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Shared roots versus hard forks

I’m reading with interest the recent comeback post by Curtis Yarvin. I might have some longer thoughts later, but for the moment I just wanted to quibble with part of his empirical model.

Referring to the dominant axis of partisan polarization, he writes:

Any point on which both poles concur is shared story: “uncontroversial, bipartisan consensus.”

Shared story has root privilege. It has no natural enemies and is automatically true. Injecting ideas into it is nontrivial and hence lucrative; this profession is called “PR.”

The Clear Pill, Part 1 of 5: The Four-Stroke Regime

Empirically, I think this is the opposite of what’s really going on. He seems to acknowledge this toward the end, I just feel like riffing... The problem is not an illusory consensus, but the rapid disintegration of all illusory consensus beyond the small-group or subculture level. Neoreaction momentarily aligned the words “accelerationism” and “Moldbug,” but perhaps now we should start to explore the adversarial collaboration: Accelerationism versus Moldbug.

The broadcast era saw the reign of illusory consensus because everyone had to fight for highly scarce spots in a one-to-many transmission game. Digitalization, downstream from the mid-century Information Revolution, has been the story of protracted fragmentation of the illusory consensus.

Players from Rush Limbaugh to the Fox News network gradually realized that it was increasingly possible to “hard fork” the illusory consensus. At first, educated high-status people thought Rush Limbaugh or Fox News would be easy to dismiss; it was genuinely believed that enough public snickering about these stupid people would force them to go away.

What we are now realizing is that the short-term stigmatization of low-status culture hackers simply does not work. High-status educated people were overconfident in their power to make or break the success of cultural projects by telling the public what is worthy of attention. Low-status content that optimizes for the affects of particular audience segments, will always defeat high-status condemnation of it — but only as of recently. High-status people still don’t understand this yet, because their life’s work is predicated on climbing broadcast towers, in an era where broadcast legitimation games could make or break you. The low-status culture hacker is invariably weird, dumb, lame, or evil in the eyes of high-status figures, but the hacker doesn’t care. They are correct to not care, for what they intuit is that there is no longer any root. If all the high-status people say you’re a loser, but 1000 people think or feel you’re awesome (as indicated by their revealed preference to read/watch/listen to you), ontologically you are much closer to “awesome” than “loser.” The 1000 people who like you are real people, whereas the high-status people are shouting into a room that was evacuated years ago. The hard-forking culture hackers know their machines operate objectively, in a fashion technically immune to the lamentations of the déclassé broadcaster folks.

At the moment, what's happening is that this realization is finally being reckoned with from within the younger and more risk-tolerant factions of the higher-status sets. This is why so much of the cultural conflict is becoming particularly hysterical: all of the older and established individuals in perches based on institutionalized status see that genuine creative talent from here on out is no longer paying into their pyramid scheme. Imagine building your household on a MLM business, which has been growing for as long as you can remember, but now all of a sudden the last cohort of incoming members has nobody behind them. The analogy is not quite right, because it’s happening more gradually than this, but you get the idea. Whether it's the relatively uncouth and anarchistic temperaments defecting from increasingly oppressive high-status perches (like me), or young and attractive women who see that defection from Hollywood morals is a growth market (like Red Scare), or high-school boys who calculate that becoming anonymous internet edgelords has a higher expected value than even trying to speak to peers IRL… The fact is that everyone and everything worth paying attention to has already moved to the frontier, in a digital gold rush that is hardly even seen, let alone understood, by those who have not yet set sail.

There are certainly shared illusions in operation, as there always are in human groups, but what is unique and perverse about contemporary American history is the disappearance of limits (historically, hardware-based limits) on the quantity and quality of hard forks.

But hey, maybe Yarvin’s next posts will account for all of this and more. Just thought I’d jump in while the water is warm.

Abjection

If you would like to become a philosopher or any type of serious intellectual you must acquaint yourself with the concept of abjection. To be a philosopher one must be abject, and the reason a lot of people don't understand anything about this concept is because most contemporary philosophers want to be respected; they want to be in good standing in society. They want to be accepted. Whereas what we should try to be is abjected.

If you want to think what other people are unable or unwilling to think, and you want to express it in any way that has any impact at all, then you should expect to be mercilessly, brutally rejected — abjected — and pretty much thrown out of every possible social standing that is available to people. It's just part of the game, folks, it always has been. I think what we're seeing now with what is called political correctness or cancel culture is, in some sense, just the catching up of digital culture to this basic, essential reality, which has always obtained. If you want to say anything that's meaningfully and interestingly and importantly importantly true. You should expect to be rejected.

The great saints have always been abject; great criminals, for instance, have always been abject. the criminal and the saint essentially converge. The true intellectual and the artist and the true political militant, all of these figures tend to converge in a tendency towards abjection — a kind of complete, utter incommensurability, a kind of impossibility of being integrated into contemporary status quo institutions. And that sounds kind of sexy and impressive and cool, but in practice it's not. In practice, in any particular status quo environment and any particular epoch, to be a true intellectual or artist or saint or whatever... is to suffer, it's to be alone. It's to be isolated. It's for people to hate you, pretty much.

