Monday, August 13, 2007 95 Comments

Be infinitely devoted to your beloved owners

If we want to understand the Western world today, we have to start by understanding the Third Reich and the Soviet Union.

Comparing the modern New Deal state to National Socialism and Communism is like comparing a human to a chimp and a gorilla. Or like comparing a bank robber to a murderer and a rapist. It is easy to find both categorical similarities and categorical differences. It is also easy to abuse the analogy for polemical purposes, a trope I find utterly boring. But at its best - as in the work of Wolfgang Schivelbusch - it reminds us why we have history at all.

Fascism, Universalism, and Marxist-Leninism were the three movements that fought for global dominance in the 20th century. All three developed from the 19th-century tradition of nationalist democracy. All three would have struck almost any 18th-century writer as tyrannous and abominable. But that doesn't mean we don't have to choose between them.

Next to its enemies, Universalism clearly retained most of the classical European tradition. And it's certainly my favorite of the three. I am grateful for its victory.

But the Third Reich and the Soviet Union were entire civilizations. They cannot be dismissed lightly. Serious, sincere, intelligent and well-intentioned men and women devoted their lives to these movements, which now strike us as perverse, absurd and doomed.

I have personal evidence of this, because my father's parents were American Communists. Grandpa enlisted in the Army to fight Hitler, and his letters from Europe tend to close with phrases like "keep faith in the Party." Well into the 1970s, these serious, sincere, intelligent and well-intentioned people used phrases like "party line" with zero ironic intent. I find it slightly difficult to imagine Gramps as a Great Neck apparatchik in some alternate history. But I don't find it utterly impossible.

Serious, sincere, intelligent and well-intentioned men and women still devote their lives to Universalism - and to the Polygon that is our equivalent of the Party. Even on the Web, it is possible to live entirely within a Universalist bubble, in a world where the New York Times is always right, and there is nothing under heaven and earth which is not taught at Stanford. If you are reading UR, presumably you at least suspect that this, too, might pass.

By far and away the best primary commentator on National Socialism is Victor Klemperer. (Klemperer's diaries and/or LTI, plus Michael Burleigh's history, make a pretty good Nazi 101.) I have searched in vain for any readable pro-Nazi or at least neutral writer, but Speer's memoir is interesting if self-serving, Ernst Jünger though an anti-Nazi is an unforgettable taste of German militarism, and Leon Degrelle is a little too rabid. I still need to check out Celine's postwar memoirs. If anyone has any other pointers, please let me know.

Good writing about Communism is much easier to find. Presumably this is partly because the system lasted much longer. But it's also partly because whereas the Nazis despised and exiled the intelligentsia, the Bolsheviks courted and employed them.

There are too many great chroniclers of Communism to count, but three of my favorites are Lev Navrozov, Vladimir Bukovsky, and... Victor Klemperer, whose East German diaries are perhaps his most interesting. Klemperer, no communist before the war, actually wound up in the East German parliament. If you think your grip on reality is so strong that you could never serve a criminal regime or choose a greater evil over a lesser one, perhaps you are a better man than Klemperer. But who dares such a claim should first read his books.

I thought I'd type in a bit of Bukovsky and Navrozov - first, by way of advertisement for these heroic and criminally underappreciated writers, whose notorious pitbull lawyers I however fear not at all; and second, to support some of the claims I've made about the Soviet system.

First, on the relationship between the Universalist press, the dissidents, and the Soviet regime: Bukovsky from To Build A Castle, p. 354. The setting is the late '60s and early '70s, when the dissident movement was getting off the ground:
How hard it had once been to get this kind of publicity! Foreign correspondents in Moscow, partly because they were afraid of being expelled and losing a good job, partly because they had been co-opted and misled, were extremely shy of informing their papers of the repressions that were taking place. It was much simpler and more advantageous for them to reprint the statements of TASS and the Soviet press. There were still difficulties now - the authorities expelled anyone who got too friendly with us - but there were far more of them ready to take their chances. Interest in our problems was growing in the outside world, and whereas before, an expelled correspondent might be regarded by his newspaper as unprofessional, expulsion was now seen as the norm and occasionally even as an honor.

Is it possible to speak of an absence of freedom of information in a country where tens of millions of people listen to Western radio, where samizdat exists and is regularly sent abroad, and everything said today will be public knowledge tomorrow? Of course, we had to pay a high price for making it public knowledge, but that was another matter.

An original radio game even came into being. People would come to Moscow from the farthest ends of the country in order to tell us about their troubles, then would hurry home in order to hear about them over the BBC, Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle, etc. Raising their hands in astonishment, they would say to their neighbors: "How do you like that! How the hell do they find out about these things in London [or Munich or Cologne]?"

This had much more effect than sending complaints to Brezhnev. A Moscow woman once stopped me in a doorway and tried to persuade me to help her get her roof repaired. "Why don't you get the BBC to criticize them, they'll soon get their skates on then. Otherwise we won't get anywhere for the next three years at least!"
Bukovsky is excellent on the practicalities of this strategy of fighting Communism with Western assistance. The entire goal of the dissident movement was to replace the official intelligentsia as the apex of intellectual fashion in the Soviet universe, and once this succeeded, it's tempting (if historicist) to say that Communism had no chance. And the fact that the Western intelligentsia figured out that it should prefer Brodsky and Solzhenitsyn to Sholokhov and Svetlov was a crucial ingredient in this strategy.

As a writer, however, Lev Navrozov (whose son Andrei I pirated here) is simply in another class. On the jacket of his Education of Lev Navrozov, a genuine 20th-century classic, Robert Massie compares him to a combination of Proust and Orwell. I don't find this at all hyperbolic. And Navrozov is simply unsurpassable on the world of the Soviet intelligentsia, which he knew intimately but managed to keep his distance from.

Here's the entire first chapter of the Education:
"The West, the West," my guest chimes, looking indolently on. "I was in the West."

He likes our country house, and he is sitting leisurely, arm winglike over chair back, shedding words.
Oh, let us shed words
As our garden sheds its amber.
"I was in the West. I talked with Ezra Pound just as I am talking with you - I dined with Sartre. Nothing special. You exaggerate, really."

What he also likes is our almost extraterritorial seclusion. There, outside, beyond that fence that runs all around our estate, he is a writer, which is not what was once meant by the word here or is now meant in the West. It means that he is an official, or better say a ranker, attached to the department of literature in a definite rank: he is a member of the board of the union of writers. Everyone is attached to some department, because if he is not, he is a parasite, that is, a criminal, to be exiled to some remote area to work there as a serf peasant. I am not attached to any department, a circumstance I recall sometimes with the numbness of a criminal too long and too safely immersed in his crime, and sometimes with my father's Russian slothful despair which has been provoking my mother's high-pitched lament, addressed once to my father and now to myself: "But why didn't you do it long ago? You are a psychopath, a real psychopath." As a translator of literature (how metallic is the name of my profession) I could have become a member of the union of writers many years ago. But I did not. Horribly enough, I have not become even a trade union member at any departments for which I free-lance. Am I a parasite? Not far from my country house is the country house (with less acreage) of a member of the politburo or a candidate member of the politburo (I have never been interested which exactly). Surely parasites live in huts, not in country houses with more acreage than that of members (or even candidate members) of the politburo?

I am a psychopath, a real psychopath, or at any rate a statistical exception - a Poisson's rare event, eluding the departmental mesh. No department can understand that I could become a member of some department (with all the advantages accruing) but would not. Each department assumes that I belong to another department, perhaps so very high that no one knows my rank.

I am the only strictly private person in the country, as my guest calls me, living on a kind of extraterritorial estate, and he likes to come and forget his rank for a while and simply be a temporary dweller of this island outside of time and space.

"And what is there?" he once asked, pointing at something looming between the trees beyond the invisible fence.

"Oh, there?" I peered. "Serfdom."

Foreign correspondents stayed the night at my country house after a New Year's party, and nothing happened. My son never joined any children's organization, nor did he ever go to school.

"See?" my guest exults. "You are freer than you would have been in America."

"Yes. Except that I can't spare, say, one hundred billion dollars a year to defend my freedom. I merely exist in a crevice between departments. This, by the way, is why I get all the books from abroad and you don't. The department of literature that watches over you will not watch over me, because I am not its responsibility."

Our timeless serenity is actually only a few miles from an airport where foreign statesmen land, some score miles from Moscow. But as one rides from the airport, it is all forests, and we are lost in them. We are pleasantly invisible.

I like him for his genuine - that is, self-analytic - sincerity. It is so rare. He brings his newly published book. He knows I will not say a word about it, and he is grateful, but he can't resist opening and admiring the page bearing his picture. Holding the open book in his outstretched hand, raised so that he has to look up to gaze at the portrait of an elderly man, obviously having a bad liver, he finally recites in a languishing whisper the famous line a Russian poetess once addressed to her aristocratic seducer: "How handsome you are, O devil."

Then he asks me apprehensively if I expect anyone today.

"People are monsters," he explains. "Mon-sters." As a shy afterthought he adds: "I am a monster, too, of course, but at least I can abide myself."

Today he is out of luck. Very carefully I break the news. Yes, it will be that man's wife. But she will only drop in on her way somewhere - much too important to stay long.

My guest's rank in literature is not the highest, and he shuns people either below his rank (because they may try to humiliate him if only to take revenge for their lowliness) or of the same rank (because they may be even more insolent, entitled as they are to regard themselves as his equal). But that man is younger than he - once his rank in literature was properly lower, and now it is higher!

"I know that the man is a kind of tumor inside my brain," he says in one of those flashes of lucidity for which I like him so much. "I am like a clerk in the department of railroads who can talk only about another clerk promoted ahead of him. 'Injustice,' he cries out like Prometheus to the blind heavens. But he forgets that neither his listeners nor the blind heavens may belong to the department of railroads, and the immensity of injustice is lost on them."

Unlike Prometheus in Aeschylus, my guest can enact his fate only in mute oppressive gloom throughout that man's wife's visit.

"I know this is stupid," he says. "I picture myself very elegant and ironic. With a carnation in my lapel. Saying something really devastating about her husband, but in such a subtle, witty way that everyone is charmed. But it doesn't work."

Her husband. Well, on the one hand, he is a famous writer. Almost like Gogol, Chekhov, or Steinbeck. On the other hand, he is a serf of a high rank, much higher, indeed, than my guest's, and as such he is allowed to go abroad quite often, while my guest went out once or twice in his life: this is what he means when he says that he was in the West.

In the early eighteenth century in Russia, under the tsar or rather serf owner Peter I, there were as yet no noblemen in the later-day sense. Noblemen too were serfs, only they were ranked. These ranked serfs were attached to various departments. Literally, the words serfdom and serf in the Russian language mean the right of attachment and the attached.

