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Communism Is Pay-What-You-Want Pricing and Nothing Else

Money is a trap, but how? For many years I believed that radical intellectuals and political revolutionaries (interchangeable terms, I thought) should simply eschew instrumental calculations altogether. As my understanding of intelligence developed, I eventually realized that — though there is a crucial intuition there — this position makes no sense. For starters, I realized I was really tapping into a self-mystified kind of virtue signaling. Anti-conscientious non-instrumentalism is merely a 'fast life strategy,' with a variety of instrumental payoffs, if done correctly. Second, my encounter with Nick Land changed my reading of Deleuze, and that changed a bunch of other things. When I first saw Land's contention that, essentially, commerce is the liberatory vector in Deleuze and Guattari, I honestly thought it was outlandish. Surely these are anti-capitalists, who see money as an apparatus for capturing and oppressing human vitality — at least that's how I remembered it, after reading their books over the course of a few years, a few years back. But the more I revisited their texts, and read their joint biography Intersecting Lives, the more I had to admit that it made sense.

I realized that if I bit this bullet, it would solve a whole slew of other puzzles elsewhere in my personal Bayesian network. It would require the updating of many, many other nodes — something humans have good reason to avoid, given the significant computational and sociological costs — but my estimate of the long-term truth gains of such an update seemed increasingly worthwhile. The tricky confounder here is that what also increased over this period was my own personal need for money, as I knew that some kind of break with academia was increasingly likely. Was I updating because of increasing evidence that monied operations could be consistent with a revolutionary life, or was I "selling out" of the true path precisely because of the factors that make people sell out (getting older, wanting kids, needing more money, etc.)? I was on the fence about this for a while.

Incidentally, one realization that pushed me off the fence was how my communist comrades at the time thought about money. The more I told comrades about my belief that money is evil, the more I realized that almost all of them disagreed. Almost all of my comrades dreamed of big projects requiring money, which would also make money to sustain themselves. They weren't avoiding such projects for fear of money's capture, they just didn't know how to get or make the money required. Once it became clear to me that I could hardly find any other communists who shared my cultivated disdain for money — it really clicked that this principled disdain could never contribute to building communism.

It then dawned on me that this hyper-allergy to monied success I had cultivated since college must have been some kind of weird self-mutilating virtue signal, where I refused myself money-making activity to win friends and status with my pure distance from anything exploitative. I say "self-mutilating" because when I would listen to comrades talk about big monied projects they'd like to undertake, all I could think to myself is, I'm pretty sure we could do that if we put our minds to it — I mean, I am pretty sure I could do it if I put my mind to it, therefore we certainly could — so why are we not just doing this? The answer I ultimately got — implicitly, as far as I could tell, anyway — was that if some people can't do it, then nobody should, even if its one of our own and even if the results are communized. (Or if someone wants to make money then sure, they can, but if their ability to do this alone exceeds the average ability of the individuals in the group then it would have to remain a totally individual side-project; it could have nothing to do with a larger group project. Presumably because the able individual's superior abilities would be too visible, it would just be unbearably awkward.)

If communist activists oppose money out of principle, then I might very well continue to refuse monied projects in solidarity, in the construction of genuine anti-instrumental relations and a revolutionary counter-community. I am still partially convinced that something like this is necessary and desirable, and if I can find the right people then I would still lean toward this. But if activists oppose monied success because they lack the ability, and I believe I have the ability, then constraining my own money-making capacities would not be solidarity but useless self-mutilation at an altar of resentment. Obviously, I am not saying this of every single communist — there is a lot of variation and many solid people with real integrity in communist circles — I am only saying that, over time, this was the underlying reality that generally seemed to demonstrate itself in those circles.

All of these insights converged: I must submit to my fate of becoming filthy rich (should it please God). I would open myself to making money, but I promised myself that I would still need to make sense of and integrate my long-running anti-instrumental intuitions. If the path was not in militant univariate maximization of disinterestedness per se, then what was the best ethical principle for proceeding?

