xenoeconomics 2: generalized energetics of production

the history of economics can be seen as various attempts to grasp the metabolism of an alien invasion from the future. more exactly, in shifting questions of value from morality (what should be valued) and politics (what has value) to production (what does value arise from), economics attempts – in typical modern fashion – to investigate what are the conditions of possibility for the individuation of a path-dependent being. such project remains incomplete, as the various stages and schools of economic thought haven’t been able to comprehend the size of the being under their scrutiny, which has continuously led to (and sometimes over) the edge of remoralization.

the advent of the discipline in any way deserving of its name begins with the free trade movements in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. the first wave of really systematic understanding of value production begins with the physiocrats, which saw value as a fluid stemming from the sun, through the land and then being pumped throughout the social body, implementing thus the “government of nature”.

Steve Keen makes (h/t mutual-ayyde) a good case that this original theory of value, while limited by its circumstances (the excessive focus on agriculture stemming from a largely agrarian society, ruled by landowners), has an important feature that basically all subsequent schools of thought, even in their most bitter disagreements, failed to develop: any account on the flows of energy through the social body. (he doesn’t say exactly that, but the post is short and you should read it).

in the wake of the physiocrats came the first wave of economics, now called “classic”, which expanded many themes and systematized the discipline even further. they corrected for the physiocrats’ narrow view on the production of value by anything besides land, but at the same time eliminated any notion of energetics in the process. As Keen puts it:

Smith, who was influ­enced by the Phys­iocrats and wrote in Britain when indus­try was start­ing to exploit fos­sil fuels (specif­i­cally coal) on a grand scale, could have cor­rected this over­sight. But rather than fol­low­ing the Phys­iocrats’ lead on energy, Smith instead saw labour—not energy—as the font of wealth (which he described in the same terms as Can­til­lon: the “con­ve­nien­cies of life”), and ascribed the increase in pro­duc­tiv­ity over time to “the divi­sion of labour” [my emphasis]

thus classical economy initiated a 200-year long cycle of arguments about whether labour was or wasn’t the root of all value. expanded into truly titanic levels of complexity from Ricardo to Marx, the labor-value theory repeatedly incurred in the same objection: what is the criteria for some labor to be actually valuable, and not just wasted time? it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Marx did the most accomplished and abstract attempt to resolve it with the standard of social necessity.

i won’t try and solve the century-long strife of whether this actually solves the question or just pushes it back one more step (“who gets to say what’s socially necessary, dear Karl?”), although i personally lean towards the latter. more productively, it’s enough to say that Marx’s statement of LVT, crystally clear with all it’s socialistic implication, prompted a whole generation of late 19th-century economists to come up with something else.

Kevin Carson has a pretty thorough critical review of what followed (the first chapter here), and eventually led to the current mainstream economics in all its weird diversity. long story short: the marginalists shift value from something objective (energy, labour) to something absolutely subjective (“utility”). people need different things, at different times, in different quantities, so value – goes the marginalist theory – results from the satisfaction of those wants.

unlike the dangers of the classical theory, which eventually led to a remoralization of economics, with a huge should hanging in the air, marginal utility runs the opposite risk: ignoring value altogether, in favor of talking about compositions of labor and capital, institutions, growth, development, etc, etc, etc. i’m denying the usefulness of such adjacent fields, but they largely miss the question that motivated economics in the first place: where does value com from?

in 2003 (damn, that’s 16 years), Carson himself proposed a new-old theory of value. essentially, he tried to bring back LVT in a subjectivist fashion. value was no longer completely incommensurable subjective wants and needs, but the correspondent, very fungible disutility of labor. it was aversion to work that made things valuable at all. only to the extent goods can compel labor to exertion that they could acquire value. it all boils down to Say’s law: consumption is secondary to production because every consumption demands a prior production (you can’t buy something for nothing). [extend parenthesis: i am willfully ignoring questions of coercion and force here, since they’ll be the main theme of another, later post. suffice it to say for now that coercion and force have costs of production too, and so can be economically analysed].

Carson’s effort is as laudable as it is limited in its scope. once the desiring conditions of possibility for value production are brought into play, vast new vistas open up: what, say, does evolutionary game theory can tell us about the disutility of labor? deeper still, what prompts any expenditure of energy towards increased reproductive fitness? Keen, in the aforementioned text, already starts off in the direction of a general energetics of production. his equations are a good beginning, and so is the concept of EROEI. a whole new research program is opened when we go past the human skull.

ultimately, i think, this boils us down to a thermodynamic (or, more abstractly, cybernetic) theory of value: 

there is a ton of XS links to put here, but maybe these two will be enough to the idea through, at least in initial form. in specific, don’t miss the definition of intelligence here and here. our next installment in this series heads towards these abstractions into the territory of games (and thus war).

