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.

 

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a neocameralist reconstruction of the US Constitution

the original US Constitution was very amenable to neocameralist restructuring. in fact, pretty much all was already in place, except for the language.

voters were property owners (the closest you got to a real shareholder) who elected a board of electors to point an executive officer. the federation was a consortium among States for mutual protection, so we had corporate representation (Senate). the Congress, as the representation (direct and indirect) of proprietors/shareholders, controlled the funds that went to the executive office.

this is all pretty much in tune with corporative structure. the glitch was with Supreme Court and the whole ideological apparatus

instead of the CEO appointing the justices, I would make justice a single church-like institution with the aim of controlling the legality of shareholder actions. in turn, it would be controlled only by the executive branch’s decision on law enforcement.

Cathedralist institutions (universities, media) would cater to either justice-church sentimentalities or become themselves shareholders.

of course, late 19th century and FDR reconstructions of the Constitution made it impossible, but a neocameralist US of A was once possible.

the diagrams of acceleration

I’ll start by drawing what I take to be Nick Land’s view on the complete circuit of acceleration. then I’ll take a look at the leeches – decelerators – that he proposes. then I’ll sketch my own view of the necessity of runaway “suppressors” to keep the positive feedback running. in the meanwhile I’ll try and speculate what exactly l/acc and r/acc can mean in this view.

* * *

Land posits a positive feedback cycle at the heart of modernity. this cycle, he insists, is a techno-commercial or techonomic one. the second part of this loop is already pretty well expressed in Marx’s M-C-M’ model. From Fine & Saad-Filho’s Marx’s Capital:

cycle of capital

I’ll simplify this to:

cycle of capital 2

similarly, Land proposes technology and science evolve in a similar cycle, a techno-scientific effort. as he puts it:

“Acquiring knowledge and using tools is a single dynamic circuit, producing techno-science as an integral system, without real divisibility into theoretical and practical aspects. Science develops in loops, through experimental technique and the production of ever more sophisticated instrumentation, whilst embedded within a broader industrial process. Its advance is the improvement of a machine.”

thus:

cycle of science

finally, the techno-commercial loop that characterizes modernity would be this:

cycle of modernity

below the levels here portrayed, it’s conceivable every node is, in itself, a positive feedback loop. finance capital, product design, gadget invention and theory building being the immediate sub-levels.

the more it happens, the more it happens.

* * *

I won’t lie, I’m no great connoisseur of left-accelerationist thought. so I won’t talk a lot about it. my point of contention comes mostly from this line in the MAP:

“capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration”

which implies something else is the true accelerator. what could that something else be?

I’ve heard hinted now and then that it could be the “industrial cycle” of technological development. since I’m guessing l/acc types want to pose capital as, at most, a once sympathetic medium for acceleration (now utterly decelerative), I’m supposing that such “agent of true acceleration” is the science cycle pictured above. is that correct? I’ll suspend criticism until this is more thoroughly established.

* * *

as for “right acceleratism”, insofar as it can’t be identified with Land’s stance of “unconditional acceleration“, remains very poorly formalized or even addressed. some kind of transhumanist monarchism maybe? if that’s it, their interest is much more on the acceleration of the science cycle, as well, but with a subordination to very different norms than those that presumably would govern l/acc-type cycles. insofar as it isn’t an explicitly anti-capitalist monarchism we’re talking about, the commercial side of the cycle is still present, but with how much force?

lots of mysteries remain. but I won’t invent adversaries where none appears to be.

* * *

ok, enough for accelerators, why aren’t we seeing a techno-commercial singularity, if such dynamics is indeed at the heart of out times? Land proposes a decelerator. what would it amount to?

a few ways to break the cycles and compensate for them:

  1. taxation: this deviates resources from capital and buries them into the consumption of the tax-receivers (namely the Cathedral bureaucracy). trash and shit.
  2. regulation: there are various ways this could work, insofar as regulation is very inventive. but the main pattern has to do with deviating capital from the most rentable (i.e., (self-re)productive) investments, into those that are most likely to become un-recyclable thrash, at least in the long run.
  3. politicization: this deviates brain-power from technological producing theories into, well, bullshit research departments, especially through politicization of academic funding of hard sciences.
  4. protectionism: since this protects technical developments from properly feeding back into the commercial cycle, it breaks the link between technical advantage and capital accumulation, leading lots of resources into stupid gadgetry.

all these being forms of fucking up the incentive structures that allow the accelerative cycle to be. in diagram form:

the cathedral

if the Cathedral is actually efficient, the more it happens, the less it happens.

