Reaction Points (#2)

Spandrell has been asking whether advanced modernity makes an ever larger fraction of society economically redundant. Jim has also been talking about the costs posed by “people of negative economic value” (or, with his signature delicacy, ‘the moron problem’.) It’s a running theme with Moldbug too, and he’s now gone epic on it.
Outside in is Austrian enough to predict that markets clear when they’re not politically screwed over, which would mean the problem isn’t techno-economic at all, but merely one of inequality tolerance. It seems that Federico agrees.

Foseti has been shepherding people towards Scott Alexander’s series on Reaction. The dubiously named ‘thrive/survive’ theory in part two is (really) interesting, but is there anything else going on there worth responding to? Attempts at persuasion welcome.

Most intense mind-meld moment of the week (Jim again):

… obviously China has been moving rightwards ever since the Gang of Four was overthrown, and will probably continue to do so, but they feel really guilty about doing so.

Nineteenth century anglosphere capitalism survived in Shanghai till 1941, long after it had become extinct in the anglosphere, and to some extent survived in Hong Kong to the present day. After the coup, Deng set to work reviving Shanghai capitalism before the show trial of the gang of four had even began, and in this sense, China has become deeply reactionary, preserving some of the best of the west’s past. On the other hand, in another sense they are still a bunch of commies kowtowing to elite white male leftists.

Can China fend off the Cathedral? The future depends on that. Either the CPC goes global PC, or reaction deepens all the way to total recall (that laissez-faire is the translation of a Chinese concept). Here’s one positive indicator. (And a negative one.)

March 18, 2013admin 10 Comments »
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Alexander on Reaction

Foseti was persuasive enough to motivate a second look at Scott Alexander’s continuing engagement with reaction (even after the dismally unimpressive first installment).

It is indeed “awesome,” and merits a serious response (later this week?).

For an immediate response, simple translation has to suffice, stripping away the slanted “survive/thrive” language, and getting right to the point. Reactionaries think leftists are spoiled*: decadent, self-indulgent, hedonistic fantasists, debauching an inheritance they are incapable of adding to.

Degeneracy is degeneracy**, whether it’s affordable or not. To the reactionary right it looks horrible, even in the absence of zombie apocalypse (but we’re getting one anyway).

* How can a theory of left/right differentiation demonstrate such insensitive disregard for ‘the wretched of the earth’? It is that ‘problem’ — readily admitted by Alexander — that makes his explanation truly awesome. The Left has nothing to do with what the downtrodden ‘think’, and everyone — once pressed — is relieved to admit that. Now everything makes sense. We’re discussing a thought-pattern (Leftism) exclusively native to affluent degenerates, with the social sub-strata occasionally latching on, opportunistically, and uncomprehendingly.

** Yes, the word ‘degeneracy’ is historically spicy — if we were being responsible about it, it would make us nervous. Slicing diagonally through biology, culture, economics — even technology — it’s what reactionaries think socio-political ‘progress’ really is. In that respect, it’s indispensable.
So what is degeneration? — in any conversation entirely internal to reaction, that would be the central topic of discussion. (The Outside in definition: degeneracy is whatever makes you more stupid.)

ADDED: Scott Alexander paraphrased: The Right doesn’t think we can afford to degenerate, whilst the Left thinks we can.
Scott Alexander nudged: The Right decries degeneration, even when it seems (in the short term) affordable. The Left advocates degeneration (in the medium term) even when, in the short term, we obviously can’t afford it.

ADDED: ‘Survive vs thrive’ or Crunchy vs Soggy (via Glenn Reynolds)?

ADDED: Goad on fire viz affluent degenerates (via SDL in the comments).

March 17, 2013admin 2 Comments »
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Optimize for Intelligence

Moldbug’s latest contains a lot to think about, and to argue with. It seems a little lost to me (perhaps Spandrell is right).

The guiding thread is utility, in its technical (philosophical and economic) sense, grasped as the general indicator of a civilization in crisis. Utilitarianism, after all, is precisely ‘objective’ hedonism, the promotion of pleasure as the master-key to value. As philosophy, this is pure decadence. As economics it is more defensible, certainly when restricted to its descriptive usage (if economists find their field of investigation populated by hedonically-controlled mammals, it is hardly blameworthy of them to acknowledge the fact). In this respect, accusing the Austrians of ‘pig-philosophy’ is rhetorical over-reach — swinish behavior wasn’t learned from Human Action.

