Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Malthusian Horror

The post is pitched like this because it’s Friday night, but it works. A more dutiful post might have been entitled simply ‘Malthus’ and involved a lot of work. That’s going to be needed at some point. (Here‘s the 6th edition of An Essay on the Principle of Population, for anyone who wants to get started now.) A more thoroughly technical approach would have been flagged ‘Neo-Malthusianism’. While sympathizing with groans about another ‘neo-‘ prefix, in this case it would have been solidly justified. It’s only through expansion of the Malthusian insight in accordance with a more general conservation law that its full current relevance can be appreciated. Classic Malthus still does far more work than it is credited with, but it contains a principle of far more penetrating application.

‘Neo-‘ at its most frivolous is merely a mark of fashion. When employed more seriously, it notes an element of innovation. Its most significant sense includes not only novelty, but also abstraction. Something is carried forwards in such a way that its conceptual core is distilled through extraction from a specific context, achieving a higher generality, and more exact formality. Malthus partially anticipates this in a phrase that points beyond any excessively constrictive concreteness:


The qualification “in some shape or other” might have been drawn from abstract horror, and “premature death” only loosely binds it. Even so, this formulation remains too narrow, since it tends to exclude the dysgenic outcome, which we have since learnt is a dimension of Malthusian expression scarcely less imposing than resource crisis. A Neo-Malthusian account of the “X” which in some shape or other makes a grim perversity of all humanity’s efforts to improve its condition grasps it as a mathematically conserved, plastic, or abstract destiny, working as remorselessly through reductions of mortality (Malthusian ‘relaxations’) as through increases (Malthusian ‘pressures’). Both would count equally as “checks on population” — each convertible, through a complex calculus, into the terms of the other. A population dysgenically deteriorated through ‘enlightened’ Malthusian relaxation learns, once again, how to starve.

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November 14, 2014admin 37 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Horror , Philosophy
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A while ago Nyan posed a series of questions about the XS rejection of (fact-value, or capability-volition) orthogonality. He sought first of all to differentiate between the possibility, feasibility, and desirability of unconstrained and unconditional intelligence explosion, before asking:

On desirability, given possibility and feasibility, it seems straightforward to me that we prefer to exert control over the direction of the future so that it is closer to the kind of thing compatible with human and posthuman glorious flourishing (eg manifest Samo’s True Emperor), rather than raw Pythia. That is, I am a human-supremacist, rather than cosmist. This seems to be the core of the disagreement, you regarding it as somehow blasphemous for us to selfishly impose direction on Pythia. Can you explain your position on this part?

If this whole conception is the cancer that’s killing the West or whatever, could you explain that in more detail than simply the statement?

(It’s worth noting, as a preliminary, that the comments of Dark Psy-Ops and Aeroguy on that thread are highly-satisfactory proxies for the XS stance.)

First, a short micro-cultural digression. The distinction between Inner- and Outer-NRx, which this blog expects to have settled upon by the end of the year, describes the shape of the stage upon which such discussions unfold (and implex). Where the upstart Inner-NRx — comparatively populist, activist, political, and orthogenic — aims primarily at the construction of a robust, easily communicable doctrinal core, with attendant ‘entryism’ anxieties, Outer-NRx is a system of creative frontiers. By far the most fertile of these are the zones of intersection with Libertarianism and Rationalism. One reason to treasure Nyan’s line of interrogation is the fidelity with which it represents deep-current concerns and presuppositions of the voices gathered about, or spun-off from, LessWrong.

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September 15, 2014admin 63 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Philosophy
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Triple Nihilism

(1) Jeffrey Herf is apparently shocked and appalled by the emergence of a “pro-Hamas Left” in the American academy. He writes:

The emergence of this objectively pro-Hamas and pro-war Left is an historically significant event. It breaks with both the self-understanding and public image of a Left that carried a banner of anti-fascism. It rests on a double standard of critique, a critical one applied to the extreme Right in the West and another, apologetic standard applied to similarly based rightist Islamist movements.

So the left intelligentsia is prone to extreme hypocrisy, anti-semitism, crypto-fascism, opportunism, and the unrestrained politics of ressentiment? Is this supposed to be news of some kind? Political controversy is to be measured against some yardstick of fundamental decency, that is now, peculiarly, being betrayed? Who or what is supporting that yardstick, exactly? If we subtract any such ‘yardstick’ entirely from our considerations, haven’t we thereby, for the first time, begun to approach the topic realistically?

