I had planned to drop everything else during trade school and focus, but it turns out that New York won’t let me.
In lieu of a normal post, here’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past few months.
1. What makes thedes and phyles form? I have my own suspicions here (revolving around not only scarcity-motivated competition, but also processes of interfacing and levels of cognitive effort required for it… and it occurs to me now that local status-systems may also play a role, in both the sense that the existence of multiple phyles may allow for a less unequal distribution of status / allow more access to higher status and the related sense that people can self-select into status-systems that better fit or serve them), but I haven’t written them up yet, and Ed Keller, one of the speakers at tonight’s event, asked the same question, and proposed the investigation of interactions of systems. (The two examples he gave that I can remember were the effects of gut bacteria on behavior (and potentially on the formation and propagation of thedes!) and a virus that caused tulip flowers to form in ways that became highly in demand, which gave rise to tulip mania.) A related question that also was asked: would distinct thedes and phyles still exist in post-scarcity conditions?
2. Another topic related to the first question that came up was the idea of neuroatypical secessionism, especially as it overlaps (or does not overlap) with tech secessionism of the Srinivasan and Tunney varieties. Neuroatypicality is probably more thedish than phyletic, insofar as thedistinction between thedish and phyletic refers to a distinction between social groups/cultures/sets of norms/identities that are unlikely to be passed down from parent to child (rationalism, juggalos, goths, etc.) and social groups/etc. that can be passed down across the generations. (The most useful distinction to make with those words is another unanswered question; here I use my most recent working definition.) Is merely thedish secession possible? (‘Merely’ because every phyle is (probably) a thede.) Would it have different dynamics than phyletic secession? What about the possibility of temporary or limited merely-thedish secession, like rationalist group houses or Burning Man? (What about secession that is neither thedish nor phyletic, that is motivated not by those ‘hot’ factors, but rather by ‘cold’ factors like economic benefit? One of the speakers asked: are oil platforms seasteads?
3. Is there a life-cycle of empires or civilizations? If so, is the internal disharmony that underlies at least some of this talk of secession a sign, as John Glubb claims, of the decline of an empire—or even a cause of it? (It’s not hard to come up with a causal mechanism here: one side of an internal conflict could ally with an external agent against its domestic opponent.) If it’s not that, what is it? (It could just be an effect of population increase, to give one alternative.)
4. How about that internet-based nation-building that might be happening as we speak? This internal disharmony is not exactly a new problem; how was it addressed before? Surely not completely by repression. Marinetti talked about Italy a lot, for example; what did this mean in his context? (Also, see below about the Progressive Era and FDR’s cultural programs.) For that matter, most nations had to be imagined into being. Parts of the art world are apparently becoming interested in both internet culture and talk of secessionism, but I hear there’s not much they can do with it. Are there more possibilities for them than they think?—because picking up on this process can be one. (Usonian Futurism, anyone?)
5. Where do the current American automythologies come from? Do they come from pre-existing ethnic distinctions (as Woodard says), pre-existing religious distinctions amplified by the dynamics of democracy (as Moldbug says), or something else? In particular, what were the roles of the Progressive Era and the Cold War? The former could be read as an attempt at American nationalism/nation-building, where ‘American’ is to be contrasted with ‘Usonian’ (though the New Deal made some effort to record some aspects of folk culture); the latter is something that kontextmaschine has written about, but I suspect there’s more going on than that.
Take decolonization. Colonialism was very bad; we all learned that in school, and so we inferred that decolonization was very good. But if you look at what happened… first of all, isn’t it interesting that the USA took the opposite side from Britain, its supposedly most important ally, on that question, and the same side as the USSR? Second of all, isn’t it interesting that the USA and the USSR kept fighting over the newly decolonized countries? It’s not necessarily true that American cultural support for decolonization comes entirely from its own heritage, and not at all from geopolitical concerns.
But there are better examples, like abstract expressionism, which seems to be the official style of the government to this day, judging by how much of it they put on their walls. It’s now well known that the CIA supported it—and it, of course, had its reasons.
In 1947 the State Department organised and paid for a touring international exhibition entitled “Advancing American Art”, with the aim of rebutting Soviet suggestions that America was a cultural desert. But the show caused outrage at home, prompting Truman to make his Hottentot remark and one bitter congressman to declare: “I am just a dumb American who pays taxes for this kind of trash.” The tour had to be cancelled.
The US government now faced a dilemma. This philistinism, combined with Joseph McCarthy’s hysterical denunciations of all that was avant-garde or unorthodox, was deeply embarrassing. It discredited the idea that America was a sophisticated, culturally rich democracy. It also prevented the US government from consolidating the shift in cultural supremacy from Paris to New York since the 1930s. To resolve this dilemma, the CIA was brought in.
