Down-slopes

The Outer-Right, in all its principal strands, has a horrified fascination with decline. Is this basic proposition even slightly controversial? It’s not easy to see how it could be. This is a zone of convergence of such intimidating enormity that even beginning to heap up link support seems futile. Taking the Trichotomy as a rough guide reveals the pattern starkly:
(1) Religious traditionalists see a continuous decline trend from the Reformation to the most recent frenzy of evangelical hyper-secularism.
(2) Ethno-Nationalists see a process of accelerating demographic destruction driven — or at least lucidly articulated — by left-wing race politics.
(3) Techno-Commercialists see the systematic destruction of capital by cancerous Leviathan and macroeconomic high-fraudulence, undermining economic incentives, crushing time-horizons, and garbling price-discovery into fiat noise.
In each case, the online-ecologies (and associated micro-cultures) sharing the respective deep intuitions of progressive ruin are too enormous to conveniently apprehend. What everyone on the Outer-Right shares (and I’m now hardening this up, into a definition) is the adamantine confidence that the basic socio-political process is radically morbid, and is leading inexorably to utter ruin.

No surprise, then, that John Michael Greer finds many attentive readers in our camp. His latest (and still incomplete) series on Dark Age America resonates with particular strength. The most recent installment, which discusses the impending collapse of the market system, through quasi-Marxist crisis, on its way to many centuries of neo-feudalism, is bound to raise some tech-comm eyebrows, but it nevertheless occupies the same broad forecast space. If people are stocking their basements with ammo, silver coins, and dried beans for Greer reasons rather than Stockman ones, they might cut back a little on the coins, but they’re not going to stop stocking the basement. Differences seem to lie in the details.

The differences in the details are actually fairly substantial. Even if Winter is coming, we’re not necessarily talking about the same thing. To begin with, Greer is not a figure of the Outer-Right at all, because his (extremely interesting) cybernetic engine of descent is ecological and resource-based, carried by a deep eco-historical ‘correction’ or dominating (negative) feedback cycle whose proxy is fossil-fuel abundance. Modernity, roughly speaking, simply runs out of gas. His cultural criticism is ultimately anchored in — and limited to — that. When describing (drawn-out, and incremental) civilizational collapse, he forecasts the automatic nemesis of a system doomed by its unsustainable excess. Further engagement with this model belongs elsewhere. It’s an important discussion to have.

The more immediate concern, here, is with the very different components of ‘winter’ — of which three, in particular, stand-out. Each is, in itself, huge. The directions in which they point, however, are not obviously coherent.

(1) Closest to the Greer vision are bad global-systems dynamics. These tend to prevail on the Outer-Right, but they typically lack the theoretical resolution Greer provides. It is understandable that those who strongly identify with specific declining ethnies (or Super-Phyles), whether theologically, racially, or traditionally conceived, are disinclined to distinguish their progressive dilapidation from a generalized global calamity. This is certainly not merely stupid, however much it offends prevailing moral fashion. The extent to which it supplies an adequate preparation for the events to come is questionable, nevertheless. Without an explicit defense of its specificity, it can all too easily confuse its own winter sicknesses with a universal predicament.

(2) What can easily be under-estimated is the localization of the unfolding disaster, in a specifically Occidental collapse. This is, of course, Spengler’s Decline of the West, among other things, and even though this is a work Greer explicitly acknowledges, the inherent globality of his model tends to eclipse its particularism. For Greer, the impending decline of China (for instance) follows upon its complicity in fossil-fueled industrial modernity, even if, for rhetorical effect, it is to be permitted a few decades of comparative ascendancy. The Outer-Right tends to be Greerian in this respect, although without equivalent positive reason. It is not asked, often enough, how much of the deepening winter is — quite narrowly — ours. Greer has an argument for why Western Modernity has consumed the future for everyone. Unless the fundamentals of this theory are accepted, is there any reason to accept its predictive consequences?

