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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.

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      “[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.

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                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.

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                  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.

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                    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.

                                    1. 1

                                      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.

                                      1. 0

                                        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.

                                        1. 1

                                          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.

                                    2. 1

                                      Ahh, got you, sorry for misunderstanding!

                        2. 2

                          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.

                            2. 10

                              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 was thinking the same thing as you are, but ultimately decided to build a tower instead, mostly to get it quieter and faster. This is roughly what I ended up building (though it seems like AIO cooler has gotten much more expensive and should be replaced with a cheaper alternative) and I’m very happy with it. It does everything 3-30x faster than my 2017 MacBook Pro.

                            Pinebook Pro came a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to get it working reliably with an external monitor yet, but again I’m thinking along the same lines as you are. SSH, VNC/RDP/Xpra all work fine, and I can still do things locally if ever needed. EDIT: Raspberry Pi 4 is a better option for a desktop, since they can drive 2x4k monitors. I think I’m going to give up on “docking” the pinebook.

                            FWIW, WireGuard ties this all together for me. FreeNAS supports it now, so I can remain connected to NAS and dev workstation at the same IPs while roaming. As an added bonus, you can easily check in on things from your phone/tablet when you’re away from your “real” thin client.

                            1. 1

                              Pinebook Pro came a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to get it working reliably with an external monitor yet

                              That’s a shame. I was thinking of putting in an order for the next run, but that’d be a showstopper for me.

                            1. 1

                              I recently built this Linux workstation I’m pretty happy with. It checks all of your boxes (edit: not sure about the open source network drivers, sorry), but you could scale down some things (e.g. RAM and SSD). I’m a Rails developer so I was looking for single-threaded performance and disk IO. The video card was just the cheapest thing I could find to drive 2x4k displays. https://pcpartpicker.com/list/xFm8sZ

                              1. 3

                                In the old days there used to be a a username/password combo you could use to log in to basically any site. A globally ‘shared’ account for those in the know. I’ve forgotten the credentials by now, but I recall the password would not work anywhere with significant password requirements. If that account still exists, this password could be suitable for places with significant password requirements. Globally documented, but only useful to those in the know.

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                                  If it’s the same low-tech predecessor to http://bugmenot.com/ I’m thinking of, it was cypherpunk / cypherpunk

                                  1. 3

                                    cpunks / cpunks was the one I recall.

                                    1. 1

                                      That wasn’t the one I was thinking of, but it appears there was more than one :). Obvious in hindsight: ideas are usually not unique, but prompted by the times.

                                    2. 3

                                      media/media was the way to bypass the Wall Street Journal’s paywall from its creation until earlier this year.

                                      1. 2

                                        Thanks! I wanted to mention that, but couldn’t remember which newspaper that was, and it’s an impossible phrase to Google…

                                      2. 2

                                        People still do this. And thankfully as a pentester, this helps keep food on my table. Seriously don’t do this unless absolutely 100% necessary. Also

                                        but only useful to those in the know

                                        Is rarely true, so many times I get access to undocumented features that have less rigorous testing because “developers only” and it leads to unexpected things.