* * *

my theory of constitutionalism is based mostly on the premise that, given real conditions, capital needs not only to accelerate – as is intrinsic to it – but also to suppress its decelerators. constitutional orders are a good way to tame politics (and thus the Cathedral), and there’s a historical case to be made on how capitalism correlates to good constitutions.

here, I’ll limit myself to the abstract form of these “runaway suppressors”. they are complimentary to the runaway producer of techno-commercialism: the less it happens, the less it happens. in such a way that they intrinsically contain a program for their own dissolution: as soon as their object of suppression vanishes – thus liberating the productive process that engineered them – they themselves vanish. it’s friction that produces them.

suppression, in such analysis, means compensating the compensators. a few forms for that to happen:

  1. counter-taxation: mechanisms through which taxation is dodged or reversed (anything from tax dodging, money laundering, corporate welfare, etc).
  2. illegibility: ways through which agents become invisible to the state apparatus, and thus can operate beyond, behind or beneath its regulations.
  3. cypherpoliticsbecoming grey to the colorful politics, effectively avoiding social outcomes based on political discourse. cryptographic media use, in a way that allows science to become neutral because anonymous. also, other uses of unidentity. (seriously, the link explains way better)
  4. exit: if some idiot thinks tariffs are a good idea, you move. neo-nomadism should be a thing already.

as resources flow back into the cycle, acceleration happens at ever higher rates. the formalization of said mechanisms into a diagram of suppression applied to the decelerator is a feat for another post, though.

exitocracy anotated

Axel just published the 4th chapter of his ongoing Neocameral Future. In what can be described as the textual version of a YouTube reaction video, I’ve made commentary on his main propositions and thesis. Hopefully this will promote debate and thus strengthen his upcoming book.

* * *

On materialism vs idealism (ideology/religion)

  1. Much as I agree with that “Humans are MEAT ROBOTS. Free will in an illusion“, it’s important to keep in mind that the reductions of social processes to biology are not simple and that we don’t know how to do most of them (just as we don’t know how to reduce a great many biological processes to physical processes). It’s important to restate that insofar as you keep receiving true feedback from reality (empiricism) it’s perfectly fine to postulate social mechanisms that explain certain events. Social constructivism, to the extent that it doesn’t deny other empirical findings and conform to its own facts, is also materialistic.
  2. It is only when it is corrupted with cultish notions that it becomes evil” is a good assessment of reality, indeed. But religious (ideal/ideological) thought is a natural companion of abstract investigation (and hence intelligence). You can’t make it go away by mere wish (and if you do, you are being ideological yourself). Ideological/religious thinking has to be institutionalized and driven into producing realistic feedback. Empiricism didn’t arise from mere physicalist atheists, but physicalist atheists who believed it was possible to understand reality through abstract concepts. I.e., smart (rather than communist) physicalist atheists.

On stability

  1. Stability is not actually a good argument for a political system” Indeed, if you understand “stability” to mean “remaining the same forever, no matter what”. A good argument is adaptability and it is hard to not see adaptability as stability, once you grasp the basic underlying cybernetics.

On objections to unified power

  1. Demotism is Conserved.” Nope. Although mass communication (and, more to the point, the ever greater dissipation of mass lethal power) is an ongoing fact since the dawn of modernity, and one that is unlikely to go away (short of Peak Oil or something), there is ever less a need to control the mob’s minds. The trend set in motion with the internet is much more of cultural, social and (therefore) political fragmentation than of mass maneuver of opinion. The very costs of attempting something like that are ever greater.

    So, from what I grasp of the political trends in the 21st century, demotism has its days numbered, T minus the time necessary to build safe exit options. Bit-nations contracting with luxury gated cities for free pass, and ever more nomadic elites wandering around the world. No need for mob control, except insofar as “heavier walls” is mob control.

  2. Secure Power is an Illusion.” I’ve written three pieces on that. Spandrell probably gets most of the things. No disagreement here.
  3. Monarchy is Lazy Design.” Laziest of the lazy. But also very natural to civilized humans. It builds (and wrecks down) naturally from male hierarchy, hence its commonality. Of course, it is never secure, nor absolutist (absolutism in fact is a rather characteristically French rationalist lunacy born in the early 18th century).

    A further criticism is that monarchy depends on deep ties of loyalty and a stable male hierarchy, both profoundly disturbed by the uprooting and individualism needed to run a market economy. Given market economy’s clear superiority to traditional economy in output, it should be obvious no monarchy can survive under global market conditions (except as a rather romantic honorific to a cryptographically secure CEO – which is probably how Moldbug meant it).

