A cloud of related ideas here:
First, what is considered normal comes from subcultures. People get their ideas of what is normal from the people they interact with regularly. Different subcultures can exist in close physical proximity – for example, different social classes traditionally had very different views of what was normal behaviour.
Speculation: are people today more ignorant or dismissive of other subcultures? I observed previously, for example, that the rich used to have more personal contact with the poor – they had servants, tenants, etc. that they new as actual people, though not the same sort of person. Today technology makes it easier for the rich to avoid dealing with people from other classes, and an ideology of equality makes it embarassing to do so, since you are supposed to believe that they are the the same culture as you, even though they blatantly aren’t.
Social class is just one example, as another, there are obvious differences in the way of life between urban, suburban and rural environments. Young people in cities can meet each other in the evenings easily – young people in suburbia are more isolated from each other.
Really important point: people’s behaviour is much more constrained by what they consider normal, from their subculture than by what they believe to be true intellectually.
Next consequence of this: crime and order. If, by effective enforcement, you make law-abiding behaviour normal among most subcultures, you will not have much crime. This is really the only way to not have much crime.
A society where it is not normal to commit crimes can do all sorts of things that are otherwise impossible. This goes back to a post I made way back in 2005. The biggest cost of crime is the forgone opportunity – all the things we could do, but don’t because we would run too much risk of crime. As I mentioned on twitter this week, the concept of a supermarket — goods displayed in the open for customers to pick for themselves and bring to a checkout — depends on an assumption that people just walking out with the stuff will be rare enough that you can handle it. (That assumption is apparently starting to fail in some areas now, such as parts of San Francisco). In Britain in the 19th and 20th Century, rarity crime was one of the basic presumptions that people didn’t have to think about.
Aside: Not only that, but, in accordance with my original point, what crime there was was largely in certain subcultures — the immigrant “rookeries” of London’s East End, for example. Away from those subcultures, it was rarer than average statistics suggest. Even today, much of the civilised world still lives in an environment of very low crime. (That’s a point Steve Sailer makes from time to time).
This basic presumption obviously gets taken for granted. That’s the root of my divergence from libertarianism — given the presumption of an ordered society, it is fine. However, that ordered society needs to be actively preserved.
When I made the point about supermarkets on Twitter, obviously there was a lot of feedback to the effect that, as in the Dickensian rookeries, it is in minority subcultures that the law-abiding norms are not present. Even accepting that, though, it is possible for effective law enforcement to change what is normal in those subcultures. Obviously the story in San Fransisco is that the abdication of law enforcement is the immediate trigger. (I say “story” deliberately — I’m always cautious about pretending to understand what is going on so far away, and the reality may be a lot more complex than what I can see. However, I will stand by the logic of what I am saying here while being open to more information on the detail).
Quick placeholder here to identify a concept that comes up repeatedly.
Governing (in the very broadest sense) is partly about principle, and partly about practicalities. You can decide you want something to happen, but it might be easy to act effectively, or difficult. You can pass a law, but it might be easy to enforce, or difficult.
Those practicalities are affected by what the normal behaviour of people is.
One example: if most people are employed by one company or another, government can have a lot of influence by attaching rules to that employment relationship — it can collect income taxes, ensure minimum welfare, regulate safety, etc. The employers can be conveniently be made agents for the govermnent — information-gatherers, or providers or enforcers.
There are many other examples. If goods come into the country through a few ports, government can exert a great deal of control easily by closely regulating those ports. If people all go to the same church, the government can monitor and influence their views by acting through that church.
However, behaviours like this change. In the case of the employment relationship, as one example, it has in the last decade become much easier to work short-term. The canonical example is Uber: Uber can provide a lot of the function of an employer — giving a worker a fairly steady stream of work for different end consumers, doing marketing, payment handling, paperwork — without actually being an employer. Youtube makes TV programmes without employing producers and presenters. The influence that government used to have at that “employment” choke point is gone in those cases.
The most topical example of this wider phenomenon is of course media. If news and entertainment came from a small number of newspapers and broadcasters, those were choke points that allowed government to amplify its control.
