A while ago I had the mother of all chats with Nick Land in our local classy bar in Shanghai.
It felt like we just reached the singularity just by ourselves. Might have been the whisky though. Yeah it probably was that.
Perhaps because I’m shy, but I tend to overcompensate the awkwardness of meeting strangers by talking too much. And the usual reaction to someone who just doesn’t shut up is agreeing and letting me talk. I guess it’s also me being the junior partner, i.e. I talk more mundane stuff that he can relate to. It’s easier for the conversation to go on by me talking about China, than not Nick Land talking about Deleuze and Gattari, or the nature of time.
Still today we had a pretty even-handed debate, on tribalism and the singularity and expat life and all that. We actually reach several end points where no further debate was possible. When you start talking on macroeconomics you know there’s little real data to throw around, and although speculating with scotch is fun, it’s seldom productive.
There’s tons of posts to be written to elaborate all we talked about, but it was all quite abstract and can wait really.
He did ask me to write about one of our most salient disagreements, which is about the political theory of Moldbug, i.e. Neocameralism. Or Formalism, or whatever.
Now I was a late comer to the Moldbug party, and forgive me if I’m wrong, but the idea of Neocameralism is to abolish democratic politics, and actually politics qua power conflicts at all by formalizing the power structure on any polity through a corporate form. The people with actual political power becoming shareholders, and investing their power in a sovereign CEO who would rule by his own discretion, only to answer to the shareholders. All non-shareholding citizens would be absolutely deprived of power or freedom of political speech, and any attempt to subvert the state is to be answered through The Machinegun.
I talked about Neocameralism as been all but debunked, and even Moldbug himself doesn’t talk much about it anymore. Nick Land was startled, and asked for clarification. Is Neocameralism debunked?
Well, isn’t it? Isn’t it patently absurd from the face of it? I don’t have the time nor the energy to back to browsing Unqualified Reservations and check out the comments threads, where smart commenters like Vladimir or TGGP showed how political societies simply don’t work like that. Moldbug was fond of raising the examples of Singapore and Dubai.
Well there’s the issue about Singapore and Dubai being city-states. City states by definition are not countries, nor really independent. They are parasitic nodes that live off the money of the surrounding countries. Normally it’s because of lower taxes, or a better financial system. That’s by definition not scalable. Singapore doesn’t live off the wealth itself generates. Singapore is a low-tax shopping mall. But mostly it is an investment fund. It manages the money of the SE Asia Chinese community, which are the dominant market minority of each country around. Which also happen to be shitholes without a functioning financial system. Of course Singapore wasn’t easy, and to attract all that capital it does offer top-notch services.
This also requires total political stability; you don’t want your money managers you trust to change because of spurious political arrangements. And yes Singapore has a very tight political system where dissent is strongly discouraged. You don’t get machine gunned, but if you protest, the government takes you to court for slander, and the court imposes a fine that bankrupts you, so you shut-up. Of course this only works because Singapore is not an enemy of the Cathedral, else the CIA will just fund the guy in aeternam so he keeps on protesting. It is a pretty smart system.
But of course Singapore is not stable because of its political arrangements. That’s only part of it. The greater part of it is that: life is pretty good for citizens, and people are very conscious of the superiority of their polity. They just have to look around, see how they are surrounded by Indonesia and Malaysia, shitholes where their ethnic cousins are discriminated against. So there’s a strong emotional component to Singaporeans obedience. The system is well set, but that is never enough.
As I see it, the great following that Moldbug acquired was because of his quintessentially programmer idea of having a STABLE system. A secure system immune to destabilization from outside. The idea, which I read explicitly stated at Anomaly UK is that all that’s wrong with democratic politics is the result of the fight for power, i.e. if the power was fixed and unchangeable, the people wouldn’t fight for it, and all problems would be gone. Political instability is THE thing to fix.
Well good luck with that. You can’t abolish politics. It’s like greed. Or the sex drive. It’s a basic human instinct. Of course you can set up a structure that minimizes the conflict that the will to power generates. The same way that monogamous marriage minimizes conflict for sex. But that doesn’t mean that married people don’t fuck around. Or that business people scam their associates.