(3) The third ‘winter’ is modeled by the rhythmic troughs of the Kondratiev cycle. This tends to localize in time, rather than space, dividing the merely seasonal from the cumulative, secular trend. While a comprehensive attribution of our malaise to such a cycle would constitute an exit from the Outer-Right, passing into a far more complacent diagnosis of the global, or merely Western, calamity, to dismiss it entirely from consideration is to court profound cognitive (and predictive) imbalance. In the opinion of this blog, Greer’s model is grievously afflicted by such imbalance, and — once again — this seems to be a syndrome of far wider prevalence. Scarcely anybody on the Outer-Right is prepared for rhythmic amelioration of significant modern pathologies, through renewal of techno-commercial vitality even under conditions of secular civilizational decline. Yet even glancing attention to the working of the (~ half century) long waves suggests that such neglect is simply unrealistic. Unless the K-wave is now dead — an extraordinarily extreme proposition, which surely merits explicit assertion — some proportion of the present decay is inherently transitional. New industrial structures based on blockchained communications — and thus designed to route around socio-cultural sclerosis — will support an explosion of innovation dwarfing any yet imagined (including synthetic economic agents, quantum computing, neuromorphic chips, large-scale space activity, applied genomics, VR media systems, drone-robotics, commercialized security … maybe Urbit). Even if Greer is absolutely right about the deep historical pattern being played out — and I’m fully confident he isn’t — the next K-wave upswing is going to be vast, dazzling, and, almost incomprehensibly distracting. There’s perhaps a decade remaining in which uncompromising gloom-core will make sense, after which the Outer-Right risks utter eclipse during two decades of upswing euphoria. It would make a lot of sense to pre-adapt to it, beginning with a reminder that the Outer-Right case is not that everything will continually deteriorate.

I’ve run out the clock on myself for now … but I’ll get back to this.

November 8, 2014admin 27 Comments »
FILED UNDER :History

TAGGED WITH : , , , , , ,

27 Responses to this entry

  • VXXC Says:

    I’m glad you’re being more cheerful.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 8th, 2014 at 7:08 pm Reply | Quote
  • peter connor Says:

    JMG’s work is very well done and skillfully written, though because of his fundamentally liberal sensitivities (I think), he pretty much ignores the violence that will attend even a somewhat gradual collapse. In other words, the “bullets” part of the formula. As a great deal of anthropological history demonstrates, farmers are extremely vulnerable to raiders, so defense will be essential to keeping most of those vital crops you have grown.
    I am also a bit skeptical of the “gradual” part, in a vastly over-populated modern world with few excess food resources.

    [Reply]

    mark power Reply:

    I agree, I stopped reading him because I didn’t trust his judgement after he demonstrated to much political correctness. I judge everyone harshly.

    [Reply]

    John Reply:

    Indeed. His entire theory of collapse is rooted in climate “science” and environmentalism. His prophesy of doom amounts to a grand extrapolation of prog propaganda points for the broad strokes (WE MUST WORSHIP GAIA OR PERISH!!!) with remarkably intelligent and articulate bits of analysis employed for the finer details.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 8th, 2014 at 7:23 pm Reply | Quote
  • scientism Says:

    The cyclical nature of the past was tied to energy usage in agrarian societies and the fact that energy sources were fungible so they could always start over after the inevitable overreach. Industrialisation is more like a desperate scramble up the ladder of energy consumption, where greater energy consumption makes available more difficult to access sources of energy, but if you trip and end up back at the start you’re not likely to get another shot. We already balked on nuclear and space, so we might’ve already screwed up. This is probably what the Great Filter looks like: not a catastrophe, but a gradual but irreversible loss of the ability to keep advancing, so you end up stuck on Earth, trying to maintain what technology you have, because you missed the window for the glorious nuclear-age expansion into space.

