Alexander on the Ratchet

It’s carefully hedged (and ultimately contested), but it’s well worth noting. He begins the relevant section of a recent post by revisiting the self-observation: “In the past two months I have inexplicably and very very suddenly become much more conservative.” (Pass-the-popcorn.)

The explanation I like least is that it comes from reading too much neoreaction. I originally rejected this hypothesis because I don’t believe most what I read. But I’m starting to worry that there are memes that, like Bohr’s horseshoe, affect you whether you believe them or not: memes that crystallize the wrong pattern, or close the wrong feedback loop. I have long suspected social justice contains some of these. Now I worry neoreaction contains others.

In particular I worry about the neoreactionary assumption that leftism always increases with time, and that today’s leftism confined to a few fringe idiots whom nobody really supports today becomes tomorrow’s mainstream left and the day after tomorrow’s “you will be fired if you disagree with them”. Without me ever really evaluating its truth-value it has wormed its way into my brain and started haunting my nightmares.

I’m usually reluctant to take Alexander seriously when he tells us what Neoreaction is, but in this case I think he gets it right.

He embeds this passage in an encompassing theory, aiming to frame the degenerative ratchet within a directionless random-walk of fashion (driven by something like abstract cellular automata). The theory is clever, but its historical fit is so poor I don’t expect it to last indefinitely. In the best case, during the few months it takes for this psychic-defense system to start falling apart and strewing parts along the doom-route of accelerating Left-Singularity, Alexander can dedicate his exceptional mind to collecting alternative cognitive defense-mechanisms and testing them to destruction. In this way he can contribute to clearing the desert at the end of our world.

ADDED: The voyage into darkness continues …

July 6, 2014admin 21 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Neoreaction


21 Responses to this entry

  • Postnietzschean Says:

    “He embeds this passage in an encompassing theory, aiming to frame the degenerative ratchet within a directionless random-walk of fashion”

    The theories of the intelligent become an ever-closer approximation of the truth, but the fashions of the stupid swing back and forth.

    50 years from now, the middlebrows will have firmly adopted NRx of the Annisimovite school (purges and all), ‘Leftist’ will have replaced ‘racist’ as the thoughtstopper ne plus ultra, and a new Moldbug will be required to sort out the conceptual mess.


    peppermint Reply:

    who’s anissimov?


    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    “The theories of the intelligent become an ever-closer approximation of [self-interest].”

    There. Fixed it for you.


    Posted on July 6th, 2014 at 4:34 pm Reply | Quote
  • peppermint Says:

    a random walk away from truth is as inevitable as a ratchet. it’s what people think before they appreciate the donald singularity theory


    Posted on July 6th, 2014 at 5:59 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alexander on the Ratchet | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on July 6th, 2014 at 6:08 pm Reply | Quote
  • mister service Says:

    reading moldbug cost me my faith in the cathedral, but failed to bring me over to the neoreactionary point of view. i consider SA to be the most capable explorer of the intellectual desert in which it now seems we are lost. i’m hoping he finds what we’re both looking for; i don’t know if anyone else can.


    Dan Reply:

    Alexander’s personal life is about six sigmas nuttier than the mean. So I wouldn’t look to him as a bastion of sanity. If he is our beacon, then we are cooked. He claims to want kids and is romantically coupled with a person of undeterminate gender who renders themself unable to have kids on purpose. Someone like that is not properly connected to reality.


    mister service Reply:

    he insists on deriving everything before him from first principles, and leaves no popular conception unexamined. it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his personal life is as unorthodox as his thinking.

    that temperament is very similar to moldbug’s, and something like it is probably necessary if you want to break new ground.


    Rasputin Reply:

    @mister service: please read Radish on Free Speech to see how Scott Alexander got pwned by Arthur Chu, in terms of identifying the fundamental characteristics and tactics of progressivism.

    mister service Reply:

    i don’t think chu won that debate at all, and i don’t think what he said represents the true spirit of liberalism. like i said, i haven’t come all the way around to the neoreactionary point of view.

    most of the progressives/brahmins that i know would be horrified if their ideological training included instructions to regularly “purge oneself of thinkable thoughts” and “fight a war” against “toxic ideologies.” they see themselves as rebels, yes, but on a mission of peace to cure a sick society.

    if you manage to convince them that they are, in fact, The Man and that their beliefs are, in fact, making the world a worse place, then they’ll cease being progressives. it turns out that it’s hard to do this when your audience consists of the brightest and most motivated people in your society, and the only available substitute to what they believe (conservatism) is clearly bogus and evil.

    in saying what he did, arthur chu showed himself to be a fool and an ideologue. he is not what liberalism represents.

    Rasputin Reply:

    “…if you manage to convince them that they are, in fact, The Man and that their beliefs are, in fact, making the world a worse place, then they’ll cease being progressives. it turns out that it’s hard to do this when your audience consists of the brightest and most motivated people in your society, and the only available substitute to what they believe (conservatism) is clearly bogus and evil.”

    I’m assuming you’ve read Moldbug’s An Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives, where he deals with this explicitly? For me it deals an absolutely devastating blow to the idea that the progressive / conservative political binary consists of anything other than two different strands of the same virus, or two different quasicriminal political machines. As you say (or as Modbug says), it’s hard enough giving up Catholicism / Progressivism without having to become a Hindu / Conservative at the same time.

