Proposed Longtermist Flag

post by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-24T05:40:13.325Z · EA · GW · 47 comments

Contents

  Symbolism
    Bar
    Bar
    Bar
  Meta: Is There Value in This?
  Resources
None
46 comments

In the spirit of the Flag for Utilitarianism, I hereby propose this be the Flag for Longtermism: Longtermist Flag

Symbolism

The flag is divided into three bars, representing the progressive stages of technological development. The color scheme is derived from the Flag of the East African Community, which is an homage to humanity's origins in that region.

Green Bar

The first, green bar represents Earth. It is the home of humanity, and its position at the bottom of the flag represents that it is the most foundation piece of humanity's future. However, it also represents the state of nature and its Malthusian nature—hence, it is unadorned and sparse.

Blue Bar

The blue bar, adorned with a rising sun, represents enlightenment. The light of scientific and technological progress drives newfound flourishing and capabilities. However, this stage of technological development is not an unambiguous blessing—the sun is colored red to illustrate the rising dangers this carries with it.

Black Bar

The Blue stands in stark contrast to the final, black band, which marks the precipice between our current stage of technological development and our terminal one.

The black band can have two meanings. On the one hand, the blackness can represent a void—an immense loss of value due to existential catastrophe. Its position atop the flag is meant to symbolize longtermists' awareness of existential risks. However, it can also represent outer space, and humanity's ultimate destiny as creators of an immensely valuable interstellar civilization.

The star—which symbolizes that sort of existentially safe interplanetary civilization—is the only thing that disambiguates the two interpretations. It is positioned at the top and center of the flag so as to make that sort of civilization the lodestar for longtermist efforts—the thing that guides us. It is yellow in honor of the Utilitarian Flag, wherein yellow represents happiness.

Meta: Is There Value in This?

I don't want people to take this too seriously. This was mostly just a fun idea I dreamed up one evening. There is a real risk of harmfully "rallying 'round the flag" and turning this into a partisan shibboleth that promotes ideological loyalty over all. I do not want that.

On the other hand, mature and successful movements usually have symbols. It is reasonable for longtermism to have one, so long as we do not allow their effects to stymie open and honest discourse about longtermism, including criticism thereof.

Resources

I declare a CC0 license on this work. Please use it as you like.

A perma copy of the flag is available at https://perma.cc/M33D-7W4J. It looks black because the image is very large.

Some other files are here. I made this using OmniGraffle, so the raw file is in .graffle format. An SVG file is available here [EA(p) · GW(p)].

47 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by RyanCarey · 2021-03-24T13:57:48.440Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That flag is cool, but here's an alternative that uses some of the same ideas. 

The black background represents the vastness of space, and its current emptiness. The blue dot represents our fragile home. The ratio of their sizes represents the importance of our cosmic potential (larger version here).

A "Pale Blue Dot" flag for longtermism

It's also a reference to Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot - a photo taken of Earth, from a spacecraft that is now further from Earth than any other human-made object, and that was the first to leave our solar system.

Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot

Sagan wrote this famous passage about the image:

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

Replies from: Gregory_Lewis, Cullen_OKeefe
comment by Gregory_Lewis · 2021-03-24T15:46:33.929Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I also thought along similar lines, although (lacking subtlety) I thought you could shove in a light cone from the dot, which can serve double duty as the expanding future. Another thing you could do is play with a gradient so this curve/the future gets brighter as well as bigger, but perhaps someone who can at least successfully colour in have a comparative advantage here.

test

Replies from: willbradshaw, RyanCarey, jackmalde, Raemon, Ben Pace
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T10:14:31.187Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with others that this concept is great, but that the gradient probably isn't a great idea.

Here's a very quick inkscape version without the dot. (Any final version would want a smoother curve but I wanted to get this done quickly)

While I personally like monochrome a lot (the Cornish flag is one of my favourites), I worry that it will be a bit too stark for most people. Changing the colour could also help reduce the association with space a bit. Here's a couple of quick versions using Cullen's colour scheme from the hourglass concept below.

I'm not sure whether I prefer these or the hourglass concept.