    [Reply]

    Nyan Sandwich Reply:

    GLORIOUS NUCLEAR FACISM! THERE IS STILL A CHANCE, BROTHERS!

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “This is probably what the Great Filter looks like …” — that is an inspired connection, but it seems to head beyond the Greer model into something darker.

    [Reply]

    peter connor Reply:

    I think the Great Filter may be the trap of Mouse Utopia. Check Wikipedia for a reasonably accurate description. The likely cause of collapse is ultimately mutation load in a temporarily non-Malthusian society.

    [Reply]

    scientism Reply:

    Let’s say we didn’t have China or blockchains and we just had America and Europe in decline. Are you confident we could reboot after a crash? And isn’t it even worse to just fizzle out? After all, we’re still consuming fossil fuels during the long decline. The more we consume, the more difficult it becomes to extract what remains, but we’re usually okay because we’re advancing. Once you’re in decline, that equation stops working. If you’re retrogressing, the more you’ve got leave in the ground. People usually counter peak fossil fuel arguments by saying we’ll move to a new technological basis, but they generally ignore the possibility of just missing out on the window of opportunity to achieve technological escape velocity (to a new Earth-bound energy source, like nuclear, or to access more resources, like space), and heading into terminal decline.

    Plus, everything is interdependent. Even if you have cryptopunk technology to route around the government, it’s all running on computers. You need a power grid, you need to be able to produce microprocessors (an extremely difficult, capital intensive process), you need raw materials, etc. All of this stuff assumes you’re in an industrial civilisation. The only way out of that is self-replicating nanotechnology, if that’s even possible. But again, you’ve got to get there. Who’s to say you don’t just fizzle out before you do?

    So maybe the Great Filter is a missed opportunity species pass through without noticing. An energy inflection point where if you don’t make a particularly difficult transition, you end up on a down curve and there’s no way back up because you already used up all the accessible fossil fuels. If you look at those old cyclical agrarian societies, they usually become degenerate when they’re peaking. With industrialisation, we went over the old peak into new territory, and we became even more degenerate and self-important than anyone before us. We looked at the world we’d created and said, “What luxury!” We imagined utopia and not long after we tried to build it. Perhaps this is universal. It certainly seems plausible that comfort presents a problem for all intelligent life (anything that thinks and consumes). Nobody is going to look at the world we have now, knowing what it was like in the past, and think we’re balanced on a knife’s edge. Instead, they think “look at all we have achieved” and go on to imagine reengineering society to be fair and equal in all its myriad dimensions.

    [Reply]

    peter connor Reply:

    Yes, we may have missed our window of opportunity. Because even if technology advances significantly, it will not change the quantity of hydrocarbons or fresh water in aquifers, or rare mineral deposits. I would guess there is some oil in Antarctica, but we are millennia away from the ability to extract it and ship it somewhere useful, with temperatures reaching -135 F and frequent gale force winds.

    Chris B Reply:

    Unfortunately, comfort seems to breed leftism. Only people living with plenty can have the luxury to pack their country with 3+ children Somali families for the “vibrancy”. Doing such utterly stupid things is only possible when you have excess fat to burn through on such ridiculous whims. So there is the issue of degeneracy linked to wealth.
    There is also the issue of societal sclerosis which is something I have been thinking about for a while now. The situation in which a society and civilization develops through spontaneous order and becomes successful, but in the process specific points and groups begin to solidify their positions and block natural spontaneous change in relation to new changes (such as nuclear development). Be this in the form of bureaucracies enacting more and more laws to supply make work to itself, unnecessary intermediaries in the market (as Greer discusses in the post) or other privileges that arise to block change. You could even see SJWs/ liberals/ progressives and leftists in this light. They are “lightworker” intermediaries. A priest type class rent seeking on social ills which they create, exacerbate and scream about. From their colonisation of profitable industries, to their mafia style Pizzo extortion tactics (see the mortgage market 2008 collapse and also this on using shareholder activism to increase diversity – http://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/bclbe/Shareholder_Activism_to_Promote_Good_Corporate_Governance_-_Myriam_Denis-1.pdf).
    The ultimate result of such sclerosis is an inability of the system to act correctly, resulting in perverse outcomes. What I think Toynebee was referring to when he said all great civilizations commit suicide.