Human institutions were set up to control basic human instincts, and they do that by harnessing the controlling power of the social fabric. You need a society to make norms stick. Marriage used to work, because if you reneged on your vows the village would ostracize you and your family. Until recently, all international business was done by ethnic communities who could count on each other to uphold their word. You need cohesion.
In the same way, a power structure to be stable needs cohesion. Of course having a smart system helps. But if the power holders are at each others throats, the system won’t last. We used to have kings. Then parliaments. Then limited suffrage. Then universal suffrage for all males over 25. Now in Ecuador they gave the right to vote to 16 year old kids! Why? Because the incumbent feared losing the election and knew he could count on the stupid children his schools are pumping out.
All political change is about elite infighting. All of it. All revolutions, coups, civil wars, all were about some small power holder wanting the place of the big power holder. How is Formalism going to change that? It can’t. The cohesion of the power holders is not something that you can buy or design. It’s a cultural trait. It’s not about money, or interest. Believe it or not, many or the elites don’t care about money. They don’t even care about power.
Beyond Singapore, is it thought that one of the best examples of a solid power structure is that of the Communist Party of China. It’s huge, it’s been through a lot, and it has the extremely tough job of managing 1.3 billion of the smartest people on earth. Yet here they are, proudly censoring the internet and filling modern megalopolis with hammers and sickles. The elite is also making massive amounts of money and they have no intention of loosening their hold on power or wealth. You’d think that the CCP is perfectly invulnerable to any democratic threat.
Well look at what the richest woman of China has to say to the official media of the official enemy of her homeland:
Yes, oh yeah she said that. This Chinese billionaire just throw her whole nation and political system under the bus, and said, to the everlasting delight of that insufferable puritan busybody hag, that what the Chinese nation craves, is democracy. Not civil rights, or liberties, mind you. Democracy. And nobody even asked her! Look at the interviewers, who look like they just won at the lottery. She said it! Wew!
Well let me make clear that what she said is pure horseshit. What Chinese people crave is money, and welfare, and perhaps the hanging of all those corrupt billionaires such as herself. Nobody gives a shit about democracy. But this billionaire bitch did throw a grenade on her own countries polity. A huge pile on shit on the system that gave her her fortune. This woman right now is a shareholder in a moldbuggian Formalist system. She has all the incentives in the world to support it.
So why did she say that? Why did she willingly threw a dagger into the stable system? Because she wants to be cool. She wants status. You might say she wants more power, and perhaps there’s something to it. But I think she just wants to feel better with herself, to feel equal to her cool American friends in her support for socialjustice.
See, there’s always an n amount of bitches (and assholes) like this in any elite. It doesn’t matter how stable your system is, if the culture is against it, the same elite will fracture and attack the system. It’s not a matter of incentives. The thing about power is that you can’t just assume that people with power will want to conserve it. Or will want more. Some will hold to it like it’s all they have. Some will crave more and more power and will fight for it consequences be damned. Some others will willingly trade power for other social goods.
Kingdoms were stable when the King was power-thirsty and sought to accumulate power in his person. But then other Kings went soft and were used by their family or associates. Or some annoying eunuch who learned how to manipulate it. The only way for power to be solid is for people to want power. The problem is you never know who is going to want it.
Here we have someone who wants power: Sheryl Sandberg. This bitch has made billions in her career, has the spotlight for working at a trendy place like Facebook. She could just relax and funnel money to the Republican party to keep her taxes down. But no, what does she do? Right a book on how bossy women are natural leaders, and how the US needs a women president Right Now. Like… herself, for example.
For all the talk on the problems of HBD denialism, blank slatism, demotism, wishful thinking, how are those systemic problems at all? US elections have been analyzed, computerized and optimized in such an efficient way that the elections pretty much turn out in any way the Democratic campaign wants them too. The media parrots the official line without even having to force them. For all purposes, the USA, the same as China, is a tightly run plutocracy with negligible popular input.
The reason we have blank slatism or welfare is not that the people force it through the ballot. We have it because the elite has constant infighting, and eventually they always end up relying on the people. They might rely on the mob’s physical strength, like in the old days, or just as a rhetorical point. Nobody wants to be a nasty bully anti-common people. And that’s because blank-slatism is the only narrative we have.
Neocameralism, or any different political arrangement is not going to work until the elite stops using demotism as a means of gaining status. And that won’t happen because HBD is taboo, and for good reason.