Bloody shovel

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Clausewitz, Lenin, Robin Dunbar

Power is fascinating. It shouldn’t be though. Nothing good comes from the fascination towards power, especially for those who don’t have it. But we can’t help it. We are a political animal. Which means we share a common descent with these fellas down here:

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We being monkeys, we aren’t really fascinated with power, in abstract. After all it’s quite hard to even define what ‘power’ is. What does it really mean to have power? What does power do? How does it work? One of the first signs a word/concept is too vague is that it doesn’t translate well. In Chinese ‘power’ generally translates as 力量, but political power is translated as 權力.  It doesn’t help that 權 generally translates as ‘right’. As in 人權, human rights. And that’s a recent coining, borrowed from Western political science jargon. You’d think Chinese would have their own ideas about power after 2300 years of centralized empire, but they don’t have a clue.

So most people don’t have a good understanding of what power is. What we do know is powerful people. Those are everywhere, and God are we obsessed with them. Fascinated. They’re everywhere, and everybody’s talking about them. We are fascinated with the powerful. How did they get it? What do they want it for? And how do they use it?

And oftentimes, rather than fascination, we are more like mystified. Bemused. Stupefied. What the hell are they doing? I guess that is the common feeling on the reactosphere. All politically aware people have fantasies of what they would do if they had power. And theories of what power is for and why people seek it. But then you look around. And you see Jeff Bezos giving money to a sodomy promotion group. You see Finland’s government paying to have Somalis living the 60th parallel. You see George Soros buying shares of Herbalife.

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I have gay friends

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And then it strikes you. When you, politically awakened man, think about power, you have an abstract framework of what power does, and what it should do. You have your ideas on how society should be organized, and think that politics is about applying those ideas in absolute terms. But on closer inspection, it doesn’t work like that. George Soros didn’t buy shares of Herbalife because he has abstract beliefs on how the economy works and believes Herbalife is great value. Or he has abstract mathematical models that say that Herbalife will make him a lot of money. He has enough money anyway. Soros is probably buying Herbalife shares to fuck with Bill Ackman, another disagreeable Jewish banksta who seems to have very few friends.

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I have few friends

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Come on, no way billions are being moved around just for this petty high school-ish emotional shit, you might say. But that’s how it works. The closer you look at the circles of power, you see that in the end, they’re just people. And people like soap operas. Oh yeah they do. If the world gets to evolve out of the quagmire we are suffering today, and the study of human nature progresses in a wiser future, what the future humans will remember won’t be Hayek or Dawkins, or Pinker. The saint patron of the new political science will be Robin Dunbar. He showed us that people just can’t possibly care about more than a bunch of people. Which means that all the people that you don’t know are by definition not people. Alrenous, which is not precisely the most neurotypical of the reactosphere, was superb in expressing this idea in a comment at Foseti’s some months ago:

Bernanke doesn’t care if the peasants are getting into bitcoin. He won’t care until someone he knows personally wants to go all-in. That is, until someone his monkeybrain identifies as a human and not an abstraction. Equivalently, someone who can legitimately threaten his portfolio by buying into bitcoin and out of whatever he’d prefer.

That’s exactly right. The billions of people who are affected by the global elite’s decisions aren’t real for them. They’re just an abstraction, a bunch of numbers that their advisors (who aren’t really human either) cook up for them once a week. George Soros doesn’t care what Herbalife does, if it’s a real business or yet another financial Ponzi. All his brain can register is that this Bill Ackman prick, this son of a bitch who occupies 1/150 of Soros’s social brain, he has to be taught a lesson. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending the guy. All evidence says he is quite the insufferable prick. But I think it’s interesting that most of the stuff that goes on in the upper spheres of society is just the result of the most basic friend/foe calculations.

I mean, why would Al Gore whore his WASP aristocratic self to get 30 million from Apple? The soulless freak of Al Gore already got 100 million bucks from selling to Al Jazeera his expertise in extorting cable companies. 100 million bucks. How much more money does he want? Does he really need that much? The guy is into raping menopausal masseuses, he doesn’t need much money for that. Bill Gates, who has some money, famously said that he will give his children 10 million each, and spend the rest in whatever. And that makes a lot of sense. 10 million bucks is a lot of money. You can live a very comfortable life, not needing to work at all for your entire life. As long as you refrain from conspicuous consumption, of course.