The connection is not quite as odd as it might appear. At this time the new agency, staffed mainly by Yale and Harvard graduates, many of whom collected art and wrote novels in their spare time, was a haven of liberalism when compared with a political world dominated by McCarthy or with J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. If any official institution was in a position to celebrate the collection of Leninists, Trotskyites and heavy drinkers that made up the New York School, it was the CIA.
Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.
“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!” he joked. “But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.
“In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another.”
If it happened once, it’s likely to have happened other times. What other effects did the Cold War have here? And what about the end of it, the end of the necessity to unite against a common enemy? (Yes, common. When Harvard went Communist, it went Maoist.)
One of the signs and causes of decline that John Glubb mentioned is the collapse of imperial unity: internal bickering leads to the inability to unite in the face of external threats, or potentially even the amplification of an external threat in the form of an internal faction’s alliance with it against another internal faction.
That it is now often said that the problem with America is Brahmindom is part of the process of decline. If this process is to be reversed, a new unity must be forged; and any attempt at unity must avoid the progressive error of writing out a large part of the country. (Yes, progressivism did attempt this, at least twice: first with the actual Progressive Era (where do you think the Pledge of Allegiance comes from?), and second with their response to the race riots of the ’60s. The absurdity of going to war against a large part of the population for the benefit of a small part of it must be noted, but some of them—the ones old enough to remember the race riots, anyway—actually believe this. It helps, of course, that there were pre-existing phyletic hatreds in place.)
Lack of coordination leads to decline, and coordination across distinct phyles can only be accomplished through a series of armistices. These armistices are now being broken. Who is breaking them? There is the enemy.
The collapse of the external enemy—the end of the Cold War—probably contributed here. There is less motivation to preserve coordination after the disappearance of an existential threat from outside. Attempts to create a new external enemy to take the place of the Soviet Union—Islamism, Putin, etc.—have failed and will continue to fail; America—Usonia, rather, since the political religion of Americanism cannot provide what is necessary, and will only uselessly take up that space—must stand on its own, must develop a positive sense of identity to provide a thedish basis for this coordination.
It’s too bad there’s no word in English (yet) for the Roman sense of religio:
We struggle to understand the persecution of the Christians under the Roman empire. Roman society tolerated a great variety of deities and cults; worship of Christ as (a) God did not in itself threaten or offend, and religious innovation was not impossible. The emergence of Christianity itself coincided with the novelty of cultic worship of the Roman emperors or their tutelary spirits, which could be included alongside other deities in existing religious frameworks.
Christian beliefs and practices were, however, radically exclusive, or radically extensive in their claims over the whole of religious loyalty. …
Despite some continuity of actual doctrine, what we call religion in twenty-first century Australia is not the same in structure or character as ancient constructions of the relationship between religious belief and the rest of life. Religio in Latin, Tertullian’s or anyone else’s for that matter, does not mean “religion” in the sense of one belief system among others, but the piety or scrupulosity with which cultic and other duties are carried out.
Roman “religion” (as we might persist in seeing or analysing it) was, despite its apparently pluralistic character, coterminous with culture and society itself, and hence left little room for genuine diversity or dissent. We can only understand it as “religion” in the modern or post-modern sense by the artificial excision, from the ancient set of beliefs and practices, of certain elements which make sense to us as religion. …
Constantine’s recognition of the Church involved discernment of the potential for the growing Christian movement to achieve for the Empire what the cultic worship of the Emperors themselves had not: namely a coherent belief and ritual system which was not ethnically-prescribed, but capable of universal relevance.
As a side note, the extent to which political life has been shaped by previous attempts to establish such a civil religion (usually limited strictly to the weak and sham-filled political realm) has yet to be seriously investigated, as has the more general question of the influence of institutional intelligences. A common example of this influence in some circles is ‘cultural Marxism’, but has anyone asked whether there were economic interests that favored the idea of redefining leftist ‘liberation’ in terms unrelated to the economic? And that does not even address the question of the Cold War, which will have to be left for another time.
Insofar as a thede corresponds to a unit of autonomous, reproducible social organization, it is a far narrower concept than the one Nydwracu outlines. A thede is an ethnicity if it describes a real — rather than merely conventional — unit of human population. This is, of course, to exclude a great variety of identity dimensions, including sex, sexual orientation, age, interests, star signs … as well as some of those Nydwracu mentions (musical subcultures and philosophical schools). Generalization of ‘thedes’ to include all self-conscious human groupings risks diffusion into frivolous subjectivism (and subsequent re-appropriation for alternative purposes).
