Constitutions

11th September 2016

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At last I have set the necessary prerequisites to discuss Urielo / @cyborg_nomade’s discussion of constitutions.

It is possible I could have been more concise about the prerequisites: what it really amounts to is:

  • Division of power is dangerous and to be avoided
  • It’s better to have less division than more
  • Sometimes that isn’t possible

Within the context set by those propositions, the difficult parts of “neocameralism and constitutions“, as well as Land’s “A Republic, If You Can Keep It“, start to appear at least relevant. So too the considerations of control and property in Land’s “Quibbles with Moldbug“.

Let’s say that in some given situation, it is impossible to effectively unify power. The next best thing is to nearly unify power. Some small number of people have some small amounts of power, but the main power-holder can set rules about how they are allowed to use that power, and threaten to crush them like a bug if they break them. That’s workable too, provided the mechanisms of supervision and bug-crushing are adequate.

However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, power is too divided, and crushing like a bug isn’t on the table. That’s when the hard bit starts.

What you need to do is find a pattern of division of power that is stable, and compatible with effective government. The second implies the first: if the pattern of division of power is unstable, then those in power will be incentivised to protect and expand their power, rather than to govern effectively.

Part of setting up this stable pattern might be to write a lot of rules on a long sheet of paper. I can’t see, though, how you could ever start with the paper and get to the actual division of power.

“Actual division of power” is such a mouthful. The word I wanted to use for this is “constitution”, but I suppose I will have to give in and call it something else. (I had this idea that the original sense of “constitution” meant  what I mean, and the idea of a constitution as a higher set of laws was derived from that. But it seems my idea was completely wrong). Let’s just call it the “Structure“.

So how should one design a Structure? You have to start from where you are. If at t=0 one power is effectively unchallenged, then they should just keep it that way. You don’t need a Structure.

Urielo really hits the nail on the head here:

eventually, a constitution always arise out of a multiplayer game, because conflict eventually ends with an agreement – @cyborg_nomade

A non-autocratic Structure is the the result of a peace settlement between potential or actual rivals, and a Constitution represents the terms of that peace settlement.

The aims of the settlement should be that it will last, that those who came into the settlement with power are willing to accept it, and will be incentivised to maintain it into the future and to preserve those things that incentivise the others to maintain it into the future.

The simplest peace settlements consist of a line on a map. What happens on one side is the responsibility of one party, and on the other is the responsiblity of another. The two (or more) sides invest appropriately in either defensive or retaliatory weaponry, to provide incentive to each other to keep to the agreement.

This is not normally what we think of as a Structure within a society, though it is an option. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_(politics) . If the powers of the participants cannot be easily separated by a line on a map, a more detailed agreement is necessary.

Another of Urielo’s tweets:
pretty much all working societies recognized some sort of power division. the estates of the realm being the European version – @cyborg_nomade

I’ve written before about the vital elements of feudalism as I see them: It resembles somewhat the “line on the map” kind of settlement: each feudal vassal had practical authority over a defined region, subject to certain duties he owed to his Lord. The Lord would spend his time travelling between his vassals, resolving disputes between them, collecting his share of the loot, and checking that they weren’t betraying him.

This worked practically, most of the time. As I wrote before, the crucial fact that necessitated a settlement between the King and his vassals was that he wasn’t physically able to administer the whole kingdom, because of limitations of communication and transport. Whoever he sent to run them, would in fact have considerable autonomy (whether the constitution gave it to them or not), and so the Structure had to accommodate that fact.

I say it worked most of the time, but it didn’t work all the time, or even nearly all the time. Conflict between King and nobles was pretty common.

If we’re talking estates of the realm, of course, then there’s more than nobles. The Medieval English Structure basically treated the church as a sort of noble. Bishops and Abbots had similar rights to Barons, but fewer duties. (That meant it would be a problem if their power increased relative to nobles.) The other group to be recognised with power within the Structure were the small landholders. At a guess, I’d put their claim to power as follows:

Fighting enemies was the responsibility of the King, and in the King’s interest. His vassals were required to supply men and/or funds to him to do this. The actual fighting would be done by Knights and men known to and under the direct control of Knights. It was therefore in the King’s interest that the Knights be incentivised to fight effectively, and would see honour and/or profit in doing so. However, to the Lords the Knights were just farmers and taxpayers; it was not in the Lord’s interest to have his Knights flourishing and strong. Therefore, the King had an interest in defending the status of Knights against their Lords.

That’s kind of a just-so story; I’m open to disagreement on specifics. In any case, this Medieval English Structure obviously depends on an agricultural economy, and military technology that relies on a relatively small number of expensively-equipped, skilled soldiers. It’s not coming back.

The commoners and serfs basically have no power recognised by the Structure. That’s probably an oversimplification, at least after the Black Death when their economic power became more significant (and serfdom faded out). But in any case, the point of the Structure is not some abstract fairness, it’s stability and efficiency.

The Structure was quite flexible and changed significantly over time. Burghers were accepted into it once trade became economically significant enough for their power to need to be preserved. But even there the simple fix was geographic: towns were made Boroughs, lines were drawn around them on the map, and the Burghers were allowed to run the towns, with a limited and transparent set of rights and duties with regard to goings-on outside the borough.

The King, Nobles and Knights form a triangle: that’s popularly considered to be stable, for the reason that if any one of the three starts to get too strong (or weak), the other two can see it and attempt to correct it with superiority. With two or more than three large power centres, it’s too easy for a theoretically weaker coalition to unexpectedly show itself strong enough to reconfigure the Structure. That’s a guideline of Structure Design that one might expect to be durable. One wonders whether Structures that are designed to have many powers (Neocameralism, bitcoin) might coalesce into three. Just a thought.

