they should be in charge.

What this implies, for both actual policymakers and those pondering the best ways of changing the world, is that whatever broken System you want to fix likely doesn’t have a brain you can discover and destroy. More than likely the solution will involve something like changing Schelling points, large-scale cultural shifts, technological breakthroughs, etc.

Which…isn’t exactly great news, I know. But at least you won’t be wasting your energy aiming at the wrong targets.

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