I am not sure, given I've only recently come around to making money on an open market, but I have been struck to find so quickly a candidate for a seemingly ideal principle. Somehow there is already in common parlance a commercial principle that seems to meet the highest ethical bar of a militantly communist or anti-capitalist commitment, namely that nobody should be denied anything, no matter what. The same principle can be uniquely effective in nonetheless extracting the most money from those who have the most money (as in "progressive taxation"). This principle can even be more profitable than naïvely capitalistic practice, at least under certain conditions. This ethically dense but simple principle is known as the pay what you want (PWYW) pricing model: one offers a good or service and allows anyone to take it, asking them to pay any amount of their choosing. For instance, I have used this model in my little experimental Book Assistant micro-service.

It is particularly fascinating and exciting to learn that the conditions under which PWYW is most profitable just happen to be the conditions that characterize the business model of the 21st century intellectual. Chao, Fernandez, and Nahata (2015) find that PWYW is most likely to be profitable when marginal cost is low, markets are small, and behavioral considerations loom large. By the pressure of increasingly unlivable bureaucratization, the radical intellectual (who naturally and sinfully prefers insulation from markets, if available) is forced to discover communist entrepreneurship as praxis — and destiny.

On Those Who Worship the Big Other

Nina Power just lost her gig at The Wire because of her appearance on my measly haphazard experimental one-man Youtube channel with no particular identity and a whopping ~2k followers. (Feel free to give our talk a listen, alternatively). The Wire is a small British music magazine you've probably never heard of, so the prospect of someone not being allowed to write for them makes me personally feel close to nothing — but Nina liked that gig and she's upset to lose it and I adore Nina so now I find myself fuming. I don't really get upset very often, but I'm really feeling hatred toward these people. It will pass, probably in about 15 minutes, but I experience this feeling so rarely that I figured I should crank some observations out of it. Warning: Editing: zero.

Personal psychological aside: When I got the boot from Plan C around March 2017, I was very sad for a few days, but I was never angry at anyone. I don't care enough about myself to feel angry at anyone for wronging me; I just reclassify my estimate of their character and carry on. But when someone I know and like is wronged, especially when they've gone out of their way to extend friendship to me — my reciprocal altruism gives energy and provides pro-social cover for feeling true anger and expressing some true hatred.

I just want to pinpoint one observation, to file under my ongoing theory of the social justice warrior. Nina posted on FB a quote from one of the people (a friend, she says) who explained to her the bad news. It was extremely similar to the message I received from the more influential members of Plan C when I got the boot in 2017. And it's a crucial point for understanding what's really happening in the Great Paranoia of 2014-?

All of these people are taking orders from the Big Other. People think Lacan is a charlatan who just made shit up, but boy is this concept useful for understanding paranoiac witch-hunting phenomena. The Big Other is — to simplify horribly — not what other people believe, but what you believe other people believe. All the little leaders of the leftist groupuscles, all the editors of these magazines with circulations probably smaller than this blog (controlling for contributors), all of these little petty rulers… These people who are mostly responsible when some organization disowns or fires someone for some perceived transgression — these people do not themselves believe the transgressions are deserving of such punishment. They all know — and admit to each other privately — that such and such transgression is no big deal; that they would rather not disown or fire Johnny Violator, but, they say, they have to do it because "that's the world we live in," or "it would send the wrong message to partner organizations," etc.

This is so important to understand because it's the only way you can explain so many people calling offensive things which, quite obviously, never offended or otherwise hurt anyone anywhere. Nobody is offended by any of it, except the Big Other.

