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      And Urbit speaks IPv4 only.

      And a planet cannot DM its own moons.

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        Wait it can’t? How would you do planet->moon communication then?

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          I’m unsure. Perhaps you need to create a private group and use that.

          I have tried initiating DMs on the planet as well as on its moon, it just doesn’t work. The funny thing is, a planet can |hi its moons, and vice versa, so it’s not a routing problem.

          We are led to believe that moons can be useful for IOT stuff, it’s just hard to imagine how when the ships can’t DM each other (the memory requirements alone also makes IOT an unlikely scenario).

          Another weird thing: While you can post image links in groups/channels/DMs, you have to host the images elsewhere.

          Like the blog poster, I’m not impressed by urbit.

          1. 5

            Oh lord you may need to make a custom channel to your moons yeah. Wow, that’s kinda crap lol.

      2. 1

        Update: After the latest OTA (basehash 4dii7, 2021-06-02) a planet can now DM its moons.

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      Coincidentally, I encountered Urbit for the first time about a week ago. It’s fascinating to read about, despite (or perhaps because of) its absurd overengineered complexity and confusing 4-letter names. I don’t think it’s ever going to catch on. But I feel like, somewhere in Urbit, there’s a good idea–or multiple good ideas–struggling to get out.

      Nock is pretty cool, conceptually. If an efficient VM for it does already exist (I haven’t actually tried Urbit, so I don’t know how efficient it is), then there’s potential in using Nock as a compile target for other functional languages.

      And the whole idea of an “overlay OS” is really promising, and I wish more people would try to create one. In my mind, the minimum for a good overlay OS is a programmer-friendly graphics layer, like the various “fantasy game console” VMs that are already out there. My excitement for the concept of Urbit deflated as soon as I realized it didn’t have this. From what I can tell, Urbit isn’t much more than another VM for a server-side web language, gatekept by an expensive crypto name market.

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        I had the same reaction when I first discovered it — there’s a puzzle-solving thrill, and wondering “is this real or an elaborate joke?” about Nock, plus the Borges references.

        I think there are decent ideas in there. Nock is on my mind recently as I’m building a simple Forth-like interpreter. I don’t think there’s any real benefit to Nock’s extreme minimalism — the simplicity of the language is more than canceled out by the complexity of making it run efficiently — but I like the idea of an auto-updating interpreted software layer. Only with checksums and signatures of course.

      2. 3

        one of the most interesting ideas is the notion of defamiliarizing the language to free up the mind into new thought patterns. there are a few other gems in the original & early system.

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          There’s “defamiliarizing” and there’s “WTF?” Simply using a functional or concatenative language would have been defamiliarizing for most people! Hoon smells deliberately obfuscated, like a hipster language that’s cool because it’s unreadable.

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      And I still can’t shake off a bit of a cult-ish vibe there. Regardless whether on purpose, or purely accidental.

      It’s not accidental. See Who Owns the Stars: The Trouble with Urbit for more background about on the political motivations behind the project.

      1. 12

        “[I]n many ways nonsense is a more effective organizing tool than the truth. Anyone can believe in the truth. To believe in nonsense is an unforgeable demonstration of loyalty. It serves as a political uniform. And if you have a uniform, you have an army.”

        ― Mencius Moldbug AKA Curtis Yarvin

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          What’s the context? This can be read as him raising an army by nonsense or an observation of how gullible people are by contrasting the masses to an army.

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            Why not both? There’s precedent.

            “You don’t get rich writing science fiction. If you want to get rich, you start a religion.” - L. Ron Hubbard

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              That’s valid too, but combining them pretty much doubles the importance of actual context.

              Right now it’s the equivalent of my maybe-favorite reasoning, which is that circular reasoning works because it’s predicated on the fact that circular reasoning works.

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        There is nothing more boring than a personal attack to a systems creator to discredit the system. You need to assume that they are a diety that can predict exactly how every part of the system will interact with every other part.

        The article may eventually get to that point, but after reading a third of it and not getting there I have better things to do with my life.

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          Boring, sure, but not necessarily unwarranted. The author goes to great lengths to explain why it is important to him to consider not even the creator alone, but all who will benefit from a system as it grows and becomes widely known / used.

          If Urbit were some random open source library I’d agree that attacking the author is pointless. But it’s not, it’s an entire alternative socioeconomic apparatus with the author’s political views embedded within it in a meaningful way (not just in terms of language, which has actually been changed to be less political). He has said as much himself.

          To me, the article is more an explanation of why the author won’t participate in or support Urbit rather than a takedown of the system itself. Just like how many people (of all political stripes) don’t shop at certain stores or buy products from certain companies if they disagree strongly with the owners.

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            What prevents someone from forking Urbit or starting a similar project to advance a radical anarcho-socialist platform?