  4. Nukes are an Issue.” And so is its spread and ever further miniaturization. Of course, it makes it easier for city-states (and hence the Patchwork) to emerge. Which means it makes secession easier by providing leverage against centralized governments. Which in turn makes the collapse of The Cathedral inevitable rather than unrealistic. Accelerationism is simply the research program for pocket nukes.
  5. NRx will be Made Obsolete.” Possibly one the most important points in the chapter. Puts the movement in perspective. 10 years ago Moldbug was creating an account on Blogspot and Nick Land was… Gnon knows what. Ten years from now the whole thing will probably have unfolded in crazier ways than expected.

    That point made, the Cathedral – unless very unpredictable turns are taken – will die out fighting against gene editing, even if it’s for “good purposes”. Eugenics was extirpated from Progressivism 90 years ago, and it’s unlikely to get back on track before Progressivism goes away. Many progressives, on the other hand, may indeed make great use of genetic science for their purposes, while making Progress great again. It’s not hard to imagine lesbian couples producing high IQ design babies in HK in 20 years. But not in NY, that’s for sure.

  6. It is Not a Single Monolithic Thing.” Good point. But the whole point of coining “demotism” was probably to pin down one specific kind of democracy: 1848-like universal-suffrage democracy. Decentralization is not a problem (rather it is the purported solution), bureaucratic institutions are not a problem (probably it what kept the boat from sinking so far), and even very limited voice (as in corporative boards) is fine, as long as it’s accompanied by the correlative costs. The problem is simply: universal, unqualified, “free” voice – literally mass tyranny. This is as monolithic a thing as it gets, and has been described over and over in political philosophy ever since Aristotle as a degeneration of the greatest idea: constitutions. De-enfranchise people and whatever else is left of democracy is probably OK.
  7. Reforming the cathedral is not impossible” I would phrase it as “Making the Cathedral go away without much noise is not impossible”. But I’ll be back to this when I finish the other chapters.

On the causes of Cathedral

  1. The actual cause of the Cathedral is compromise in an unsecure power structure, not the nature of unsecure power itself. COMPROMISE, not imperium in imperio, is the actual cause of left-wing power.” Another very central point of the chapter. The refusal of dialectics – living humiliated under the rule of the enemy – is not likely to be widely accepted as a central tenet of right-wing thought. Much of the reactionaries around are damn certain they don’t just want to flee to better lands, but to purge their enemies, enslave them, chain them or, at least, make them live under the “right” government. The average type on both blue and red tribes just want to vanquish the other, kill their men, rape their women and enslave their children. Monkey business at its prime.
  2. On matters of division of power – imperium in imperio – I guess I made my points on the neocameralism and constitutions series (1, 2, 3). In sum: stable (adaptive) systems are those with nodes no more controlling than controlled. Much on that to come in the next months, but what is essential to the argument under consideration here is that the Cathedral thrived (at least partially) because, and not in spite, of divided powers. It was when such division was abandoned that the degenerative ratchet finally got a grip on history. Odysseus could tie himself, but only for so long. Getting him sober from siren vocal poison and making him tie himself again and better is probably the aim of any proposed new kind of republicanism. ” It is true that unsecure power tends to breed compromise as a result of a majoritarian system” is the main hint of what exactly went wrong with the US Constitution.

On Multi-Part Elections

  1. Formalism ends violence by making the outcome of a dispute known. Another way of saying this is that a process is formalized when violence is eliminated through a rule based mechanism that turns it into a game or contract of sorts.” It’s important to keep in mind that one needs an unambiguous unbreakable rule for this to work – enforcement matters. I’m saying this to make clear that the criteria for Multi-Part Elections to work is that it provides not only unambiguous rules for conflicts, but also an enforcement mechanism.
  2. People will separate themselves based on ideological lines. The separation will reinforce itself. It is precisely this separation that actually leads to stability.” Until it grows far too much. Not to get all Marxist about a market of little governments, but some will definitely get more guns than others, and once that is in play, the talk must shift to military technology systems and what they imply in terms of political organization. We didn’t get to the nation state model arbitrarily, and we won’t get out of it arbitrarily. The question is: how do you effectively defend something, without breaking the whole system? Which leads us to…
  3. Power creates ideology.” This is unconvincing, if only because ideology is itself a source of power. You seem to admit it straight away: “any different system will seem immoral to you, because you, having been indoctrinated by the current system, share its morals“. To distinguish between power and the idea of power will demand something more than mere affirmation.