Her husband is attached to the department of literature.

Private, that is, small-scale serf owners in Russia before 1861 owned serf musicians, serf engineers, or serf actors who did not differ outwardly from musicians, engineers, or actors in the West. Some serf owners even had serf astronomers, serf composers and serf theologians. But serf writers - what are they for?

The answer involves a certain linguistic difficulty. Even the English language (not to mention the Russian) carries residual servile psychology. Is this surprising? Here is one of the numerous plaints that what the government had done was to transform "every man not merely into an inquisitor, but into a judge, a spy, an informer - to set father against father, brother against brother." Russia after 1917? No, England shortly before, historically: the fathers of those Englishmen who lived in 1917 could well remember the time.

"You Russians have never known freedom," a Britisher who had been in Britain a spy for the owners of Russia explained to me with Byronesque languor. Like a tone-deaf music-hating German explaining that only Germans can really create and understand music, for did not music flourish in Germany as nowhere else?

Actually, all mankind lived in the underworld of history for millennia, and even the English-speaking countries have emerged from the dark millennia of unfreedom "right now" by the scale of history (and have survived so far owing perhaps just to the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean). It is not, therefore, surprising at all that servile psychology is still built even in to the English language. Those who seize only a bank transport are in this language called private persons and hence bandits (especially if they come from the poor, did not go to college, and want money just to live better). But those who seize one-sixth of the inhabited globe with everything and everyone therein are called a state. Similarly, small serf owners are called private persons and hence serf owners, while very big serf owners can only be called a state, and their serfs subjects (or citizens).

About twenty-four centuries ago an Athenian said:
If you are caught committing any of these crimes on a small scale, you are punished and disgraced; they call it sacrilege, kidnapping, burglary, theft and brigandage. But if, besides taking their property, you turn all your countrymen into slaves, you will hear no more of these ugly names; your countrymen themselves will call you the happiest of men and bless your name...
He might have added: "and for the next twenty-four centuries even the languages of the freest countries will be so constructed as to call sufficiently big serf owners a state, and their serfs citizens."

In the big serf ownership that post-1917 Russia is, the state does not exist even in the sense of Hobbes (characteristically, the Russian word translated into English as "state" actually means "lordship," "masterdom," and the word translated as "power" derives from the verb "to possess," "to own"). In the autocratic State of Hobbes the subject had
the liberty to buy, and sell, and otherwise contact with each other; to choose their own abode, their own diet, their own trade of life, and institute their children as they themselves see fit; and the like.
None of these seven liberties of Hobbesian Absolutism, nor "the like," exist today in the serf ownership once called Russia.

There is an obvious benefit for a serf ownership to play on the residual servile psychology and ignorance of the populace of democracies and simulate a state (or even the world's only genuine democracy). In this way the serf owners are "recognized" by democracies still playing an important role in the world, and their serf ownership is thus "legalized" as a state. But, of course, only big serf ownerships can afford this state simulation, and the bigger they are the bigger and better state simulation they can afford, and the more serfs they can attach to activities like literature (what state can there be without literature?) and not only
to theater or music, as small, private serf owners did in Russia before 1861.

What should this literature be like? On the one hand, it would be the best if it consisted of one sentence: "Be infinitely devoted to your beloved owners," repeated as many times as is necessary to fill in each book of a required thickness. All the serfs in the serf ownership would read the sentence over and over again and would be infinitely devoted to their beloved owners.

But then those nosy intellectuals in the West would say: What sort of literature is that? The outside world remembers the Russia of the first half of the nineteenth century essentially owing to one man: Gogol. From the point of view of foreign prestige the department of literature should produce literature, not literature. But the trouble was that Gogol was not a serf: he was not attached. He did not write over and over again: "Be infinitely devoted to your beloved owners." In fact at school we were taught: "Gogol exposed mercilessly the entire regime of Nicholas I." Having done which, he would go back and forth between Italy and Russia, never molested or impeded.

The department of literature does not prescribe any uniform. A writer is to be dressed like Gogol or Chekhov or Steinbeck. This is his uniform. He should look like a writer. Many serfs look in fact as though they were in old Russia or in the West, in freedom. Partly the writer's rank is explicit (member of the secretariat of the union of writers), but partly it is implicit yet decisive, just as it would have been at the eighteenth-century Russian court.

That man. That writer-writer. Her husband. Why can he be a writer and I cannot? I would become sick if I were to put on real tweeds and loll in a chair somewhere in Paris or New York. Like those two serf boys of the pre-1861 times playing at gentlemen in the drawing room when their owners were visiting somewhere. Smoking real cigars, too. The boys so believed they were gentlemen that when their owners came they attacked them as intruders in the agony of disillusionment, and one boy cut his throat with a razor.

He is better than I am. He is kind, tactful, generous, a better man really, and once he helped me without any prospect that I would ever be important enough to reciprocate. Whenever he meets me he quotes something from a short manuscript I gave him to read several years ago, and he says only what very considerate successful men say to failures.

How can he enjoy being a serf writer?

It is, perhaps, simply that he comes from a poor family, yes, perhaps of a long line of pre-1861 serfs. I am more finicky - more squeamish. I cannot eat if someone has spat into my plate. Is this connected with my getting carsick so easily? I cannot go to Paris or New York and play at being a writer. In him, the generations of hungry, miserable, humiliated people clamor for what a high serf rank may give him - they devour it all wolfishly even if serfdom has spat into his plate.

I first met him several years ago when the times were the most lenient in the last thirty or forty years, and he was very much like any writer who had succeeded in any country. In old Russia. In the West.

He was a success. Almost as in any other country. And I was a failure. Almost as in any other country. Of course, I could blame the society, but what failure doesn't? At that time I still lived in what would have struck him as monstrous superslums compared with his new apartment with its vestibule of marble. I did not want to work for money more than two or three days a month, and under my suitcoat I wore my late uncle's lilac shirt which he had bought in England in the twenties. The shirt had a huge stain, like a strange, dark, vast continent on a map, so good for navigation, with many coves. The continent was also lilac, only a darker hue, but a commission store would not accept the shirt for resale (though the stain was invisible under a suit, especially with a tie), and so I got it as a gift, but I had lost one of my copper cuff links and discreetly kept the parting cuff together. He was a success, almost as in any other country, and success is success. He traveled abroad and had all the latest books and magazines and records, and he said: "Salazar in his diary...," and Salazar's diary was just out.

In a closed serf territory, even those who once belonged to the country's creative genius finally begin to write and say something musty - something smelling of old bookcases. That terrible, all-pervading musty smell. And here he said: "Salazar in his diary...," and Salazar's diary was just out.

I met him and his wife perhaps exactly as a failure meets a success anywhere. He had wanted or agreed to meet me, and that was important if I wanted to publish, and I did want. It was the best time in the last and perhaps the next thirty or forty years, but a failure forgets what he wants when he meets a success.

I do not know what started me off. Perhaps it was his words: "Salazar in his diary..."

Or perhaps it was his wife's stockings. As I kissed her hand (I behaved like a derelict Russian gentleman), I looked at them, as from a bridge at a cityscape below, the stockings (God knows from what exclusive shop in what Western capital) were finely webbed in black like a cityscape of a French artist whose name I forgot.

I was not a nobody, a funny beggar, just a maniac most likely, holding together the cuff of his late uncle's shirt. I was free, young, happy. I forgot about the cuff, and when I noticed it, I would not understand how I could be so conscious about the missing cuff link, and I almost flaunted the parting cuff. It even gave a new turn to my euphoria: it was a note in a keyed time, both spontaneous and contrived, for everything was unexpected and everything known in advance.

He listened, and said with genuine regret: "How you are wasting yourself. God, how you are wasting yourself."

In hindsight I knew that this had been a good pretext for me to say something like: "But who will publish me?" with a broad hint that I knew he had pull, and if he helped me... But instead I did what a failure usually does. I said: "Wasting?"

The word was simply another note in the euphoria. "Wasting? Do you mean that what I am saying to you two is wasted? And if it is published - duplicated on an industrial scale for millions of strangers to buy - it will not be wasted?"

As a failure often does, I was making up prodigiously for years of humiliation - I was drinking in my transient glory, I wanted nothing else. I was waving my parting cuff, it was now my first violin, I was speaking with eternity.

To say something like: "But who will publish me?" was inconceivable.
The literary world of the West today, of course, is not at all unrecognizable in Navrozov's rankers and members of the union of writers.

Not that the US has some petty department of literature. It vastly surpasses the Soviet Union in this statistic. It has two thousand departments of literature, one at each of its universities, which of course enjoy complete academic freedom. Despite this they somehow seem to all say the same things to the same people in the same ways. Perhaps this is because no further enlightenment is possible.

My girlfriend among her many talents is a playwright and screenwriter, and when we saw the excellent new film about East Germany, The Lives of Others, we both noticed something rather striking - which was that the East Berlin theater scene, circa 1970, and the San Francisco theater scene, circa 2007, didn't seem too different at all.

Not that fat, ruthless NEA administrators force aspiring actresses to put out. But, in San Francisco in 2007, the members of the secretariat of the union of writers are really quite easy to identify. And the process by which one obtains such a rank? Exactly the same. "But who will publish me?"

In my opinion, there are two main differences between the old Soviet bloc and the present-day democratic West.

One is that the West's civil-service apparatchiks are not as strong, not as politically secure, not as well-organized, and not as smug. This difference is slowly, but it seems inexorably, evaporating. The change has gone farthest in the EU - as Bukovsky himself points out.

Two is that the West has no West of its own. No 19th-century state survived the democratic avalanche. When I say that democracy is the opposite of liberty - a statement which would strike most Westerners today as nonsensical, just as it might strike a faithful Soviet serf as nonsensical to say that communism is the opposite of progress - I have no examples, even across some dog-fenced border, to point to. And this difference is not evaporating at all.

Or isn't it? After all, I'm posting this on the Internet, a very accidental product of democracy. Certainly no one who developed the Internet thought of it as a blow against the state. No one thought he was programming the West's West.

And yet, through the magic of Blogger, you can hear me say, democracy is the opposite of liberty. And while I may not be able to convince you, or anyone else, of this proposition, I can at least defend it. And I can point to you to other writers who say the same thing.

None of whom you will find, unless you are very, very lucky, at any democratic university. Or in any democratic newspaper or magazine. Or on any democratic TV or radio station.

Of course, I'm not actually serious about this. Ha! Democracy is great, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Be infinitely devoted to your beloved owners.

95 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in awe, a not uncommon reaction to your more considered work here.

Where, how do you find such gems?