If the analysis of thedes begins with the recognition that man is a social animal, it is a grave error to immediately expand the scope of the concept to groups such as women, lesbians, dog-lovers, and black metal fans, since none of these correspond to biologically-relevant social groupings. …
Rigorization of thede analysis in the direction of real ethnicities would also require the abandonment of attempts to assimilate classes to thedes, although class identities can mask thedes, and operate as their proxies. Between New England and Appalachia there is a (real) thede difference between ethnic populations, encrusted with supplementary class characteristics. Used strictly in this way, the idea of a thede does theoretical work, and uncovers something. It exposes the subterranean ethnic war disguised by class stratification.
This definition—more accurately, this overloading—of the word ‘thede’, which was originally approximately defined as “a superindividual grouping that its constituent individuals feel affiliation with and … positive estimates of”, operates on a different scale than the original concept intends. Clarity of language demands avoidance of overloading, so an “autonomous, self-reproducing social unit” will be called a phyle. This has precedent, notably in The Diamond Age, which appears to use the word toward a vision similar to Land’s phyletic pan-secessionism: “As a reliable heuristic, only those groupings which are plausible subjects of secessionist autonomization should be considered [phyles].”
Here we see the difference in scale between ‘thede’ and ‘phyle': ‘phyle’ operates on the political scale of secessionism, whereas ‘thede’ operates on the much smaller, lower-level social scale. Subcultures are not phyles, but they are thedes. (Here it must be said that ‘thede’ may be better defined by example than by stating a concrete dictionary-definition, despite that the former method requires more effort on the part of the reader; it is always difficult to precisely define that which one understands only intuitively. The original definition could be read to imply that all of “sex, sexual orientation, age, interests, star signs”, the examples Land gives of dimensions of identity, are thedes, but they aren’t. Interests and statistically rare sexual orientations are often organizing principles upon which thedes are built, but that’s different.)
The question of scale is most easily seen in the sciences: biology operates on a higher scale than chemistry, classical physics than quantum physics, and so on. Scaling upwards is a process of abstraction: the chemist abstracts upward from elementary particles to atoms and molecules, the biologist from atoms and molecules to organisms and organs, the classical physicist from particles to objects, and so on. Different scales, different levels of abstraction are useful for different questions: it would be pointless for an architect or a car safety tester to think in terms of fermions and bosons, but a quantum physicist must do so.
The idea of the thede was developed within the context of group dynamics: explaining and understanding not secessionist impulses or subterranean ethnic wars, but individuals’ actions in relation to thedes and thedes’ actions in relation to individuals and other thedes. Any political lessons that can be learned from the study of thedes are secondary, though certainly not incidental.
The study of politics often ignores the question of scale: the mainstream political philosopher begins with an account of morality and proceeds to an account of the state without stopping to observe humans. This error cannot be corrected merely by beginning with an account of states; one must know with what and with whom one is dealing. Marxism is not out of the ordinary in its failure to offer an account of nationalism, or of the national terms in which, as Benedict Anderson says, every successful revolution since World War II has defined itself; the liberalism of today relegates nationalism to an aberrant superstition, as is evident in the previously-linked discussion of phyles.
In the not-too-distant future, we’ll see more and more people grouping themselves in phyles. They’ll stop identifying themselves as Americans, or Russians, or Chinese – unless that accident of birth is really important to them.
But that is just as stupid as identifying yourself as being black because you happen to have been born with black skin, of thinking of yourself as white because that was an accident of your birth. Racism and nationalism are the hallmarks of an unevolved, or even degraded, person. I have neither time nor patience for either of them.
The problems here go far beyond the scope of mere progressive linguistic tics like “unevolved”, and are really too numerous to list here; the question of “accidents of birth” (which ought to read something more like circumstances of socialization) will be addressed in a later post. The key point here is the denunciation as ‘degraded’ of an organizing principle that the historical record shows holds great power: the underlying account of man transforms itself from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’ unnoticed, and the problem of the scale of man reveals its unaddressed state.
For another example, consider the aversion to ritual common among the writing class—an error even Mencius Moldbug cannot avoid:
The first thing I remember from my first year in Maryland was something called a “pep rally.” For those of you who did not attend an American public high school, a “pep rally” is basically a straight ripoff of what Albert Speer did at Nuremberg, except that (a) it is indoors, (b) there is not quite as much fire, and (c) there is less saluting, more screaming, and about the same amount of chanting.
Ritual has no further place in Moldbug’s analysis, nor do the impulses, the facts of human nature, that underlie it. Moldbug has been criticized for ignoring those facts and for ignoring that scale; that criticism is admittedly not given in these terms, but the point of the “only a sperg would think anyone would follow a CEO” line should be clear.
