Wednesday 24 October 2018

Mencius Moldbug - his part in my downfall

Mencius - Confucian philosopher...
 and Mencius Moldbug... separated at birth?

I realise that it was as long ago as June 2007 that I first heard of Mencius Moldbug - now self-unmasked as Curtis Yarvin. As can be seen from the link, I heard of him from being a regular reader of the libertarian economics blog of Arnold Kling - and that in itself shows the scale of change that I have undergone in the past 11 years.

In June 2007 I was myself a libertarian-conservative, an atheist (with post-modern New Age leanings) - and my philosophy of life was a kind of utilitarian hedonism based on an application of natural selection theory to human affairs. In other words I was unusual, extreme, a trouble-maker... but still very much within the socio-political-ideological mainstream.

Like most such people, my main concern was that the others of my ilk were always selling-out: and I mean always! For example, I once spent a morning 'advising' Boris Johnson at the House of Commons - and it became clear that while he expressed all the right ideas, he never actually did any of them. The behaviour of economists, libertarians, democracy advocates and indeed the entire mainstream during and after the 2008 (fake) 'economic crisis' made this baked-in corruption clear and certain.

What I first realised from Mencius M. was that this was in the very nature of the supposed-Right in a democracy - such aspects were constitutive of the very system, and would never change for so long as the system remained - and furthermore the system was very resilient.

While I was reading and commenting on Moldbug's weekly 10,000 word essays, and exchanging e-mails with Curtis Y, I began to become a Christian. Along with MM I began to realise that demotivation was perhaps the deepest problem for those opposed to The Left. The mass of Leftists were also demotivated but this mattered little since their strategy was destructive; and destroying is easy, opportunistic, does not need to be strategic; while a credible Right would need to be strategic, consistent, and disciplined.

In retrospect, I think my conversion to Christianity was tainted by these political insights and attitudes, in the sense that I saw the alternative to as lying between Eastern Islam and Western Christianity; and therefore looked to Christianity to provide Western social cohesion. This, in turn, meant that I was drawn to the Episcopal, catholic Christian churches (and, for similar reasons, Mormonism) - and the first couple of years after I became a Christian (around 2008-9) those were the avenues I tended to explore. Although I was also drawn to Conservative Evangelical churches on the basis that they obviously did an much better job at attracting and motivating young people - which seemed to be essential.

By this time, I had 'parted company' with Moldbug. Although he too was obviously interested in the tough, traditionalist Christian churches (such as the Roman Catholic SSPX, and the Church of England under the Stuart monarchs) - he retained his focus on secular politics-economics - and (incoherently with his other views) began elaborating (to quote TS Eliot) a system so perfect that Men would not need to be good - this error was picked-up and run-with by the Neoreactionary movement. 

I don't know whether Mencius Moldbug's blog was decisive to me - probably not - but it was certainly helpful in actually breaking, permanently, my by-then-brittle faith in libertarian, centre-right economics as the basis for human society.

For which I am grateful.


Chiu ChunLing said...

A system where men are not required to be good sounds suspiciously like Marxism.

Classical liberalism, and libertarianism as an outgrowth, is based on the idea of a system which does not rely on men being good for goodness' sake, but because being good is in their self-interest as a result of the consistent and impartial application of justice, good being returned for good, evil for evil.

Such a system has no power of salvation, it does not ensure that men love being good. But it is a reasonable outline for a secular order, with religion left to the task of inculcating a love of God in such as choose to pursue it.

But the classically liberal system of impartial justice will fail unless men are at least in the habit of being good from the outset. We have seen this over and over in the various attempts to overlay 'democracy' of some kind over cultures that overtly encouraged evil. We also see the same thing happening with mass immigration from such cultures into formerly classically liberal nations. The system of impartial justice can do much to sustain the habit, but the habit of being good must already be in place and must not be seriously perturbed for the administration of the system of impartial justice to continue functioning.