I first learned this with extraordinary, crystal clarity when I got the boot from Plan C. I won't name names, not out of politeness, but because nobody cares about these tiny groups. And I won't dig up old emails to supply salacious quotes or whatever, but basically all the more influential members said to me, "Look Justin, we know you're not a fascist, but by talking with [unapproved individual] about [unapproved idea], it could appear to comrades outside of our organization that we tolerate fascism." This perception could so devastate their "organizing efforts" [i.e., the progressive slang for "profit," i.e, cultural capital], that they could not be associated with me. That's what they told me in no uncertain terms. Interestingly, they did not actually kick me out at any point — they were even content for me to continue paying dues, they only requested that I not publicly associate with the Plan C name henceforth. As a self-respecting adult person, of course I said that if they considered my name toxic then I would consider membership in their organization undesirable — so that was that. It says so very much about the average member of radical-left groupuscles that I suppose they thought they were being nice — that I would gratefully treasure my continued nominal membership in an organization that declared itself ashamed to be associated with my name. All this taught me was the true degree to which self-respecting adult individuals had been so rigorously evacuated from these circles, I suppose some time ago.

Anyway, this was a very powerful discovery, the type of thing that only came to light because of this rare and dramatic personal experience. I never forgot it (it's in my book draft) but then I set it aside.

I was therefore quite struck reading the quote that Nina posted from one of the people who gave her the bad news:

"It would seem that for the foreseeable future you have indeed been dropped as a writer by The Wire as a consequence of your appearance in that YouTube video. Again I understand that that decision was arrived at collectively by all the editorial staff … following a long discussion in the office concerning the video and its contents … in the end everyone involved in the discussion, which was basically the entire editorial staff as I understand it, were apparently of the same opinion: to have your byline continue to appear in the magazine would be inappropriate and detrimental to The Wire…Yes, it is brutal, but that’s the world we live in now." [Emphasis mine.]

They are saying, quite explicitly: The problem is how things appear in the minds of others — nothing you said or did was itself wrong or bad, but it does not fit the image of what others expect from your type of person for this type of magazine ("inappropriate"), and it would be bad for business ("detrimental to The Wire").

Any person who pretends to be either an intellectual or a political radical, who also assents to a consensus such as this one, is a liar. They simply cannot be anything of an intellectual or a political radical. Rather, they exemplify the bourgeois bureaucrat. And this would be fine, if they just went to work everyday in their office jobs and acted like bourgeois bureaucrats: all they want is their little desk, with a little nameplate on their desk, and their little paycheck, to win a decent spouse, and to enjoy a little admiration from their mother for having a respectable job at some generic corporation with some modicum of name recognition. That would be fine, innocent enough! It is what most people want and what most people end up doing in one way or another. But these people don't just do that.

For their corporation is the corporation that presents itself as leaders of ethical progress in opposition to capitalism, in opposition to corporations. They are the corporation that swears it is not a corporation. If you find corporations unethical because they exploit and mislead people for profit, your blood should curdle when you look at the progressive culture industry, because these little organizations altogether are essentially corporations on psychological steroids. No thinking person inside of them exercises any independent judgment, and whatever is perceived to be profitable for the corporation does not simply become obligatory (as in any business), it also becomes the definition of good: ethical, progressive, radical, antifascist, etc. All while extraordinary effort is dedicated to upholding and publicizing as widely as possible a massive, soul-shaped sign that says "100% AGAINST EXPLOITATIVE CORPORATIONS."

If you are one of these people who assent to such corporate determinations — and I know a few of you read this blog, whether it be for "antifascist reconnaissance" or as a guilty pleasure or because you yourself are reconsidering your own iniquity — let me assure you, there is a special place in Hell for people like you, who do not recant and confess after becoming aware of what you are doing. And Hell is not a metaphor, you will find yourself there, if you are not there already. Of course, a dirty little secret is that many of the shining figures of left-wing activism are indeed on their way there, as we speak, and they feel it everyday; the symptoms now popularly labeled "depression" certainly do not arise only because of willful dishonesty and resentment, but willful dishonesty and resentment necessarily bring these symptoms. If not now, then later, eventually.

