There’s a horror story I’m writing (slowly), developing from the central conceit that the ‘monster’ (Vauung) is the war. It feeds upon escalation, zig-zagging between antagonists, to extinguish any inclinations towards peace. It’s part Apocalypse Now, part Blood Meridian (“War is God”), part other stuff … It’s not going to be finished for a while.

Scott Alexander has finished something truly excellent, which isn’t fiction (exactly), but clearly tunes into Vauung-signal:

Toxoplasma is a neat little parasite that is implicated in a couple of human diseases including schizophrenia. Its life cycle goes like this: it starts in a cat. The cat poops it out. The poop and the toxoplasma get in the water supply, where they are consumed by some other animal, often a rat. The toxoplasma morphs into a rat-compatible form and starts reproducing. Once it has strength in numbers, it hijacks the rat’s brain, convincing the rat to hang out conspicuously in areas where cats can eat it. After a cat eats the rat, the toxoplasma morphs back into its cat compatible form and reproduces some more. Finally, it gets pooped back out by the cat, completing the cycle.

What would it mean for a meme to have a life cycle as complicated as toxoplasma?

Consider the war on terror. It’s a truism that each time the United States bombs Pakistan or Afghanistan or somewhere, all we’re doing is radicalising the young people there and making more terrorists. Those terrorists then go on to kill Americans, which makes Americans get very angry and call for more bombing of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Taken as a meme, it is a single parasite with two hosts and two forms. In an Afghan host, it appears in a form called “jihad”, and hijacks its host into killing himself in order to spread it to its second, American host. In the American host it morphs in a form called “the war on terror”, and it hijacks the Americans into giving their own lives (and several bajillion of their tax dollars) to spread it back to its Afghan host in the form of bombs.

From the human point of view, jihad and the War on Terror are opposing forces. From the memetic point of view, they’re as complementary as caterpillars and butterflies. Instead of judging, we just note that somehow we accidentally created a replicator, and replicators are going to replicate until something makes them stop.

Replicators are also going to evolve.

I’m assuming that “Instead of judging …” isn’t a deliberate Apocalypse Now (or Judge Holden) reference, but it works as one.

(Incidentally, ‘Vauung’ alphanomically numerizes to 140, the same as ‘language’. When Twitter came along I accepted its character limit as a soft suggestive tap to the base of the brain.)

ADDED: Linking this oldish thing, due to its obvious relevance. (No idea how it found its way to that website, btw.) … and while tagging stuff here, there’s this (naturally): Πόλεμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι (“War is the father of all.”)

November 19, 2015admin 34 Comments »


34 Responses to this entry

  • Vauung | Neoreactive Says:

    […] By admin […]

    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 2:30 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jefferson Says:

    This assumes that jihad is dependant on the response to jihad, which a cursory glance at history should dispel.


    admin Reply:

    It only assumes an emergent pattern of reciprocal escalation. (Clausewitzean tendency to the limit as a durable process.)


    Jefferson Reply:

    It’s identifying a pattern that isn’t actually there. SA is arguing that jihad would stabilize or decrease if we speed l stop responding to it (or that its increase has been as part of a cycle). This is untrue as evidenced by the HAMAS reaction to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, amongst other things.


    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 3:14 pm Reply | Quote
  • Ulysses Says:

    “It’s a truism that each time the United States bombs Pakistan or Afghanistan or somewhere, all we’re doing is radicalising the young people there and making more terrorists.”

    Which is why terrorism is a problem that every empire has had to deal with, like the British in the Middle East–oh, wait…


    admin Reply:

    There’s no need to get hung up on that. It’s not a structurally-disabling point.


    Ulysses Reply:

    No, as a matter of fact it’s probably an even better example than Scott realizes for being incorrect, because it’s what everyone involved *thinks* is going on. Given that the subject is memes, well, it’s very fitting.


