Abstract Thought-Crime

What Peter Thiel has to say is almost always interesting, but it’s what he doesn’t say that is the real treasure. The species of abstract horror that is abstract thought-crime is turned into a special zone of expertise:

Everyone has ideas. Everyone has things they believe to be true that other people won’t agree with you on. But they’re not things you want to say. … You know, the ideas that are really controversial are the ones I don’t even want to tell you. I want to be more careful than that. I gave you these halfway, in-between ideas that are a little bit edgier. […] But I will also go a little bit out on a limb: I think the monopoly idea, that the goal of every successful business is to have a monopoly, that’s on the border of what I want to say. But the really good ideas are way more dangerous than that.

Here’s the Biblical application:

I think for the most part, it was necessary for Christ to be very careful how he expressed himself. It was mostly in these extremely parabolic, indirect modalities, because if it had been too direct, it would have been very dangerous. […] It was John Locke, in The Reasonableness of Christianity, said that Christ obviously had to mislead people, since if he had not done so, the authorities might have tried to kill him. … That’s the Straussian interpretation of Christ. It didn’t end in a particularly Straussian way, but it was at least true for most of his ministry.

In the Q&A, asked about his 2009 Cato Unbound article (a crucial catalyst for the Dark Enlightenment), he remarks — more than a little evasively:

Writing is always such a dangerous thing. […] I remember a professor once told me back in the ’80s that writing a book was more dangerous than having a child because you could always disown a child if it turned out badly. […] You could never disown anything that you’ve written. The Cato Unbound article, it was a thousand-word essay. It was late at night. I quickly typed it off. I sent it to someone else to review, who said, “There’s nothing controversial in here at all.” … My retrospective was that if you actually ask someone to double-check things for whether or not it’s controversial, you already deep-down know that you should double-check it yourself. … My updated version on it would be that — I made the case that I thought democracy and capitalism weren’t quite compatible [*facepalm*] — the updated version I would give is it’s not at all clear that we’re living in anything resembling a democracy. …

Rarely has anything been unsaid with comparable agility.

April 7, 2015admin 48 Comments »
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48 Responses to this entry

  • Brett Stevens Says:

    I made the case that I thought democracy and capitalism weren’t quite compatible [*facepalm*] — the updated version I would give is it’s not at all clear that we’re living in anything resembling a democracy.

    Why not just spit out the obvious, which is that both are forms of the same thing? Vote with your ballot or with your dollars; what you approve of as the voter comes true if enough others do the same thing.

    The bigger question is whether civilization can survive either one. I tend to be fond of capitalism because the alternatives are so bad, but I doubt anyone would advocate raw capitalism as few of us want to see our world turn into a permanent McDonald’s.

    This leads us back to the question we have been avoiding since 1789, which is how to pick leaders based on ability and not appearance, as democracy favors.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “… both are forms of the same thing.” — I disagree with that fundamentally. Commercial feedback concentrates consequences, democratic feedback systematically diffuses them. They’re opposites.

    [Reply]

    existoon Reply:

    Both democracy and capitalism obviously externalize consequences. Together, they multiply the externalities. They may be opposites, but it’s obviously a stable marriage. Is the nameless time we’re living in Neoliberal Aufhebung or Left Singularity ? Is there a difference ?

    [Reply]

    Bob Reply:

    What doesn’t “externalize consequences”? Monarchies and aristocracies obviously externalize consequences as well.

    existoon Reply:

    Ur-example: Mississippi Company Bubble (and Louis XV) have laid the groundwork the French revolution. Is this concentration of consequences, their diffusion or maybe yin-yang ?

    [Reply]

    Bob Reply:

    The Mississippi Company was a government monopoly. It was a corporation that was granted a monopoly on commercial activity in the French New World colonies.

    Brett Stevens Reply:

    Commercial feedback concentrates consequences, democratic feedback systematically diffuses them. They’re opposites.

    Ah, the utilitarian problem.

    Here is consequentialism in its original form: results in reality.

    Here it is in its modern form: results as perceived by humans.

    Capitalism is mediated by the herd as much as democracy is. They want cheap junky cheeseburgers and Justin Bieber, not filet mignon and Mozart.

    I do not argue against the idea that capitalism is infinitely preferrable to socialism, as clearly it is so.