    Posted on November 8th, 2014 at 8:15 pm Reply | Quote
  • Witch Hammer Says:

    I am extremely skeptical that technology is going to circumvent civilizational decline and cultural malaise, but I guess we’ll see.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    It’s more difficult to avoid the expectation of “circumvention” if you pursue the alternative scenario to its rigorous conclusions. A techno-economic deep wave that has pulsed (five times) quite regularly through a variety of regimes, shrugging off the raw socialism of the New Deal, the abolition of apolitical money, the Great Society, and whatever other obstacles, is suddenly going to flatline now because … what? Obamacare? It’s surely impossible to imagine?

    The pre-ignition build up of technological primers for K-wave six is actually shocking. The last wave was mostly Internet, plus electronics tweaking. The coming one has a far broader panoply of new industrial opportunities to feed from, and the paradigm for the principal infrastructural overhaul is already coming into focus. So even though — of course — the rotting corpse of Western civilization puts a huge obstacle in the way, it’s really not conceivable that the next manic phase won’t happen. It will detour the worst of the obstruction geopolitically (through rising Asia) and technologically (through zero-trust shadow webs and distributed autonomous currencies).

    Anyway, yes — you’re right — we’ll see. If it’s not on undeniable launch-burn within a decade, this forecast will disintegrate back into eternal gloom-core.

    [Reply]

    peter connor Reply:

    I’m not seeing this wave, and neither are people like Peter Thiel,.Apart from the rather worthless iterations of social media, hard science seems to be in retreat. Things like embryo selection will arrive, but will be unaffordable for all but the elites, and their effects will be far down the line.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    The Blockchain is huge. Far more fundamentally innovative even than the WWW. Check out the Ethereum project for a sense of the scope (there smart contract code is even Turing complete, which makes it an AI platform). Marc Andreessen only has to be a little bit right for this to hold good (and he is). For a Thiel-type (accelerated mass) technology, there’s New Space, which is — surely — happening, and waiting to go critical. Even Solar is being under-estimated, by those not seeing the development curve. Quantum computing is getting serious. Drones are an extraordinary leap, already normalized, and undergoing commercialization. This is not even to mention biotech, VR-media, wearables, new hydrocarbons (Methane Clathrates have to come onstream during the next cycle), and much else besides. There’s far more ready to runaway into K-Wave Six than KW5 had ready at a comparable stage.

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    @admin,
    that was actually . . . sorta convincing. Hey, if we’ve reached our current level of decay and degeneracy with only a paltry K5 inheritance to spendthrift, I can’t wait to see what we do with the K6 bonanza.

    Lesser Bull Reply:

    We’re all ruin voters fleeing California for the future.

    Alrenous Reply:

    Ah, yes.

    Make it a little over fifteen years, not ten. Everything takes longer than expected.

    [Reply]

    R. Reply:

    Isn’t blockchain fundamentally impractical for reasons of size?

    If bitcoin was used instead of credit cards, how big would the blockchain file need to be?

    [Reply]

    John Reply:

    > Isn’t blockchain fundamentally impractical for reasons of size?

    Given the rate that costs of storage have been decreasing over time, this really shouldn’t be a problem. Just think of what it cost for a measly 1 GB hard drive 10 years ago. Today 1 TB hard drive is $69 on Amazon.

    > If bitcoin was used instead of credit cards, how big would the blockchain file need to be?

    It would, and will, become quite large, but users will never have to worry about this and compression options are readily available. Also, a great deal of transactions will be done off chain (within the VISA network, or whatever) with the corporate networks only needing the external Blockchain to occasionally settle up.