Which is exactly what Bill Gates is doing with his Foundation, where he solves™ world problems because he cares. Yes, he cares about all those poor people. That’s why he declared that Mexico is much better off with Carlos Slim, and that’s why he’s still filing patents for the patent trolls at Intellectual Ventures.

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I have rich friends

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Hey, he’s inconsistent! He’s a goddamn hypocrite!, you say. Oh but he’s not. He is consistent in the only way that’s important: he’s accurately following his brain’s friend/foe circuit. He has many liberal friends, so he starts a charity foundation to impress them. He’s friends with Carlos Slim, so he compliments him in his blog. And he’s friends with the slimy rat Nathan Myhrvold, so he helps him with his business. When any of us imagine what we would do with 50 billion, we all envision this grand, coherent schemes where we try to attain our desires and help shape the world in an absolute way. But that’s not how it works. All politics are local. All people are tribal. All lives are soap operas. All it ever counts is who are your friends. And who are your foes. Who-whom.

Somebody (I think it was Vladimir) posted this link to a paper by David Friedman, where he argues that all political arrangements evolve from the tiny Schelling points which arise in small-scale interactions between individuals, which are then memorized, ritualized in tradition, and then grow to apply to bigger groups of people. Apply some historical quirks to it, such as class dynamics (the lower classes always ape higher-class mores), and you get that all beliefs are just the application of the random Schelling points which have arisen to regulate the interaction between elites. Two rich fuckers meet at a club in London in 1750. One gives to charity, the other doesn’t. The less charitable guy is impressed by the charitable one, so defers to his superior status. The idea spreads that being charitable gives you better status, so it starts to become an integral part of elite status jockeying. Fast forward 250 years and you have the NYT shaming all those who don’t accept transexuals being able to choose their sex at will.

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I have no male friends

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And that’s all there is to it. The only reality is the social circle. And what we call society is just an aggregation of overlapping social circles. As it happens in most social circles, extroverted sociopaths tend to gain power. Scale that up onto society at large and you get a club of vapid shallow extrovert sociopaths who have stumbled into power and simply use it influence their friends and screw with their foes. And the rest of us are just an abstraction.

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37 responses to “Clausewitz, Lenin, Robin Dunbar

  1. Joan of Argghh! August 19, 2013 at 03:41

    Just damn, but that’s the stuff. I’ve been saying that there is no hypocrisy in the Media, for much the same reason: the power base has shifted from the consumer to the crony. You’ve done a masterful work here, condensing the complete twitterverse complaint of the powerless into a handy catch-all of Truth: it’s who you know.

  2. KK August 19, 2013 at 20:37

    Heh, we quipped here in Finland that the reason why our treasonous elite were eagerly going for the landmine ban was so that they wouldn’t have to answer any embarrassing questions from their old activist friends – who were now leading their own, mineless Euro countries – in EU conventions. Reference group uber alles.

    (The obvious backstory is that a shitload of EU leaders have their roots in the 60’s student movements)

  3. asdf August 19, 2013 at 23:14

    The more I think about it, why would we expect people to understand basic statistics? In what era of human history was understanding such a thing evolutionarily beneficial? And even if it was that probably only applied to the tiny portion of society directly working on such things.

    We should not expect anyone to understand mass society at all.

    • spandrell August 20, 2013 at 05:48

      It’s not so much understanding as simply giving a shit. One thinks Bill Gates is smart enough to have abstract morals. But he’d rather have a beer with Myhrvold.

  4. Anonymous August 20, 2013 at 09:52

    I think in the eyes of the ruling class, we’re both an abstraction and a foe

  5. cyder534 August 20, 2013 at 10:48

    This is brilliant, Spandrell. The implications of Dunbar’s work (if correct), are myriad. Whenever someone turns round to me and demands that his/her humanitarian concern for unknown people is ‘realer’-than-real, it just ends up reaking of deontology and cathedral status-sniffing.

    A post on the implications of dunbar on far-right/left political movements would be (damning) interesting.

    MW

    • spandrell August 20, 2013 at 11:19

      Thanks.

      Moldbug back in the day said that leftism is a social club. The Komintern surely saw plenty of sex, hate, drama, as did the early NSDAP with all those gay orgies held by Ernst Röhm. For all I know Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to push south instead of for Moscow because he couldn’t stand the general who proposed that. There’s a reason historians until Marx focused on the personalities of the powerful.