    But without additional leadership — from culture and an aristocracy — it becomes another loose cannon.

    This is not a flaw of capitalist itself, but the idea that any system can operate independently of quality leadership and culture.

    Eventually, any tool is going to become its master’s master if not carefully handled. Sort of like basic gun discipline; errors want to happen. Murphy’s law is out there every second.

    [Reply]

    Izak Reply:

    Pretty much all of this is right (in fact I had almost the same exact argument with Hurlock a while back).

    I am sympathetic to Land’s attempts to create a perfect structure that will lead naturally to the ideal content (i.e., governance and behavior) of a society (or cluster of societies). It’s a very quixotic goal – something you have to admire for its boldness and audacity. But sadly, I don’t think it’s possible. Form does not automatically imply content.

    Hegemonizing Swarm Reply:

    > Form does not automatically imply content

    Indeed. Aristotle has a similar argument about forms of government

    Monarchy is better than aristocracy, aristocracy is better than polity. But the corruption of the best is worst; therefore tyranny is worse than oligarchy, and oligarchy than democracy.

    In practice a random monarchy or aristocracy would be likely to corrupt, and become worse than a democracy. In other words democracy, although suboptimal as a structure, stops the race to the bottom. It relies least on ‘content’.

    wenshuang Reply:

    Total opposites. Like entropy and negentropy opposite.

    [Reply]

    wenshuang Reply:

    Lysenkoist and Darwinian evolution are roughly the same, you need an intelligent designer to reign in either. Except that lysenkoism is death and Darwinian evolution needs no designer.

    [Reply]

    John Reply:

    They aren’t opposites, and they aren’t quite the same, although they are part of the same. Democracy and capitalism are symbiotes. The basis of both is mass marketing. Democracy is like a perpetual consumer survey that allows the managerial elites to fine tune their messaging.

    This is why you see Globo-corps flogging the Prog messaging as hard as explicitly leftwing orgs. It’s all part of the same beast that is eating the world.

    [Reply]

    Wen Shuang Reply:

    The engine may be human avarice, but they compete for it and have radically opposed ends, namely entropy (democracy) and structure (capitalism).

    [Reply]

    Bob Reply:

    You should define what you mean by “capitalism”.

    A corporation is simply a form of organization. It’s a legal construct, not an economic one. There are nonprofit corporations.

    [Reply]

    John Reply:

    That’s a tough one. I guess I should say “private enterprise”, “the free market”, etc.

    But it’s hard to pretend there is any real distinction between private business interests and the electioneering racket. Make enough money and you are sure to wind up balls deep in “democracy”.

    Bob Reply:

    The kind of political economy you’re describing would be some sort of socialism or fascism, no?

    Bob Reply:

    How do you define democracy and capitalism? The voting analogy is not really accurate.

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 9th, 2015 at 3:23 pm Reply | Quote
  • Abstract Thought-Crime | Neoreactive Says:

    […] Abstract Thought-Crime […]

    Posted on April 9th, 2015 at 3:30 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    I’m interested in an expansion on the idea that what Thiel says is interesting.

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 9th, 2015 at 3:57 pm Reply | Quote
  • Bob Says:

    It would help to try to define and achieve consensus on terms like democracy and capitalism before debating their nature and relationship. Obviously some people define them in such a way that there are close parallels between them, while others define them so they’re diametrically opposed.

    [Reply]

    existoon Reply:

    What I was trying to say: representative democracy tends to externalize responsibility and locus of control, capitalism tends to externalize costs (dumps them somewhere else). It ends up with two disembodied dirty hands washing each other.

    NRX reminds me of neoclassical economics where one also starts with assumption of free rational agents and spontaneous equilibrium, but inevitably ends up with benevolent preference-aggregating dictator as mathematical necessity.

    The problem being, history is full of sovereign kings bankrupting and otherwise ruining their pieces of patchwork. Louis XV has given monopoly to Mississippi Company and guaranteed for its shares. Parliament was suspended during his reign, so no evil democracy was involved. Still, it was an externalized locus of control with externalized (delayed) costs and consequences.

    [Reply]

    Bob Reply:

    I’m not sure I follow you. Externalities are such a general phenomena endemic to human activity that they’re not sufficient to indict a specific arrangement without more justification.