Now we come to Parliament. I don’t see the medieval English parliament as “part of government” in the sense that the modern UK Parliament is. It wasn’t responsible for law, or for any routine act of government. Its role seems to me to have been the constitutional watchdog, checking on behalf of the Lords and Knights (and later Burghers too) that the King was sticking to the constitution. Running the country was the job of the nobles, within their lines-on-the-map, and of the King, regarding defence. The power of parliament didn’t come from any constitution; it came from the fact that it could reach an agreement, and then go to the country and say “The King is infringing on his subjects’ rights”. (Or, conversely, it could say “Lord Splodgeberry has defied the King and the King is justified in going and kicking his arse”). It makes sense as a transparency mechanism rather than as a power in its own right.

Transparency, even more than Triangles, seems like a durable guideline for Structure Design. You want people with power to be working for good government, not for enhancing their own power, and you need to be able to see that that’s what they’re doing.

Having said that, I don’t think there are many general principles for Structure Design. I’ve spent this piece looking in detail on one historical Structure, to say why it was they way it was and why it worked. I think that’s what you have to do: Structure Design is a boundary value problem. You have to start from where you are.

But then again, Structure Design is a thing. Where two or more powers come together, reaching an agreement is more than just recognising their existing position. It may mean one or both giving up some power that they really hold to cement a durable deal. The establishment of rights of Knights I described above follows that pattern: the King needed it to happen so it was added to the Structure by negotiation. (That may be a stylised version of what really happened, but it could have gone that way).

So I think you can say a bit more than this:
the estates of the realm don’t arise from nowhere. they were supposed 2 formalize the *actual* structure of power that underlied sovereignty – @cyborg_nomade

What you can’t do is just dream up some “constitution” and assume that anyone will follow it. The half-life of a Structure designed that way is generally measured in weeks. Even a constitution that worked somewhere else will fail immediately if the power on the ground doesn’t match the Structure that the constitution is designed to support.

Decolonisation of Africa produced a number of experiments to demonstrate that process.

Once the holders of actual power have been identified, “constitutional design” can take place to create an arrangement by which they are incentivised to participate in an efficient government. However, “constitutional design” in a vacuum is worthless. Democracies with deviations from “one-man-one-vote” have been moderately successful in the past, but I do not think this example is rooted in any realistic assessment of power.

Similarly, various people from time to time (including even myself, long ago) have suggested random jury-type selection of decision-makers. This has attractive efficiency features, but nobody with vested power would have a clear interest in keeping it running fairly, and the scope for corrupting it would be enormous.

The way to think of creating a stable government Structure where there is intractable division of power is midway between diplomats negotiating a peace and lawyers negotiating a contract. Neither of those are trivial or negligible occupations. (At the completely rigorous level, Structure Design is a matter of game theory, but I doubt real-world situations are tractable to mathematics).

Constitutions need to resemble contracts in that they have to cover detailed interactions unambiguously, but they need to resemble peace treaties in that they need to provide for their own enforcement.

The whole Godel amending process is a bit of a red herring. In the words of Taylor Swift, nothing lasts for ever. Circumstances change, and new Structures have to accommodate them. A new Structure can be built out of an old one–such as representatives of Boroughs being included in the House of Commons alongside Knights–if the parties with power agree they are necessary. Making a constitution change is not the hard bit; making the Structure stay the same from one year to the next is the hard bit.

Sometimes a Structure has to go. Gnon has the last word.


Unchecked Power

7th September 2016

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In my previous post, I explained why Neocameralism is not a division of power in Montesquieu’s sense, but rather a special case by which the benefits of power can be divided without dissolving responsibility.

However, while dividing power is not desirable, there is no Ring of Fnargl, and power is never perfectly concentrated. A real sovereign still has to deal with forces beyond his control, most obviously those beyond his borders; the loyalty of his subjects is always a real issue. Sufficient incompetence can destroy anything.

The reason that division of power is undesirable is that it erodes responsibility. Government is responsible if whoever has the power benefits from exercising it well and is harmed by exercising it badly. If the single absolute sovereign owns all the extractable product of his realm forever into the future, then it is in his interest to make it a successful, functional, realm. His interests may not be perfectly aligned with those of his subjects, but they are not all that far away. It is better to live under a secure sovereign who rules in his own interest than under a chaotic parliament which attempts to rule in yours. This is an analogous argument to the superiority of for-profit services to government-provided services in other spheres.

If power over the corp is divided, each individual with power now has two sets of incentives: to maximise the value of the corp and its product, as for an absolute ruler, but also to maximise their power over and benefit from the corp. Division of power is harmful to the extent that the second set of incentives exist and contradict the first.

The two largest classes of undesirable incentives are to extract value from the corp for oneself, and to increase one’s power over the corp at the expense of one’s rivals. The first is more obvious, and the second, in historical experience, more extensive and more damaging. Conversion can be restricted if the number of participants in power is reasonably limited, as it tends to be obvious. However, if power is distributed flexibly, then it is easy to provide rationalisations for a change in policy that is actually directed at increasing the power of one participant.

The fundamental problem is that power, whether formal or informal, is fungible. As I wrote in 2011:
A realistic chance of power is power in itself. It can be traded, borrowed against, threatened with. A “politician” is one who holds “Virtual Power”, and tries to increase it, just as a fund manager tries to increase the assets he holds.

If making power formal doesn’t help, then what is “formalism”? Formalism is Neocameralism. Formalism’s solution to persons with practical but informal influence over the government is not to formally define and legitimise their influence, it is to buy them out. It is to put a value on their influence, and to have them give up that influence in exchange for dividend-bearing securities.

As described in my previous post, the point of that is to take away their incentive to steer management in one particular direction or another, and to give them instead an incentive to have the management maximise shareholder value.

Clearly, then that is not a perfect solution to all problems of politics. It only works to the extent that a participant’s power, whether formal or tacit, is seen as legitimate. If a participant’s power is informal but legitimate (which is a common situation in the Modern Structure), it should indeed be made formal, but only as a preliminary to removing it.

It follows that formalism does not solve the problem of necessary division of power: the fact that however legitimate power is defined, there are those outside it who have influence over those inside it. It doesn’t solve, in general, the principal–agent problem. (The CDCC is designed to partially solve one particular instance of the principal–agent problem, of the armed forces openly defying rightful instructions; by providing a specific solution it implies that there is no general solution).

