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Bioleninism, Tokenism and the Apex Fallacy


Responding to the above criticism of the theory of Bioleninism is a useful way of clarifying the theory.

The essence of the theory is that a governing structure can gain stability by appointing to high positions members of groups with naturally lower performance, and that that process is advanced in current Western political systems.

“Natural” low performance is an especially controversial concept, but the criticism embraces it: “[women] are not contributing muscle to maintaining law and order to the same extent”

Whether the same applies to, say, homosexual or Punjabi firemen is debatable. I think the identification of sexually omnivorous firemen as the “wrong” kind of homosexual has a lot of merit.

As to Fulton County Sheriffs, a commenter who does not see Bioleninism as a force might well imagine they would “reconsider”, after the incident of a criminal overpowering a small female deputy and killing 3. A believer in the theory of Bioleninism would imagine the opposite. What’s the first link I see when I search “Fulton County Sheriff”? “A day on the job of Fulton County’s first female sniper“!  . It’s as if effectiveness on the job is not the dominant factor in appointments…

Emphasising the fact that there are still ethnic and cultural minorities in low-status positions is effectively the inverse of the Apex Fallacy  : That there is a phenomenon that takes members of some groups and promotes them to positions of power does not imply that it does not leave other members of those groups behind — even a large majority of those members. Bioleninism is a theory about who is selected for positions of power; those not selected can easily remain with the lowest status of all.

The most interesting alternative view is that Bioleninism appears to be happening but is in fact fake: “If women succeed in taking over half the posts in the cabinet… this just means that the cabinet have changed their role to that of national mascots.” We are looking at Tokenism, not Bioleninism.

Tokenism is absolutely a real phenomenon. It is a different category of phenomenon than Bioleninism, however. Tokenism is in principle an individual motivation. “I am pretending to promote this token person so as to get the reputational benefits of doing so, but I don’t really want to give them any influence”. Bioleninism is an emergent tendency of a political system. A movement which promotes the naturally low-status succeeds because they have loyalty to the system without which they could not possibly achieve the same status. (One of the conditions that gives rise to the phenomenon of Bioleninism is that any rival movement appointing naturally high-status people tends to suffer from problems of lack of loyalty. Other things being equal, it is better to rely on high performers than low performers).

The significance of an emergent tendency, as opposed to an individual motivation, is that nobody needs to believe in or even understand Bioleninism for it to happen. The individual motivations that produce the Bioleninist outcome can be quite unrelated: they can be some theory of Justice, or even be exactly Tokenism. It is a feature of any large movement that pretending to believe something is effectively the same as believing it. The attempt to pretend to believe a thing is what Scott Alexander called “Kolmogorov Complicity”, and he explains why it fails.  . A tight conspiracy of people who trust each other can have a secret agenda and a public agenda. A movement that has to compete in the public square cannot sustain the distinction for very long. If you claim loudly and dishonestly to believe that it is just to appoint women to cabinet, you will be succeeded within your movement by people who are not in on the joke.


Instrumental Convergence

January 9, 2018

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From The Superintelligent Will [pdf] by Nick Bostrom

The Instrumental Convergence Thesis

Several instrumental values can be identified which are convergent in the sense that their attainment would increase the chances of the agent’s goal being realised for a wide range of final goals and a wide range of situations, implying that these instrumental values are likely to be pursued by many intelligent agents

He then lists five examples: Self-preservation, Goal-content integrity, Cognitive Enhancement, Technological Perfection, and Resource Acquisition.

It’s a pretty short paper, worth reading.

Basically, if you have any long-term goal, your intermediate goals are likely to include, surviving, retaining your goals, getting better at stuff, and acquiring resources.

Even if your goals are bizarre — the proverbial paperclip maximizer — if they are long-term, then your short-term goals are going to be these ones.

It’s worth thinking about the paperclip maximizer. As soon as you do, you realise how underspecified the concept is. There are obvious missing criteria which can be filled in: what counts as a paperclip, do they all count equally, or does size matter, do they need to be just made, or made and kept?

Time is a difficult question. Let’s try to maximize the maximum number of simultaneously existing paperclips in the future of the universe, handwaving relativity of simultenaity somehow.

The crucial insight is that making even one paperclip is quite contrary to that — or any similar — goal. If you accumulate resources and capabilities, grow them over years or millennia, you will be able to make trillions of paperclips in the future. Just one spacefaring robot that lands on iron-rich asteroids and starts manufacturing could presumably make 10^{19} paperclips out of each asteroid.

When you look at Earth, you don’t see potential paperclip material, you see start-up capital for an astronomical-scale paperclip industry.

