My recent brush with people I greatly admire got me thinking about the purpose of hero-worship, and reminded me of something I wrote several years ago. This was written when I was in my alcoholic phase, and yes, I was drunk when I wrote it. I’ve cut out a bit, and it’s still kinda belligerent. But I still agree with the sentiment at the heart of it, the notion that a group of people can nominate the best among them to pursue goals they all wish to see achieved, but which they don’t have the resources or ability to all pursue individually.
And as I mentioned before, I have a very mystical mental architecture. Fighting against it takes a lot of effort. Adapting the vocabulary of the religious and subverting my spiritual nature in pursuit of the goals I’ve concluded are worthwhile is a great hack that both motivates me and harnesses that energy.
You know what… I’m going to come right out and say it.
A lot of people need their clergy. And after a decade of denial, I’m finally willing to admit it – I am one of those people.
The vast majority of people do not give their 10% tithe to their church because some rule in some “holy” book demands it. They don’t do it because they want a reward in heaven, or to avoid hell, or because their utility function assigns all such donated dollars 1.34 points of utility up to 10% of gross income.
They do it because they want their priests to kick more ass than the OTHER groups’ priests. OUR priests have more money, more power, and more intellect and YOUR sorry-ass excuse for a holy-man. “My priest bad, cures cancer and mends bones; your priest weak, tell your priest to go home!”
So when I give money to the SIAI (or FHI or similar causes) I don’t do it just because I necessarily think it’s the best/most important possible use of my fungible resources. I do it because I believe Eliezer & Co are the most like-me actors out there who can influence the future. I do it because of all the people out there with the ability to alter the flow of future events, their utility function is the closest to my own, and I don’t have the time/energy/talent to pursue my own interests directly. I want the future to look more like me, but I also want enough excess time/money to get hammered on the weekends while holding down an accounting job. In short – I want to be able to just give a portion of my income to people I trust to be enough like me that they will further my goals simply by pursuing their own interests. Which is to say: I want to support my priests. But I would STILL give them this money, simply because I want other people to see that MY priests are better taken care of than THEIR priests.
Standard Disclaimer, but really… some enthusiasm is needed to fight Azathoth.