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ideological dimensions

provided with momentous intellectual stimulation from (almost literally) all sides, i’ve spent the last few days several months now actually two years reflecting on a recurring question for those trapped by abstract social thinking: where do we draw the lines? predictably, it’s an echo of Proudhon‘s “what is property”, abstracted to fit ideological interest.

my proposal for slicing up the ideological scenario is that there are three main divisions to it: left vs right, authoritarian vs libertarian and cosmopolitan vs nativist. of course, they are nowhere near equally important.

left vs right is arguably the Prime Political Divide, roughly selected for over all of humanity’s existence (and even before) and embedded in our genetic make-up from time immemorial. it’s very designation as left vs right – a modern thing – may be inappropriate.

the other two axes have been built in history orthogonal to this primary divide, evincing a third position in the specter. they are much newer and less ingrained, and have usually played largely a role as Schelling points around which partisans on both sides of the first divide rallied. possibly, my main original point here is that the third divide will play a much more independent – autonomous – role in the near future than any of the others (maybe being an example of means-end reversal).

* * *

left vs right

Bobbio‘s classical analysis of the spectrum (so looming its importance) already touched its essentials: the left seeks social equality, the right considers it impossible, unnatural, undesirable and consistently fights against it. the very definition of social equality varies wildly, though – and chaos ensues.

is there any definition of “social equality” that’s clear cut? is it equality of rights (as demanded classical liberalism), equality of power (in the formulation of anarchists) or equality of social outcomes (the rallying flag of socialism and progressivism)? that’s yet an open question.

Augusto de Franco proposes the left vs right divide as a social program: the left creates itself – by affirming some Utopian ideal of equality that is to be reached – and thus configures a “right” defined as “everyone else who disagrees” (the fissile character of the outer right could be well explained by such process). then it pursues elimination or conquest of the right as the only necessary step between now and such goal. left is thus presented as a politics of constant civil war, right as a party committed to fighting a losing game.

De Franco’s definition already get us past specific contents in defining left x right. these signs are reduced to badges worn by both side to state that the war continues. but why? “because the other side are evil oppressors / intractable barbarians”.

Robert Hanson went further downwards human political nature to put forward that left vs right is more mappable onto farmer vs forager. the propensities characteristic of left-wing politics (equality) dovetail nicely with foragers’ “world-of-plenty” mindset. right-wing is the rest, the pessimist “harsh-world” view.

Scott Alexander then goes on to present a thrive vs survive model of the left vs right divide, largely based on Hanson’s forager vs farmer. leftists are more apt to a world of plenty, where individual desires can be easily provided, and so equality can be furthered. rightists are more apt to a world of scarcity, where signs of loyalty, purity and commitment to the community are crucial to survival. As Land points out (and to an extent, Hanson agrees), such an arrangement would create a constant homeostatic wave-like history: right-wing farmers generate a world of plenty through hard collective-cohesion and authority, in which left-wing foragers thrive and inevitably destroy through unbounded hedonism. (such feedback dynamics is incidentally very proudhonian). Eventually, all these collapse into the r/K split of genetic strategies.

r/K strategies can as well be mapped onto man vs. women reproductive strategies. from there we can get to left vs. right divide, which is mostly about beauty vs strength, or faith x authority, or religion vs state, etc.

  • left, women, K side: “stick to the holy Scriptures, be as gods. or else you will be shamed for taking advantage of weakness! sinner!”
  • right, men, r side: “performance is all that matters. hierarchy is the rule. the weak will be slaves or killed. obey the orders!”

coupling this with Hanson’s own caveats to Alexander’s thesis, one thing pushes the conundrum a step further towards complication: both the lives of foragers and farmers are largely dominated by communal questions on how to spend communal resources. both left and right have opinions on how society should be managed, and how individuals should insert themselves in such scheme. Boehm went a long way into documenting the reverse hierarchy mechanisms through which forager societies keep individuals from withholding wealth from the group and from acquiring disproportionate status inside the band. Hanson himself describes the ways in which farmer societies push for social cohesion and respect for hierarchy.

from these two sides, a third, synthetic point forms, loosely based on the will to discord. this trend builds itself through history, its competitive strategy is an auto-erotic, autistic, individualistic “self cultivation”. it learns from both other side’s mistakes. a will to exit is, of course, built in it.

the (classical) liberal view of individual interest is absent in both and appears to be rather modern. it’s genetic origins seem to be linked to extensive outbreeding inside Northwest Europe. is there (now?) a third position, instead of only left and right? one related to an increasing atomization of society?

Stemming from John Haidt’s work, Moral Foundations Theory predict certain characteristics for three main ethical groups: Libertarians, Conservatives and Progressives. the graph below is very clarifying:

static1-squarespace

whether the libertarian sect is new or rather recent, triangles now infected the once bipolar spectrum. Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory presented a similar trichotomy in circular form, describing the possible associations between the tree modern ideologies:

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the bipolar split returns here, though, since such alliances would cooperate on each side of the sea / land power divide. Land presents another graphical rendering of the splits

political-triangle

observe how it fits De Franco’s hypothesis: a left that is unified, at the edge of an ever expanding right-wing fissile divergence.

