Deeper Darkness

At the point where people have begun to talk about “a positive Black Death effect” do they realize how far they’ve descended into the shadows? The hard-core horror of Malthusian analysis always has some new depths to fathom.

The idea that European living standards rose following the ‘relief’ from Malthusian pressure gifted by bubonic plague is far from new. It is even something approaching an uncontroversial fact of economic history. To take an additional step, however, and attribute the rise of the West to its mid-14th century epidemic devastation, is to wander into unexplored tracts of icy misanthropy. Europe was lucky enough to have enough people die.

The Malthusian implication (systematized by Gregory Clark) that only downward social mobility is compatible with eugenic trends, is a dark thought I have touched upon occasionally, but have yet to firmly fix upon. The idea of mass population destruction as a developmental gift, in any situation where economic growth rates fall below average fertility (I simplify), takes Dark Enlightenment to a whole other level.

As a footnote, it raises the question: was the Great Divergence eugenic for the Far East (which fell behind) and dysgenic for the West (which forged ahead)? Is economic prosperity essentially a gene trasher?

I tend to side with libertarians in their aversion to (Keynesian) broken window economics, but it is to be expected that such reasoning will promptly subside into sheer cognitive paralysis when the far more disturbing Malthusian conclusions are introduced. Libertarians already think they’ve ‘got’ Malthus, as the guy who lost the Simon-Ehrlich wager — an anti-capitalist green prophet preaching population restriction.

The real Malthus is going to come as a shock. He certainly spine-chills me.

November 18, 2013admin 16 Comments »
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16 Responses to this entry

  • Muad'Dib Says:

    On the Left taking Malthus seriously is the split point between Red and Green. Raise the Club of Rome there and you get :
    “All solvable by the correct egalitarian project-only rich peoples consumption matters.”
    “Misanthropist!”
    “Why not help solve the problem by killing yourself!”
    Progressive Cornucopians.

    Some still insist they see the ghosts as they thrust their fists against the posts:
    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/05/ten-billion-stephen-emmott-review

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 18th, 2013 at 7:31 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:

    Malthus –That’s not the initial or even certain problem.

    What if there’s a reaction by the people against learning itself ….? In particular if they read paragraphs like the last one, Moldbug’s dire problem and so on?

    Why did the Barbarians destroy learning and writing in the Western Empire?

    And what happened at the end of the Second Bronze Age that led to an age of Darkness?

    If they get the impression – correctly – that their ruling elites mean to do them in because they’re not considered smart enough why shouldn’t ordinary people go on an anti-elite rampage?

    To inconvenience people who publish your intended genocide then begin to carry it out may not be a hindrance to the intended but no longer passive victims.

    I agree something is coming.

    =========================================================
    Food is now so plentiful that obesity is a problem. Actually welfare is the problem..but..

    And I am going to remain unconvinced on the Black Death caused by overpopulation. I think the Bubonic Plague and some enterprising Tartars and Genoese Sailors caused the Black Death. I understand the popular kids think it was overpopulation. I’ll file it thus in the popular kids file.
    =================================================

    [Reply]

    Rasputin's Severed Penis Reply:

    In my opinion the real tragedy would be if we could reach the Singularity, but miss out on the opportunity because of a global pandemic, which, as VXXC suggests, retards our technological capabilities for centuries. Next to not reaching the next stage of techno-evolution, any number of deaths are relatively inconsequential. They would in all likelihood have happened shortly after the Singularity anyway. Living through / dying in something that looks like a Charlton Heston epic isn’t going to be pleasant, but the death of evolutionary opportunity is for me a far greater concern and the real stakes we are playing for, even if scarcely anyone knows it.

    [Reply]

    Red Reply:

    >>Why did the Barbarians destroy learning and writing in the Western Empire?
    They didn’t. The Muslims did by cutting off Egyptian papyrus supplies(Raising the cost of books by 100X during a period economic decline) and by raiding/enslaving almost all the Romans living along the coast (that’s the bulk of the roman population).

    >>And what happened at the end of the Second Bronze Age that led to an age of Darkness?
    The white tribes of Asia where pushed back into Europe by proto mongols and proto Chinese causing the largest barbarian invasion in history.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 18th, 2013 at 7:40 pm Reply | Quote
  • Grotto Says:

    Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms is a must-read for any neoreactionary.

    Malthusian economic logic will come back with a vengeance once the exponential productivity gains of the industrial revolution are fully realized. Huge segments of our populations are simply non-productive, and cannot economically support their own existence. Currently, the stored fat of our civilization sustains them. The question what happens afterwards.