            I don’t really care, but that Yarvin guy seems to have put some effort into his work, disagreeable or not, while the opposition focuses on complaining and raging.

            If Urbit really is a threat, aren’t online comments the least useful slacktivist countermeasure?

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              What prevents someone from forking Urbit or starting a similar project to advance a radical anarcho-socialist platform?

              We have to draw a distinction between Urbit the community and Urbit the software. TFA does discuss both (for example, the author critiques Hoon, which is part of the software). However, the discussion of Yarvin and his supporters is part of a critique of Urbit the community.

              An example here might be people who are opposed to using VS Code because of the closed source and Microsoft connections. Most of them would probably feel fine about using a hard fork of the open source code, but that wouldn’t “be” VS Code, it would be some other project / community.

              Honestly, it’s even a bit more complicated than this since Urbit the software is designed to reflect a particular set of social values. But I’m not overly concerned with that since a fork could (presumably without much trouble) alter the design.

              As an aside:

              If Urbit really is a threat, aren’t online comments the least useful slacktivist countermeasure?

              If what you meant was that Lobsters comments are useless, talk about boring arguments… No one comes to Lobsters under the belief that their comments will change the world. We’re here to discuss topics we find interesting with people who also like to discuss those topics. The whole “ya’ll are so dumb for discussing something that interests you” meme is tired and unoriginal.

              If what you meant was that TFA is useless, then isn’t all political commentary useless? And wouldn’t that include Yarvin’s extensive political commentary? Making an argument about something and putting it out there for others to think about is pretty much the whole point of free speech. No one is forcing you to read it, and no one is forcing you to comment on it.

            2. 3

              Nothing prevents this. There’s even a quote from Yarvin from some years ago when he was still actively involved in the project saying that he had no problem with other people forking Urbit’s (open source) code and implementing another Urbit with a different namespace model.

            3. 2

              There have been many without the incompatable-with-existing-software low-performance VM or the intentionally hierachical and rent-seeking namespace/routing scheme. Scuttlebut is probably the most similar variant along the axis of ‘share write-only data in a censorship-resistant way’ (except it actually somewhat achieves the latter).

              For the ‘send someone some ETH to prove you care about the identity’ part of the system, you could just demand whoever you’re talking to have a message in their history where they mention a wallet ID and a planned transaction amount and time to the EFF. You have the added bonus of the money possibly doing something useful rather than going to people who are in a position to receive it precisely because they thought they’d make money or enjoy having power by rent-seeking. I guess this also achieves the feature where it props up Peter Thiel’s investment in Etherium.

              For the we-did-our-own-crypto-it’s-definitely-better-than-openssl in a terribly inefficient VM part, I guess you’ll have to write a scuttlebut client in brainfuck or whatever esolang takes your fancy. You could also just put in some busy loops and rewrite the hashing bit to introduce some security vulnerabilities I suppose.

              Sadly none of this comes with a central body of a few hundred people you need to seek permission from before you can discover peers or have your traffic routed. I guess we’ll just have to form a commune of rent-seeking tyrants or something. That part seems really hard to do under an actually p2p protocol so maybe scuttlebut falls down as a replacement there.

            4. 2

              As somebody who’s thought a lot about what properties make technology better at advancing anarchist ideals, it’s precisely the absence of hierarchy which I would prioritize above all else. Urbit prioritizes hierarchy in every aspect of its permission and identity models. I would never use it as a starting point.

              (Edit: fix typo)

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                Sorry - I only now realized that this conversation took place more than a week ago. Please don’t feel any obligation to respond.

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          It’s absolutely relevant if the system was designed to enable an anti-democratic agenda. It’s definitely boring to keep having to call the project out on that front, but it’s important to make people aware of the underlying motivations of its creator. I wouldn’t consider this necessary to do if a warning was added to the original post (I do think it’s interesting to look at the technical details of systems like this), but I assume they weren’t aware of this at the time of writing.

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            An anti-democratic agenda is not a flaw when it comes to personal computers. If 99% of the population didn’t want me to do something with my personal computer, I would want my personal computer to anti-democratically ignore them and do what I tell it to do anyway.

            Of course the status quo isn’t democratically-controlled computing, it’s oligarchically-controlled computing. When I do my computing on privately-owned, closed-source platforms - Google, Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, etc.- it’s the fairly small number of people who work at those companies who control how I do my personal computing, rather than the electorate of the political unit I happen to live in.

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              An anti-democratic agenda is not a flaw when it comes to personal computers

              I think you misunderstand “anti-democratic”. Yarvin has expressed support for dictatorship and slavery. Do you truly think that you would have more computing freedom in such a political environment than in a democracy?

