Today it was announced that Microsoft is acquiring GitHub. The responses to this event have been mixed, with some people expressing optimism and others fear. I have two lines of thought regarding this subject.
First of all, I don’t expect Microsoft to ruin GitHub. I agree with those who believe that Microsoft genuinely cares about open source. So long as software is a complement to Microsoft’s products, Microsoft is incentivized to support open source software. I was worried when I discovered that Microsoft’s revenue from Windows is dropping since operating systems are an obvious complement of software, but luckily Microsoft seems to be pivoting to cloud services, another complement of software. Therefore, I expect that Microsoft will at least avoid damaging GitHub in any way since it stands to gain from open source.
What does worry me is the larger pattern that this acquisition is a part of. Microsoft has made a lot of acquisitions in the past, and it’s far from the only company to do so. This pattern, along with some other factors, has resulted in a major increase in market power, which means there’s a lot less competition among companies. This leads to a variety of problems, including lower wages, less economic growth, and the phenomenon known as cost disease, among many others. So while I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this acquisition specifically, in context it is part of an extremely harmful pattern that needs to be ended.
In one of my previous posts, I discussed the concept of a singleton as defined by Nick Bostrom. Now I’d like to consider what the rough opposite of a singleton would look like, based on what has been written by others on the subject.
For me, the obvious place to start is Scott Alexander’s Meditations On Moloch. In it, Moloch is introduced as that which causes the following:
In some competition optimizing for X, the opportunity arises to throw some other value under the bus for improved X. Those who take it prosper. Those who don’t take it die out. Eventually, everyone’s relative status is about the same as before, but everyone’s absolute status is worse than before.
This type of situation is known as a coordination problem, something I discussed previously in the context of boycotting video games. If those in the competition could choose to cooperate, they could easily coordinate to avoid sacrificing any other values. But as long as they are competing, once one of them chooses to sacrifice something for a short-term advantage, the rest must do the same or be eliminated.
In my previous post, I laid out what I consider to be the strongest argument against freedom of speech. Now I will cover what I believe to be the flaw in that argument.
In that argument’s analogy, ideological propaganda produced by think tanks is equated with pathogens produced by bioweapon labs. But this comparison misses something. Multiple pathogens will all weaken a host more than just one of them would, but multiple ideologies will contradict and weaken each other, influencing people less. This gives freedom of speech an advantage that “freedom to distribute pathogens” lacks.
I consider freedom of speech to be one of the most important foundations of today’s society. However, in this post I’d like to present what I believe is the strongest argument against free speech, then follow it up with the reason I think said argument is wrong in a later post.
The groundwork for this argument (though certainly not the argument itself) is laid out in detail in Scott Alexander’s Meditations On Moloch, which I recommend you read first. The most relevant part is as follows:
The point is – imagine a country full of bioweapon labs, where people toil day and night to invent new infectious agents. The existence of these labs, and their right to throw whatever they develop in the water supply is protected by law. And the country is also linked by the world’s most perfect mass transit system that every single person uses every day, so that any new pathogen can spread to the entire country instantaneously. You’d expect things to start going bad for that city pretty quickly.
Well, we have about a zillion think tanks researching new and better forms of propaganda. And we have constitutionally protected freedom of speech. And we have the Internet. So we’re kind of screwed.
Everyone loves to hate on Comic Sans. Even those who know nothing about typography will spend the time to go on long rants about how awful it is. But the truth of the matter is entirely different from what common knowledge suggests. In reality, Comic Sans is a great font.
What makes Comic Sans so great? For one thing, it’s an easily recognizable font. It was originally released as one of five fonts supplied by Windows 95. This allowed it to spread very quickly as many personal computer users employed it in their printouts. The intense hatred that many hold for it only renders it even more recognizable. For them, Comic Sans is the enemy, and an inability to identify your enemy leads to a swift defeat. Thus, the Comic Sans haters cannot help but fuel its recognizability.