An unusually frigid gust of cynical realism from Walter Russell Mead:
Europe’s social engineers of the last generation seem to have assumed that the “dark forces” of nationalism and chauvinism had been left behind. That was partly true; the horrors of the two world wars have made many (though far from all) Europeans unwilling to fight anymore on ethnic grounds. But the subsidence of ethnic nationalism in European politics was also a function of the mass ethnic cleansings and genocidal killings that left most European nation states fairly homogenous. There was no “German Question” in Polish or Czech politics because there were no more Germans in these countries. The “Jewish Question” largely faded in postwar Europe, in part because of revulsion against Nazism, but also because the Jews were gone. Europe’s architects liked to believe that Europeans had transcended ethnic hatred, but much of Europe’s postwar peace came from the success of ethnic hatred in creating homogenous countries.
ADDED: WRM on Gnon.
Some further delving into Mou Zongsan at UF2.1.
At the ultimate level of abstraction, there are only two things that cybernetics ever talks about: explosions and traps. Feedback dynamics either runaway from equilibrium, or fetch strays back into it. Anything else is a complexion of both.
The simmering furor around Anthropogenetic Global Warming assumes a seething mass of technical and speculative cybernetics, with postulated feedback mechanisms fueling innumerable controversies, but the large-scale terrestrial heat trap that envelops it is rarely noted explicitly. Whatever humans have yet managed to do to the climate is of vanishing insignificance when compared to what the bio-climatic megamechanism is doing to life on earth.
Drawing on this presentation of the earth’s steadily contracting biogeological cage, Ugo Bardi zooms out to the shadowy apparatus of confinement:
… the Earth’s biosphere, Gaia, peaked with the start of the Phanerozoic age, about 500 million years ago. Afterwards, it declined. Of course, there is plenty of uncertainty in this kind of studies, but they are based on known facts about planetary homeostasis. We know that the sun’s irradiation keeps increasing with time at a rate of around 1% every 100 million years. That should have resulted in the planet warming up, gradually, but the homeostatic mechanisms of the ecosphere have maintained approximately constant temperatures by gradually lowering the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. However, there is a limit: the CO2 concentration cannot go below the minimum level that makes photosynthesis possible; otherwise Gaia “dies”.
So, at some moment in the future, planetary homeostasis will cease to be able to stabilize temperatures. When we reach that point, temperatures will start rising and, eventually, the earth will be sterilized. According to Franck et al., in about 600 million years from now the earth will have become too hot for multicellular creatures to exist.
The master jigsaw puzzle piece connecting US domestic and foreign policy together is the petrodollar. Federal debt production depends upon credibility in the US currency that is anchored by its privileged role in global hydrocarbons commerce. Knock out that privilege, and US dollar holdings become one speculative asset among others. The fiat house of cards begins to tumble (perhaps with shocking rapidity).
In this context, US monetary policy begins to look like a side-line of ‘friendship’ with the Saudis, which is dissolving into quick sand. Pepe Escobar at AToL explores some of the possible consequences. (It’s especially notable that the fracking revolution could accelerate a petrodollar crisis, rather than retarding it.) There’s also a China angle, which is always fun.
Disconcertingly for almost everybody, in different ways, the awkward retraction of US power from the Middle Eastern wasps’ nest tends inevitably to destabilize the global monetary regime. The more the Saudis feel jilted, the less their commitment to the petrodollar pact, but if this was ever a low-maintenance relationship, it certainly isn’t anymore.
Bomb Iran or your currency bombs. — Things might not quite reduce to that yet, but it increasingly looks as if they will.
Is it time for yet another ‘new Nietzsche’? Any such vogue might be no more that a distraction, compared to what really matters, which is that splinters of Nietzschean insight refuse to quietly date, and instead re-make themselves as our contemporaries, commenting with astonishing perspicacity upon the unfolding chaos of the times.
There might never have been a thinker more deserving of a short, ragged, and inconclusive blog post. Here are some Nietzschean themes that are still with us — or with us more than ever.
A long and mutually frustrating Twitter discussion with Michael Anissimov about intelligence and values — especially in respect to the potential implications of advanced AI — has been clarifying in certain respects. It became very obvious that the fundamental sticking point concerns the idea of ‘orthogonality’, which is to say: the claim that cognitive capabilities and goals are independent dimensions, despite minor qualifications complicating this schema.
The orthogonalists, who represent the dominant tendency in Western intellectual history, find anticipations of their position in such conceptual structures as the Humean articulation of reason / passion, or the fact / value distinction inherited from the Kantians. They conceive intelligence as an instrument, directed towards the realization of values that originate externally. In quasi-biological contexts, such values can take the form of instincts, or arbitrarily programmed desires, whilst in loftier realms of moral contemplation they are principles of conduct, and of goodness, defined without reference to considerations of intrinsic cognitive performance.
Anissimov referenced these recent classics on the topic, laying out the orthogonalist case (or, in fact, presumption). The former might be familiar from the last foray into this area, here. This is an area which I expect to be turned over numerous times in the future, with these papers as standard references.