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                Possibly, depending a lot on the specific details of how the government of the political unit I lived in were set up. Certainly in a democracy a majority of the people could vote for politicians whose agenda includes restricting my compute freedom (for any number of reasons), and a lot of protections of individual rights in systems we call “liberal democracies” are grounded in self-consciously undemocratic processes, like judicial rulings.

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            Which are irrelevant because the creators aren’t omniscient.

            Somehow Stallman enabled Google to happen with his hippie ideas about helping your neighbour. I don’t think creating the worlds largest spy agency was his primary motivation when he wanted the printers firmware source code. What matters is the interaction between the system and the world and not what the original creator intended.

            The article at the top points out those interactions and why they are bad. The article in the comment above is pure character assassination and who ever wrote it should feel bad.

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              Somehow Stallman enabled Google to happen with his hippie ideas about helping your neighbour.

              I recommend doing some reading. The main public figure behind what you’re talking about is not RMS, but Eric S. Raymond, co-founder of the sometimes-controversial OSI and originator of the term “open source” (I think the vocabulary already illustrates a bit of a difference). Reading the FSF’s GPLv3 (or this article in particular) is enough to identify that Stallman was actively trying to forestall (wink!) the rise of something like Google on the back of FOSS. Contrast that with ESR’s term “open source”, as discussed in his book The Cathedral and the Bazaar (the name might sound familiar!).

              tl;dr: The best reading about the whole mess by far is this two-or-so–page article from 1999 by O’Reilly.

              As to your point: I guess it is character assassination in part? I think it’s also a decent discussion of the issues surrounding the Urbit project, and the significance of the dynamic between founder/maintainer and userbase. But I’ve only really given it a skim.

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            How exactly is the design undemocratic?

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              As a point of fact, the distribution of address space is explicitly feudal and meant to enable rent seeking. There are arguments for why this is a good or bad thing, but it is very much not democratic.

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                Those concerns are entirely orthogonal.

                Feudalism and rent-seeking are both definitely bad, but it’s entirely possible for a democratic society to vote themselves both. I’d argue that many have; 29% of wealth is taxed in Australia, and ‘public-private partnerships’ (yecch) are funneling vast amounts of taxpayers money into the hands of a few individuals and companies.

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                  I disagree that this is a category error. Societies can be more or less democratic and feudalism and rent-seeking move power from the people to an elite.

                  This is recognised by organisations like the Economist that assess a “democracy index” for various countries. Democracy is the measure of how much the people rule versus how much an elite rule and we can measure it for countries, workplaces, indeed, any community.

                  We don’t need to imagine this, we can simply look at the world as it exists. e.g. social democracies like Norway are clearly more democratic* than liberal democracies like the UK and USA where much more power is in the hands of an elite and there is much more widespread misinformation (in large part because the media is controlled by elites), voter suppression, and disenfranchisement through poor voting systems.

                  * I think Norway is a more democratic society because:

                  • it uses PR so a much greater proportion of the population has a meaningful say on their elected representatives (compare the UK and USA where only swing-constituencies really matter)
                  • there is proportionally more variety in media ownership, including significant union-allied media organisations
                  • workers benefit from sectoral-bargaining by large and powerful unions, so bosses have less power over workers
                  • income distribution is flatter, meaning elites have less economic power relative to the average person. In contrast, in the UK and USA proportionally more people are in poverty and they are much less likely than the rich to exert political power by voting, lobbying, protest or donations.

                  We can see the effect of this in the high levels of voter turnout (~75% in Norway vs ~60% in the USA and UK), high level of reported trust in government and media and perhaps more controversially in poverty rates and wealth and income equality (why would a truly free population choose to give so many resources to an elite while others are malnourished?)

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                  It’s well known that democracies can vote themselves into, or be manipulated into authoritarianism, which is exactly why it’s important to call out these attempts when we see them.

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                    Yes! But @friendlysock’s point was that feudalism and rent-seeking aren’t democratic. I think that’s a category error; as you point out, it’s well known that democracy can result in either or both.

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                      It is not a category error. You can build non-democratic things out of democratic things.

                      Separating from potential semantic issues. Urbit centralizes power (power over routing, power over peer discovery, namespace being distributed with some mixture of money, seniority and nepotism, voting power only being available to a select few – the senate – who are also endowed with the most of the above) in a way that is somewhere between capital-equals-power and pre-selected, recursively appointed hierarchy (ie. feudalism).

                      The word Democracy in the context that @friendlysock used it very clearly refers to distribution of power (as opposing centralization) rather than voting-as-a-method-of-distributing power.

                      It is difficult to believe that one would respond to such a post as if it were discussing voting-as-a-means-of-power-distribution if one were having a discussion in good faith, and more difficult still to believe one would double down on such an interpretation except as a rhetorical technique.