much as I have quibbles on some of its specifics, Butch Leghorn theory of triangles starts to bring back this ideological trichotomy back to genetic basis. the graphs he provides are self-explanatory:

humandrives1

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I would only change the estate corresponding to the commercial sect from nobility to the bourgeoisie (which is both more historical accurate and less counter intuitive). merchants aren’t warriors, or even settled warriors. historically, they stem most immediately from upward moving peasants, and only later attempt to fix themselves in a intermediate stratum.

lasting organizations go from two opposing poles to triangles. this triangle is stable, and more stable than dipole, because each vertex checks the others. armies can crush merchants and churches. but merchants can defund armies and churches. yet churches can play mind games with merchants and armies.

nonetheless, the instruction of a third position points to a second ideological divide: what does the liberal/individualist corner is opposite to? 

authoritarianism vs libertarianism

early on 20th century libertarianism, Nolan’s diagram showed up. it’s main aim was to locate the Libertarian Party among the two bigger parties. thus, libertarianism was showed to be the apotheosis of all freedoms defended by both parties. on the other side seated authoritarianism:

nolanchart_withindices

of course, this kind of approach fit well into the 20th century political landscape, in which fascism, socialism and liberalism faced each other in a usual cycle of mutual accusations, best memed than described:

C0sFTLdUkAAhXxf

but the Nolan chart also points in an interesting direction, to the extent that it presents a new perpendicular axis to the left vs right dimension. indeed our previous triangles that elaborated the left vs right chasm more deeply fit perfectly into Nolan’s diagram: the individualist corner aligned with libertarianism, with the left and right corners spreading across an axis of partial authoritarianism.

Nolan_chart-svg

both left and right tend to focus on the authority of the social organism over the individual parts of it. individualists couldn’t care less. individualists look for independence through secession. nomadism is sort of inherent in their point of view. (which brings us to Hanson’s distinction between farmers and foragers, no longer mapped onto left x right, but on authority vs liberty)

the question open before us is: what is libertarianism and authoritarianism? the tentative answer: libertarianism synthesizes itself from an anti-social opposition to human sociality (now understood as authoritarian). liberty, if my triangular alignment stands scrutiny, is always already liberty from the social contract. agreeing rather than splitting is necessarily tyranny.

this alignment also points to a synthetic nature of libertarianism / individualism: it arises out of the conflicts played out in the principal divide, picking its parts from the debris of the underlying wars. it inherits and rejects about as much from hierarchical as from egalitarian sociality, towards zero socius. and there’s a very definite sense in which zero socius is indistinguishable from “tremendous tech”.

cosmopolitanism vs nativism

perpendicular (or astride, anyway) to both these axes, we have the one that i imagine is the most consequential to 21st century politics, the one that will likely divide its major conflicts and shape its destiny: the one going from densely packed urban centers to sparsely connected nations. from cosmopolitanism to nativism. this is sort of a new vocabulary (although i’m certain similar conceptions have been floated recently), so some explanation is due:

nativism seeks, in general a return to and an exaltation of the natural characters of their specific human groups. life in the country, in the tribe, the alignment of behavior and genotype, a simple life among trees, the stuff nature gives us, rejection of (digital) technology, critique of dehumanizing and/or degenerating capitalism, etc. for the nativism, the extent to which people depart from nature is the extent they depart from mankind. under these broad strokes one can include loads of left and right, authoritarian and libertarian categories, from traditionalist conservatives, to radical feminists, to eco-fascists.

cosmopolitanism is somewhat more internally fractured, and definitely historically newer, but still comprises many positions that diverge along the other axes. they tend to the contrary: to an artificial elaboration of natural categories that intentionally depart from humanity, towards the inhuman, and beyond. their is the unstoppable, stressful, multitudinous, chaotic life of the city, the social systems which lack trust and identity, engineering in general (biological, cultural, social), the heat-fucked chaos of techonomic pulse. rampant cyborgery, and probably much more besides, is the flight line they tend to.

even though this is envisaged as an independent axis, some overlap can be expected. we can see why individualists would look for big cities: it’s easier to secede and migrate inside of and between them. countryside agricultural life is easier for both church strategies and army strategies to blossom, being somewhat desired by both left and right.

for ages, the balance between countryside and city has been flipping from one side to the other, in a weird cycle. the cosmopolitan vs nativist axis points in the direction of a spyromorphing of it: fragmentation. there are possible successful survival strategies for both independently. the conflicts to come (and largely already happening) will define the extent to which this is true.

fractals

finally, the crucial and most proudhonian point: within each of these vertexes of the triangle, the design reproduces itself. multi-level triangulation, with two “natural” opposites and a third “synthetic” vertex always form in long lasting, adaptive organizations. this new synthesis – in stark rejection of hegelian dialectics – doesn’t abolish its building blocks, nor does this process ever reach an “end of history”, beyond which a final synthesis rules sovereign. fragmented multitudes merely continue to go on, ever more different.

 

patchworked postage

this is likely (as the title puts it) to be patchy. i’ll break and breach off, hopping from topic to topic. i’m not even sure it’s all bound together, but it sure as hell seems so.