    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 3:32 pm Reply | Quote
  • Hurlock Says:

    Scott Alexander fails to understand politics. Not that this would surprise anyone outside of his comment-section cult.

    The reason why an organization such as ISIS can grow to such a degree as it has is because the US keeps creating power vacuums in the middle-east. When they invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam, they created a power vacuum which several powers are attempting to fill at the moment – Iran, Saudi Arabia, ISIS, etc. When attempting an intervention with a scale so grand that it will unavoidably fundamentally alter the balance of power in its region, you must be aware of this and have a strict plan of who you want to fill this power vacuum you are creating and enforce that plan by any means necessary. If for whatever reasons you don’t have such a plan, or it is stupid/unrealistic, or you fail to enforce it, you lose control of the situation and subsequently the region as well. The whole effort of your intervention have then been entirely meaningless.

    With Iraq the US had a stupid/unrealistic plan which they also executed quite poorly. Thus a power vacuum was created, thus Iran is now stronger than before, thus you have something like ISIS appearing on the scene, and thus the region is more unstable than ever. This has been the consequence of all US interventions and US sponsored coups in recent history in fact – Libya is another example.

    Scott Alexander will never admit this because his crimethink sensors will start beeping the moment he even marginally entertains the thought, but the reason why the Middle-east is a shithole is not because of US interventions per se, but because of US interventions which try to enforce progressive policies and “promote” democracy. Only authoritarian governments have ever been able to achieve any sort of modernization in that region. Think Ataturk in Turkey and the Shah of Iran before the 1979 revolution, hell even Gaddafi was doing an ok job. Spreading democracy has only led to the creation of power vacuums and civil wars which give an opportunity for extremely insane factions such as ISIS to grain some serious ground.

    I can guarantee to Scott Alexander that if instead of “spreading democracy”, the US would simply install a new dictator in place of the one it just toppled, the Middle-East would be a much calmer place than it is now and factions such as ISIS wouldn’t have even a fraction of the power they have now.


    admin Reply:

    It’s complicated. I think the (very different) basic points you and Jefferson are making are both important, and right, but also there’s a Clauswitzean dynamic to the autonomization of war as such. War is a complex system, and an ‘arms race’ (reciprocal escalation) has an integrity that does not dissolve into any explanation that analyses it down to the antagonistic parties. But then, I agree with Judge Holden: War is God, and the combatant parties are merely its pawns — once it seizes destiny. An ecosystem is not reducible to the species that occupy it, still less to the peculiarities of either of its dominant predator-prey constituents (when it is game-theoretically idealized). The war is its own thing. In pointing to that, Alexander takes a step whose importance far outweighs the defects of its residual left-liberal encrustations.


    John Reply:

    > War is God, and the combatant parties are merely its pawns — once it seizes destiny. An ecosystem is not reducible to the species that occupy it, still less to the peculiarities of either of its dominant predator-prey constituents (when it is game-theoretically idealized). The war is its own thing.

    I am 100% in agreement with this. You can feel Vauung heavy in the air since just before the Paris attacks, which were a rousing success in furthering the IS goal of acceleration towards apocalypse.

    Civil war is brewing in Europe and America and the IS is the memetic symbiote of the Universalist Cathedral. I mean, all they both want is to spread their religion is every human everywhere and give everyone free housing and healthcare.


    Jefferson Reply:

    Point taken. When I filter this example through biology, I see a different form of reciprocation. The biggest threat to blue team is red team (biologically), and so jihad is most useful as a tool in that fight. Blue team wants to stop fighting jihad so those resources can be given to blue team – all these refugees need social workers – while red team needs perpetual jihad to keep its claim to those resources. This is why the vast majority of my red team friends are signaling sympathy with Muslims right now instead of signaling a willingness to end jihad (close the borders and kick them out is not an option to red team).


    JL Reply:

    Agreed. It’s interesting that all those on the soft left want to blame this on US intervention without admitting the corollary, that the mid-east sects are thoroughly corrupt, evil, and incapable of a negotiated compromise and co-operative governance. They must be coerced under a heavy authoritarian hand.