When a valuable control point, such as TV broadcasting or long-term employment, dissolves away, government has a serious problem. It has four choices:
- Expend more resources to achieve the same amount of control
- Give up control
- Find new choke points
- Try to force people back into the old choke points
There’s no value judgement here. I’m not an anarchist, government needs to govern, and the optimal mechanisms for governing, at any point in time, are affected by the affordances provided to the government by common patterns of behaviour.
Whenever you see controversy around technology — because technology changes the way people interact and moves choke points — it usually comes down to this question.
I want to think a little about the psychological happenings in the West in response to the war in Ukraine. I’m not really concerned with the war itself. Doing a few searches here, I seem to have done a mostly OK-ish job over the years of avoiding falling into Putin fanboyism — better than I managed with Trump, for instance. I do not accept that the invasion of Ukraine is unprovoked, but I am not going to bother trying to claim that it is justified. Actual geopolitical conflict is above my pay grade. I also note that if I were in Russia I would be (about equally) ill-advised to argue for the foreign side. I think it would be traitorous of me to take up the Russian side of the argument here, and insincere to resort to mostly-forgotten slogans like “liberalism” or “freedom” that I don’t believe in. I don’t think I can quite bring myself to wave a Ukrainian flag, but maybe for the purposes of what I actually want to discuss, we can assume that I am doing so.
What is bothering me is that when Russia controlled not only Ukraine, but Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and half of Germany, our orchestras still played Tchaikovsky. We still played chess tournaments against Russians.
I always thought of Jingoism (a term, of course, originally referring to the propaganda of a war fought against Russia in Ukraine) as being an extremist thing. There is a pro-war party, quite likely nationalist in outlook, which seeks to hype up hostility against a foreign nation and to encourage war against it. The strongest supporters of this position produce the most hate-filled and inflammatory propaganda.
Over this last week I have found myself frequently doing a double-take on Twitter, as I see the most outrageously jingoistic statements (“Putin is insane!”, “Firing artillery at cities is a war crime!”) coming from what I think of as moderate, centrist accounts.
Maybe this is something new in the world. But I suspect that it is not, and that my former assumption was just wrong. Historical episodes of Jingoism, especially WWI, look very much like this.
The real horror of the current frenzy is its non-partisan-ness. There’s this idea that partisan politics is harmful because it makes people approach questions with the attitude of “which answer helps my side” rather than treating them all on their merits.
Like so much social pseudoscience, that is built on the hidden assumption that people are perfectly rational unless affected by Phenomenon X, and we can assess the effects of Phenomenon X by examining how the behaviour of those affected by it differs from perfect rationality. (see also: religion).
I’m starting to think that political partisanship is a protection. A political partisan will approach a political problem with the attitude, “does this help my side or the other side”. An enlightened person free of this handicap, it seems, will approach a political problem with the attittude “OH MY GOD THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER WE MUST ALL DO ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING WE CAN ABOUT IT IMMEDIATELY NOTHING ELSE COMPARES TO THIS”. Say what you will about partisanship, at least it’s a context.
How much of the insanity of the 21st Century is due to this? I wrote before that it is the decline of conspiracy which allows sentiment to overwhelm strategy. This is another angle on that. It seems a bit questionable to describe the fanaticism of today’s social revolution as “non-partisan”, but I think at least in the psychological sense it is. To the extent that there is political opposition to it, it is a largely fictional caricature.
I’m getting deep into the weeds here, but it’s relevant and important: the modern right, it is clear, is not in any sense a conservative tradition. It is a combination of LARPers trying to recreate one, and left radicals with cold feet. It is not independent of the non-partisan mainstream, it is that mainstream’s own fantasy of its enemy, made more or less real, as Satanists are to Christianity. (Moldbug has said things like this many times). Also, from the point of view of the non-partisan mainstream, the opposition is remote. Day to day, members do not encounter opponents and have to think about how to defeat them, but every day they encounter rivals and have to compete with them. This is the whole “virtue-signalling” scenario – Mao’s mangoes and all that.
