meditations on moloch

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There's a good but long essay on competition traps:

meditations on moloch ... on-moloch/

Here's where it summarises what it means by a trap:

A basic principle unites all of the multipolar traps above. In some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before. The process continues until all other values that can be traded off have been – in other words, until human ingenuity cannot possibly figure out a way to make things any worse.

Here's one section from it, that touches upon religion:

The two active ingredients of government are laws plus violence – or more abstractly agreements plus enforcement mechanism. Many other things besides governments share these two active ingredients and so are able to act as coordination mechanisms to avoid traps.

For example, since students are competing against each other (directly if classes are graded on a curve, but always indirectly for college admissions, jobs, et cetera) there is intense pressure for individual students to cheat. The teacher and school play the role of a government by having rules (for example, against cheating) and the ability to punish students who break them.

But the emergent social structure of the students themselves is also a sort of government. If students shun and distrust cheaters, then there are rules (don’t cheat) and an enforcement mechanism (or else we will shun you).

Social codes, gentlemens’ agreements, industrial guilds, criminal organizations, traditions, friendships, schools, corporations, and religions are all coordinating institutions that keep us out of traps by changing our incentives.

But these institutions not only incentivize others, but are incentivized themselves. These are large organizations made of lots of people who are competing for jobs, status, prestige, et cetera – there’s no reason they should be immune to the same multipolar traps as everyone else, and indeed they aren’t.

In other words, at one level, religions serve a purpose by altering the incentive environment of individuals, to encourage those individuals to cooperate one some things, rather than stab each other in the back, to the detriment of society.

But, on the other hand, the religions are themselves in competition with each other, and so are in a race to improve their competitiveness at the expense of all else (including the reason why they were beneficial to society in the first place).
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So, religion wins until humanity goes extinct, even though there likely is no god.

Or, we could trade off either religion or government and possibly advance, in theory, but not likely.

I'd say that's spot on.
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I'd rather meditate on John Lennon's "Imagine" and imagine a world without religion, war, hunger or government totalitarianism.
Women who behave seldom make history
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