Is there an algorithm for uncovering brilliant counter-consensus thinkers?

August 13, 2007 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger Gerard said...

A very impressive and challenging site. I've read a great deal in the archives.

Keep it.

August 13, 2007 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger Gerard said...

.... up.

August 13, 2007 at 11:33 PM  
Anonymous ru said...

Here here! One of the most distressing aspects of the human project is that it has been over 200 years since the last important large-scale successful innovation in governance. Democracy is clearly not the end of history unless of course the human species will go extinct next 100 or 200 years.

August 13, 2007 at 11:40 PM  
Anonymous ru said...

Oh, yeah: when I discovered this blog, I read the archive in its entirety (and am glad I did). So, dont assume nobody reads your archive.

August 13, 2007 at 11:42 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Ugh. I don't know how you can stand to read through this stuff. It read like a work of (uninteresting) fiction intended to show off his style rather than something informative. Of course, being a writer, he focuses on writers, and not caring for literature I didn't care for him.

Since you have put up both Burnham's first chapter and now this, I'll consider returning the favor by transcribing Bruce Beuno de Mesquita on Yeltsin, since you said you didn't have time to listen to the podcasts.

August 14, 2007 at 12:19 AM  
Anonymous Randy said...

The ownership theory certainly allows the pieces to fall into place. Even social theory makes sense if seen as a subcontext of ownership theory. The idea that we all owe each other makes no sense, while the idea that the owners want me to believe I owe them makes perfect sense.

August 14, 2007 at 7:47 AM  
Anonymous Conrad said...

I think you forgot to write, "I exaggerate, slightly."

August 14, 2007 at 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Conrad said...

BTW, we can take Navrozov to task for a bit of historical smudging: the 'Athenian' only uttered his words in a fictional dialogue written almost 100 years later (say, 23 centuries ago), a dialogue written partly to prove that Athenian wrong.

August 14, 2007 at 9:11 AM  
Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Are you implying that only works that are "infinitely devoted to [our] beloved owners" can get published in America? Aren't you vastly overstating the importance of university literature departments and publishing houses?

August 14, 2007 at 9:18 AM  
Anonymous dearieme said...

"No 19th-century state survived the democratic avalanche." I take it that you're right about Switzerland, Iceland, even Liechtenstein. But I can't resist pointing out that Sark, in the Channel Islands, has only just been forced to bow the knee.

August 14, 2007 at 9:18 AM  
Anonymous dearieme said...

Is this the sort of thing that interests you, MM? From Sark's website:-
"The beginning of the 21st Century has heralded great constitutional changes brought about by the requirement to ensure all law applicable to Sark is compliant with the international agreement on Human Rights. The changes required are effectively removing the last semblance of feudalism in the island.

The inheritance laws which encompassed male primogeniture where changed to ensure equality between the sexes.

The Tax law dating from 1899 which empowered the Douzaine to raise money for poor relief and island maintenance such as road repairs was abolished (on the grounds that the tax payer could not calculate his own tax) and replaced in 2004 by a more complicated but 'human rights' compliant capital tax.

The constitution itself is in the process of change to give a wholly elected legislature which will change the shape of Chief Pleas by removing the obligation on tenants to sit and serve the community and cause fundamental changes to the administration."

August 14, 2007 at 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Edward Williams said...

"After all, I'm posting this on the Internet, a very accidental product of democracy. Certainly no one who developed the Internet thought of it as a blow against the state."

You must be kidding with this. Insofar as the Internet is accidental, all the bloggers using it are incidental. Your "Polygon" has the Internet completely within its purview and grip, simply by virtue of the fact that all its writers, including yourself, at best can only use arcane language, indulge in painstaking scholarship, and employ old-fashioned logic. No matter how original you are, you come across as an screeching reactionary Like my Aunt Ninny

Sometimes I think only a poet ("Their faces show the captured lives / Of brave children; I say, we are duly charged / With a new rhetoric . . . " ) could escape these chains.

August 14, 2007 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

First off, the Soviet Union is still alive and -- by Soviet standards -- well. I've just been there less than a month ago and I have brought back numerous artifacts to prove it. Okay, it's a bit smaller than it used to be and its capital is called Minsk now. Also, religion got a bit more traditional (Christianity has taken (back) the place of Communism) and the Communist Party has been banned (last week, AFAIK). But apart from that, it's bona fide USSR. If you're wondering what the SU would be like today, just get a visa (it's sold as a ticket to the country for $40 bucks at any Belorussian consulate, after filling out a short questionnaire) and take a look.

Second, the EU is indeed becoming more and more Soviet-like in the worst sense of the term. There are three good things about the EU: the free movement of people, goods and capital. These three still far outweigh the many-many bad things, and unfortunately most EU critics (including Bukovsky) want to destroy these three wonderful things together with the rest. Nation states with border checks and customs duties are evil, whether democratic or not.

Third: don't get me started on (im)migration...

P.S. MM, you're quite right about the Internet. That's the model to look at. See also nick's most recent post.

August 14, 2007 at 3:06 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

Nation states with border checks and customs duties are evil

Wrong, on so many levels. Besides, they keep the world a more interesting place.

August 14, 2007 at 3:36 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

pa:
Could you please elucidate a bit on how something preventing me (and others) from seeing parts of it can possibly make (or keep) the world a more interesting place?
How is one form of highway robbery better than any other?

August 14, 2007 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

anon,

If I have an algorithm, it's mostly a matter of suppressing emotional reactions to bad ideas. Carlyle, for example, was a racist, an anti-Semite and arguably a fascist. And for exactly these reasons it is great practice to read him. Once you can stop yourself from flinging Carlyle across the room, you can read anyone.

Once desensitized in this fashion it becomes easy to see the enormous narrowness of au courant opinion in 2007, compared to the overall intellectual diversity of the last two centuries. At almost any decent used bookstore there is a shelf of pre-1960 volumes or the like. It's almost impossible to not find some idea that is new to you, at least if your educational background is the same as mine, on this shelf. But if you have a strong emotional response to bad ideas right, left, up or down, you'll find fishing in the past more unpleasant than recreational, and you won't do it.

For me the key is remembering that outright insincerity is very rare. I just picked up a copy of Lion Feuchtwanger's Moscow 1937, in which this great humanist writer extols the Soviet experiment - in one of its blackest years, no less. Feuchtwanger was wrong. His book advanced the cause of evil. Perhaps it resulted in many deaths. But it is not at all disingenuous, it is (I believe) perfectly sincere, and so I can read it without getting all hot under the collar.

August 14, 2007 at 5:01 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

dearieme,

Absolutely - I mourn the death of Sark. (I should have said "no significant 19th-century state.") "Human Rights" indeed!

August 14, 2007 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

conrad,

I always exaggerate, slightly. Perhaps it should be my new subheading.

But is it really so hard to imagine a future which sees our society more or less the way we see the Victorian age? As profoundly misguided at best, actively criminal at worst? Haven't stranger things happened?

Once you abandon the comforting anchor of vox populi, vox dei, and its many historicist successors, and see the Western mind of 2007 as a product of events, not of either Providence or inevitability, it is not so hard to see that history hasn't ended. It is just kind of stuck. But things that stick tend to get moving again with a very big bump.

August 14, 2007 at 5:13 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

Sometimes I think people with Asperger's are actually normal - it's the rest of us that have a syndrome. And are therefore vulnerable to the many distractions of mere aesthetics. Perhaps some Teutonic psychiatrist would be so kind as to lend his name to this condition.

August 14, 2007 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Edward,

I would answer your comment if I could understand it! And I don't even know the verse. Auden, Yeats, MacNeice?

August 14, 2007 at 5:19 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

Could you please elucidate a bit on how something preventing me (and others) from seeing parts of it can possibly make (or keep) the world a more interesting place?

It is one thing to visit a place, send emails home about your "authentic" experience there, buy some souvenirs, and go home.

But unless you were just making a hyperbole about the hassle of going through customs checks (I actually kind of like the ritual of getting my passport stamped by surly border guards with drug-sniffing dogs), I wasn't referring to tourism when I disagreed with your denounciations of borders and customs.

August 14, 2007 at 5:27 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

JewishAtheist,

This is why the comparison is dangerous - the West is to the Soviet Union as a mammal to a reptile. It has many organs undreamed of in its primitive relative.

For example, the West has a variety of opposition movements, all of which could not have been better designed to avoid threatening the status quo. They tend to be cretinous, puerile, or both.

For example, as a smart person like yourself, the association with conservatism and idiocy is, I'm sure, overwhelming. Not that this was ever anyone's evil plan - it just happened. But look how stable it is!

There are many, many people in the US who scoff at the universities, and their presses, journals, etc. But most of these people are not dangerous, because they are not smart.

If you look at Westerners with an IQ over 130, say, you'll see a much higher percentage who are infinitely devoted to their beloved owners. And when you look at the subset of those individuals who are involved in propagating information - as opposed to making money or otherwise diverting themselves - the percentage is even higher.

When you compare the Western university and press complex to the crude serfdom of the Soviet system of public opinion, which frequently descended to mere coercion and invested enormous effort in managing the minds of people who were not at all influential - it really goes beyond a mammal and a reptile. It's like a mammal and a sea squirt. But nonetheless, we share 60% of our genes, or whatever, with the sea squirt.

August 14, 2007 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Daniel,

The free movement of goods and capital is wonderful, and in many (but not all) cases the free movement of people is great as well.

But praising the EU for bringing these things is, in my opinion, like praising cancer as a method of weight loss.

The temptation of reform through centralization is always great. Centralization offers a chance to create new institutions, and new institutions tend to work much better than old ones. The US's Second Republic - ie, the Constitution - was formed for just such a reason. The Constitution was a coup by people who were fed up, generally for very good reasons, with the state governments. I think much the same is going on with Eastern European support for the EU.

But you could also create new institutions not by combining nations, but by breaking them up into city-states. Or you could simply reboot your government, for example by prohibiting any civil servant in the old government from working for the new government. There are lots of ways to reboot.

The trouble with the EU is that - as the American South found - at a certain point, the central government is very hard to escape from. The servant becomes a master.

You might enjoy Richard North's EU Referendum blog. Unlike Bukovsky, North really understands the EU, and he is very careful to avoid anti-EU myths. The reality is bad enough as it is.

August 14, 2007 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

I am confused, I thought the EU was (relatively) good because it was undemocratic. And I thought that strong central authority was good, because it can implement the law. Now you (Mencius) are casting aspersions on the EU for being a strong central authority. What's the difference between the kind of authority you seem to admire (old-school colonialists, Singapore) from those you detest (the Soviet Union, the EU)?

Or you could simply reboot your government, for example by prohibiting any civil servant in the old government from working for the new government.