I don’t know much about Ukraine. One thing I do know is that there was a revolution there in 2014 that was supported by the US, which overthrew a government that was friendly with Russia and replaced it with one that was unfriendly to Russia.
(There’s a whole lot I suspect or think I know about that revolution, and the relationship of the new government to the USA and particular figures within the USA, that isn’t necessarily reliable.)
I just want to contextualise with this, from Moldbug in 2008. A minor problem with his style is that he will throw something very interesting into a much larger piece, and as a result the interesting element isn’t easily linkable. So I’ve just copied and pasted the last chunk out of https://www.unqualified-reservations.org/2008/09/america-vampire-of-world-part-2/
America: vampire of the world (part 2)
MENCIUS MOLDBUG · SEPTEMBER 11, 2008
It could be worse, however. One of the points that Kedourie cleared up for me was the origin of the Armenian genocide. Did you ever wonder why, exactly, the Young Turks decided to murder their Armenians? Did you think it was just because they were evil, or because they were Turkish, or because they didn’t have an electoral college and a bicameral legislature?
Well, all three of these things may be true. But until I read Kedourie, I had only heard two sides of the story—the Turkish side, which is that it didn’t happen, and the Armenian side, which is that it did. History, unfortunately, often comes with far more than two sides:
No means but insurrection: this was clear and it was meant seriously. The leaders of the Armenian nationalist movement had already decided that autonomy was their goal and they thought they had a strategy to achieve it. And these leaders took care that Armenians would not be found to help with the reforms. For it was not in vain that they surveyed the history of Europe from the French Revolution, and not in vain that they meditated on the liberation of Greece, Serbia, Rumania and Bulgaria from the Ottoman yoke. They would make insurrection and they would bring the Armenian Question ‘to the front’. Then the Powers would have to deal with it, and if they failed to deal with it according to the desires of the nationalists, why, there were always other means of keeping the Armenian Question ‘to the front’.
The aim of nationalists is clear. It was to create ‘incidents’, provoke the Turks to excesses, and thereby bring about the intervention of the Powers. The British Blue Books of the period before the massacres are full of reports of attacks by Armenian agents or bands on Turks and Kurds, of the distribution of seditious prints, of the discoveries by Ottoman authorities of caches of bombs and arms, of demonstrations organized by Armenians in Constantinople and the provinces. In most cases, the incidents would have no immediate far-reaching consequences, but some of them, either owing to circumstances or to the ill-will of Ottoman officials, led to serious results. In Sasun in 1894, in Zeitun in 1895, the incidents led to armed risings by the Armenians of these localities which were, of course, bloodily suppressed. An outcry was the result, consular commissions were appointed to investigate, and the Armenian leaders had the consolation of knowing that another blow had been struck in the cause of Armenian independence.
The Blue Books also record another class of incident, quite as large as the first, created by the nationalists, but this much more sinister. It seems that the nationalists had to convince not only the Ottoman government and the Powers of the wisdom of satisfying their desires, they had to convince the generality of the Armenian people as well. This must be the explanation of the attack organized by them on the patriarch as he was officiating in the cathedral of Koum Kapou at Constantinople in July 1890, as a result of which he had to resign his office; of a subsequent attempt to assassinate another patriarch in 1894; of the recurrent reports of Armenians executed for being ‘informers’, for refusing to contribute to nationalist funds, for ‘collaborating’ with the Ottoman government. Nor did the nationalists try to hide or excuse these activities. Here is a passage from a revolutionary placard posted in Sivas in December 1893:
Osmanlis!… The examples are before your eyes. How many hundreds of rascals in Constantinople, Van, Erzerum, Alashkert, Harpout, Cesarea, Marsovan, Amassia and other towns have been killed by the Armenian revolutionaries? What were these rascals? Armenians! And again Armenians! If our aim was against the Mohamedans or Mohamedanism, as the government tries to make you think, why should we kill the Armenians?
The Armenians were forced to be free.
