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Day 17 — Moloch

In Meditations on Moloch, Scott Alexander dissects Alex Ginsburg's famous poem. I won't paste the whole thing here, but Scott's initial commentary is a succinct summary:

Moloch is introduced as the answer to a question – C. S. Lewis’ question in Hierarchy Of Philosophers – what does it? Earth could be fair, and all men glad and wise. Instead we have prisons, smokestacks, asylums. What sphinx of cement and aluminum breaks open their skulls and eats up their imagination? And Ginsberg answers: Moloch does it. [...] The implicit question is – if everyone hates the current system, who perpetuates it? And Ginsberg answers: “Moloch”. It’s powerful not because it’s correct – nobody literally thinks an ancient Carthaginian demon causes everything – but because thinking of the system as an agent throws into relief the degree to which the system isn’t an agent.

The essay itself is extremely long but absolutely fascinating, and I encourage you to read it. It will make you think much more than the next 150 words will.

That said, I'd like to dig into a pessimistic take on what Moloch could mean for post-capitalist futures. Moloch throws society into an endless coordination problem, a race to the bottom. Moloch is the Prisoners' Dilemma, the "race to the bottom."

A university president might believe that their administration is too bloated, but the competing universities are investing in bloated administrations for marginal benefits — thus, we must too. You might disagree with an endless pursuit of profit, but in order to break down capitalism, one could argue that you first need control of capital.

These endless, circular problems have only one solution: removing ourselves from the rat race. However, Moloch's goal is to keep us there, forever chasing meaningless goals.

Moloch is central to the bear case for a more equitable, just future: what if we can't defeat him?