Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Neo-Reactionaries" drop all pretense: End democracy and bring back lords!

Following up on my previous posting, about the rationalizations of the new aristocracy, this time I plan to reveal to you a pernicious trend among some of society's best and brightest.  But first, will you indulge me with a riff of background?
In Existence,  I portray a grand conference, held in the Alps around the year 2045.  The secret meeting has been called by a consortium of "trillies," or trillionaire families, with the objective of commencing a new, world-wide era of Aristocratic Rule.  But their goal is not just to re-institute the ancient pyramid of privileged domination, but this time to start off on the correct foot. To get it right.
Social-pyramidPainfully aware of how gruesomely awful such pyramid-shaped societies were at governance, across the last many-thousands of years -- how fraught with violence, delusion, waste and error -- the trillie families are nevertheless unable to step back from the approaching time of takeover that their parents had conspired for, all the way back even to the Twentieth Century.  Giving in to human nature, they nurse rationalizations about the failure of democratic systems, and their hired boffins supply them with plenty of incantations to support the coming putsch.  And yet --
Yet, I also describe this particular lordly cartel as smarter than average. They know that the vast, educated middle class has access to powerful technologies that, should they become enraged, could make the guillotine look like louffa. Hence, they take their coming transition to rulership seriously, much as the Medici dukes of Florence did, during the Renaissance. Amid that alpine conclave, I show them calling on their hired intellectuals and house savants to take up the role of Machiavelli. To study and report what went wrong with past eras of oligarchy and feudalism, innovating ways to do it better, this time.
These are deeply cynical scenes!  But still, they also contain my patented brand of optimistic faith in reason: in this case positing that a cabal of trillionaires would have enough honesty and self-awareness to know how badly their favored system worked, in 99% of past human cultures. That they would hire the brightest people they could find (among those who could be trusted to help them end democracy) and ask those boffins to develop modified approaches to aristocracy,  based on lessons from both history and science.
For example, how to avoid catastrophic in-breeding and instead use meritocratic systems to invite the very best commoners upward to join their elite families via marriage and other alliances, at the top. Solving the illusion of superiority by making it -- gradually -- completely real.
== Fictional wishful-thinking? ==
ThePlutocratsDo I expect such calm and measured sobriety from the New Lords who are -- even now -- making their moves to restore the ancient social order?  Replacing the middle class, enlightenment, diamond-shaped social order with a traditional pyramid of owner-lord privilege?
Of course not.
For every Lorenzo de Medici or Heny Plantagenet there were hundreds, thousands of fools who let flatterers talk them into believing ego-stroking stories -- that they were lords because of their own genius, or inherent superiority, or God-given right.
As I have said many times, this is human nature.  We are all descended from the harems of guys who pulled off this trick. Voluptuous delusions run through our veins, so strongly that it's amazing the Enlightenment Miracle was ever tried at all, let alone that it lasted as long as it has.
== The rise of the Neo-Reactionaries ==
Till now, the Enlightenment had several things going for it: like the fact that it works.
For three hundred years, in realms as diverse as science, wealth-creation, error-avoidance, innovation, justice and happiness, it has outperformed all previous societies combined. But that is not the secret sauce. Its key trick, above all, was a very strong mythology of egalitarianism, individualism, pragmatism and liberality --
Four-Arenas-Competition-- the ideal of a level and fair playing field, in which good ideas should win out over bad ones, without interference by stodgy or biased authorities. Adam Smith taught us -- and the American Founders instituted -- ways to benefit from arenas of competition in which no single person's (or narrow cabal's) delusions may reign -- but instead products, policies, theories and justice are wrangled, tested and refined in four great arenas -- markets, democracy, science and courts -- where avoidance of criticism or error-discovery is difficult, even impossible over the long run.
They never worked perfectly and were always under attack by cheaters.  Still, these accountability arenas are the only systems that ever penetrated our species's penchant for delusion in any systematic way.  

