Corruption and what to do about it

I choose to define corruption broadly to mean any dishonest, unethical, or sometimes ethically neutral act by someone in a position of authority done for personal gain to the detriment of others.


The short version

  1. Corruption exists because everybody cheats a little bit and justifies it
  2. Our ethical choices are governed by social pressures
  3. The size of our social circle has an upper limit (Dunbar’s number)
  4. Systems relying on human trust do not scale past Dunbar’s number
  5. Trustless systems can replace current systems that rely on human trust


The long version

I think almost all society-level problems stem from corruption.  I’m talking about the big hitters like famine, war, poverty, and social injustice.  It’s been a problem since the beginning of human civilization and it seems like it will always be with us.  Is it human nature?  Are we doomed to be stuck with this and suffer it’s consequences forever?  If not, what do we about it?

Most cheating is done by good meaning, regular people but the aggregate fucks us massively

First, we have to expel the myth that corruption only happens because of bad people doing evil things.  Corruption exists because everybody cheats a little bit and then justifies the cheating to themselves–this is a feature of human psychology.  Ask yourself, do you think you are a good person who generally does the right things?  Next, have you lied, cheated or stolen in the past 6 months?  If you said yes to both, how do you justify this juxtaposition?

Common justifications are things like it’s so small, no one will even miss it, or I’ve worked so hard and I deserve it, or everyone else is doing it, or a million others. While some people cheat massively, they are actually in a minuscule minority and don’t actually cost us that much in total (with notable exceptions like Bernie Madoff) but what really kills us as a society is the aggregate of all the good people making small ethical failures, coupled with the fact that corruption breeds more corruption and makes it easier to justify further corruption (e.g. everyone else is doing it).  Most cheating really just boils down to a conflict of interest and you convince yourself that you are justified in acting in your own interest.  People in positions of authority are not immune to these conflicts.

Our ethical choices are mostly governed by social pressures from our peers

Think about how human social structure has been for most of history.  Civilizations is maybe 20,000 years old out of 200,00-300,000 years for anatomically modern humans.  Most of human life was characterized by small nomadic tribes and clans who enforced rules and ethical behavior through social pressure.  Social pressure is really powerful and behavior is enforced by positive and negative reinforcement and shunning, as well as your own incentive to appear of high status.  Take Slab City for example, which is basically an ad hoc hippie collective where laws and social norms one in the same.  This structure works in smallish groups but we run into problems when we try to extrapolate this organization to larger numbers.

Our social circle is limited by Dunbar’s number

Another characteristic of these tribes and clans is that they were typically smaller than 150 or so in number.  The upper limit on the size of these tribes is called Dunbar’s number.  Although the number varies from individual to individual, it is roughly the upper limit on the number of people that belong to a community and know every single person individually.  It can be rephrased as a practical limit on the size of your social circle. Other primates in captivity have an observable upper limit on group sizes as well, such that groups will splinter when individuals are added so that the group grows beyond this threshold.

Any system based on human trust does not scale well past Dunbar’s number.  You can’t really expect someone you’ve never met to act in your best interest all the time because our psychology makes it easier to justify ripping off a total stranger, especially if it’s to benefit yourself or others within your social circle.  Again, it boils down to a conflict of interest.  To extrapolate this idea, you could argue someone in the US Congress gets more pressure from other members of Congress, lobbyists, or other insiders in the “club” than he or she would to the general public because of primate psychology.

The solution is implementing decentralized, trustless systems

So you can’t trust anybody, so what do we do about it?  We replace all systems based on human based trust with trustless systems that are backed by cryptography (sometimes in tandem with reputation systems) instead of authorities.  These systems don’t rely on us making ethical choices and they can be scaled to the entire population of the world. A trustless system shifts our reliance from humans, who are imperfect moral agents, to math which is verifiably true.

We have examples of these systems in various stages of implementation already. Bitcoin is the most notable example where transactions are authorized and authenticated using public key cryptography, so that you can be sure that the transaction was initiated by the actual person who has the Bitcoin, and that they actually have the Bitcoin that they claim to have.  (You can steal somebody’s Bitcoin wallet, but that’s a different issue.)  These transactions are written to a public ledger so that you can verify that a transaction did or did not take place.  This example of taking monetary exchange and making it trustless needs to be applied to larger social systems.