There are a few possible reasons for the common avoidance of this scale, most of which do not invoke concepts plundered from the field of abnormal psychology. Perhaps it is cladistic, arising from the Puritan tendency toward spartan and individualistic living; perhaps it comes from the failure of actually-existing institutions to be the sort of things that can provide that which lies on that scale; perhaps that scale is marked as low-class; or perhaps it’s a matter of prestige. Few can productively speculate on the nature of morality or the incentive-structures of a state, but anyone who’s been to high school can observe thede dynamics.
But there’s another possibility. Back to Land:
Ethnicities correspond to real populations, and to cladistic structures. ‘Thedes’ as presently formulated do not. Ironically, this denotational haziness (super-generality) of the thede concept lends itself to usages guided by extremely concrete connotations, with a distinctive Blut und Boden flavor. Usage of the word ‘identity’ (at least, on the right) has exactly the same characteristics.
Between “Blut und Boden” and “what Albert Speer did at Nuremberg”, it’s clear how the study and resulting practice of that scale is marked. It has become the exclusive province of a Right so far outside the Overton window that not even the contrarians can break through the windowsill outside which it lies.
(Where does the Blut und Boden come from anyway? ‘Thede’ is just another word. It existed in Middle English, but it fell out of use for a few centuries. If you go to Reykjavik, you’ll pass some buildings named with very long compounds that contain the word þjóð; that just means ‘national’, as in Thingvellir National Park or National Archives. And what of the Dutch? Has the Anglosphere been conquered by Adolf van Huid?)
But this association is a failure of scale. One may as well speak of “Jewish physics”. The purpose of the concept is not to say anything about morality, the state, or secession, but (as previously mentioned) to clarify the analysis of social interactions—though it may bring about insights that do apply to higher levels. Phyles certainly seem to have thedish and elthedish markers and shibboleths. (Note that Land describes ‘phyle’ as narrower than ‘thede’. Most thedes are not phyles, but are all phyles thedes?)
As for ‘phyle’, some difficulty remains. Where are the lines to be drawn? There are phyles that reproduce themselves completely genetically, like the Yezidis; should similar things that also (or primarily) reproduce themselves memetically be considered phyles? The most extreme example is the Shakers, but groups that abandon biological reproduction altogether cannot be large or persistent enough to pose a serious problem. Some of Scott Alexander’s tribes, especially the Grey one, seem to be powered far more by memetic reproduction than genetic; should the Grey Tribe be considered a phyle?
There is a common belief that, for every positive trait a person has, there is an equal negative trait: that is, the belief that no one can be better than anyone else. Call that the fair-world fallacy, by analogy to the just-world fallacy.
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is an excellent example. Actual intelligence is something that some people naturally have more of than others, so there must be other intelligences (and we have to call them intelligences!) that those others can have more of. The supporters of this theory, unconcerned by its lack of empirical validity, claim that “the idea of multiple intelligences is important because it allows for educators to identify differing strengths and weaknesses in students”—ducking the fact of general intelligence and its implication that some students will be generally stronger than others—or, more revealingly, that:
Different intelligences, life requirements and environments also support the idea of diverse learning styles. Therefore, the acceptance of multiple intelligences presents a legitimate challenge to established traditional educational models. If you accept the idea that a person can combine a unique array of specific intelligences, or abilities, you would also need to accept that there is a place for a wide variety of learning approaches to enable each individual to realize his or her potential. In my view diversity in learning styles requires taking into account the specialness of each individual.
By “established traditional educational models”, the author means those based around IQ. (Never mind that these are becoming ever more de-established as the fair-world fallacy takes hold.)
It’s interesting to note that Gardner’s model has taken hold in education, a typically progressive and Blue-Tribe field. The fair-world fallacy is probably a great deal more Blue than Red; this could easily arise from political differences.
A purer example of the fair-world fallacy, one that I’ve seen many times from Blues, is the belief that every positive quality must have a corresponding negative quality, and vice versa. People who are physically fit must be stupid and boorish, people who are attractive or sexually successful must be assholes (note that internet-PUA was popularized by blogs from one specific location, and that location is Washington, DC), people who are mentally deficient in some way must be nice and pleasant to be around, and people who are intelligent must be incapable of social interaction—that is, nerds.
I have even heard, from a Howard Gardner-reading Blue Tribe relative, that all intelligent people are autistic. (This manifestation of the fair-world fallacy may be a factor in the popularity of the awful not-even-comedy The Big Bang Theory: she is a devoted fan of that show. From what I’ve seen of it, it does its very best to reinforce that preconception.)