    Furthermore, “…many people will think exactly this: if you stop being a progressive, you have to become a conservative. I suspect that the primary emotional motivation for most progressives is that they’re progressives because they think something needs to be done about conservatives. Game over. Gutterball. Right back to the insidious grip [of a false political ideology].

    So, what Moldug is putting forward here is as much a critique conservatism as it is progressivism. Even if it was nothing else, Neoreaction is the cognitive toolkit to think outside the box of this false political binary, and see that the truth lies outside the mainstream political machine. You clearly have a distance left to travel before these ideas are able to more fully penetrate your progressive defence mechanisms. My advise would be to keep reading. And if you haven’t read An Open Letter… start here:

    mister service Reply:

    i’ve read most of UR, and have been following neoreaction for about a year and a half, now. i’ve refrained from commenting on any NRx blogs until now, as it’s taken me some time to fully take stock of what it means to leave behind the Cathedral, and exactly how reading NRx has changed the way i think about politics.

    reading neoreactionary blogs has been enormously valuable for me, but it has not brought me over to your side. like many neoreactionaries, i came from a classical liberal/libertarian bent. moldbug has shown that classical liberalism has evolved into something utterly incompatible with its original stated goals many times (see communism, nazism, american progressivism, and european socialism), and thus asks us to abandon the goals of the enlightenment and instead accept order or stability as the sole goods of society.

    i’m not ready to give up on the goals of the enlightenment, and neither is SA. he’s using the weapons of classical liberalism (reason, equality, free association and exit) against its modern day heirs, and it’s working. he’s breaking new intellectual ground at an amazing pace.

    meanwhile, neoreactionaries are still debating techno-commercialism versus hereditary monarchy. though i refuse to throw an angry fit (as most progressives would) upon hearing those ideas proposed, i will say that it seems like a dead end to me.

    Rasputin Reply:

    Well, it sounds as though you’ve given yourself a thorough grounding, as well as enough time to allow the ideas to percolate. If a year of reading UR hasn’t been sufficient to persuade you to abandon the goals of the enlightenment I won’t be so glib as to try to persuade you to in a comment here.

    Personally, I have a lot of respect for SA’s intellectual approach and personal integrity, even if I do think he is still substantially pwned by his progressive heritage in many areas of his thought. Perhaps you should google search this blog for comments made by Vladimir and James Goulding, which presented an independent critique of some of Moldbug’s ideas without being compromised by such a weight of residual progressive assumptions.

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    What you need now is more exposure to conservatives instead of the odd tribal caricature you’ve picked up, because significant groups of them have been trying to use the weapons of classical liberalism against progressivism for decades, really for more than a century, and they’ve accomplished jack-all.

    mister service Reply:


    I’ll be sure to check out Vladimir and James Goulding, thanks for the pointer. One of my favorite things about the community surrounding NRx is the how you respond to respectful disagreement in kind. “Scratch a reactionary, find a liberal!”

    @Lesser Bull

    Who should I be reading in order to grok the failure of conservatism? Websites are fine, but I’m not afraid to pick up a book, either.

    Scott Alexander Reply:

    I didn’t realize that changing your pronouns renders you incapable of having children.

    And here I thought the left was too willing to privilege social over biological aspects of gender.

    Anyway, I take offense at this. My social life is, at most, five and a half sigmas nuttier than the mean.


    Rasputin Reply:


    While you’re here, what were your thoughts on Radish’s commentary on your debate with Arthur Chu? I noticed you didn’t comment on the article at the time, but assumed that you were aware of it?

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    I’m probably the most rigidly socially conservative/moralistic guy in these parts or practically anywhere, but I have to applaud that answer. Gracious and charming.

    piwtd Reply:

    “i don’t know if anyone else can”

    Do not lose hope. I’am sure there are people all over the world thinking intelligently about this stuff who are just not visible because visibility has a bias against people who think stuff through before preaching their conclusions to the world.


    Posted on July 7th, 2014 at 3:16 am Reply | Quote
  • Jason Says:

    So this is not just about prefacing the discussion with concern about talking about someone else and being uncharitable. But it’s completely worthless to even bring up this subject without making the correct point about SA’s views, that the overriding, all encompassing cause of taking any novel viewpoint is cult-worship of Eliezer Yudkowsky. The only reason he seems to entertain various non-leftist views is because Yudkowsky leans non-leftist on certain issues. SA often says he is bad at math and unfamiliar with various scientific fields and instead places blind trust in the conclusions of certain friends, which is mostly Yudkowsky and similar cult-worshippers. The most meaningful distinction between commenters on any side of any issue on SA’s blog is the distinction between those who think Yudkowsky is a mystery genius visionary and those who think he’s mostly a conspiracy theorist who is incompetent at math. (There seem to be both leftists and rightists and everything in between who have opposite views of Yudkowsky, driving large amounts of traffic to SA’s blog rather than LessWrong)


    Posted on July 8th, 2014 at 1:44 am Reply | Quote
  • dreya Says:

    “Quoting Michael Ignatieff, Kagan speculates candidly that liberal civilization itself “runs deeply against the human grain and is achieved and sustained only by the most unremitting struggle against human nature.” Perhaps, Kagan adds, “this fragile democratic garden requires the protection of a liberal world order, with constant feeding, watering, weeding, and the fencing off of an ever-encroaching jungle.” But he can’t seem to face the challenge posed by the new shots heard ’round the world from America: The jungle and its encroachments begin not only abroad but within our own garden.”


    Posted on July 8th, 2014 at 3:48 am Reply | Quote

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