What formalism does is to leave the fundamental problem unsolved, and then insist that it is the fundamental unsolved problem, and that as a matter of day-to-day competence it must be limited at all costs. Take a moment to see how far that is from the conventional wisdom, which celebrates and actively encourages all division and distribution of power.

If any slope is slippery, it is the division of power. Division proceeds from division. Complete power is inviolable, small allowances of outside influence can be monitored, limited and reclaimed, but once substantial centres of power become strong enough to defend themselves, the remaining power will be shredded in the inevitable conflict.

The problems of people trying to influence a near-absolute ruler are not a different kind of problem to those we are used to. They are the normal problems; the exact same problems that utterly cripple any kind of competent government of modern states, only much smaller and more manageable.

There is no magic formula which will make good government out of an unviable realm. The possibility of concentrating power sufficiently for stability is the sine qua non of independent government.  What is the ideal form of government for Mauritania? What is the ideal form of government for Marsh Farm? In both cases, it is for them to be ruled by outside forces that are strong enough to be secure.

Compromising the integrity of the structure of centralised power is to be avoided. Take for example, the hypothetical case I raised when I discussed the issue before, in Aretae’s day: the Pineapple Computer Co who want the King to appoint a judge under their control, to get them out of a PR problem.

By the logic above, the worst thing the King could do would be to agree to Pineapple’s request. That is giving away power, and there is a danger of not ever getting it back. Telling them to go fuck themselves would be better. Offering to match Queen Tamsin’s duty-free zone would be better.

A formalist answer, if instead of a King there was a Neocameralist CEO, would be to hold merger talks: if the sovcorp buys out Pineapple in a stock-for-stock transaction, then the interests of the sovcorp and the factory are henceforward aligned. I’m not convinced it’s a good idea for a sovcorp to own too many nationalised industries, but if the factory is genuinely essential to the wellbeing of the state, that is a reasonable solution.

(If the King is really a King, but the Pineapple company is privately owned, the same end could perhaps be achieved by having the owner of Pineapple marry the King’s daughter).


Checked Power

3rd September 2016

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The latest from cyborg_nomade at antinomiaimediata is a wide-ranging poking at the cracks of the neoreactionary/Moldbuggian concepts of Sovereignty and Responsible Government.

As I said on twitter, cyborg_nomade is, from my point of view, picking up from where Aretae left off all those years ago, not in that he is the same: as their respective aliases suggest, Aretae rooted his arguments in Classical philosophy, while cyborg_nomade is more Continental. But cyborg_nomade, like Aretae before, is challenging details of neoreactionary theory from the left, and that’s a more productive critique for defenders to concentrate on than the intra-far-right discussion that takes most of our time.

So, “neocameralism and constitutions” is quite a wide discussion, and I’m first going to pick off some low-hanging fruit concerning the role of stockholders in neocameralism.

I’m not going to talk about “conservation of sovereignty”–to me that is an unclear concept, so I’m going to try to be more concrete. I’m going to talk about the “corp”, meaning both joint-stock corporations as we know them today, and sovcorps as envisaged by neocameralism.

Moldbug repeatedly denounced “separation of powers” as a principle. no sovereign can be subject to law . On the other hand, cyborg_nomade points out, is it not true that modelling a neocameralist government on a joint-stock company implies a separation of powers:

The controllers have one job: deciding whether or not Steve is managing responsibly. If not, they need to fire Steve and hire a new Steve.

That quote is from Open Letter VI, and cyborg_nomade quotes more, but it is actually necessary to read the whole thing.

In particular, the paragraph immediately following cyborg_nomade’s selection:

What happens if the controllers disagree on what “responsible” government means? We are back to politics. Factions and interest groups form. Each has a different idea of how Steve should run California. A coalition of a majority can organize and threaten him: do this, do that, or it’s out with Steve and in with Marc. Logrolling allows the coalition to micromanage: more funding for the threatened Mojave alligator mouse! And so on. That classic failure mode, parliamentary government, reappears.

The introduction of stockholders is not a matter of checks for checks’ sake. Nowhere in OL-VI is there a suggestion that dividing power is a good thing in principle. The purpose of stockholders is a very narrow one: to fix the location of responsibility.

The corp exists for the benefit of the stockholders; if it is run well, they benefit, if it is run badly, they lose out, therefore, they should have the power. All of it. Choosing to exercise that power via at-will appointment of a Chief Executive is an implementation detail, but a well-tested one, and, other than for sovcorps, an almost universally accepted one.

Why multiple stockholders rather than one? Because with a single owner, the purpose of the corp becomes unclear: it is whatever that single owner chooses. However, if the corp has a large number of diverse stockholders, their idiosyncratic interests cancel out or become negligible, against their single shared interest in ROI.

Note that this is not a guaranteed state of affairs. A corp with a joint-stock structure can, as described by the quote above, decay into politics. For existing non-sovereign corporations, this is very unusual, but that is because many measures are taken to actively prevent it. In Anglosphere corporate law, it is not considered sufficient that stockholders can replace management by a majority vote of stock. It is in principle illegal for management to work for a goal other than return on stock, even if it has the support of holders of a majority of stock. There are also restrictions on how concentrated stock ownership can be, at least for corps for which stock is publicly traded.

So it turns out that the purpose of a joint-stock structure is not to distribute power across a larger number of humans, but to concentrate power on a single non-human “virtual” decision-maker, the shareholder-value maximiser. To the extent that a joint-stock structure does not do that, it is always considered defective, and frequently illegal.

(The parallel to bitcoin, converting individual miner decisions of transaction validity to a single non-human abstract “blockchain” decider, is obvious).

Compared to the essential feature of responsibility, the preference expressed by Moldbug for joint-stock versus monarchical sovcorp structure is marginal:
A family business is a great idea if your business is a corner store or an auto-body shop. If you have a continent to run, you want professionals.

The next question to answer is: why? Why is it good to have a corp run in the interests of this non-human abstract, “maximisation of shareholder value”?