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                        It is difficult to believe that one would respond to such a post as if it were discussing voting-as-a-means-of-power-distribution if one were having a discussion in good faith

                        Let’s be clear about this, instead of beating about the bush with “it is difficult to believe”. My position is as follows:

                        • I wasn’t conflating Democracy with voting. In fact, I consider voting one of the major problems with modern Democracy. I’m a proponent of sortition as a replacement for voting as a potential solution.
                        • Democracy is orthogonal to centralization, and orthogonal to power distribution, because …
                        • Democracy - in the sense of Government of the people, by the people, for the people - can and has in recent times resulted in despotic centralisation of power. Steering well clear of Godwin here, I’d point to Chavez as an example.

                        Perhaps this is the difference that’s leading you to think I’m arguing in bad faith.

                        I’d argue that in every meaningful sense, a centralised despotic Government with widespread popular support can still be Democratic; it’s just that the will of the people here is the problem.

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                          You still seem to be intentionally confusing things that are the result of a democratic process with things that can be described as democratic.

                          The people of england could have a vote (or the sortition lottery winners could decide) on whether Manchester should be walled off and ruled despotically by Eddie Izzard. It would be the result of a democratic process as the people of Manchester were outvoted by everyone else in England, but the power relationship between Eddie Izzard and the people of Manchester would not be democratic.

                          Similarly decisions based on propaganda and populism are less democratic, and decisions justified via manipulated elections are not really democratic at all.

                          Any relationship which enables rent-seeking is inherently undemocratic, and any rent-seeking-enabling structure explicitly ruled by the 256 people chosen by virtue of their capital and interest in having power over said structure is not democratic at all.

                          Very loosely, when used as an adjective in the context above, ‘Democratic’ would mean the people with power are the people whose interests are most relevant. This is inherently and definitionally untrue in any rent-seeking relationship (although the relationship could still be a result of a greater structure which is democratic), and untrue in any system which can accurately be described as feudal.

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                            You still seem to be intentionally confusing things that are the result of a democratic process with things that can be described as democratic.

                            I think this is at the heart of our disagreement, and where we may have to agree to disagree.

                            I would say that a state of affairs arrived at by a democratic process is by definition democratic; although it may also be rent-seeking, feudal, or despotic. Or some combination of all three.

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                      Ahh, got you, sorry for misunderstanding!

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        Indeed. But also be forewarned that the author of that article is an avowed socialist; there are distasteful politics of all flavours on display here.

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          Not all distasteful things are equally distasteful.

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            That’s true; but Yarvin’s politics are still pretty damn distasteful.

            1. [Comment removed by author]

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          wonder how he manages to reconcile his socialism with his distasteful politics

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            I think gulags were the preferred mechanism?

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      I find this whole thread depressing.

      We have a long technical and economic list of why Urbit has a lot of problems and yet 2/3rds of the comments are about the politics of the guy who wrote it and has now stepped down. Character assassination is something everyone in open source has to deal with and I would have hoped people who are at least somewhat involved in the field would know better.

      Sacrificing scapegoats in the hope you’re not targeted never works.

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        Urbit submissions are third-rail submissions, and have been for as long as I’ve been a member here.

        The best thing to do is to hide them and get on with your day.

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          Which is really stupid because distributed systems are the only way that we can ensure that the internet isn’t taken over but we still have no idea how to build them so they can operate at scale, work for micro-payments and not have a central server - all the crypto coins have been a huge disappointment with their ridiculous fees and the time needed for a transaction to be logged.

          That Ted Nelson managed to predict the problems of an internet with no payment layer in the 60s yet we’re still no closer to solving even basic routing with payment 60 years later is dismaying.

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            Nelson’s ideas about compensation and the value of information were simply wrong. If Nelson’s vision had taken place, then Wikipedia wouldn’t exist, because it would have been slowly cut to pieces by middlemen. Instead, those middlemen are relegated to the second page of search-engine results.

            Instead, take a page from the communists, and distribute the means of production. Give people enough democratic control of enough computational power, and they’ll maintain common resources for everybody. The recent revolution of Libera from Freenode is instructive.

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              Those middle man now edit Wikipedia for a fee.

              Go to any medium to large corporation that you know where the skeletons are buried and read the article. Be amazed that all the publicly available information about corruption, fines, prison sentences and human rights abuses aren’t in Wikipedia and are relegated to the second page of search-engine results.

              Which is ironically what Ted Nelson said would happen if we couldn’t monetize content so people could live of it in a capitalist society. Everything is now an ad, including Wikipedia. We are the product and we’re cheering on the free ed-vertisement like geese cheering the farmer for the free food.

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                While I will admit that paid editors generally have a large advantage over volunteers in the amount of time they can dedicate, you can report particular instances of abuse to me, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Conflict_of_interest/Noticeboard, or other venues on or off Wikipedia, like our IRC or Discord channels.