The problem is that, if people are not already in the habit of being good, or even if they are in that habit but have been aroused to inquiry as to whether they might personally be able to gain by abandoning habitual goodness, classical liberalism offers no definite answer as to why they should not corrupt the system for their own ends.

Oh, of course that damages the system which encourages habitual goodness in others, but the immediate and personal benefits of gaming the system outweigh the eventual and general effects of incrementally damaging it, if one is only good out of habit and not for goodness' sake. And that recognition itself provides a powerful argument against caring about how one personally damages the system, since it reveals that it is inevitable that others will choose to do so even if any given person refuses to 'take their cut'.

This is what you see at play in the Alt-Right, as well as the elite Right, they are composed entirely of people who have seen that encouraging others to be good has benefits for them, and recognize that upholding the system of impartial justice is good, but have also seen that upholding that system personally would be costly and bring no proportionate secular reward to them. They are distinguished from Marxists mainly by identifying upholding the system of impartial justice as a good rather than bad thing.

But they are otherwise essentially the same as Marxists, who are never eager to go out and pay the price of being good themselves, instead of demanding that others be good for their sake.

And of course, one of the personal goods that must be sacrificed to be actually good rather than exhorting goodness of others is the wealth, prestige, and political influence that are attained by 'selling out', making covert alliances with open evil (and open alliances with covert evil).

Still, remember the parable of the unjust steward, and the moral. It is generally wrong to treat good people as obstacles or tools rather than eternal bearers of divine heritage...but there is no great concern about using (or opposing) the wicked while leaving their souls to themselves.

Bruce Charlton said...

"A system where men are not required to be good sounds suspiciously like Marxism." - well, it isn't Marxism, but it is Leftism; because there is no genuine secular 'Right': it doesn;t exist (eg the Nazis were anti-communist - that was their successful selling-point; but they were an atheist party and a Socialist Workers party, and were very obviously on the Left)... all materialist philosophies are Leftist, that is, essentially, what Leftism is.

Either an ideology aims primarily at increasing human happiness/ reducing suffering = Left (= all modern Western systems); or else it aims primarily at transcendental religious goals = 'Right' = religious (= all human societies up to the nineteenth century).

Chiu ChunLing said...

It is usual for proponents of some particular social system to be motivated by not requiring some particular group of men to be good, the demand for 'goodness' in the rest of society being oriented towards alleviating that requirement in (usually) an 'upper' class. My view of MM is that he is a proponent of such a system, rather than Marxism, which promulgates the theory that the entire society can be relieved of the necessity of being good.

The key being that, in order for the 'goodness' of the rest of society to support rather than challenge and ultimately overturn the insulation of some special class from the requirement of being good themselves, the principle on which the laws must be based cannot be justice, but rather particular social privilege. And the acceptance of this by the rest of society is not good in any true sense, but only useful to the temporary and inherently unstable dominance of the privileged class.

Such a system is inherently subject to ruthless competition, not to produce goods and services for others, but to be seen as eligible for the exemption from the requirement to do so. While the overall organization of a society may not be overturned, those in the privileged class must constantly scheme and struggle to maintain their place in it, and this requires inordinate extraction of resources from the supporting classes. Eventually, the productive classes are unable to remain so because of deprivation of key resources. Even then, the result is not necessarily revolt or revolution, but it is far from stability.

In practice, attempting to apply Marxism inevitably breaks down into some such system as well, usually very quickly, but certainly once those charged with leading a Marxist society are faced with the choice of adhering to their principles or having enough to meet their own needs.