Replies from: Pablo_Stafforini
comment by Pablo (Pablo_Stafforini) · 2021-03-25T14:51:57.051Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I really like the aesthetics of these, though I'm not sure if that's because they resemble nautical flags, which for me trigger positive associations with sailing during my childhood.

In general, I would say the immediate appeal of the flag on a System-1 level is much more important that the story behind it, which a minuscule fraction of those exposed to it will ever learn. Moreover, it's easier to construct an adequate story for a relatively simple flag design, and such designs are also more apt to be aesthetically appealing.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T16:15:17.511Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

In general, I would say the immediate appeal of the flag on a System-1 level is much more important that the story behind it, which a minuscule fraction of those exposed to it will ever learn. Moreover, it's easier to construct an adequate story for a relatively simple flag design, and such designs are also more apt to be aesthetically appealing.

Strongly agree with this.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T16:16:47.357Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I really like the aesthetics of these, though I'm not sure if that's because they resemble nautical flags, which for me trigger positive associations with sailing during childhood.

As an example, I in no way intended these to resemble nautical flags, but I think we can totally work that into our longtermist symbolism post-hoc. :-P

(Though I'd also probably be happy with other colour schemes)

comment by RyanCarey · 2021-03-24T17:52:48.164Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, this is cool! Although maybe too expansionist - it suggests that we plan to conquer our light cone, which might mean defending it against non-Earth-originating life. Separately, I guess adding a colour gradient is bad, since that's harder to draw, and flags usually don't have them.

Replies from: Cullen_OKeefe
comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-25T03:01:50.596Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Also like this concept a lot

comment by jackmalde · 2021-03-24T16:09:38.918Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like this. Ryan's original example, whilst a pretty good suggestion overall, gives the impression of insignificance, whereas this one gives the impression of insignificance mixed with vast potential and hope for something more.

The only reservation I have is that this flag might imply that longtermism is only valid if we can spread to the stars. I think the jury is still out on whether or not this is actually the case? It has been suggested that existential security may only be possible if we spread out in the universe, but I'm not sure if this is generally accepted?

Perhaps I'm being overly nitpicky though.

Replies from: Stefan_Schubert
comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2021-03-24T19:29:50.249Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Another consideration is that one may want the flag or symbol to have relatively direct temporal associations (one way or the other), since longtermism concerns time. It seems to me that Ryan's suggestion doesn't have that; at least not very directly - it's more about us being small relative to the vastness of the universe, which  is something spatial rather than temporal.

Greg's suggestion has stronger and more direct temporal associations, I'd say.

Generally, it's of course not very straightforward to represent something temporal visually.

comment by Raemon · 2021-03-27T03:35:48.111Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Oh man, this is pretty cool. I actually like the fact that it's sort of jagged and crazy.

comment by Ben Pace · 2021-03-27T01:05:36.747Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Appreciate you drawing this, I like the idea.

comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-25T03:01:32.081Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like the concept a ton, but think the dot is a bit too small, aesthetically and functionally.

Replies from: Larks
comment by Larks · 2021-03-25T03:47:32.474Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Well we are working on making the dot bigger but that takes time; realistically we want to have a flag design before the generation ships reach their destinations. 

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-24T10:25:31.781Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this is a fun idea and want to reward that. I also support the project of trying to come up with longtermist images and symbols. The EA lightbulb logo has been very powerful, it would be good to find similar things for longtermism. (Though I'm less sure about flags in particular, which feel very political.)

Unfortunately, I don't like this particular instantiation at all, and would be pretty sad if it became more widely used. I think I would be some nontrivial % less likely to want to hang out in longtermist spaces if they used this flag.

I'm hesitant to whale on this here since it's clearly to some extent a fun personal project. Also, design is hard and I'm not convinced I could do better. But I do also think it's important to give feedback in case anyone does decide to take this project forward more seriously. Sorry Cullen.

In my opinion:

  • The colour scheme is jarring and IMO ugly. There are also a lot of colours for a flag.
  • I don't like the sun aesthetically (I also don't like it on Malawi's flag). I also don't think we should be including symbols that are very distinctive to particular countries.
  • In general the design doesn't give me good vibes. It doesn't make me feel excited or at home. (I acknowledge that it's going to be very hard to design a flag that does well on that last point for everyone, but this is my feeling.)

