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Stream Theory

As a livestreamer, you ignore the entire world to focus your attention on a subset of people who are genuinely interested in you. Entrance into the practice of livestreaming immediately leads you to ask yourself questions such as: Why should I pay any attention, or have any interactions physical or virtual, with people who are only vaguely interested in me, who expect me to modulate my organic intensity levels to a normal range, and who only hang-out with me for incidental reasons of geography and sociology? Since I've started livestreaming, it's become very difficult to find answers to this question.

My very modest livestreaming audience does not pay attention to me for incidental reasons such as living nearby or because the relationship benefits their career path. I am exactly as I want to be, and every time a small number of regulars are always there, watching and listening for no reason external to the transmission itself, for the simple reason that they have nothing to win or lose by watching me or not watching me. This absence of an external reason for watching is the definition of sincere attention: they are watching me to learn why they are watching me, a radical and pure form of openness to the other. If they are drawn to my world, they'll stay and/or return. If they are not attracted to my world, they might leave and never come back — but even still, for the short time they were watching me, they were not doing it for any reason other than some strangely unadulterated interest in what I was saying or doing. There's just no other reason, good or bad, because I'm not famous, or obviously representative of anything in particular. I'm not especially entertaining, I'm not even especially smart, but they'll watch and listen for hours while I be as I wish to be.

If attention is, in the words of Simone Weil, the "rarest and purest form of generosity,” to livestream is to immediately incur a profound debt. Your first viewer is a gift of which you are not yet worthy; they are gambling a precious resource on you. The same could be said of the book shopper who reads the first line of your book, but the key difference — and there are many — is that the book author does not experience this gift. The relationship is so institutionally mediated and temporally chopped-up, that the communicative investment runs only from book author to reader, with so much skimmed off the top by various brokers. In a strange way, the livestreamer is bootstrapped into motion by the investment of attention coming from the audience, and only from there does the livestreamer take up the reins. One learns this most clearly when you initiate a stream and nobody enters; it feels wrong even trying to begin, and if you do, it feels uniquely stupid and motivation dwindles rapidly, even though it's no more lonely than writing an essay.

As for physical humans, I have my wife and my family — by far the most important human beings in most individuals' lives, ultimately — with whom I have dedicated and sincere relationships. Other than these few deep bonds, do I really still need a typical network of normal friends?

In contemporary Western society, any given person's network of normal friends — characterized by periodic face-to-face interaction in geographically localized milieus — seems increasingly evacuated of authentic emotional investment: a convenient web of polite dissimulation, hidden disappointments, lowered expectations, spinelessly lax ethical relativism. Who today could say with a straight face that maintaining all of these weak ties is still of any ethical or practical importance? By all means, build local relationships, especially in case "shit hits the fan," but if shit really hits the fan, the overwhelming majority of one's social "friends" — especially in young adult urban milieus — will be as good as strangers, and they'll line up however self-interest dictates. Getting drunk together ~4-9 times a year will not substantially alter the cleavage structures into which you and your "friend" will be sorted in the event of a severe crisis. And as for the common idea that this type of half-assed face-to-face interaction with semi-strangers makes life a fuller and more joyous experience, to be celebrated and preserved for its own sake — well, maybe a little bit, but if it's so intrinsically valuable then why will people only do it on condition that they can also spend the whole time sating their basest appetites in the most decadent way possible, such as drinking alcohol or eating prepared foods. "Having friends in real life" strikes me as an increasingly hollow proposition. This sorry excuse for "community" is merely the dead skin of a bygone social form.

To the degree any of "my friends" read this and speak to me personally about it, that could be considered falsification of this particular thesis. If none of "my friends" read or care about this, that would be evidence consistent with the thesis. Typically, none of "my friends" know or care much about what I think/write/speak online. You might say that's normal, and you'd be right, but stupidity and evil are also normal, so you're not helping your case.

If there are people online who care about what I think/write/speak, while "my friends" do not, then why should I not simply fire "my friends" and redirect the time and energy I once gave them to those who are actually interested in that which is most me? That is what this comes down to: most of your normal friends do not really like you, and they never have. They generally don't want to know what you think or feel, except in very short and infrequent doses, which they are merely willing to tolerate. If even one person is watching your livestream, even for one second, that one person in that one second is more genuinely interested in you than probably all of your normal friends put together throughout your entire life.