      • cyder534 August 20, 2013 at 22:23

        Am I getting you right: Hegelian World-Historical individuals have a trickle-down/sideways, butterfly effect?

          • Mark Warburton August 21, 2013 at 13:17

            Well, it’s the eternal dilemma for me. To what extent do historical individuals affect history – are they the mini-motors? or, as we’ve been looking at, is it paradigm shifts in the cultural-structural motor of history that dictates motion?(e.g. The Cathedral). So I’m torn. Perhaps there’s a half way? Like genes vs culture, the answer is probably in the grey area. I just found Baumann on the Holocaust, and Foucault in general, very convincing regarding this quandary.

            • Scharlach August 22, 2013 at 00:22

              I would rarely recommend him under any other context, but Bruno Latour’s latest stuff about “monads” and the sociology of Gabriel Tarde might be interesting to dig into. Latour and Tarde ditch the whole macro/micro history and try to find a third way with network theory, which allows individuals to have major impacts on the whole (as Spandrell said, how can they not?) without necessarily doing away with the larger superstructure. I don’t fully understand it yet, but essentially, Latour argues that the individual is the sum of his network connections and attributes.

              • Mark Warburton August 22, 2013 at 09:25

                Thanks for that. Heard of both, but have read neither – will get on it soon. I wonder where the ‘positive’ side of agency factors in techno-commercialism? If we’re ‘hosts’ to the signal, agency appears more appropriate (i.e. stronger) in the philosophies of humanism, positive rights, and central planning. I guess there is no quick answer. Goulding via Szabo pointed to the Kolmogorov complexity, I think it’s relevant here. A proper tangled web.

              • thinkingabout it August 25, 2013 at 23:29

                This makes great sense. I was thinking recently that the graphs of top 100000 people by wealth, as well as graphs of unrelated things like number of readers enjoyed by the top 100 blogs, or absolute energy released by the top 100 earthquakes, are all eerily similar. They are all logarithmic scale graphs, following something akin to the Pareto 80-20 principle. They have a long flat tail on the left, and on the extreme right end, there is a steep ascent, nearly vertical towards the end.
                The only sensible interpretation is that being nearer the top of the wealth pyramid makes it even easier to move up, since every action you perform is magnified proportional according to how high you are on the wealth scale. So if you have two equally hard working individuals, one born poor and one born rich, the poor one will remain poor while the rich one will probably be orders of magnitude richer than his parents.
                I am sure power also works the same way. Your exertions on your social circle go much further when you are already powerful.
                Makes me sympathetic to Marxism when I think about it. Or aristocracy. The only thing that stands discredited is the “all men are created equal and if you work hard you can achieve everything you desire” crowd.

            • spandrell August 22, 2013 at 17:12

              Well people’s individual behavior does depend greatly on the general conditions of their time, so there’s that for materialism. But I don’t think there’s much doubt that some historical events really are contingent, almost random. There’s such things as close calls in history.

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  7. Thales August 20, 2013 at 23:40

    “I think you’ll find the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money.” — Mary Colum

  8. 7x7 August 21, 2013 at 19:36

    This is one of the best posts you’ve had. Echos of Helmut Schoeck’s Envy, which everyone should read if they haven’t.
    Keep it up.

  9. Zippy August 21, 2013 at 21:19

    Pardon my ignorance but who is the quasi-woman who has no male friends?

  10. Greying Wanderer August 21, 2013 at 22:20

    Very plausible. One of the things that would follow is human societies have got too big for our Dunbar limits. Swiss cantons ftw.

  11. mittelwerk August 22, 2013 at 16:56

    dunbar’s number applies to any social grouping under competitive pressures. but power is when the personal desires of hedge-fund tycoons mediate everyone else’s, even by accident

    also, the reason that before marx (really hegel) history was told as persona and event is that before hegel (really rosseau) history as such did not exist

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  17. Alrenous September 8, 2013 at 13:40

    So you’re saying one of the things that have been forgotten is that the point of power is to reward your friends and punish your enemies.

    Oh shit, you’re right.

    Of course, per Jim, pious leftists reward their leftward enemies and punish their rightward friends. It’s amazing they have any success at all.

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