Saturday, June 9, 2007 19 Comments

Separation of information and security

It's come to my attention that some people think UR has a bad attitude. That it wallows in decadent, aestheticized despair under the inexorable velvet grip of the Polygon, pausing only to scoff at the feeble struggles of those deluded fools who call themselves the "resistance."

Au contraire, mon frere. Well, okay, I do scoff. But I also offer serious, positive proposals for a freer and happier tomorrow. Here's one for this beautiful spring weekend.

I believe (and I think everyone should believe) in separation of information and security.

That is: I am very fond of law and order. And I recognize that security forces are needed to impose it. I also understand that humans are basically little rock apes, and our little rock-ape eyes, ears and noses do not equip us to understand life, the universe and everything. At least not on our own. And when a little rock ape grows up knowing nothing but what it sees, hears and smells, you have a serious menace on your hands.

However, I also believe that in a free society, there is no such thing as official truth.

Granted, the security forces need some consistent picture of reality, because they need a clear idea of who they should and shouldn't detain, imprison, shoot, bomb, etc. But this is a very narrow view of the world. It is basically limited to things legal and military. The ugly truth about security is that security, at least when it's done right, is a boring job for boring people. It is not exciting, romantic or dramatic, and if it is you should worry.

The security forces do not need to have an opinion on whether God is three persons, one person, or no person at all. They shouldn't care whether or not the Beatles were better than the Stones. They should favor neither Manchester United nor Bayern Muenchen. It need not bother them a bit that August Kleinzahler is a poet and John Ashbery is a poser, and nor should they sit up late worrying that the former's work is going downhill, whereas the latter has nowhere to go but up unless he gets his hands on some heavy earth-moving machinery.

Most people would not quarrel with these statements.

However, I also don't think the security forces should have an opinion on whether or not men tend to be better at math than women. I don't think they are or should be qualified to decide whether or not cold fusion is real, or what the global climate sensitivity is, or whether I should or should not ingest some chemical. I am not interested in their opinions on sexy movies or first-person shooters.

Some unease may creep into readers at these bold claims. And when I add that, while it may be a matter of some interest to the security forces whether or not the Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression, the Fourteenth Amendment was properly ratified, or the Mexican War was illegal, I think the security forces are perfectly capable of keeping any opinions they may have on these subjects to themselves, there may be some actual dissent.

The problem is that, at least here in the US, we have something called separation of church and state. I think this is a very good idea. After all, since a church is only a building unless it transmits information, and a state is not a state unless it provides security, separation of information and security must imply separation of church and state.

It's interesting, though, to ask people why they think separation of church and state is so important. A typical answer is that they have a name for a system of government in which church and state are not separated. They call it a theocracy. If they have a very expensive useless education, they may also describe it as caesaropapism.

"Theocracy" is an interesting word, because God, if there is anything at all to the fellow, is at least quite secretive. Literally, "theocracy" should mean the rule of God. But God works in mysterious ways, so it usually falls on others to explain what he's thinking. Thus "theocracy" is more accurately defined as rule in the name of God.

In other words, it involves what we can call a security-information feedback loop.

In a theocracy, you must obey the security forces, because the security forces obey God. You know that the security forces obey God, because your minister tells you that the security forces obey God, and your minister obeys God. Your minister obeys God because his salary is paid by the security forces, who obey God, who only pays ministers who obey God. This money is in turn paid by you to God. Since God does not have a bank account as such, please make your check out to the security forces, who will use it to do God's work. Et cetera. It's pretty clear how separation of church and state nips this particular loop in the bud, and a good thing too.

The problem, however, is that while a lion is a cat, not all cats are lions. Some non-lion cats are scary-looking but harmless. Some lions are harmless-looking and harmless. And some non-lions act like pussycats and are extremely large and dangerous.

The essential ingredient of a security-information feedback loop is that the security forces teach us to worship them. That is, we treat the security forces, or their associated agencies, henchmen, or committees, as essentially mysterious and benevolent, and they use their influence or other powers to encourage this characterization.

This "God" fellow is certainly one way to get the job done. Other familiar figures in the same capacity include Athena, Ahura-Mazda, Huitzilopochtli, and so on. But can we say it's impossible to create a security-information feedback loop without the assistance of anthropomorphic paranormal entities?

The answer is rather important. If you treat a highly mutable infectious agent with a narrow-spectrum antibiotic, you have a recipe for resistance. If security-information feedback can be achieved without the use of God or gods, separation of church and state is in fact pretty much guaranteed to create a much, much nastier strain of the bug.

