Ave Machina, or the Rituals of Complex Labor

Dearest friends,

Eldar rule, orks drool. Get dunkt on, nerds. But if I had to pick the faction most true to life, I would pick the AdMech. Of course, I *would* say that as a tech worker. Forget the promise of technology, indeed. In the Foundation series, technology is only preserved by creating a new religion of Scientism.

Hail the Machine Cult.

Go read this things: my comment here and this blog post. While you’re at it, you might as well read both those blogs in their entirety. I’ll wait.

If you’ve read both those things, you may find this blog post a dull rehash. People are dumb. Obviously dumb people are dumb. The problem is that even smart people are dumb. Our greatest minds can, with extreme difficulty, grasp the basic entry-level ideas of a field.

When a person receives a professional education, they are often acquainted with all sorts of principles and rules. Every field has a wide variety of theories and explanations. Some people recite these as mantra. The truth is – it’s all bollocks. It’s tripe. As you go higher in a field, you realize that every field boils down to two things. 1. Do it right. 2. Don’t do it wrong. The problem is that this is very, very hard. Take finance. There are all sorts of fumblings about what the true value of various assets should be and ramblings about the rationality of markets. These crystal cathedrals of math don’t hold up in the real world. But great energy is maintained to pass them along.

What does Warren Buffet do?

1. Buy things which have good value.
2. Don’t buy things which have terrible value.

Easy enough? The trouble is determining what the hell value means. What is value?

Hence, theories. Wrong, useless theories. These theories make the problems of the field more tractable for midwit rule-followers. A Machine Cult makes it possible to tap far greater supplies of labor. There are many, many times more people of 120IQ than there are people of 140IQ. Analysts do labor and they do it according to the Cult, which they believe is true. The labor is useful, but the Cult is wrong. Only by promulgating the invincible truth of the Cult can the field recruit enough grunts to feed it data – data which slowly improves the truth of the mostly wrong Cult doctrine. The produce of the cultists is fed to the true initiates, those who have inducted into the complex and nebulous notion of “value” and actually making money. If these people actually believed the market was efficient, they’d abolish themselves.

Praise CAPM.

Those who can do cannot always write. It is an unfortunate reality that people do not have concrete explanations for all the things they can do by practice. Experience teaches us many lessons we cannot give words. Those who dismiss these practices as irrational do so at their own peril. The Cult allows one to “rationalize” the otherwise irrational by creating a system of true lies. Intuition is a noiseless understanding. We cannot always give it shape. The Cult protects intuition. The founders of a field saw the Truth, but only dimly. They needed more labor and more minds to reach it. Thus, they create a Machine Cult. The Machine Cult Hypothesis is a meta-theory about theories and their social purpose.

If outsiders knew that even the most learned were mostly incompetent, there would be a revolt. And if the cultists knew their labors were done for the sake of a lie, they would question things. How much trouble is caused whenever people realize the wizards of Wall Street bet billions on glorified hunches? And people grumble that the great scientific advances always seem to be 5 years out and never here. If that was revealed to be working as intended, then how many would balk at the vast expenditure scientific research requires? Both cultists and outsiders require certainty, but certainty is in short supply. In order for one to truly succeed, one must pierce through the lies of the Machine Cult and realize the truth. Those who come to understand there is much work to be done and that the problems remain unsolved are the ones able to make names for themselves by producing novel ideas.

But, you may be saying, “Monsieur, this is just a rehash of spandrell’s post. I’m bored and you’re stupid.” True enough, reader. And so far, it is. Still, even an idiot has some ideas.

If we accept the Machine Cult formulation, and an insider/outsider distinction, another property becomes self-evident to us. It took me a while to put this together, but I imagine you have already figured it out.

Across many fields, there is a curious phenomenon. HR departments are disproportionately drawn from the proletarian classes, and not from the aristocracy. The scale of this distortion demands explanation. The explanation is simple. The Machine Cult creates an insider/outsider distinction. The Inner Party does not police the Outer Party, as Orwell put forth in 1984. The Outer Party polices the Inner Party.

Why? How?

Heresy has a damaging effect on all beliefs. This heresy is even more damaging if it happens to be true. Imagine the ignorance of the learned was revealed for what it was. Imagine the politicians were fully unmasked. Chaos. Anarchy. The end of civilization. Global thermonuclear war, maybe.

To be initiated is to no longer fully believe in the Cult. One may believe in it somewhat, but there is always lingering doubt. The writings of the past have many true insights, but much of it makes leaps to try and make something coherent. One cannot be a true believer. Some even repudiate the whole enterprise in their heart. This is existentially dangerous to the Machine Cult, but also necessary to it.

The only ones who can zealously prosecute the faithless are true believers. By nature, the Inner Party cannot be true believers. So where do true believers come from? The Outer Party. The cultists. In the Cathedral and the Cathedral-Society complex, the middle class. To be a true believer is to be handicapped in the pursuit of further knowledge, but their labor is essential to the functioning of the Cult. And they provide one further purpose, a very dear one. How does one dispose of an Inner Party member? Feed them to the mob, and let them do the rest. When Tchen outmaneuvered Morris Dees, Dees was fed to the true believers. Now, Dees was a huckster. But Dees was always a huckster. Many people are pure hucksters. Heresy is a way of life.

As for a plan like Hari Seldon’s? One bumps into so many little secret societies that you start to wonder what they all originated as, before all the memetic cruft. Maybe some of them were meant to stave off the darkness of anarchy. Time reveals even the wise to be the fools they are.

Wonders if there is a 22.8% chance of his doom,
Monsieur le Baron

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