You become anti-fragile, one might even say. All of the ways in which people usually punish you and try to constrain your behavior... Not only are you robust to them, you're unaffected by them. They don't bother you, they motivate you. They make you feel even more energized and more emboldened because when someone is disgusted by you or is mean to you, if you can actually feel encouragement through that, if you hack your systems and your circuitry in a way that you actually feel positive affect because you realize in this longer term historical way that sort of abjection is positively correlated with radical truth-seeking... if you're able to experience that positive affect from it, then all of a sudden you enter into this new type of non-linear psychological-productive dynamic where the more people hate you the more able to produce, the more insights you're able to glean, the deeper you're able to go into your abject search for whatever form of truth you're after.

Post-Structuralism and False Authority

A major epistemological foul in Continental Philosophy is that it often treats concepts as if they were tested and validated empirical models, when they are not. People routinely speak as if X’s concept is “built on” Y’s concept — but the only justification for thinking and speaking this way is scientific method, and they don’t use scientific method. As soon as you’re referring to an accumulated intellectual consensus, there are only two possible principles behind that consensus: either selection from experimental and intersubjectively verifiable tests (science) or, essentially, fashion. If X’s concept is seen as the contemporary frontier of some philosophical position, it is not because X discovered and validated something beyond the previous scholarly consensus. It is because social circumstances are such that X commands respect at the moment. The good post-structuralists took this seriously and called bullshit.

It’s a sociological reality that philosophy is a relatively arbitrary, competitive language game, and thinkers such as Deleuze ask: Well, what should we do if this is the case? And the answer is to set sail. Don’t go back to port, the port of whatever you are supposed to respect as the consensus structure, because that consensus is arbitrary. This might sound anti-authoritarian, but it’s not exactly — it’s opposition and flight from fake authority. Deleuze says anyone can form an alliance with the outside, with external reality.

Rebel against false authorities, but become a scientist or an artist or a philosopher — and to the degree one becomes such things, one becomes loyal to true authorities. All forms of loyalty are forms of submission to authority. The point of post-structuralism was to free us from false authorities, and to figure out what to do from there. Turns out, it’s complicated. But there can be found a sincere search for answers and solutions in this movement. How can we produce social cohesion without fascist implications? Deleuze made real discoveries on this puzzle, they deserve to be understood without fashionable obscurity…

In a strange way, post-structuralism was rebelling against precisely what contemporary “anti-postmoderns” such as Jordan Peterson blame post-structuralism for representing. The old structuralists were the real charlatans, but people like Jordan Peterson want to shoot the messenger. Post-structuralism said “These older philosophers and social scientists are claiming structures not really justified by science, we’re going to be honest about this and work from there…” But then they get blamed for the fallout.

Depressive capitalist realism

I recently received an email challenging some of my past comments on depression and public political theorizing. Here is the main gist of the email and beneath it is my response.

I'm a pretty recent listener of Other Life and I was interested to hear your most recent release about your book project Based Deleuze… I think I agree with you about the cultural left's refusal to be unrelentingly "real" with itself… I was a bit taken aback, though, by the whole notion that 'depressives shouldn't be forwarding political ideas/norms,' or whatever point you made to that effect. (Forgive me if that's a mischaracterization or unfair reduction…) I'm interested to hear more about why you hold this position, or maybe why you come off as so unrelenting in it… I’m not sure of your position on thinkers that circulate alongside people like Mark Fisher…

I probably can come off as too harsh, and I don’t want to, so that’s unfortunate and I would like to work on that. I have no interest in being a dick for edge-lord points, but I guess it is a real temptation in this new model I’m working. It’s weird. So first of all I appreciate push back here, it will keep me honest and based.

I do not mean that someone with depression necessarily has wrong political views, or should not speak in public, etc. I really don’t. Of course I speak so loosely and brashly that I am sure I have occasionally been over the top about it...

What I’m really trying to say is that many people on the internet, Twitter and FB in particular, present themselves as knowledgeable and convincing and powerful and charismatic, grinding sometimes atrocious political axes, but if anyone could see the current state of their mind/lifestyle/relationships — one would become way more mistrustful of their opinions. I really think this is a massive thing going on, and a lot of really bonkers people are affecting the opinions and judgments of other people who would be much better off if they discounted the ramblings of these types of people. So I think that’s a fair and not inhumane concern of mine. I’m sure I express it stupidly and like an asshole, so sorry about that and I’ll work on it…

The more delicate issue has to do with people like Mark Fisher. He was my friend, and of course I’m glad he wrote everything he wrote, like I would never for a minute want to stop or prevent his writings from having come into the world… That said, I do think there is something very difficult here, which is almost never talked about.

The truth is that depressive people can and very often do project things onto other people and the world. And it really can and often does pull other people into their depression. I have a dear family member who struggles with periods of anxiety and depression, and I know perfectly well that when they get low, they sometimes cannot help themselves from describing things to me in catastrophic and morbid ways. And it can pull me in, it can change how I see the world and convert me to a depressed mood. Especially if they are smart and articulate.