Utilitarianism is often attractive to rational people, because it seems so rational. The imperative to maximize pleasure and minimize pain goes with the grain of what biology and culture already says: pleasure is good, suffering is bad, people seek rewards and avoid punishments, happiness is self-justifying. Calculative consequentialism is vastly superior to deontology. Yet the venerable critique Moldbug taps into, and extends, is truly devastating. The utilitarian road leads inexorably to wire-head auto-orgasmatization, and the consummate implosion of purpose. Pleasure is a trap. Any society obsessed with it is already over.

Utility, backed by pleasure, is toxic waste, but that doesn’t mean there’s any need to junk the machinery of utilitarian calculus — including all traditions of rigorous economics. It suffices to switch the normative variable, or target of optimization, replacing pleasure with intelligence. Is something worth doing? Only if it grows intelligence. If it makes things more stupid, it certainly isn’t.

There are innumerable objections that might flood in at this point [excellent!].
— Even if rigorous economics is in fact the study of intelligenic (or catallactic) distributions, doesn’t the assumption of subjective utility-maximization provide the most reliable basis for any understanding of economic behavior?
— Infinite intelligence already (and eternally) exists, we should focus on praying to that.
— Rather my retarded cousin than an intelligent alien.
— Do we even know what intelligence is?
— Cannot an agent be super-intelligent and evil?
— Just: Why?

More, therefore, to come …

ADDED: A previous excursion into the engrossing topic of hedonic implosion cited Geoffrey Miller (in Seed magazine): “I suspect that a certain period of fitness-faking narcissism is inevitable after any intelligent life evolves. This is the Great Temptation for any technological species—to shape their subjective reality to provide the cues of survival and reproductive success without the substance. Most bright alien species probably go extinct gradually, allocating more time and resources to their pleasures, and less to their children. They eventually die out when the game behind all games — the Game of Life — says ‘Game Over; you are out of lives and you forgot to reproduce.’”

March 15, 2013admin 16 Comments »
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Tasty chick pix at Urban Undercurrents.

ADDED: Smoking hot

March 11, 2013admin 12 Comments »
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The Feel-Good Franchise

Sheldon Richman seizes upon the senseless sequester squealing as an opportunity to make more general points (via Cafe Hayek). There’s nothing strikingly original, but it’s all impressively sound. The point of departure is Bryan Caplan’s analysis, which Richman summarizes as the question: “…if the ‘informed voter’ is a chimera, how can we expect democracy to yield desirable outcomes?”

Since democratic large numbers drown out both the effectiveness of any vote, and the private consequences of subsequent policy …

… it’s costless to vote for the candidate who makes you feel good about yourself. As Bryan Caplan has shown, given these incentives, people tend to vote according to their biases, which for most people embody economic fallacies.

Yet the keepers of the system (pundits included) play a game in which they pretend that voters are informed and make wise decisions.

Common rhapsodizing about democracy notwithstanding, the details of what Leviathan does are beyond comprehension. (Remember, members of Congress don’t read the bills.) Even an enthusiast for big government can’t tell if this government’s policies do good or harm. Yet the cult of democracy aims at maximum participation in elections. If a small number of ignorant voters is not good, how can a larger number be an improvement?

Here’s a better idea: let people cooperate with one another in the free market, and leave as few matters as possible to the overrated democratic arena.

Good luck with that.

March 11, 2013admin 16 Comments »
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“The truth is kind of a dark thing”

Tortured liberal Robert Huber writes on the race-crushed culture of Philadelphia (via Sailer), vividly describing people psychological broken and warped by fear — the author, of course, among them.

I yearn for much more: that I could feel the freedom to speak to my African-American neighbors about, say, not only my concerns for my son’s safety living around Temple, but how the inner city needs to get its act together. That I could take the leap of talking about something that might seem to be about race with black people.

I wouldn’t do that, though, because it feels too risky. …

But this is how I see it: We need to bridge the conversational divide so that there are no longer two private dialogues in Philadelphia — white people talking to other whites, and black people to blacks — but a city in which it is okay to speak openly about race. That feels like a lot to ask, a leap of faith for everyone. It also seems like the only place to go, the necessary next step.

Meanwhile, when I drive through North Philly to visit my son, I continue to feel both profoundly sad and a blind desire to escape.