I think if the utilitarian flag were a national flag it would be in my top 15% favourite national flags,  while this would be in the bottom 30%. 

In general I think homages and symbolism should come a firm second after aesthetics in flag design. You can generally make any colour or pattern stand for anything you want, so it's not very constraining. But to be honest I'm pretty sceptical about loading a flag down with loads of symbolism and double meanings, as opposed to just trying to embody one or two big things.

Replies from: Cullen_OKeefe, Stefan_Schubert, Cullen_OKeefe, richard_ngo
comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-25T03:02:56.049Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Another, simpler concept: Longtermist Flag v2

The hourglass represents time, as well as an "X" shape for X-risk.

Replies from: Larks, Stefan_Schubert, Cullen_OKeefe, willbradshaw
comment by Larks · 2021-03-25T03:49:48.010Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It also resembles the light cone which is nice. I would consider putting more sand in the top though, and less in the bottom. Hopefully we have more time left than that!

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2021-03-25T10:13:20.001Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

An alternative is to just have the hourglass as a symbol/logo, and not a flag. There is an EA symbol (the lightbulb) but no flag.

Also, one might consider making the hourglass less stylised, and to drop the X-risk symbolism. Longtermism isn't intrinsically tied to X-risk. One approach would be to strictly focus on the long time duration, and drop associations with X-risk, space colonisation, and so on. It depends on how one conceives of longtermism.

comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-25T03:03:40.888Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think it looks a bit too much like pizza, though.

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T08:28:59.477Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like this much better! I like the colour scheme, I like the simplicity, and I (mostly) like the symbolism.

Per Larks's comment, I'd like to see a version with the top triangle all yellow and the bottom one all blue, to indicate how much bigger the future could be than the past.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T11:36:17.475Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

One wrinkle on the symbolism: an hourglass typically represents not just time, but limited time; time that is running out. Think e.g. the fact that Death is often associated with an hourglass.

This works great for the avoiding-X-risks angle, but I'm not sure it best conveys the vast abundance of time the long-term future might contain. Sure, it's still (probably) finite, but I don't think its finitude is core to the concept of longtermism.

Of course, we could always change the flag after dealing with the X-risks.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T16:19:26.747Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(It now occurs that the phrase "time is running out" might actually be an hourglass metaphor.)

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2021-03-24T12:10:28.639Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

To me it seems that longtermism is a quite simple idea. In a relevant sense it's just one idea or value. And it seems to me that a longtermist flag should capture or express that simplicity. Therefore, I might favour a flag with just one symbol and two colours, or so. 

That's similar to the utilitarian flag. Utilitarianism is simple, and the flag is correspondingly simple (or broadly so).

Another example of correspondence between the simplicity/complexity of the flag and the values it expresses is the French Tricolour. One interpretation of it (not the only one, but let's ignore that) is that the three colours stand for Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T08:27:24.956Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with this, but I strongly prefer simple flags in general, so this is probably mostly my general aesthetic preferences rather than a specific belief about longtermism.

comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-25T01:53:29.686Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You don't have to apologize! I'm not a graphic designer; it's not surprising to me that many people don't like it.

Your feedback is good; I might try to iterate and incorporate in it.

comment by richard_ngo · 2021-03-24T11:20:06.116Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What would you think about the same flag with the sun removed?

Might make it look a little unbalanced, but I kinda like that - longtermism is itself unbalanced in its focus on the future.

Replies from: willbradshaw
comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T09:57:18.397Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I tried it out, and yeah, it helps.

Thinking more about this helped me clarify some of my feelings here, and I think a significant part of my aversion to the original design is that it screams "national flag". The fact that it's a triband contributes strongly to this. I think removing the sun reduces that somewhat, but it's still there enough to cause me problems.

(Here we come to a more controversial vexillological opinion of mine, which is that tribands are massively overplayed and should be avoided in ~all modern contexts.)

(The utilitarian flag has a bit of a Micronesia vibe, but Micronesia's is a very unusual national flag.)