    If the US is guilty, it is only guilty of removing the enforced constraints that held back the warring tribes. It’s the moral equivalent of being responsible for the death of a child because you released a rabid dog from its cage. The implication of course being that the Muslims are equivalent to rabid dogs. That’s not something the left wants to accept, but it’s the only way to impute guilt to the US. Either the mid-east countries are themselves entirely responsible, or the US is responsible in the sense of opening the cage.

    We often forget that they hate the west a bit, but they hate each other more. The narcissism of small differences.

    From an interview with an ISIS prisoner in The Nation: “The Americans came,” he said. “They took away Saddam, but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.”

    They hate the US, but only for letting off the leash the other guy they hate even more. Alexander is right about the reciprocity meme, but *revenge* is not the primary motivation for attacks on western targets.


    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 4:47 pm Reply | Quote
  • Steve Johnson Says:

    Scott correctly identifies a pattern but misses an absolutely key element.

    The pattern is pretty clear – politically acceptable measures tend to make problems worse – progressive-preferred policies more so but even the “realistic” policies that the controlled opposition are allowed to propose would make things worse.

    Taking the discussion about the Paris attacks as an example the acceptable positions as stated in the media are:

    Do nothing because the jihadis want to create a Muslim on everyone Ragnarok
    Bomb the hell out of Syria – (probably to destabilize Assad’s government and help ISIS take power there, too)

    Conspicuously missing is – deport all Muslims from Europe.

    The general pattern that causes the toxoplasmosa is that Progressivism taboos anything that would be both effective and that pattern matches as rightist. To notice this would require noting that the left and the right aren’t parallel institutions and that’s Scott’s true (chosen) blind spot. Scott wants to be on the left so he has to have (at minimum) contempt for or a condescending view of the right. He finds it hard to muster those feelings for any rational reason for the NRx right (he’s got irrational reasons for disliking NRx but gets his status by being oh-so-rationalist) so he prefers if they stopped popping up in his comments to remind him of their existence. It’s easy to have contempt for the (mainstream / permitted / controlled) right – they never propose anything effective because their number one priority is making sure to remain in the good graces of the progressive establishment. It’s harder to have contempt for the reactionary right – we at least propose things that would work.


    Jefferson Reply:

    I think what admin is pointing out is basically this. War starts as a push for resources, then iterates until genocide. There is no war against the existential threat of Islam because there is already a war between European tribes yet to be resolved. This helpfully explains why Europeans never attacked Muslims after the crusades.


    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 5:55 pm Reply | Quote
  • Frog Do Says:

    So the 20th centuries greatest AI weapon, Propganda, has escaped the leash by sucessfully pitting the users against themselves. Acceleration continues into new and exotic forms of social control.


    Xoth Reply:

    Good point.


    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 6:18 pm Reply | Quote
  • Vauung | Reaction Times Says:

    […] Source: Outside In […]

    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 7:09 pm Reply | Quote
  • Thomas Says:

    Do you need a publisher for your story?? 🙂


    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 10:49 pm Reply | Quote
  • Meursault Says:

    Interesting story idea. Has admin read Ligotti’s My Work Is Not Yet Done? It has a similar entity (referred to as a nameless “blackness”) that feeds off conflict and pushes the story’s antagonist towards deliciously murdering his former colleagues.


    Posted on November 19th, 2015 at 11:53 pm Reply | Quote
  • Aeroguy Says:

    Wars are generally unstable, they result in one side winning or both sides deciding the costs are too high and entering a ceasefire, here we’re looking at something special, stable war. An important note about war as a “system” is that it doesn’t constitute a higher level of organization. In this context a stable war is like a parasite or virus, feeding on the participants. The GWOT doesn’t fit the bill entirely but cycles of revenge are real. Technically ceasefires can incubate this sort of civilizational pathogen, on the other hand unconditional surrender connected with completely filling in the power vacuum of the defeated government kills it outright.


    admin Reply:

    “Wars are generally unstable …” — Yes, but they’re learning.