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            Monero is basically the coin you’re describing, with one-minute confirmation times and incredibly low fees (the devs are constantly solving difficult equations in the quest to lower fees), but is on the verge of being made illegal for being too-much like cash.

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              I’d really like to believe that, but after bitcoin, tether, etherium and a whole bunch of other shit coins I just don’t have the mental energy to spend yet another weekend reading about a coin that will solve all the worlds problems and find out that it’s just a different flavour of pump and dump.

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                Monero really does work like private cash and has quick confirmation times as @WilhelmVonWeiner said. Plus it exists right now and you can derive value from it right now. That said, it’s fair to be exhausted from the pump-and-dump garbage fest that crypto is now. I tell most of my friends that unless you’re willing to literally sift out the shit, crypto isn’t the place to be right now.

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                100% agreed with you there, the early Ethereum craze really killed a lot of interest for me in shitcoins. I like the competition though because it drives innovation.

                I’ll just say that Monero is at least worth reading about as it solves Bitcoin’s fungibility problem in a much more user-friendly and effective way than making people use coinjoins and careful UTXO management. Fungibility is becoming more and more important because of the advancements being made in chain analysis. KYC exchanges these days are closely watching what you do with your BTC both before & after the coins touch their systems.

                It also seems to be effectively preventing mining centralization with RandomX (ASICs and GPUs aren’t cost effective to mine it), so it’s closer to the original “one CPU, one vote” idea of BTC.

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          They’re third-rail submissions in large part due to the persistent campaigning of certain users, yourself included if memory serves. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

          Edit: memory served poorly. :(

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            I think Urbit is a project doomed for irrelevance for many reasons, and I’d rank Yarvin’s ideology around third in the list of those reasons. But if I’ve ever tried to shut down a discussion about it on this site, I’d welcome an example. It was never my intention of doing so.

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              I double-checked my work and I offer you my profuse apologies. In the last year at least I can’t find you having done what I complained of. Sorry about that!

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                Apology accepted!

                Maybe we need a RES for lobste.rs…

      2. 14

        All the articles that mention Yarvin’s “politics” quote from and link to primary sources. “How dare you quote the exact words I said” is kind of a flimsy basis for claims of “character assassination”, and when the project in question is meant to enact the creator’s beliefs onto the world it is always on-topic to analyze and discuss those beliefs, since acceptance of the project’s technology is, by the project’s design, inseparable from acceptance of the creator’s “politics”.

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        I’d say in this case it’s not character assassination, but rather character suicide

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          Terrible, he killed himself by stabbing himself in the back twelve times.

          If you look at the sources on the wiki list none of them actually link to his writing, but to people writing about his writing to explain why what he said is racist, without actually linking to any of his writing.

          I find it ironic that the skill of detecting character assassination I developed to find worthwhile socialist and anarchist authors in the 00s is now something I’m using to do the same for right wingers.

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            I have a limited amount of time in this Earth, and I am yet to see any evidence that trying to find out whether someone that seems a nazi is a nazi is worth spending any of it.

            1. 20

              You would perhaps be interested in how that exact type of thinking allowed big tobacco to use Nazi anti-smoking policies to paint all its detractors as Nazis for decades after the war and kill more people than the holocaust: https://theconversation.com/smoking-rates-in-us-have-fallen-to-all-time-low-but-how-did-they-ever-get-so-high-107185

              Calling someone a word doesn’t mean they are wrong, it means you don’t have anything to say.

              1. 17

                I am sure you might be able to raise all sorts of reasonable doubt over whether or not this dude is a nazi, specifically, just nazi adjacent, or just an asshole in general.

                I am not, however, a court of law. I’m just a guy, with limited time and resources (way more limited than the justice system, by the way), so I go by general heuristics and even gut feeling. And that’s truth by pretty much all of us, really, despite how rational people think they are.

                So far, all I seem of that guy points to a direction, and it ain’t a good one. There are LOTS of other people being silenced and de-platformed for inconvenient and unpopular opinions that are CERTAINLY more deserving of my time, so, this dude will seat on my nazi bucket and I will not give it a second time until extraordinary and massive evidence surfaces indicating otherwise.

                The whole point of me even posting this is that it doesn’t actually talks much about the political aspects (although it doesn’t ignore it), just goes over some very technical and concrete reasons why it’s kinda crappy.

            2. 6

              “Always judge a book by its cover”?

          2. 15

            If you look at the sources on the wiki list none of them actually link to his writing, but to people writing about his writing to explain why what he said is racist, without actually linking to any of his writing.

            This is not surprising given that Wikipedia cannot be trusted on controversial topics. I wish people stopped linking to Wikipedia (unless the topic is uncontroversial), and instead cited the sources directly.