Leftists who despise competition in principle are fools who ignore both human nature and a cornucopia of positive-sum outcomes from the four competitive arenas.
CourtsRightists who believe competition works well without careful tuning, regulation, research, opportunity-enhancement, shared investment in infrastructure, and (above all) relentless prevention-of-cheating are even worse fools who ignore all our past.
Even that most-solipsistic of clades, the libertarians, used to declare fealty to Adam Smith's process, albeit grudgingly. But you had only to look at their favorite books and stories to detect an undercurrent and foretell that it would emerge openly, someday, into betrayal of Smith. Idolatry of the Nietzschean ubermensch or superman -- the figure every geek supposes himself to be -- oppressed and kept from his natural place on-top by jealous mobs of bullies, like those who oppressed him on the playground.  Where every young nerd (myself included) muttered: "just you wait till I come into my powers!"
From Ayn Rand to Harry Potter to Star Wars to Orson Scott Card, how many mythologies have catered to that fantasy, in all its voluptuous, masturbatory solipsism?  In contrast, can you count any mythic systems -- other than Star Trek -- that encouraged a different view? Recognition that "I am a member of a civilization"? One that made million miracles possible? Not by unleashing a few demigods, but by stimulating the collaborative and competitive efforts of whole scads of bright folks who are merely way-above-average?
Well, the pretense may be over, fellas and gals.  Welcome to Nietzsche World.
Welcome to the Rapture of the Ingrates.
It is called the "Neo-Reactionary Movement -- a quasi-new cult that yearns for the ancien régime of monarchy and feudal rule. One that rejects Adam Smith and Franklin and the entire Enlightenment.  And above all -- democracy.
== Yearning for the "Return of the King." ==
Rise-Neo-ReactionariesI'll let Klint Finley describe this movement for you, in a few paragraphs clipped from his excellent article on the subject: Geeks for Monarchy: The Rise of the Neo-Reactionaries:
"Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy."
Finley continues:  "Perhaps the one thing uniting all neoreactionaries is a critique of modernity that centers on opposition to democracy in all its forms. Many are former libertarians who decided that freedom and democracy were incompatible."
Neo-Reactionary-Glossary“Demotist systems, that is, systems ruled by the ‘People,’ such as Democracy and Communism, are predictably less financially stable than aristocratic systems,” a leading light of this movement, Michael Anissimov writes. (And note how he slips in the Trojan Horse axiom that communism is a categorical cousin to democracy - the sly rogue!) “On average, they undergo more recessions and hold more debt. They are more susceptible to market crashes. They waste more resources. Each dollar goes further towards improving standard of living for the average person in an aristocratic system than in a Democratic one.”
There it is, the assertion that autarchies "get more done" than flighty, self-indulgent, bourgeoise polities. Is this just a fluke? No, the movement has been long-simmering. It reminds me of a statement made by Star Wars impresario George Lucas in an infamous 1999 New York Times interview

"Not that we need a king, but there's a reason why kings built large palaces, sat on thrones and wore rubies all over. There's a whole social need for that, not to oppress the masses, but to impress the masses and make them proud and allow them to feel good about their culture, their government and their ruler so that they are left feeling that a ruler has the right to rule over them, so that they feel good rather than disgusted about being ruled. In the past, the media basically worked for the state and was there to build the culture. Now, obviously, in some cases it got used in a wrong way and you ended up with the whole balance of power out of whack. But there's probably no better form of government than a good despot."  
Every time I read that, it leaves me breathless. Stunned. I appraised that perspective - and its toxic lesson - in Star Wars on Trial.  Indeed, I have elsewhere explored the emotional underpinnings of all this:
"Wouldn’t life seem richer, finer if we still had kings? If the guardians of wisdom kept their wonders locked up in high wizard towers, instead of rushing onto PBS the way our unseemly “scientists” do today? Weren’t miracles more exciting when they were doled out by a precious few, instead of being commercialized, bottled and marketed to the masses for $1.95? Didn’t we stop going to the moon because it had become boring?"
The temptation to wallow in romance -- in fiction -- is understandable.  To prescribe feudalism for real life, though?
Oh, where to begin on this grotesque -- and  poisonously romantic -- wrongheadedness?   Shall we start with the way that these fellows erect edifices of assertions that, when examined, prove to be not only untrue, but spectacularly and diametrically opposite to true?