    Religion is going to play a huge role in the outcome. Medieval religion cherished the afterlife as a blessed reward and reprieve from this one. It held both the carrot and the stick, as a diligent, productive, pious life would be rewarded. Perhaps we will see a return to organized religion as standards-of-living fall.

    Or perhaps we will go the other way. Our atheistic elites, shorn of any religious commitment to the sanctity or dignity of life, freed of any common brotherhood to man, unshackled from any fear of God, pursue their Malthusian logic to that terrible end, and relieve the world of population pressure. They will invent some system of morality to justify it, and you only need to see some Greenpeace or Planned Parenthood literature to see how easy it will be.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 18th, 2013 at 9:10 pm Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    Is prosperity a gene trasher? Yeah, pretty much. However, much like carbon dioxide, there’s a question of sensitivity. How dysgenic is a few centuries, really?

    Animal husbandry is normally just shuffling alleles, and there’s only so far that can take you. First, absent conscious selection, how far does the genome actually drift? Second, if there’s any kind of population squeeze, it’ll shuffle right back – it’s not like the R-selected are being extirpated by wealth, just outnumbered. Or put it the other way around: if I assume Clark is right about the magnitude of the change, then selection is fast and therefore returning to a better genome if you’re disrupted is also fast, therefore easy, therefore not worth worrying about.

    On the other side of things, yes the black death made people richer per capita. I completely buy Clarks’ coal == farmland transformation. It’s all about energy coming into the economy. Except it’s not. It’s energy plus innovation – Clarks’ own charts show that the economy has been growing exponentially probably since antiquity, modulo some political shocks. It’s just that it was in the x < 1 regime before 1700 or so. Because land/energy per capita has such a direct and predictable effect, I must cancel it out. It’s per capita per joule wealth that matters, and that has been going up, and is still going up. That measure is driven by investment and innovation.

    But, as I mentioned, political shocks. And things like the black death, which froze it solid.

    Then everything came to a stop. Given the scientific and mathematical works of Descartes and Galileo, but no chronological information, one might suppose the authors were students of Oresme. Galileo’s work on moving bodies is the next step after Oresme’s physics; Cartesian geometry follows immediately on Oresme’s work on graphs. But we know that the actual chronological gap was 250 years, during which nothing whatever happened in these fields. Nor did any thing of importance occur in any other branches of science in the two centuries between Oresme and Copernicus. Other intellectual fields have no more to offer. Histories of philosophy are naturally able to name philosophers between 1350 and 1600, but their inclusion seems to be on the same principle as world maps which include Wyndham, WA, but leave out Wollongong – big blank spaces must be filled. While it is almost impossible to find an English translation of any philosopher in the three hundred years between Scotus and Descartes, it is not a lack one feels acutely. The intellectual stagnation of those centuries is evident too in the lack of change in the universities: the curriculum which bored Locke at Oxford in 1650 was almost identical to the one which Wyclif found wanting in 1350.

    Also,

    A sign of the times was the fifteenth century’s preoccupation with death in art and literature, and presumably in daily life. The walls of churches filled up with danses macabres, poetry repeated the lesson of mortality almost to the exclusion of anything else, and the worm probably replaced the bird as the most sculpted animal. The figures of the century who have survived in the popular imagination are Joan of Arc, Bluebeard, Dracula and Torquemada, all of them associated with violent death in one form or another.

    The black death may also have accelerated certain ultimately economy-driven social innovations. (The only one I can ever remember is the ye-you thing, where ‘you’ was formal and used for distant equals and superiors, ‘ye’ was for the familiar and inferior. With all the wealth after the plague, everyone had to use ‘you’ because it was impossible to peg anyone as socially inferior.) However, overall, I have to put the plague down as a net negative, especially with how keenly the now-rich survivors would have known loss and felt lack of control. There’s a limit to anti-fragility too.

    (The unfairness of the rich is overall comforting: it means that if a pauper were rich, they would be able to control their life. When even the rich cannot stave off mass disaster, it terrifies the peasants. “Nobody is driving this thing.”)

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 18th, 2013 at 9:17 pm Reply | Quote
  • David Says:

    “…gifted by bubonic plague…” First ever use of “gift” as a verb I’ve encountered that hasn’t made me gag. Schön Wortspiel!