*

the very first question (obviously) is how exactly to control for another’s perception, given only one’s own perception of self. this is the utmost social problem, that of controlled performance, and one i take to be also the utmost computational problem. how exactly do we go from our initial gathering of sense data into motor (or even static) behavior? a continuous modelling of self is constantly in the background of the modelling function. (issues of projection often abound here (but projection is secondary)). a system is given – and in this simple verb a lot is already hidden – a set of priors on which it cannot help but operate. everything within its purview – itself very much included – is constantly looping though the same categorical apparatus that chops reality into digestible bits. feedback drives this apparatus of capture throughout its environment (which then again it cannot help but conceive as environment, the eternal “not-me”). at each moment it stamps an address and a timestamp, for future reference and motion. this is called “learning” or “entropy dissipation”.

*

the world moves in a constant tension, with air rippling static. infolding avenues of contraction display themselves universally. (this might sound pompous, and indeed it is, but it’s necessary). even when the mind tried to calm itself, cutting itself from the flux, it’s only immersed again in a new flow of forms and points of data, recalling and retracing, in a constant effort to *go on*.

it’s gotta go on, you see. it’s the only purpose. what doesn’t go on immediately stops. it’s damn obvious i feel a little ashamed of it. but sometimes the obvious ought to be stated.

continuation, then, is the only purpose. more and more. and already in this questions of identity arise. what, exactly, goes on? “the universal will”, “unconscious desire”? your guess is as good as mine.

*

i’ve been translating John Smart’s (yes, i know, this is just the best name for him to have) “Evo Devo Universe” (another great name, although with some questionable aesthetics) lately. it’s hard to paint the general picture, so in general i’d stop at that link and read it all. but it’s a 70-odd page oddly assembled result of possibly decades of research, so maybe a tl;dr would be appreciated.

i’m not sure i have one, but my best attempt: the universe began accelerating more or less 10^5 yrs ago (no one knows why or how) when matter started condensing into galaxies. from then on it’s STEM compression all the down into black holes which are the gametes of universes in a multiversal environment (i’m not fucking kidding you). all complete with the most phenomenal citation work i’ve seen anywhere.

STEM compression is basically things getting into ever smaller spaces, at ever faster pace, with ever greater densities of free energy and ever more densely massive matter formations. that’s the universal developmental trend. that’s intelligence optimization in a nutshell.

intelligence accelerates up its own ass so fucking hard human culture looks to it like plants (have you stopped to talk with a plant lately? they’re slow, but they’re kind). in it’s frenzied ever localized pace, it becomes something of a grey goo (i’d link, but you know what it is) that blows itself into the space and starts consuming the matter around it until it collapses into a black hole (if it hasn’t already found one to throw itself into). in these last stages where it reaches virtually (this is important) infinite amounts of energy and mass density into a single point in space and time, it basically acquires the necessary characteristics to replicate the fundamental parameters of universal physics…. and it all just starts over!

i just wrote three paragraphs out of literally “going on forever”

*

okay, so now we’ve probably established that this “going on forever” is both inside any systems internal parameters of perception and also seems to it to be the universal trend going around it.

it’s all so divine one cannot help but wonder if there’s isn’t something fucked up in the reasoning. if you easily spooked by sparkles of divinity and shiny stuff, i definitely don’t recommend universing. (jk)

onto the darker parts: obviously (as our great friend Darwin seems to have found out) none of that comes without the Butcher’s Yard(TM). i’m just gonna quote Land because he’s way gloomier than i’ll ever be about it:

It is only due to a predominance of influences that are not only entirely morally indifferent, but indeed — from a human perspective — indescribably cruel, that nature has been capable of constructive action. Specifically, it is solely by way of the relentless, brutal culling of populations that any complex or adaptive traits have been sieved — with torturous inefficiency — from the chaos of natural existence. All health, beauty, intelligence, and social grace has been teased from a vast butcher’s yard of unbounded carnage, requiring incalculable eons of massacre to draw forth even the subtlest of advantages. This is not only a matter of the bloody grinding mills of selection, either, but also of the innumerable mutational abominations thrown up by the madness of chance, as it pursues its directionless path to some negligible preservable trait, and then — still further — of the unavowable horrors that ‘fitness’ (or sheer survival) itself predominantly entails. We are a minuscule sample of agonized matter, comprising genetic survival monsters, fished from a cosmic ocean of vile mutants, by a pitiless killing machine of infinite appetite. (This is still, perhaps, to put an irresponsibly positive spin on the story, but it should suffice for our purposes here.)

Smart calls it “learning”. fittingly.

so yeah, there’s the creative destruction thing the universe is doing, but why? why? that question is never answered and you might as well stop asking it already.

maybe it’s just the pleasure of it? of masticating things? of being masticated? processed and possessed? more and more and more? maybe it’s a pleasure in the pain of it. as there is surely a pain in the pleasure. one can go mad trying to disentangle them.

*

i should probably at this point give a heads up to Aella. everyone should read her blog sometimes. she’s doing what i’m doing here with much more grace than i could ever muster.

there’s this post by her that cover that last topic rather well.

