The Ethno-cladistic thesis, sketchily reconstructed here from Mencius Moldbug’s neoreactionary usage, proposes that relations between cultural systems are captured by cladograms to a highly significant level of adequacy. The limits to this thesis are set by lateral complications — interchanges and modifications that do not conform to a pattern of branching descent — and these are by no means negligible. Nevertheless, actual cultural formations are dominated by cladistic order. As a consequence, cultural theories that assume taxonomic regularity as a norm are capable of reaching potentially realistic approximations, and furthermore offer the only prospect for the rigorous organization of ethnographic phenomena.
The most direct and central defense of the ethno-cladistic thesis bypasses the comparatively high-level religious systems that provide the material for Moldbug’s arguments, and turn instead to the ethnographic root phenomenon: language. Languages simply are cultures in their fundamentals, so that any approach applicable to them will have demonstrated its general suitability for cultural analysis.
I’d try to spin this out melodramatically, but I don’t think there’s really any point:
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It seems indisputable (to me) that lateral complications of these basic cladistic schemes are marginal. Languages are naturally grouped in branching, tree-like structures, which like those of (metazoan) biological variety are simultaneously explanatory of historical processes and morphological relatedness, because they represent evolutionary processes of successive speciation. The dominant organization is a taxonomic hierarchy, conforming to the formal language of set theory. The real events captured by these schemes are schisms, whose logical relation is that of genus to species. In the case of culture, as with biology, the manifest evolutionary development indicates the existence of some efficient hereditary mechanism (whose unit of replicated information is tagged by Moldbug, among innumerable others, as a ‘meme‘). On this last point, it is worth noting that taxonomic biological classification, and even genetics, preceded the biochemical discovery of DNA — and was broadly confirmed, rather than disrupted, when this discovery took place. (The meme is an analogy, but not a metaphor.)
Ethno-cladistics is the schematics of cultural heritage. Despite the bulldozer assertiveness of this post, it is not designed to block methodical efforts directed at the subversion of this model. As indicated, such efforts will necessarily involve the elaboration of lateral (or ‘rhizomatic’) diagrams — a project of great intrinsic significance (and creative potential). Techno-commercial processes are strongly associated with lateralizations of this kind.
Culture, however, is fundamentally heritage, and ethno-cladistics is the theoretical response to this basic historical fact. This is already Moldbug’s tacit claim, which should be uncontroversial among reactionaries of any kind. At the core of the neoreactionary endeavor is the cladogram.