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The rich are more communist than they're allowed to be

When I talk about aristocratic communism — the idea that a functional communism might be achieved by organizing and enforcing respect for the rich, on condition they distribute wealth — many people scoff and say "that's already the hell of neoliberal capitalism!"

But in fact, today, it's increasingly difficult for the wealthy to enjoy  their nobless oblige, in part because it's so mediated by large sclerotic institutions. Wealthy nobles once upon a time redistributed their wealth as a kind of art form; they were like painters painting on the grandest canvas, and the enjoyment of this creative control, as well as the glory that came from being directly and visibly linked to it, were likely major incentives encouraging redistribution.

Today, the wealthy donate a lot of money through Big Philanthropy, but Big Philanthropy is better thought of as a huge bureaucratic blockage to the real social-psychological attractions of philanthropy.

Consider Tyler Cowen's recent column on Jeff Bezos, who just announced a $2 billion gift to help preschool education and homelessness.

…the gift is unlikely to take the form of Jeff Bezos dictating terms, even if he is the world’s richest man. Bezos and his team will have to work through many institutions — not just preschools and homeless shelters but other organizations that help them do their work. Even brand new preschools and homeless shelters, funded entirely by Bezos, will have their own charters, missions, staffs and fiduciary responsibilities.
Any wealthy person who wants to give away money will find that incentives and the nature of decentralization and bureaucracy impose their own set of checks and balances.

Tyler Cowen, Has private philanthropy become underrated?

This supports my contention that perhaps the only thing the rich cannot get their hands on today is the invaluable experience of genuine nobility — which comes from generously and creatively supporting others and receiving respect and admiration in return. If we could engineer a way for some rich people to enjoy such true, disintermediated nobility, I think they'd become quite open to supporting a community of common folk in a fashion that approximates the classical communist ideal.

And now that I think about it, who is blocking the rich from exercising their nobless oblige? Most of the bureaucrats and meddlers working in philanthropic and humanitarian agencies and organizations generally see themselves, and present themselves, as morally progressive agents. If Bezos wants to give $2 billion to solving some big social ill, there will be dozens if not hundreds of groups who already claim to be the nobles "working on it." But these people basically own the poor and working people they seek to represent and "help." If Jane wants to give me 20 bucks but John insists that she must give it to him first, and then John gives me 10 bucks — John is not my helper. He is my owner, and he is using me to make money for himself. In short, modern society is overrun with fake nobles, who do not have resources to distribute but quite the opposite: they push the moral buttons of the populace and pull government levers to extract money from the wealthy, primarily for their own careers and identity, and only secondarily to help others. This ordering of priorities is clearly legible in the balance sheets of these organizations, which generally show most of the money going to staff and overhead. They claim to be promoting redistribution, but they happily place themselves in the way of rich people who would like to be more communist, if only they were allowed.

Aristocracy and Communism

Communism remains the best conceivable form of human organization, and it can work, but the major catch is that it requires something that smells intolerably fishy to those who are most likely to want communism (left-wing activists). I will try to show that a workable and highly desirable communism is possible on the condition of accurate social valuation of individual characters. Some people are better or worse at different things, including ethical conduct. To the degree a group calibrates itself to these differences, it can have true communism; to the degree it denies or inaccurately assesses these differences, it cannot have communism.

As we'll see, a wondrous feature of this discovery is that individuals and groups can have nearly any combination stupid scoundrels and beneficient geniuses: a group only has to have some mechanism for ensuring accurate shared knowledge of these relative differences in all members. This might sound simple, but the reason this is a major catch — so far, a prohibitively difficult condition — is because it just sounds so reactionary — so icky — to precisely those ears that are moved by the sweet music of egalitarian revolution.

Communism as we know it always fails or becomes genocidal because its modern form was designed to overlook or deny this engineering requirement, simply because of the unfortunate sociological fact that modern Communist activists have generally been left-wing ideologues.