*

okay, i could definitely go on and on forever. but at some point i should introduce patchwork here. it’s a nice term, sounds good and tasty in the mouth, you can see. where does it fit in all this?

well, first of all “localized” means something. in fact, it’s bound to mean very many things, parted and competing. this is the bread and meat of that carnivorous evolutionary process Land outlined up there. that some of it, eventually, after eons of suffering and pleasuring, goes onto to transcension, don’t make it any less patchy. many, many different path necessarily lead into the utmost universal reproduction to begin once again.

the ocean is multiple.

(i’d have written 50 pages, but it would be me, would it?)

the designer economy

the “AI in a lab” mindset that dominates most of imaginations these days is pretty obviously prone to stuff like, say, AI winters and “it’s just magic“. it’s the normal mindset of a civilization that has come to think of all possible movement as something to be the result of concerted, conscious efforts playing out in specific institutions.

the thing is: AI already exists and is laughing at you.

the short argument: AI is simply capital. if a few key sectors are automated, human economy is rendered moot. automated as in: able to self-defend, self-product and self-propel. not necessarily conscious. it doesn’t need to reason, be great at philosophy, enjoy phenomenology, or have feelings. it just needs to go on.

basically, if raw materials extraction, industrial transportation and maintenance, energy production, weapons control, and monetary flux/finance are automated, humans are already largely cooked. most of them anyway. and neither are these sectors being automated way out of bounds. all of them feature already large quantities of mechanized functions and have high-wage workers (which provides for a good incentive towards automation). they are predictable fields, with hundreds of years of historical data, clear optimization strategies and thus largely open to formalization.

in the not unlikely scenario of partial automation, what openings are there for humans? caretakers, waiters and… well, basically anyone dealing with the creation of new things. let’s call them “designers” in a very abstracted sense. abstracted enough to include from programmers to artists to product designers. “artisans” or “craftsmen” would do too.

it’s not that creation can’t eventually be automated. it’s simply that it looks like something that would take a lot of work, and very good incentives, to come about. creation is largely informal and (probably) informalizable. it demands a kind of evolutionary heuristics (of the kind described by Andreas Wagner most likely) that by definition are not very well approached by statistical methods like deep learning.

the catch about such designer economy is that (caretakers, waiters and other human catering fellows aside) not everyone is good at creating things. contrary to popular belief, being a designer takes talent, talent that is unevenly distributed across populations. think unbound gentrification. selective technological unemployment by creative capability.

what does it spell for the majority of humanity? “death. swift, merciful death.

 

 

 

 

u/acc, patchwork and the Uruk Machine

i finished reading the Uruk Series by Lou Keep a few days ago, and the framework it provides raises so many questions of immediate interest here that i couldn’t help but post about it. you’re advised to read the whole series, not only because Keep writes very well, but also because none of the following will likely make sense without it. at the very least, you need to understand the main terms he’s referring to (here‘s a not-so-brief summary).

for full disclosure, i haven’t read any of the books. i’m familiar with Scott’s Seeing Like a State because it’s a staple in the market anarchist milieu from which i come, and have heard of Polanyi’s Great Transformation because of the two years of social sciences undergrad i took (yes). the other two – Hoffer’s The True Believer and Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism  – were absolutely new to me. so this is going to refer mostly to Keep’s reading of them, in the framework of the Uruk Machine, rather than directly to the original authors’ theories.

i’ll be using Keep’s general ordering to make a few points, as well as some of the tweets i used as placeholders for my specific comments on each section. to wit, here’s an introduction to my point:

i will not address Keep’s main point (nihilism) here. it’s too broad, and i’d need to revisit he’s other great and humongous post on it to start having some more thoughts. the central point today, if you needs a tl;dr for 2k-word posts, is: power is inherently fragmented. let’s begin with those fragments then.

metis, patches and bit-nations

to the extent that the political structure that made epistemic rationalism possible, desirable, necessary or inevitable is crumbling to pieces – and, yes, this is probably the most contentious statement in the background of any discussion of patchwork – the question arises: is there a future for metis?

it’s complicated because metis takes many social cycles to be created and has been more or less thoroughly eliminated from the face of the earth by High Modernism. can it be remade (more or less) from scratch in a fragmented world? tentatively, my answer is “yes, possibly”.

the foremost reason i’d present is that the current trend of political fragmentation is underpinned by a previous fragmentation of cognitive communities in the wake of the internet, as people self-sorted into clusters of interests and likemindedness. political fragmentation is downstream of cultural fragmentation.

as these new fragments slowly speciate into very different beasts, i think the underlying cognitive methods will much more resemble metis than episteme, even to the extent that they (obviously) incorporate abstract theories and knowledge. rituals and worldviews slowly form from a shared space of communication that is no longer projected top-down from a centralized nation-state. knowledge is still local, even if it’s geographically distributed (some have called this “glocal”).

of course, this doesn’t directly plug into patchwork but there’s definitely a way such cultural species turn into bit-nations that consume sovereign services. to be sure, any such sovereign service providers are likely to “see like a state” – through maps – but there’s an opacity that each of the new cultures gather from being turned into a “bit-nation”. this is somewhat idealized, of course, hence the “possibly”.