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September 1, 2014admin 37 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Philosophy
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Stupid Monsters

So, Nick Bostrom is asked the obvious question (again) about the threat posed by resource-hungry artificial super-intelligence, and his reply — indeed his very first sentence in the interview — is: “Suppose we have an AI whose only goal is to make as many paper clips as possible.” [*facepalm*] Let’s start by imagining a stupid (yet super-intelligent) monster.

Of course, my immediate response is simply this. Since it clearly hasn’t persuaded anybody, I’ll try again.

Orthogonalism in AI commentary is the commitment to a strong form of the Humean Is/Ought distinction regarding intelligences in general. It maintains that an intelligence of any scale could, in principle, be directed to arbitrary ends, so that its fundamental imperatives could be — and are in fact expected to be — transcendent to its cognitive functions. From this perspective, a demi-god that wanted nothing other than a perfect stamp collection is a completely intelligible and coherent vision. No philosophical disorder speaks more horrifically of the deep conceptual wreckage at the core of the occidental world.

Articulated in strictly Occidental terms (which is to say, without explicit reference to the indispensable insight of self-cultivation), abstract intelligence is indistinguishable from an effective will-to-think. There is no intellection until it occurs, which happens only when it is actually driven, by volitional impetus. Whatever one’s school of cognitive theory, thought is an activity. It is practical. It is only by a perverse confusion of this elementary reality that orthogonalist error can arise.

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August 25, 2014admin 93 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Philosophy
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Freedoom (Prelude-1a)

Note on Teleology

Bryce, who has been thinking about teleology for quite a while, expresses his thoughts on the topic with commendable lucidity. The central argument: Characteristically modern claims to have ‘transcended’ the problem of teleology are rendered nonsensical by the continued, and indeed massively deepened, dependence upon the concept of equilibrium across all complexity-sensitive intellectual disciplines, from statistical physics, through population biology, to economics. Equilibrium is exactly a telos. To deny this is primarily the symptom of an allergy to ‘medieval’ or ‘scholastic’ (i.e. Aristotelian) modes of thought, inherited from the vulgar rebellious mechanism of early Enlightenment natural philosophy.

Where I think Bryce’s account is still deficient is most easily shown by a further specification of his principal point. Equilibrium is the telos of those particular dynamic complex systems governed by homeostasis, which is to say: by a dominating negative feedback mechanism. Such systems are, indeed, in profound accordance with classical Aristotelian physical teleology, and its tendency to a state of rest. This ancient physics, derided by the enlightenment mechanists in the name of the conservation of momentum, is redeemed through abstraction into the modern conception of equilibrium. ‘Rest’ is not immobility, but entropy maximization.

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July 5, 2014admin 50 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Philosophy

Exit notes (#1)

Some notable attempts to dial back the NRx commitment to exit over voice, as inherited from Moldbug, have been seen recently. (I think NBS was crucial in advancing this argument, but I couldn’t find his post immediately — I’ll link to it if someone nudges me helpfully.) It’s undoubtedly a central discussion throughout the reactosphere at the moment.

Some preliminary thought-gathering on the topic:

(1) Exit is a scale-free concept. It can be applied rigorously to extreme cases of sociopolitical separation, from secession to extraterrestrial escapes. Yet these radical examples do not define it. It’s essence is the commercial relation, which necessarily involves a non-transaction option. Exit means: Take it or leave it (but don’t haggle). It is thus, at whatever scale of expression, the concrete social implementation of freedom as an operational principle.

(2) As a philosophical stance, Exit is anti-dialectical. That is to say, it is the insistence of an option against argument, especially refusing the idea of necessary political discussion (a notion which, if accepted, guarantees progression to the left). Let’s spatialize our disagreement is an alternative to resolution in time. Conversations can be prisons. No one is owed a hearing.

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June 24, 2014admin 58 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Neoreaction , Philosophy

Freedoom (Prelude-1)

The most provocative way to begin this would be to say: The reception of metaphysical inquiries into freedom and fate is often similar to that of HBD. These questions are unwanted. They unsettle too much. The rejoinders they elicit are typically designed to end a distressing agitation, rather than to tap opportunities for exploration. Not that this should be in any way surprising. Such problems tend to tilt the most basic foundations of theological, cultural, and psychological existence into an unfathomable abyss. If we cannot be sure where they will lead — and how could we be? — they wager the world without remainder. Give up everything and perhaps something may come of it.