It is worth clarifying here that the concept of the afterlife is widely misunderstood. If you think you are smart because you don't believe that naughty humans go to some place with flames after dying, then you are an idiot for imagining that anyone ever believed this. Hell does not wait for you to die; the point of the "afterlife" is simply to encode that dying is not enough to stop what the sinner sets into motion. It carries on. The reason why Hell is encoded as coming after life is that humans really do have many ingenuous devices for postponing its arrival. You really can spin your web of lies until the day you die, if you have the wherewithal, but nothing changes the fact that every lie digs you one inch deeper — truly, materially — into Hell. One of the real scandals of radical left sociology is that many of the rank and file do not really have this requisite wherewithal, to perpetually postpone the arrival of Hell. Only a few of the leaders really do have that spirit, to play this game for life without falling victim to chronic depressiveness and other extremely painful maladies. Many of the rank and file did not realize that that's what they signed up for, but they are already sufficiently deep — perhaps they disowned so many normal people for being insufficiently righteous that they've burned all their bridges — that the only thing that could possibly start to rebuild their healthy vitality (expressing and acting on their own honest personal judgment), they do not have the strength to do. And thus so many of the rank and file subsist in variable degrees of depressiveness (a bona fide Hell on Earth, even if there are, to be clear, factors other than sin that can land you there). Simply because they are unable to take the risk of saying, firmly, "Uh, that person said nothing bad so if you disown them I'm quitting, too."

Most of them know not what they do, and for them I harbor no hatred. But if you're educated and intelligent and self-aware enough to be on the editorial board of some magazine — there's a decent chance you know exactly what you're really doing when you assent to sacrifice one of your own to the social justice gods. You're consciously worshipping a false idol, for as Lacan taught: The thing about the Big Other is that it doesn't exist.

The reason this is ultimately funny rather than grave is that these people are verbally outing themselves as losers, so they are pretty much doomed to lose even on the superficial, instrumental, social plane they are prioritizing. These little bits of candid self-explanation I've heard from the horse's mouth, that Nina has heard from the horse's mouth, and that everyone will eventually hear from some horse's mouth eventually — inform us that, behind the curtain of these little cultural fiefdoms (less and less influential every month, anyway), are pretty much only self-confessed disingenuous cowards of a shamelessly low intellectual calibre. Good luck with that!

Getting High on Easter Sunday

I got high in the morning, for the first time since I can remember. There exists a defensible Christian opposition to drugs, no doubt, but it's poorly calibrated to the Information Age.

This is not to say it is incorrect for the Information Age, as a popular relativist interpretation would have it. Poorly calibrated means that its terms are no longer associated with the objects and experiences they were originally deployed to model. The intense correctness that Christian teachings once achieved in the minds of people was probably purchased by what we might call an overfit model: Perhaps it was so forcefully orchestrated to nail all the right phrasings within its founding vocabulary, that these phrasings became especially out of sync with reality in the face of modernity's technological acceleration. Any too-perfect model must suffer the disadvantage of capturing poorly new data from beyond the sample on which it was trained. This might be why the original nominal coordinates of the Christian message seem to make less and less sense to people, even though people are becoming favorably disposed to far more dubious superstitions and spiritualities.

Consider drugs. Today, if you want to raise a healthy family even moderately secured from contemporary threats — economic, technological, social, etc. (a quintessentially Christian life mission, if there ever was one) — you have to hustle like crazy, at the very least for certain protracted periods of time. This work will often be on various digital screens, in environments that are severely corrupting, and so on. Modern work is drugged work — fluorescent lightbulbs are drugs, blue-lit computer screens are drugs, the oxytocin triggered in you strategically by your project manager is a drug, the dopamine triggered by real-time automated positive feedbacks is delivered through an infinite intravenous. The bourgeois professions in particular require ritual consumption of substances, the final result of which is nothing short of demonic possession. Yet nothing about contemporary work gets counted by today's mind with the word "drug," so the important Christian teachings against drugs exert zero traction where they are most prescient.

