Bloody shovel

Don't call it a spade

She really just said that

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.


19 responses to “She really just said that

  1. Mitchell Porter March 12, 2013 at 23:07

    I suppose an interview with an outspoken American anti-democrat could be comparably shocking to ordinary Chinese. Maybe Peter Thiel?

  2. SDL March 12, 2013 at 23:53

    We know that status-whores addicted to altruism will not think twice about throwing their own country under the bus (or nationality, or race, or family) for their own bizarre ends, which are, in many cases, ultimately inscrutable. However, most of these same individuals will think much longer and harder about throwing their business interests under the bus. Look at someone like Noam Chomsky. He rages against the government and media all day, but whenever anyone points out that the university that writes his checks also gets tons of money from the Military Industrial Complex, he backs off with all sorts of platitudes about how “someone has to be the conscious on campus yada yada yada.”

    Would a neo-cameral state protect against instability forever? Of course not. You say that politics (the will to power) is inevitable, and while I agree in theory, I think that the entire point of neo-cameralism is to create a culture of business rather than of politics, and yes, I think that power-grabs in a business culture are much less likely to foment instability at any given point. The elites rule in the name of “the customers” or “the shareholders,” not “the people.” A slight but important difference.

    Neocameralism, or any different political arrangement is not going to work until the elite stops using demotism as a means of gaining status.

    So, should the ideal be a political system in which a) all elite status-whoring and power-grabbing is ‘internal’ to the elite, b) not reliant on rallying the mob, and c) in fact always kept in check by a desire to see ‘external’ stability because without it the elites won’t be able to status-whore or power-grab at all? I still think the business model works: When was the last time you saw customers rioting at an Apple store, or middle managers staging a protest, simply because of some upper-level management power play?

    Of course, I could be wrong. I’m not wedded to the neo-cameral idea. And I agree with you that politics (the will to power) is inevitable if there is power to be had, and that neo-cameralism doesn’t change this situation too much. So what kind of system constrains the elites’ will to power?

    • Nick B. Steves March 13, 2013 at 17:14

      So what kind of system constrains the elites’ will to power?

      That’s like the $64 trillion question, isn’t it?

      What constrains it within General Electric or Exxon-Mobil?

      How do huge, profitable, effective, and non-psychotic multinational corporations differ from sovereign corporations? If that difference is small enough, or somehow may be made small enough, then the model (or corporate governance) should work for the sovereign. It may not be absolutely permanent, or absolutely secure, but it would seem to provide a much lower probability of descending into bloody chaos.

  3. SDL March 13, 2013 at 00:00

    On a somewhat related topic: Is anyone in the reacto-sphere actively studying Orania in South Africa?,_Northern_Cape

    Here is a group of white people who have certainly “exited,” to use NL’s terminology, as much as it is possible on that continent. From what I’ve read, Orania at the moment would be the wet dream of any Vulgar Marxist or National Socialist. Of course, they are probably an economic dead-end (they won’t be terra-forming Mars any time soon), but I think they are essentially a lab for post-democratic society. We could learn a lot from the way they fail, and the way power plays out there.

  4. RS March 13, 2013 at 01:37

    I may actually have it all wrong but this is what I recall:

    You might want to search ‘airline pilots’ or ‘licensed pilots’. I thought at one point MM wanted them to vote, to seat (for life, I guess) the corporate board at whose pleasure the CEO would serve. If so, it comes down to a kind of very narrow-franchise republicanism, with a very large degree of insulation between the (few) franchisees and the actual power effectors.

    I seem to recall that formalizing all existing US power into shares (Harvard, NYT etc) had more to do with pensioning off all those mofos in order to clear the field for a new world. They would be required to take their pensions, proportional to their formal power, and cease political activity. Formalism may also have been a more abstract principle about how it is generally better to explicitly recognize power, eg the fact that Harvard wields power, not just ‘influence’.