My hypothesis, that communism relies on accurate social valuation of individual characters, is consistent with a variety of data and explains many otherwise anomolous observations. First, one of the most successful communist arrangements in history is the pre-modern form of aristocratic communism known as nobless oblige. Second, wherever modern Communism appears (in the genocidal form with which it is now synonymous), it generally corresponds to a collapsing Nobility. Third, contemporary Communists universally reject the possibility of a legitimate Nobility, and despite much effort they are universally unable to create even small patches of lasting communism (explicit communists in the West generally live in milieus of extreme material and spirital squalor). Fourth, those today who enjoy communities based on shared and realistic group valuations of individual characters tend toward functioning communist relations (e.g., healthy marriages, religious communities). If this essay makes its way into a future book-length project, each of these data points will receive a dedicated section. For this blog post, I'm just going to stipulate them. At present, I would like to focus on the more fun task of thinking about how this insight can be used to engineer a functioning patch of communism. The best test of any hypothesis, is, ultimately: can you build something based on it?

The Cyberpositive AI-aligned Communism (CAIC) Protocol

In Atomization and Liberation, I began to outline a vision of small-c communism divorced from the corruption of modern Communism as most people know it. As I've explored many times before, the entire modern tradition of Communism is based on the application of moral claims for instrumental purposes, essentially the opposite of true ethical conduct: Communism is capitalist exploitation raised to a higher degree, adding a new layer of righteous dissimulation and social confusion on top of capitalism's relatively transparent brutality.

In that essay, I focused on where the idea of communism meets the human subject. As modern capitalism increasingly destroys the experience of life as a coherent individual, modern Communism has always been invested in what I call an aggregative strategy: organize collective life in such a way as to liberate the false bourgeois subject into a higher form of being. I argued for a disaggregative strategy: let capitalism split the subject, because one's decomposed sub-personalities can become a commune unto themselves. For shorthand, I called this alternative vision of communism the CAIC protocol (Cyberpositive AI-aligned Communism) because its essential wager is to move with the forces of recursive intelligence escalation rather than against them, however painful those forces might be to the modern subjective ego, and however much such a wager grates against the presumptions of most individuals on the political Left today.

I also suggested that my molecular strategy would be, ironically, more conducive to inter-subjective aggregations than the capital-C Communist instinct toward aggregation. But so far I have only alluded to this expectation.

In this article, I would like to focus more deeply on how the CAIC protocol facilitates inter-personal organization, even despite and across ideological hatred. One of the thorniest questions neglected almost completely by all living communist thinkers I am aware of, is the question of how communism can be achieved despite the protest of majorities who do not want communism, and the smart, rich people who really do not want communism. Probably the most widespread and plausible implicit answer is some kind of electoral pathway (I believe this is basically the model of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Corbynistas in the UK, for instance). More anarchist-inclined communists imagine the bottom-up spread of communist organizations to the point that mass power is achieved outside of electoral politics. What both of these popular mental models have in common ("popular" as the tallest building in Topeka is tall), is that all individuals who today explicitly and strongly dislike communism will, in one way or another, have their preferences over-ridden. There are many ways to phrase this: such individuals currently have false consciousness but eventually they will see the truth; such individuals are wilfully evil and deserve to be over-ridden whether they like it or not; building an electoral majority is a legitimate and justified way to over-ride minority viewpoints. I don't wish to assess the reasonableness of these various defenses, I only wish to highlight that nearly all mental models of how communism might succeed involve over-riding the current stated preferences of millions of people.