What did the Ottoman government have to say to all this? Its attitude was as clear as that of the nationalists: this agitation would have only one result, to invite Europe to meddle again in the affairs of the Ottoman empire. This was not to be tolerated; the Armenians had to desist or they would take the consequences.
And the incidents continued to be organized. In 1897, just after the massacres of 1895–6, and in 1905, there are records of minor insurrections also leading to massacres. And on the eve of the Young Turk coup d’etat of 1908, there was still the same tension in Ottoman Armenia fed and tended by the revolutionaries. This the American ambassador in a dispatch of 5 August 1907 speaks of ‘a considerable degree of disaffection and revolutionary movement on the part of a portion of the Armenian population in the district of Van. Several cold-blooded murders have been committed even in the streets of that city and a certian feeling of apprehension and unrest appears generally to prevail’; and in another dispatch he reports several more disturbances in Van, revolutionaries killing and wounding seventeen Ottoman soldiers, executing a ‘traitor’, and a considerable store of rifles, cartridges and dynamite seized. Later, when the catastrophe was final, complete, irredeemable, the nationalists were still indignant that their methods had had such untoward consequences. They could not understand why salvation was so recalcitrant in coming, why the easy path which the examples of so many European revolutions had promised should have proved so full of vipers and of nettles. The desolate wind of futility blows through the report the Dashnaks presented to the International Socialist Congress in Hamburg in 1923.
Every time that, through the irresistible force of things, the movement of Armenian emancipation expressed itself in revolutionary action, every time that the party of the Armenian Risorgimento tried, at the head of the conscious elements of the country, to draw the attention of the world, by armed insurrections or peaceful demonstrations, to the intolerable fate of the Armenian people, the Turkish government threw the Armenian masses, peaceful and disarmed, to the mercy of its troops, its bachi-bazouks and of the Turkish and Kurdish mob.
There is a surprised air about the statement.
Quick summary of some tweets in response to this article about how hard news is moving behind paywalls
The tone of the articles is that journalism is moving to paywalls so the poor underprivileged folks will be denied all this valuable journalism, and suffer as a result.
If the mass population were to be denied access to journalism, that would be about the best thing that could possibly happen, but of course it is not conceivable. They will continue to get what they want to consume; the stuff that is moving behind paywalls is the niche stuff that the profitable mass media no long sees a reason to subsidise.
Nevertheless, that is significant and could have large effects in the long run. I wrote about some of the issues a decade ago, when I reviewed “Flat Earth News”.
Mass-market news is primarily entertainment. Most people watch news to engage their minds and have something to talk about, not because they actually benefit from the information. (see also: Politics as Entertainment).
There is a long tradition, though never dominant and much reduced in recent decades, of including true information in news media. This was a product of paternalism, idealism, and the fact that actual news was kicking around anyway and was easy to throw in.
There has always been a minority of news consumers who actually need true information from the news for practical reasons. They used to be served by the same media industry as the mass market. (Not necessarily the same publications, but the same organisations and meta-organisations of media).
When the same industry produced facts for the minority and entertainment for the majority, that made it cheap to include facts in entertainment. If it bifurcates, the infotainment side will no longer have access to or focus on true information.
It is not clear that “premium news” of the type described in the axios piece is the factual news I am discussing, as opposed to just being a market segment of infotainment. It might be, but “business intelligence” services are more obvious candidates.
The “factual news consumers” I am thinking of are primarily business and government. If you want to know what is really going on in the world today, in order to make business decisions, do you read a daily newspaper or watch TV news? I don’t think so — you read specialised industry analyses.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a conversation I had on twitter with a private mutual.
We were looking at the question of reliable sources of information, and I brought up Patrick McKenzie’s tweets emphasising that there are independent commenters (Andy Ngo, Scott Alexander etc.) who are by now just predictably much more reliable than credentialed experts.
“It is February 2020. You can choose one and only one of a) the top-voted lesswrong coronavirus explainer and b) the entirety of the public health field to bet on. Bet will be called in December 2021.”
The response was that many previously good sources have been spectacularly full of shit over the pandemic.