    I’m not sure there was ever a proposal to formalize US power and then have Harvard, NYT etc vote by power-shares to seat the corporate board. Maybe there was.

    In any case, the obvious question is who will ‘objectively’ quantitate NYT’s power during formalization. I think the answer was that it could only be a dictator appointed pro tem, called the Receiver.

  5. Handle March 13, 2013 at 01:39

    I think this is too dismissive of the advantages of corporate / military command governing structures (at least, relative to what purports to be egalitarian democracy now). “Stability” is secondary to “rational” and “practical” as opposed to, well, again, what we’ve got now. The “for profit” or “for victory” motives provide the quantitative cynosure. The “for power, popularly-derived” model produces the delusional dysfunctions with which we are, alas, all too familiar.

    The Neocameralist-Patchwork-Hyperfederalist (his term) ideal can be analogized to the independent landlords of a bunch of large buildings in competition with each other for tenants and rents. The elites each get their own command, and they compete with each other at a distance in terms of success with those they “rule”, “as their glory and their burden”. Their insane appeals to the masses are disciplined by the constraints of market reality.

    Militarism is also constrained by the need to maintain security against a determined adversary and achieve victory over a motivated enemy. Countries occasionally go through ideological upheavals / nervous breakdowns and try to implement those ideas in their militaries. Usually, and in short order, reality intervenes, and their armed forces end up doing things, sometimes through independent rediscovery, the same way everybody else does.

    “Best Practices” as objective natural law given the state of the ecosystem – in the same way you’d see similar shapes if you told engineers around the world to try and make an automobile as aerodynamic as possible subject to a large number of other constraints.

    In fact, one wouldn’t expect much “stability”. One would expect the dynamic, “creative destruction”, of the market economy, with lots of volatile give and take reminiscent of relative positions in the stock exchange.

    I prefer not to be wed to a strict, singular idea called “Neocameralism.” I do think that most visions that improve upon the current structure share certain beneficial features. Socially-destructive elite infighting and desire for power and status is not going away any time soon, it’s true. But it’s not crazy to think that some systems exacerbate the problem and amplify the costs, while others would be better at suppression and mitigation. It isn’t entirely fanciful or theoretical. We can watch how corporations and militaries behave. They have their own share of internal elite dynamics, but, I submit, that they tend to be much better at controlling and productively channeling these tendencies than the current political order.

    • spandrell March 13, 2013 at 04:55

      If Military structures were superior juntas would never fall.
      There was this good point on Bueno de Mesquita’s book about economic growth depending in a fair amount of people having some level of access to the power structure. Having a small elite brings you North Korea.

  6. RS March 13, 2013 at 01:42

    The replacement for abassiyah, cohesion, was basically supposed to be cryptographic weapons locks. The Board would not need cohesion because of its small size and self-interest, while the army-police would not need cohesion because their weapons get de-activated by the Board anytime they fail to adhere to the Board. Like many, I pretty much found this idea more scary than fascinating.

    • Thibodeaux March 13, 2013 at 17:15

      And I found the idea of cryptographic weapon locks absurd. As I put it somewhere else: you might as well talk about putting cryptographic weapon locks on hammers.

  7. Peter A. Taylor March 13, 2013 at 05:15

    My take on Moldbug is here:
    I have a section on Formalism. The short version is that Moldbug conflates the advantages of an exit system with the consequences of a potential tyrant being secure in his power. But these things have little or nothing to do with one another.

  8. Greying Wanderer March 13, 2013 at 12:31

    “So what kind of system constrains the elites’ will to power?”

    There will always be sociopathic individuals and often they will come together in groups around an idealogy or system which if successful would be “good for the sociopaths”.

    Everyone else wants political institutions that can get required communal tasks done while at the same time providing as much sociopath-protection as possible.

    Democracy is one attempt at that kind of sociopath-protection. So far i’d say the Swiss are the winners at coming up with a form of it that produces results while still having a lot of sociopath protection – at least for a small country. In a large country i’d say the best *attempt* so far was the US.