The answer is that this is a clearly definable, constant goal that is usually consistent with the long-term continued existence of the corp. As Moldbug explains, if you want some other goal, then first maximise shareholder value, then spend the proceeds on whatever goal you want; that is a matter of consumption, not effective management.

As an aside, cyborg_nomade suggests that “customers” constitute another check on the power of management of a corp. I don’t think that is a useful way of looking at things: we are talking about the management of a corporation, or a nation-state, and any such thing, unless it is the whole universe, exists alongside other things beyond its management, and has to interact with them. Good management means good management in connection with customers, suppliers, neighbours, and competitors, and no change to the organisational structure of the thing being managed makes any difference to that fact.

This whole defence of neocameralism leaves some obvious gaps. First, enforcing shareholder voting rights on a sovereign joint-stock company absolutely requires the cryptographic-weapon-lock scheme. Moldbug in OL-VI is explicit about that:
The neocameralist state never existed before the 21st century. It never could have existed. The technology wasn’t there.
It is because I am sceptical of the practicality of that scheme that I tend to advocate for what I call “degenerat formalism“, which is right back to that old family business. Nevertheless, my position is that assuming a working cryptographic decision and command chain, neocameralism is good.

Second, the CDCC provides for shareholder voting rights, but not for the extra minority-shareholder rights that are provided by modern corporate law. If those are actually necessary (and they may well be), then some other mechanism has to enforce them. Note that those rights in part predate the actual corporate law that now enforces them: they were provided in the rules of the company, because it was understood people wouldn’t want to buy into corporations that did not have them. Moldbug’s solution to these problems is Patchwork: Not only are sovcorps structured according to the neocameralist design, but they exist in a competitive marketplace, and the forces of competition apply the remaining necessary constraints on management.

As I said, this is only picking on one part of the argument in “neocameralism and constitutions”, the part that is easiest to deal with because I think it is a clear-cut error. The more interesting part, about constitutions as spontaneous order, or products of selection, remains to be answered.


Distinguishing Progressivism and the Left Coalition


A commenter again objects to the idea that “left” and “right” is a useful categorisation of political ideas.

On the subject of “left” and “right”, there is confusion because I use the terms in two distinct but related senses.

When I talk about the long-term political trends–“leftward drift” and so on, what I am talking about is what is sometimes called “progressivism”. It would be good to define that more satisfactorily, but it is an intellectual-political movement of great age, oriented around a cluster of ideals mostly centred on “equality”. There is no corresponding long-term definition of “right”, there is only occasional opposition to progressivism.

In day to day politics, “left” and “right” have much broader meanings, relating to every area of political controversy. Mostly they have no permanent meaning in relation to ideas about policy, and no meaning in relation to practice of any activity outside of politics. They are, however, an essential feature of any kind of struggle for power. There cannot normally be more than two coalitions seriously engaged in seeking power; if you bring any desire to a power-struggle, it is necessary first to get one or other of the competing coalitions to agree to your desire.

The reason these two very different meanings of “left” get confused is because, given the inevitable division of politics into two factions at any given place and time, we label the faction more in line with “progressivism” as “left” and the other as “right”. In some cases, the choice is rather difficult and ends up being pretty much arbitrary.

So, immigration is a progressive and therefore long-term “left” demand when it is premised on the equality of “natives” and “foreigners”. However, while that is in line with long-term progressive principles, it is actually very new for it to be advanced with significant powerful backing on the basis of those principles.  As the commentator rightly observed, going back only a few decades, it was much more a practical issue pushed by businesses in order to advance their own economic interests. Because those businessmen were part of the (short-term) “right” coalition, immigration at that point was more a “right”-wing than “left”-wing demand. It is by no means the only issue falling into that category; for a century the progressive agenda focused on advancing the status of the working class relative to the employing class (because equality is the central progressive value), and so many people define “left” and “right” as permanent ideas relating to the two sides of that economic divide. As the same commentator put it in 2011:

In the world I was brought up in (and you were born into) Right/Left politics was quite simple. At the extreme of the Right there were bosses and millionaires, and the extreme of the Left there were deep-sea fishermen and coalminers…

But during the 70s the world as I knew it changed into something else. The first inkling of descent into (what appeared to me to be) silliness was called “Rock against Racism”. Then there was the Feminist movement, relying on a series of absurd illogicalities and parodying Marxist class dialectics. Together, and with other ingredients, they formed the basis for the time-wasting activities of so many “equal opportunities” employers today.

It is readily observable that that “fishermen and coalminers” model does not hold in the twenty-first century. Indeed, there is massive opposition to Trump from the existing “right” coalition on the grounds that his stated platform is not “right” at all in twentieth-century terms.

The existing right coalition in the United States, however, is still defining itself in opposition to the left coalition on a field of issues which the left coalition sees as essentially done with or for other reasons not currently important. The force of the left coalition is directed in new, but still progressive directions, including open borders, but the right coalition has the habit of not opposing those policy demands. Hence the “Alt-Right”, which is the term for opposition to the new progressive demands of the left coalition, rather than opposition to the old progressive demands of the left coalition.

If the Alt-Right takes over the right coalition, we could conceivably get to a situation where the right coalition is focused on policies of advancing the status of the white working class against the white elite, while the left coalition is focused on advancing the status of immigrants against the white working class. Since both of those are actually progressive values, in terms of long-term advancing of equality, it would be one of those situations where the labelling of the coalitions as left and right could be argued to be backwards.

The summary of my prediction in the original post is that that will not happen. I expect the left coalition to back-pedal on immigration, which it only seized on because the right coalition was failing to oppose it..

Another way of putting my prediction is that over the long term “left” and “right” do usually describe politics well (though they aren’t guaranteed to), and that the current left demand for open borders is an aberration that will be corrected before it is allowed to destroy a coherent progressive left coalition. It is reasonably progressive to say that foreigners should have the same rights as natives, but it is not practical for the more progressive coalition to actually go and do it.