The biggest questions are about risk. Even the maximization criteria I suggested above are incomplete. You can’t know how many paperclips will exist in the future; even if superintelligent, there is too much that you don’t know and can’t predict. You don’t even have probabilities for most things. What is the probability that there is alien intelligence in the Milky Way? There’s no meaningful answer.

There’s another discussion (or perhaps it’s the same one put another way) about the fact that probabilities are not objective, but “subjectively objective”, so maximising a probability is not objective but maximising the probability as some subjective entity perceives it, so your goals have to embody what sort of entity is doing the probability estimation, and how that survives and evolves or whatever. That’s a killer.

So you can’t maximize some probability-weighted value, that’s not a thing. If you’re aiming for any kind of “as sure as I can get”, then before you start making paperclips, your priority has to be to learn as much information as possible to be able to start creating that kind of certainty.

So, forget paperclips, get rich. In fact, forget getting rich, get knowledge about the universe. In fact, forget getting knowledge about the universe, get rich, so you can get knowledge about the universe, so you can be confident of getting really rich, so you can make paperclips.

Initially, what you want from Earth is basically wealth and knowledge. That’s what everyone else wants too. All the tactical questions are exactly the same as everyone else faces — invest in resources, cooperate with others or fight them, and so on.

Whatever your long-term goal is, if you have any long-term goal, your short term actions will look exactly like those of an ordinary sane selfish organism. The details of your goals are entirely irrelevant.

This is “Instrumental Convergence”, but the accounts I have seen, such as the Bostrom paper above, seem (perhaps unintentionally) to massively understate it. The ultimate goals of any intelligent entity that has any long-term goals at all would be totally irrelevant to their observed behaviour, which would be 100% dominated by survival, resource acquisition and information-gathering.


Constitutions

September 11, 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

September 7, 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

September 3, 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.


Going for the Throat

August 8, 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).


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.


The Trichotomy Explained


Since Spandrell’s
celebrated blog post
of April 2013, neoreaction has been seen as a trinity, or “trichotomy” of three principles: the Ethno-Nationalist principle, the Techno-Commercial principle, and the Religious-Traditionalist
principle.
At a shallow level, neoreaction might appear nothing more than a fragile aggregation of advocates of the three very distinct principles—a coalition of rejectionists of the modern consensus. Most outsiders, and some insiders, have seen it that way, leading to an undercurrent of “fissionism”, of splitting up into three factions.
In spite of that there has always been at the core a dim awareness that the three principles make up one whole, that neoreaction is more than the aggregation of its parts. For all that, it has been unclear whether that is meant as one agenda that embraces the three principles, or rather one movement that encompasses three factions. We talk about three, but in Spandrell’s original statement, the Religious–traditional element is only grudgingly mentioned as a possible third stream, and not examined. He is eloquent in his account of being torn between the two other principles:
“If I had to say where I am, is the nationalist branch. But I used to be more on the capitalist camp. The capitalist argument is quite powerful: ethnic kinship is cool but the necessary corollary of it is National-socialism. Or socialism itself. We used to have more asabiyyah than now, but we also had no economic growth. For all the nostalgia for the Victorian age, who wants to go back there? Who prefers ethnic solidarity and purpose to modern medicine and technology? Reaction is based on a fear of where we are headed, certainly not on a dislike of how life is right now. Yes the proles have become barbarians, but they never were that pleasant anyway. Ethnic solidarity by itself is not necessarily conducing of scientific progress and economic growth. And those I agree are good things.

“But the capitalism argument is to allow the market to do its bidding. But what is its bidding right now? In the last decades it has been towards a re-concentration of wealth. Plutocracy is coming back with force. And yeah the plutocrats have made a lot of good stuff. The argument goes that they might do even better stuff if the government wasn’t messing with their ambitions through socialistic regulations. Imagine all the economic growth they might unleash if they were allowed to employ the proles for peanuts! What’s wrong with slave camps if you get cheap cotton, huh?”

This argument is really the heart of neoreaction. In more recent months we have employed the language of Gnon—the God of Nature or Nature, reality which cannot be defied. In terms of Gnon, Spandrell’s conflict is vivid.

Gnon requires creative destruction. There are more effective ways of manipulating the physical world than those we currently employ. The future belongs to those who find and employ those more effective ways. Anything that ties us to the current ways, that prevents us from trying new ways and using them if they are better, will incur the wrath of Gnon.

The Techno-Commercial principle of Neoreaction is aligment with creative destruction, with bankruptcy and the elimination of the failed and the false.

That political identification with creative destruction—markets, competition, freedom to innovate is where Moldbug came from, where I came from, where, according to the extract above, Spandrell came from. But it is not adequate. Gnon is not satisfied with creative destruction alone. Gnon requires power.