    Alrenous Reply:

    They’re not really wars, their Halloween costume just happens to be violence.


    Posted on November 20th, 2015 at 2:10 am Reply | Quote
  • piwtd Says:

    “From the human point of view, jihad and the War on Terror are opposing forces. From the memetic point of view, they’re as complementary as caterpillars and butterflies.”

    The same is true of NRx and SJWs.


    admin Reply:

    If that means escalation to the threshold of geopolitical fragmentation, then great.


    Posted on November 20th, 2015 at 4:29 pm Reply | Quote
  • P. George Stewart Says:

    Actually there’s a parallel awareness of something like this on the Left side, only it’s couched in anthropomorphic and conspiratorial terms (the shadowy “they”, probably bearing some relation to fat white guys in cigar-smoke-filled rooms, manipulate both “sides” and create war). It’s a borked version of the truth, but at least it’s something a bit meta.

    I tend to think the best of people, so while I’ve drifted quite far from my Leftist friends, I can’t find it in my heart to condemn them, because knowing them, I know they do mean well. I just feel sorry for them and a bit irritated by their sleepy virtue signalling now and then, so I’d rather try to persuade them gently from within their dream. (Maybe Scott’s in a similar boat.) The good core of the Leftist thing is the good will and the railing against the “unfairness” of reality. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it. They just don’t get the reality principle (we must understand how it works to beat it).

    Actually, maybe one of the most noticeable things about how people (of all stripes) react is that their virtue signalling is precisely a way to NOT have to think seriously about the matter.

    It’s been interesting noting my own reactions to recent events, in the course of my internet trawling. I have a tendency to go the whole hog with both “sides” – I’ll get into the flow of the rabid Leftist mindset, get worked up, then start noting critiques, then eventually drift over to getting all rabid on the other side. At some point it pops, and I laff.

    And of course, despite all the virtue signalling (hijack of the person by the meme), despite all the nonsense, if you do go through this process, you notice that the truth is like veins of gold flashing in random shapes through all the thoughts people have on this, not belonging to any one reaction, but momentary insights thrown up by everyone just at the point when they’re being most authentic.

    How to collect and refine the gold from the ore into a cohesive diadem to please My Lady of the Stars? I fear I’m too old and slow to do it. Maybe I need to investigate this Modafinil stuff – or just do more exercise and go for walks?


    Skilluminati Reply:

    A great riff.

    Conspiratorial paranoia isn’t that bad, as predictive heuristics go for the Kali Yuga.

    I was struck by The Management of Savagery material discussed earlier; it was so … Gladio as Hadith, really a mirror image of the logic behind Westland New Post & the Brabant shootings. This is precisely the kind of Ordo ab Chao magick previously attributed to shadowy / omniscient cabals, the great part about the decade on deck is that this recipe has been democratized. “Any number can play,” as the Lizard King was warning us back in The Job, that great collection of interviews with Daniel Odier. Mostly, it’s been a lot of amateur misfires so far, like Occupy or that hilarious #OpKKK nothingburger – 11 months of “social engineering” yielding a bunch of working class Facebook links.

    That will change.

    But as for parallels, where Gladio was really built on power networks of nobility – black/grey or otherwise – the ISIS model is much more open source, built on the same lines of force that animate every “Drug War” ceasefire. You let the strongest, hungriest wolves manage the plaza. It’s good for business. No matter what kind of kayfabe narrative it takes to make it work, the system beneath it always looks just like then that Mercedes 600 smashed into that truck in Susurluk back in ’96.

    Amen to modafinil, too. I could spend the next 60 years of my life just sorting out the data points I’ve accumulated so far.


    Posted on November 21st, 2015 at 7:55 am Reply | Quote
  • Mark Warburton Says:

    Turchin’s book on war and co-operation is out if it sneaked under radars..