CAIC suggests a fundamentally alternative solution. CAIC wagers itself unconditionally on whatever intelligence determines to be true (what else could it mean to truly believe in communism?). This thesis is falsifiable; intelligence might not produce communism, but if communism is true then intelligence will produce communism. It follows that a true communist believes communism will provide some "edge" to humans living within it, for this is implied in an intelligence advantage. One can see this in communist beliefs such as the belief that communism involves greater human flourishing. If this is the case, then humans living under communism should have some extra insight, or time, or energy, or money, or health, or something more/better than humans living under capitalism. Anyone who believes in communism must believe communism does something better than capitalism! If you believe this, then you should also believe that the correct realization of communism would have some kind of "surplus" relative to capitalists, which communists could potentially trade to anti-communists, in exchange for anti-communists to join in the communist movement. In other words, if correct, communists should be able to "buy-out" anti-communists in whatever human value that capitalism is uniquely bad at achieving and communism is uniquely good at achieving.

And thus I have realized a new key to achieving communism. In fact, it's so correct that even anti-communist conservatives will like it. Whereas my last article looked at the intra-individual component of CAIC or Atomic Communization, now I will present an informal model of the interpersonal component of CAIC or Truth Communization, for what will be at stake here is optimizing the calibration of interpersonal value-assignments (one of modern capitalism's grandest, most ridiculous incapacities).

The unreasonably powerful mechanism of honesty

Here is the key, the little discovery that has never been tried before but will change everything once even just a few people start to implement it: each person in a community agrees to assign status (i.e. distribute their respect) to all the others according to the others' contributions to the community, however each person honestly evaluates the others' contributions.1

Most modern societies are based on obfuscating (from the Left and Right) certain objective realities about different individuals' contributions, so a shared commitment to simply calibrating intersubjective evaluations correctly is basically the rock from which any small group could reboot all of society.2

You have many questions and objections, I know, but hear me out.

This bombshell of a social engineering insight will produce a new kind of noble Communism, based on Renaissance–era noblesse oblige, feasible immediately at small scale. When this works wonderfully for a few small pilot groups, it will naturally spread and take over all of society.

What does this look like in practice? It's very simple. Find me a few people who are extremely intelligent and productive individuals, who do high-quality work of any kind and make a lot of money. Then find me a much larger group of people (the ideal proportions will be figured out later through trial and error), with average and below-average intelligence and productivity. Their current incomes are variable but they generally cluster around current subsistence levels. The only hard requirement for all of the people in this big group is that everyone promises to give respect wherever they honestly believe or feel it is due, in unconstrained dialogue with the others. "Give" just means to publicly and generously express. This doesn't require too much, it just means if someone does a nice thing you say "Hey, that was really nice of you." And if they do a bad thing, you say, "Hey, that's a bad thing you just did!" Of course there will be some differences in how people estimate these qualities, but that's okay; the stipulation is only that everyone commits to good faith evaluations of the others and honest expressions of those evaluations. Notice this is basically what normal, healthy, and decent humans should already be like. Also notice how this obtains almost nowhere in everyday Western life today. In complex and opaque ways, modern institutions have decimated the sociological foundations of such basic decency. The main point to understand is that in the Aristocratic Commune, if someone does something really good for the community, then on average they are going to feel a lot of love; if they do something really shitty, they are going to feel really shitty.

I submit that this would be enough to constitute a working model of communism, that optimizes the well-being and flourishing of all its members, "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need."

How accurate social valuation of individual characters generates true communism

But how would this create communism, you ask? Well, first of all, the small number of highly productive people would want to pay for a comfortable and dignified subsistence for everybody else! Why would they do that? For starters, because nobody is forcing them to — so they get the genuine pleasure and ethical satisfaction of choosing to help others. Second, they will choose to provide a dignified basic income to all the peons. (We're being honest, remember? So yes, many of them will be peons, but that's OK, because True Communism will ensure they receive the dignified life they deserve, which is much more than you can say about liberalism, which protects peons from being called peons but ensures that they rot in their "diversity"). Why? Because all the peons will truly love them for their beneficence! Receiving the authentic and earned love of a large group of people is an unsurpassably desirable human experience. When Mr. Moneybags goes out to walk his dog in the morning, literally every person he passes on the street smiles at him glowingly in warm, grateful admiration. Today, he hides in a private mansion, unrecognized on the street at best, hated or belittled at worst. Tomorrow, under Aristocratic Communism, he now enjoys the subjective experience of Lorenzo de Medici: deservedly proud, appreciated, and respected, although his opprobrium is feared and avoided. All Mr. Moneybags has to do is give a small chunk of money to a genuinely magnificent cause. Additionally, he also now gets to think of himself as an avant-garde cultural visionary, something the rich have loved to fancy themselves since time immemorial, because he’s also participating in a world-historical socio-political innovation. Of course, the really significant art is going to come almost exclusively from the rare creative geniuses on his dole, but they're all happy to let Daddy fancy himself artistically relevant).