The philosophical claim of orthogonality is that values are transcendent in relation to intelligence. This is a contention that Outside in systematically opposes.
As anticipated, the organization of the Outside in blogroll is transforming itself from a mechanical task into an engaging cultural-political and philosophical problem. My sense is that people generally resolve this type of quandary on a fairly hasty, ad hoc basis, but it already seems too late to do that. There are legacy considerations, and intricacies of coalitional variety at stake. Ultimately, there is a question about the core significance of the term ‘neoreaction’ — Is it a mere rallying point, flung into prominence by arbitrary historical opportunity, or is it a dense concept, whose semantic components are to be scrupulously respected?
My temptation would be to tactically elude the word, in order to access a more flexible, differentiated terminology. What prevents me from doing so is the arrogant sense that I respect the word more than anyone else it is applied to. ‘Neoreaction’ is an inherently paradoxical, fissional term, splitting in-itself on a temporal axis. It follows that I am extremely reluctant to see it relegated to a mere categorical marker, employed to designate ideological tendencies whose substantial content is better — or more fully — explicated in other terms. The word Neoreaction declares, intrinsically, that it belongs to fissionalist time-junkies exploring historical dissociation. That’s what it says, irrespective of how it is used.
The problem of categorization, therefore, remains, indissolubly. Any suggestions?
This point is important enough to restate well, as Foseti does:
The crux of [Scott Alexander’s] argument is that, “It is a staple of Reactionary thought that everything is getting gradually worse.” He then goes on to show that not everything is getting worse. […] It is not a staple of reactionary thought that everything is getting worse. To the contrary, I’ve never read that argument from any reactionary anywhere. […] Let’s correct his statement: It is a staple of Reactionary thought that massive improvements in technology have been very effective in masking massive declines in virtually all other aspects of society.
The progressive assumption, which neoreaction contests, is that it is natural and good to spend the advances of civilization on causes unrelated to civilizational advance. A more controversial formulation (supported here) is that the Cathedral spends capitalism on something other than capitalism, and ultimately on the destruction of capitalism. It tolerates a functional economy — to the extent that it does — only on the understanding that it will be used for something else.
Elementary cybernetics predicts that if productivity is recycled into productivity, the outcome is an explosive process of increasing returns. Insofar as history is not manifesting accelerating productivity, therefore, it can be assumed that social circuitry is being fed through non-productive, and anti-productive links. Techno-commercial Modernity is being squandered on (Neo-Puritan) Progressivism. In the West, at least, that is what is getting worse.
Nydrwracu wants us to think harder, which has to be a good thing (right?). So what are the basic questions of neoreaction? This is too important to rush, so I’m inclined to go meta (which reliably slows things down).
First meta point: If this is going to work, it has to be far more rigorously honed. That means a maximum of three basic problems each, with the objective of amalgamation into a list of 10, at most. The process of compression should do a lot of the preparatory work. Add Nydrwracu’s original 11 to Bryce Laliberte’s entirely different 10 ( in the comments, same link), and the result is already a sprawling mess that isn’t going anywhere. Neither list is remarkable for its tautness, as I hope both proposers would admit. “The 119 basic problems of neoreaction” isn’t going to sharpen anybody up.
Anyway, here are mine:
(1) The Odysseus Problem (or political knot theory): Can a model of distributed power be rigorously formulated? I am not remotely convinced that this question has yet been answered, and I refuse to get excited about monarchs until it has.
(2) Does a rigorous theory of degenerative ratchets capture the basic practical problem of neoreaction? If it does, a domain of investigation is determined at a high-level of abstraction. If it doesn’t, where do we look for degenerative ratchet counter-engineering (wherever it is, I’ll be spending a lot of time there).
(3) What does the ‘neo-‘ in ‘neoreaction’ signify? This is a timely question, because I’m noticing a lot of people edging into it, and the topics it excavates are huge. My own take on this: Anyone who thinks that Modernity, Capitalism, and Progress are simply bad things to have happened should drop the ‘neo-‘ prefix immediately. After that, anybody who lacks conviction about needing it should think about doing the same. Sheer reaction is OK, isn’t it? Fashion isn’t a good reason for anything.
James Goulding also had an extremely interesting set of basic questions (I’m worried they’re lost somewhere on this blog). Turning them up would also contribute seriously to moving this forward.
Stage-1 (Denial): “What is this naziish-sounding “HBD” of which you speak? Actually, I’d rather you didn’t answer that.”
Stage-2 (Anger): “RAAAAAAACISSSST!!!”
Stage-3 (Bargaining): “… but even if HBD is real, it doesn’t mean anything, does it? You know, comparative advantage, or postmodernism … (or something).”
Stage-4 (Depression): “Who could possibly have imagined that reality was so evil?”
Stage-5 (Acceptance): “Blank slate liberalism really has been a mountain of dishonest garbage, hasn’t it? Guess it’s time for it to die …”
[Thanks to Thales for the prompt]