A side note about centralization vs decentralization.  It seems to me that centralization was necessary 20,000 years ago and was probably the only way that humans could organize themselves effectively to create civilization as we know it.  Corruption and abuse of power is a downside, but there are obvious upsides like the ability to the build cities and social institutions that allowed us to grow scientifically, technologically and ethically.  Centralization served a necessary purpose but it’s not the optimum way to organize a population of humans of the size we have now.

Examples of trustless systems

Three fundamental systems of society that currently rely on human trust are commerce, material production, and law, and there are people working to replace these with trustless systems.  Some current examples:

1) Commerce – This one is the furthest along for current implementations with Bitcoin being a decentralized means of exchange and marketplaces like OpenBazaar acting as the platform for exchange of goods and services.

2) Decentralized production – ☭  3D printing is still in it’s infancy, but this technology has exciting possibilities.

3) Law – Polycentric legal structures allow providers of legal systems to compete and overlap and allows participants to choose their desired legal system provider in their own dealings.  Ideas around polycentric law are still being developed but we do have examples of “Startup Cities” which are special economic zones that are exempt from many local regulations and instead abide by an agreed upon legal framework that allows small companies to exist and grow without the burden and expense of being compliant with local regulations.  More info here (scroll down to Startup Cities).

A prerequisite of these 3 is decentralized communication, with some implementations existing like Bitmessage.  This is sort of bedrock for the previous 3 and allows people to be made aware of instances of corruption, abuse and fraud.


That’s all for now

These systems will take a long time to develop and gain adoption but it’ll be worth it.  Trustless systems are the only way we can break the cycle of corruption and engineer a more fair and more scalable society.



Cheating and corruption – The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely, TED Talk: 3 Myths About Corruption
Dunbar’s number and social organization and social pressure – Some bits from Ariely’s book aboveThe complex structure of hunter–gatherer social networks by Marcus J. Hamilton, et al., and my own editorializing
Decentralized society – 4 Pillars of a Decentralized Society


The Driving Force

It has puzzled me for quite some time, why humanity has continued. Indeed, why any form of being has continued. Existence is work, a chore. Every day some upkeep, some task to be accomplished. Be ye plant, fungi, croc, rat, or cow all that your existence entails is effort. And for what. What is the drive that leads one to consume other? Is it a fear of the unknown, an unwillingness to submit to thereof, a gamble on pleasantries? Who are you, and why do you exist? If you are a “you”, and you recognize your “self” as an individual, then what drives you on? What is the purpose? Perhaps this is why religion is so well encamped in the “non-educated” class, because they are less distracted, have more time to think, and are worried about the entrails of their ideations. They may latch on to something that gives them something. Because most choose to ignore the fundamental questions those who adhere to a rigorous definition of reality are seen to be obscene, superfluous, and otherwise down right retarded. But can you blame people for wanting to justify their own existence? Their own urge to reproduce and indeed produce, change structure, MOVE, in the first place? I suppose blame is the wrong word. I digress… What leads a tree to grow? What is the fundamental drive that seems to be ever present from the micro to the macro cosm and beyond? Answer the question of DNA, a seemingly by sapien standards unconscious code that started consciousness, and ye shall have the key to heaven (or a 16 oz gold medallion, no difference). Randomness can seem to be a justification however consciousness is a factor that entirely fucks with it. As of yet the sapien society has sought to solve (alliteration lost) this problem by ascribing consciousness to solely sapiens (got it back). Go ask John Lily about that.

I suppose the point of this non-poignant repugnant indecency is to get you thinking, “Why am I still alive?”. Playing the lottery, are you? Hoping for something pleasant and leisurely against all odds? Enjoying the view? Fearing the unkown? Listen to your gut, and try to translate. I dare you.

Non-human intelligence

If you take a History of Technology 101 course hundred of years in the future, before you get to the first intelligent robot or to the Singularity, the course will begin with pseudo-intelligent entities. I think future historians will look back and declare that the corporations and governments (and to a trivial extent, your local PTA) as the first artificially intelligent entities. It is a digital vs analog analogue, where the entities are run by manual human intelligence (analog) instead of crafting its own (digital).  Also they are similar to how a virus is (controversially) pseudo-alive.

The components of the entities are humans or collections of humans.  The psuedo-intelligence comes from trivially applying the intelligence of the components.  It cannot think on its own but instead has its part think for it.  The reason I use the qualifier ‘psuedo’ is because there is no brain and there never will be (can you imagine taking orders from a machine at your job?).  People or collections of people act as the brain and give directions to the parts, and even the parts often contribute to the directions.  Topic 2 of History of Technology 101 will be about a truly artificially intelligent entity which has a central knowledge center making decisions and actions instead of being given them (truly artificial, lul).