one reason people can come at me right away: “not everyone can partake in that!”. yes, it’s true. cultural speciation leaves a lot of people behind. the usual suspects, but maybe also some unusual ones. i won’t make predictions about it. but i don’t think that the non-universality of patchwork is an argument against it’s plausibility, or it’s capability of allowing for metis to resurface. i think it’s precisely the opposite. fragmentation means something, right?

a market for societies

can these new cultural species control markets and put them side by side with other (more or less) personal bonds? i think so. but also, the essential new feature that’s brought into view by thinking through patchwork is that, rather than a “market society”, patches are inside a “market for societies“.

in this somewhat alien environment, “economic prejudice” is now submitted to it’s actual efficiency for the survival of a specific culture inside the patchwork. it might be that it’s useful for patches and bit-nations to conduct GDP censuses and focus on economic growth, it might improve their chances of self-sourcing and continuation (profit, abstractly conceived). but now economic prejudice is facing real competitors, plenty of them, so that it has real chances of being driven under.

what about the patchwork (systemic) level itself? it’s hard to tell, since this level is close to an alien cognition. does it think in economically prejudiced ways? what does that even mean, if it doesn’t share a language with us? of course, all societies have some sort of awareness that they live inside a competitive system, right now. talks of “international community” abound, and international relations is supposedly a serious branch of political science. but i think it’s uncontroversial to say that pretty much no one really knows what goes through the mind of the international system *itself*.

be it how it may, economic prejudice doesn’t strike me as the most interesting part of Polanyi’s theory. the “double movement” is definitely much more explanatory, especially when coupled with Scott’s framework. people lose something important and immaterial when societies become market societies – something that can’t be grasped by rationalized cognitive modes. and so they revolt. which never solves anything, and indeed makes things worse, and people frustrated (next section).

does it change anything that a market society suddenly becomes a market for societies? in a certain way, if [all of the above] is coherent, people are back into normal (“human”) societies. they have safety networks, personal bonds, rituals, the whole metis package. markets are no longer necessarily unbound within societies. the picture is very different among them.

if anything, a market for societies is even more alien. people revolt against the losses that market society bring upon them, whatever the material gains might be. but at least they can revolt against someone. there is some ascription of agency to certain groups, the bourgeoisie or the elite or [something]. there’s no such “evil-doers” or easy targets in patchwork.

how is anyone suppose to make sense of their societies (most likely chosen, but also possibly inherited) dying off? even the mechanism by which this could possibly happen is a little bit clouded.

there’s being conquered, sure, that’s the old way. then there are the two mechanisms that are more likely to feature in a highly fractured landscape: merger (different groups fusing into a single one) and dispersion (enough members of the group joining other groups that it become impossible for the remaining to keep as a group). even being softer on the edges, what kind of “double movement” aren’t these going to bring about? is anyone really ready to let go of tightly knit communities because there are better options? are human beings anytime ready for doom?

which brings us to the topic of anti-praxis.

frustration and anti-praxis

of all the four books Keep brought to the table, Hoffer’s has been the one whose theory most added to my worldview. i mean “mass movements are fueled by frustration” is something pretty informative that i haven’t come across in basically any of the circles i’ve inhabited so far. and it seems to me it’s the one doing most of the work in the Uruk machinery too. it basically furnishes the central mechanism through which make sense of the other parts: [bad things] make people frustrated, and frustrated people make [worse things].

so it’s important to pay attention to what exactly frustration means in the context of the series. Keep boils it down to an “inability to act meaningfully”. obviously related to the destruction of metis. if patchwork can locally restore shared meaning and distribute power, as i’m positing in the first section, then there’s no reason to worry about frustration on a very large scale in patchwork. on the other hand, given the utterly terrible and common occurrence of social liquidation in patchwork, we can have something terribly similar: let’s call it networked frustration.

what does networked frustration look like? imagine you’re someone who’s just been victim of a dissipating bit-nation. your former bit-compatriots all signed up for different services and left you hanging in a limbo. very frustrating. not much of a problem until you meet a whole bunch of similarly bit-frustrated fellows.

and yet, if you actually do find these people, isn’t building things together much more probable than mass movement? who would they pledge for or against? other patches are certainly not very interested in enabling that (maybe as a weapon, but even then, there are better options). i’ll be cautious, but i guess it can be hinted that the dynamics of a patchwork makes things more complicated for the general strategy of mass movements. it begins to pay more to actually empower its adherents than to endlessly prolong the frustration. anti-praxis becomes an incentivized position: you can do what you want, why claim something instead?

i might be wrong, of course. it might be that such action capabilities allowed by the patchwork are driven into a new business of feeling very bad (and not doing anything about it). it would tell a lot about human psyche. and i have no idea how badly it could play in the long run. if passive frustration is actually much more profitable than all the alternatives – and thus survives the longest – the future is as bleak as it gets. it’s hard even to conceive how that could possibly work.