This was tried in Iraq -- didn't work so well there, although there were so many complicating incompetencies that I'm not sure you can draw any general conclusions, other than a very general conservative one, ie, that it's much easier to destroy an existing system than create a new one from scratch, and thus it might be better to stick with the known, no matter how unpleasant it is.

August 14, 2007 at 6:15 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

mtraven,

The difference is the incentive structure of the people in government.

Singapore is, to some extent, centrally managed, as if it were a corporation. Thus its bureaucracy does not tend to grow without limit.

The EU is constantly expanding its powers, its complexity, and its staff. And it seems quite capable of achieving near-Brezhnevian proportions. Everyone in the EU has the typical bureaucratic incentive structure of building a little empire.

So it's sort of like the difference between a benign and a malignant tumor. If Singapore were actually run for profit by a formal ownership structure, it would be (in this doxology) healthy tissue. It's not, but it at least has some semblance of management, which the EU utterly lacks.

August 14, 2007 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

And I think it is actually much easier to create a new system from scratch.

For example, if Iraq had been occupied using 19th-century techniques, the top levels of management in the Iraqi government, military, etc, would have been held by Americans. This works brilliantly, but it's politically incorrect.

Corporations are born, grow and die all the time. It is governments that senesce and are not renewed.

August 14, 2007 at 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Edward Williams said...

Mencius
I am simply quarrelling with your notion that the Internet is some kind of fortunate historical accident, which somehow provides a free forum for discussion. To me the Internet is obviously a viscious, spiralling, highly deterministic outcropping, a virtual force of nature, called into being by the very omnipotent forces of runaway technology and Information Age media. In your terms, the Fourth Republic's way of getting all outsiders into one corner; probably so we can all be executed in one catastrophe. Blipped, so to speak, en masse. So far, I see only a sometimes hilarious, tireless language game. People in dark chairs. Talking heads who speak in outmoded literary forms. Despite their ideas (and you have ideas). But I have no solutions, only descriptions, and certainly do not quarrel with your ambitious thought-experiments.

I am quoting from my own poem entitled THE MODERN EPOCH, a 3,000 line tirade that I have yet to find a suitable format for, on my own, equally ill-fated, poetry blog.

August 14, 2007 at 10:38 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

Sometimes I think people with Asperger's are actually normal - it's the rest of us that have a syndrome. And are therefore vulnerable to the many distractions of mere aesthetics. Perhaps some Teutonic psychiatrist would be so kind as to lend his name to this condition.

It's called neurotypicality.

August 15, 2007 at 10:47 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Perhaps I should make some clarifying statements about myself. I've read Ivan Denisovitch and Master & Margarita and even gotten some enjoyment out of them (they were better written than your excerpt here). It was Steve Sailer and others who recommended them as giving insight into the strange world of Soviet Russia. I was even told in an English class I had "The soul of a poet" after attempting to prove free-verse was a worthless form anyone could do as if by numbers indistinguishable from the pros.

I no longer read fiction in part because non-fiction can be as enjoyable if not more so, and because I have made a conscious decision to attempt to think like reality. This involves avoiding the biases of fiction, such as good-story bias, and focusing more of my attention on the actual world. It is not the case that I am a Bayesian rational person immune to such things, merely that upon exposure to folks like the gang at Gene Expression, Overcoming Bias, the Hoover Hog (who I'm glad to see has started posting again after a hiatus, and his advocacy of anti-natalism/pro-mortalism makes his writings on holocaust revisionism seem normal in comparison) and Hopefully Anonymous I concluded that I aspired to be so. It was when I decided to actually and consciously weigh the evidence for the existence of God that I realized I had been an unknowing non-believer for some time but unwilling to admit it because I had a preference over belief. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and all, and I have taken it.

Do you aspire to think like reality? Do you pre-commit to updating yourself incrementally, including downshifting beliefs and admitting serious error? I am not talking about never defying the data, but it does involve specifying how much data or what kind of data you can defy. Just as a graph with all nodes connected conveys as much information as one with no edges, a theory that can explain everything equally well explains nothing. Is there something you can't explain?

August 15, 2007 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

pa:
You may have exercised sufficient care with the choice of your place of birth, which I haven't, but that "ritual" of stamping one's passport for a large number of people at many-many border crossings has an uncomfortably high probability of being followed up with that other ritual of being turned back. Also, it may happen that one's plans for vacation get ruined, because some asshole at the consulate decides that he's just pretending to be a tourist. Such decisions are made completely arbitrarily, with no semblance of due process, systematically flouting basic legal principles like presumption of innocence. It's criminal.

When I was doing my PhD in Canada, I wanted my best friend from Hungary to visit me. He was denied visa for having "insufficient ties to Hungary". The irony of the situation was that should he chosen to immigrate to Canada, he could have done that easily by passing the point-threshold with flying colors (Canada has a point system for evaluating would-be immigrants). There was no reason whatsoever for him to attempt illegal immigration and he provided more than sufficient documentation for the consulate to arrive to that conclusion.

Now, I have a business in the EU. We wanted to reward one of our contractors in Uzbekistan with a European vacation. Guess what, he has been denied visa. Was that bastard, who made this decision afraid that he would immigrate illegally? Immigrants "take away European jobs"? And what exactly is he doing in Tashkent right now, dare I ask?

Also, I object to being forced to pay for taking certain goods across the border.

August 15, 2007 at 3:56 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

Yes Daniel, I have exercised sufficient care with the choice of my place of birth: in Eastern Europe during the early 70s. No regrets, that's for sure.

My whole point was in response to your earlier comment that nation-states are evil because I don't think they are. I do, howver, think that efforts to abolish them are.

August 15, 2007 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

MM:
I guess, you misunderstood me. I don't praise the EU; I merely acknowledge that it does not interfere with the free movement of people, goods and capital (in this order of importance) within its borders and that this is its primary source of support. When East-Europeans voted for joining up, this is what they wanted (access to Western markets, that is). Not subsidies, hilarious "standards", airtight external borders, PC bullshit, Eurocomission, Europarliament, Eurodirectives, etc. I would like to see the EU abolished yesterday. Or, better yet, the day before.

However, I would loathe to see sovereign nation-states with border controls and customs duties in its place. Separatists, wishing to draw borders where there were none before are enemies of liberty. The dissolution of the Soviet Union was indeed a great tragedy for tens, if not hundreds of millions of people. Those who fail to acknowledge this much have a very twisted sense of reality. Any partition brings about a huge amount of human suffering by tearing up family and business ties, separating friends and breeding enmity. The Soviet political and economic system might have been a monstrosity (which it was), but the fact that there are national borders where there were none before is very bad. Actually, the fact that it ended like this, I hold to be one of the worst crimes of that system and the people in charge of it.

That is not to deny that centralization sucks. I know it and you know it. But high artificial transaction costs suck, too. I think it is possible and desirable to live without both.

August 15, 2007 at 4:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daniel - are you saying that the EU has airtight external borders?

I was under an impression that there are millions of non-Europeans flowing in. Islamization and all that.

August 15, 2007 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

pa:
In that case, we may have some irreconcilable differences and should expect to confront each other in many coming conflicts.

I believe, that one hallmark of sincere behavior and position is that one is not ashamed to talk about it openly. Now, I think I have explained why I hold nation states to be evil and abolishing them a worthy and noble cause. I also think that my examples illuminate some very valid grievances.

Now, I challenge you to come forward with your side of the argument.

August 15, 2007 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

anon,
I am saying that the EU (on some level) is aiming to seal its borders airtight. So far, it failed at achieving this and will probably fail in the future as well.
Money can breach any wall and each trickle has a chance of becoming the unstoppable torrent that washes away the whole edifice.
Market forces are notoriously difficult to oppose.

August 15, 2007 at 4:53 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

Daniel: in a nutshell, I don't subscribe to the Libertarian fallacy of man as atomized individual.

I believe that extended family, culture, religion, shared history, race, language, customs, and a million other shared traits define a human being in his fullest sense.

Culture is what TS Eliot defined as "that which makes life worth living." A fairly well-defined nation-state thus allows a human being to live meaningfully and in harmony with commonly-understood norms.

Furthermore, an absence of core cultural norms creates a vacuum, or at least an uncertain scenario, which, as seen in various EU countries, is filled with stone-faced PC totalitarianism on one end, and gleaming-eyed Islam on the other.

August 15, 2007 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

DAN said: the fact that there are national borders where there were none before is very bad. Actually, the fact that it ended like this, I hold to be one of the worst crimes of that system and the people in charge of it.
Really? I would think that ranked pretty low on the list of Soviet crimes.

I would like to see the EU abolished yesterday...However, I would loathe to see sovereign nation-states with border controls and customs duties in its place.

Well, make up your mind. You can be sure that someone is going to be throwing their weight around, whether big or small, public or private. Some gang of thugs is going to be claiming ownership or sovereignty of every interesting bit of land, and exerting their power to decide who gets to come in, leave, and how much to charge for the privilege.

The interesting thing about our proprietor is that he's cheerfully suggesting that it would be better if the thugs were corporations rather than governments, democratic or otherwise. I suppose that in that happy condition, mergers and acquisitions will decide on the optimum organization size. There would still be the kind of turmoil of the sort that accompanied the USSR's breakup, but then, there was turmoil when AT&T broke up, and we survived.

Would privately-held states have open or closed borders? Shopping malls are pretty open-access, but Disneyland charges admission (and is reputed to screen out undesirables, which used to include those with excess facial hair). Which model will prevail? Only the market knows for sure.

August 15, 2007 at 5:29 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Given the number of people I've met who have gone to Disneyland to drop acid, I think they could do a better job of excluding undesirables!

I agree that nation-states are not a huge improvement on the EU. I think Europe as one or two thousand private city-states would be an incredibly wonderful place.

And I suspect a private city-state would be very open to freedom of movement - except for the underclass, which it would try very hard to keep out. But it wouldn't have much trouble with this, either.

IMHO, the forces opposing freedom of movement are a terribly complex mixture of good and bad.

I have no sympathy for anti-immigrationism as a form of economic protectionism. However, I also have no sympathy for pro-immigrationism as a form of "electing a new people," or in any other way creating political clients.

August 16, 2007 at 1:25 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

pa:
The borders of cultures and those of nation states are not the same. And this cannot be fixed by moving borders around, for cultural borders are necessarily blurred. There is an increasing number of individuals like myself, who are carriers of more than one ethnic culture. Last time I copied my address-book (I do keep a paper-based one, too), I was surprised to find out that over 90% of my friends are at least bi-lingual. With most of them I share only one common language (and culture).