    Obviously it didn’t succeed but i think it’s easy enough to pinpoint some of the places where it failed and therefore what would need to be changed in any future attempt – if there is one

    1) Thinking the judiciary didn’t need democratic checks and balances thus allowing that arm of government to subvert the other arms.

    2) The power of new technology like television to unbalance the system by giving huge power over democracy to media institutions outside of democratic control.

    3) The excessive power of the banks.

  9. rightsaidfred March 13, 2013 at 23:18

    All politics may be elite infighting, but the people raise up their elites.

    The Scandinavian elite seem a little less sociopathic than what one finds in Africa, ( for example.

    But then the elites start to elect a new people, so I’m back to not knowing how to keep the system stable.

    • Greying Wanderer April 6, 2013 at 20:12

      “so I’m back to not knowing how to keep the system stable”

      The elites need to be closely related by blood to the people (and not be sociopaths).

  10. Abathur March 14, 2013 at 20:13

    Universities have no true intellectual competition zones. Select all intellectual elites by success in government-approved Major League Gaming sessions in whatever’s popular nowadays. Daily competitive gaming sessions will tamp down the drive for power in other areas, lower landscaping costs. Outlet for human daydreams of success through dissimulation, strategems, maneuverings, lies, and deceptions. May be the only real enforced team dynamic spindly and weak electrical engineering nerds have in life. Intellectual and physical tiring after such dream projection session makes students less active, more likely to focus on real and practical things than tech baubles as status markers.

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  13. KHJ October 15, 2016 at 18:37

    “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”

    You know what Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia average IQs are, right?

    Your outburst on anti-Chinese discrimination comes off as ludicrous.
    I mean, you’d sure find no fault with Israel welcoming seven thousand Ethiopian Jews and sterilizing them so their 70-IQ genes won’t spread. Same for Palestinians.

    When “discrimination” means that the strong push their boots over the weak’s heads still stronger, you find no fault with it.

    “Discrimination” becomes a problem only when the weak try to resist the strong’s dominance.

    Here we have the 144.45 superbrain who, as soon as its confirmation bias requires it, makes itself oblivious to the fact Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia are much less discriminated against than Malaysian and Indonesian would be if they were allowed to move into China (for anything than cleansing their rich’s toilets, that is). The Tibetans and Uyghur know about this.

    But they are losers. Cannon fodder. You can’t discriminate against them, as they are nihil (and to discriminate a transitive verb).

    Imagine a subset of ethnic Malaysian and Indonesian, a couple of millions of them, get a 115 average IQ over night, move into China, and start monopolizing the economy and political power.
    They wouldn’t be allowed to, that wouldn’t be allowed to come into reality, not 1% of how the converse is allowed to in Indonesia and Malesia.

    Or maybe they’d succeed, who knows?
    What’s beyond doubt is, if they did, Spandrell would substitute them for its deep heart’s current occupiers. New winners for old winners.

    Because if you are a commensurate winner, you don’t just associate with the other winners, esteem them; you love them.

    My way to identify winners on the human stage is to check how effortlessly they resort to double standards.
    The more they do it without knowledge, the more they are born winners.
    Too bad we don’t have WQ standardized tests and measurements: or do we?

    • spandrell October 15, 2016 at 19:09

      So what? The Chinese would probably be nasty to the Malays if they could. But the fact is the Chinese are legally discriminated in Malaysia. You may argue it’s fair or necessary . But the Chinese sure don’t like it. Why should they?

      Nothing I said could even remotely be called an “outburst”. I do think Malaysia would be nicer if it had more Chinese and less Malays, but I don’t really care that much. . I’m not very fond of the sort of southeastern Chinese that lives there. So chill.

      Given your sloppy argument and obsession about a foreign country I’m guessing you’re Muslim. Well let me take this chance to prove to my audience that I’m not for surrender. Go fuck yourself.

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