I will reiterate that it is not appropriate or significantly informative to refer to all such systems as "leftist", the term is entirely relative to the currently accepted legitimate authority of the established government. It derives from the tendency of any political assembly to be divided between those who support the essential legitimacy of the existing authority and those who challenge it. It is true that, for any specifically human established authority, the general movement of history will be for those challenging it to eventually prevail. However, there are natural as well as divine standards of legitimacy as well. The most common natural standard of legitimacy is victory in open war, to the victors go the spoils. Humans naturally try to move away from such a standard of legitimacy, but history cannot, nature forbids it.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Of the various divine standards of legitimacy, justice is the most commonly recognized (as well as the most assiduously counterfeited). A key technical distinction must be made between the divine and natural forms of justice, the divine form incorporates mercy through procedures for alleviating the problem of natural justice plowing through innocent bystanders on its haphazard and slow (if inevitable) course of consequences back to their originator. Natural justice is simply the brute fact that all of us live downstream of our own prior choices. But this does not contradict the fact that we also live downstream of the choices of many others. Divine justice attempts to channel natural consequences back to their originators quickly and decisively, so that they don't affect as many other people without respect to their choice in the matter.

Natural justice does not require any legal system at all, nor does it (as a whole, rather than in specific aspects such as "to the victor goes the spoils") legitimize any government. Natural justice doesn't care about "good" or "bad", that is a distinction divine justice makes so as to facilitate the exemption of innocents from consequences they did not choose to participate in causing.

History is always leaving behind particular human claims of legitimate authority. But it consistently returns to natural legitimacy and is erratically orbiting divine legitimacy (which as mentioned has multiple centers, considered from a systematic viewpoint, which is why no system can ever satisfy them all even in principle). This is because natural legitimacy is a superset containing the much smaller set of all divine legitimacy (which human rulers, even by divine inspiration, only ever approach). No authority can be legitimate by divine standards without first being legitimate by natural standards.

The terms "left" and "right" are simply inappropriate when discussing the relationship of advocates for or against natural and divine, rather than merely human, legitimacy. The proper terms are "right" and "wrong". This is because everyone claims to really be championing "natural" or "divine" legitimacy, these claims are either true or false (overwhelmingly false), they generally cannot be taken at face value.

It is also not true that all claims of divine legitimacy prior to the modern age were right, even compared to the current aggregated systems of the Western world. It may be true that the majority of those that had significant widespread social influence and endurance over a period of generations were, though I actually doubt even this. Claims of divine legitimacy overwhelmingly tend to be wrong (i.e. false) rather than right. That said, the current claims of divine and natural legitimacy are, overall, significantly more wrong than the historical norm.

Unknown said...

I've been considering that a proper king would consider his highest ranking nobles to be his extended family, his "children". Likewise with the higher nobility to the lesser nobility and the lesser nobility to the common people. Note in this sort of structure those higher up in the structure would, if worthy, feel a responsibility to love and care for those beneath them. Sometimes discipline would be necessary, but always with the aim of preserving and protecting the family and its members.

Most political and corporate structures, in contrast, have a strong element of exploitation by the leaders. "Discipline" is imposed to promote loyalty, and "rewards" are distributed to encourage further corruption -- a real live facsimile of the Screwtape model of "management".

Regardless of the political system, it seems essential that a leader only *directly* lead a small number of people, so he can relate and care for them *as people*. This avoids the problem Moldbug notes with "non-empathic altruism" aka Communism, where people become abstractions. I think one of the structural dangers of the mass media is that when a leader speaks to his followers using the mass media, the followers feel that they are in a relationship with the leader, but the leader can only view his mass of followers as an abstraction. The *medium* is thus inherently deceptive to most people independent of any content.

-- Robert Brockman

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I think it must have been through your comments on Moldbug's blog that I first found you, Bruce. I can't think where else I would have run into you.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - It's possible - tho' I really don't think I wrote anything of any value that would have stood out.

It could have been Steve Sailer, perhaps - who still links to this blog. But in those days there were several blogs where I commented which aren't active anymore - Foseti, Mangan's Miscellany, GNXP, Engram, View from the Right (or Isegoria, where I still sometimes leave a comment); or quant blogs such as Inductivist, Audacious Epigone. And some libertarian economics blogs - such as those assoc. with George Mason University (Arnold Kling, Bryan Caplan, Tyler Cowen, and a couple of others).

This was before I seriously began to cut-down on my media immersion.