"PC totalitarianism and gleaming-eyed Islam" are not at the two ends of anything in the sense that there's very much, including nationalists like yourself, who are not in between.

There is nothing that a nation-state allows you to do, which is impossible in a tolerant multi-ethnic society like urban Canada (Toronto being a prime example, where according to the 2000 Census more than half of the population was born outside of Canada). The contrary is obviously not true. Therefore, a nation-state is a restriction on people's liberty.

From an economic point of view, the nation-state is just a bunch of unnecessary transaction costs and thus market forces are acting against it. History shows that nothing can stand up against market pressures for a long time.

Your kind of idealism, while understandable from a certain point of view, does not stand up to the test of reality. The nationalist notion that every person has (or should have) exactly one ethnicity/nationality and that every nation has a right to an independent state is based on a deeply flawed model of human society. And it's not very traditional either: it was concocted at around the end of the XVIIIth century in the process of the so-called "enlightenment". Before that "natio" was reserved for the nobility. Common people did not have a "national" identity.

P.S.: are you still in Eastern Europe?

August 16, 2007 at 1:29 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

My main problem with the Yudkowskian way of thinking is that in my experience, most of my past errors have been the result not of miscalculating the answer, but of not asking the right question. If Bayesian analysis can help me with this, please let me know how!

I am not really either an Aspie or a neurotypical, but I can pretend to be either. Although perhaps not all that well. But this is the general pathology of the generalist.

August 16, 2007 at 1:34 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

MM:
I'd love to see the EU morph into something like Hansa.

Currently, I am reading a book (in Russian) on archeologic findings from Lord Novgorod the Great. Certainly a healthier polity than this Northwestern Federal District of the Russian Federation.

After thinking a bit about the ongoing discussion I think, I correct my position: it is not border controls per se that I am against. It is their arbitrary nature. Current arrangements are placing way too much power into the hands of un-accountable diplomats and border guards (immigration officers, homeland security officers, etc. Pick your favorite brand). If decisions about whom to admit were results of due process based on formal rules, I would probably have no problem accepting them.

August 16, 2007 at 2:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few observations:

Ranks in Russia have nothing to do with Communism. They were introduced by Peter the Great. He apparently got the idea from China.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Table_of_Ranks

What you call Brahmins are in fact Chinese-style Mandarins. The difference is simple - Brahmins are what they are by virtue of religion; nobody can take that away from them.

Mandarins are Mandarins because they passed state-approved examinations.

Europe is in fact mostly post-democratic (it is in fact a dominant ideology in EU)and governed by bureaucratic class, ie Mandarins.

Baduin

August 16, 2007 at 5:09 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

P.S.: are you still in Eastern Europe?

Daniel:

No, I live in the United States as a naturalized American citizen.

And no, this is not an admission of some unprincipled exception on my part. I came to the U.S. as a fellow-Westerner and have fully assimilated to the culture here. In my humble opinion, my arrival and my children's birth here is a net plus for this country, in part because I bring with me no disruptive "elect a new people" force to the U.S.

On the other hand, had I moved to, say, Korea, I'd see how the presence of myself and four million of my Slavic cousins might be resented there.

Your praises of Canadian-style multiculturalism is a massive manifestation of Idealism as well, you probably just don’t see it. What you aren't saying is that the tolerance you praise is a nullity that gets filled with very alien nationalisms. Kurds and Paksitanis bringing their village feuds to the streets of Toronto and all that.

By advocating a passive tolerance as an official ideology of a given Western state, you're not building an utopia of open movement, but simply trading the devil you know (Canadian nationalism, such that it is) and can reasonably live with for one you probably won't like very much once you get to know him.

PS: why don't advocates of open borders ever notice the one-way nature of today's arrangement? I hear Zimbabwe has starving people and mismanaged agriculture; since I can afford to buy some farmland and help things out there, why can't I?

August 16, 2007 at 5:20 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

pa:
You shouldn't have gotten all defensive about being a naturalized US citizen. I was just curious where you live and what passport you hold, with no intention to judge your decision either way.

FYI, I have spent almost five years living in Canada (and I can easily imagine myself going back someday). I can tell you that Toronto is one of the safest metropolises on this planet. There is very little "alien" nationalism in the streets of Toronto and even if village feuds are occasionally brought there (never seen them), it's still a non-issue compared to the ills of nationalism.

And no, multiculturalism is not a nullity; it does have a substance to it. Nor is it passive tolerance. It does put certain obligations on newcomers (i.e. respect for those who came before them and those who will come later), but preserves their Hobbesian freedoms to do as they please as long as they don't injure anyone in the process.

Also, I don't quite understand what you mean by "Western" and "Westerner".

As for open border advocacy, in my case it cuts both ways. I definitely think that you should be able to buy farmland in Zimbabwe and that your property there must be secure and that you should be allowed free access to it. The present situation is quite deplorable. Closed borders and nationalism/racism are bad, no matter who their victims are.

Also, FYI, I need a visa (which can be denied arbitrarily) to visit the US, whereas you can just buy a plane ticket and come to Budapest. AFAIK, Hungary is not the only such country.

August 16, 2007 at 6:11 AM  
Anonymous PA said...

multiculturalism ... does put certain obligations on newcomers (i.e. respect for those who came before them and those who will come later)

Alas, it never does work out that way. Multiculturalism creates too many irreconcilable contradictions that result in conflict. Such volative situations are then inevitably "managed" by the kind of PC tyranny you start seeing in England, for example.

You perhaps argue that EU's PC crap is a bug; I argue that it is a feature. Diversity must always be managed one way or another: either through an informal separation of various ethnies like in pre-WW2 Eastern Europe, or through force like under Tito or Hussein. Formal national borders are the more humane, or at least practical, alternative. Either way, good fences make good neighbors.

The newcomers in Toronto may be few in numbers, and perhaps for now consist mostly of educated people. But let the trends continue, they'll start intimidating your daughter into wearing a headscarf to school. And the "diversity managers" will start intimidating you into being quiet about it. See the EU.

I appreaciate your arguments. But you sound (forgive me if I'm off here) like a single, fairly mobile guy, who sees the world as his to taste and touch. But once you get married, have children, buy a house, you will start to feel invested in your little corner of the planet and multiculturalism will feel more like chaos to you then.

Maybe you've heard about that Putnam study that showed how diversity breds distrust, even among peope of the same group.

And no, I wasn't being defensive; it's just that my immigrant status is frequently used as a point against my positions on this issue, and I wanted to show that there is no inconsistancy there.

August 16, 2007 at 6:45 AM  
Anonymous tggp said...

My main problem with the Yudkowskian way of thinking is that in my experience, most of my past errors have been the result not of miscalculating the answer, but of not asking the right question. If Bayesian analysis can help me with this, please let me know how!
Are you saying that you don't miscalculate, and therefore have no need to become stronger? That is quite an incredible claim. Furthermore, not asking the wrong question could just be seen as giving an incorrect answer to the question "What question should I be asking?".

August 16, 2007 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Alas, it never does work out that way. Multiculturalism creates too many irreconcilable contradictions that result in conflict. Such volative situations are then inevitably "managed" by the kind of PC tyranny you start seeing in England, for example.

It almost(?) always does, if it is not "managed" in any way beyond mutual respect. Again, see Canadian cities like Vancouver or Toronto.

You perhaps argue that EU's PC crap is a bug; I argue that it is a feature. Diversity must always be managed one way or another:

Must? Why?

either through an informal separation of various ethnies like in pre-WW2 Eastern Europe

Which resulted in WW2 and my family very narrowly escaping being killed off completely...

or through force like under Tito or Hussein.

I don't know much about those. Tito's Yugoslavia was actually much more peaceful and prosperous than the nationalist statelets into which it disintegrated (with the single exception of Slovenia). I know virtually nothing about Hussein's Iraq.

Formal national borders are the more humane, or at least practical, alternative.

Being practically impossible to begin with, their establishment nearly always begins with a painful partition often accompanied with some ethnic cleansing. What remains is irrational enmity and distrust. Then all sorts of problems with minority rights and so on. Not to mention the regular highway robbery that occurs at border crossings. These things are plain evil.

Either way, good fences make good neighbors.

I disagree. Have you seen the 20cm high
stone-fences in Ireland? Now THAT's civilization.

The newcomers in Toronto may be few in numbers, and perhaps for now consist mostly of educated people.

Which planet are you talking about? According to the census of 2000, half of Toronto's population of 2.5 millions was born outside of Canada.

But let the trends continue, they'll start intimidating your daughter into wearing a headscarf to school.

Who is "them" and why and how would they do that?

And the "diversity managers" will start intimidating you into being quiet about it. See the EU.

Look, Europe has a very nasty legacy of nationalisms, which Canada fortunately lacks. Remember, that the previous attempt at uniting Europe was called Third Reich. These things have uncomfortably deep roots in the Old World. Nazism is not quite as dead as MM would like to believe.

I appreaciate your arguments. But you sound (forgive me if I'm off here) like a single, fairly mobile guy, who sees the world as his to taste and touch.

That's a fair assessment.

But once you get married, have children, buy a house, you will start to feel invested in your little corner of the planet and multiculturalism will feel more like chaos to you then.

I doubt it. My parents' views on such matters are not much different from mines. They both did their share of living abroad for several years and learned to speak each other's native languages fluently. Also, I doubt that I will marry a girl who shares my rather mixed ethnic and cultural background (not that there aren't any, but there are very few), and even then some multiculturalism within the family will be inevitable. As I said earlier, more than 90% of the people in my phone book turned out to be at least bilingual.

Further, I don't think I'll ever buy a house. I'm perfectly content with living in condos.

Maybe you've heard about that Putnam study that showed how diversity breds distrust, even among peope of the same group.

That's peanuts compared to the distrust that national borders breed. Also, it is a well documented fact that anti-semitism in Nazi Germany was strongest in villages where there were no Jews whatsoever. Segregation is evil.

August 16, 2007 at 2:25 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

Daniel, I said about all I want to in this thread. Your views are, in UR's terms, Universalist. So I will never change your mind.

You think that segregation is evil. I think that a normal and voluntary separation of people according to their own preferences is natural and good, and forcing them to integrate might become 21st century's disaster equivalent in the evils it commits to the crimes of Communism in the 20th.

We'll just have to disagree.

August 16, 2007 at 3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Readable Nazis, you say?

Try Otto Skorzeny, Hitler himself (Mein Kampf, the Table Talk, the Second Book, the Last Testament), and Rudolf Hoess. I think these books are all legit, but David Irving says that Hoess's memoirs and Hitler's Table Talk are fake. Take that for what it's worth.