          3. 9

            Imagine spending your time going on the internent to cape for someone who claimed that race determines one’s “intelligence”

            Seems like a waste of time to defend nazis online but go off I guess.

            EDIT: I love that people on this website think that my comment was unkind, off-topic and/or trolling. Great to live in 2021 where people are going to bat for extremely blatant nazis because apparently arguing for a fascist state ruled by tech CEO’s, or that race determines one’s “intelligence”, or that slavery is good isn’t enough to be considered a straight up nazi. Cool. Awesome!

            1. 14

              Thanks for (implicitly) asking for feedback! That’s a great start.

              I think your comment is about as off-topic as the rest of the thread. If you’d like to know what you did differently, your comment targets and criticizes another member for having a different opinion in a mutual conversation, and with a sarcastic tone of voice at that. It seems like the kind of comment that would be better suited for Twitter than Lobsters—a short, quippy, dismissive take that adds nothing to the conversation but to half-assedly try to shut it down and embarrass others. That’s why I chose to flag your comment as “off-topic”, for lack of a better term.

              Before you commented, I saw it as an honest conversation that was less about the story and more about how we judge people online in general, often at face value whilst ignoring the substance and context of a conversation. After you commented, it became about judging people online, while ignoring the substance and context of the conversation. So ironically, your comment does the exact thing the thread debates. Maybe a better phrase than “off-topic” would be “um, hey. that thing you’re doing right now? yeah, we were just talking about that”.

              In general, I think Lobsters is better when the authors of these types of comments actually engage with the conversation. Or, failing that, if unkind things directed at fellow denizens are just left unsaid.

              1. -6

                Imagine writing all this that I won’t read just because you want to cape for nazis.

      4. 9

        FWIW what I think people are missing is that he was not great at advocating his beliefs, and probably considers his project a failure in that respect.

        He has left the project and his writings and beliefs have been disavowed by the current maintainers of the project. See the end of the FAQ: https://urbit.org/faq/

        Curtis laid the foundation for Urbit by delivering its first prototype but, since 2013, it has been refined and almost entirely rewritten by a community of developers. No one working on Urbit today had anything to do with Curtis’s writing. For the most part, we couldn’t be less interested in it.

        So I would suggest that it’s OK not to take him that seriously. Maybe 5 years ago, but not now.

        Also I remember that ironically his farewell blog post indicates that leaving the allocation of Urbit real estate to the free market produced a result he wasn’t happy with … it wasn’t in line with his notion of “fairness”

        What seems to be happening now is that the current maintainers are actually producing useful documentation about the system, moving away from all the intentional obscurantism. It does seem like Urbit is flawed as a system, but there are some interesting design elements for sure.

        Both of these docs are pretty good reading for people interested in the intersection of languages and operating systems:



        They use regular words and are quite readable :) (in contrast, the political stuff was always danced around in a way to create plausible deniability; there’s none of that here)

        It seems obvious to me that Urbit will not succeed or become mainstream, so I’m not very threatened by it. But it has plenty of ideas that are not about policies for resource allocation (i.e. the political stuff). A lot of it is about the representation of code and data for a distributed/networked operating system.

        1. 3

          I’m really glad they are working on making it less obscure, and documenting the system. The linguistic approach to operating system design is definitely fascinating, and is what originally got me interested in Urbit in the early 2010s when I came across it (before I learned about the underlying goals of the project).

          He has left the project and his writings and beliefs have been disavowed by the current maintainers of the project. See the end of the FAQ: https://urbit.org/faq/

          Curtis laid the foundation for Urbit by delivering its first prototype but, since 2013, it has been refined and almost entirely rewritten by a community of developers. No one working on Urbit today had anything to do with Curtis’s writing. For the most part, we couldn’t be less interested in it.

          In the circumstances if they really want to convince me that they’ve cut ties, I’d want them to clearly denounce the racist and pro-slavery views of the creator, and demonstrate how they are rearchitecting the project to move away from the original feudalistic, non-egalitarian aims of the project. Given the project’s history it’s important this needs is addressed explicitly, rather than hiding behind euphemistic statements which give fascists a space to continue to work unchecked.

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      If one thing from urbit could escape that project and be used elsewhere, I’d like it to be their monosyllabic pronunciation for ASCII symbols: https://urbit.org/docs/hoon/hoon-school/hoon-syntax/#reading-hoon-aloud

      I think this would be really nice to have as a shared language with other programmers, though there are some symbols that already have short names in no need of replacement.

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        I think Talon voice is a better precedent as highlighted in speaking code

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      I kind of want a new tag for urbit just so I don’t need to see the political fight every single time it comes up.

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        It’d be cool if we had a community notm to avoid politics when discussing tech, but there is a sizable contingent of Lobsters here who cannot function that way and prioritize their desire to talk about politics over talking about the tech.