A fuller historical explanation of the “descent into silliness” is needed as a matter of the first importance. Did the cause of further advancement of the proletariat run into diminishing returns? Was it sabotaged by clever rightists? Was the obsession of the left coalition with that one issue over such a long period of time itself the aberration, perhaps caused by the Russian Revolution and the resulting alignment with Marx?

Going for the Throat

8th August 2016

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To set the scene, this is what I think normal politics looks like:

There is a kind of dynamic equilibrium of politics under the Modern Structure. The Cathedral moves left at a controlled pace. It drags the political establishment behind it. The parties and the media drag the backward mass of the people behind them.

To elaborate on that, I believe the pace has been controlled. There has always been a niche for someone to be the most radical, and that is the driving force behind the leftward movement, but there are also a whole bunch of sensible people with power to hold on to, who want to keep the system functioning roughly as well as it is, and who want to avoid triggering outright rebellion from the “backward masses”. The mainstream at any given time is a compromise between maintaining the status quo and claiming the status benefits emitted by the leftward spiral.

This dynamic equilibrium has been in place at least since the late 19th Century. I think it’s fair to say it was interrupted, in a small and narrow way, by the Reagan-era reorienting of economic policy. I wrote about that.

When I wrote the top piece about the dynamic equilibrium, in 2013, I thought the same economic-policy readjustment was happening again. I continued:

The last 15 years, under the Bush and Obama administrations, have seen an increase in the rate of expansion of the economic activity of the Federal Government beyond the previous rate. We can think of the old rate of leftward drift as the equilibrium rate, though of course that’s oversimplifying a complex situation.
That departure from the equilibrium rate of advance produced the Tea Party, by damaging the illusion that flyover country could oppose what was happening simply by supporting the Republican side of the political class.

However, the establishment was able to see off the Tea Party. What appears to be on the cards today, with the Trump movement, is a readjustment on a wider, or at least different, front; the question of the status of white culture and in particular of mass immigration.

This was very unexpected–I saw no hint of it in 2013 when the Tea Party was the focus of right-wing dissent. The apparent explanation for it was the lack of compromise on the cultural side from the left in politics and in institutions. The left traditionally can be patient; if it hits resistance it can sit and wait for its dominance over education and culture to wear that resistance away. That has always worked in the past. But for the last three years there has been no compromise: the cultural demands of the leftist status spiral have been driven through regardless of opposition, even on almost purely symbolic questions like transgender bathrooms or Syrian refugees where there was no practical reason not to show the usual patience and achieve the usual steady progress.

This is the question I asked, then, on Twitter in July 2016:

The cause of Trump, as @FreeNortherner said, is that they boiled the frog too quickly. But what is the cause of that loss of restraint?
Candidates are: social media echo chamber, Republican party weakness, purging of right from old institutions.
Or, I suppose, just random shit happens sometimes. But while possible it’s worth considering structural causes.

I will expand on the three suggestions I made:
By the echo chamber I mean the widely discussed theory that left and right have been socially separating from each other, to the degree that they simply don’t see the same world any more. The mainstream left became oblivious to the scale and intensity of opposition to what they were doing, because they literally didn’t know anyone who thought that way, didn’t read what those people were reading or even take them seriously.

The Republican Party ran very (electorally) weak presidential candidates for two elections running; we saw a very similar extended run in Britain of the Conservative Party being weak, divided, and not having politically effective candidates, during the Blair years. If elections aren’t close, the government naturally feels it can get away with more.

The purging of institutions is a kind of echo of what I wrote about in What happened in the Sixties. If what happened in the sixties was that the left had achieved such dominance in civil service, education and media that they could win every battle, in this decade the dominance reached the stage where they could not only defeat any opposition in those arenas, but they could punish any open dissent to their position. Before the Sixties you could take the right-wing line on a matter, and you might win or might lose. From the Sixties, you would lose. From this decade, you would lose and be fired.

I put forward those three hypotheses, for further evaluation and testing. I still think they’re pretty good. The point is that something must have changed. When I referred back to the question yesterday, there were a lot of suggestions on Twitter along the lines “Leftists are bad”. Well, they are, but that doesn’t explain why after a hundred years of deliberately not triggering a powerful right-wing backlash, they suddenly did it now.

However, yesterday I came across the Slate article by John Dickerson. “Go for the Throat!
Note the article is from January 2013; the occasion being Obama’s second Inaugural Address. So it was published before my October 2013 “Shutdown” piece where I saw the right-wing reaction to the establishment being on the narrow size-of-government issue.

In the article, John Dickerson simply proposes what has since happened as an electoral strategy. By refusing to compromise in any way with right-wing opposition, Obama could force Republican politicians to choose between either accepting utter defeat, and therefore losing all respect with conservatives, or else turning against their own defeated moderates, and allowing themselves to be painted as intransigent extremists. Some would go each way, and the result would be a split and damaged Republican party.

I dropped a few quotes on Twitter, but there’s no sense reading all this and not reading that article. It’s ridiculous to read that article and then ask, “Why did Donald Trump happen?” The whole point of the strategy Dickerson describes is to make something like Trump happen.

There are, however two questions to ask. The first is, “didn’t you consider that in triggering the production of ‘overreaction and charismatic dissenters’ from the GOP, you might get something powerful enough to win, or at least to reshape the political scene to your disadvantage?” The second is “Why is this a good idea in 2013, and not in, say, 1997? What is different?”

I’m interested in any answers to those questions, but first of all I’m interested in John Dickerson‘s answers. I’ve asked him on Twitter, but as yet not received a reply (to be fair, it’s early Monday morning in the US).


More Prediction


Kicking some ideas around as to what the future of US politics looks like, filling in more detail of my previous prediction

The justification for doing this is to test my understanding, not to drive any kind of short-term action

Note I’m not American, so while I know quite a lot, there’s a lot I don’t know, and I don’t know what a lot of it is. (Unknown unknowns).

I’m not predicting the election result. Lets take the possibilities

Let’s say Hillary wins.