Several high-ranking German officers also wrote readable memoirs, which aren't pro-Nazi, but are unapologetically militarist and therefore alien to modern ways of thought. Better ones include Manstein, Guderian, and the very anti-Nazi von Senger und Etterlin, who has the most damning critique of Hitler from a non-leftist perspective that I've seen

c23.

August 16, 2007 at 5:41 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Baduin,

I didn't know the Table of Ranks was inspired by the Chinese - interesting, but not surprising.

Mandarins also had state jobs, which (neo-) Brahmins don't, and the (paleo-) Brahmin religious-educational hierarchy was no slouch itself. But I will allow that the term is almost as good :-) And we certainly mean the same thing by it.

August 17, 2007 at 11:43 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

No, I am very much in sympathy with tsuyoku naritai. I just think that formal methods have very little to do with it. Bayesian analysis isn't going to tell me what question I should be asking.

You know what the Yudkowsky approach reminds me of? It reminds me of this video I saw once on YouTube, which was incorrectly described as an aikido master versus a karate master. I always wanted to see this, so I clicked on the link.

In fact it was an aikido master doing what aikido teaches you to do, which is to trivially and elegantly defeat a completely unskilled attacker. Indeed, the master had an almost choreographic beauty and simplicity in his defeat of the ritualized incompetence that his attacker, who was probably one of his students, was displaying.

But if it had been one of the Gracies, I'm sure his leg would have been ripped off in fifteen seconds.

That's what Yudkowsky reminds me of. You want to overcome bias? Go out, find some real questions, and demonstrate why your answers to them are better than everyone else's.

Tell me, O Yudkowsky, Bayesian Sensei, who was right in the Civil War? Should you be a Republican or a Democrat? Who is smarter, the Jews or the Japanese? Should the US stay in Iraq, or should it leave?

But you never see this. If he is so "strong," why doesn't he go into the cage with the Gracies, actually find some controversial position on which he is right and the conventional wisdom is wrong, and defend it against all attackers? At least go out and get in some damn barfights.

Bayesianism is the philosophical equivalent of ritualized pseudo-violence. I'd like to think that here at UR, we practice the real thing. I am certainly willing to debate anyone at any time on any subject, as long as it is not mystical or metaphysical.

August 17, 2007 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

c23,

Thanks! I ordered the Etterlin. I am definitely lame for not reading at least the Table Talk.

I also just found a very interesting book by Helmut Kuhn, dated 1943, a Christian Democrat and philosophy professor who fled to the US. I'll probably post some excerpts...

August 17, 2007 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

pa:
I accept your capitulation. Peace.

August 17, 2007 at 2:58 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Mencius, why don't you go over to Overcoming Bias and start commenting there? They are willing to accept questions of the type "Why bother overcoming bias" and "Is Bayesianism truly The Way?". The group over there truly seem to me to be the smartest people I've come across, and you said that's your target. I've mentioned before that I'm less than +1 SD in IQ according to an online Raven's so you'd be better off conversing with them than me.

According to Yudkowsky, politics in the mind killer, so he doesn't get too involved in that and is instead more focused on the Singularity. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who votes at all is irrational and being a member of the Republican or Democratic parties is an even surer mark. Bayesianism can't tell you about moral "rightness" either, since that's an inherently subjective thing. I sort of got into a disagreement with Eliezer on moral skepticism, but I'm still not sure what we actually disagree about.

pa, instead of calling Daniel a Universalist and giving up, why don't you follow Mencius' example and try to continue the conversation?

August 17, 2007 at 6:24 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Nice takedown of Yudkowsky; you managed to articulate what I had been vaguely feeling whenever I read those guys.

You have in common with him a disdain of politics; he calls it "the mind-killer", whereas you would probably just call it a killer, period. I think you're both wrong; as I said in a comment at that link, politics is unavoidable.

The desire to avoid politics leads him to his objectivist (small-o) stance, and it leads you to a formalism that is supposed to make politics vanish in a poof of legal contracts and ownership and unconstrained use of force. But at the root there is, I believe, the same sort nerdy sort of disdain for the messiness of the real world and real life and a desire to replace it with a clean design, something simpler and sensible.

Hope you don't mind the psychologizing, as a fellow nerd I have the same syndrome. For whatever reason instead of channeling those desires into libertarianish schemes I channel them into picking fights with libertarians.

August 17, 2007 at 6:28 PM  
Anonymous PA said...

instead of calling Daniel a Universalist and giving up, why don't you follow Mencius' example and try to continue the conversation?

Giving up or "capitulating" would involve my accepting of his worldview, which I don't. I said all I wanted to on this topic in this thread, and don't really want to go in circles forever on this here. I've been in online discussions long enough to know that these arguments never end and their returns diminish for all after two or three rounds of the back-n-forth.

Daniel sounds like a young guy with very Idealistic PC views (heck, he is Canadian), and he'll either continue forever in his worldview -- in which case arguments will never reach him -- of he'll grow out of them with age, experience, and reflection.

I suspect that in his case, it will be a bit of both. I was amused when he said that he'll always want to live in condos, because I remember my own 20s and my attitudes then.

In any case, for the sake of UR's general audience, I made the arguments I wanted to, Daniel made fine ones as well, and I'm sure the topic will be revisited in future comments threads.

Peace!

August 18, 2007 at 8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually don't KNOW whether the Table of Rank was inspired by China. It is a very old supposition, but you would have to ask Peter the Great whether it is true. It is awfully similar to the Nine-Rank system, however.

I, on the other hand, do know that both modern bureaucracy and modern liberalism was inspired by China. (laisse-faire is a calque from Chinese, and Britain introduced exams in Civil Service based explicitly on Chinese models.)

There are a very good online lecture scripts by Edward Kaplan on political and economic history of China, where you can learn many such things.

http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~kaplan/

In fact, in China discussions such as yours were popular more than 2000 years ago. You would seem to be a moderate Legalist by their classification.

BTW, According to Edward Kaplan, the society is divided into Meritocratic class (Mandarins, your Brahmins), Aristocratic class and Plutocratic class. And presumably the normal people, who generally don't get to rule.

Baduin

August 18, 2007 at 10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, it should be Legist not Legalist

Baduin

August 18, 2007 at 10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PPS. In fact, only a few percent of Mandarins managed to get state posts. The rest passed exams, gloried in their status and hoped for the best.

Baduin

August 18, 2007 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 18, 2007 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger Daniel A. Nagy said...

Just for the record:

While I have indeed spent almost 5 wonderful years in Canada and pa is not the first to call me Canadian, I am not. Neither do I consider myself Universalist, though of course, just like MM, I tend to agree with them on some issues, albeit not necessarily the same ones as MM.

I was born in the fine city of Leningrad (originally and currently St. Petersburg) and currently live in Budapest, Hungary.

Speaking of Piter and Wikipedia, I have been told a very funny story during my recent visit to Belarus, proving that enterprising spirit lives on, no matter what:
a freshman girl from Grodno went to St. Petersburg to earn some money as a tour guide showing tourists around, armed with a bunch of printouts from Wikipedia. Her plan worked out nicely; she got what she aimed for. She has never been to St. Petersburg before...

August 18, 2007 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Baduin,

It's often difficult distinguishing homology from analogy in human history. But when you have the problem, you know you're on the track of something interesting!

They said "Legalist," not "Legist," in my Chinese history class. The only problem is that Mencius was not a Legalist at all. But hey. I would call myself a moderate Legalist with Taoist leanings.

(I find it slightly disturbing that the golden age of political thought in China was over 2000 years ago.)

As for the Mandarin examinations themselves, of course the system lasted for quite some time, but I think you always received a post of some sort if you got far enough in the system. Of course I am going just on distant college memory and La Wik.

August 19, 2007 at 6:46 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

Isn't it neat how Yudkowsky's antipolitical position enables him to avoid getting into any actual arguments? It's sort of like the aikido sensei claiming he is too peaceful to get into a bar fight. It may be true, but it sounds suspicious.

If Yudkowsky thinks he's overcome bias, let him show up here and defend democracy. I'll take the little punk any time. I hear his mother wears army boots.

As for the Raven, this sort of thing is why I don't take IQ tests. It's only useful information to others, and I prefer that others not obtain it!

August 19, 2007 at 6:55 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

mtraven,

I think the point is not to avoid emotional issues in "politics," but to discuss them in a way that tries to minimize emotional response and the resulting herd behavior.

Is comparing Hillary to Kim Jong Il hyperbolic? It's an interesting question. It depends on how you describe "hyperbolic." The problem is that we live in a society in which no one questions the proposition that we should draw exactly the same link between, say, David Duke and Hitler. I'd argue that the link (in both cases) is tenuous, but hardly nonexistent.

For example, if you want an example of it, you can read this book. It is very easy to connect this node to both Hillary and Kim.

I do think Nick should post your comment, however. He is sometimes a little slow about moderation, but...

August 19, 2007 at 7:02 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Duke returned to LSU, graduating in 1974. He became famous on campus for wearing a Nazi uniform while picketing and holding parties on the anniversary of the birth of Adolf Hitler -- wikipedia

If Hillary has been observed any time in her life celebrating the glorious leadership of Kim Jong Il, then you might have a point. As it is, you are compounding the silliness.

As for the connection through looking backward, you can connect any two things if you reach back far enough. If a hundred-year-old book has connections to both liberalism and authoritarianism, that is an interesting datapoint in the history of ideas and ideologies, but it proves nothing about the moral equivalence of present-day individuals and movements.

You dnn't talk a lot here about present day, boring, actual politics, which is fine, there are more than enough people who do that sort of thing. But if Nick is going to put his foot in that arena then he has to answer not just for ideological purity, but for the actual consequences of beliefs in the actual world, And if your belief system leads you to equate Hillary Clinton with Kim Jong Il, while ignoring the actual authoritarian acts of people who are actually in power, then there is something wrong with it.

August 20, 2007 at 10:22 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Isn't it neat how Yudkowsky's antipolitical position enables him to avoid getting into any actual arguments?
You haven't been reading the blog if you think he doesn't get into arguments. I think he just wants to avoid especially stupid arguments, and there is good reason to believe those will be more common than usual when it comes to politics.

It's sort of like the aikido sensei claiming he is too peaceful to get into a bar fight.
I don't know much about martial arts, but I probably wouldn't patronize a sensei that got in lots of bar fights. That's an activity the not-so-wise tend to engage in. What does that have to do with anything? Nothing really, I suppose but it felt worth mentioning.

If Yudkowsky thinks he's overcome bias
He has never claimed that, and his tsoyuko naritai post seems to make it clear he has not achieved his goal.

let him show up here
He's got the more popular blog and he's better known, so it would be odd if it went that way rather than vice versa. If you challenge him on his own blog he might show up, but I don't know know if he even clicked the links here I've posted there.

and defend democracy
He never said he was in favor of it. What he has said about majoritarianism leads me to believe he would be more skeptical than average.