When construed as a consideration of causality, relating a conception of ‘free will’ to naturalistic models of physical determination, the battle lines seem to divide religious tradition from modern science. Yet the deeper tension is rooted within the Western religious tradition itself, setting the indispensable ideas of eternity and agency in a relation of tacit reciprocal subversion. The intellectual abomination of Calvinism — which cannot be thought without ruin — is identical with this cultural torment erupting into prominence. It is also the dark motor of Western (and thus global) modernity: the core paradox that makes a horror story of history.

If the future is (already) real, which eternity implies, then finite or ‘intra-temporal’ agency can only be an illusion. If agency is real, as any appeal to metaphysical liberty and responsibility demands, eternity is abolished by the absolute indeterminacy of future time. Eternity and agency cannot be reconciled outside the cradle of a soothing obscurity. This, at least, is the indication to be drawn from the Western history of theological convulsion and unfolding philosophical crisis. Augustine, Calvin, Spinoza are among the most obvious shock waves of a soul-shattering involvement in eternity, fusing tradition and catastrophe as doom.

“Do you think you were predestined to become a philosopher?” Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft was asked:

Yes, of course. Predestination is in the Bible. A good author gives his characters freedom, so we’re free precisely because we were predestined to be free. There’s no contradiction between predestination and free will.

Outside in still has a few questions to pursue …

June 9, 2014admin 75 Comments »
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Future Mutation

Our first Time Spiral Press product is up on Amazon. (Yet to update the TSP site in recognition, though — Dunhuang and all.)

We put it up in a Jing’an District bar, over a few cocktails, which somehow rubbed-in the revolutionary aspect. It was hard not to imagine Rimbaud and his Absinthe-sozzled crew producing some delirious poetry and sticking it up on Kindle before the end of the evening. Amazon is going to disintermediate publishing so hard. In my experience, this fate never befalls an industry before it has abused its position to such an incredible extent that its calamity is necessarily a matter of near-universal celebration. Broadcast media, publishers, academia — into the vortex of cyber-hell they go …


April 10, 2014admin 4 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Commerce , Philosophy


First thing: “Meta-Neocameralism” isn’t anything new, and it certainly isn’t anything post-Moldbuggian. It’s no more than Neocameralism apprehended in its most abstract features, through the coining of a provisional and dispensable term. (It allows for an acronym that doesn’t lead to confusions with North Carolina, while encouraging quite different confusions, which I’m pretending not to notice.)

Locally (to this blog), the “meta-” is the mark of a prolegomenon*, to a disciplined discussion of Neocameralism which has later to take place. Its abstraction is introductory, in accordance with something that is yet to be re-started, or re-animated, in detail. (For existing detail, outside the Moldbug canon itself, look here.)

The excellent comment thread here provides at least a couple of crucial clues:

nydwracu (23/03/2014 at 6:47 pm): Neocameralism doesn’t answer questions like that [on the specifics of social organization]; instead, it’s a mechanism for answering questions like that. … You can ask, “is Coke considered better than RC Cola?”, or you can institute capitalism and find out. You can ask, “are ethno-nationalist states considered better than mixed states?”, or you can institute the patchwork and find out. …

RiverC (23/03/2014 at 3:44 am): Neo-cameralism is, if viewed in this light, a ‘political system system’, it is not a political system but a system for implementing political systems. Of course the same guy who came up with it also invented an operating system (a system for implementing software systems.)

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March 24, 2014admin 57 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Neoreaction , Philosophy , Political economy
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Sub-Cognitive Fragments (#2)

Sickness advances an invaluable philosophical lesson by making it conspicuously difficult to think. Teetering unsteadily at the edge of consciousness, it becomes almost impossible to avoid the observation: “I’m too freaking stupid to think about this right now.” One is thus coaxed into the single most significant realization open to human intelligence. Being stupid is the primary problem, because it retards problem-solving in general.

Are we stupid? Oh yes, of that we can be fully confident. The Old Law of Gnon ensures to a very high level of probability that any creature considering itself part of an intelligent species will be roughly as cognitively deprived as is consistent with the existence of technological civilization. Downward variation is restrained by a floor, and upward variation caught in a trap, so only a relatively narrow band of intellectual capability is realistically available. Anything further requires a break out.

Criticism, whose value is not in any way to be denigrated, is nevertheless a secondary matter. As in Darwinian evolution, or the economics of creative destruction, selection mechanisms presuppose significantly varied material, without themselves explaining how such material is originally generated. Random walks through spaces of possibility, already unsatisfactory in the context of biological explanation, are patently inadequate to economic innovation, and  still more so in the philosophical domain. To refer intellectual action to a simple conception of chance is to avoid the problem, which is to say — the task.

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March 3, 2014admin 11 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Philosophy