Prediction 1. Trump isn’t going anywhere. He’s gone from well-known figure to one of the most famous men in the world, and he isn’t going to mind that at all. He is going to be prominent on US media for the foreseeable future. The media might want to keep him off, but they don’t have that kind of veto power–he could literally set up his own TV station and make money off it. More likely someone will give him a platform. He’s going to be on the news every week for the next decade.


Prediction 2. Hillary is going to be very unpopular. She’s a hopeless politician and isn’t going to be able to evade blame like Obama did. She cannot be reelected in 2020.


Non-Prediction 3. Can the Democrats replace her in 2020 primaries? I understand that generally doesn’t happen with incumbents. Pressure to not stand due to ill-health or something is possible

Non-Prediction 4. Can Trump run again in 2020? Nixon lost & was nominated again, right? Trump on a “I fucking told you, you fucking fools” platform could be in with a good chance. OTOH, the party will blame him for losing, and has a good chance to make that stick over the next 4 years. Also, they will be better-prepared with the machinery to keep him out, having been caught out this time.


Prediction 5. The Republican mainstream will loudly reject Trumpism and all his works and all his empty promises. Maybe for as long as six months. Then they will gradually begin to compete for his supporters. By 2019, border enforcement, some restriction on Islam, and much more hostility to free trade will be much more common in talking points. And of course that is on top of the fact that Ted Cruz is now symbolic of the moderate Republican mainstream, which would be shocking to anyone who had been in a coma since 2014.


Prediction 6. The real world has little to do with all this. There will not be a major collapse in the next 5 years. Details will change, but the big picture will be recognisable. That’s not because the current situation can go on forever, but because forever is a long time, and collapses are rare. Hillary’s policies will look bad, because she’s such an incompetent politician, but things won’t get worse noticeably quicker than they have been doing.

Prediction 7. The president elected in 2020 will be elected on a moderate immigration-restrictionist platform, and will act on it with limited cooperation from the establishment, having some marginal effect but not a revolutionary realignment of politics.

And if Trump wins…?

Prediction 8. President Trump will not be revolutionary. He will not take communists for helicopter rides, gas the Jews, appoint @Nero as press secretary, or pull out of NATO or the UN.

Prediction 9. He will attempt to make significant restrictions on legal immigration by Muslims and illegal immigration across the Mexico border. He will need to fight against the permanent government to do this. The character of that fight is the big open question.


Prediction 10. President Trump will win over the Republican Party. There will be many holdouts but as president he will have enough new allies to defeat them. There may for a time be a “Trump Party” but over time the Anti-Trumpers will be marginalised.


A Prediction


I wrote a post in 2014 that dealt with the idea that “Cthulhu always swims left”. This catchphrase of Moldbug’s has become commonplace in neoreactionary circles, and has even spread beyond. But it has troubled me that it doesn’t seem to be entirely true.

The key point is that nobody in the system has the aim of destroying society. That is an incidental byproduct of the competition for power. When a particular leftist trend gets to the stage where the destruction of the governing institutions becomes imminent,  some conservative will actually be allowed to stop it. After all, the individuals in the permanent establishment are choosing the holy policy in order to retain their power; if it comes to a choice between accepting a less holy policy or seeing the institution in which their power resides fall apart, there is less to lose by compromising on purity.

But a compromise made in the face of imminent catastrophe is still made, and can’t be immediately reversed once the threat has passed. It sticks, not for ever but for a generation at least. In the previous article I identified the state of nationalised, unionised industry in the 1970s, particularly in Britain, as close to producing an institutional collapse, which was seen off by Thatcher’s economic reforms. To a considerable degree those reforms have lasted; even the most recent Labour government took a line on unions, nationalisation and international trade that was to the right of the Conservatives of the 1960s.

This theory is OK, but looked at critically it is hard to distinguish from post-hoc rationalisation of the failure of the “always swims left” theory. When I put it forward in 2014 that’s really all it was.

Today, though, I have the opportunity to make a prediction based on the theory. The position today as I see it is that immigration has got to the point that nationalisation had reached by the late 70s: if not changed, the current policies produce a real risk of institutional collapse within a timespan to affect the careers of present-day decision-makers.

Therefore I think those immigration policies will be changed, drastically, and soon. The obvious chain of events would be a Trump election victory in the US leading to border enforcement, a clampdown on illegal immigrants and a reduction in legal immigration. According to my theory, that is what the Trump candidacy is all about; that means we would not expect to see meaningful changes in other areas of policy.

We might well see broad changes of a superficial nature; an elected politician, like Thatcher, who comes in with a mandate to change a progressive policy has a different image to project than a normal politician, and that will be exhibited in the newsworthy but unimportant elements of the media–political circus. But the central prediction is that the change is not a total repudiation of progressivism, rather a piece of damage control on a limited policy area.

That’s the first prediction: if Trump wins the presidency, there will be a massive change in immigration policy, no meaningful change in other areas of policy. I would not even expect to see any significant change in the status of American blacks, for instance.

It is possible to go further, however. Elections are not the major decisive events in history. If Trump does not win the election, the immigration clampdown will happen anyway. It might take a few more years, but the reason it can happen is not because the public is clamouring for it, it is because it is genuinely necessary, and that means it probably will happen. If Hillary wins, it will quite possibly happen even within her term, and if she refuses, then 2020 will see Trump II, with less (but still some) establishment hostility.

There’s more though. The popular discontent that produced Trump has also produced hard-left candidates; Sanders in the US and Corbyn in the UK. There are a number of similarities between the rise of anti-immigration politicians like Trump on one hand and these candidates on the other. However, those similarities are all on the “public” side of their popular, anti-establishment appeal, and that is unimportant. If any of these hard-left characters get into power (which seems unlikely at the moment), the result will simply be more of the same. Cthulhu will continue to swim left, and probably no faster than he has done under Blair or Obama. Immigration is likely to be somewhat fixed anyway, but not necessarily immediately.

