MOLOCH IS A VILLAIN from Alan Moore's classic deconstruction of superheroes in the graphic novel Watchmen
. Moloch is also a legendary Canaanite rival to the Hebraic god Yahweh in the Bible. The cultural demon to whom we are sacrificing our children.
Why do people in the broader liminal networks keep using this archaic word?
In the last two years, Moloch has become a trendy term within our niche. One hears Jordan Hall using it in conversation with John Vervaeke. Daniel Schmactenberger mentions it on the Stoa. There are obscure references to this creature in the mythic meanderings of The Emerald podcast. And recently this entity made a curious appearance in Jonathan Rowson's contemplative exploration: Moloch in Therapy.
It is an ominous word. Moloch has the sinister “m" of Mordor, Murder, Mammon, Misalignment & the Metacrisis. Beyond these semantic acoustics, the word typically refers to an abominable monster who feeds on human sacrifices in the Old Testament. Well, the older testament
. They're both old.
The Jewish textual tradition is an odd combination of ethical and spiritual insights with logocentric bias. Was Moloch really getting fed babies or is that just the propaganda of monotheist book cults who looked down on the tribal veneration of images, statues & ecological spirits? Hard to say.
In the mid-20th century, the great scholarly and spiritual Jewish poet Alan Ginsberg wrote Howl --
in which the deity Moloch was resurrected as a description for the destructive, desacralizing and degraded pattern of civilization that we might now call Game A.
In 2014 this usage was picked up by Scott Alexander in his infamous Meditations on Moloch
from the Slate Star Codex.
Alexander argues that Moloch is not simply the demon of Capitalism (as many had proposed) but rather it is the poetic personification of the entire set of incentives
that slope the distributed mechanisms of planetary civilizations toward accumulating and repeating undesired outcomes. That's what makes the name Moloch into such a useful thought tool for people like Daniel Schmactenberger
Why are we all doing things that we do not want to do?
Why are we engaged in collective action that produces ecological, financial and moral outcomes that no one desires for themselves or their grandchildren?
Who is the “One" who is degrading our meaningfulness and placing our future in jeopardy through the body of our shared systems?
We take a poetic risk in naming phenomena. It invites pre-rational ideation, yes, but it also allows us to contemplate additional ranges of questions. Is our civilization haunted by an egregore? Are quasi-autonomous entities a useful way of emotionally making sense of how our collective action and attention are facilitating emergence at global scales?
Personification, within certain limits, might be a powerful tool. Perhaps our brains have evolved to think seriously about hyperobjects by using the imaginal patterns of dramatic abstract entities.
One of the powerful gains of this approach is that our moral sentiments can open toward a greater range of possibilities. Schmactenberger asks if Moloch can be converted from Sith to Jedi. Rowson imagines the possibility of psychotherapeutic growth for the demon.
These are only two of many ways that we can adjust our sensibilities about the System through naming and imagining and feeling an entity
. * BONUS *
Check out Wendy McLean's collection of resources
around Moloch, AI & the Metacrisis.