    Posted on November 22nd, 2015 at 2:47 am Reply | Quote
  • unknown128 Says:

    I wonder why this obsession with Scott Alexander? Are you trying to convert him to Nrx? After all it turned out so well when the last LessWrong lieutenant converted……

    im realy wondering if this focus on Mr.Alexander is realy a part of some devious master plan to get to yudkowsky and make his “singularity institute” “darkly enlightened, so that when they finaly create our AI overlord it will be a Neoreactionary and reshape the world in a Nrx image…..


    Skilluminati Reply:

    Seems more or less backward, innit?

    The cold objectivity of our AGI Overlords omnidirectional gaze will, rather, establish the NRx of the future.

    The notion we’d need to “program” or game something that powerful — or indeed, that we even could — squints towards pulp sci-fi.


    Unknown128 Reply:

    Well….concidering that this AI might be the most important thing hapening to the world since the big bang even the slightest chance to influence it in the direction of your values is still a better investment of time then most other things you can do with your life. And Yudkowski does believe its possible to program it into a certain direction.

    And realy I see no other reason to be so obsessed with Scott Alexander anyway, from what Iv seen of him he might be one of the best propagandists of leftist ideas out there because he maneges to get the averege right wingers defences down by 1.apearing neutral by 2.agreeing with the right on some trivial topics (he dosnt adhere to the most irrational leftist beliefs that the leftist themselves only use for holines signaling and which “trigger” the typical righties defence mechanisms and make him stop listening to the rest of the argument from the moment he is “triggered”).

    Because most leftists arnt out to actualy convert non leftists to their beliefs (because anyone who dosnt adhere to them in the first place must be “evil” and why does a movement need “evil” people) but rather to show their superiority over them, many of them concider Mr.Alexander to be “poluting himself” by even interacting with rightists as with humans whous souls deserve to be saved from rightism.

    If your hoping that while doing this he might present some right wing ideas objectivly enough that it might convert some leftists to your cause or that he even might get converted himself I honestly doubt it. While the typical rightie or leftie might change his views on a particular topic based on facts the core reasons why hes a rightie/leftie have much more to do with aims then means. Righties value things that leftists dont care for or even find disgusting and vis versa. For instance you can prove to an absolute universalist as much as you want that policy X will harm your country, the universalist will only care for the absolute benifit for “all mankind” (or “all life” if its an especialy severe case). Just as you can prove to a nationalist as much as you want that a policy will harm some “saveges beyond the sea” he will not realy care….The difference in aims between Nrx and someone like Mr.Alexander is just to staggering, even if you manege to convince him (or other leftists) that your way of analyzing the world is correct, the policies they will propose will be completly different from yours. Sure values can change…but its very hard to change them. And while Mr.Alexander might be able to make some conservatives to support leftist policies by creating interpretations of this policies that are consistant with conservative values, Nrx is so outside the mainstream with its values that practicly no leftie will ever adopt it.


    Posted on November 22nd, 2015 at 10:50 am Reply | Quote
  • This Week in Reaction (2015/11/22) | The Reactivity Place Says:

    […] Nick Land notices Niall Ferguson noticing “this is exactly how civilisations fall“. Moldbug beat Ferguson to the punch. Also from Scott Alexander’s toxoplasma to Land’s Vauung. […]

    Posted on November 28th, 2015 at 8:11 pm Reply | Quote
  • Mark Alan Warburton Says:

    Nick, have you read this?

    Some of Taleb’s anecdotes touch on what Alexander has to say in that great piece. Albeit from a positive slant.


    admin Reply:

    I’m not up to date on Taleb, but everything I’ve seen by him has been extremely impressive.


    Mark Alan Warburton Reply:

    I can see the criticism that he needs a more vigilante editor (the book is 500+ pages)… but the message is life-affirming. Worth putting in the queue.


    Posted on March 7th, 2017 at 4:53 am Reply | Quote

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