What does the moon think it’s smiling at?

It’s Monday morning again.  This keeps on happening, no matter what we try to do about it.  Somehow, we’ve got to get together as a civilization to end this disastrous, senseless litany of workweek beginnings.

Human civilization is about as likely to be able to do that as it is any more important or “realistic” goals it might want to achieve.

That reminds me—I followed the YouTube channel of that guy who did the video on the strong force (see this post), because I thought he seemed like someone worth checking out.  I was right.  He has another video, not as popular, but which I think is even more thought-provoking.

It’s about seeing our governments as a kind of AI (Artificial Intelligence) which have, as a part of their nature, the same issues we have with AI alignment in general:  that unless we are very careful with what terminal goals we give our AIs, they are likely to find the easiest workarounds—cheats, if you will—to satisfy the letter of their terminal values, because they certainly are not capable of grasping the “spirit” of them unless we are smart enough to give them that nature.  The same is true of governments.  The video maker brings this up as a way of possibly explaining the so-called Fermi Paradox*.  His conjecture is that perhaps all governments in the long run tend to evolve into dystopias, and dystopias are not going to colonize the galaxy, and all alien civilizations that might have done so are stuck in dystopias.

I’ll embed the video here for your delectation.  It’s not as polished and fancy as the one about the strong force, and it has no animations, but I think it’s an original, interesting, and troubling idea.  I’d be curious to know what you all think.

Let’s get back to Monday, though, and what we can do about it.  One possible solution to Mondays would be to develop our technology to the point where we don’t need to work at all, where all our actual goods are produced by robots and AIs and the like, so there’s no longer any need to get up and go to “the office” on Mondays.

I don’t think that’s going to work, so to speak.  There’s the alignment problem mentioned above, of course, but there’s also simply the fact that we don’t work merely for sustenance.  If that were the case, many people in the western world, at least, would only have to work 10 to 15 hours a week, maybe, if that.  Unfortunately, humans are competitive—for individual resources, yes, but also for status, prestige, sex, power, all sorts of other things that will always be, in effect, scarce resources, because success in such things is always relative to other people.  We work longer hours now than people did in the 1950’s, despite all the technological advances we’ve made since then.

Maybe we’re already in a dystopia.  Maybe dystopia is the natural state of human civilization, just as it’s (arguably) the state of all those monstrous, gigantic trees, growing ever taller and taller only because they have to compete against other trees for sunlight.  Humans are, after all, really just souped-up chimpanzees with delusions of grandeur.

Maybe the proverbial “quiet desperation” of daily life is the natural state of humans, because, even when basic and not-so-basic needs are met—food, shelter, water, sanitation, protection from most natural disasters, all that stuff—people always want to do more, to compete for higher social status, bigger houses, sexier mates, more “important” jobs, flashier bling, fancier cars, “better” smartphones.  And, of course, like everything else in the universe, people can only respond to local forces, local incentives, so fixing things that are out of whack but in an equilibrium state (of sorts, anyway) is hard even to get started.

Ah, well.  Life is complicated.  We didn’t make the world, nor did we make civilization; it made itself, as I think I’ve mentioned before.  It’s a spontaneously self-organized system.  We’re ants in ant-holes.  And remember, the queen ant, or queen bee, or queen termite, is no more in charge of the ant hill (or beehive or termite mound) than the Queen of England is actually in charge of running the day-to-day business of Great Britain or the British Commonwealth.

Even Putin isn’t really in charge of the moment to moment happenings in Russia.  He has great influence, of course, but it is tenuous, and it is ephemeral.  When he is gone, Russia will still exist, as it existed after Stalin, after the Tsars, after Genghis Khan, and so on.  Essentially no one who was alive during the reign of Queen Victoria is alive today (no human, anyway—there might be a tortoise or two), and that includes Queen Victoria.  And by the year 2150, unless very surprising things happen with respect to trans-humanism, no one will be alive who was alive during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.  Though she herself is surprisingly durable.

I don’t know what point I’m trying to make.  Maybe I’m trying to make the point that there is no inherent or meta-level point at all, and I’m doing that by not trying to make a coherent point.  That sounds cleverer than I’m likely to be, but maybe my subconscious is smarter and cleverer than I am consciously—well, it almost certainly is those things—and it arranged this on purpose.  I doubt it, but I don’t completely rule it out.

In the meantime, though, remember that Monday is the day of the moon—the moon that was smiling madly but cheerily down at me this morning when I looked up.  It should have looked much the same for anyone else seeing it at that time.  And the moon is pretty cool.  Remember Sting’s description of the moon, by way of Shakespeare, when confronted by a drunk who asked him to describe it:  “My Mistress’s are nothing like the sun.”

*Basically, that our galaxy is at least twice as old as our solar system, and there have been potentially billions of years for other planetary systems somewhere in it to develop first life, then multicellular life, then intelligence, then civilizations, then high technology, and then presumably space-faring civilizations.  Even at a slow rate, any one civilization—and there could have been countless such civilizations, potentially—could have colonized the galaxy by now, or least have produced technology some of the signatures of which we should have been able to detect.  Yet we have found nothing.  So, where is everybody?

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