I submit that the psychological and behavioral micro-foundations of True Communism are, for the Aristocrat class, not only well-founded but game-theoretically stable. I think actually existing human beings who match this description would choose this alternative to the status quo — if it was available — and they could not do any better by defecting (so long as a true distribution of respect is maintained).

As for the below-average-productivity people, they get what they've always wanted: a communist society where they don't have to work for money to survive. They can do whatever they want, like start a blog (and some would be interesting, instead of all the dumb lifestyle marketing blogs people launch to escape shitty jobs), or they can just sit around doing nothing all day, enjoying life. But the genius of this model keeps giving, because it would be very unlikely that many of these people would do nothing at all. Why? They would not get a lot of respect. A small number of them might not care, holing themselves up in their paid-for house, doing nothing and perhaps being the object of some negative gossip here and there; the real negative opprobrium is naturally reserved for willful evil, which is measured by repeating behaviors that everyone else dislikes.3 If these people are not hurting anyone and not running around spouting stupid shit to disrupt everyone else's flows in the name of "social change" that they're only seeking because they're genuinely alienated, then the rich people will now really love them. After seeing, today, what really happens ultimately when the capitalist underclasses are left to be poor and alienated, rich people would feel such incredible relief. They would feel wondrous admiration for these simple souls even if all they did was cease running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

What would the masses in our True Commune choose to do? What is unique about Aristocratic Communism is that, because it is uniquely indexed to the real objective differences that exist between people, honest effort will tend to be respected even if the person is relatively useless (with respect to productivity). For people with below-average productive abilities, in all modern Western societies there has always been an incentive to under-contribute the effort you are capable of, and over-report your limitations, insofar as what you could win from guilting rich people has typically been greater than what you could win from just trying your best. This is because, for those with below-average productive abilities, your best does not do much in terms of objective value on the open market, but — and here's the rub — in the context of modern alienated anomie, nobody cares whatsoever that you might really be trying your best to contribute to society. You don't get any love or respect or appreciation for that. If you did, you'd much rather try your reasonable best, be respected by your peers, maintain a clean conscience, and not have to do all kinds of deceptive rhetorical gymnastics, to the public and to yourself, just to make your way through life.

Under contemporary anomie, many ethically dubious practices that would feel excruciatingly shameful to an upright person even 50 years ago (such as publicly inflating your handicaps to get a few extra bucks or respect points as charity)4 do not currently result in very much ego depletion. They should. Descending to such lows should feel like a terrible descent, but it doesn't, in part because such a low baseline has been normalized. Today, nobody really cares that much about each other, so the threat of opprobrium from your peers is a weak and avoidable penalty — just move onto the next group of people who will vaguely but not really care about you. (A dirty little secret in leftist circles is that this kind of cycling is common; people move from one communal house to the next, or from one activist cell to the next, or they even move cities, not because they've done anything especially bad to anyone but because all the little interpersonal hangups accumulate — trivial things, for example, all the missed appointments from everyday flakiness... The conversations where neither of you are really there... It all just becomes intolerably soggy and weighty, so you displace the problem geographically.5

This is one reason why modernity is such a rapid downward spiral of ethical degeneration, something the left and right both agree on (citing, respectively, the unbounded greediness of modern business people and the unbounded wretchedness of the underclass). Because Aristocratic Communism rewards honest-best-efforts and punishes ethically dubious practices, I find it extremely likely that under Aristocratic Communism the below-average-producers would choose to contribute the best they can, within the limits of their ability and temperament.

