Was thinking about Meditations on Meditations on Moloch, a piece which I was rather pleased with, I thought it had uncovered a glaring problem with SSC thought. On reflecting I'm not so sure of my earlier opinion, so revisiting. And I couldn't resist the title.
SSC is using Moloch to describe the horrible consequences of humanity's inability to break out of short-sighted, short-term, selfish equilibria. Eg, obviously we'd all be better off if everyone would get rid of all their nuclear weapons, but there is no way to coordinate that, so here we are.
That's fair enough, and not all that out of line with what Ginsberg is calling Moloch, now that I come to think of it. Ginsberg says "Moloch whose name is the Mind", but he's not referring to mind in general, but a specific, rational-selfish sort of mentality, Urizenic (see Your Reason and Blake's System). It's the kind of blind insane mind whose reason leads it astray, that erects vast systems of control, and is blind to the destruction it causes. The industrial capitalists and military strategists who created the Vietnam War and poisoned the environment, and who were guided by reason throughout.
The difference is in the proposed solutions. The solution to Urizenic mind is more of the other qualities of mind – compassion, imagination, emotion. The SSC solution to the problems of mind is more reason, better reason, reason that has larger scope and can avoid local competition traps.
These both seem a bit utopian but in different ways. Ginsberg was the beating heart of the 60s and the idea of that failed revolution was indeed to alter human nature, to tame reason and greed with alternative values. The SSC/Rationalism cult wants to re-engineer society to be more optimal according to some utilitarian calculus, without making fundamental changes to how society is structured or how humans are. Except maybe they should be smarter. SSC believes we can think our way out of our impasses.
These both seem like kind of naive programs, but the latter has the convenient feature that it requires no challenges to existing power structures, nor dropping out and living according to newfound values. All it requires is making a lot of money in some professional role and giving a chunk of it to the Effective Altruism people who will make sure it gets used according to best utilitarian principles.
It is worth noting that to Ginsberg's generation, Rationalism meant Robert McNamara and the RAND Corporation, the steely-eyed technocrats who created the Vietnam War in the name of liberalism, capitalism, and reason. They were the ones with the data and the computers, and this is where reason led, to death, chaos, brutality, and suffering. Hippie romanticism didn't come out of nowhere.
Of course these are different times. The Berkeley Rationalists strike me as people who want the good stuff from hippie culture (drugs, freedom, communal living and sex, full embrace of the technologies of the self) without their social critique. They like capitalism just fine, it keeps their game running, it is the source of wealth and comfort. There's no war and no draft to make it seem like reason is inimical to life. The climate crisis might give some people pause, but its too slow and remote to be a spur to action like the Vietnam War (and draft) was to the earlier generation.