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:

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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.

 

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Brazil’s constitutional uprising

[disclaimer: this is a highly personal interpretation of the current events in Brazil, under the light of a certain understanding of constitutionalism, and would need to be backed by further research to go from speculation into actual political science. for a lot of it, you’ll have to take my word for now (and possibly make your own research).]

there has been an unswerving tension and gnashing of teeth over Brazil’s political situation since 2015, at least. depending on where you’ve got your news, the whole thing is framed as a popular uprising against an unified corrupted political class, or a coup d’état performed by a corrupted political class against fairly popular elected and non-corrupted officials. i’m skeptical of either.

first, i don’t think there is an unified political class in Brazil. second, i don’t think the major divisions within the current political landscape are reducible to conflict between left and right, or between economic classes. finally, i don’t think it mostly about statists vs anti-statists. all of these basically put my reading against socialist, liberal and conservative readings of the situation.

my framework here is that Brazil has always been ruled by a certain agreement amongst differing ruling classes – what you could call a constitution. the wildly varying agreements produced different political regimes. i could go back to the beginning, but what matters most for now is what i’ll be calling “new democratic synthesis” – i.e., the political regime established after the Military Dictatorship period, roughly in the late 1980s. it’s new, to differ it from the other democratic period in Brazil, which had a different constitution and different tensions. it’s a synthesis, because, as we’ll see, it brought to power new actors that weren’t previously present.

the new democratic constitution, then, is an accord between landed oligarchies, galvanized in a highly heritable Congress, especially through mechanisms of “coronelismo“; corporate interests (mostly business, but also any large organized interest group), represented largely by the president’s office and ministry, which have to be supported by large cash campaign flows; and educated middle classes, which compose the bulk of the state and private bureaucracies and are thus more or less represented within the judiciary branch. the agreement established amongst them was one loosely called “coalition presidentialism“, in which the landed oligarchies lend support to a corporate-backed president and follow his suit of policies, with the press and judiciary merely overseeing the whole process. it’s clear that the middle classes in this arrangement are the minor party – and this is of utmost importance to the current events.

let’s examine the events of the last 30 years under the light of this arrangement. i’ll be rather quick and superficial until we get to what i think is the fulcrum of the current crisis, around 2013.

it’s useful that the first president of the new synthesis played out basically the same dynamics that are currently happening, but in a smaller scale. Collor received support from the landed oligarchies and from corporate interests rather quickly (the support of major television networks is very stark, when you analyse it). he was suppose to reopen and liberalize a stagnant economy, and bring stability to the new regime. his election adversary was the urban middle classes candidate, Lula (oh the irony), which he beat rather swiftly. two years after he was renouncing under accusations (and conviction) of corruption. what happened?

inheriting a rather deteriorated economic situation (rampant inflation, low capital investment, bloated public sector, etc), his policies of liberalization had the immediate effect of worsening the economic situation of the middle classes, at the same time that it hurt the landed oligarchies. he quickly lost political support in Congress, at the same time that mass protests irrupted in the streets. he renounced short of being ousted. the constitutional cycle closed. the is the basic toy-model of the current crises.

his vice-president, Itamar Franco, took office afterwards, who finished most of the policies Collor had started, and brought a more or less stable economic environment to the country. a note on vice-presidents: to seal the proper alliance between the landed oligarchies and the corporate interests, all of the elected presidents so far had vice-presidents with deep political ties to the landed oligarchies. this ensures that, if the president loses the alliance, he’s replaced at least temporarily by friendly forces.

next, there was FHC‘s eight year government, from 1995 to 2002. in this period we can see the constitution working more or less smoothly: Congress follows the president’s policies rather unquestioningly, struggling merely over specific privileges for their specific localities, the judiciary merely overlooks the process, remaining largely submissive to the other powers.

this also shows exactly why the three sectors would agree to the constitution in the first place: landed oligarchs get resources to strengthen their local power, corporate interests get a regulatory environment suited to their increased profits, and the educated middle classes get a stable economic landscape and the promise of increasing living standards. all of this played out exactly as expected during FHC’s years.

now comes the first rather interesting point of turning. Lula, long a candidate favored by urban middle classes, made sure he got the support of corporate interests as well. advised by a sort of Latin American Steve Bannon, he swore allegiance to the economic orthodoxy – after years of unswerving syndicalism – and started wearing suits (very important). he swept two consecutive presidencies basically unopposed, with ever-rising popularity and rode the so-called “commodity cycle” pretty well. once again, we see the constitution working pretty fine.

