What is Philosophy? (Part 1)

The agenda of Outside in is to cajole the new reaction into philosophical exertion. So what is philosophy? The crudest answer to this question is probably the most robust.

Philosophy is any culture’s pole of maximum abstraction, or intrinsically experimental intelligence, expressing the liberation of cognitive capabilities from immediate practical application, and their testing against ‘ultimate’ problems at the horizon of understanding. Historically, it is a distinctive cultural enterprise — and only later an institution — roughly 2,500 years old, and tightly entangled at its origin with the ‘mystical’ or problematic aspect of pagan religions. It was within this primordial matrix that it encountered its most basic and enduring challenge: the edge of time (its nature, limits, and ‘outside’, of which much more later). The earliest philosophers were cognitively self-disciplined — and thus, comparatively, socially unconstrained — pagan mystics, consistently enthralled by the enigma of time.

It is usually a mistake to get hung up on words, forgetting their function as sheer indices (‘names’) that simply mark things, before they richly describe them. Personal names typically have meanings, but it is rare to allow this to distract from their function as names, or pointers, which make more reference than sense. ‘Philosophy’ is no exception. That it ‘means’ the love of wisdom is an irrelevance compared to what it designates, which is something that was happening — before it had a name — in ancient Greece (and perhaps, by plausible extension, China, India, and even Egypt). What philosophy ‘is’ cannot be deduced via linguistic analysis, however subtle this may be.

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February 26, 2013admin 14 Comments »
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Next Stage of the Slide

As a prophet of the unfolding calamity, Angelo Codevilla has always been handicapped by his touching faith in ‘the people’. The ‘country class’ was already demonstrably unworthy of Goldwater in 1964. Things are far worse today.

As a guide to the next step in the crack-up, however, there are few better guides, and his latest ruminations on the disintegration of the American party system are highly convincing. The death of the Republican Party is a much-deserved necessary way-stage to pretty much anything, whatever one’s sense of the way. As always, the insightful commentary of Richard Fernandez on the topic is not to be missed.

Between even the sharpest conservative analysis, and anything that would pass muster amongst reactionaries, a daunting gulf yawns. As Codevilla muses in the new Forbes piece:

Representation is the distinguishing feature of democratic government. To be represented, to trust that one’s own identity and interests are secure and advocated in high places, is to be part of the polity. In practice, any democratic government’s claim to the obedience of citizens depends on the extent to which voters feel they are party to the polity. No one doubts that the absence, loss, or perversion of that function divides the polity sharply between rulers and ruled.

The confusion between legitimate republican government and political representation (‘democracy’) has been the disaster of modern history. Until this error is thoroughly purged from statecraft, reason will belong with kings.

ADDED: Sickness unto death

February 24, 2013admin 35 Comments »
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Shelter of the Pyramid

Moldbug’s ‘Royalism’ (or Carlylean reaction) rests upon the proposition that the Misesian catallactic order is, like Newtonian mechanics, true only as a special case within a more general system of principles.

He writes:

Here is the Carlylean roadmap for the Misesian goal. Spontaneous order, also known as freedom, is the highest level of a political pyramid of needs. These needs are: peace, security, law, and freedom. To advance order, always work for the next step – without skipping steps. In a state of war, advance toward peace; in a state of insecurity, advance toward security; in a state of security, advance toward law; in a state of law, advance toward freedom.

Alexander Hamilton (Federalist #8) pursues a closely related argument, in reverse:

Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for their repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.

This pyramidal schema is ‘neat’, but by no means unproblematic. Like any hierarchical structure operating within a complex, reflexive field, it invites strange loops which scramble its apparently coherent order. Even accepting, as realism dictates, that war exists at the most basic level of social possibility, so that military survival grounds all  ‘higher’ elaborations, can we be entirely confident that catallactic forces are neatly confined to the realm of pacific and sophisticated civilian intercourse? Does not this mode of analysis lead to exactly the opposite conclusion? Self-organizing networks are tough, and perhaps supremely tough.

There is nothing obvious or uncontroversial about the model of the market order as a fragile flower, blossoming late, and precariously, within a hot-house constructed upon very different principles. The pact is already catallactic, and who is to say — at least, without a prolonged fight — that it is subordinate, in principle, to a more primordial assertion of order. Subordination is complex, and conflicted, and although the Pyramid certainly has a case, the trial of reality is not easily predictable. An ultimate (or basic) fanged freedom is eminently thinkable.  (Isn’t that what the Second Amendment argument is about?)

February 24, 2013admin 7 Comments »
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Saving grace

“Mencius Moldbug has a typically shapeless piece on me [says Lawrence Auster] in which he pays me extravagant compliments which have precisely zero content. I defy anyone to say what Moldbug’s 2,600 word article means.”

Please let it not mean that Moldbug is on a journey to the cross.

February 22, 2013admin 28 Comments »
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Odd

Wtf?

February 22, 2013admin 8 Comments »
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The Odysseus Problem

Moldbug’s insistence that ‘Sovereignty is conserved’ surely counts as one of the most significant assertions in the history of political thought. It is arguably the fundamental axiom of his ‘system’, and its implications are almost inestimably profound.

Sovereignty is conserved says that anything that appears to bind sovereignty is itself in reality true sovereignty, binding something else, and something less. It is therefore a negative answer to the Odysseus Problem: Can Sovereignty bind itself? If Moldbug’s assertion is accepted, constitutional government is impossible, except as a futile aspiration, a ‘noble lie’, or a cynical joke.

In addition to Moldbug’s powerful arguments, we know from the work of Kurt Gödel that the Odysseus Problem is at least partially insoluble, since it is logically impossible for there to be a perfect knot. However well constructed a constitution might be, it cannot, in principle, seal itself reliably against the possibility of a surreptitious undoing. In a sufficiently complex (self-referential) constitutional order, there will always be permissible procedures whose consequences have not been completely anticipated, and whose consistency with the continuation of the system cannot be ensured in advance.