One way to see this is to look at how drastic the treatment would have to be. Imagine if you applied separation of information and security to the Western world today, in the same way that most of us apply separation of church and state.

With church and state, at least since the 1960s, we don't just try to minimize feedback. We try to eliminate it. We look for absolute sterility. In fact, relics of the era when a little feedback was considered harmless, such as the word "God" on currency, strike most people with at least my background as a little weird.

Applying this level of scrutiny to separation of information and security would imply a state that had no involvement at all with education, journalism, broadcasting, science, or the arts. Rather, all of these fields would be completely independent.

This would be a somewhat different world from the one we live in. So you might want to think for a little before you decide this is a good idea.


Blogger Victor said...

First of all, I think a little terminological adjustment is in order. It seems obvious that what you are looking for is to separate security not from information, but from information authorities; i.e. the people and institutions not merely telling you something, but able to make you regard that something as worth listening to.

This is a minor quibble. Overall, I think you made a very interesting point,which ties in with your earlier post about the perceived but superficial differences between religious and non-religious ideologies.

It seems to me that one major consequence of your proposed model would be the state's complete divestiture of the education business.I can certainly see the merit of separating the people who tell us what is true and good, from the people who act upon that information. On the other hand, the universal provision of education is arguably an important function of the state, in that the lack of education undermines the very foundation of the free society, that being people's ability to evaluate the effect on various large-scale events on them.

Formalism would require people to be able to make complex decisions with relative accuracy, but it seems it would also entail letting large swaths of people simply lose the ability to do so accurately.

Perhaps it's the liberal elitist brahmin in me speaking, but I see a conflict here. We don't like in Heinlein's wet dream where every citizen can hunt a deer, build a bridge, pilot a spaceship, do integral calculus in their heads, while cooking up a gourmet meal, all at the same time.

Unless humanity radically changes, a free society divesting itself of the societal education programme will IMO lead to the undermining of the very principles which made this free society possible, resulting in a societal devolution to a dystopian oligarchy.

So perhaps a better question would be not how to separate security from info-authority, but rather how to limit the feedback loop between them.

A related objection is that it may be in practice impossible to completely sever the relationship anyway, even if we wanted to. I am thinking of the incestuous, though completely unofficial, relationship between the government and the media. How do you envision the termination of a relationship like that? I just don't see how you could forbid individual journalists to pay rather receptive attention to the security apparatus.

June 10, 2007 at 7:00 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

MM: good post. It's a nice generalization of my proposal to separate science from the state. With Victor I wonder, however, what concrete form this might take in areas that already are formally, but much less actually, separated, e.g. journalism.

Victor:"the lack of education undermines the very foundation of the free society, that being people's ability to evaluate the effect on various large-scale events on them."

Why would a person whose profession is not politics need to engage in speculating about large-scale political events? How is this of any value beyond entertainment? Is it also necessary to teaching every single human being C programming and how clouds form?

Even at the micro-scale, it would be nice if everybody were able to write their own contracts and butcher their own hogs, but the division of labor is a wonderful and utterly necessary thing. In a truly free society, the ability to read and write your own contracts would be far more important than the ability to mouth faddish speculations about politics. Guess what legal subjects our "civics classes" conspicuously do not teach? The ones people actually could use in their own lives to empower themselves, like contract, tort, and property law.

"Formalism would require people to be able to make complex decisions with relative accuracy,"

If formalism means bringing the practices of corporate capitalism to politics, it presumably will bring the division of labor and professionalism that characterize the rest of our economy to politics. Only political entrepreneurs and professionals would need to understand these things. We have professional schools that are remarkably good at producing such people.

June 10, 2007 at 1:56 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

I agree with separating the state from education, but I don't see how the MSM is part of the state. It seems to me they are already as separate from it as churches.

Theocracy is also different from caesaropapism. In theocracy people from a religious institution attain the highest position of power within the state. Under caesaropapism the person with the highest position of power within the state is then made a religious figure.

June 10, 2007 at 5:43 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp -

It would appear that the press is not part of the state. But appearances can be deceiving.

First, note how little difference there seems to be between press institutions that are nominally private corporations, and between ones that are formally state-sponsored such as the BBC.

Of course, TV networks such as ABC, NBC, and CBS are the closest to the BBC, because they owe their existence to broadcasting licenses granted gratis as a public service. In the bad old days I think FDR, for example, used to renew radio licenses every year.