There is no immediate evidence of any sympathy within the establishment for an anti-immigration position. Why would there be? The permanent establishment is not looking for votes. If Trump loses, having shown any less hostility to him than the next apparatchik will be shameful, and if he wins, there will be time enough to come around to the inevitable. He will have to fight to push his policy through, but the opposition will not be as determined as it would have been ten years ago. Privately, many of those he fights will be OK with losing, as long as it doesn’t look like their fault that the incorrect policy has happened. And once the policy has happened, it will be a done deal; reversing it outright will not truly be on the table for twenty years.


Neoreaction and Twitter


The ideas that became neoreaction were blogged, but neoreaction as a conscious intellectual movement started on twitter.

I’m not at all sure it could have come about in the same way without twitter. My aim was to speak to the group of people who read and commented on Unqualified Reservations, who were secular, libertarian or ex-libertarian types. Aretae, Nydwracu, Foseti, Devin, etc. But what gathered round the neoreactionary label were a number of young dissident rightists who were without a movement [1]. These young men even a decade earlier would have been ordinary Christian conservatives, but, alienated from mainstream thought by the progressive overreach which characterises the Obama era, they grabbed onto the Moldbuggian diagnosis of the modern state in spite of the fundamental difference in outlook [2].

There is still doubt on both sides as to whether this collision of philosophies, which produced what we now call “NRx”, constitutes a valuable synthesis or a distraction. But for better or worse it was a product of twitter, which by its unique features causes blurring between distinct but proximate communities. The enforced brevity makes it practical to follow hundreds of people, and the way responses work make conversations public. (In contrast, if I share a remark on facebook, and you comment on it, the originator of the remark doesn’t see your comment). The one-way nature of following means you don’t need to ask for permission to connect to a social group. The encouragement of multiple pseudonymous accounts made it a first choice for dissidents. The fact that it worked by linking rather than hosting content meant it meshed with the pre-existing blog networks of libertarians and Moldbug’s readers.

That is now history; over the last year or two many active neoreactionaries have left twitter. Their departure is in part a way of making the point that neoreaction is not and does not intend to be a mass movement, in part a way of excluding the less intelligent of the alt-right, and moving on from the same old repeated arguments. However, I did not follow. Though neoreaction cannot measure its achievement in terms of numbers of contributors or readers, it needs to be a live movement, and that means it needs to expose its ideas to outsiders and be exposed to the ideas of outsiders.  It is tempting to run away from troublemakers and communicate with a closed group, but I have seen such closed groups shrivel and die. I do not aspire to a mass audience, but I want a growing audience.

Also, to my mind, neoreaction is not primarily a community or an embryonic organisation, it is a set of ideas–incomplete, still under construction, but capable of standing by themselves. The long-term goal is not completely clear, but one plausible path is gradually spreading those ideas among the influential. I am greatly encouraged by the rate at which this is currently happening: a few people like Ed West and Sam Bowman are, without adopting the NRx identity, absorbing some of the ideas and leaking them into the mainstream. Moldbuggian concepts like the Cathedral, and recent NRx concepts like virtue signalling are becoming part of the general vocabulary. This spread is happening largely via twitter.

I am not opposed in principle to raising private channels of communication in parallel to public, but in practice I have found it difficult to be active on both. There is also one more beneficial attribute of twitter which is its disguise: I can access twitter from an office network and all the network sees is SSL traffic between me and twitter.com–there is no indication of what I am communicating or with whom. In contrast, connections to private sites are potentially more embarrassing to explain.

The context of this examination of the importance of twitter, is obviously, the fear of losing it. There is a three-pronged threat: first, the deliberate political attempt to exclude right-wing activity from twitter; second, the evolution of twitter, driven by profitability, in a direction which makes it a more effective disseminator of advertising and a less effective enabler of overlapping communities, and thirdly, the fact that the business itself is in difficulties and might not survive in its present form.

I have previously discussed alternatives to twitter, but they are not yet useful, because they don’t have a user base. The value of twitter I have outlined above all relies on having a wide base of users; neoreactionaries can migrate to one of several platforms, but once moved we will be isolated from the mainstream journalists, the other dissident rightist groups, that twitter currently connects us to.

On the other hand, twitter is, from a technical point of view, easily replicable. Facebook is a leader in technology; its data centre technology is cutting-edge, it faces enormous demands in streaming and storage capability, and its automated management of the user experience is driven by immensely sophisticated software. In contrast, twitter, particularly in its 2011 form, is a much more straightforward technology. The original rails app was supplemented with a scala-based event stream, and obviously anything operating at that scale constitutes a technical achievement of a kind, but twitter is, fundamentally, the almost mythical thing that people imagine start-up successes to be but which they almost never are, a good idea. The explanation for its exceptional status is that its good idea, microblogging, doesn’t really sound like a good idea, even a decade later. That, of course, is the big problem for twitter as a business: the company and its assets contribute relatively little to the value of the service, and it is stuck in a cycle of adding sophisticated profit-creating new features that its existing user base doesn’t have any use for.

So technically replicating retro-twitter is very feasible, but without the user base it doesn’t get anyone anywhere. There is room in the market for a retro-twitter, because it needn’t have high costs: the twitter company is trapped by its valuation as a facebook-challenger; a rival could be run on a small budget like wikipedia.  It is plausible that the Mozilla Foundation [3] or DuckDuckGo could roll out a twitter-clone, maybe even with federated features such as those of GnuSocial.

The missing step is getting the user base. Ironically, the situation facing NRx on twitter resembles the situation facing NRx as a concept: things have to get worse before they can get better. Just as we can’t fight the progressive mainstream for power, but must “become worthy” to step in once it fails, we cannot fight twitter for audience, but must wait for it to fail and take our place in what replaces it. The way things are going, we may not have to wait too long.

Notes

1. Nydwracu is as young or younger than the newcomers, but he’s a prodigy, and under suspicion of being a genius.

2. There was conversation between Moldbug and his followers and Christian reactionaries–people like Bruce Charlton and Lawrence Auster–before twitter NRx, but they were still consciously separate from each other.