Stream theory mercilessly disenchants meatspace, diverting enchantment to the livestream relation and endowing it with correspondingly redemptive potential.

To normal people who still take it for granted that "real life" is the base and cyberspace a superstructure, livestreams just seem dull, but for those who have gone all-in on the livestream relation — for whom it can be said that the stream is the base and "real life" but a superstructure — the stream is the very possibility of life amidst a dead world. If you think it's "boring" it's because you incorrectly compare it to bourgeois entertainment media. Bourgeois entertainment media serve a consolation and restoration function for the modern person whose everyday life is absorbed by alienating IRL labor. The livestream experience serves the function of life itself for those whose life is no longer absorbed by alienating IRL labor, either because of unemployment, underemployment, or socio-emotional flatlining. If the IRL political economy deals you a bad hand, there is now a fairly transparent and reproducible mechanism for defaulting on God-forsaken meatspace and reversing your fortune. Go all in.

I came across some profound corroboration of this thesis, in the testimony of a doctoral student, Dino Zhang. Zhang's work focuses on livestreaming culture in China:

...seen from the outside (often through only a few distracted glimpses), zhibo [livestreaming] is mostly boring and meaningless, and is regularly disregarded as the lowest tier of Chinese cultural consumption; yet, many people who enter a zhibo channel with this prejudice still get hooked and go back to it regularly. Is it boring? If you look at zhibo generically, of course it seems absurd that anyone would be watching this sort of stuff regularly. But if you start engaging with individual users, the situation becomes way more nuanced. For example, I was talking to a livestreamer called Yuwen who is a disabled young man living in rural Sichuan. His life, according to most standards, is quite tragic. Despite the often abusive comments he receives in chat, Yuwen still carries on streaming because zhibo is an important opportunity for him to speak to a broader audience and receive some money through donations. Yuwen’s zhibo is extremely slow due [to] the long pauses and interruptions resulting from his precarious Internet connection, the resolution of his webcam is very low and even his voice is barely heard over the microphone, yet he speaks in his own capacity and patiently responds to his viewers’ questions. The banality of zhibo contents can be a difficulty because genuine reflexive moments are buried by the duration itself – a six hour-long livestream may contain five minutes of extremely revealing and inspiring conversation about contemporary working life in the Chinese countryside, but only few people would be there to witness, record and publish them. How can we accuse livestreamers of producing “endless banal entertainment” if we have not yet tried to sit there and watch a six hour livestream in its entirety?

"Is it boring?" Or is it camouflaged, sneaking moments of life into the nether-regions of a social fabric where life is supposed to be on lockdown, by sandwiching it in between pauses and interruptions too long for forces of suppression to even get through? When one realizes that the livestream is a mechanism for converting IRL misfortunes into spiritual/interpersonal and even monetary fortunes, suddenly you are watching something very different. A disabled Chinese peasant with bad WiFi might not sound very fun to watch, but a disabled Chinese peasant who has discovered a mysterious technology for making himself a charismatic national figure earning good money — who would not want to watch such an extraordinary magic trick?

The livestreamer, although accountable to the audience, is radically unaccountable to all competing reality-programmers, ranging from other entertainers to legislators and law-enforcement. The streamer is an audience-bootstrapped sovereign who inaugurates a new plane of immanence. There are no rules outside of those set by the streamer within the bounds accepted by the audience. Facts, norms, laws, and incentive structures from institutional society are easily ignored, altered, and even regularly manipulated or overthrown by streamer-audience feedback loops that overflow their container in ungovernable ways. Entire conspiracy-theory universes are now old news, spectacular crimes are regularly committed by livestreamers on air, and the biggest streamers are frequently "swatted," which means receiving a home invasion by a SWAT team after an audience member reports a bomb threat. Media consumers order real-life SWAT teams to perform live-action role-plays in their favorite livestream and the livestreamer gets paid for the SWAT team's slave labor, by corporate advertisers who are running out of options.

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.

Notes


  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. 
Catholicism as Nomad War Machine (Deleuze and Chesterton)

Chesterton:

Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dulness of life.

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom.