there’s a bump in the road in 2005, though. the “mensalão” scandal – essentially a bribery scheme aimed at securing favorable votes in proposed legislation – broke out pretty heavily. the scheme in itself is less interesting than why it popped when it popped. as outlined above, the central interest of the landed oligarchies represented in Congress is acquiring the most resources to spend on local consolidation of power. vote-buying schemes is just one way of doing that, and is as old as any republican government, if not older. why did suddenly become a scandal?

my thesis: whistle-blower Roberto Jefferson (and possibly a small faction within Congress) wasn’t getting enough of the cake. releasing it just before an election-year gave some leverage for negotiation with corporate interests. it wouldn’t be different from most other corruption scandals before, if it wasn’t for the later (and largely unforeseen) heavy involvement of the judiciary, which would significantly alter strategies for the landed oligarchy-corporate interest alliance.

the process was one of the first high-profile cases in Brazil’s Supreme Court, the STF. the judgment, starting in 2007 (well after Lula’s reelection) and only being concluded in 2012, eventually tainted the most important figures in the Worker’s Party that could serve as successors for Lula, such as José Dirceu, as well as driving a lot of other strong names out of the Party, such as Marina Silva. such prosecution of politicians was unprecedented, and already signaled a strengthening of the judiciary power (and thus, by proxy, of the middle classes). all this forced Lula and the Worker’s Party to opt for Dilma Rousseff, a mostly unheard of name, for the succession.

during his second term, Lula had broken with Washington consensus orthodoxy, and started consolidating even more his power with corporate interests. civil engineering, commodity crops and oil extraction interests were heavily propped up, in what came to be knows as the “new economic matrix“, starting off in 2008. it consisted largely in increasing public sector spending with contractors in those industries, including the ambitious projects of hosting a FIFA World Cup in 2014 and a Summer Olympics in 2016. managing to keep GDP soaring, even as economic crisis hit the major world economies, he also kept his popularity. all this, coupled with his strengthening of political ties with PMDB (the major output for landed oligarchies interests), allowed him to successfully back Rousseff’s candidacy in 2010.

it’s here that things start getting convoluted. first, the new economic matrix isn’t sustainable outside of very specific economic conditions (namely, the “commodity cycle”, in which cash crops exports keeps resources incoming into public treasury). as these conditions came to pass (largely due to the slowing down of Chinese growth), the large public sector, and the state controls over several kinds of prices, started generating tensions of the possible agreement underlying the constitution.

i don’t have a historical series for middle class dissatisfaction, but if i had, it would have a big inflection point in 2013. the June 2013 protests were a convergent wave of grievances. the fiscal troubles of the federal government meant the municipalities, largely dependent on federal transfers to fund themselves, had to increase ticket prices for public transportation – the catalytic of the whole thing. couple that with a deteriorating purchase power due to increased inflation, a slow but steady de-industrialization beginning in 2011, and the first convictions for mensalão coming out in 2012, and you’ve got a recipe for a bomb.

the protests might not have solved anything, but it sure gave the middle classes a sense of their recently acquired power, especially with the unsuspected support of the press and mass media (which then started having a few squabbles with the executive). in 2014, the protests continued, now with a more direct anti-government (and also anti-corporate, given the World Cup) bent. all this fueled what’s possibly of the most vile electoral campaign so far in the new democratic synthesis.

with corporate funding falling more or less evenly across the left-right divide, the decisive factor in Rousseff’s reelection was that old alliance with landed oligarchies’ party PMDB. in a state-by-state breakdown, she won mostly where those oligarchies had their tentacles most spread. her victory, though, only signaled that this very alliance was in question.

right after the election, the unsustainable economic policies in place started to unravel, as price controls were lifted. inflation skyrocketed, GDP went into recession, and unemployment rose to all-time heights. the middle class grievances that seemed up until then unproven came starkly into focus, as a new wave of explicitly anti-Dilma protests took the country.

it was also in 2015 that Operation Car Wash began gaining traction. initially a routine money laundering investigation by the federal police, it started unveiling what is likely the largest corruption scheme in the country’s history. again, nothing really new, but of unmatched scale, as money from the state oil company Petrobras was piped in humongous amounts into local power consolidation. the strengthening of the Operation into an all out political case (with all the associated drama and TV time) tracks pretty fairly the strengthening of the judiciary as a representative for middle class power.

by this point in 2015, we begin to see again what we saw as a toy-model with Collor: Dilma slowly loses support in Congress, given her inability to control the judiciary advances over the political class, and at the same time the middle classes are storming the streets with call for her removal. the landed oligarchy-corporate interest alliance was strong enough to postpone her impeachment into 2016, but it frayed as major corporate leaders were arrested and in turn turned in political names, even elected Congressmen.