Incentives power the actions of the psuedo-intelligent entity.  Incentives are so powerful that they can sometimes drive humans to act in outside of the norm of human behavior.  Take the recent Comcast customer service call that was made public–essentially a ‘retention specialist’ badgers a customer who wants to cancel his service because he trying to keep him a customer.  He is trying to keep him a customer because he is paid shit hourly wages plus a bonus based on his retention numbers (anecdotally and unverified, similar companies make it all or nothing so that you get a nice bonus if you retain 80% but you get nothing if you get 79%).  The economic incentives are aligned in such a way to make this man act like a crazy person in this particular instance.  In normal and abnormal cases he is acting as an arm of the entity in an abstract sense.

Consider the Paper clip thought expirement.  Essentially, an artificially intelligent machine is given the morally neutral task of collecting paper clips.  Long story short, as it learns it goes from collecting them to manufacturing them, and onwards and upwards until it converts all the mass of the universe into paperclips.  This myopically goal-oriented machine is an overly simplified caricature of the corporation whose goal is profit, obviously.  The goal of government is not nearly as straightforward and I cannot comment without admitting political bias, so you’ll have to extrapolate on your own (I also don’t know the real answer).

You can look at the paper clip thought experiment and contrive the potential dangers of misaligned incentives.  When this is backed by state power (i.e. the monopoly on violence) in the case of government, this can create an especially dangerous situation.  However, the singularity may mean total annihilation of humanity and what’s left of the human race will be hiding in caves from our robot overlords, so any efforts reforming these pseudo-AI-entities may be better spent preventing the robot uprising.


[I’ll tackle what the difference would be between a post singularity AI and a human i.e. gene carrying machine, and the nature of life and existence in another post]

stalin quotes

Joseph Stalin is fascinating to me in a sick way.  He is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, political genius of the modern world.  Other than that (and of course that ‘stache) I can’t seem to find anything else good to say about him.  He was educated in the seminary where he determined there was no God, but learned how to prey upon the credulity of the Russian people and their allegiance to the Russian Orthodox Church.  He established his regime as the right wing of the church and gained the blessing of the church’s leaders along the way.  He then established a state of atheism and replaced himself as the Messianic figurehead which was a basis for Big Brother in Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Millions died (by starvation and execution) under his reign.  He apparently had a son who attempted suicide, to which he callously remarked (paraphrasing), “he can’t even do that right,” Some other quotes from Joseph Stalin, which i found interesting (warnign: some are pretty random):

On “the people”/society

The leaders come and go, but the people remain. Only the people are immortal, everything else is ephemeral. That is why it is necessary to appreciate the full value of the confidence of the people.

Mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and exploited; and to abstract oneself from this fundamental division, and from the antagonism between poor and rich, means abstracting oneself from fundamental facts.

The existing pseudo-government which was not elected by the people and which is not accountable to the people must be replaced by a government recognised by the people, elected by representatives of the workers, soldiers and peasants and held accountable to their representatives.

Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.

Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas?

On God

But Ivan the Terrible would execute someone and then spend a long time repenting and praying. God got in his way in this matter. He ought to have been still more decisive!

You know, they are fooling us, there is no God.

God’s not unjust, he doesn’t actually exist. We’ve been deceived. If God existed, he’d have made the world more just… I’ll lend you a book and you’ll see.

God is on your side? Is He a Conservative? The Devil’s on my side, he’s a good Communist.


Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.

[In response to complaints about the rapes and looting commited by the Red Army during the Second World War]…

  • Does Djilas, who is himself a writer, not know what human suffering and the human heart are? Can’t he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometers through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?

this is how it really went down

the Aryan race live in solitude in what is left of Berlin.  after the Germans won World War 2 by devastating the Allies with atomic bombs , there came a swift and severe nuclear winter that devastated survivors as well as non-participators.  there has been snow on the ground ever since.  the number of survivors outside of the town is unknown to the townspeople.

during the war and continuing after, only those considered ‘pure’ were accepted in the town.  anyone who was not pure was killed or was lucky enough to escape.  there was a very strict criterion for facial measurements, hair color, eye color, skin color, height and weight.  after centuries of selective eugenics, interbreeding and the great population bottleneck, the Aryan race that occupies the town have very distinct features.  their noses are very small and have become pointed upward so that there is a substantial gap between the lips and the nose.  they appear almost inhuman at first glance.