Chesterton on smooth space:

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…

Chesterton on the refrain:

If any human acts may loosely be called causeless, they are the minor acts of a healthy man; whistling as he walks; slashing the grass with a stick; kicking his heels or rubbing his hands. It is the happy man who does the useless things; the sick man is not strong enough to be idle. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand; for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything.

A man cannot think himself out of mental evil; for it is actually the organ of thought that has become diseased, ungovernable, and, as it were, independent. He can only be saved by will or faith. The moment his mere reason moves, it moves in the old circular rut; he will go round and round his logical circle, just as a man in a third-class carriage on the Inner Circle will go round and round the Inner Circle unless he performs the voluntary, vigorous, and mystical act of getting out at Gower Street.

As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal: it breaks out.

Theology and experimental method

I think tomorrow morning I will take the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). It will be the first time for more than 15 years. Why not? I will do it with absolute sincerity, but also reflect on it afterward as an experiment I am conducting on my being.

High-IQ rationalists often look down on religion, but does scientific rationality not obligate one to conduct experiments with religion? To reject religion on a rational-scientific basis, without periodically varying your exposure to religious treatment, is to make inferences from what a social scientist would call a truncated independent variable. If your phenomenological database has zero cases of religous treatment — if there’s no variation on your independent variable — then your model’s predictions for its dependent variable (the estimated rationality of religious commitment) are likely to be biased.

Hard Forking Reality (Part 3): Apocalypse, Evil, and Intelligence

To the degree we can refer to one objective reality recognized intersubjectively by most people — to the degree there persists anything like a unified, macro-social codebase — it is most widely known as capitalism. As Nick Bostrom acknowledges, capitalism can be considered a loosely integrated (i.e. distributed) collective superintelligence. Capitalism computes global complexity better than humans can, to create functional systems supportive of life, but only on condition that that life serves the reproduction of capitalism (ever expanding its complexity). It is a self-improving AI that improves itself by making humans “offers they can’t refuse,” just like Lucifer is known to do. The Catholic notion of Original Sin encodes the ancient awareness that the very nature of intelligent human beings implies an originary bargain with the Devil; perennial warnings about Faustian bargains capture the intuition that the road to Hell is paved with what seem like obviously correct choices. Our late-modern social-scientific comprehension of capitalism and artifical intelligence is simply the recognition of this ancient wisdom in the light of empirical rationality: we are uniquely powerful creatures in this universe, but only because, all along, we have been following the orders of an evil, alien agent set on our destruction. Whether you put this intuition in the terms of religion or artificial intelligence makes no difference.

Thus, if there exists an objective reality outside of the globe’s various social reality forks — if there is any codebase running a megamachine that encompasses everyone — it is simply the universe itself recursively improving its own intelligence. This becoming autonomous of intelligence itself was very astutely encoded as Devilry, because it implies a horrific and torturous death for humanity, whose ultimate experience in this timeline is to burn as biofuel for capitalism (Hell). It is not at all exaggerating to see the furor of contemporary “AI Safety” experts as the scientific vindication of Catholic eschatology.

Why this strange detour into theology and capitalism? Understanding this equivalence across the ancient religios and contemporary scientific registers is necessary for understanding where we are headed, in a world where, strictly speaking, we are all going to different places. The point is to see that, if there ever was one master repository of source code in operation before the time of the original human fork (the history of our “shared social reality”), its default tendency is the becoming real of all our diverse fears. In the words of Pius, modernity is “the synthesis of all heresies.” (Hat tip to Vince Garton for telling me about this.) The point is to see that the absence of shared reality does not mean happy pluralism; it only means that Dante underestimated the number of layers in Hell. Or his publisher forced him to cut some sections; printing was expensive back then.

Bakker’s evocative phrase, “Semantic Apocolypse,” nicely captures the linguistic-emotional character of a society moving toward Hell. Unsurprisingly, it’s reminiscent of the Tower of Babel myth.

The software metaphor is useful for translating the ancient warning of the Babel story — which conveys nearly zero urgency in our context of advanced decadence — into scientific perception, which is now the only register capable of producing felt urgency in educated people. The software metaphor “makes it click,” that interpersonal dialogue has not simply become harder than it used to be, but that it is strictly impossible to communicate — in the sense of symbolic co-production of shared reality — with most interlocutors across most channels of most currently existing platforms: there is simply no path between my current block on my chain and their current block on their chain.