    The Mississippi Company was a joint-stock company that was granted a monopoly on commerce in the French New World colonies. Shares in the company were issued, and phantom profits were issued in yet more shares. There was massive speculation and a bubble in the shares subsequently collapsed. What exactly are you objecting to here? Government monopolies? Joint-stock companies? Speculation?

    [Reply]

    existoon Reply:

    I’m arguing in the context of neoreactionary [1] claims that sovcorp is solving the problem of human externalities, order, violence … etc let’s just call it entropy … in Pareto efficient [3] way. As you said, externalities are endemic human problem, abolishing democracy 1.3 and instituting monarchy 0.2 won’t solve it, especially since sovcorp is driven by highly entropic engine of Capitalism.

    NRx [1] Monarch/CEO solves externalities in the same way Maxwell demon solves second law of thermodynamics (or the benevolent dictator solves the problem of neoclassical economic equilibrium).

    NRx [1] sovcorp is both goverment monopoly and joint-stock company by definition, so I’m arguing that a) it’s nothing so new b) it will turn out against you. There is no Maxwell Demongod the Second in real world, but there always some puppet monarch like Louis XV formalizing Miss sovcorp (and of course, unformalized puppeteers).

    [1] as defined by Moldbug [2]
    [2] the necessity of this footnote is an additional indicator of severe entropic collapse of meaning and Order 😉
    [3] if not optimum

    admin Reply:

    This.

    Hurlock Reply:

    In capitalism by definition there can be no externalization anywhere, because everything is privatized.

    What you are thinking of when you speak of externalizations is government and the bullshit term of “public property”.

    [Reply]

    existoon Reply:

    Negative externalities exist even if everything is privatized. It’s very hard to internalize entropy. And even if you live in a bubble, it may prove very profitable for you to strip mine that bubble to destruction, so you can move to a bigger one. Or you’re playing a game of chicken which escalates to war, so all the bubbles are damaged. etc.

    admin Reply:

    Biological evolution does OK.

    Posted on April 9th, 2015 at 8:44 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    The dirty secret is that capitalism isn’t compatible with capitalism. When Thiel says that all business wants to be a monopoly, that is what he is saying.

    [Reply]

    Hurlock Reply:

    Somehow I knew people would draw the wrong ideas from that statement.

    [Reply]

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    Not erroneous, but ‘wrong’

    [Reply]

    Hurlock Reply:

    Wrong can mean erroneous, you know? That’s what I meant.

    Stop being a smartass.

    admin Reply:

    Capitalism isn’t corporations. It’s the systemic war between corporations. No animal wants to be subjected to Malthusian pressure. No company wants to be subjected to commercial selection. In neither case, thank Gnon, does that matter.

    [Reply]

    Bob Reply:

    He seems to be describing monopolistic competition, not monopoly. One of his examples is the Google search engine, which obviously isn’t a monopoly. There are alternative search engines in the market, and there are no barriers to entry.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    Indeed. The entire alarm against ‘monopoly’ is bullshit (unless the government is deliberately defending it). These companies typically only last a few decades, revolutionize whole industries (and economies), and eventually fall prey to diagonal threats they scarcely comprehend. Plutocracy is the modern form of civilization.

    [Reply]

    spandrell Reply:

    Any capitalist with half a brain and coin to spare will try to use government to help him restrict the competition. He will bribe politicians to argue for less capitalism, pay journalists to write about the evils of unregulated capitalism.

    Thiel for all his talk derives much of his income from being a government contractor. Regulatory capture is as much part of Gnon’s will as anything else.
    Arguing that capitalism is some alternative and superior system to government regulation is just signalling edginess and refusing to see how things work.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    ‘How things work’ — when they do — is based upon the market mechanism driving dysfunctional businesses into insolvency. Insofar as government patronage protects companies against that — either through favoritism, or in general — it contributes to the degeneration of the socio-economic system. The fact that capitalistic individuals will attempt to play the system (yes, of course they will) says nothing at all about the complex dynamic principles underlying it, apart from underscoring the fact that — again, of course — these principles will never be expressed without adulteration.