    The following discussion, based on this distinction, is not so wrong as it reverses the true complication: “The ideology becomes whatever is necessary to justify the power system. In the System of systems, aka, the exitocracy, a form of “live and let live” becomes the standard. The federal government is forced to take a culturally relativist position in order to maintain military control over its territory.” Can the federal government maintain that position and have military control? What does the military believe? What is the ideology of those with military capability? Power is this ideology, what will make them pull the trigger.

  4. “[T]he federal government which does ONLY military, intelligence, and security matters.” Only? If the federal government holds sway of sovereign (primary) property, what about the outside? If it’s Fnargl, what will make it turn from Cathedral usual business to “a box for every monkey”?

Maybe I’m jumping ahead right here, but these are the main questions – that remain so far largely unanswered within NRx. The whole mechanics (the rules of the system) seems very neat, but the enforcement mechanism is still vague, at best. If the counties default to Fedgov’s authority for solving their (inevitable) quibbles, what makes the Fedgov accept this whole scheme in the first place? And what about what is outside of it (because internal trade barriers will certainly hamper the Federation’s industrial ability, as the Federalist Papers already had in mind)?

neocameralism and constitutions 3

 

Three because triangles are best. Answering three responses to my last piece, as well. 333, but let’s not get all mystical just yet.

* * *

Reactionary Future’s further response is short and pungent. His latest posting is all fuzzily connected with the theme of constitutionalism and division of powers. Here, I’ll answer only to the direct answer he gave me. The questions of liberal tradition, liberal anthropology and capitalism will be dealt with elsewhere.

Preliminary throat clearing again: I don’t think Moldbug has, at any point, defended a return to medieval governance. The joint-stock corporation – his model for better government – is inherently modern (and, to provoke RF, inherently capitalist), way different from the medieval trade corporations (owing its origins to early modern royal charters).

Secondly, imperium in imperio cannot be avoided unless Great Fnargl himself descends from the sky in his Royal Flying Saucer. And that’s not happening anytime soon. For all matters human, force cannot be immediately exercised over any tract of land bigger than a square meter. Any true power, therefore, depends on the idea of power and the loyalty minds have to such an idea. The obsession with Fnargl-like absolutism is the typical phallic power-trip. “I can rule the world from my penis“. No, you can’t.

The whole counter-argument to such absolutism can be boiled down to: the deployment of power implies division of power – to wield power, through delegation, is already to trade it away. If this is so, you’d better have this formalized, and give some deep thought to such formalization, in order to get secure by producing stable arrangements.

Here’s the very first division of power implied by the very deployment of power: to give orders, things around need to believe it and follow it. So much for your imperio. It needs a imperialist religion to be very much followed, through fear or faith. No wonder the very first states were alliances between priests and warlords. Of course, you’ll also need loyal generals and armies, and piety from the host population from which you exact taxes to finance your imperio. Yet another division: if you want to an efficient army, you’ll need inventors, traders, producers of all kinds. Bullies don’t go very far without nerds.

Now, if the medieval system (and for that matter, all other civilizational social systems) has “success in producing exceptionally functional societies”, and if it was “a patchwork of internal conflict”, then we have to pay attention to what made it so. Maybe – and this is the suggestion constitutionalism makes – it was successful and functional because, and not in spite of, internal conflict. RF says it must “be avoided at all costs”, but can it? Insecure powers will fight on and on and on until they’re all dead? How the hell did medieval system even survive this for a thousand years? This seems to assume a complete lack of any rationality inherent to conflict, of any strategy. It also assumes that conflict has no cost structure and can simply go on forever in its most bloodiest form. Has it?

No, this sort of reasoning is utter nonsense and has no empirical evidence. Conflicting powers eventually come to an agreement – a formalization – in which they check each other according to rules stated in a document: a constitution. Do they try to undermine this document? Whenever they can get away with it. Do they get to do this? No, because the checks imposed there are real: other powers will smash them if they do. (Needless to say, if the checks are mere words on a piece of paper, and not in any way related to an actual distributions of power, they will remain just that: words).

RF makes a further point:

The fact of the matter is that the whole thought experiment of sovcorp is a useful training exercise for understanding this issue, with the profit motive providing a very simple and effective means of envisioning the concept of a society ordered towards a central good, thereby giving all actions within that society a context and a rational teleology towards which to direct. Is X good for the profit of the sov corp? yes – bingo you have a rudimentary Virtue Ethics in play and you have just left the liberal TRADITION in which the night watchman state is merely a baby sitter for everyone to pursue their own “good.” But this is just absolutist training wheels.