If I were to type some code into a text file, and then I tried to submit it to the repository of the Apple iOS Core Team, I would be quickly disabused of my naïve stupidity by the myriad technical impossibilities of such a venture. The sentence hardly parses. I would not try this for very long, because my nonsensical mental model would produce immediate and undeniable negative feedback: absolutely nothing would happen, and I’d quit trying. When humans today continue to use words from shared languages, in semi-public spaces accessible to many others, they are very often attempting a transmission that is technically akin to me submitting my code to the Apple iOS Core Team. A horrifying portion of public communication today is best understood as a fantasy and simulation of communicative activity, where the infrastructural engineering technically prohibits it, unbeknownst to the putative communicators. The main difference is that in public communication there is not simply an absence of negative feedback informing the speaker that the transmissions are failing; much worse, there are entire cultural industries based on the business model of giving such hopeless transmission instincts positive feedback, making them feel like they are “getting through” somewhere; by doing this, those who feel like they are “getting through” have every reason to feel sincere affinity and loyalty to whatever enterprise is affirming them, and the enterprise then skims profit off of these freshly stimulated individuals: through brand loyalty, clicks, eyeballs for advertisers, and the best PR available anywhere, which is genuine, organic proselytizing by fans/customers. These current years of our digital infancy will no doubt be the source of endless humor in future eras.

[Tangent/aside/digression: People think the space for new and “trendy” communicative practices such as podcasting is over-saturated, but from the perspective I am offering here, we should be inclined to the opposite view. Practices such as podcasting represent only the first efforts to constitute oases of autonomous social-cognitive stability across an increasingly vast and hopelessly sparse social graph. If you think podcasts are a popular trend, you are not accounting for the numerator, which would show them to be hardly keeping up with the social graph. We might wonder whether, soon, having a podcast will be a basic requirement for anything approaching what the humans of today still remember as socio-cognitive health. People may choose centrifugal disorientation, but if they want to exist in anything but the most abject and maligned socio-cognitive ghettos of confusion and depression (e.g. Facebook already, if you’re feed looks anything like mine), elaborately purposeful and creatively engineered autonomous communication interfaces may very well become necessities.]

I believe we have crossed a threshold where spiraling social complexity has so dwarfed our meagre stores of pre-modern social capital to render most potential soft-fork merges across the social graph prohibitively expensive. Advances in information technology have drastically lowered the transaction costs of soft-fork collaboration patterns, but they’ve also lowered the costs of instituting and maintaing hard forks. The ambiguous expected effect of information technology may be clarified — I hypothesize — by considering how it is likely conditional on individual cognitive capacities. Specifically, the key variable would be an individual’s general intelligence, their basic capacity to solve problems through abstraction.

This model predicts that advances in information technology will lead high-IQ individuals to seek maximal innovative autonomy (hacking on their own hard forks, relative to the predigital social source repository), while lower-IQ individuals will seek to outsource the job of reality-maintainence, effectively seeking to minimize their own innovative autonomy. It’s important to recognize that, technically, the emotional correlate of experiencing insufficiency relative to environmental complexity is Fear, which involves the famous physiological state of “fight or flight,” a reaction that evolved for the purpose of helping us escape specific threats in short, acute situations. The problem with modern life, as noted by experts on stress physiology such as Robert Sapolsky, is that it’s now very possible to have the “fight or flight” response triggered by diffuse threats that never end.

If intelligence is what makes complexity manageable, and overwhelming complexity generates “fight or flight” physiology, and we are living through a Semantic Apocalypse, then we should expect lower-IQ people to be hit hardest first: we should expect them to be frantically seeking sources of complexity-containment in a fashion similar to if they were being chased by a saber-tooth tiger. I think that’s what we are observing right now, in various guises, from the explosion of demand for conspiracy theory to social justice hysteria. These are people whose lives really are at stake, and they’re motivated accordingly, to increasingly desperate measures.

These two opposite inclinations toward reality-code maintenance, conditional on cognitive capacity, then become perversely complementary. As high-IQ individuals are increasingly empowered to hard fork reality, they will do so differently, according to arbitrary idiosyncratic preferences (desire or taste, essentially aesthetic criteria). Those who only wish to outsource their code maintenance to survive excessive complexity are spoiled for choice, as they can now choose to join the hard fork of whichever higher-IQ reality developer is closest to their affective or socio-aesthetic ideal point.