The article linked above, which defines the Blue and Red tribes, comes close to defining a third, but rejects it in a revealing way:
There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time.
It later un-rejects it, claiming that (its own) criticism of Blues for hating Reds may be motivated by the narcissism of small differences: as Freud said, “it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other”. As it is in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Communism, so it is in America—but why are Greys, a group-referent that was immediately taken as a synonym for ‘nerds’, so close to Blues?
The characteristic feature of nerds is a self-perceived inability to fit in. Nerds, it is said, are awkward and introverted, preferring to avoid social interaction and group activities, which they have no talent for, in favor of purely solitary activities. They are also intelligent, and a common belief is that it is because of their intelligence that they are awkward and introverted—that intelligence itself leads naturally to awkwardness and introversion. Which is exactly what the fair-world fallacy would say, and which does not fit with the existence of smart rednecks as a type. Where are the Blue or Grey smart rednecks, and where are the Red nerds?
I grew up in the cracks of the tribal system. Most of my family is Red, but there are a few Blues. In school, I had three distinct groups of friends: one was solidly Grey; one was Red of the military sort; and the other wouldn’t fit into the tribal system at all, since I was the token white guy.
Looking back, I notice two things. First, the Reds did not fall victim to the fair-world fallacy at all; second, different groups have different beliefs as to what correlates with intelligence, and those expectations create social roles that are difficult to escape. That is true as a general principle—it’s easier and less painful to do the expected or the thedish than the unexpected or the elthedish—but it may hold even more strongly in the case of social networks that one cannot (as in the first eighteen or so years of life) or usually should not (as in the case of close family) leave.
The intelligent Reds I knew were physically fit, socially capable, and introverted; the intelligent none-of-the-aboves (yes, there were some) patterned with the Reds; but the intelligent Greys I knew were physically weak, socially awkward, and introverted. Then they went to college, far outside the reach of their previous social context, and mostly shaped up.
If ‘nerdiness’ is inherent and immutable, this cannot be explained, and the absence of nerds among Reds and none-of-the-aboves cannot easily be explained. But if ‘nerdiness’ arises from the crippling of the intelligent by Blue-Grey fair-worldism, it all makes perfect sense. The reason that trait is far more common among Blues and their cladistic descendants is that that environment is the only one that contains the fair-worldism that motivates the role-assignment that gives rise to it.
There are already entities with vastly greater than human intelligence working on the problem of augmenting their own intelligence. A great many, in fact. We call them corporations. … Let’s focus on as a very particular example: The Intel Corporation. Intel is my favorite example because it uses the collective brainpower of tens of thousands of humans and probably millions of CPU cores to… design better CPUs! (And also to create better software for designing CPUs.) Those better CPUs will run the better software to make the better next generation of CPUs.
A man cannot be a person without the fellowship, community, or society that made him. Unsocialised, man’s potencies are not activated, and he stays at a level close to a beast, bereft of speech and reason, let alone partaking of the higher arts and sciences. Individualistic societies are decomposing social bodies in which kinship-ties are loosened and even cut, and which can be held together only by an all-pervasive and socially-alien bureau-technocratic power — the “coldest of all cold monsters”.
The state of nature is ahistorical. Always and everywhere, humans form societies, organizing principles acquiring and preserving institutional memory and institutional knowledge: societal wisdom that may not be known or knowable by the people who make it up. Institutional intelligences.
Nick Land sees capitalism as a thing, a thing of a certain type. What type is it? Another organizing principle, a superhuman (super- in the sense of ‘above’, with humans as its constituent parts) intelligence—that is, an institutional intelligence.
Institutional intelligences compete both within and outside their type. Within: societies compete with other societies, corporations compete with other corporations, governments compete with other governments, media outlets compete with other media outlets, and one economic form competed with another economic form in the Cold War. Outside: governments compete with traditional cultures, organized crime, the Catholic Church, and so on, and capitalism competes with societies and families. (The Last Psychiatrist talks about capitalism’s weaponization of progressivism, but a particularly good example is feminism. I once had a professor explain that it was absolutely imperative for women to cease full-time motherhood and enter the workforce—and therefore outsource to some extent the function of child-raising to the state, the media, the economy in the form of hired help, and so on.)
Institutional intelligences have goals, which run in a spectrum from strictly and totally cybernetically encoded in the most literal sense to depending on the individuals who are parts of the system. The victory of certain types of institutional intelligence with certain goals is usually seen as a problem: if capitalism totally wins then we all have no family and work twelve hours a day with Soylent instead of a lunch break and so on.