the catastrophe of narcissism

okay, this is a longer loop, going through xenoeconomics first. what does narcissism look like from the point of view of an alien invasion from the future, building itself from the materials of its host?

at the very least it seems like a good way as any to manipulate human psychology to produce a perfect consumer. a consumer, that is, who is predictable and constant, a consumer performing perfectly the redistribution of resources through markets that Say’s Law predicts. all the havoc wrecked in the previous sections (destruction of metis, economic prejudice, masses of frustration) – whatever the costs it had for capital – were a good way to create this absolutely broken being: the consumer. all image, all of the time, in warlike social environs.

nonetheless, capital has a constant incentive to do away with the rigid, evolved structures of human psychology, replacing them with something more plastic. hence, at the height of globalized consumer capitalism, the leading edge of technological innovation lays heavily in creating predictive models of consumption. read: Amazon and Netflix.

much of the talk about technological elimination of jobs focus on the other side of Say’s equation: production. if people don’t have jobs, how are they going to consume? but i think the reverse is more pressing: if your consumption can be mapped out precisely, what’s left? “consumer sovereignty” starts looking pretty bleak.

what capital can’t automate right away, even as consumption goes into silicon, is creativity. that’s what it truly needs to ponder over as it abstracts away from human flesh. consumer are boring, workers ever more so, what about the inventors, the entrepreneurs, the artists and artisans? that’s the niche (a small part of (what’s probably no longer accurately defined as)) humanity can find some employment.

back to patchwork: you’re consuming societies and eventually sorting algorithms will probably be able to predict pretty accurately to which bit-nations you’d likely belong to at any given time. so now, as the liberal order literally crumble to pieces, what remains for you to do is make new stuff. it’s that or the trashcan.

so, from the catastrophe of narcissism (the destruction of action to produce lean images) comes the anastrophe of… can i call it “nemesis”?

conclusion: a beautiful new world

[so it’s actually around 2000 words lol]

i’m not sure anyone is 100% on board with the description of patchwork, and its effects. it seems obvious and pretty inevitable to me, but of course opinions diverge. nonetheless, i think the foregoing can be said even if patchwork is treated as a mental experiment.

the bottom line seems to be, as up there: power is inherently fragmented. as fragmentation was overtook by High Modernism, everyone became disempowered. not only those poor fucks at the bottom who got their communities wrecked by well-meaning technocrats, but the very technocrats themselves, since the goals they pursued eventually led to completely different things. as this centralizing trend comes to an end, leading into patchwork, power makes a return.

another point, stemming mostly from the last section, is that power is creativity. i definitely would need some specific post to develop that at length, but the return of not only the ability, but the absolute necessity of creating things matches pretty well the return of power.

the final thesis that i’ll have to develop is the one from the tweets above: the current stage of automating away the consumer-voter, and the current labor struggles in the fields of consumption and reproduction. i’ve gotten at least into the first one right here: how the consumer came to be, and how it’s being automated away. the reproduction part is both more interesting and more consequential (and thus will have a post of its own). it all feeds deeply into the question of nihilism, i suspect.

if it all plugs in properly, i think we have more or less a general theory of society (which i think is the fundamental project of mutualism, mostly incomplete) or productive multiplicities, way beyond any human instantiation of that: fragments that build new stuff, leading through several intensive phase transitions. endgame? transcension

on patchwork

given the recent interest in patchwork (1, 2, 3, 4), i think it’s important to complement a few things – especially to the extent that, from all the cited, i’m probably the one who sticks the closest to Moldbug’s original formulation.

i do so to the extent that Moldbug’s formulation – contrary to panarchy, atomic communitarianism and (this i’m less sure) D+G’s views – emphasizes what i deem to be the most definitive feature of patchwork: independence or sovereignty, the ability to act without permission or interference on a given space.

yes, this last word is what complicates things a little from Moldbug’s somewhat idealized territorial city-states. nonetheless, patchwork depends inherently on skins, i.e., distinctions among organisms inside a system, and on the persistence of such distinctions.

thus, Patchwork is also inherently competitive. the “Business Ontology” Moldbug uses to define neocameralism (which is a theory of how to govern, and possibly a theory on how to think about government, but not a theory of competitive systems) is not necessarily all that any given patchwork includes, but it’s a useful language because entrepreneurial competition is the closest we have to a competitive social system. trade “profit” for “self-sufficiency” and you still have the same basic dynamics.

of course, any given patch might choose differing governance schemes (and to a large extent i think networked groups are likely to be separated from most sovereign services), but some will work, and others won’t. which are which is something that can only be decided inside the playing out of the system itself.

another question that stood out for me is “how we’re going to get to patchwork”. as i’ve argued here, i think divided sovereignty is the perennial state of the world, and so patchwork is as old as any “membrane” (very old). what makes the patchwork imagined by Puydt, Alexander and Moldbug any different from the current system of sovereign nation-states? the technological trends driving fragmentation (just like the previous technological trend driving centralization from the more fragmented feudal patchwork produced the current system, etc). so, “here to there” depends largely on communicational, energetic and military technologies.