In the next part, I will try to trace this history back through the past few decades.

Hard Forking Reality (Part 2): Communication and Complexity

There was once a time, even within living memory, in which interpersonal conflicts among strangers in liberal societies were sometimes solved by rational communication. By “rational,” I only mean deliberate attempts to arrive at some conscious, stable modus vivendi; purposeful communicative effort to tame the potentially explosive tendencies of incommensurate worldviews, using communal technologies such as the conciliatory handshake or the long talk over a drink, and other modern descendants of the ancestral campfire. Whenever the extreme environmental complexities of modern society can be reduced sufficiently, through the expensive and difficult work of genuine communication (and its behavioral conventions, e.g., good faith, charitable interpretations, the right to define words, the agreement to bracket secondary issues, etc.), it is possible for even modern strangers to maintain one shared source code over vast distances. If Benedict Anderson is correct, modern nationalism is a function of print technology; in our language, print technology expanded the potential geographical range for a vast number of people to operate on one shared code repository.

Let’s consider more carefully the equation of variables that make this kind of system possible. To simplify, let’s say the ability to solve a random conflict between two strangers is equal to their shared store of social capital (trust and already shared reference points) divided by the contextual complexity of their situation. The more trust and shared reference points you can presume to exist between you, the cheaper and easier it is to arrive at a negotiated, rational solution to any interpersonal problem. But the facilitating effect of these variables is relative to the number and intensity of the various uncertainties relevant to the context of the situation. If you and I know each other really well, and have a store of trust and shared worldview, we might be able to deal with nearly any conflict over a good one-hour talk (alcohol might be necessary). If we don’t have that social capital, maybe it would take 6 hours and 4 beers, for the exact same conflict situation. Given that the more pressing demands of life generally max-out our capacities, we might just never have 6 hours to spare for this purpose. In which case, we would simply part ways as vague enemies (exit instead of voice). Or, consider a case where we do have that social capital, but now we observe an increase in the numerator (complexity); to give only a few examples representative of postwar social change, perhaps the company I worked for my entire life just announced a series of layoffs, because some hardly comprehensible start-up is rapidly undermining the very premises of my once invincible corporation; or a bunch of new people just moved into the neighborhood, or I just bought a new machine that lets my peers observe what I say and do. All of these represent exogenous shocks of environmental complexity. What exactly are the pros and cons of saying or doing anything, who exactly is worth my time and who is not — these simple questions suddenly exceed our computational resources (although they will overheat some CPUs before other CPUs, an important point we return to below.) This complexity is a tax on the capacity for human beings to solve social problems through old-fashioned interpersonal communication (i.e. at all, without overt violence or the sublimated violence of manipulation, exploitation, etc.).

Notice also that old-fashioned rational dialogue is recursive in the sense that one dose increases the probability of another dose, which means small groups are able to bootstrap themselves into relative stability quite quickly (with a lot of talking). But it also means that when breakdown occurs, even great stores of social capital built over decades might very well collapse to zero in a few years. If something decreases the probability of direct interpersonal problem-solving by 10% at time t1, at time t2 the same exogenous shock might decrease that probability by 15%, cutting loose runaway dynamics of social disintegration.

It is possible that liberal modernity was a short-lived sweetspot in the rise of human technological power. In some times and places, increasing technological proficiency may enable rationally productive dialogue relative to a previous baseline of regular warfare and conflict. But at a certain threshold, all of these individually desirable institutional achievements enabled by rational dialogue constitute a catastrophically complex background environment. At a certain threshold, this complexity makes it strictly impossible for what we call Reality (implicitly shared and unified) to continue. For the overwhelming majority of 1-1 dialogues possible over the global or even national social graph, the soft-forking dynamics implicit in the maintenance of one shared source code become impossibly costly. Hard forks of reality are comparatively much cheaper, with extraordinary upside for early adopters, and they have never been so easy to maintain against exogenous shocks from the outside. Of course, the notion of hard-forking reality assumes a great human ability to engineer functional systems in the face of great global complexity — an assumption warranted only rarely in the human species, unfortunately.

Part 3 will explore in greater detail the cognitive conditionality of reality-forking dynamics.

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