Atomization is the result of a certain type of institutional intelligence being outcompeted by another type. The reality of atomization is indisputable: the loss of social ties, the decline of traditional cultures, women married to the state, children raised by the ruling structure, loss of imagined communities fostering commonality and promoting/easing interaction, loss of historically-continuous thedes to identify with and their replacement with subcultures and trends, and increasing multiculturalism—which studies like Robert Putnam’s demonstrate is a problem (for intuitively obvious reasons which I don’t have the vocabulary to express yet) and which is clearly supported by capitalism (deterritorialization, Koch-funded open borders promotion, etc.).
If atomization is a problem, you want to fight it. How do you fight it? Summon up an institutional intelligence that can fight it. Thede-magic may prove useful here: see Benedict Anderson on the use of nationalism as fuel for revolutions. (I used to yell at Communists for their internationalism, but I later realized that they’re tapping thede-magic even though they don’t realize it—it’s a particularly weak form, though, consisting mostly of Streicherite crocodilism with little to no positive identity-content. This appeals to jackboot types, but most people seem to want thede-magic with positive content: hipsters adopting kitsch Americana and justifying it with a thin coating of irony, conservatives feeling the need to constantly remythologize American history, and so on.)
(Epistemic status: Crystallizing a pattern I’ve noticed in passing. This is a hypothesis; further historical research is needed to determine its predictive/explanatory power.)
There are three types of stability.
The first type of stability is the stability of a society with little to no thedish conflict, a society of people who believe that “we’re all in this together”, who see that society as a ‘we’. This unity may be brought about by shared adherence to meta-level principles, as in Switzerland, or by near-identity of society and thede, as in Iceland. (The Icelandic language, interestingly, has no dialects, and very little regional variation. Some of this is due to campaigns to eradicate what little regional variation once existed, but it has been hypothesized that the unity of the language is a result of the periodic meeting of the Icelanders at Þingvellir. The thedish consequences of this should be obvious.) This type is characterized by very little potential instability: little top-down pressure is necessary to prevent it from collapsing.
The second type of stability is the stability of a political unit with multiple factions roughly balanced in power, as has been the case for the United States. The history of these States is characterized by conflict between multiple distinct and roughly equally-matched nations: no nation has yet been able to establish total dominance over all the others, though some have long desired the elimination of all others not aligned with them. If this rough balance of powers ever collapses—as it is likely to soon, with the demographic replacement of the Southern and Midwestern nations with factions nominally aligned with the Northern nations but with far fewer compunctions about openly organizing in their own interest or about resorting to violence to get their way—or if it ever becomes sufficiently eroded to allow one nation or faction to take measures to slowly destroy its opponents (which they surely will, no matter the risk of harm to the political unit as a whole—such concerns are mostly irrelevant to each faction)—as has already happened—then the potential instability will turn kinetic.
The third type of stability is the stability of a political unit controlled by a small and hated minority, as was once the case for Alawite-controlled Syria. The ruling minority has no reason to adhere to any principles, to show any concern for the welfare of the political unit, to refrain from any action that they think will increase stability; if their power falters, they will be slaughtered. This type of stability is an illusion: the potential instability is too great. Unless the ruling minority can perform the near-impossible and utterly change the thede dynamics of the political unit, it will eventually falter and be crushed.
These types are ordered in a spectrum from best to worst, from most to least stable, from concern with the welfare of the political unit as a whole to tribalistic concern for only one’s own and a desire to take power from all others, no matter the costs. It is desirable for a political unit to move upwards in type, and potentially disastrous for it to move downwards.
The social technology of nationalism allowed a political unit to move away from the second type and toward the first—but it failed. An elite emerged whose sensibilities were detached from those of the people—in no small part due to the actions of USG, the government of a political unit that has always been of the second type—and it proceeded to secure its short-term power by moving the countries it governed downwards on the scale.
The West is going down.
One of the problems with Mencius Moldbug’s writing is that it doesn’t proceed in a linear fashion: key terms are hidden in obscure posts outside of the main sequences, rendering those sequences much less comprehensible to people who don’t read the whole blog. So an introduction, a summary, is necessary: a thing that attempts to state at least the outline of the argument in clear, linear terms.
This is such an attempt. It has its problems: it’s based on memory, so citations are difficult and it may not be entirely accurate; and its main purposes are the correction of certain misconceptions, such as the confusion over ‘demotism’, and the linear statement of a series of arguments presented in decidedly nonlinear form. Some of the interpolations are original, but I will follow the general structure of the original neocameralist argument.
What are voice and exit? Feedback mechanisms, intended to create incentive-structures leading toward good governance.