I submit that the psychological and behavioral micro-foundations of True Communism are, for the Mass class, not only well-founded but game-theoretically stable. I think actually existing human beings who match this description would choose this alternative to the status quo — if it was available — and they could not do any better by defecting (so long as the nobless oblige is maintained).

Other implications and observations

Now, for all the anti-communist right-wingers out there, you might still strongly doubt all of this. And indeed, you have some good reasons to fear that in such a situation the Masses would degenerate, nonetheless, into laziness and rent-seeking. But all of your data points come from contexts that are emphatically not Aristocratic Communism. As I would be the first to admit, the Left has built its entire modern political strategy on defaming the rich and lying to itself, but you must admit that the modern Right does some fibbing itself. I think the main fib that's relevant here is the idea that poor people are poor because they are lazy. How rude! They’re not poor because they’re lazy, they’re poor because they're stupid. In part. There are other factors causing them to be poor, also, but one reason they're poor is that they happen not to be blessed with the mental hardware that leads others to win all the money games (which, only in capitalist secular modernity gets equated, incorrectly, with their "human worth" or ultimate dignity, and only because capitalist secular modernity has no basis for value other than economic value; in True Communism, differences in intelligence become normatively inconsequential in how people are ultimately valued and treated).

That poor people tend to be dumber is even acknowledged in Marxism, it's just packaged instrumentally for marketing purposes. Anyway, stupidity is not their fault (it’s at least half heritable), so casting normative aspersions on the poor is evil, and its part and parcel of the ethical death-spiral that is modernity. Just like the Leftist lie gives rich people good reason to leave the whole planet behind in squalor, this Rightist lie gives the masses good reason to select their mouth-noises for how well they pull on the public's heart strings rather than for how well they bear witness to the truth of reality.

Honestly, it now looks to me like we free-speech-people are serious idiots for imagining large numbers of deeply alienated people would long be capable of caring about the human capacity for distinguishing better models of reality from worse models of reality. How boring and useless is this concern, unless you have the substantial resources necessary to make something of it.

Conservatives have drastically underestimated the oppression of the left-leaning masses. Because leftists lie even in the simplest descriptions of things, conservatives have inferred that all the "oppression" is surely one big, tall tale. It is true leftists often instrumentally twist what they really feel and exactly why (as most people do), but they tell the truth when they say things to the effect that they "can't take it anymore." When lefty activists freak out about some minor political event as if the world is coming to an end, it's very easy for normal people to dismiss them as only confused, but what I am telling you is that the degree of this confusion is so intense and widespread that the magnitude and urgency of the social problem they are pointing to really is as big and bad as the end of the world, not just "for them" but for what they're going to do to society if somebody smarter than them doesn't find a way to alleviate their suffering. That didn't fit on my placard when I was an SJW, so that's one reason why I'm trying to get these thoughts down now. I'm minimally intelligent and disciplined enough to vaguely get by in a middle-class profession, but the truth is that I feel closer to the normal unwashed masses than to the rich producer class. That's why I still write from a left-leaning perspective, despite continuing to venture deeper and deeper down the ghastly red-pilled rabbit hole that is the Left's most hidden and foundational bargains with Lucifer.

You might have already noted that there's a negative version of the hypothesis sketched here: the primary toxic aspect of the modern radical–left drive, which is really becoming a systemic problem for Western society, is not the demand for resource redistribution (in fact, rich people generally want to give, for reasons of personal psychology and social stability) but the correlated tendency to tell lies to themselves and others for instrumental purposes (most saliently, about different individuals’ and groups’ objective abilities). It's understandable why these tendencies are correlated, because one of the most natural ways to argue for more resource redistribution is to say that the Have-Nots deserve more and the Haves deserve less. And this was a damn powerful rhetorical method, if you look at the early Workers Movements; they succeeded in forcing a whole lot of redistribution in many times and places.