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          Lots of projects have creators with shitty opinions, but few of those projects represent and implement those opinions. Urbit is tech that implements a political view, and to consider the tech separately from the politics is as inane as considering the politics separately from the tech.

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            The politics of Urbit have been discussed many times over. There’s literally nothing new to talk about there. The tech, however, is ever evolving. Why not talk about that instead? Surely technical perspectives should be prioritized, at least here on Lobsters.

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              The tech is “ever-evolving” I guess, but this article is a survey of the Urbit landscape, not a changelog.

              Anyway: go ahead, talk about the tech. But in this project’s case, the tech and the politics are deliberately tangled, so don’t be surprised or disappointed when the politics of the project come up for discussion too.

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            An interesting and enlightening discussion around Urbit’s politics would talk about what those politics are, how they have influenced the tech behind Urbit, and finally to what degree Urbit represents a successful realization of those politics. This is similar to how we evaluate deeply political technology projects like Project Cybersyn.

            This is emphatically not the style of discussion we get here. Instead, people do the shallow (and perhaps even lazy) thing and make uninteresting (and often unsubstantiated and incoherent) moral claims, and then you just get a bunch of Lobsters clacking angrily at each other while high on self-righteousness. It’s all so tiresome.

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              Such a discussion would be granting the project a legitimacy that it hasn’t earned and doesn’t deserve.

            2. 3

              When was the last time Lobsters talked about Cybersyn? When I searched I see a handful of posts with a handful of comments. That’s not really a discussion. So I don’t know where this deep evaluation is happening.

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                I found this in my DB of all submissions to lobste.rs, it got 6 upvotes and 1 comment:


                Interestingly it’s one of six submissions from Jacobin, the last one was in Nov 2018.

                Including this one, 23 submissions have “urbit” in their title.

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                So I don’t know where this deep evaluation is happening.

                That would be my point–it ain’t happening here, because in the vast majority of lobsters (quite probably myself included) are incapable of objective, dispassionate policy discussion.

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                  because in the vast majority of lobsters (quite probably myself included) are incapable of objective, dispassionate policy discussion.

                  “Objective, dispassionate policy discussion” isn’t some Platonic ideal that’s fit for all subject matter. When the topic is an elaborate prank schemed up by some Neoreactionary narcissist, the appropriate response is manifestly not a contemplative survey of its politics or positions.

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                  I’m also reasonably sure political discussion is somewhat off-topic here. Further, if a technical topic is sufficiently politicised I think the technical discussion itself becomes off-topic since no one can reliably talk about it in a neutral way that doesn’t in some ways refer back to the political context of the work.

            3. 2

              I don’t disagree that some (lots) of the political disussion that ensues after an Urbit posting is shallow, lazy, tiresome, content-free drivel. But the reason it doesn’t belong here isn’t because politics don’t belong in Lobste.rs discussions.

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                The politics of urbit itself match your descriptors. Pointing that out as an FYI may be a simple observation, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.

                People can still ignore those threads and discuss urbits’s whacky-ass tech as is currently the top post. Nobody is preventing that discussion from occurring.

          3. 3

            I never understood the “He’s right wing so these are the choices he made” argument. (oversimplified? Yes. But I’m OK with that.) The first time I read it, sure, interesting, engaging. The second time, I tried again, and again it seemed there was a massive cultural gap between what people thought and what I could understand. Third time, similar… and then I stopped caring. Urbit seemed to not be going anywhere, and caring about a random person’s political opinions because he happened to be a tech author seemed like a waste of time.

            An 18 second sketch that illustrates what this all seems like to me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79GNnfDrgWM

        2. 6

          You’re active on all political discussion I’ve seen here in recent memory, including sharing your own politics opinions. I chime in on this stuff too because it interests me. Why pretend to be above it? Clearly people want to discuss the tech implications of politically-adjacent stuff like this. It’s not virtuous to remove extra-technical context from the forum, it just makes the discussion less informed.

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            I don’t understand your point. People want to flame about politics, not talk about the tech related aspects, or I’d have fewer problems with the chatter.

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              I’m not understanding how your pushback here relates to my point. But to respond - there’s plenty of tech discussion here by the people who want to be having it. I don’t see the political threads preventing people from engaging. The top two threads are about technical details. I don’t suppose that anyone extra would have jumped into the techy bits had nobody commented on the extra-techy bits. The site is designed to accommodate multiple threads of discussion. So the whole ‘politics distracts from the technical discussion’ is not something I’m buying in this case.

      2. [Comment removed by author]

    7. 10

      The beliefs of the creator of Urbit are particularly repugnant to me but for some reason every time I see the name I think of the Borges story Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. I have no idea why.

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        Tlon is the name of the company developing Urbit and the name is self-consciously a reference to that Borges story. I’m sure there are other Borges references in Urbit that I’m not familiar enough with the author’s work to pick up on.