It follows that, to properly calibrate a particular Christian teaching for post-modernity, one might even need to flagrantly disobey its nominal suggestions.

Thus, I contend that certain regimens of recreational drug use are consistent with the teachings of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. Under certain conditions, some recreational drugs can be pious antidotes to the ritualized drug abuse that has become normalized in contemporary society.

You can say that one should refuse the sin of overworking, but then one's family may perish. Or one does not reproduce, and all the Christian discoveries exit the meme pool. Perhaps this process is already underway.

Getting high on cannabis for family functions and holy days seems to me an eminently Christian practice. One feels the devil leaving the body… Was this not also one of the major reasons for prohibiting work on Sundays?

Naked Academics, Crimethinc Anarchism, and the Resurrection of Christ

On the naked anti-Brexit academic lady, my fondness for youthful romantic insurrectionary anarchism, and my take on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ — are we really supposed to believe a guy died and rose from the dead? This was first recorded on February 17, 2019 as a livestream on Youtube. To receive notifications when future livestreams begin, subscribe to my channel with one click, then click the little bell. If you'd like to discuss these topics with me and others, suggest future guests, or read/watch/listen to more content on these themes, request an invitation here.

Big thanks to all the patrons who help me keep the lights on.

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The Rectification of Names with DC Miller: On Conservatives, Fascists, NRx and Free-Speech Leftism

DC Miller is a controversial but misunderstood person. He is a writer in London outcast from polite society after his opposition to the Shutdown LD50 campaign two years ago. I've talked with him enough to know he is not the evil caricature his enemies make him out to be, but I still don't understand his views fully. In this livestream we will try to get to the bottom of what DC really thinks. In doing so we make a series of distinctions about conservatives, fascists, neoreactionaries, and free-speech leftists. DC wrote the book, Dracula Rules the World and Mark Zuckerberg is His Son. You can find a list of his other writings at dcxmiller.tumblr.com.

This was first recorded on March 8, 2019 as a livestream on Youtube. To receive notifications when future livestreams begin, subscribe to my channel with one click, then click the little bell.

If you'd like to discuss this podcast with me and others, suggest future guests, or read/watch/listen to more content on these themes, request an invitation.

Big thanks to all the patrons who keep this running.

Click here to download this episode.

Technocommunist Vectors: Radar Edition

When I first laid out my idea for a neo-feudal technocommunist patch, I only waved my hand at the coming technological pathways to my proposed polity. In that first talk, I just hypothesized that Rousseau's concept of the General Will could be engineered by Internet of Things + Smart Contracts.

But "Internet of Things" is really just a popular shorthand for the deepening integration of our physical and digital worlds. So it's easy to point at such a general class of coming technologies and say "something here is certainly going to solve [insert hitherto unsolvable problem]." One could very well have questioned my original talk on the grounds that what I was describing is not really feasible, or will not be feasible anytime soon.

The technology necessary to make communism game-theoretically stable seems closer than I thought.

One pathway on the sensor front is radar. Google has produced a new sensing device called Soli, which uses miniature radar to measure "touchless gestures." It's basically a tiny chip that holds a sensor as well as an antenna array, in one 8mm x 10mm rectangle:

Though Google's intended applications revolve around hand gestures, some people are already finding more general applications. (A flashy new prototype from a megacorp is one thing; but when some other entity starts tinkering with interesting results, that makes me pay more attention.)

A team of academics at the University of St. Andrews recently used Soli to explore the...

counting, ordering, identification of objects and tracking the orientation, movement and distance of these objects. We detail the design space and practical use-cases for such interaction which allows us to identify a series of design patterns, beyond static interaction, which are continuous and dynamic. With a focus on planar objects, we report on a series of studies which demonstrate the suitability of this approach. This exploration is grounded in both a characterization of the radar sensing and our rigorous experiments which show that such sensing is accurate with minimal training.