What the Left didn't realize is not simply that differences in objective individual abilities are real, but that technological acceleration would amplify rather than attenuate them. The technologically amplified cognitive superiority of the new rich, and their corresponding mobilities, are now too great (up to and including access to space travel and a monopoly on all the proceeds from intergalactic colonialism). The rich already have everything on such lockdown — in gated communities and private jets and private AI systems and tax havens — that even if there was some democratic social movement able to map this territory and make a concerted effort to pounce on it, it would already be a day late and a dollar short. Capitalism itself sees and acts on the future like no other human organization can, simply by paying whoever happens to be farthest into the future. This is why rich people have all the resources in the first place, they are thinking more steps ahead. It is no exaggeration to say that they live further in the future than normal people. The world Elon Musk lives in includes mental photographs of the future, which might not enter my head until months or years after they enter his. That is why I can't do the things he does. Someone smarter than you is, pretty literally, an alien from the future.

The mainstream Left, including the now mainstream radical variants that see themselves as left of the mainstream Left, is now running purely on fumes, rehearsing routines that only barely worked with the early Worker Movements. But a game only starts once, and now that these routines are fully intelligible to all the people with money, they make no sense. But because their maps are so divorced from the territory, the Left is doubling down on them with increasingly hilarious adaptations: for instance, if lying about the superior abilities of the rich doesn't get the goods anymore, try lying about the differential abilities of anyone around you! Of course, most people around you don't have many more resources than you to redistribute, hence the often noted oddity of applying white privilege discourses to poor or even average white people. You can't get blood from a stone, but that doesn't stop someone who's just compulsively rehearsing inherited routines.

Where was I? Right, Aristocratic Communism. It's a viable way to bootstrap a healthy society from the ruins of modern disintegration, and it should be equally attractive to honest and open-minded leftists as well as honest and open-minded conservatives (including super rich ones). Please apply in the comments.


  1. Many objections will arise related to the problem of verifying honesty. I actually think humans are extremely good at identifying honesty, the problem in complex modern societies is that we rarely have the incentives to honestly report our estimations of others' honesty. But if you don't buy that, then: lie-detector tests. If you think those are unreliable, then lie-detector tests plus technology that's probably going to be invented soon. If you don't think that will happen, then lie-detector tests plus blockchain, which is already here. How blockchain will solve the problem I have no idea, but you probably can't explain why it won't solve it, so this will probably stop you from objecting again. Also it could maybe be true, I just don't know if it is. 
  2. Readers of Moldbug might sense already that Noble Communism is a competitor to his alternative proposal for a "reboot." His plan involves a legal coup to change the American political system from the top down, which I believe is one of his mistakes. My proposal not only has a wildly different ideological slant, but it's a purely bottom-up project that relies on organic viral contagion as its mechanism for takeover. 
  3. You'll see there is a circular definition of the Good here as that which everyone thinks is Good, which might be a problem for a philosophy class but, for a healthy society that removes all excuses for lying, it works. 
  4. Respect is, in fact, a matter of life and death. The idea that people need respect or else they'll eventually start killing is dealt with in a branch of political theory on the concept of "recognition," which is a criminally understated term. And conservatives incorrectly believe lefty academics tend to exaggerate! Rather the problem is nearly the opposite: they twist words so much that they lose their urgency to listeners. 
  5. The Marxist geographer David Harvey talks about how capitalism never solves its crises but it deals with them by displacing them geographically. Because activism is an instrumental pursuit, it is a game of social capitalism, which is why activists live amidst perpetual crises of social capital — broken relationships and broken families. Like their hidden master Capital, activists never solve but only displace these problems socio-spatially. 
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