“I’ve watched smart people whose opinions I’ve found worthwhile on a broad array of political topics become completely consumed by disinfo on this pandemic. They’re the new Russia hoaxers. Intelligence is not immunity.”
My response: “People who specifically do politics are rarely reliable on reality. I’ve seen a lot of cool fun people get seriously deranged (in different directions). People who seemed grounded and reliable before, still seem grounded and reliable. More so than MSM or officially credentialed.”
And that’s basically my position. I follow a bunch of cool fun political commentators, who write well and have insights, but I am not shocked that a number of them have been completely wrong about a factual issue. The people who are reliable are generally very careful to avoid being explicitly political.
That’s not the interesting bit here. What I have been dwelling on is that I am one of the political ones, not one of the reliable ones.
As an example, take this tweet of mine.
This, by my standards, is a pretty good tweet. It is a fact that Britain has had to go to unusual lengths to keep the electricity running lately, and has spent billions bringing on extra power at unprecedented market prices. It is also not something that has much mainstream attention.
When I say we are not going to have reliable electricity for the next twenty years — well, that might be true. But I don’t really know. I’ve jumped a bunch of steps of reasoning for the sake of a “Take”. I’m against shifting away from gas and coal and building tons of wind power because I think they’re wasteful, and I’ve exaggerated my confidence to defend my position.
Maybe paying these very expensive spot prices and balancing mechanism charges now and again is actually completely manageable, and we can go on like this another twenty years. I haven’t even really dug into it to that level of detail, and my sources of news on the issue are people who are even more partisan on the question than me.
I still think I’m right. But that’s partly guesswork, and stating a bald prediction as I did means I can’t be one of the “reliable sources” I was discussing above.
I have to stop doing this shit. Why do I even do it? For a “good take” that gets 2000 impressions and 200 engagements on Twitter? That’s not my job. To influence the government, move them democratically to better policies? I don’t believe in that stuff at all. I’m just playing at being a pundit.
(This is a minor stream-of-consciousness snapshot)
I watched Moldbug’s recent interview with Michael Malice on YouTube, and noticed a couple of previous ones and watched those too.
In one of them, Moldbug is asked who he would like as King, and he suggests Gordon Ramsay. He does a funny bit about Ramsay looking to see what is in the State Department’s fridge, or something.
That made me think of the funny Japanese woman who was all the rage a few years ago, who got people to throw stuff out of their cupboards.
Why do Gordon Ramsay and Marie Kondo (looked up her name) do the same thing? (I have only seen a few clips of each, but this piece is not about facts).
By looking at what stuff you are keeping, both of them can get objective evidence towards the same question: are you in control of what is happening here? If you are in charge, then what is in your fridge and in your cupboard is what you think should be there. If stuff just somehow ends up in your fridge or your cupboard and you let it happen, then you are not in control. Whether you are in control is a much bigger and more important question than what you believe. Gordon Ramsay and Marie Kondo are both telling you that the first thing you have to do is take control.
Moldbug’s whole point is that in our system of government, nobody is in control. The fridges are full of expired ingredients and rubbish.
The Daughter of the House has developed an attraction to the chauffeur. Her brother wants to become an Actor. Their mother has discovered Krishna and wants to celebrate Janmashtami in the grounds of the House.
For a respectable member of the ruling class1, any one of these would be a crisis. People Like Us don’t do that sort of thing. It’s not fitting, it’s just wrong. What will the neighbours think?
This stuck-up attitude, obsessed with appearances, hostile to “inferiors”, suspicious of difference, has been a target to be opposed for at least a hundred years. For fifty years, it has been worse: openly mocked from all quarters. Today we have a new ruling class, only partly descended from the old one, and identified with Masters degrees and managerial jobs rather than titles and country houses.
The fundmentals of human society haven’t changed though. The members, actual and aspirational, of the ruling class still need to show that they belong there, that they have loyalty to the same principles that the rest of the class does. Luckily, this does not require great effort of calculation2. Fitting in with a clique is a natural instinct. If you speak or act in a way that your peer group will not approve of, you will be very aware of it. You will probably feel nervous, or even nauseous. To break the mores of ones social circle takes a deliberate effort, to avoid doing so is much easier.