As for the Raven, this sort of thing is why I don't take IQ tests. It's only useful information to others, and I prefer that others not obtain it!
You are failing to distinguish between taking an online test for yourself and telling others the results. I'm not worried about the results of my actions though.

August 20, 2007 at 11:29 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

mtraven,

You left out the "[citation needed]" on the end of that quote. But, sure, if Duke is wearing a Nazi uniform, the connection is a little closer.

What does "moral equivalence" mean, anyway? None of these people are on trial for their actions. By wearing a Nazi uniform (let's suppose he did), Duke did not send a single Jew to the gas chamber, invade Poland, etc, etc.

And nor has Hillary ever run any gulags. Nor was Nick claiming that she had.

The point is that when we point to the historical and ideological links between Universalists and Communists, we are committing the sin of "McCarthyism." But there is no sin at all in connecting anyone who opposes "affirmative action" directly to Hitler, or at least to Strom Thurmond.

On this subject, one point you might want to reflect on is the comparison between the way FDR and the US military of the '40s behaved toward its enemies, versus the acts of Bush and his modern minions. For example, in the occupation of Germany, the US was perfectly prepared to take and execute hostages if there was any "Werewolf" activity. Let alone, of course, the massive and intentional aerial bombing of civilians.

What's interesting is that, if you chart the US military's level of discipline and respect for human rights over the last 50 years - let alone the last 100 - it has clearly been rising, rather steeply. Surely the US military of today is the most legalistic and humanitarian military force in history, at least if you count only forces that are actually effective. Its rules of engagement are really starting to approach those that would be appropriate for a police force, which historically is very, very unusual.

And yet the level of scrutiny, condemnation, and even outright demonization it has been subject to has certainly increased as well. You would sort of expect an inverse correlation here, wouldn't you?

Once during WWII, a US serviceman in the Pacific sent FDR a memento - a letter opener carved out of a Japanese thighbone. FDR turned it into a press opportunity and wrote back, asking for more such souvenirs. The Japanese had to ask the Vatican to intervene, and the thing was eventually buried. But imagine if that was Bush and a "terrorist."

So everything is a matter of perspective. But that knife cuts both ways.

Have you read Looking Backward? It'd be interesting to hear your thoughts on it.

August 20, 2007 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

Sure, they spend a lot of time arguing about epistemological methods on Overcoming Bias. I am not a regular reader, but I haven't much seen them arguing about issues. Ie, field-testing those methods.

If you don't use your kung-fu, what use is it?

Behind your majoritarianism link someone who isn't Yudkowsky is arguing that we should always take the majority opinion as the null hypothesis. Yeah, good way to overcome bias, guys - start by wallowing in it.

I suspect the real problem with OB is the link to AI. What's funny is that once upon a time, AI researchers thought they could solve everything with deductive methods, and syllogisms were just the shizzle.

Now the pendulum has gone all the way in the other direction, and Bayes rules. Well, it's certainly great if you want to know what color the balls in your urns are. I will stick to actual human thinking, thanks.

August 20, 2007 at 2:31 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Sure, they spend a lot of time arguing about epistemological methods on Overcoming Bias. I am not a regular reader, but I haven't much seen them arguing about issues. Ie, field-testing those methods.
They do it plenty. Here are the ones on the front page right now that are specific rather than general:
http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/why-do-corporat.html
http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/media-risk-bias.html
http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/irrational-inve.html
http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/is-molecular-na.html
http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/are-brilliant-s.html
Most of the arguments Eliezer gets in are likely to be about Singularity and the like. I wish him all the best, as that's a hell of a lot more likely to result in progress than political argument. I don't know what his political beliefs are. Someone once called him a libertarian but he didn't respond and I don't know if he noticed. Robin Hanson and David Balan (both contributors) have actually had a real formal political debate on paternalism, and there was lots of conversation on the topic preceding that debate. Balan and Caplan also argued over whether we should worry more about teachers or advertising brainwashing kids.

I suspect the real problem with OB is the link to AI.
So are you fine with the contributors who aren't linked to A.I?

Well, it's certainly great if you want to know what color the balls in your urns are. I will stick to actual human thinking, thanks.
You were saying? Ignoring that for a moment, most of the blog contributors acknowledge that people aren't perfectly Bayesian rational; they aim for that as an ideal and discuss cognitive biases that hold people back.

August 20, 2007 at 8:34 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp,

You'll notice that none of these arguments are about subjects that people have deeply-ingrained convictions about! If "overcoming bias" means anything, shouldn't it mean finding ways to correct things you've believed all your life that aren't true? Oh, wait, I guess it's just typical Bayesian hyperbole.

An ideal human is certainly not a Bayesian inference engine! You might have noticed that you employ cognitive techniques such as "deduction" and "intuition." Believe it or not, these are actually quite useful.

There is this urge to make the AI problem look easy by reducing human reason to some automatable algorithm. With symbolic AI it was the plague of the '60s and '70s. I don't welcome its return.

August 20, 2007 at 9:42 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

And as for politics and the "Singularity" - you may not be interested in politics, but politics is definitely interested in you. There is this optimistic sense that politics will remain frozen at the present stage of quasifunctional sclerosis for the permanent future, which I don't by any means share at all.

August 20, 2007 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever connected being against affirmitive action "directly to Hitler". There are many perfectly reasonable reasons to be against affirmative action.

You seem to like to make a lot of hay over these historical connections. Let's assume that all the connections you've found are valid. Then -- so what? All those ideas have evolved since then, in different directions. They may or may not have transcended their origins, they may be something very different from their ancestors. Lobsters and stag beetles are both arthropods but that doesn't mean they are equally suitable to serve at dinner.

If your worldview leads you to collapse Kim Jong Il and Hillary Clinton into the same category, that might mean that you have a great new insight into the nature of political reality, or it might mean that your ideology is completely useless to understand real-world politics. Maybe it means both.

Whatever point you were trying to make by introducing the evolution of American military standards of behavior went right over my head, I'm afraid.

August 20, 2007 at 11:42 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

You'll notice that none of these arguments are about subjects that people have deeply-ingrained convictions about!
I would say the Caplan vs Balan argument on teachers vs advertisers and the related Hanson vs Balan argument on paternalism would qualify. They also took on "democratic fundamentalism" in Reviewing Caplan's Reviewers. Click on the "politics" tag and you will be lead to an index of posts on that topic.

You might have noticed that you employ cognitive techniques such as "deduction" and "intuition." Believe it or not, these are actually quite useful.
Show me where any of the contributors there said those techniques are not useful. A googling of Eliezer Yudkowsky and intuition turns up this, where he seems to give it the thumbs up.

There is this urge to make the AI problem look easy by reducing human reason to some automatable algorithm.
Perhaps this will not be easy, but I don't see why it shouldn't be possible in principle. Evolution may have had a huge head-start on us, but it's not the divine hand of God that no mortal can approach or begin to understand.

With symbolic AI it was the plague of the '60s and '70s. I don't welcome its return.
You seem mighty content to tar Eliezer with others you dislike rather than actually pointing out anywhere he goes wrong.

And as for politics and the "Singularity" - you may not be interested in politics, but politics is definitely interested in you.
To steal a line from Max Stirner, politics is interested in me as Man, not me personally the ego. The sun will also beat down on me and I will do what I can to find shade, but it is not very productive to spend time discussing how to change the sun, even if it might be fun. The Singularitarians think that the core individuals on the cutting edge could have a very large impact, so it is more sensible to devote their efforts to that than a political system they can have no impact on.

August 21, 2007 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever connected being against affirmative action "directly to Hitler". There are many perfectly reasonable reasons to be against affirmative action.

That's true. But try uttering them in freshman orientation at Harvard!

What "directly" means is open to debate. But people who are against affirmative action are racists, and Hitler was a racist. This strikes me as pretty direct.

My point is that a society in which anticommunism had the same importance that antiracism has in ours would be almost unimaginably different. And yet, since the crimes of Communism clearly exceed those of racism, this is slightly odd, don't you think?

Forgetting David Duke for a moment, the connection between Jared Taylor (of "American Renaissance") and Reinhard Heydrich is easily in the same category as Hillary-Kim. And yet it comes very naturally to people.

Whatever point you were trying to make by introducing the evolution of American military standards of behavior went right over my head, I'm afraid.

The point was that you originally complained that Nick was on crack for worrying about Hillary rather than Guantanamo.

August 22, 2007 at 11:11 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Show me where any of the contributors there said those techniques are not useful. A googling of Eliezer Yudkowsky and intuition turns up this, where he seems to give it the thumbs up.

Yudkowsky is describing moral, not factual, intuition. I forget where I saw it, but I know I have seen him defining rationality as the correct application of Bayesian principles. That's enough for me.

Perhaps this [top-down AI] will not be easy, but I don't see why it shouldn't be possible in principle. Evolution may have had a huge head-start on us, but it's not the divine hand of God that no mortal can approach or begin to understand.

Not at all. The problem is that "mortal" intelligence is very limited, and the set of algorithms that we can understand the way a programmer understands a program is very small. Evolution is not restricted to this set.

I would say the Caplan vs Balan argument on teachers vs advertisers and the related Hanson vs Balan argument on paternalism would qualify. They also took on "democratic fundamentalism" in Reviewing Caplan's Reviewers.

To some extent. But notice how carefully they avoid actually attacking any political movement. This habit of being "above politics" is so routine in academia that it is practiced unconsciously, but it certainly has nothing to do with rationality.

August 22, 2007 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

The Singularitarians think that the core individuals on the cutting edge could have a very large impact, so it is more sensible to devote their efforts to that than a political system they can have no impact on.

Yeah, a lot of people in the Soviet Union thought the same way. But they were wrong.

Our political system is fundamentally dependent on public opinion, which all flows downhill from smart people like Yudkowsky. Whether his reasoning algorithms don't allow him to compute that a spade is a spade, or whether he knows a spade is a spade but doesn't want to say it, he is serving the state through inaction.

August 22, 2007 at 11:27 AM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Yudkowsky is describing moral, not factual, intuition. I forget where I saw it, but I know I have seen him defining rationality as the correct application of Bayesian principles. That's enough for me.
Yudkowsky views intuition and deduction as basically Bayesian processes. I think differently, which is why place less value on intuition and believe there are no moral truths. His comment that it "all adds up to normality" with regard to Freudianism vs sociobiology shows he does not exempt positive (as opposed to normative) beliefs from his ideas on intuition.