Like maintaining that Hitler and Stalin were epiphenomena of democracy, and not absolutist-oligarchist reactions to democracy -- attempts to throttle it to death, erecting new elites, complete with harems, along ancient patterns? Or that despotic Spartans ever held a candle to the Athenian polis, even in martial accomplishments? Or the way no ancient autarchy ever "got done" even a scintilla's percentage of the accomplishments of any modern democracy.
The list of staggering rationalizations is too long for me to even ponder addressing, from ignoring Adam Smith's denunciations of aristocracy as the core enemy of enterprise, to the bizarre belief that you can have economic freedom without any of the political kind, or that the clearly nasty and stupid rulership pattern of 6000 years should ever, ever again be trusted with anything more than a burnt match. Or that Communism was somehow a version of democracy, instead of a quasi-feudal theocratic cult that relentlessly spewed hatred at "bourgeoise democracy." Or the way they rail against the Hayekian sin of "too few allocators and deciders" when it is committed by civil servants, yet justify narrow cliques of conniving group-think lords who do the same thing, just because they are "private."
Above all, the hoary and utterly disproved nostrum that bourgeois citizens are fiscally less prudent than kings and lords, a slander that is as counterfactual as claiming day is night.
Fortunately, I do not have to refute this nonsense in detail, myself. Finley links to Anissimov's manifestos -- and many others' -- against modernity, democracy and enlightenment… so go ahead and give their own words a fair shake. Read the incantations! I have faith in you.
Anti-Reactionary-FAQThen head over to a marvelous, point-by-point refutation provided by Scott Alexander showing, among other things, how neo-reactionaries overestimate by many orders of magnitude the stability or governing aptitude of monarchies.  Alexander recently published an Anti-Reactionary FAQ, a massive document examining and refuting the claims of neoreactionaries.
Seriously, it is huge but painstakingly detailed, accurate and devastating. You need to give it a look. Alexander writes very well, entertainingly, and this vote of confidence in YOU needs to circulate as widely as possible.
== Disproof by example ==
Let me clip just one short part of Mr. Alexander's devastating refutation of those who contend that absolute monarchy, following ancient principles, will outperform democracy, equal rights and all that decadent western crap. He starts by suggesting the simplest and most fair experimental test of rhe neo-reactionary assertion.  That we take a very homogeneous country and split it in half.
"One side gets a hereditary absolute monarch, whose rule is law and who is succeeded by his son and by his son's son. The population is inculcated with neo-Confucian values of respect for authority, respect for the family, strict gender roles and cultural solidarity, but these values are supplemented by a religious ideal honoring the monarch as a near-god and the country as a specially chosen holy land. American cultural influence is banned on penalty of death; all media must be produced in-country, and missionaries are shot on site. The country’s policies are put in the hands of a group of technocratic nobles hand-picked by the king.
"The other side gets flooded with American missionaries preaching weird sects of Protestantism, and at the point of American guns is transformed into a parliamentary democracy. Its economy – again at the behest of American influence – becomes market capitalism, regulated by democracy and bureaucracy. It institutes a hundred billion dollar project to protect the environment, passes the strictest gun control laws in the world, develops a thriving gay culture, and elects a woman as President.
"Turns out this perfect controlled experiment actually happened. Let’s see how it turned out!"
zrx_image19Alexander then provides an image that speaks ten thousand words.
Some of you know the experiment to which he refers.  North and South Korea.
Oh, but read this section.  Read the rest.  And marvel that bright males (almost no women, of course) are able to talk themselves into believing factually-opposite, example-free, history-ignoring, human nature-ignoring and cosmically stupid incantations, just because it flatters their playground-traumatized imaginations to imagine that -- in a world of far more limited opportunities and justice -- they would somehow get to be the ones with harems.
== We generate our own, home-grown enemies ==
It is said that every generation is invaded by a fresh spate of invaders -- their children. In our case, western civilization has raised many generations steeped in memes of suspicion of authority and questioning the home-and-familiar, one of the most unusual things that any culture ever preached to its own offspring!  I appraise this reflex favorably in my essay and book Otherness.  These memes are what led to so many successive self-improvement campaigns, from constitutionalism to elimination of slavery. They led us hippies - for example - to march against horrid assumptions that all other generations took for granted -- wasteful and inherently impractical superstitions like racism, sexism and environmental blindness.  They also guarantee that new immunal rejection reflexes will be applied against the Boomers' assumption sets by even-newer generations!  So be it.
To an extent, this is a core element of the Enlightenment's healthy process of advancement and renewal. Heaven forbid that the young stop getting in their elders' faces, confronting their mistakes.  But T-cells that go screeching through the body looking for mistakes are not always right! And many a sanctimonious twit of both right and left conveys more heat than light.  More noise than value.
better-angels-of-our-natureIn this case of the neo-reactionaries, you have a cult of ingratitude that should incur at least a burden of scholarly proof. Certainly not being allowed to get away with blithe assertions and bald-faced lies. For example, I have again and again pointed out recent evidence -- such as Steven Pinker's book on declining world violence -- that we have good news to build upon.  Open and reciprocal criticism helped to make the violence decline happen!  Along with steep plummets in world (per capita) poverty and so on.  That's a lot of accomplishment to overcome, in claiming that kings could do better.
In fact, I know -- and rather enjoy -- some of the fellows in this general community, such as Anissimov and Peter Thiel, whose other accomplishments are respect-worthy and whose lively, vivid minds make up for abstract disagreements. There are areas of common ground! Like the long range goal of a world that overflows with empowered and sovereign individuals, needing little in the way of regulation or constraint, a shared dream, even if we part company over how to get there.
Let me emphasize that there is diversity in this melange, and lumping can give unfair impressions. Not all of them ascribe - for example - to the vaguely racist insinuations of the Human Bio-Diversity (HBD) sub-grouping. There is some overlap with the Singularity-Transhumanist movement -- warranting wariness and care, when you attend those gatherings. Indeed, this general horizon of nerd-dom is an eclectic scattering… and I like that!