CNN and the New York Times enjoy so such obvious privilege. But a journalist is a journalist at any of these. Journalistic ethics are civil-service ethics, and one notices very few conflicts between the two - the Polygon hypothesis.

It strikes me that journalists who work at Western state-sponsored institutions are in a very similar situation to those at corporate ones. In both, they are or at least are supposed to be "independent" - the former from politicians, the latter from CEOs. Instead they follow their higher ethical calling or whatever.

We accept this very strange state of affairs as normal. But fictitious management relationships are not, in fact, normal.

The question to ask is: why? Why, when I have 200 cable channels, isn't one of them called something like "Confederate Racist Television"? Yellow journalism is dead - what killed it? Where does all this unanimity come from? Even the gap between Fox News and PBS is miniscule by the standards of 100 years ago.

In other words, what we have is a very mysterious unanimity, which needs to be explained. I can think of three explanations.

One is that the connections are subtler than they appear. This is the reason we insist so strongly on absolute sterility betweeen church and state - coziness can creep in. For example, the NYT does not have a broadcast license, but it does deal with various unions. It also bases many - if not most - of its articles on confidential sources, who violate their employment contracts with peculiar immunity. And of course there are various more mundane forms of "access" granted to the press. Basically, this hypothesis suggests that it would be very difficult for any publication explicitly hostile to the extended civil service to operate on any substantial scale.

A second hypothesis, which I think is closer to the truth, is that a business needs a market, and the market of intelligent readers who distrusted the Polygon - readers, for example, of the old McCormick Tribune, the Chandler LA Times, etc (actually, in general it was the newspapers that were the fiercest foes of FDR) dried up, or were at least washed away as progressives took over the higher educational system that created their readers. Instead after the Fairness Doctrine was repealed we got talk radio, which I think is generally as awful as most Brahmins say it is. The readership of the Washington Times, New York Sun, etc, is tiny, and why would it be otherwise? Journalism, in other words, looks like an unfree market because it is tied so closely to the unfree market of higher education.

And then the third hypothesis is that we simply have the power relationship reversed - it is not Tony Blair that pulls the strings on the BBC and the Economist, but the BBC and the Economist that pull the strings on that Tony Blair. In other words, if I may stretch the word even farther, it is not caesaropapism but papocaesarism.

This is really the full Polygon hypothesis - that power in a democracy is held by those who manage public opinion. It explains the unanimity very simply: those who hold power always believe they should hold power.

This suggests that the only way to break this loop is either to end "government for the people, by the people," or to adopt fascist remedies and appoint some authority over the press.

Obviously the latter has been tried and does not work - it only moves the problem, and typically seems to worsen it. And the former makes no sense, because absent fascism only democracy can abolish democracy, and, as we've seen, a hallmark of democracy is that it programs its voters to believe in it.

The only hope I can see is that it might be possible to build an information authority (in victor's phrase) with more credibility than the Polygon, and some intrinsic defense against being distorted by the power that any such authority would inevitably acquire. Kind of a supercharged Wikipedia, perhaps. This is a hard job to begin with, and it only works if people have a higher preference for truth over fiction than I think they actually do. But still, it might work. I'll say more about this in a little bit.

June 10, 2007 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


Thanks - I continue to be grateful for the presence of an audience not predisposed to agree with me!

On authorities: exactly. "Information authority" is a little cumbersome, though, so I may yet try to resurrect the neologism repeater which I was trying out earlier. The snappier one's phrase, the more it tends to need explaining, unfortunately.

I think for the most part I will let Nick's answer speak for me. I particularly like his point about writing one's own contracts. His article on separation of science and state is also, as I've said before, excellent (I should have linked it in the article - sorry, nick).

In general, I think most who associate compulsory official education with freedom are engaging in the very common conflation of freedom with democracy. Democracy is a process for selecting officials; freedom is a description of what those officials do. The two are quite orthogonal. Mush them together and you lose a whole dimension.

(I know this was not precisely your argument, but since Nick answered the point you actually did make, I thought I'd answer this related point which an uncareful reader might assume you were making :-)

While I agree with Nick that the connection between freedom and official education is spurious, I think there is a connection between democracy and official education.

But I think this connection is not the one we usually learn. It's not that government schools teach us to grow up as responsible voters. It's that they teach us (a) to love the government and love democracy, and (b) to agree with each other on all important subjects.

(a) and (b) make a democracy much more stable and successful, because they are history's best solution so far to the problem all states have: maintaining internal security. This is an important problem and it needs to be solved - I don't mean this ironically at all.