Is it? None of the people paying rent to the sovcorp, none of the managers inside of it, none of stockholders who buy and sell shares of it, are concerned with anything but their own good. Their individual interests are aligned with good governance, by virtue of the market in government thereby created, but they are all minding their own values. If this goes out of liberal tradition, it’s hard to see where. If this creates a virtue ethics out of profit motive, it’s hard to see how capitalism is not precisely the same thing.

As Moldbug himself puts it:

To prevent the emergence of politics, a stable, established neocameralist state relies on the fact that its shares are held by a widely distributed body of investors, each of whose management control is precisely proportional to the share of the profits the investor receives, and none of whom has any way to profit privately by causing the enterprise to be mismanaged. The result is a perfect alignment of interests among all shareholders, all of whom have exactly the same one-dimensional goal: maximizing the value of their shares. Experience in private corporate governance shows that such a body tends to be reasonably competent in selecting managers, and almost never succumbs to anything like politics.

Here’s your liberal tradition, if you will.

Lastly, what has cybernetics to do with all this? Well, cybernetics is quite literally control theory. A constitution is cybernetic because it draws on feedback loops to produce stable arrangements, i.e., it produces a control mechanism, just like a thermostat. Why do thermostats work? Because there’s a feedback system: the sensor tell the device “hey, it’s 77°F”, the device makes its calculations and tells the heater “turn off”, the temperature falls within the room and the sensor then says to the device the new reading. So on forever. Can the house burn down? Of course, if the heater is wrongly programmed, or is intentionally sabotaged (or, of course, if someone sets the house on fire).

RF says:

If you place formal blocks on governance, then alternative means to undermine those blocks will be used – the constitution cannot contain all eventualities.

Of course, and any constitution that does not try to create blocks that, in trying to be undermined, become stronger, is not a good constitution. Furthermore, they are amendable to adjust for new, unpredictable facts and power distributions. Sometimes, of course, it all falls down. No real system is completely fail-proof. At their best, they are fail-resistant, and can operate even when most has gone to shit. But if someone sets the house on fire, no thermostat will solve that.

Also:

” In addition, if sovereign power has checks, then those engaging the checks are sovereign – the logic is bizarre, and all the nonsense about balancing power is just that – nonsense.”

What if you make power circulate? Feedback loops are loops. A checks B, B checks C, and C checks A. Who’s sovereign, if they are all checked? It’s a stand-off where no one can neither back out, nor win, until some external interference comes into play (something, for exemple, that makes A and B cooperate with, rather than distrust and envy, each other – something like arson).

* * *

Anomaly UK seems to be way less fanatical and way more realistic about the whole absolutist thing. In general, I guess we agree on the fundamentals, and disagree on the specifics. In his first response, he begins:

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

This is essentially my point above. Our quibbles begin with:

“The reason that division of power is undesirable is that it erodes responsibility.”

In a closed circuit as above (A checks B checks C checks A), responsibility is demanded by the previous nodes. To exercise your own power means to police the power of others. You’re not responsible to “the people”, but to the previous node (and for your own good). The design is meant to keep the whole system in place, stable. The interest of those involved is, thus, served by design. Those of outsiders are ignored, at best. This even satisfies AUK’s own criteria of “whoever has the power benefits from exercising it well and is harmed by exercising it badly” for responsible government. No second set of incentives emerges, since corporate interests are individual interests, and individuals with power are all mutually observed.

Which is not to say that an indefinitely divided power is good. The objective of constitutions is to reach cybernetic closure, which is increasingly difficult the more nodes there are. The best policy, wherever it’s possible, is secession and its formalization (through peace treaties, explicit mutual destruction assertion, etc). Wherever this is not possible, buying out and formalizing is the second best. Only when powers have come maximally concentrated within a certain bounded area need constitutions come into play, to formalize their relations. As AUK puts it: “The possibility of concentrating power sufficiently for stability is the sine qua non of independent government.” There’s no disagreeing with that.

In his next installment, AUK presents a summarizing of his previous discussion:

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

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

These three, I guess I take most issue with the first one. Division of power is inherent in power deployment, as said above, so it is as dangerous as power itself is, and as avoidable. My rendering would be: division of power, if poorly designed, won’t reach cybernetic closure and thus will degenerate power into pure force.

Of course, designing a formalized division of power must take into consideration the actual underlying distribution of power. But formalization can be made in several different ways, with different consequences. Thus, the constitution is not in fact the “actual distribution of power”, but it’s specific formalization. “Structure” is indeed a good name for the actual distribution, but identifying the structure is not the same as drawing a constitution out of it. As AUK puts it:

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

The question thus is rather how should one design a constitution? The fundamental design principle here, from what I developed above on cybernetics is: close the loops. No nodes more controlling than controlled. Tyranny follows from the flaw in meeting this first principle. It is from this principle that it follows that the settlement of the constitution “will last, that those who came into the settlement with power are willing to accept it, and will be incentivised to maintain it into the future and to preserve those things that incentivise the others to maintain it into the future”.