after many years peace, political unrest began to fester in the town.  there was a small revolutionary collection of people who campaigned against numerous aspects of the status quo.  the most prominent of their beliefs was their opposition to eugenics and purity laws but the most acceptable and opportunistic outlet of protest was against capitalism.  as the groups said, “the capitalist virus survived the war.”  they proclaimed that greed would destroy their civilization from the inside out.  they often pointed out that the celebration of the birth of the Furher on December 25th had been completely corrupted by an ever growing and filthy tradition of giving gifts.  this was the most popular celebration in the town and thus the message struck a nerve with a large number of people.  the majority of the townspeople didnt even know the name of the person who was supposed to be celebrated and there were numerous demonstrations to remind people why they were celebrating.  violence erupted during a number of protests and in other places stores were set on fire by those protesting.  it was eventually decreed that anyone who vocally opposed capitalism or distributed anti-capitalist literature, as well as opposing eugenics and a number of other things, would be executed.  after prominent members of the protesters were arrested and publicly executed, a portion of the population defected into the plateaus on the outside of town.

the townspeople called those who left the “Grindchein” which is the plural form of the word “Grind” which means “scab” in their native German language.  no matter what name you called them, they were outsiders.  the townspeople crafted wildly imaginative and sometimes horrific stories about the outsiders to the point where the Aryan children would not think of them as human.  after generations of separation, and the outsiders not selecting children for “pureness”, the two groups do look monstrous to each other.

the most famous of the stories tells a story of one of the outsiders who hates the celebration of the Furhrer on December 25th.  He is a grumpy, selfish, vile, green and hairy creature who lives alone in the plateau.  He goes down into the town dressed up as the Furher and instead of delivering presents, he steals all the presents and destroys them.  the ugly green beast then looks down on the people hoping and expecting to see them crying, but instead they are all singing and celebrating, for the moral of the story is that the celebration of the Furher is more than a mere exchange of presents despite what the outsiders insisted.

although the townspeople have a large advantage in weaponry, the outsiders far outnumber those in the town. i mean really,  it was only a matter of time since the outsiders do not actively kill members of their own population.  the stockpile of weapons and general arrogance led the Aryans to believe the could never be overtaken.  by numerous raids and dealings with other groups of people, the outcasts acquired weapons and plan to take back the town.  they chose to take back the town on December 25th, of course.  they were well aware of the myths about them from numerous refugees.  before sacking the town the outsiders planned to act out the famous story of ‘Der Grindch’ by breaking into the houses and destroying all of the presents.  as you can guess, lots of free time in the post-apocalyptic wilderness allowed for vengeance and hatred to stir and fester.

on the night before the celebration, the town shut down.  the outcasts surrounded the town and set up camp.  they easily outnumbered the townspeople 4 to 1.  the plan was to wake up a few hours before dawn, silently break in to the houses to destroy the presents, then sneak back into position and wait to see the reactions of the people.  then the strike will occur.

the outcasts were dressed in the traditional outfit of the Fuhrer and painted their faces green.  some were armed with rifles, others with knifes, some with handmade spears or clubs while some were not armed at all.  a small, skilled group was selected to break into the houses.  the presents were easily found in the houses as they were displayed prominently.  breaking, entering, and destroying went off without causing a serious disturbance.  the presents went gathered and dumped into a near by lake.  the outcasts waited for several hours until the people start to wake up and gather in the town square.

contrary to the myth, the townspeople did not come together and sing traditional songs and celebrate despite the loss of their gifts.  the scene was much more chaotic.  at first, the frantic people left their houses and talked to their neighbors.  the children were crying and the adults were visibly distraught.  terror spread as it became widely known that this had happened to the whole town.  even more scary than having your house broken into is knowing that everyone you know‘s house was broken into.  as the town square filled up with people in complete panic, the outsiders struck.

the pandemonium began when those with guns fired indiscriminately into the square.   bullets and bodies were going every which way as the ranged attackers lead the charge.  behind them were those without firearms.  the gunners surrounded the square while the rest ran into the crowd with there weapons or their hands.  the gunfire ceased as brutal hand to hand warfare took over.  the lucky ones were shot by the gunners as they tried to flee the square.  the men who stayed were violently struck down with knives, spears or fists, and the snow ran blood.