Among the mores of the new ruling class, anti-racism has pride of place. Its members are sincerely non-racist, but, in addition, they are terrified of appearing to be racist. Anything that could be construed as or resmbles racism will also produce a gut reaction, as well as a rational concern for one’s social position. Your chauffeur might be a gentle and intelligent young man with good prospects of an engineering career, who could make your daughter happy, but your neighbours won’t understand all that, even if you do.
This semi-rational, semi-reflex attitude is what I was getting at in Fear and Equality. When the coronavirus first appeared, the calls to act to prevent it spreading felt racist. “You must protect yourself from this dangerous thing” makes liberals feel immediately uneasy, and they are conditioned to avoid even digging into that unease. On top of that, coming out on the same side as President Trump and the murky Silicon Valley subculture, felt equally bad.
That was then. Before too long, COVID was blatantly something worth protecting from. It doesn’t seem to me very likely that it could ever have been prevented from spreading across the world, but it was surely worth a try, and even slowing it down by weeks would have been very beneficial.
Today we are not being told not to fear it. On the contrary, the culturally dominant opinion has gone to the other extreme. People should wear masks. Everyone should get vaccinated. More notably, anyone arguing otherwise is basically a murderer who should be silenced, fired, and punished. It’s easy to see how that view fits the ruling class worldview just as well as it’s no worse than the flu, prejudice is the real virus did. We are no longer dealing with an abstract, allegedly-dangerous “other” and Donald Trump’s travel bans. We are dealing with a very familiar enemy: rednecks who like to carry guns and now recklessly go outside breathing. Tucker Carlson. People who think George Soros is conspiring to smuggle slave-children onto secret islands. In last year’s post I said, talking about threats when considering the coronavirus, There is one exception. If the thing you are warning against is rich white people, or if you can at least claim it’s rich white people, you are safe. nobody is uneasy about that. “Rich white people” isn’t quite right; I meant, from the point of view of the UN, “white people in rich countries”, but within the context of Britain or the USA, the acceptable target group is that white outgroup; christians, social conservatives, Brexiters or rural gun-owners. Now if you say that perhaps the benefits of vaccinating children don’t really justify even small risks, or that masks aren’t proved to do much good and people should be allowed to make up their own minds, you might think you have reasonable arguments, but it feels like you are with the “Bill Gates is implanting chips” loonies or the “Assault weapons are a civil right”3 monsters. What will the neigbours think?
Once you start seeing the dominant class of the West as stereotype upper-class characters in an English period drama, it could not be more obvious. While I’ve been writing this, I’ve seen a piece on the blackballing of Amy Chua, and a tweet from Ben Sixsmith referencing the British state shying away from dealing with Pakistani grooming gangs (prior to Nazir Afzal making it OK). All these stories become more comprehensible if, while reading them, you mutter to yourself, “What will the neighbours think?”
This is not just groupthink, it’s groupthink on steroids because maintaining one’s social position requires following the groupthink.
This is a piece about the ruling class of America, not a piece about COVID-19. I know people who believe that we should take all possible steps to eliminate the virus, and people who think we should have let it run rather than sacrifice any freedom. The people I know in both of those groups have reached those conclusions based on their values and view of the evidence, and been consistent in the face of the partisan reversal that happened in the public sphere. I don’t agree with either (though I’m slightly closer to the second group), but I don’t mean this as a dig at any of them: it’s just that I was writing about the WHO and their reluctance to be racist to viruses last year, and when today they went back to their old ways with a campaign against e-cigarettes, the social mechanisms behind my previous post were made clearer to me.
Tweetable link: https://t.co/FOdxhlIFvw?amp=1
Aleph asked a really good question on Twitter:
What are examples of highly influential things that are not thought of that way? My go to example is birth control pills, which are one of the most influential inventions of the last century.https://twitter.com/woke8yearold/status/1416028831098474498
His example is a little bit off — it was generally understood in the 70s and 80s that we were living in a world that The Pill had created. That that understanding has been lost to the younger generations is notable, but it’s natural that the impacts of major changes in the past get gradually forgotten.