AUK’s suggestion of internal “lines on the map” as a principle of good constitutionalism seems sensible to me. This seems to have been the fundamental guiding principle of the US Constitution, which is to date the best example of a functional constitution (in spite of its utter destruction after American Civil War – thermostats can’t stop arson). Having internal divisions that can split from the confederation as soon as possible if crap comes up, and that hold their own experiments in constitutionalism, is a good starting point.

A couple other working principles would be:

  • Triangles are the best basic arrangement, since they are the simplest arrangement to produce a stable standoff among the parties;
  • Bodies of transparency and deliberation *among* classes help aleviate tensions and build compromise in unpredicted cases. This is the most important lesson I take from Tocqueville’s analysis.

Which basically match AUK’s own analysis. And I certainly can’t improve on this:

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

The last problem, about amendment (or self-reference), is probably the hardest to tackle. Dynamic stability needs to be provided within the very design, in the best interest of adaptability. The super-majority criteria adopted by the US Constitution clearly wasn’t enough. Maybe separate realms of amendment, lying with each different power, and scrutinized by other power through their very action, can help. Land’s Trichotomocracy still seems to me a good overall sketch of a good constitutional order. In Land’s scheme, Ethno-Nationalists amend their security capabilities, Theonomists amend their own legislating/judging capabilities and Techno-Commercialists amend their own financing capabilities. The constitution evolves as the system develops, and changes are themselves checked and balanced. Further exploration of this mechanism is needed.

* * *

To tackle, in brief, a more concrete example, Pinapple Computer Co. should not be granted any powers by personal favor of the King, but its economic power should be recognized in the constitution, by (say) setting up a council of riches to deliberate on such things as duty-free zones. Formalizing the relation between holy law(ideology) makers and the riches would also be a good idea, so that the interference of press and law in the makings of companies are defined.

The question of legitimacy of power is also relates to such definition. As pointed above, the deployment of power needs an ideological structure behind it. The power wielded by the keepers of such ideology should be formalized within it and within the institutions it demands – much as the Catholic Church was formalized within Catholicism and within the institutions Catholicism upheld, political ones included. As we know from Moldbug, a “secular state” is shorthand for an occultation of the true state religion.

I believe both considerations made just above – a board of wealth-producers deciding over taxes and tariffs, and a legal formalization of the Cathedral and its relation with other powers – could have helped avoid the tensions that led to the Civil War. Maybe retelling the history of United States from its inception up to this day, suggesting how better formalization and other constitutional mechanisms could have help avoid such disasters as American Civil War and the New Deal is a constructive exercise in improving the neocameralist model.

neocameralism and constitutions 2

Preliminary throat clearing: I’m certainly not any specialist in Moldbug’s theories and background. I have just gone through the Open Letter and some few more texts. I’m just getting started in the Patchwork, still have to proceed to the Gentle Introduction. So I’m not pretending I know more than these guys about that. My objective in my last article was merely to elaborate on Land’s theories, which I’m more familiar with and draw (apparently selectively) on Moldbug’s cannon.

With that out of the way, the main response from both Anomaly UK and Reactionary Future was: the shareholders are sovereign (as a body), everything else is top-down delegation from them.

The meaning of sovereign here is the main question, I guess. If we follow Moldbug, it means that these men can, as a body, do whatever they want within the limits of their property, totally unchecked.

This, of course, not true. Not even great Fnargl himself can do whatever he pleases within his (now global) realm. Consequences must be taken into account (RF explicitly recognizes this, and AUK strongly suggests it). Reality rules, so power is primordially checked by it. I guess none of my critics disagree with that.

If sovereignty isn’t being able to do whatever one pleases within his realm, what is it? maybe, as RF put it, it is not being “bound by anyone, or anything but consequences”, i. e. doing whatever one pleases within his realms that is compatible with reality. Both me and Land would not disagree with such formulation.

But that, per se, doesn’t say anything about division or concentration of power. If I read my critics correctly, both of them believe that concentration works better than division, and this efficiency-in-survival criteria is their main reason to promote centralization (and not some romantic, moralistic delusion). Put differently, they believe centralization is more compatible with reality than division of power.