when the violence was over, a subset of the townspeople were in custody, mostly women and children.  others not in the square were rounded up and gathered with the rest, or executed.  the outsiders did suffer some casualties, as there were members of the town who formed a small resistance, arming themselves with the stash of guns.  they were quickly over run.  all that remained were the survivors in the square, the troops surrounding them and the gory aftermath.

the outsiders saw before them a panicking pack of beasts who wouldnt appear human if it werent for the clothes on their back.  the survivors saw monsters with green faces speckled with blood who had just unleashed carnage like theyd heard in the terrible campfire stories.  the survivors were pleading for their lives when an large, old man limped out from the perimeter of soldiers.  he had no weapons but blood all over his the top sides of his hands.  the survivors collapsed in closer to each other, terrified of the ugly creature before them.

when the old man had walked out far enough he stopped.  he brushed some his hair out of his green coated, wrinkly face and then he said, “Frohe Weihnacht Mutterficker”

and that, ladies and gentleman, is the real story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

i’m just gonna leave this here

at some point, there existed a molecule with the incredible, astounding, unbelievable ability to replicate itself.

at some point, molecules that could replicate themselves did so in such a way that themselves and their copies would have a membrane or wall surrounding them made out of organic machinery for protection or something (or something similar, the point is it added complexity with organic/molecular parts).

we, after unconscionable time, pressure, complexity, are organic machines made out of organic machinery built by instructions from molecules that replicate themselves

there is no time


(now that i have your attention…) time, as we experience it, is an illusion. it only seems to exist because of our perceptions (although it is pretty damn convincing) and what we call time is actually completely relative to the sun.  the phenomenon we are actually observing is entropy.

the universe goes from a state of order to a state of disorder.  you are born, you get older and you die.  this is not time; these are biological changes.  the systems within systems degrade because there are imperfections and dna copying errors that happen along the way.  order to disorder. the universe began in an extremely ordered state–the most ordered state imaginable actually–which is why we cannot grasp the concept of things that happened before the big bang.

entropy is why things appear to have chronology to them and why the universe seems to be unfolding in one direction.  this is perpetuated by the brain and memory.  our brain uses logic, abstract reasoning to be able to cycle thru memories and past reasoning.  it uses this reasoning or clues from the environment, like human ageing, to determine if an event happened before, (illusion) after, (illusion) or is simultaneous with (illusion),  another because it is useful for survival to do so.  the brain is receiving a constant stream of input, a series of snapshots, and the way we perceive time is due to the brain trying to make sense of this input.   the brain adds the perception of the dimension of time to make sense of this linear stream of input.


graph of the movement of a particle in the x direction. t=time

the brain creates the t axis.  it sees the snapshot of the particle at each point along the way.  but this only exists because of the observer.  it is not like gravity, for example, but instead is relative to the observer and to the sun.

we see time is on a clock or a calender, but this is entirely relative to the sun–one of billions of stars in the universe.  when we look at a clock we are looking at a measurement of position of the earth on its daily rotation and we add this value as a dimension in the graph of the 3d world, if you care to think of it that way.  a calender is similarly a position measurement.  since the orbit is sufficiently stable (such a large scale that it is essentially unchanging for our purposes. note that our time system only works if it is stable), we are able to fix the 3d world on an additional axis.  we have taken what the brain does with respect to chronology of linear input(make a relative judgment) and  assigned a non-arbitrary and non-relative (not relative to other events/memories, i mean) index system.  it is obviously useful on this rock to do so because so much of our lives are affected by the sun and seasons, and for coordination and lots of other reasons.

However, relative time starts to break down once you leave the very specific environment of the earth. because of Einstein’s theory of special relativity (specifically time dilation) the time experienced by people on earth is different than the time for the GPS satellites in orbit   (by microseconds, but still).  if you lived on a colony on Mars, you would use Earth days out of custom, but would that last?  how do you determine at what point are things happening at the same time on Earth, Mars, and on a space station?

the reason the universe seems to be heading strictly in one direction is entropy.  the reason time seems linear is because of our brain receives a linear stream of input.  if the sun did not exists, we would have no value to place for t (t=time) on a graph.  if we lived in another solar system we would have a different system.  time is the construction of a measurement of relative positions that supplies a fixed (enough) axis to set the 3d world that coincides with entropy and the observations we experience on planet Earth.

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