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2021-03-25T11:01:25.296Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted. 

While I didn't like the initial design for various reasons others have stated, I think the ensuing discussion has been really fun, and this is the kind of content I'd like to see more of on several levels (covers art/design, aims to bring community together, is light and playful). Given its overall impact, I'm very glad the post was published.

Replies from: Cullen_OKeefe, willbradshaw
comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-25T17:07:21.545Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Aaron! I think I made a mistake by calling it “proposed”, which probably implied more certainty than appropriate, and caused people to vote as if it was a proposal rather than a starting point for discussion.

comment by willbradshaw · 2021-03-25T18:55:53.850Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I was sad to see the downvotes on this post. (Despite writing the most critical comment here, I did not downvote it.)

I'd be interested to hear whether people were downvoting because they didn't like the design or because they think this isn't a good kind of content to have on the Forum. The latter sounds like a good reason, but one that would be better to have communicated via comments. The former doesn't seem like a great reason to me.

Replies from: Habryka, antimonyanthony
comment by Habryka · 2021-03-25T18:59:00.460Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I at least didn't upvote because I was concerned this would increase the probability of this specific flag getting traction (which I think would be bad), but I really liked the comments and would love to see more threads like this, and upvoted a lot of stuff in the comments.

Replies from: Cullen_OKeefe
comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-25T20:24:34.006Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Seems reasonable :-)

comment by antimonyanthony · 2021-03-26T00:08:41.427Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I downvoted for reasons similar to Stefan's comment [EA(p) · GW(p)]: longtermism is not synonymous with a focus on x-risk and space colonization, and the black bar symbolism creates that association. In EA discourse, I have observed consistent conflation of longtermism with this particular subset of longtermist priorities, and I'd like to strongly push back against that. (I believe I would feel the same even if my priorities aligned with that subset.)

comment by Cienna · 2021-03-27T15:10:48.221Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Continuing to play with the space, light cone, time, warning light, and blue dot elements, here's another. I'm not trying to symbolize longtermism specifically here, but I do think this arrangement fits something present.  

Colors

I like the thinking behind the color choices in the original, so I tried to do that too.

- Eigengrau instead of black: Eigengrau is the almost-black color humans see when we close our eyes in darkness, darkness as perceived by human vision. It's black with visual artifacts of uncountably many points of light. It rhymes with how we see space, and represents the eyes-closed opposite of enlightenment.

- pale yellow instead of white: stark white feels lifeless/barren/rhetorical, while sunlight is a human universal. Technically that color would be rather more blue, but I didn't want 3:1 in cold's favor, and our experience of sunlight is "warm".

- global blue : I like ocean blue, but global blue is traditional and recognizable.

- almost-red shocking pink: this color was tricky and unsatisfying. True traditional red is associated with the vigorous bloodshed of war. Amber felt slower, like plasma seepage and electronic running lights. But comparing them side by side, this weird in-between color feels more right. I don't know from whence it comes and it's troubling me, and that feeling seemed to fit, so I went with the red-pink. And disagreeing about whether this particular shade is red or pink would be the kind of moving-concepts-around time-wasting disagreement that so often distracts resources from problem-solving.


Shapes

Four-pointed star: a focus, or flaw that draws focus
- orienting star 
(compass star, North star, Star of Bethlehem, LessWrong, Alcor, Quaker star)
- how stars or points of light appear to us, for reasons I'm not competent to explain 
- Once I saw the bright "shadows" created by bubbles on the surface of water concentrating sunlight on the stone below, and at a certain depth the anti-shadows looked like curved four-pointed stars. 
- the shape of a wound created by an X-shaped cut

Semicircle: the known world
- as a sphere: planet, sphere of influence
- as a hemispherical bubble: habitat, growth, celestial heavens of antiquity
- as an arc: arc of history/narrative, rise and fall


Arrangement/assembly/explication

The darkness is unknown. Can contain risk, ignorance, space, void, death, etc. as you like.

Enlightenment is a growing buffer between the world and the unknown. Can contain hope, mercy, knowledge, skill, empathy, consciousness, energy etc. as you like.