I also suppose I’m not wrong in assuming both of them agree that formalism is a central tenet (of not the central tenet) of civilization. With that in mind, the question arises: does the sovereign (stockholders or king) need other people to act for him to govern. if they do, his sovereignty rests on loyalty (something Moldbug arguably wants to fix with cryptographic control – although that demands that programmers are loyal as well).

Isn’t such sovereign better if they are able to recognize, promptly and formally, the powers that influence such loyalty (not the least, the press, the educational system, the formation of military, the intellectuals and religious people within his realm, etc)? And, in formally recognizing such power, is he not effectively dividing power? Is he not recognizing that such power are checks on his sovereignty? (In fact, doesn’t this reduce their sovereignty to, as Land puts it, “a strictly formal or contractual usage of ‘control’ to designate the exclusive right to free disposal or commercial alienation“?)

For instance, the estates of realm didn’t arise from nowhere, they weren’t the mere will of some enlightened relu-maker. Their formalization – as a constitution – was supposed to recognize the actual structure of power that underlay sovereignty. Once again, constitutionalism is simply this recognition and formalization of reality (and, possibly, the will to better adapt to it).

Even sovereign stockholders are better off if their power if formally checked, than if the real checks remain invisible to them. Only thus can they operate realistically on such reality and ensure loyalty is there when needed (fundamentally, constitutionalism is a cybernetic point).

So, if Moldbug in fact did not advocate for the formalization fo the division of power between stockholders, management and customers (and, as AUK points, “suppliers, neighbours, and competitors”), by his very criteria of formalism, he should have. Of course, such internal inconsistency is not what it seem from the Open Letter, where he points such formalism as the why corporations work better than governments:

Call a controller model with a single shared concept of responsibility coherent. How, with an impossibly fuzzy word like “responsibility,” can we round up a large number of intelligent individuals who share a common definition? The task seems impossible. And our whole design relies on this coherent back-end.

Actually, there’s one way to do it. We can define responsibility in financial terms. If we think of California as a profitable corporation, a capital asset whose purpose is to maximize its production of cash, we have a definition of responsibility which is not only precise and unambiguous, but indeed quantitative.

Moreover, this definition solves a second problem: how do we select the controllers? If our controllers are the parties to whom the profits are actually paid, and their voting power is proportional to the fractions they receive, they have not only a shared definition of responsibility, but an incentive to apply that definition in practice.

(…)

Think about this for a minute. Steve is responsible to his controllers, who evaluate his performance based on his stewardship of one asset: California. The value of California is the sum of the value of its shares. If one goes up or down, so does the other.

Which is worth more? California, or California infested by Jew-eating crocodiles? Which can be made to produce more revenue? The former, clearly. Jews pay taxes. Crocodile dung doesn’t. And from the perspective of either Steve or the Jews, what is the difference between crocodiles and stormtroopers? At least the former will work for free.

I’ll state it again, because it seems to be the central point of Outer (Liberal?) NRx in this regard: if the West is failing now, it is more because it has abandoned constitutionalism (and hence realism in government administration) in favor of mass politics (demotism), than because it stuck to that.

neocameralism and constitutions

so, recently I noticed a whole lotta hate for Land’s constitutionalism (surging after this came from the vast abrupt). reactionary future is not pleased with “liberal neoreaction”. anomaly UK is still not convinced either.

their contention, from what I grasped, is “sovereignty cannot be effectively divided, only distributed (exponentially)”. constitutions are bullshit, men take decisions, not algorithms (ultimately). trying to do so only generates disorder (anarchy) and parasitism. [there’s also some babbling on the “anthropological error” of individualism, but I’ll deal with that elsewhere]

obviously, not wasting their time reading such left liberal bullshit of cybernetics and spontaneous order (damn hippies!), they were interested in the morally superior works of Thomas Carlyle and DeJouvenal. only dirty leftists such as me and Mr. werewolf Land could suggest a man’s Will is not sovereign, per se.

all the arcane bullshit about the functioning of the universe and horrorism that accompanies XS’s writing are not mere musings (I mean, seriously). mythology helps us think (as this elderly French says).