You probably know that the US Founders distrusted, even despised, democracy, which they associated with mob rule and civil war. (Numerous quotes to this effect are available.) They thought they could design a system in which democracy played a significant but restrained part. They were wrong, and the result was the US Civil War, in which Northern and Southern intellectuals quite literally chanted for each others' blood. The very worst offenders were, as in World War I (a very similar war in many respects), the newspapers.

This is a grim choice: mind control, effectively theocracy (coming up on UR: the Christian roots of progressive-idealism), or violence, destruction and death. Like you I choose the former, but I'd rather not make the choice. The only unquestioned variable in this nasty equation is democracy.

As for journalists: the question is an excellent one. Basically I think the answer is s/journalist/blogger, but I'll say more about this in future. Certainly the various privileges of access to government that journalists enjoy, even to the extent of "freedom of leak" (and especially what we have now, which seems to be selective freedom of leak), are incompatible with the level of sterility I'd like to see.

June 10, 2007 at 9:41 PM  
Blogger Victor said...


You wrote:

I continue to be grateful for the presence of an audience not predisposed to agree with me!

Haha. Well, I continue to be grateful for the presence of people like you, whom I can ardently disagree with, but still respect. Today's right are by and large intellectual toads, and most libertarians are either already someone I agree with (I am half-way between liberal and libertarian) or they tend to be outright loons.

Anyway, to the points.

First of all, I think Nick's article on the separation of science and government is a bit of a bait-n-switch. What he really argues for is not actually separating the two, but dampening the feedback loop between them -- exactly the point I made about the information flow. Nick seems to realize that you can't really end the government funding for science, because, let's face it, free market does a god-awful job at foundational sciences, for very obvious economic reasons (foundational science is a public good in the strict economic sense of the term); so what he argues is for a system where the funding exists, but is smaller and is structured better.

It's basically the same recognition as I made regarding education: to actually institute a wall of separation would amount to cutting off your nose to spite your face, a self-destructive move by any measure, but at the same time we want to minimize the incestuous relationship between the two which corrupts the institution's purpose.

Your criticism is very much meaningful and accurate, so we can't simply ignore the issue either. It's just not the only consideration at hand.

For my money, what we all are looking for is not to completely separate government and information authorities, but rather to dampen the feedback loop. The BBC funding model might be one way to go, though it doesn't seem to work too well. It is, however, the principle that matters, which principle Nick also grazed with regard to the partial decoupling of government and science -- the principle of finding the right balance between funding and influence feedback.

P.S. I really like the idea of Mega-Wiki. Information To The People! and all that.

June 11, 2007 at 7:02 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I support the information-security feedback loop. It guarantees a decent amount of security; I feel safe knowing that the strangers around me have been indoctrinated so that their behavior is predictable.

The obvious price of this security is that the rules apply to me as well. Sometimes I must pursue my interests in roundabout ways, in order to maintain public compliance with the official truth. My freedom of action is hampered; I must endure absurd inefficiencies. But my internal beliefs about the world are not yoked to the official truth. I am privately free in my thoughts.

The information-security feedback loop handicaps everyone. But not everyone is equally capable of bearing this handicap. Those who can bear it lightly are protected against those who are completely pacified by it.

June 11, 2007 at 10:47 AM  
Anonymous RU said...

I find that comment useful: had not looked at it that way before.

June 11, 2007 at 3:46 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


Science in its strict sense is certainly a public good.

But the idea that science should be sponsored by the State is a very new one. It's basically post-1940. And certainly a great deal of science got done before 1940.

The trouble is that there is also such a thing as a public bad. Contamination from the feedback loop makes certain areas of science very, very untrustworthy. It also creates many things that claim to be science and are not.

If it's not clear to you which things I mean, I'm afraid the only way to make this argument convincing is to explore exactly these sensitive spots in some detail. Which we will definitely do.

Also, one of my other beliefs, which we will also get to at some point, is in the separation of charity and security. To the extent that science is a public good, that is, benefits all humans, it is charity.

In fact, one can even look at separation of information (authorities) and security as a special case of separation of charity and security, because discovering the truth is certainly a public good - or would be, again, if the result was actually truth.

It is very easy to say that the feedback loop should be damped rather than broken. Unfortunately, reliable algorithms for doing so are lacking. One could also say that it's okay to have a garbage dump in an operating room, as long as it's a sterile garbage dump.

If X is funded by the security forces, X either (a) is managed by the security forces, or (b) manages the security forces. Either way there is an alignment of interests, which means feedback will happen.