Though I wonder: Am I allowed to say even that?


ADDED: Not a tortured white liberal. “Both the Progressives at the beginning of the 20th century and the liberals at the end started from the same false premise — namely, that there is something unusual about different racial and ethnic groups having different achievements.”

March 8, 2013admin 37 Comments »
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Natural Law

“Some critics of Morsi argue that the U.S. should let him fail,” reports David Ignatius, as Egypt spirals down the drain.

Let X fail is the cosmic formula for getting policy right.

March 7, 2013admin 4 Comments »
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Cybernetic De-Activation

It really isn’t that complicated:

Once the State enforces quasi-monopolies and cartels, inefficiencies rise because the feedback from reality (i.e. price) has been severed. This is how you get an economy where a biopsy costs $70,000, new fighter aircraft cost $200+ million each (six times the previous top-of-the-line fighter) and a conventional (i.e. non-Ivy League) college education costs $120,000 – $200,000.

March 6, 2013admin 21 Comments »
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Reaction Points (#1)

The concept of world citizenship leads naturally to the progressive antithesis of the Moldbuggian thesis — to all voice, no exit — in a word, to democracy. The world is that from which there is no exit.

Spandrell introduces two engrossing discussion themes to run with. Are contemporary trends in robotics leading to a Marxian revival? (Or: Is atavistic tribalism the wave of the near future?) Also: What do we really think HBD is telling us?

This is a strong candidate for the most thoroughly decent thing I’ve ever read. (It helps that the topic is an unfashionably decent man, and a once-decent country). These remarks (December 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm), however, are pure tantalization: “I’ve been thinking about writing something about the difference between some reactionaries who believe a multi-racial society is possible if we stop pretending that everyone is the same (and make other adjustments, see Singapore or Rhodesia or other historical societies) and white nationalists. I’m in the former camp.” [ditto]
Occam’s Razor lays out the pessimistic case.

Radish has changed formats, so I can open the damn thing at last … (crikes!)

It is really easy to kill cockroaches… yet they exist and prosper. Woolly mammoths are hard (and quite dangerous) to kill, yet they do not exist. Which is bitcoin more like?
— Nick B. Steves (March 5th, 2013 at 7:48 pm)

March 6, 2013admin 24 Comments »
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Bitcoin Horror Stories

Bitcoin Dies, Moldbug ventures, perhaps sometime this year. Following a broad DOJ indictment for money laundering, targeting any and everybody remotely connected with the free currency, the “BTC/USD price falls to 0 and remains there.”

“[R]emains there” — how cute is that? Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Bitcoin R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

Bitcoin simulates gold, and once ‘mined’ it lasts for ever. If it “falls to 0” it has to remain there, for eternity, because it can never be finished. It can die, but never be destroyed. It’s built for undeath.

‘Moldbug Monetary Theory’ attributes the value of money exclusively to speculation. If the speculators are terrorized sufficiently, BTC drops onto the flatline, and “remains there.” The market would be totally extinguished. What Mao failed to achieve, let alone sustain, USG would somehow accomplish, perhaps by exhibiting greater revolutionary ardor and ruthlessness.

Ruthlessness would certainly be necessary, for the obvious reason that flatline-BTC has zero downside risk. It’s a one-way bet that someone, somewhere, will re-animate it (“nothing is unstable” (thanks to fotrkd for the reminder)). If a genius was designing irresistible speculator-bait, zero-degree bitcoin would be hard to improve upon. It’s free, and it’s only worth nothing if the cops can secure the crypt flawlessly, and forever. Did anyone say ‘free money’?

Speculation messes with time, by bringing the future forward. If undead BTC were ever to be re-awakened, it already has been. Its economic potential flows back down the timeline, modified by a time-preference discount. The feedback becomes strange, and difficult to confidently calculate, but it works as a vitalizing charge, and the corpse unmistakably twitches. Whatever money at t0 is worth, if it’s anything at all, at t0-n it almost certainly can’t be zero.

The Necronomicon describes flatline-BTC with creepy exactitude:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

ADDED: An alternative take on Bitcoin and undeath from Yifo Guo, interviewed here (H/T Nick B. Steves, in this comment thread): “… the point is, the idea will never die. Even if bitcoin dies, an alternative will arise, one that addresses the vulnerability that was previously exploited. Then you get bitcoin 2.0.”

March 5, 2013admin 41 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Commerce , Horror