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techstepgenr8tion
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24 Feb 2024, 2:33 pm

I was just watching a quick Youtube video on the collapse of Rome and parallels they give to the US and UK. While I think our situation is different with incoming AI, cryptographic ledgers, etc. I wanted to see if anyone or 'anything' in this case could answer what decadence actually is in terms of game theory - not 'you know it when you see it' like porn but I mean the actual causal dynamics.

I didn't have my work laptop open so I didn't go ChatGPT but I did Ask AI instead. The problem I've noticed in the past with Ask AI is it hallucinates like CRAZY, so you have to be careful about the answers you get back. I could maybe ask ChatGPT another time and see what kind of answer it gives but I'll share both the question and answer below:

Can you describe the game theory of cultural decadence such as seen in powers such as Rome, possibly now the United States, before they collapse?


Game theory is a mathematical model of strategic interaction among rational decision-makers. It has been applied to various fields, including economics, political science, and sociology. However, using game theory to describe the “game” of cultural decadence in powers such as Rome and potentially the United States is a complex and speculative endeavor.

In the context of cultural decadence, one could consider the “players” to be different societal factors or groups that interact with each other in a strategic manner. These players could include political leaders, economic elites, cultural influencers, and the general population. The “payoffs” of the game could be defined in terms of power, wealth, cultural influence, or other factors that are relevant to the players.

In the case of Rome, one possible game theoretical explanation for its decline could be the “tragedy of the commons” problem. This concept refers to a situation where individual rational decision-makers acting in their own self-interest deplete a shared resource, leading to worse outcomes for all. In the context of Rome, this could manifest as political leaders granting favors to special interest groups at the expense of the broader population, leading to a decline in public goods such as infrastructure and security. Over time, this erosion of public goods could lead to societal collapse.

Another possible game theoretical explanation for cultural decadence could be the “prisoner’s dilemma” problem. This concept refers to a situation where two players have an incentive to betray each other, even though they would be better off cooperating. In the context of cultural decadence, this could manifest as different societal groups pursuing their own self-interest at the expense of the common good. For example, economic elites might prioritize short-term profits over long-term sustainability, while political leaders might prioritize their own power over the needs of the population. Over time, this erosion of cooperation could lead to societal collapse.

In the case of the United States, some scholars have argued that the country is experiencing a form of cultural decadence driven by political polarization and gridlock. One possible game theoretical explanation for this phenomenon could be the “collective action” problem. This concept refers to a situation where individual rational decision-makers have an incentive to free-ride on the efforts of others, leading to underinvestment in public goods. In the context of political polarization, this could manifest as political leaders prioritizing their own ideological goals over compromise and cooperation, leading to a breakdown in governance and a decline in public goods such as infrastructure and social welfare programs.

Another possible game theoretical explanation for cultural decadence in the United States could be the “coordination” problem. This concept refers to a situation where individual rational decision-makers have an incentive to coordinate their actions with others, but face difficulties in doing so due to communication or information asymmetries. In the context of cultural decadence, this could manifest as different societal groups struggling to communicate and coordinate their actions due to ideological or partisan divides. Over time, this erosion of coordination could lead to societal collapse.

It’s important to note that these game theoretical explanations are highly speculative and should be viewed with caution. Cultural decadence is a complex phenomenon that is influenced by a wide range of factors beyond strategic interaction among rational decision-makers. Moreover, applying game theory to historical or contemporary societies requires making numerous assumptions about the motivations and preferences of different societal actors, which may not always be accurate or complete. Nonetheless, game theory can provide a useful framework for thinking about how different societal factors interact with each other in strategic ways and how these interactions can contribute to cultural decadence over time.


I think a lot of these are fair causes. The question I'm stuck wondering is how deterministic this pattern is.

For example I fully agree with the idea that while we might have a lot of technological progress moral progress has to be reinvented with every generation, and if a whole society loses morality because it stops punishing immorality (and it becomes an incredibly profitable vector) then it's a problem that'll drag a country or civilization to its destruction because the incentives are now inside-out in a way that there's no credible way of stopping other than letting it burn to the ground. By immorality I mean the 'psychopathy always wins' mentality, ie. it's base nature retaking our aspirations to thrive, to do well, and turning it into who can damage or rob who more to get a relative advantage (ie. zero-sum and negative-sum games).

I don't think in this day and age that there's much hope for moral revivals, particularly when everyone's eyeing everyone with suspicion wondering what games they'll use to take their stuff, but I do think there's a credible possibility for technology disrupting these patterns and who knows... maybe there isn't a Roman-style collapse into an Holy Roman Empire style confederation.

What's obvious to me though - Rome fell the way we're stumbling and potentially getting ready to fall - ie. it's the thing Scott Alexander (Slate Star Codex) talked about in 'Mediations on Moloch':
https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/m ... on-moloch/

For me it just further reinforces the understanding that we REALLY need to focus on social technology and in particular technology that keeps cultural incentives healthy, not as a 'nice to have' but as a critical component of preventing our extinction. Without that understanding we're going to, as a matter of course, keep walking into walls and needing to manually relearn common sense the painful way, which includes high odds of extinction if we start making fumbles with nuclear weapons, synthetic biology, AI, etc..


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techstepgenr8tion
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24 Feb 2024, 2:41 pm

An additional thought over and above what the AI responded with - collapse of institutions. When people can't trust institutions anymore they're then properly 'on their own', which means they have to get 'grabby' for survival. It gets REALLY bad if every person or someone in every family has to be an automechanics expert, a medic, a lawyer, an arms and weaponry expert, etc. because the police no longer protect, the mechanics will rip off anyone who can't catch them, doctors will do the same as mechanics, and then add that if the education systems gets plundered to where education for the poor would just be sitting in classrooms and not learning while the rich would have the best tutoring available.


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“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word "love" here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace - not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” - James Baldwin