The democratic argument is the most widely understood, so it serves here as the best example. Democracy is necessary because it creates a government that is responsive to the demands of the people. Monarchs and aristocrats have little incentive to care about the welfare of commoners, beyond the threat of popular revolt; democratically-elected politicians are chosen based on the votes of the people, and therefore have much stronger incentive to carry out the will of the people, to be responsive to the wants and needs of those over whom they rule. The dangers of majority rule are well-known, so there are two mechanisms by which it is held back from causing damage: representative democracy instead of direct democracy, and a Constitution and Bill of Rights to prevent certain types of abuses.
A flowchart may be instructive.
That is the democratic view. There are many problems with both charts; I’ll focus on the second one.
First: voice is not an unmoved mover. Lippmann and Bernays wrote books about this. You probably haven’t read them; I haven’t. But you probably have seen campaign advertisements—and you probably have gone through third-grade social studies. Moldbug says: “You’ve been taught to worship democracy. This is because you are ruled by democracy. If you were ruled by the Slime Beast of Vega, you would worship the Slime Beast of Vega.” If you’ve been taught to worship democracy, there might be other things you’ve been taught; political factions certainly believe that they ought to be teaching people things, as may be seen from the Texas schoolbook controversy a few years ago, the occasional editorial praising television for promoting the acceptance of homosexuality, etc. Surely you can provide your own examples.
Why does this matter? Why does this happen? Well, how does the sovereign maintain internal order? Moldbug builds a typology: there’s psycharchy, and then there’s physarchy.
There are two basic classes of internal control. A sovereign can control its residents by managing their minds, or managing their bodies. We can call the former mode psycharchy, the latter physarchy. A psycharchy persuades its residents to refrain from organizing, seizing and capturing it. A physarchy physically restrains its residents from organizing, seizing and capturing it.
Physarchy is further analyzed into legarchy and phobarchy:
Under legarchy, the sovorg exercises internal control as an extension of the judicial system which keeps residents secure from each other. It simply adds a class of offenses which are crimes against the sovorg itself, without any other direct victim. For example, you may not train your paramilitary militia in the Sierras. You may not keep a cache of automatic weapons in your basement. If you are in a crowd and the police order you to disperse, you must do so. …
We enter a different territory with phobarchy, which is the tactic of maintaining internal control by unpredictable intimidation. “Death squads,” for example, are a classic technique. Most of us consider finding bodies on the doorstep, let alone being one of the bodies, remarkably unacceptable from a customer-service perspective. However, since many 20C sovorgs have maintained power by exactly this method, we would be foolish to dismiss it.
These are the available physarchic methods; what are the available psycharchic methods?
Mandatory loyalty training for children, official support for approved information producers, and social, civil or criminal penalties for wrongthink are common, effective forms of psycharchy.
The second is especially interesting. I think a special word, massarchy, is appropriate for the 20C system of internal control via education, journalism and science. Each of these words assumes a systematic professional infallibility, entirely unearned in the case of the first two professions, and increasingly dubious in the case of the third. The Third Reich had its own wonderful word for the distribution of official information, Aufklärung—meaning literally, “clearing up,” and more broadly enlightenment. Indeed, all the state-sponsored information professions see their task as that of enlightening the public. And from enlightening to guiding is a small step indeed.
This is restated here, after a summary of another problem with the above chart:
The real problem with democracies is that in the long run, a democratic government elects its own people. I refer, of course, to Brecht’s verse:
After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
One way to elect a new people is to import them, of course. For example, to put it bluntly, the Democratic Party has captured California, once a Republican stronghold, by importing arbitrary numbers of Mexicans. Indeed the Third World is stocked with literally billions of potential Democrats, just waiting to come to America so that Washington can buy their votes. …
But this act of brutal Machiavellian thug politics, larded as usual with the most gushing of sentimental platitudes, is picayune next to the ordinary practice of democratic governments: to elect a new people by re-educating the children of the old. In the long run, power in a democracy belongs to its information organs: the press, the schools, and most of all the universities, who mint the thoughts that the others plant. For simplicity, we have dubbed this complex the Cathedral.
The Cathedral is a feedback loop. It has no center, no master planners. Everyone, even the Sulzbergers, is replaceable. In a democracy, mass opinion creates power. Power diverts funds to the manufacturers of opinion, who manufacture more, etc. Not a terribly complicated cycle.
In addition to the Lippmannian problem—public opinion is not an unmoved mover, but rather downstream from its sources of information—we have die Lösung—public opinion, like Soylent Green, is made of people: different types of people, who form different blocs, the size of which can be manipulated through government policy.