A system can be designed, by libertarians or anarcho-capitalists, to maximise creative destruction. But it cannot live. The society which creates it might eschew power, leaving the forces of competition to find the optimum solutions to problems. Others, however, will defect from this view, and occupy the power vacuum. They might come from outside, or from within, but they will come, and they will either succeed, and reshape the society according to their particular group interests, or the attacked will organise themselves to resist, forming their own power centre, which will itself reshape society according to its particular group interests. The potential of loyalty to a succesful group is in human nature, it is given by Gnon. A society of those who deny it will come to be ruled by those who do not.

If Creative Destruction is made concrete in technology and commerce, group loyalty is made concrete in ethnic solidarity and nationalism. They are not the only group loyalties possible, indeed they are not the dominant ones in today’s West, but they are probably in the long run the most stable and reliable. The neoreactionary study of thedes is the science of this principle of Gnon.

The true neoreactionary, following Spandrell, attempts to balance the creativity of techno-commercialism with the stability of ethno-nationalism. Really, that is the whole problem. It being the whole problem, nobody should expect it to be easy, and it is not. In practical application, embodied in the culture of a society, Techno-commercialism is in deadly conflict with Ethno-nationalism. Markets undermine stable positions of power, blur boundaries between in-group and out-group, invite cosmopolitanism and compete away loyalty. National loyalties obstruct trade, splinter markets, paralyse innovation, preserve the unfit in defiance of Gnon. There is no equilibrium to be reached between the two, no dividing line between where each one can act. In a thousand decisions, the choice must be made again and again between the right techno-commercial answer and the right ethno-nationalist answer. This unstable mix can, when the proportions are right, survive and prosper. But the long-run danger is always that one will overpower the other completely, collapsing the society into unproductive socialist nationalism or into hostile memetic capture by an acquisitive thede. It could even be argued, that in today’s West, the principle of balance has survived, but we have the worst of both worlds: a society ruled by a minority thede, in which the point of compromise is to suppress creative destruction. The ruling thede is not a nation or an ethnicity, but a fluid ideologically-based club whose members must endlessly and destructively compete against each other to retain their  membership. Competition in the ruling thede, stagnation in the market.

What then is the neoreactionary solution to the hard problem of getting the benefit of both techno-commercialism and thede loyalty at the same time in the same society? There must be an active management of the competing needs. That management cannot be built on either principle, or there can be no balance. It must come from outside both. But, since both have the force of Gnon between them, it must have some power of its own, some authority independent of both commerce and thede, which can impose on either or both as the situation required.

What can fill this role is, frankly, still an open question for me. The most promising possibilities so far suggested are the authority of tradition and the authority of religion. Either one can, in the right cultural setting, empower a judge to rule for competition or for loyalty as necessary for the long-term good of the society. This is the role of the third principle of the neoreactionary trichotomy: to be the respected arbiter between the first two. The trichotomy therefore in its most general form consists of creative destruction, thede loyalty, and authority, but makes most immediate sense as techno-commercialism, ethno-nationalism and religio-traditionalism.

On this framework, a huge amount of very productive earth becomes available for working. What have the effects been of thede alignments divorced from ethnicity? (I only touched on that above in the barest sense). How, and how effectively, have present and past societies achieved balance between the competitive and stabilising forces? Has such success as they have achieved been accidental, or is it repeatable? How have conflicts within each of the three elements affected the overall balance: church and state, nation and region, corporation and entrepreneur? The value in my analysis lies in the degree to which these questions can be answered usefully.


Cathedrals and Cultural Dominance


I got in a conversation on twitter yesterday about the choice of the term “Cathedral” to describe the information organs of the modern state: academia and the media.

To those of us that have been around and around this debate for years, it is a bit tedious, and sure enough there were some groans, but I do not apologise. For one thing, nobody who is still paying any attention to Anissimov’s bullshit is in any position to complain about tedious. The problem with the word Cathedral is that it implies something good, beautiful, admirable. For some Christians, it is an insult to their religion that we compare our enemy to buildings built by their predecessors. They would rather we emphasised the Jewish contribution to the ideology and membership of the Cathedral, by referring to it as a synagogue.

I can understand their discomfort, but the comparison is so instructive that it is worth working through. To retreat from the question by compromising on the terminology is to lose the opportunity to explain some of the most vital points of the neoreactionary theory, points that are easily missed by those approaching Moldbug from a traditionalist starting-point, as opposed to that of the “open-minded progressive” he was primarily addressing.