Exploring tangible interactions with radar sensing

Take a minute to watch it in action, before we embark on a little thought experiment.

It's easy to imagine — without much extrapolation — how one could use this technology to enforce collective honesty and ethical performance optimization. Consider a large multi-family compound. One individual in one of the families is, by far, the most productive chopper of firewood. But he's a little dumb, and earns little money on the market. Then some other individual is by far the most productive software developer; he makes a lot of money on the market but he sucks at chopping firewood. Of course, rich software developers can already pay dumb manual laborers to produce their firewood, but currently no smart and rich person can enjoy the much more valuable and scarce luxury good of living in genuine harmony with a manual laborer.

So our wood-chopping expert hooks up some Soli chips to the pile of chopped wood he maintains for the community. Whenever a piece of wood is removed, he gets a ping on his phone, or maybe a digest at the end of each week. It tells him how many pieces of wood were taken, their weight, which person took them, and how many tokens were transferred to him by the associated Firewood Smart Subcontract (subcontracts are like clauses added to the original founding Smart Contract established at the founding of the polity; they can be constantly added and taken away by consensus, typically as new people enter or leave the group, or if/when individuals' skills/traits/needs change substantially). The richer the person taking firewood, the more they pay per piece of wood via the Smart Contract, according to a steeply progressive taxation rate agreed and programmed into law previously.

On the other hand, if Mr. Bunyan is not keeping the stock replenished, which leads to some individuals suffering very cold evenings, a certain number of tokens are transferred from him to whoever suffered a cold evening. This transfer can be automatically triggered whenever the data show the wood stock to be beneath some threshold, and the temperature data from a particular house to be beneath some threshold, on the same day. And again, these thresholds can be agreed consensually.

Aside: It might seem that this technocommunism sure does require a lot of group decisions — won't it fail like Occupy failed, because democracy is too much work?! Not quite. First, other than the basic preference thresholds defined in the contracts, there is no discussion or deliberation whatsoever. The code is sovereign, and removes the need for regular meetings and debates. My references to consensus only refer to periodic updates. Second, you know what requires a million decisions? The construction of a modern website. And yet it's easier than ever to make one, even with a group. Why? Because code evolves. With code, future people let the smartest and most successful past people make decisions for them. Over time, the larger global community of neo-feudal techno-communist polity hackers will converge on templates: kits containing a variety of sensor devices with a corresponding code repository, containing all the device+subcontract components found in almost all of the most successful previous patches to date. Groups will add new modules if they enjoy hacking, but many will just use the default settings. Or upon initiation, each person completes a short survey gauging basic traits and aptitudes, which plugs into the template optimal values for the various preference thresholds.

Depending on the use case, perhaps a video rig combined with image detection algorithms would work better than radar. Perhaps multiple, redundant methods leveraging different dimensions (video, radar, sound, etc.) might be used at once, in especially tricky and sensitive cases. Perhaps it turns out that 67% percent of the most destructive community offenses occur in kitchens, so the kitchen is loaded with every method and a heavyweight ensemble model. With some problems our tolerance for false positives might be greater/lesser than our tolerance for false negatives, so perhaps the statistical cutoff for inferring a violation would be set higher or lower accordingly.

Meanwhile, while the wood-chopper's system is managing itself, the rich computer programmer might leave a huge stock of old-fashioned USD greenbacks out in the open, available to all for immediate, interest-free, cash loans. Why? Because the risk approaches zero: Just as you can watch in the video above, all removals and returns are fully identified and recorded with radar, and if anyone fails to repay, the owner of the cash stock will be automatically credited from the taker's account after some agreed time (if the taker doesn't have it, a small portion will be taken from all of the others, all of whom have agreed to guarantee each other).

The only question right now is, what are currently the best technologies available for getting started? That and,

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