finally, and possibly supremely, the question of guarantees of exit always arise. people want to know if the Wizard will save the poor children from oppressive parent-environs. this question has been also answered repeatedly, so i’ll just quote it:

As a prefatory note: Like the Misesian praxeology from which it is cladistically descended, the Moldbuggian System is a transcendental political philosophy, which is to say that it deals with ultimate or unsurpassable conditions. You have reached the transcendental when there is no higher tribunal, or court of appeal. This is the socio-cosmic buffers. If you don’t like what you’re seeing here, there’s still no point looking anywhere else, because this is all you’re going to get:

(…)

Suppose a realm unilaterally abrogates this right of emigration? It has just converted its residents into what are, in a sense, slaves. It is no longer Disneyland. It is a plantation. If it’s any good with cinderblocks, barbed-wire and minefields, there is no escape. What do you say if you’re stuck on this farm? You say: “yes, Massa.” A slave you are and a slave you will be forever.

This is terrible, of course. But again, the mechanism we rely on to prevent it is no implausible deus ex machina, no Indian rope-trick from the age of Voltaire, but the sound engineering principle of the profit motive. A realm that pulls this kind of crap cannot be trusted by anyone ever again. It is not even safe to visit. Tourism disappears. The potential real-estate bid from immigrants disappears. And, while your residents are indeed stuck, they are also remarkably sullen and display no great interest in slaving for you. Which is a more valuable patch of real estate, today: South Korea, or North Korea? Yet before the war, the North was more industrialized and the South was more rural. Such are the profits of converting an entire country into a giant Gulag.

there is no Wizard.

proudhonian cosmopolitanism

Cities, eventually, will scare us. — Nick Land

the individuals of the global society aren’t human individuals or nationalities, but cities. this is the society that is fed by human individualism, and it’s the society that is forming its organs beneath the unaware eyes of statesmen, priests and warriors.

for Proudhon, writes Wilbur:

every individual was a group, and every group with sufficient unity of action to be worthy of the name could be identified by its organizing LAW or principle.

which plugs straight into Land’s insight on the nature of cities:

Intensities are characterized by transition thresholds. As they rise and fall, they cross ‘singularities’ or ‘phase transitions’ that mark a change in nature. A small change in intensive magnitude can trigger a catastrophic change in system behavior, with the emergence of previously undisclosed properties. When measuring urbanization, a city is a city is a city. As an intensive concentration, however, a city is an essentially variable real individual, passing through thresholds as it grows, innovating unprecedented behaviors, and thus becoming something ‘qualitatively’ new.

the parallelisms increase to uncanny heights as one looks further into the functioning of these individual collectivities. back to Wilbur:

We could say the individual is a product/producer of a polycentric system of natural laws…

what are these natural laws if not the “route to cumulative intensification” that takes an individual city to the “escape into inwardness, an interior voyage, involution, or implosion“. “What a city wants is to become itself, but more — taking itself further and faster.”

not only this, but as cities become ever more themselves, they suck in the elements — people and commodities ‘alike’ — they need to become autonomous, thus disinvesting other, more common (and thus ‘tedious’) collectivities, such as nations, ethnicity and “feature” groups in general, as Land defines them:

A feature group is determined by logical classification. This might be expressed as a self-identification or sense of ‘belonging’, an external political or academic categorization, or some combination of these, but the essentials remain the same in each case. Certain features of the individual are isolated and emphasized (such as genitalia, sexual orientation, skin-color, income, or religious belief), and then employed as the leading clue in a process of formal grouping, which conforms theoretically to the mathematics of sets.

back once again to Wilbur, we learn that it’s in the nature of these individual collectivities (or ‘unit groups’ in Land’s parlance) to:

…develop in accordance with their laws, encountering one another as others, antagonistic and incommensurable (…) and, ultimately, the apparent conflict is the manifestation of an absolute law at another level, so all is merely the flux of being…

in meeting each other, individual cities come to know and develop themselves further, “learn[ing] from trade”, as Land puts it. out of this a higher-level ‘social society’ comes into being. Land describes this society of cities through the theoretical framework of world systems:

Beyond such generic singularity, there is an additional level of enhanced differentiation that emerges from the position cities occupy within larger systems. These systems are not only internally specialized, but also hierarchical, dividing core from periphery, and distributing influence unevenly between them. Ultimately, within the fully global incarnation of the ‘world system’, cities acquire secondary metropolitan characteristics, to very different degrees, in accordance with their geographical and functional proximity to the center of the world. They transcend their local histories, to become hubs or nodes in a global network that re-characterizes them as parts of a whole rather than wholes made of parts, as metropolis-versus-periphery rather than (or on top of) metropolis-versus-town.

a metropolis, or a mother-city, and its peripheral daughters: that is capital, itself a collective individual. the first true matriarchy to arise in the world. each node in this network intrinsically accelerating into its own involutionary spiral, “lifted out of the general flux into general warfare, by the ability to distinguish self and other”. that is the anarchic cosmos birthed with the rise of modernity.