It’s still a great question. My suggestion for a more recent instance is CCTV. Obviously the spread of CCTV has been very much noticed and commented on, particularly here in Britain which has been in the forefront. However I think the impact has been greatly underestimated, because while it has been making the detection of crime much easier, police and the criminal justice system have simultaneously become much less effective and efficient in every other area, and criminality has been spreading and increasing. CCTV doesn’t show in crime statistics, because it has been cancelled out by everything that would otherwise have been causing crime to skyrocket. CCTV hasn’t eliminated crime, instead it has just masked how bad society has got.
If I’m right (this is a casual impression, not a researched thesis), then in Britain today we are actually totally dependent on CCTV for society to continue to function. Take it away, put us where we would have been with the last 30 years of social trends and policing changes, and our cities would become unliveable.
It’s got a lot further to go, too. IP-networked wired or wireless night-vision HD cameras are about £20 and falling. Tiny rechargable cameras recording to flash memory cost less than the Micro-SD cards you put in them. There’s no way these cameras don’t become ubiquitous.
The story is interesting in its own right. Youtube observs responses from users, both to videos being listed in their screens, and to actually watching the videos, runs some Machine Learning models1 over that feedback information, and selects what to list to them next to keep them watching and engaging. (This is widely understood)
(In a tiny, tiny fraction of high-profile cases, it then applies human moderation to advance the company’s interests, its political and social biases, and so on. That’s not what I’m writing about today)
As is known, this feedback loop can lead people in some highly unexpected directions. Recreational lock-picking, really? There are also some less mysterious tendencies — any activity is more watchable if it’s being done by attractive young women. But the particular instance Pargin finds — of an innocuous third-world fishing video getting ten times the views if it mildly hints at a tiny bit of indecency that isn’t even really there — would have been very difficult to predict. Note that it’s not as simple as “ten times as many people want to see the videos with the not-quite-upskirt thumnail”. Because of the feedback, more people get the suggestion to watch that video, and many of them might have equally watched the other ones too, but didn’t get the opportunity. The behaviour of a smaller number of unambitious creeps is driving the behaviour of a (probably) larger number of ordinary viewers.
Pargin makes the wider point that this same system of user feedback and ML-generated recommendation is shaping the content across all digital media. Whatever you have to do to get the views, those are the rules, even though nobody chose those rules, even though nobody knows what all the rules are, if you are in the business you just have to do your best to learn them.
I want to make a wider point still. We can understand, roughly, how this particular mode of media comes to produce some kinds of content and not others. That does not mean that without this particular mode of media, you get “normal, natural” kinds of content. You just get different incentives on producers, and consequently different content.
It’s not just media, either. Different structures of organisation and information flow produce different incentives for participants, and consequently different behaviour. Financing a business by selling equity into a highly liquid public market produces certain specific behaviours in management. Running a sport where teams can prevent players moving between them produces certain behaviours in the players. Organisations may be designed to incentivise certain desired behaviours, but many others will arise spontaneously because the system as a whole unexpectedly rewards them.
This is what Moldbug means when he says “The ideology of the oligarchy is an epiphenomenon of its organic structure.” We do not have woke ideology because a deep centuries-long woke conspiracy has taken over. We do not have it because someone sat down and worked out that a particular structural relationship between civil service, universities, and television would tend to promote ideological shifts of particular kinds. We have it because a structural relationship was created between civil service, universities, and newspapers and it turns out that that structural relationship just happens to result in this kind of insanity. You can trace through all the details — the career path of academics, the social environment of civil servants. You can spot historical parallels — this bit Chris Arnade found on pre-revolutionary French intellectuals. Moldbug attributes this epiphenomenon primarily to the separation of power from responsibility. I’m sure he’s right, but it’s a bit like Jason Pargin saying “yes, the internet really is that horny”. The particular ways in which irresponsibility or horniness express themselves in systems are still somewhat unexpected.