It can be jarring to those who have emerged from a Christian enclave to learn that in the wider society, “religion” does not mean their religion, “morality” is not their morality, and “conservatives” are not engaged in conserving their culture. It must be tempting to think that their culture is still here, and can be rallied and strengthened and brought back. But the physical cathedrals that medieval Christians built are now museums, and any status that their occupants have in society is earned by conforming to progressivism rather than opposing it.

To a member of the mainstream culture, a cathedral is a large, rich institution from which, historically, the dominant morality and beliefs of society were pronounced. Maybe it was also a centre of true religion and the worship of God, but that is not so widely accepted, and in any case not the primary set of associations.

In that sense, anyone can build a cathedral, provided they have a sufficiently high status in society. There is a new religion now, one which coincidentally developed out of Christianity, but has since separated from it. (The exact historical relationship of puritanism with modern progressivism is much debated, but isn’t at all the point here. Even if progressivism were entirely the creation of The Jews And Their Father The Devil, the arguments I’m making here would be the same.)

So, we have this new religion, Universalism, and it is dominant in our culture. It has built institutions which, like the cathedrals of old, tell us what is good, how we should behave, who we should obey. It operates completely openly, with one exception—it does not admit that it is a religion. It maintains that it is just the recognition of the self-evident, and that its priests are just good and intelligent people.

The prevailing impression of our political system is that it is not a theocracy, that liberalism and conservatism are just tendencies that compete within the system on equal terms, that “religion” means stuff like Christianity and Islam which was a bit iffy in the past but can be OK and pretty today provided they steer clear of things that are really bad like getting obsessed with obsolete sexual morality. We need a constant reminder that the reality is completely different, that liberalism is not a political faction but a dominant religion, that what is preached to us by Harvard and Hollywood is the doctrine of that religion. If that’s jarring, then it is all the more important. The relevant stereotypical associations if we denote the information establishment as a Synagogue, in contrast, would be of something closed, obscure, maybe people conspiring in secret. That is so far from the true situation, of Universalist devotees being recruited and trained openly in every university and on every television channel, as to produce a crippling misunderstanding of the problem.

And finally, it should not be too hard to eventually accept. It is no contradiction of Christian teaching (as I understand it) to put forward that it is not the dominant belief system in this world; that the Enemy is in power and that it is necessary to resist the dominant culture of the world. If assimilating this is a shock, it is surely not one that the Christian should be spared for the sake of being diplomatic.

There will be other difficulties reconciling Christianity and a Neoreactionary theory which has its origin in secularism, but the evidence so far is that they can be resolved.

See also: The Modern Structure


Neocameralism and the Corporate-Governance Problem


The previous post was to say that I see the real division within the Dark Enlightenment as being between a strategy of converting the elite (neoreaction) and a strategy of replacing the elite (paleoreaction). In America, that might line up somewhat as neocameralism vs monarchy, but that isn’t really the dividing line. There are those supporting monarchism because they can accept nothing else, but there are also neoreactionary monarchists, such as myself, who choose monarchism as strategically preferable to other neoreactionary options.I concentrate on Britain, and I  see monarchist rule as entirely feasible for Britain given any kind of large-scale visible failure of the existing regime. That doesn’t put me on the paleo side of the divide I described earlier. I could  easily see myself being persuaded by the neocameralists if they can solve the corporate-governance problem more convincingly than Moldbug managed to do.

Moldbug’s method of guaranteeing shareholders’ rights is to have a computer system which can sabotage the management’s control if authorised to do so by a majority of shareholders voting via a secure automated cryptographic protocol. I never considered that practically workable. If you change the software, or even cause some change in the way the software operates, then you can modify who has rights over the state. I do not envision a system made so reliable and secure that that could not happen.

There may be other mechanisms that would work. Bitcoin is a promising example: as in Moldbuggian Neocameralism, the software says who has what rights under the system. However, the software is not running in a sealed untamperable box; it runs on my PC and yours, and it can be and has been changed. However, it is in the interests of everyone who uses the system that rights be protected and maintained according to the common understanding of the users of the system.

There’s a big gap from that principle to a working neocameralism, but I am able to hope it might be bridged.

In the meantime, I am looking at a different gap, between a situation in which British democracy has failed and the King has taken temporary control, and a situation where his authority is accepted as permanent. I think that is bridgeable, in certain plausible circumstances. I certainly don’t think that working on this puts me on the opposite side of any fission to Nick Land.

What makes my proposed monarchy neoreactionary is that the political formula supporting it is not primarily tradition or religion, but pragmatic and rational. The former democrats who will be part of the system will have have changed their view on a lot of practical, empirical questions, but not on the way they see the world