Darkness holds three corners, and light one. However, darkness holds less than half the area.

The expansion of hope/mercy/enlightenment has both a linear and a non-linear growth aspect.

This star/wound/pain/warning/flaw connects the three, or is in all three. It sometimes obscures what's going on between the other three. It's the central focus. It's in the middle of everything.

From left to right, there's a progression in time from the beginning in void to the post-world end where enlightenment dominates, yet cannot eliminate the unknown.

Does the story arc get interrupted, or obscured? 
And is this burst of pain an event in time, or a constant element? 
Is the wound in the middle opening or closing? 
Does pain orient or distract?


Reflection

In retrospect, I may be guilty of being quite influenced by other brands I like. I was not consciously thinking of these when I was working on this design, so I'm not sure how much is my fault and how much is convergence/overlap. 
- Black triangle on top-left, yellow on the right: I have previously considered myself anarcho-capitalist. 
- red and black Quaker star: I don't know what the Quaker star symbolizes, but I like the connotations of humility, principles, service, and insistence on a kinder future. I don't "identify" as anything religious, but I occasionally attend the local Friends' Meeting.

The result also reminds me of Jordan Peterson's work: in a world made of chaos, order, suffering, and matter, one needs a negative motivation, a positive motivation, a foundation to stand on, and a direction in which to go. "Life is suffering," but what you do about that is up to you.

Made using Amadine. An editable SVG version is here in case you want to build on it further.

Replies from: Cienna, Larks
comment by Cienna · 2021-03-27T21:26:28.989Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A more abstract one with some similar pieces...

comment by Larks · 2021-03-27T17:49:27.245Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is a pretty stylish flag, and I liked the thought process behind it. I must admit that when I first saw it I thought it looked like the sort of flag the villains would have though! Would it be possible to check out how it might look if the central star was blue? I feel like the middle bit instinctually represents 'us', and we want to be the good guys.

Replies from: Cienna
comment by Cienna · 2021-03-27T21:23:42.016Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Sure! 

Replies from: RyanCarey
comment by RyanCarey · 2021-03-27T22:15:21.653Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Same energy as:

comment by Cienna · 2021-03-24T11:23:04.885Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Here's the link to the SVG. I don't think you should have to pay for an SVG. I downloaded the JPG and put it through vectorizer.io. 

https://www.dropbox.com/s/4fvviw1s3yveeri/Longtermist-Flag.svg?dl=0

And here's a TED talk I really enjoyed about flag design: https://www.ted.com/talks/roman_mars_why_city_flags_may_be_the_worst_designed_thing_you_ve_never_noticed

Replies from: Cullen_OKeefe
comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-25T03:04:11.453Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks; wasn't even aware it was a thing one could do :-)

comment by BrianTan · 2021-03-24T06:21:56.775Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Personally, I like the symbolisms and explanations for the flag, but I like the aesthetic appeal and simplicity of the utilitarian flag a lot more.

I have two somewhat nitpicky comments on the aesthetics:

  1. Some people might not understand that what's on the flag is a sun (without seeing the explanation). It looks like a red, Chinese fan to me. The sun could be made to look simpler and more like a sun, i.e. fewer rays and being a circle instead of a semicircle.
  2. It's hard for me to like or get used to these colors, but I think the symbolism behind them means they should stay as is.

Nevertheless, even if the two aesthetic comments I said above aren't done, I think this is good enough!

Replies from: Cullen_OKeefe, Cullen_OKeefe
comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-24T06:26:14.516Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I do think it’s a bit more complicated than generally accepted vexillological best practices.

Replies from: BrianTan
comment by BrianTan · 2021-03-24T06:27:20.766Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I had to Google vexillological - I learned a new word today!

comment by Cullen_OKeefe · 2021-03-24T06:26:56.417Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interesting point re the sun — I literally just copied it from Malawi’s flag and tweaked a few things :-)

Replies from: BrianTan
comment by BrianTan · 2021-03-24T06:28:19.122Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I still understood it as a sun, but maybe 10-20% of people won't?

comment by bwildi · 2021-03-24T14:32:02.758Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Can we get CGP Grey to consult on this?