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 18th, 2013 at 9:49 pm Reply | Quote
  • Michael Says:

    This reminds me of a a documentary I watched on roman technology, Itwas much more advanced than id realized. They had factories with mills set up in series down hillsides along large rivers sometimes a dozen large wheels turning simultaneously, they had very complicated mechanical devices, one even opened temple doors automatically to give the special effect of magic, but most intriguing was they were playing around with steam power,There are a few steam devices we have found. What this seemed to imply was that had they not voted for more immigration the industrial revolution might have taken place two thousand years earlier. It really blew me away thinking about that.
    I think it was the mongols or huns that brought the Plague. But youre kind of describing a guns germs and steel which is gay so stop it. The benefit i thought was wages rose, which invites trade goods merchants guilds financiers and power shifts alliances city states politics war revolution democracy communism welfare queens
    I think america and europe for that matter would be great with out the vibrant we would start having children again but for a while it would be less crowded

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 18th, 2013 at 10:45 pm Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    On this data, the rise of the west probably started around 1277.

    That is to say, around the time that Roger Bacon proposed the conquest of nature: Proposed science and the scientific method giving rise to technology, the application of technology making businessmen rich, businessmen funding technology, and, in the process, funding science and the scientific method.

    That seems to me the glaringly obvious explanation, Bacon’s explanation. Nothing to do with the black death.

    Capitalism, science, and the scientific method. It is obvious.

    Of course today we have state science. The scientific method was ditched in favor of peer review in the 1940s, and for capitalism, increasingly we have crony capitalism.

    [Reply]

    Alrenous Reply:

    Bacon’s wiki page seems pretty good. Unexpectedly, La Wik contradicts the religion vs. science narrative – apparently Bacon was subject to a Galileo imprisonment myth four centuries before the myth’s namesake.

    He was one of Grosseteste’s students. Grosseteste was probably one of the first English scholars with access to surviving Greek texts.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “Capitalism, science, and the scientific method.” — Undoubtedly, but are these things truly primary, or do they have some kind of demographic precondition (of a basically quantitative, rather than qualitative kind)? I’d taken the Black Death hypothesis as an account of the origins of techno-capitalist dynamics — crudely, by making more free capital available (at a remove from the Malthusian limit) and encouraging technological substitution for labor (ditto).

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 19th, 2013 at 10:46 am Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Not a myth.

    Roger Bacon was put in solitary on bread and water.

    Nor is Galileo a myth. He was given a tour of the instruments of torture and forced to recant that the earth moves, under threat of torture.

    Of course the fact that they survived this, and their fame was not extinguished, makes Christianity way better than all the alternatives.

    In Islam, the equivalent of Tycho was beheaded, his observatory destroyed, and all his records destroyed.

    The Chinese equivalents were entirely erased.

    Under progressivism, their equivalents merely lose their jobs, and excluded from polite society, which progressivism plausibly claims is an improvement on the Christian record, and it would be an improvement if progressives were not so passionate and thorough about eliminating all dissent everywhere. Christianity was, though sporadically harsher, not nearly as passionate and thorough.

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    Posted on November 20th, 2013 at 5:43 am Reply | Quote
  • Blogospheroid Says:

    Is economic prosperity a gene-trasher – perhaps, but does it matter that much to a transhumanist? Isn’t the transhuman idea to take control of destiny? What protein expression is needed from genes? Can’t it be (eventually) recreated faster and with less error by cybernetic augmentation?

    It honestly does not take much intelligence to do better than evolution in a well defined problem situation. Evolution rules because it has been at it for so long.

    In such discussions at less wrong , the general idea is that if evolution is allowed to just continue on its own without transhumanist intervention, then eventually the future will be bereft of everything we consider valuable. It will literally be all breeding all the time and nothing else. I tend to agree with that thought.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 20th, 2013 at 4:48 pm Reply | Quote
  • James A. Donald Says:

    Bees and rabbits are fully optimized by evolution, and they seem to have a good time. It is not like evolution stands over you with a whip. Rather, those that enjoy the kinds of things that lead to survival, survive.

    Flowers are pretty, because that is what bees like. They are not just billboards advertising “nectar here for making honey” Creatures fully optimized for evolution still have plenty of time for beauty and joy. It is the maladapted that are sad, and perish.

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    Posted on November 20th, 2013 at 6:06 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jefferson Says:

    How does the decline in TFR factor in? Aren’t we likely to see a huge increase in per capita everything in places like Japan?

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 21st, 2013 at 2:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Uma Escuridão Mais Profunda – Outlandish Says:

    […] Original. […]

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