The real — free or fated — thing wears a face, as an allotted role within the world“.  remove the faces and you see the underlying processes that actually run things. Henry VI, Henry VII, Louis XV, etc are avatars, interfaces, symptoms, not causes, of material (efficient) processes. we are gene machines. computers are bit machines. machines connected to machines. machines interrupting the flows of other machines. the mouth machine and the milk machine. anus and shit.

this alone is already enough to show the whole “sovereignty conserves” thing is either misguided or misused. it’s not possible, ever, to have a man making decisions on his own, unchecked by anyone or anything else. there are faceless things hiding in reality, and they are already  machinic, algorithmic, automatic. the men involved are rather instruments in the hands (claws) of such fanged noumena than sovereign willing persons.

in such a machinic reality, power is an idea, and ideas are primordially checked by their effects. power is selected to check itself, because of its inherent economic quality: to survive, increase and improve, power needs to identify its reality with the outside. it needs to calculate its odds of survival, needs to develop an algorithm of the workings of the wolves of Gnon, before they find where it hides. intelligence optimization demands a will-to-think.

think of this as the “fundamental problem of loyalty”: “will the generals obey? will the soldiers shoot?“. from the (surely little) i know of Moldbug, neocameralism seeks to replace the old cameralist trust-demanding “loyalty to the king” with the trustless capitalist joint-stock corporation. why? because corporations work better. it survives longer, it grows and it improves on itself. it reaches cybernetic closure: no nodes more controlled than controlling. stockholders choose CEOs, thus checking them. CEOs choose marketing, checking consumers. consumers choose products, checking stockholders. corporations work because they’re checked, not in spite of it. without such checks and balances, there’s no alignment of companies and clients interests.

constitutionalism is merely a recognition of this reality. RF tells us Moldbug is obviously against constitutions:

“In reality, no sovereign can be subject to law. This is a political perpetual motion machine. Law is not law unless it is judged and enforced. And by whom? For example, if you think a supreme court with judicial review can make government subject to law, you are obviously unfamiliar with the sordid history of American constitutional jurisprudence. All your design has achieved is to make your supreme court sovereign. Indeed if the court had only one justice, a proper title for that justice would be “King.” Sorry, kid, you haven’t violated the conservation of anything.”

well, if it is so, why have stockholders at all? isn’t it “imperium in imperio”? here‘s Moldbug stating right away that sovcorps should have division of power:

“A responsible, effective government has three basic parts. One is the front end: all the people who report to Steve. Two is the middle: Steve himself. Three is the back end: the people Steve is responsible to. (…)

Call the back end the controllers. The controllers have one job: deciding whether or not Steve is managing responsibly. If not, they need to fire Steve and hire a new Steve. (Marc Andreesen, perhaps.)

This design requires a substantial number of reasonably cogent controllers, whose collective opinion is likely to be trustworthy, and who share a single concept of responsibility. (…)”

power divided not only between two, but three bodies. and not few, but a “substantial number” of controllers. so much for imperium.

why, oh why? because Moldbug is a realist. he knows that a power that does not check itself, dies:

“The CEO and the monarch owe their positions to a law which all can obey, and those who choose to obey the law are naturally a winning coalition against those who choose to break it. The dictator’s position is the result of his primacy in a pyramid of criminals. This structure is naturally unstable.”

men cannot choose at will. there is the unwritten constitution of that which functions better, and if he fails to acknowledge it, he dies an ugly death. patches in the patchwork are checked by natural selection: those that thrive, survive. power is primordially checked, by reality.

in fact, the history of the modern downfall of monarchism can be seen in this light, as a failure of absolutist kings to understand the economic nature of their power. Alexis de Tcqueville’s main thesis in his works is that the French Revolution stemmed first and foremost from the increasing centralization of power undertaken by the french monarchy. the failure to recognize and bring the power of the estates together in a balanced system is at the core of the demotic nightmare that followed.

similar points can be made about pretty much all other modern revolutions: the Glorious Revolution happened to protect the (aristocratic) parliament from being dissolved, the American Revolution happened to stop the king from not recognizing the factual economic sovereignty of the colonies, the Russian Revolution happened to show the czar that he can’t just put his brother as general without verifying if there is loyalty in the lower echelons of the army. the reverse is also true, Japanese quasi-mythical single royal lineage has always been a sham of “absolutism”, lasting mostly because of its ability to be checked. even the much heralded Chinese monarchy lasted only when the emperors were checked by palace checks that made them fulfill their duties. responsibility is difficult.

the conflation of democracy insurgence and division of power apparently happened because the kings chose to make sure the only way to check them was beheading them. a Schelling point arose in which both popular sovereignty and division of power could both be believed.  (Anomaly UK points out that the kings believed liberal demotic discourse. if only had they had someone to tell them to quit it.)

it’s important to remember as well that the Cathedral won. it consistently won over all absolutist regimes. it survived. that it is failing as of now is more a signal of its abandonment of its (very successful) doctrine of checks-and-balances than the contrary. if anyone wants to topple it, it takes – realistically – more division of power.

reality rules. and if reality selects constitutions, if they are more efficient than other options, well then, Kings are to go. let’s test it, shall we?