Category Archive 'Curtis Yarvon'

09 Oct 2019

The Moldbug is Back!

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The always intellectually provocative, and ever so prolix, Mencius Moldbug returned recently, after several years, with further doses of Dark Enlightenment.

[W]hen we think of historical Nazism, Stalinism or Maoism, we think of wartime or warlike atrocities. When we look at Czechoslovakia in the ’60s, Germany in the ’30s, even China today, we see far fewer atrocities. Yet we still see the same structure of hierarchical control, with one person or a small team unilaterally directing the entire state.

This structure is clearly absent in the Western democracies.

Whatever our “regime” may be, it has nothing remotely like the Chinese Communist Party or Chairman Xi. It has no hierarchy. It has no center. It has neither leader, nor politburo, nor cadre. Maybe it’s not real democracy; it’s not a monarchy or a dictatorship.

A…distributed despotism? Is a decentralized Orwellian regime possible? If we can say no, we’re done. It seems impossible. Can we show that? We can’t, so let’s try to design one.

Maybe there are two kinds of Orwellian regimes—like two-stroke and four-stroke engines. Neither cycle is inherently better. A four-stroke leafblower is excessive; a two-stroke car, primitive.

Maybe a four-stroke regime is decentralized; a two-stroke regime, centralized. One is a reptile; the other, a mammal. One is a fish; the other, a whale. Both rule by shaping public opinion. Two-stroke regimes design their stories. Four-stroke regimes have no dictator, so they have no designer; their stories must evolve.

Generally, the two-stroke regime relies more on hard repression; the four-stroke regime relies more on soft illusion. But both, as we’ll see, can and do use both stabilization tools.

The two-stroke regime is a one-story state. Everyone has to believe one narrative—one official history of the present.

This worked as well for Amenhotep as Chairman Xi. The two-stroke is an especially good fit for centralized monarchical regimes. It also fits the canonical cliche of Orwellian totalitarianism.

The one-story state is efficient, but unstable. Its chronic problem is that people hate being told what to believe. They often cause trouble even when the story is true!

Anyone who’s been to China has seen how efficiently classic totalitarianism can execute…in both senses. Not only does the PRC make all consumer goods, it’s also the top destination for transplant tourism. Maybe you don’t really want that Chinese two-stroke SUV, even if it does pop like a dirtbike.

Without oil in its gas, a two-stroke engine overheats. In the end it catches fire. Without active practice in hard repression, without serious enemies at home or abroad, the classic one-party state weakens. It rots from excessive success. In the end it is overthrown by little girls with flowers.

The ideal state might be a one-story state where the story was 100% true. But this is a dangerous level of idealism. (Nor would it repeal these axioms of regime stabilization.)

The four-stroke regime is a two-story state. When people hear one story, they tend to ask: is this true? When they hear two stories, they tend to ask: which one of these is true? Isn’t this a neat trick? Maybe our whole world is built on it. Any point on which both poles concur is shared story: “uncontroversial, bipartisan consensus.”

Shared story has root privilege. It has no natural enemies and is automatically true. Injecting ideas into it is nontrivial and hence lucrative; this profession is called “PR.”

There is no reason to assume that either pole of the spectrum of conflict, or the middle, or the shared story, is any closer to reality than the single pole of the one-story state.

Dividing the narrative has not answered the old question: is any of this true? Rather, it has… dodged it. Stagecraft!

This is even better than supposing that, since we fought Hitler and Hitler was bad, we must be good. These very basic fallacies, or psychological exploits, are deeply embedded in our political operating systems. Like bugs in code, they are invisible until you look straight at them. Then they are obvious.

The key feature of the two-story state is much less reliance on hard repression. As in the four-stroke engine, the cost of the feature is a pile of parts and a drop in performance. The fundamental engineering problem of the two-story state is to contain the active, but innocuous, political conflict which distracts its subjects out of any real democratic power.

The modern two-story democracy contains two power cores: a civic core and a political core. The trick is: in theory, the political core is stronger than the civic core. In practice, the civic core is stronger than the political core.

A stable regime must maintain this power inversion. If stability is lost, the political core takes control. For an instant, the engine becomes a real democracy—then it turns into something else, or just catches fire and explodes. Think Germany in 1933.

Yet the “inversion” is, at bottom, a lie. The political core is presented as the ruler. The civic core is presented as the tool. The real flow of power is the opposite of the apparent flow.

Public opinion does not direct the civic core; the civic core guides public opinion. The one-story state needs continuous repression; the two-story state needs continuous stagecraft. Of course, the former can still lie, the latter still repress.

In current language, the positive label “democracy” signifies the civic core. We must all defend “democracy” from “politics,” a negative label. People really believe this newspeak. Since it is dangerous to reverse the power flow, they may even be right. …

It’s interesting to compare Western civil society to an Eastern ruling party. Both are organs outside the civil service proper. The latter is truly centralized; the former, decentralized.

Civil society has no single point of failure. That’s cool. Yet it is impossible not to notice three disturbing facts about it. We’ll have to leave these phenomena as mysteries for now.

One: it has no arbitrary center, but its reputation system seems arbitrary, or at least static. The prestige of prestigious universities, newspapers, etc., does not seem to change. These institutions must be either impeccable, or unaccountable.

Two: some mysterious force seems to ideologically coordinate this system. All these prestigious institutions, though organizationally quite separate, seem to magically agree with each other. When they change their minds, all change together, in the same direction. We cannot say that Harvard is on one side of Yale; we can say the Harvard of 2019 is on one side of the Harvard of 1989. This force is not centralized, but works like a center. It could just be a totally sick level of collective wisdom. But is it?