It might sound cruel, and I can work on being less cruel, but I really really do think a non-trivial portion of the fashionable rad-left intellectuals are actually very confused and sad individuals whose personal lives are quite bad (blame it on capitalism, sure, fair enough — but nonetheless) and a lot of their intellectualized outputs are depressive projections that produce real, depressogenic effects on others. I mean, there is a whole cottage industry of Left-theory “against wellness” for example lol. I get the critique, OK, but things like meditation and diet and CBT and exercise etc., these really can and do have transformative positive effects for many, many people. I’m sorry but I really think there is some evil beneath intellectuals who write whole books systematically turning people off to something like “wellness.” This is just one example. Anti-natalism is another example.

Many of these cottage industries are based on something they alternatively deny and glorify: that the authors are often quite miserable people with many significant personal shortcomings and resentments and projections. I do think more readers should take this information into account when evaluating fashionable ideas. It doesn’t mean depressed people shouldn’t write what they think, if that’s what they want to do. I just think the depressive nature of a particular author should be discussed openly, and I think readers should discount for authorial depression much more consciously — kind of like how food manufacturers have to tell consumers how much sugar they’re packing, and healthy people will avoid foods with a lot of sugar…

The Two Meanings of Reaction (Excerpt from Based Deleuze)

The following is an excerpt from my short book Based Deleuze, which will be published on September 20th. Pre-order here and you’ll receive it by email as soon as it’s released.


Discussing the ideological valence of great thinkers is difficult because they have little use for the crutches of ideology. The difficulty is particularly acute today, when ideological labels are used so loosely, and often with ulterior motives. I should therefore clarify, at the outset, what I mean by "reactionary" in the subtitle of this book.

In some sense, Deleuze was explicitly anti-reactionary. He was anti-reactionary in the sense that he was anti-reactive, in the spirit of Spinoza and Nietzsche. To be a reactionary, in this pejorative sense, means to be always responding to active, superior forces, instead of becoming an active force; to be captured by sad affects, to be resentful, and to think and act with these as one's motive forces.

This common sense understanding of reactionism partially maps onto the modern political-ideological sense of the word. The data show that conservatives are more reactive to disgusting stimuli, for instance (Inbar et al. 2009). Experiments have shown that even just the presence of foul odors can make people slightly, but measurably, more conservative (Schnall et al 2008). Conservatives are more likely to see threats and reactively demand "law and order." Edmund Burke watched the French Revolution with horror, and famously wrote about his reactions. Henceforth, we'll refer to this aspect of reactionary or conservative politics as reactivism. I prefer reactivism to reactionism because it will remind us that left-wing progressive activism is much closer to this sense of "reactionary" than we are accustomed to thinking. Reactionary politics in this sense, reactivism, can be a failure mode of left-wing politics no less than right-wing politics.

Things get confusing because modern society also calls reactionary whatever transgresses left-wing or progressive norms. Nietzsche, for instance, is seen by many as a reactionary, even though one pillar of his whole life's philosophy is a contempt for reactive tendencies. Since World War II, any sufficiently disagreeable and strong-willed individual eager to avoid reactivism — who wishes to constitute an authentic, healthy, and autonomous existence — will generally be coded as reactionary. Even if their political beliefs are ideologically ambiguous or ambivalent. Strong and uncompromisingly active drives get coded as "reactionary" if the individual is not plausibly linked to the larger collective liberation struggle of some officially marginalized group. It is only in this sense of the term that we will find a "reactionary" component in the philosophy of Deleuze.

This latter sense of "reaction" is a recurring, subterranean tendency that can arise from the Left as well as the Right. It is most likely to emerge from the Right, but in periods when "the Left" becomes especially, excessively decadent - the responsibility to transgress "The Left" occasionally falls to an otherwise proper leftist.

This is how we will understand Deleuze's “reactionary leftism.”

Why no depiction of Hitler is evil enough

Robin Hanson thinks it the result of a signaling spiral, "wherein people strive to show how moral they are by thinking... even more lowly of standard exemplars of bad..." Certainly possible, and plausible.

But there is an alternative explanation: Hitler is the Devil — for Protestant atheists (secular progressives, in the cladistics of Mencius Moldbug). And why Hitler, of all the terrible people who could be elevated to Devil? (Note Hanson's theory does not explain this.)

The theory of Protestant atheism has more explanatory traction here. Democracy and industrialism are arguably the two major dimensions of Modernity, and Modernity is a bargain with the actual Devil. Hitler is perhaps the purest, the least alloyed product of industrialism and democracy, before Modernity evolved its outer armor involving several layers of confusion and obfuscation. Hitler may be a uniquely dramatic embodiment of everything that is wrong with Modernity, but there is no way to say so without endorsing an essentially Christian eschatology. The problem is that people don't want to be Christian; it's pretty much mutually-exclusive with cosmopolitan success via symbol-manipulating careers. However, they still want to say that bad things are bad, and that some things are so bad that they're... really bad. So they must, ultimately, generate a symbol of the Devil. That is, they must eventually believe in the existence of the Devil. And what symbol will they converge on, if not the explicitly theological one that's been on offer for ages? Well, whatever is too much themselves, whatever dramatizes their own bargain too clearly.

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