Yet it would be obviously misleading to assume that such concerns were not already active during the formulation of the American Constitution. It is precisely because some quite lucid comprehension of the Odysseus Problem was at work, that the founders envisaged the grounding principle of republican constitutionalism as a division of powers, whereby the component units of a disintegrated sovereignty bound each other. The animating system of incentives was not to rest upon a naive expectation of altruism or voluntary restraint, but upon a systematically integrated network of suspicion, formally installing the anti-monarchical impulse as an enduring, distributed function. If the republic was to work, it would be because the fear of  power in other hands permanently over-rode the greed for power in one’s own.

The American Constitution was, of course, destroyed, in successive waves. After Lincoln, and FDR, only a pitiful and derided shell remains. USG has unified itself, and the principle of sovereign power has been thoroughly re-legitimated in the court of popular opinion. Democracy rose as the republic fell, exposing yet again the essential political bond of the tyrant with the mob, Leviathan with the people.

Does this ruin refute the constitutional conjecture? Is there really nothing further to be said in defense of imperfect (but perhaps improvable) knots? This one came horribly undone. Might there be other, better ones? Outside in remains obstinately interested in the problem …

ADDED: Many relevant speculations and insights are to be found in this article on the practicalities of secession (especially section XI J, XII, XIII, and XIV). “Since it is important that the AFR [or proposed American Federal Republic] function as a constitutional republic, one of the first things it should do is to hold a constitutional convention. We anticipate that the resulting document will be similar to the present American constitution, but not identical.” It includes some (very modest) recommendations to curtail democracy.

February 21, 2013admin 9 Comments »
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Barnyard banter

The Hoover Hog interviews HBD* Chick.

February 21, 2013admin 38 Comments »
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American Wu Wei

“Coolidge made virtue of inaction” writes Amity Shlaes, on The ‘Scrooge’ Who Begat Plenty:

It is hard for modern students of economics to know what to make of a government that treated economic weakness by raising interest rates 300 basis points, cutting tax rates, and halving the federal government — so much at odds is that prescription with the antidotes to recession our own experts tend to recommend. It is harder still for modern economists to concede that that recipe, the policy recipe for the early 1920s advocated by Coolidge and Harding, yielded growth on a scale to which we can aspire today.

ADDED: Derbyshire’s take.

February 20, 2013admin 1 Comment »
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The Royalist Imperative

This is an argument I’m really not grasping:

Libertarians are unrealistic because the world was once vastly freer than it is today, and then progressively rolled down the populist hill into the present social democratic latrine trench, so “Why would we expect different results on the second go?” [OK, still following so far] … thus we need Kings back, because … [we need to catch the rising tide, after all, the world hasn’t ever been more monarchist than now? Prussian Neocameralism outlasted Manchester Liberalism? Royalist institutions have demonstrated their inherent immunity to the forces of decay? …]

How can reactionaries criticize free republics for falling apart? Everything reactionaries have ever respected fell apart. Nobody would be a reactionary if their favored configuration of the world hadn’t fallen apart.

Republics are extremely fragile. All the more reason to take devoted care of them (first of all, by protecting them from democracy).

ADDED: Fag-end of a ludicrous institution. (via AoS)

ADDED: Epic response from Nydwracu .

 

February 20, 2013admin 21 Comments »
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Extropy

What greater calamity can a neologism inherit than a techno-hippy paternity? Such a fate, apparently, induces even other techno-hippies to skirt around it (whilst repeating it almost exactly). But it needs to be said, whether through gritted teeth or not, that ‘extropy’ is a great word, and close to an indispensable one.

Extropy, or local entropy reduction, is — quite simply — what it is for something to work. The entire techno-science of entropy, on its practical (cybernetic) side, is nothing but extropy generation. There is no rigorous conception of functionality that really bypasses it. The closest approximation to objective value that will ever be found already has a name, and ‘extropy’ is it.

The importance of this term to the investigation of time is brought into focus by the work of Sean Carroll (although, of course, he never uses it). If the directionality or ‘arrow’ of time is understood as Eddington proposed, through rising global entropy (or disorder), as anticipated by the second law of thermodynamics, local extropy poses an intriguing question.

Carroll’s discussion is directed towards his sense of the ultimate temporal and cosmological problem:  the low entropy state of the early universe (assumed but not explained by prevailing cosmo-physics). Given this intellectual momentum, the problem of local negative-entropy production (extropy) is little more than a distraction, or a spurious objection to the conceptual scaffolding he presents. He comments:

The Second Law doesn’t forbid decreases in entropy in open systems — by putting in the work, you are able to tidy up your room, decreasing its entropy but still increasing the entropy of the whole universe (you make noise, burn calories, etc.). Nor is it in any way incompatible with evolution or complexity or any such thing.

The perplexing question, however, is this: If entropy defines the direction of time, with increasing disorder determining the difference of the future from the past, doesn’t (local) extropy — through which all complex cybernetic beings, such as lifeforms, exist — describe a negative temporality, or time-reversal? Is it not in fact more likely, given the inevitable embeddedness of intelligence in ‘inverted’ time, that it is the cosmological or general conception of time that is reversed (from any possible naturally-constructed perspective)?

Whatever the conclusion, it is clear that entropy and extropy have opposing time-signatures, so that time-reversal is a relatively banal cosmological fact. ‘We’ inhabit a bubble of backwards time (whoever we are), whilst immersed in a cosmic environment which runs overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. If reality is harsh and strange, that’s why.

February 20, 2013admin 11 Comments »
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