How was pre-1940 science funded? In a whole lot of different ways. The result was a very adversarial process, and science is inherently adversarial. Or it should be. State-funded science tends - in my experience - to be extremely mendacious when it comes to raising money, and extremely good at using the power of feedback to establish little areas of artificial consensus. Not good.

Here is one book, written by a devoted servant of the Polygon but still quite honest and fair-minded, that gives a good picture of the nasty wriggly things that hide under the rock we call "funding." Yikes.

June 11, 2007 at 8:44 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

steve -

I admire your perspective! If only the status quo defended itself in such an honest and simple way. Unfortunately, the nature of the beast makes this rather tricky.

June 11, 2007 at 8:45 PM  
Anonymous nick said...

Victor: "Nick seems to realize that you can't really end the government funding for science, because, let's face it, free market does a god-awful job at foundational sciences, for very obvious economic reasons (foundational science is a public good in the strict economic sense of the term)"

A "public good" is simply what a private good is without the mechanism to internalize it. Reducing acid rain is a public good, but it has nevertheless been quite dramatically accomplished by internalizing sulfur dioxide output into a market for emissions rights. The same will probably work for carbon dioxide.

Almost all of the economic value of science comes via its reification in technology. Trade secrets and patents provide ways to internalize most of these technological reifications. (Not without raising some of their own problems, of course).

Are you conceding that public education does not help preserve freedom -- indeed probably helps destroy freedom -- or do you have a rebuttal on this point?

June 12, 2007 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger Victor said...


You wrote:

Almost all of the economic value of science comes via its reification in technology. Trade secrets and patents provide ways to internalize most of these technological reifications. (Not without raising some of their own problems, of course).

Oh bollocks, and you know it. This was exactly why I spoke of foundational science. The gap between a foundational scientific discovery, and its technological applicability, may be measures in decades, even centuries perhaps. For example, we have understood fusion for over half a century, but we are still about half a century away at worst, and a couple of decades at best, from its financially viable application (fusion power); but when it comes, it will change the world.

How would you patent a scientific discovery? Forbid others to base their work on it? But this sort of cross-pollination of ideas is exactly what drives science! Plus, you can never know beforehand what benefits a foundational discovery might provide, and how soon. Maxwell could not have foreseen the electronics applications of his unification of electricity and magnetism.

Free market works fine for technology. It sucks stinky donkey balls for foundational science.

Are you conceding that public education does not help preserve freedom

Of course not. Your argument -- that politics is best left to politicians -- missed the point IMO.

Your response reduced my point to understanding politics, but that was not what I was talking about. Education is about understand the world, the big picture; understanding the import of Holocaust, the role of evolution, hell, the existence of other countries! These decisions will affect our voting behavior, sure, but also much more than that. Understanding the big picture helps us become rational economic agents -- and in a world where everything is economics, we sure all need to be rational economic agent.

How can you make rational decisions about your lifestyle if you are unfamiliar with the basics of public health? How can you make rational decisions about gambling if you don't understand basic math? how can you make rational decisions about social policy (as expressed in your own actions) without being familiar with the basics of human history?

How can one accept a formalist world without understanding the theory behind some of the principles it's based on, when the instantiation of those principles would seem blatantly unfair (and we have a hard-wired sense of fairness)?

It's not just politics which is affected by one's ability to comprehend the world, even at the very coarse level; it's everyday life as well, and even the very structure of society. An uneducated populace would be ripe for someone to manipulate it through demagoguery for the purposes of undermining the very society you propose.

A free society which is not an educated society will cease being free very soon.

June 13, 2007 at 7:40 AM  
Anonymous nick said...

Victor: "we have understood fusion for over half a century, but we are still about half a century away at worst, and a couple of decades at best, from its financially viable application (fusion power)..."

Wherein lies the great value of understanding it before we can use it? I suspect such value is greatly exagerated. So far the main thing accomplished by knowledge of fusion is to threaten billions of human beings with genocide -- a case where ignorance would have been far more pleasant indeed. But in the general case of mere discovery that is neither terribly useful nor terribly threatening, but might be useful or threatening in the non-imminent future, its value is rather smaller than the associated hype often suggests.

"...but when it comes, it will change the world."

It's not terribly more compelling, vis-a-vis our current energy infrastructure, than fission power, which has hardly "changed the world." Fission power is dominated by capital costs and fusion, if it could be made to work efficiently, would probably save only on the fuel costs. (The most feasible versions would also share radioactive waste costs with fission).