3. The Mozilla Foundation is identified as an enemy over the Eich affair, but it does have strong princpled ideas about freeing internet users from monopoly businesses, so I don’t rule it out.

Archiving


A couple of casual online conversations:

First, journalist Jamie Bartlett banging on on Twitter about blockchain.

It became fashionable in 2015 to dismiss bitcoin but get excited about blockchain.  I never really got it, because what makes the blockchain work is the fact that there are rewards for building it.  I can download the blockchain and not even know who I am downloading it from, but, because (a) it takes enormous resources to create that data, and (b) that enormous effort is only rewarded if the recent blocks were added to the longest chain that other bitcoin users were seeing at time, I can be very confident that the whole chain, at least up to the last few blocks, is the same one anyone else is seeing, though I don’t know who I got mine from and I don’t know who they would get theirs from.

A blockchain without a cryptocurrency to reward the miners who create the blockchain is just a collection of documents chained by each containing the hash of its parent. In other words, it is just git.

What I hadn’t realised is that the people so excited about blockchains actually didn’t know about git, even though this aspect of bitcoin’s design was explicitly based on git, and even though git is about 100-1000X more widely used than bitcoin. They maybe knew that git was a source control system, and that you could store and share stuff on github.com, but they didn’t know that it is impossible to publish a version of a git project with a modified history that wouldn’t be obvious to anyone who tried to load it but who previously had the true version of that history.  If you publish something via git, anyone can get a copy from you or from each other, and anyone can add material, but if anyone tampers with history, it will immediately show.

So, when Bartlett said “Parliament should put its records on a blockchain”, what I deduced he really meant was “Parliament should check its records into git”. Which, if you happen to care for some reason about the wafflings of that bunch of traitors and retards, is a fairly sensible point.

So much for that. On to incidental conversation the second.

P D Sutherland has been in the news, speaking in his role as Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. @Outsideness highlighted a tweet of his as “possibly the most idiotic remark I’ve ever seen”

The interesting thing is I distinctly remember a post on Sutherland, probably 2-3 years ago, on one of the then-young NRx blogs, and a bit of discussion on the comments. It’s interesting because Sutherland is such a stereotype Euro-politician ( Irish bar -> Fine Gael -> Trilateral Commission -> European Commissioner -> United Nations ), to be worth attention. Further, it would be interesting to see what we saw and to what extent we might have anticipated the present.

However, I couldn’t find the post or discussion. Blogs come and go, writers change personas, and either it’s gone or the search engines couldn’t find it.

Putting these two together, we need to archive our valuable materials, and the proper tool for a distributed archive is git. Spidering a blog might work for a dead one like Moldbug’s, but is a poor way of maintaining a reserve archive of numerous live ones.

I’ve written some ruby scripts to convert blog export files and feed files into one file per post or comment, so they can be archived permanently.  All a bit scrappy at the moment, but it seems to work.

The idea (when it’s a bit more developed) would be that a blog owner could offer the blog as a git archive alongside the actual web interface. Anyone could clone that, and keep it updated using the feed. If the blog ever vanishes, the git clones still exist and can be easily shared.

(I wouldn’t advise posting the git archive to a public site like github. The issue is not privacy–the data is all public in the first place–but deniability.  If you decide to delete your blog, then a recognised public archive is something people can point to to use the content against you, whereas a personal copy is less attributable. Of course, you can’t prevent it, but you can’t prevent archive.org or the like either)


Outrage


I repeated on twitter a point I’ve made before:

I consider local stories from far away as none of my business and refuse to consider them

It was a response to bswud talking about the “Clock Boy” story / hoax

If someone were actually concerned to assess a situation accurately and respond with appropriate action, individual outrages, such as Clock Boy or Tamir Rice, would not be of any use. Instead, you would need actual statistics of how often various kinds of event occurred. Selecting only newsworthy events for your data set would be counterproductive.

Imagine a machine learning algorithm trained only on the outliers; this is your brain on news media.

There are two problems with ignoring outrage stories in favour of statistics. The obvious one is that statistics do not arouse the general public in the way outrage stories do. So, if your intent is propaganda rather than assessing the situation, statistics are less useful. The second problem is that statistics are more obviously mediated by others who may or may not be trustworthy than anecdotes are.  What the stories above suggest is that outrage stories are in reality no more likely to be accurate than published statistics, but it doesn’t feel that way. You are always conscious that a statistic is potentially suspect, but a story of a reported event feels more like a fact than a claim, even though you read it from the same page as the statistic.

To emphasize, the real problem with outrage porn is not that it is not true. Reasoning based on selected outrage stories would be wrong even if they were all true and accurately reported. They are less akin to lies, and more akin to Frankfurterian “bullshit”, in that it is irrelevant to the purposes for which they are used whether they are true or not.

For now, propaganda by outrage story is working, but the tenuous link between outrage and truth, because it is not a fundamental requirement of the process, can be completely broken. This seems to be what some on the WN side have undertaken to do:

Outrage stories are, necessarily, retailed and commented on without scrutiny, actual scrutiny being impractical. But there is still a widespread assumption that, while slanted reporting and hoaxes happen, most stories (or at least, most stories that are useful to my propaganda purposes) are somewhat true.  That assumption can be attacked by flooding social media with false stories. If the public doesn’t know what to believe, and is unable to ever find out what is actually going on in some town a thousand miles away, and aware of that inability, then they would actually be better-informed than they are now.

As a postscript, do note that outrage porn is common across the political spectrum. Cologne New Year’s Eve is outrage porn.

If I do comment on outrage porn, what I am interested in is patterns of reporting. Not the truth, or even the relationship of the reporting to the truth (since I don’t know the truth), but the way reports are promoted or suppressed, and their relationships with each other. It is interesting that the Cologne story was kept quiet for a week, then escaped and became major (but not dominating) news. It is interesting that the BBC quoted a police officer one day that police said the attackers were mainly migrants carrying migrant papers, and reported the following day that there was no evidence they were migrants. If I draw conclusions from outrage porn, I am looking for conclusions that are independent of the validity of the reporting.






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