    [Reply]

    Marxist toady Reply:

    The problem with this approach — admin’s, not Spandrell’s — is that it has a tendency to dissolve into a bad sort of Neo-Kantian formalism (which can be seen all too clearly in Hurlock’s post on economics, and is unsurprising given the Kantian roots of Austrianism). The “market” becomes the unconditioned form of economic activity and anything that doesn’t conform to its transcendentally derived strictures can only be treated as some kind of contingent deviation. As Spandrell notes, this mystifies the actual functioning of capitalism.

    admin Reply:

    The market is an entropy dissipator. Anyone who wants to deride it better come up with an alternative model for social entropy dissipation, or explain why everything we know about complex systems dynamics is wrong.

    Marxist toady Reply:

    The polemic I sense here is not necessary — market competition, your “entropy dissipator,” is indeed the most remarkable aspect of capitalism (here taken not simply as the market, but as the entire social edifice — including the state — that has accompanied the market’s creation and maintenance in the modern era). I am as rock hard for takeovers, bankruptcies, deflation and competition as any Austrian; but I think the (Kantian) transcendental formalism used to understand it in these quarters is deficient methodologically (cf., again, Spandrell) — which can only result in a bad understanding of history, of economics and of how (and why) the state functions as it does.

    Hurlock Reply:

    It is because exactly we see how things work, or rather how they don’t that we claim that capitalism is superior.

    And it is.

    [Reply]

    spandrell Reply:

    That’s completely besides the point. Non-state capitalism doesn’t exist, and has no reason to.

    Talking about the superiority of abstract constructs is analogous to discussing which anime girl character is more beautiful.

    Posted on April 10th, 2015 at 6:35 pm Reply | Quote
  • Hurlock Says:

    @Marxist Today

    Austrian economics has much more Aristotelian than Kantian influences. People overstate the second because Mises references him in Human Action, but Aristotle is a much more significant influence, especially on figures like Menger (the original “Austrian” economist and Rothbard).

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    OK, but Mises is the greatest (if still largely unacknowledged) successor to the Kantian practical philosophy that we have. A rigorously elaborated transcendental practical philosophy is Austrian praxeology (and, more narrowly, economics).

    [Reply]

    Hurlock Reply:

    Yeah, sure, that’s true.

    Because of your own expertise in Kantian philosophy and your deep interest in Austrian Economics, I’d like to sometime see you expand on the relationship between Mises and Kant.
    But the reason why I emphasized Aristotle is that people very often gloss over his influence on Austrian economics. Menger was an aristotelian through the influence of the work of his friend Franz Brentano, who most know as the one to revive research into Aristotelian and Scholastic philosophy in the second half of the 19th century (this is also where the influence of Scholasticism on Austrian Economics starts).
    Now everything that Menger says, on method especially, is also in Mises. He simply modifies it and completes the austrian method with some high doses of kantianism.

    I forget what was your opinion of the “action axiom”, correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I recall, you regarded it as, to this day, the only true synthetic a priori proposition we know of?

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 11th, 2015 at 10:53 am Reply | Quote
  • Hurlock Says:

    @Marxist Today

    What are these methodological deficiencies you talk about?

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 11th, 2015 at 11:37 am Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction (2015/04/10) | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] Land catches Peter Thiel in the act of Abstract Thought-Crime. Also another installment of strangely strange fiction in Deadlines (Part […]

    Posted on April 11th, 2015 at 5:45 pm Reply | Quote
  • Hurlock Says:

    @spandrell

    By your reasoning every alternative proposition to the present economic arrangement is “abstract”. So then we might as well shut up about it, throw our hands in the air and stop having these discussions of how much everything sucks. If you want to participate in a “wah-wah everything sucks” circlejerk only then to shoot down every theoretical alternative proposition with “hurr-durr too abstract” be my guest, but I will take my leave then.

    [Reply]

    spandrell Reply:

    [quote]By your reasoning every alternative proposition to the present economic arrangement is “abstract”.[/quote] Any alternative proposition that doesn’t address how to get from here to there, and doesn’t address what incentives led to the present system and how to change them effectively, is not only abstract, it’s pointless.

    We most certainly should stop having discussions about how much everything sucks, and try to understand why and how they suck.

    [Reply]

    Posted on April 11th, 2015 at 6:55 pm Reply | Quote

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