    Posted on November 8th, 2014 at 10:00 pm Reply | Quote
  • Down-slopes | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on November 8th, 2014 at 10:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • Nyan Sandwich Says:

    I think it’s important to factor out the predictions from the worry.

    While Techno-Economic, Demographic, and Socio-Spiritual decline are the focus of the Outer Right and NRx in particular, we are not necessarily tied to predictions that those are actually happening. We do seem to be experiencing or threatened by actual decline in these areas, but it seems to me that NRx is just as relevent and just as correct in an era of Techno-Economic/Demographic/Socio-Spiritual *ascendency*, if less needed.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 8th, 2014 at 11:38 pm Reply | Quote
  • Garr Says:

    If Spengler’s chronology is correct, our Julius Caesar won’t arrive for another 50 years or so, and then we’ll have a couple of extremely competent dictators to look forward to, and even the third (Tiberius) will be okay until a Sejanus gets his hooks into him. Spengler’s “Decline” looks like a petrification, not a collapse. The Chinese Culture petrified 2000 years ago; petrification doesn’t entail collapse. The Classical/Apollinian Culture in its petrified, Roman civilizational stage would still survive today had it not been for the pressure exerted against it by the Teutonic great-great-great-etc.-grandfathers of the Faustian Culture that finally got going in the late 10th century. While Latin American immigrants to the USA might play the same role, this won’t necessarily be the case, and in any case they seem to be the refuse of several destroyed Cultures (the Magian/Faustian Synthesis of Spain, as well as the Mexican and the Incan) rather than the progenitors of a new future Culture, so they aren’t really like the Teutonic barbarians of Spengler’s fantasy. The Muslim immigrants to Europe don’t fit the description either, because they’re the “fellahin” laborers and drones of another surviving but petrified Culture (the Magian, of which Islam is the Reformation-form). So don’t worry too much; the Faustian West might just petrify for thousands of years, rather than collapse. Yes, there’s the declining-average-IQ problem, more of a problem for us than it was for the Romans because we depend upon a complex technology that can only be maintained by nerds with whom late-Faustian women refuse to copulate … Nerds will have to be encouraged to clone themselves … but of course they will be happy to do so, because then they will be sure to have children who share their interests.

    [Reply]

    forkinhell Reply:

    Petrification for thousands of years sounds just dandy. (NRx go home, your work here is done).

    [Reply]

    peter connor Reply:

    Problem is, Kondratiev winter will be here in much less than 50 years.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 9th, 2014 at 12:27 am Reply | Quote
  • John Says:

    ”(1) Religious traditionalists see a continuous decline trend from the Reformation to the most recent frenzy of evangelical hyper-secularism.”

    The are wrong:
    http://praiseoffolly.wordpress.com/does-progressivism-grow-out-of-protestantism/

    http://patriactionary.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/the-enemies-of-christendom-and-the-saracen-question/#comment-3825

    https://patriactionary.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/on-puritans-ostensible-puritanism-and-on-lutheranisms-ostensible-proto-nazism/

    http://foseti.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/review-of-unqualified-reservations-part-1/#comment-25255

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 9th, 2014 at 3:51 am Reply | Quote
  • SanguineEmpiricist Says:

    @John

    People lose the nuance in this statement. If you want a more straight-forward example of someone who says a similar statement of humanism being secular Christianity, see John Gray

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/15/society

    “Belief in progress is a relic of the Christian view of history as a universal narrative, and an intellectually rigorous atheism would start by questioning it. This is what Nietzsche did when he developed his critique of Christianity in the late 19th century, but almost none of today’s secular missionaries have followed his example.” – John Gray

    people pushing the ultra-calvinist line outside its applicability cannot defend moldbug as well as he could himself, so that statement will serve as a solid re-framing until he returns.

    [Reply]

    Posted on November 10th, 2014 at 4:49 am Reply | Quote

Leave a comment