The problem is that "mortal" intelligence is very limited, and the set of algorithms that we can understand the way a programmer understands a program is very small. Evolution is not restricted to this set.
Maybe we don't have to understand it, just implement it and some higher intelligence will understand it. Evolution doesn't have to understand anything, it's just random mutations some of which happen to be better at self-replicating. An artificial hippocampus has already been created without understanding how it works. But besides all that, I'm not sure the human brain so complicated it can't be understood. Hundreds of years ago relativity and quantum mechanics would have seemed ridiculous, but they are the standard model today. Space travel would have seemed ridiculous, but going to the moon is now old-hat.

But notice how carefully they avoid actually attacking any political movement.
Ideas and policies can be debated, and that is just what they do. Attacking beliefs held by a movement should be sufficient. A movement itself doesn't have truth value. Yudkowsky explains a bit here with the made up label "post-utopian".

I'm sure Yudkowsky, Hanson & co. could explain their beliefs better than I could. That's why I encourage you to post on their website and engage in a dialog with them.

August 22, 2007 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger mtraven said...

My point is that a society in which anticommunism had the same importance that antiracism has in ours would be almost unimaginably different. And yet, since the crimes of Communism clearly exceed those of racism, this is slightly odd, don't you think?

No. If we're talking about current American society, racism has had a far greater impact than communism, and anti-racism is far more pertinent to dealing with current social problems than anticommunism. Racism is baked into the US social history and Constitution, whereas communism is a foreign idea that never got much traction here.

If you wind the clock back to when communism was an external force to be reckoned with, there was more energy put into anticommunism than antiracism. We had a very large, nuclear-equipped military dedicated to containing communism, which certainly sucked up a greater proportion of the American economy and mind than antiracism.

If we're just talking about intellectual fashion, which is a particular obsession of yours, then I guess your point is that anticommunism was undeservedly out of fashion, which is certainly true. But in that case, intellectual fashion made no practical political difference in the US after 1950. All actual power was in the hands of anticommunists.

Forgetting David Duke for a moment, the connection between Jared Taylor (of "American Renaissance") and Reinhard Heydrich is easily in the same category as Hillary-Kim. And yet it comes very naturally to people.

"Easily"? I don't see it at all. But there is no way to get an objective answer to this sort of thing, so maybe we need to agree to disagree, perhaps due to the distorting effects of perspective, like that Saul Steinberg drawing of a New Yorker's view of the US.

[Hm, this feeds into your Uberfact proposal -- the proper visualization for the structure of factions is a hyperbolic tree.]

August 22, 2007 at 11:30 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

No. If we're talking about current American society, racism has had a far greater impact than communism, and anti-racism is far more pertinent to dealing with current social problems than anticommunism. Racism is baked into the US social history and Constitution, whereas communism is a foreign idea that never got much traction here.

Did you read the Bellamy book? The US is the original home of nationalist socialism. See this awesome book (written, incidentally, by a socialist). Bellamy was hardly alone.

Also, I am not talking about "current American society," because the Universalist judgment of racism is moral and (per Universalist doctrine) worldwide. The Holocaust is certainly seen as a racist crime, and antiracism in the US only came to dominance after the defeat of the Nazis.

But in that case, intellectual fashion made no practical political difference in the US after 1950. All actual power was in the hands of anticommunists.

Not true at all. If anticommunism had actually won, "McCarthyism" would be a compliment, not a slur.

The people who actually won were the anti-anticommunists. They represented themselves as anticommunists, but they were actually just anti-Soviet. They believed just as much in Third World liberation and anticolonialism, for example, as any party-line Communist. Nor did their economics differ much at all.

They just weren't all reporting (as the McCarthyists liked to claim) to Moscow. And because they were the Establishment, they only had to be right (and their opponents, the anticommunists, wrong) once, and it was bye-bye to Joe McCarthy.

For example, you can google the phrase "Southeast Asia Without Americans: For Most, A Better Life"...

August 23, 2007 at 10:46 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

An artificial hippocampus has already been created without understanding how it works. But besides all that, I'm not sure the human brain is so complicated it can't be understood.

The artificial hippocampus is exactly what I mean. We can build it, but that doesn't mean we can express how it works in simple math or English. It's possible that there is some simple formula for intelligence, but I don't see why there would be.

I'm sure Yudkowsky, Hanson & co. could explain their beliefs better than I could.

They have, and I've read them. I am impressed, but unconvinced in several regards. I think it's more productive for me to simply say what I think on my own site. If the horses want to drink, they can come to the water.

August 23, 2007 at 10:50 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

They represented themselves as anticommunists, but they were actually just anti-Soviet.
Sounds like you could just as easily be referring to the neocons or to American support for the pro-Chinese faction after the Sino-Soviet split. Vietnam, even if Huntington places it in the Sinic civilization (which is not the same as the minor Buddhist civilization), was Soviet aligned. That's why China invaded them and they invaded Pol Pot's Cambodia. Savimbi also got his start as part of the pro-Chinese faction amid Angolan communist liberation movements before draping himself in the American flag.

They believed just as much in Third World liberation and anticolonialism, for example, as any party-line Communist.
I think the most orthodox Marxism claimed that the most capitalist nations were the ones ripe for revolution and Third World countries were not really prepared. They kind of got kicked to the side by Lenin's Bolsheviks though.

And because they were the Establishment, they only had to be right (and their opponents, the anticommunists, wrong) once, and it was bye-bye to Joe McCarthy.
I'm not as familiar with the history as you might be, but I don't recall McCarthy actually being caught in the wrong. He was just disliked. The famous line is not "See, he was deliberately dishonest all along!" but "At long last, have you no decency?"

For example, you can google the phrase "Southeast Asia Without Americans: For Most, A Better Life"
Your search - "Southeast Asia Without Americans: For Most, A Better Life" - did not match any documents.

It's possible that there is some simple formula for intelligence, but I don't see why there would be.
Then perhaps the formula is complicated.

If the horses want to drink, they can come to the water.
I don't think they're aware of the water. Maybe if you get a post attacking the idea of the Singularity on Slashdot they'll notice.

August 24, 2007 at 4:35 PM  
Blogger mtraven said...

Did you read the Bellamy book? The US is the original home of nationalist socialism.

And how much traction did it have? For all it's popularity, and influence on opinion in the early 20th century, were we ever living in a Bellamist world? The high-water mark of those ideas inflencing actually power was the New Deal, which is a pretty far cry from actual communism (IMO. On the other hand, if you can't detect much daylight between Hillary Clinton and Kim Jong Il, then I suppose Roosevelt and Stalin are joined at the hip).

Also, I am not talking about "current American society," because the Universalist judgment of racism is moral and (per Universalist doctrine) worldwide. The Holocaust is certainly seen as a racist crime, and antiracism in the US only came to dominance after the defeat of the Nazis.

Well, what are you talking about then? You were saying that not enough attention is being paid to anticommunism as opposed to antiracism. So if not now, do you mean over all historic time and space, or what? Actually, you said: My point is that a society in which anticommunism had the same importance that antiracism has in ours would be almost unimaginably different.

I'm not sure why anticommunism should have much importance in our society since there aren't very many people promoting communism, unless you feel that Hillary Clinton is a communist. But as you pointed out, she hasn't sent anyone to the Gulag, and isn't likely to, so why do we need to oppose her?


me: But in that case, intellectual fashion made no practical political difference in the US after 1950. All actual power was in the hands of anticommunists.

mm: Not true at all. If anticommunism had actually won, "McCarthyism" would be a compliment, not a slur.

McCarthy lost, anticommunism won, as evidenced by numerous proxy wars we fought against the USSR, and the general tone of US politics, where the acceptable range of opinion on communism ran from Humphrey anticommunist to Nixon anticommunist.

mm: For example, you can google the phrase "Southeast Asia Without Americans: For Most, A Better Life"...

Example of what? The article I assume you are referencing is not as simplistic as its headline, and is hardly pro-communist, although it does a seriously bad job of predicting what would happen after US withdrawal. It looks like a case of oppositional/greener-grass bias to me (bombing the hell out of Indochina is bad, so any change must be for the better). Schanberg was also instrumental in exposing the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime, so where does that put him on the communist/anticommunist scale?

August 25, 2007 at 6:59 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

Sorry, I meant Indochina Without Americans. D'oh!

August 28, 2007 at 5:21 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

And how much traction did it have? For all it's popularity, and influence on opinion in the early 20th century, were we ever living in a Bellamist world? The high-water mark of those ideas inflencing actually power was the New Deal, which is a pretty far cry from actual communism (IMO. On the other hand, if you can't detect much daylight between Hillary Clinton and Kim Jong Il, then I suppose Roosevelt and Stalin are joined at the hip).

Um, in case you haven't noticed, the New Deal was never abolished!

To us, the difference between the New Deal and Brezhnevism seems considerable. To sheep, individual sheep look very different. To the people who wrote the US Constitution, they would have seemed very similar, and the connection to Bellamy's Industrial Army quite apparent.

I'm not sure why anticommunism should have much importance in our society since there aren't very many people promoting communism, unless you feel that Hillary Clinton is a communist. But as you pointed out, she hasn't sent anyone to the Gulag, and isn't likely to, so why do we need to oppose her?

Compared to the number and influence of people promoting white supremacy in the US, the number of and influence of people promoting communism is tremendous.

Compared to the historical crimes of white supremacy, the historical crimes of communism are tremendous.

With which of these statements do you disagree? Or would you think it was just fine if, say, Mitt Romney praised Strom Thurmond?

McCarthy lost, anticommunism won, as evidenced by numerous proxy wars we fought against the USSR, and the general tone of US politics, where the acceptable range of opinion on communism ran from Humphrey anticommunist to Nixon anticommunist.

For a time. Notice that Tom Hayden is now quite a legitimate figure.

And "Humphrey anticommunist" was hardly anticommunist at all. It was anti-Soviet and pro-socialist. It was "Humphrey anticommunists" who got Diem assassinated, for example.

August 28, 2007 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

I'm not as familiar with the history as you might be, but I don't recall McCarthy actually being caught in the wrong. He was just disliked. The famous line is not "See, he was deliberately dishonest all along!" but "At long last, have you no decency?"

I think there's at least some question about what he had in those manila envelopes...

Sounds like you could just as easily be referring to the neocons or to American support for the pro-Chinese faction after the Sino-Soviet split.

Yeah - in fact, America's Mao supporters had been looking for a Sino-Soviet split for quite some time before it happened. (And it happened no thanks to them.)

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February 26, 2009 at 8:05 PM  
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March 2, 2009 at 9:23 PM  
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March 2, 2009 at 9:24 PM  
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March 22, 2009 at 1:25 PM  

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