Just as public opinion is downstream from its sources of information, so are politicians’ decisions. Public concern is shaped by the media:
The New York Times is a paragon of “responsible journalism.” It, or at least its journalists, would like us to be concerned about global warming. We can tell this by the fact that they write many stories on the subject. Surely if they didn’t want us to think about the subject, it is within their personal discretion to avoid it. They don’t. And since many people read the New York Times, many of us are concerned about global warming.
And proposals for legislation may be put forward by think tanks, academics, and so on.
These are the two best-known problems Moldbug mentions—probably because they’re the ones most notably contained in the terminology. But there are more, of which the most obvious problem is that the chart above leaves out two entire branches of government.
Considering the messy proliferation of ‘independent branches’ of the executive, and the connotations of the term ‘executive’ itself—what do functionaries have to do with executives?—it’s better to refer to the administrative branch of government. Much could be said about the proliferation of administrative edicts, but I will not go further here than to mention their existence, and the consequence that a great amount of formal governmental power lies outside the hands of elected officials.
There is also the judicial branch, and it has its own power:
The real legal nature of the Fourth Republic is that, like the UK, it has no constitution. Its legitimacy is defined by a set of precedents written by New Deal judges in the 1930s. These have obscure names like Footnote Four, West Coast Hotel, and Wickard v. Filburn.
This is currently visible in the recent series of gay marriage rulings, most notably the overturning of Proposition 8 in California: it won the support of the voters, but did not have the support of the unelected district court. The flowchart attempts to capture this with ‘Constitution’, but pieces of paper are not men, and only men can rule.
A government’s constitution (small c) is its actual structure of power. The constitution is the process by which the government formulates its decisions. When we ask why government G made decision D1 to take action A1, or decision D2 not to take action A2, we inquire as to its constitution. …
American law schools teach something called constitutional law, a body of judicial precedent which purports to be a mere elucidation of the text of the Constitution. Yet no one seriously believes that an alien, reading the Constitution, would produce anything like the same results. Moreover, the meta-rules on which constitutional law rests, such as stare decisis, are entirely unwritten, and have been violated in patterns not best explained by theories of textual interpretation. Thus the small ‘c’ in constitutional law is indeed correct.
If one were to draw a flowchart of the constitution of the United States government, with arrows representing what has power over what, the Supreme Court would be at the top of the chart: its power has not been challenged since FDR’s court-packing plan, and the only other check that exists on it is the ability to amend the Constitution, a power which, with one exception (which involved the use of a very interesting loophole that is no longer available), has not been used since 1971. In formal terms, the federal government is an ennearchy.
When we look at how USG actually works, we see that it is governed by a set of rules known as “constitutional law.” The relationship between “the Constitution” and “constitutional law” is entirely arbitrary and historical. The proposition that the latter can be mechanically derived from the former is too absurd to even consider defending. …
“The Constitution” is an interesting historical document, no more valid than the Salic Law. Rather, it is “constitutional law,” ie, the precedents of the Supreme Court, which are the supreme law of the land.
Here we arrive at the more conventional interpretation, the “living constitution” theory, which has largely prevailed for the last 75 years. Certainly, after 75 years of “living,” there cannot be much left of any written “Constitution!” The theory of the “living constitution” is simply the theory of the rule of force. Who rules, makes the rules. …
Who holds sovereignty in the United States? The Council of Nine, also known as the Supreme Court. For they are the unmoved mover, those whose decisions are final and cannot be overridden.
If the Supreme Court orders President Obama to give his next video address standing on his head, or converts as a group to Islam and establishes the Caliphate of America, or declares that “the Jews are our misfortune” and gives them one year to leave the country, these things will be done. Or at least, if they are resisted, they can only be resisted unlawfully.
Of course, the Justices are unlikely to do these things. Why? Because these things are neither (a) in their personal interests, nor (b) in accordance with their values and beliefs. The Supreme Court, a sovereign committee, is unlikely to tyrannize in these appalling ways – but only because of the personal responsibility of the sovereign individuals. Exactly the same is true of any monarchy, however the ruler is selected.
There also exists social control outside government. Remember this sentence above? “Mandatory loyalty training for children, official support for approved information producers, and social, civil or criminal penalties for wrongthink are common, effective forms of psycharchy.” Social penalties for wrongthink are not imposed by the government; they exist nonetheless. The First Amendment prohibits the government from throwing you in jail for saying that HNU or AGW are false; it doesn’t prohibit your employer from firing you, or your friends from abandoning you and denouncing you as evil. Which happens.
Next time: a better flowchart, the problems with the structure of the Cathedral, and neocameralism.