2016 saw despair on the side of the alliance given the seemingly unstoppable advance of the judiciary, now including the STF. Dilma’s failed attempt to grant Lula immunity after his indictment by appointing him as her chief of staff made the nightly news, as did some leaked calls among Congressmen, in which they plot the impeachment as a way of scapegoating Dilma, in order to “save everyone else”. which eventually happened, leaving Michel Temer as the new Itamar Franco, with a broken economy and a unruly mass of middle class dissatisfaction.

the plot was ultimately to no avail, as the operation kept raging on even after impeachment, as well as the interference of the judiciary in matters that were previously considered part of the attributions of Congress or the president. 2017 saw the attempts at reworking the alliance slowly fraying away, as the regulatory reforms that would supposedly get the economy growing again all but failed completely.

* * *

given the whole history i’ve tried to plot up there, i think the current political and economic crisis in Brazil can be seen as a constitutional uprising of the middle classes through the judiciary against the other two powers, of landed oligarchies and corporate interests. as we slumber towards this years’ election, there are few scenarios that could come to pass in order to either restore the current constitution, or overthrow it in favor of a new one.

one likely scenario is an alliance between corporate interests and the middle classes, in order to elect some neutral name (like Geraldo Alckmin), who could conduct a FHC-style orthodox economic reconstruction. landed oligarchies could get behind this, if there was some concession of immunity against the rampaging judiciary. this would amount to a re-balancing of the current constitutions, granting a more central participation to the middle classes, while it keeps the three powers in play.

the landed oligarchies could, of course, react violently. last time this happened, we’ve got a military dictatorship. they have, after all been governing the country largely uncontested for most of its existence. the election of a name like Jair Bolsonaro would amount to an affirmation of landed power, solidifying again Congress and the executive into what amount to a single entity. how the judiciary would react in such a situation is unknown.

another option is a radical replacement of constitution. landed oligarchies have after all been dwindling their reach since the establishment of the new democratic synthesis, due to urbanization and the consequent strengthening of middle class and corporate powers. if these latter two strike a deal powerful enough cut off landed oligarchies, a new arrangement comes into view. it would have a powerful executive working in tandem with a newly empowered judiciary, to the detriment of Congress. it’s hard to see how that doesn’t veer into neocameral directions. i don’t see any name that could represent such a radical breaking with the established order, so maybe the final resolution gets postponed into the next election cycle.

 

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.

NRx is dead

leaving this here for the sake of documentation, but the conclusions still seem to hold.

(yes, i haven’t posted in a while, but it’s for a good reason, new exciting things are coming up for next year.)

anarchy

i’m well aware of the etymological fallacy. so, this is not a logical argument about the meaning of words.

anarchy is the absence of arkhé, which is to say ruler – but also beginning or end. anarchy has no genitive, no genealogy, no teleology. it’s unengendered, transcendental. all cosmos is anarchic, which is to say that anarchy is order. the chaos ordering.

thus, anarchy is a circuit of power: it can be democratic, aristocratic, thymocratic, even plutocratic. at any given point, it’s all of those. it can’t, by definition, be oligarchic, or monarchic, nor demarchic, not even panarchic. it has no ruler, but power always flows.

anarchy cannot be the object of an ideology – that would imply that time itself is within time – a mere being, not Being. it’s sad that anarchist has come to mean anything but “anything”. anarchy is, right now, and will ever be – there’s no “after” the Revolution. the Revolution has never failed to happen.

in the process of eating all absolutes, mutual excitation makes itself the only Absolute. this process, just as modern as it has been ancient, is anarchy.

 

a few simple questions for neoabsolutism

in the wake of a similar post by the Imperial Energy, and given that for all that matters, neoabsolutism and lrx-mutualism are forever locked in a cosmic cage-match, i figured i should map a few of the most prominent questions that i feel the neoabsolutists haven’t really answered so far (i believe it’s obvious why unanswered questions are way more of a problem for them than it is for me):

  1. where does power come from? a lot of the writing in Reactionary Future, as well as in Imperial Energy and Neoabsolutism has to do on how insecure power seeks to secure itself through centralisation, etc. but not once have i seen any definition of power (something like this), nor any account of the ways power comes to be.
  2. how universalist is neoabsolutism? i’ve made this argument before (2, 3), but if division of power is seen as something to be avoided, then delegation is not really the greatest idea. with that in mind, can anything short of a global centralized empire be enough for neo-absolutism? parallel centers of power can or cannot coexist? and if they can, how far really is this from individualism?
  3. what is sovereignty if not a relation between divided powers? this arises immediately from the previous questions: isn’t freedom-as-power the exact same thing  as freedom-from(-other’s)-power? isn’t a sovereign, by definition, an individual, atomized in relation to other individuals?
  4. finally, what’s neo in neoabsolutism? how does the theory you are sketching differ significantly from early modern absolut kings, those enlightened despots?