Three: one tendency of this mysterious force is reinforcement of effective political formulas. Somehow civil society prefers to think thoughts that make civil society stronger. It is still a marketplace of ideas; it also prefers to think thoughts that are true. These preferences are not always aligned.

If we can explain all these phenomena, we can explain how a decentralized civil society, effectively protected from democracy, can, does, and indeed must become a distributed Orwellian despotism.

RTWT

12 Jun 2015

Mencius Moldbug Booted From Programming Conference

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Moldbug
Curtis Yarvon aka Mencius Moldbug

The true extent of left-wing censorship in American society today can be perceived by the fact that über-nerd Curtis Yarvon had a software presentation cancelled by a programming conference because some attendees objected to the highly eccentric conservative philosophy expressed learnedly, and at astonishing length, on a relatively obscure (and infrequently updated) blog, titled Unqualified Reservations, writing under the pen-name “Mencius Moldbug.”

David Auerbach, at Slate, considers Moldbug’s political philosophy “odious”, but thinks it is not appropriate to boot him out unless he actually says something casually racist.

What does a bizarre project to reinvent software from the ground up have in common with 19th-century reactionary political philosophy? That question has become the unlikely heart of a computing controversy involving this September’s Strange Loop programming conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Founded in 2009, Strange Loop is a yearly three-day conference with talks and workshops on new computer science technologies. The conference had accepted an apolitical presentation on a fairly obscure project by a software engineer named Curtis Yarvin, only to reject it last week after it received complaints about political views Yarvin espoused on his blog.

Yarvin’s canceled presentation centered on Urbit, an idiosyncratic software platform he created, and an associated virtual machine called Nock. I’ve read the specifications, and Yarvin’s project is an intriguing attempt to create an entirely new, universal computation framework based around a virtual machine that is truly distributed from the ground up, so that even tiny amounts of computation can be apportioned across multiple machines. It may, as I suspect, be utterly impractical, but it’s undoubtedly different and a worthy experiment. I would attend a talk on it. But I wouldn’t be able to at Strange Loop now, thanks to a strange figure named Mencius Moldbug.

That’s the nom de Web under which Yarvin writes mind-numbing political tracts. Yarvin/Moldbug is a self-proclaimed “neoreactionary,” an unabashed elitist and inegalitarian in the tradition of Thomas Carlyle, one of his heroes. (He fits neatly into the “Natural-Order Conservative” category of a conservative taxonomy.) His worldview: Democracy sucks, the strong should rule the weak, and we could use a good old-fashioned dictator to clean up this mess. That, and he believes that “human biodiversity”—as in the “science” of racial differences, à la The Bell Curve—is real, valid, and very important. Neoreactionary thinking is far more complicated and far more verbose than this—which is in part a deliberate attempt to keep the great unwashed from paying too much attention to such Important Thought. If you’re curious, the tireless Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex has written extensive rebuttals of neoreactionary theory, which go to prove Brandolini’s Law: “The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.” The neoreactionaries make up a small and mostly ignorable corner of the Internet, but because they include a number of techies and wonks, they have drawn attention and criticism from outlets like the Baffler and the Daily Beast, all of which served to raise the neoreactionary profile far higher than it ever would have made it on its own. If you want serious reactionary activity, look to Congress.
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Normally I would have no cause to write about neoreactionary politics—it is eminently inconsequential—except that Yarvin was tossed out of Strange Loop because of his writings. Strange Loop creator and organizer Alex Miller made this public statement regarding his decision to rescind Yarvin’s invitation:

    A large number of current and former speakers and attendees contacted me to say that they found Curtis’s writings objectionable. I have not personally read them. … If Curtis was part of the program, his mere inclusion and/or presence would overshadow the content of his talk and become the focus.

The decision to toss Yarvin is foolish but not because it’s censorship. By making the issue about Yarvin being a “distraction,” Miller has created a perverse incentive. By that logic, anyone could get tossed from the conference if enough people object for any reason at all. Miller admits as much when he says he hasn’t even read Yarvin’s political writing.

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NYM has occasional quoted some of the Moldbug’s good lines.

Here is a good example:

Whatever you make of the left-right axis, you have to admit that there exists some force which has been pulling the Anglo-American political system leftward for at least the last three centuries. Whatever this unfathomable stellar emanation may be, it has gotten us from the Stuarts to Barack Obama. Personally, I would like a refund. But that’s just me. …

intellectuals cluster to the left, generally adopting as a social norm the principle of pas d’ennemis a gauche, pas d’amis a droit, because like everyone else they are drawn to power. The left is chaos and anarchy, and the more anarchy you have, the more power there is to go around. The more orderly a system is, the fewer people get to issue orders. The same asymmetry is why corporations and the military, whose system of hierarchical executive authority is inherently orderly, cluster to the right.

Once the cluster exists, however, it works by any means necessary. The reverence of anarchy is a mindset in which an essentially Machiavellian, tribal model of power flourishes. To the bishops of the Cathedral, anything that strengthens their influence is a good thing, and vice versa. The analysis is completely reflexive, far below the conscious level. Consider this comparison of the coverage between the regime of Pinochet and that of Castro. Despite atrocities that are comparable at most – not to mention a much better record in providing responsible and effective government – Pinochet receives the full-out two-minute hate, whereas the treatment of Castro tends to have, at most, a gentle and wistful disapproval. …

[T]he problem is not just that our present system of government – which might be described succinctly as an atheistic theocracy – is accidentally similar to Puritan Massachusetts. As anatomists put it, these structures are not just analogous. They are homologous. This architecture of government – theocracy secured through democratic means – is a single continuous thread in American history.


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