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          Thank you. I knew there had to be some sort of connection my subconscious made every time I read the damn name.

          Borges is one of my favorite authors. The Garden of Forking Paths, The Library of Babel…all great.

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            Borges is a fantastic author… with some problematic history as well. He supported the right-wing juntas that killed thousands during the last dictatorship in Argentina, under the pretense of saving the country from ‘communism’. I wouldn’t be surprised if Urbit’s author is aware of that connection.

            Either way, if you are interested in another Argentine author with similar themes, I couldn’t recommend Julio Cortázar enough. His book Final del Juego is on par with Borges’ Ficciones in terms of mind-bending stories that’ll leave you thinking for a few days.

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              As someone fairly far to the left side of the political spectrum (you have nothing to lose but your chains!) I’m aware of his political leanings, and can separate that from his writings (I quite enjoy a lot of Orson Scott Card’s work, but abhor homophobia, in a similar vein).

              I will definitely take your recommendation, thank you. I’ve been meaning to improve my Spanish in part to read Borges as it was written, but my Texan half-Spanish is nowhere close to being able to handle Borges’s Castellano…

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              I do not think that Borges’ opposition to Peron’s pro-Nazi totalitarian regime is “problematic”. Just read the history of what was going on and how it affected Borges. Argentina effectively became a one-party state which took control of all mass media, and brutally suppressed dissent. Many critics of the government were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Borges wasn’t imprisoned, but he was fired from his job for criticising the government. Of course Borges wanted Peron out of power, which is why he initially supported the 1976 coup. He didn’t support the subsequent death squads, and it is incorrect to imply that he did. From wikipedia:

              During the 1970s, Borges at first expressed support for Argentina’s military junta, but was scandalized by the junta’s actions during the Dirty War. In protest against their support of the regime, Borges ceased publishing in the newspaper La Nación.

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              Luckily left-wing dictatorships don’t have such problematic history.

              Yours, an Eastern European

    8. 6

      Extremely cool to see a thread full of people going to bat for an extremely blatant nazi who has argued such wonderful points as:

      • race determines one’s “intelligence”
      • supporting slavery! cool!
      • the United States is a failed democracy and as such should be replaced with … a dictatorship ruled by tech CEO’s

      Why anyone would spend their time arguing in favor of this person is beyond me. That’s something some of y’all need to do a lot of thinking about. I’m also not going to sit here and debate nazis who are only going to argue in bad faith, so don’t bother trying me.

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        You’re not helping the problem by avoiding discussing the works altogether, and instead focusing on flame wars.

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          Discussing the works of fascists is not worth my time. Hope this helps.

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            It is helpful to know that there’s other antifascists here. I appreciate it.

            I wonder whether it would be possible to destabilize Urbit by breaking some of its cryptography. Because much of the code is custom and obfuscated, and the keyspaces are relatively small, it seems apt for cryptanalysis. I can’t find anything public about this, other than a blog post from the Urbit team assuring us that they’ve definitely had somebody audit their Martian bullshit. I read through some of the Ames documentation, and now I have to go take my memory-altering drugs.

            Indeed, if any other cryptographer here can explain to me how Urbit works, I would appreciate it. As far as I can tell, it’s in the same realm as Minecraft or other hobbyist ventures gone mad, where hand-rolled encryption got steadily fancier until it couldn’t be broken in a weekend, and then it was deemed good enough.

            Of course, there’s also destabilizing Ethereum directly. This is a delicious inevitability which has completely different cryptanalysis.

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              I really don’t think that urbit is used by anyone in any serious way to warrant spending the time and effort to break it and destabilize it.

              That being said yeah I’m sure it’s probably terribly written anyway, but I also would not want to try to delve through all the cryptic weirdness that makes it up.

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        You’re obviously angry about the whole thing, and I respect your reasoning. Just try to think if what you’re doing is actually going to help things, or just make everyone angrier (including yourself) about something we all probably already agree on.

        Anyway, as a Jew myself, I’ve had enough of being called a Nazi by some Internet savior who doesn’t know jack about me. Check yourself. Seriously. Good day.

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          I’m not mad, just disappointed.

    9. 3

      Aghhghh this thread is so BORING. Urbit is not interesting, the hierarchy isn’t fluid, it’s just our current DNS with extra steps.

      Why do you guys&gals want to discuss this thing? Or that guy?

      I don’t get it.

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        On behalf of the Lobste.rs community, I’m sorry the level of discourse in this thread has not risen to the heights of entertainment that satisfy you. Your refund is in the mail. We hope to do better in the future!

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        Because it keeps getting brought up, and without a dissenting voice more people will buy into it (and thus become incentivized to continue bringing it up and trying to convince people to buy into it).