There are any number of technologies that could plausibly "change the world": molecular nanotechnology, AI, etc. Such claims about the non-imminent future are often unfalsifiable.

"How would you patent a scientific discovery? Forbid others to base their work on it?"

It requires only a slight modification to current law. Allow patents that forbid others to use any technology (except for purely research and education purposes, to take care of your objection that it discourages further research) that incorporates the discovery or utilizes knowledge of the discovery in its design. So, for example, if one discovers a new physical law "e = mc^3 for dark matter" (a silly example to be sure), the discoverer could, for starters, get a software patent for the running of that equation on any computer for the purposes of simulating dark matter. Then (this would require rather more dramatic legal change) get a long-term non-enabled patent that covers any future device that actually converts dark matter to energy. There could be a defense to infringement for use that is purely research or education. (I am making a mockery of actual current patent law, but you get the idea).

"you can never know beforehand what benefits a foundational discovery might provide..."

Then how do you conclude that it is so valuable? And even if we conclude that it's somehow generally valuable, how is a government supposed to figure out which specific areas are promising? If as you suggest private research can't figure this out what magic does government bring to such decisions?

"Maxwell could not have foreseen the electronics applications of his unification of electricity and magnetism."

But under my proposed extension to the patent system, he could have gotten a patent for writing down his equations on paper, and a patent covering any device whose design dependend on knowledge of his equations. With the appropriate defenses to infringement for pure research and education.

"Education is about understand the world, the big picture;"

Let me put my point more generally then.

(1) The phrase "the big picture" is , like "the government", disturbingly totalitarian. I much prefer a world of diverse knowledge and diverse opinions. Indeed I would not call "free" a world where people grew up brainwashed into all believing something some bureaucrats decided was "the" big picture.

(2) Besides politics, which I've already covered, why should I care if my fellow humans understand any big pictures? If they find it worthwhile to understand big pictures, as I do, they are certainly free to spend their own resources to do so, and many do and will choose to do so. But as for my benefit it is far more important to me that the grocery clerk know how to run the cash register and the store manager know how to run his store. How does it detract from my life one iota if the clerk who bags my groceries doesn't know where Saudia Arabia is, or if the store manager doesn't know how the sun works? If I personally want to hang out with knowledgeable people, and I do, I just go find such people -- not very hard no matter how rare they may be.

"Understanding the big picture helps us become rational economic agents "

This is quite wrong. Markets thrive by compressing and communicating local knowledge in the form of prices and other contractual terms. Once a handful of people have traded on a piece of knowledge it is usually economically irrelevant whether anybody else in the world knows it, much less everybody. Markets both thrive on and make possible variation, specialization, and diversity of knowledge, quite the opposite of a totalitarian common body of knowledge.

"How can one accept a formalist world without understanding the theory behind some of the principles it's based on, when the instantiation of those principles would seem blatantly unfair."

What's unfair about it? I'd love to hear those arguments.

Formalism to work probably does not require that very many people actually accept it. To get from here to formalism might be another matter, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for public schools to teach the theories behind formalism.

"An uneducated populace would be ripe for someone to manipulate it through demagoguery"

Why would demagoguery matter in a formalist world? In a world operating according to strict rule of law demagoguery would not matter. Of course I don't know if MM's proposals would help achieve such a thing, or even if such a pure demagoguery-free formalism is even theoretically possible, but that does seem to be an ideal of the broad meaning of "formalism", and I do think the proper formal legal structures could greatly reduce our vulnerability to demagoguery. Mass brainwashing of children in a totalitarian common "the big picture", on the other hand, creates a quite fertile soil for demagoguery, and for the oppression of any who dare disagree.

June 13, 2007 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


I am probably late to this thread, but I find it interesting to note that most of the foundational discoveries you can probably care to mention took place before World War II, ie, before the era when science was considered a public good.

I think it is very debatable that the postwar system of "official science" can be said to have done better at producing foundational physics than the one that gave us Faraday, Kelvin, Bohr, Planck, etc.

I second Nick's arguments on education, although I don't think I'd endorse his patent system.

The problem is that there is no way to price a new discovery in physics (let alone a new species of beetle), and thus no way to formalize it that we can be sure has a positive return. There is also the small matter of implying a world government (for goods that supposedly benefit all mankind), a development which some people can regard with complete unconcern and even approval - I'm not sure how.

I'll address this issue at more length later...

June 20, 2007 at 8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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November 6, 2008 at 5:45 PM  
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January 31, 2009 at 11:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 6, 2009 at 9:37 PM  

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