 Indeed, some of the brightest - like Thiel - have legitimate complaints -- in the nitty gritty of the details of running a complex, democratic civilization. Fine.  Want to propose alternatives? Experiments? Deregulations? Criticism is a feature, not a flaw of demotic life, part of the completely unique ferment that generally keeps us moving forward. (For example, I have no objections -- only questions - regarding Thiel's endeavor to create new sovereignties out at sea.) You want to offer innovations and solutions and evidence, along with those wild-eyed assertions? Well, you know...
...we'd all love to see your plan.
== We are still the revolution ==
Alas though, they tend not to view things that way. Here I am speculating: but I believe that some of these fellows have swung in this bizarre direction because they are too smart to be fooled any longer by the undead thing that has hijacked American conservatism, sending poor Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley spinning so fast that Arizona and New York draw electricity from their graves.  Having driven off all the nation's scientists, teachers, doctors and every other clade of "smartypants" professionals, the New GOP could hardly hold on to brainiac Silicon Valley libertarians, who can see the unalloyed record of catastrophic governance and universally bad outcomes from the Bush years.
But what's the alternative? Smarmy, compromising-consensualist and preachy-progressivist liberalism?  Never.
Let's give them points for imagination, then, finding a new -- or rather, ancient -- direction to call their own.  Even though Neo-Reaction winds up as delusional as any dogma issued by the House of Ailes.
Rather than picturing themselves as part of Adam Smith's flat and open competitive churn,  Neo-Reactionaries prefer to envision a kind of uprising or counter-reformation. An up-ending and reversal of what they see as a decadent experiment in mob rule, gone wrong, demanding that we return to the beastly way of life that oppressed and limited and cauterized all of our ancestors (including the lords!) -- only getting it right, this time. 

 A way of life that (I admit) is the natural human attractor state! One that caters to every romantic impulse behind the popularity of fantasy tales of Martin, Lucas or Tolkien. One that is darwinistically so compelling and natural that it probably snared most intelligent races in our galaxy -- a top potential explanation for the Fermi Paradox. An attractor state called feudalism.
An attractor that is yanking hard on us now, as would-be lords deliberately instigate a fresh phase of Civil War to cripple American pragmatism and institutions, throwing into imbalance all four of those great, positive-sum accountability arenas upon which our Great Experiment relies.  

But it won't work.
OligarchistsThey do not get to call themselves rebels!  We and our Enlightenment are the revolutionaries, still, beating down the repeated, clawing assaults of oligarchists from all sides, some of whom called themselves "communists," but always prescribing the same, boring pyramid of power.
These guys face a steep burden of proof that we should reject the social contract that brought them to their high status, and all of us the comfort and means to debate this in a world-spanning agora. A civilization that may -- in just two generations -- embark upon interstellar adventures, bringing light, at last, to the galaxy.
Amid the Rapture of the Ingrates, they are welcome to contend (it's a free country) that we'd all be far better off if the west had not followed the advice of Locke and Montesquieu and Franklin and Smith and all the other heroes -- the greatest our species ever produced -- who rebelled against oligarchic rule, giving us one chance -- perhaps only this one -- to try something else.
They are free to offer that assertion. But I am (nodding thanks to all those heroes) equally empowered to say bullshit.

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ADDENDA:
1.  Long time member of this community Larry Hart suggested a term "endarkenment" to apply to those who have chosen to oppose the Enlightenment Experiment.  I find it quite tasty.  

2. Personally, I do not feel anger toward the oligarchs who are conniving and bribing and undermining in order to sabotage the experiment, as much as toward the intellectual "boffins" who take the money and concoct rationalizations like "neo-reaction."  The former are only acting out of quasi-animal reflex. Puppets of Darwin, they are only doing what harem-builders have done ever since humans developed metal implements and agricultural division of labor -- steal other men's women and wheat and then hire priests to tell everyone this is a good thing.  They must be thwarted in achieving this traditional and deeply human goal, or our destiny as a species will be spoiled -- and there are "good billionaires" who know this.  Indeed, those rich dudes who are tempted by the old reflexes, yet choose to stay on our side -- the Gates/Buffett types -- are our greatest hope.  Recalling the wisdom of Andrew Carnegie, they know their kids will never starve… and will do better if they have to work, a little, alongside us.


No, it is the smart aleck boffins who provide the priestly rationalizations who should know better.  They are the ones who… if their plan truly succeeds… should be remembered and held to account by the inevitable Resistance.  So let it be written.  So let it be done.


3. Throw this into their faces relentlessly.  They decry the fallacy of limited decision-making castes in commerce and science… and use that concept to attack "big government" for allocating based upon limited knowledge sets, removed from the critical feedback loops of markets.  Then they turn around and praise rulership by tiny, insular clades of aristocrats or kings, allocating almost entirely on the basis of whim. ("Okay everybody, we're gonna spend 50% of the national GDP on a pyramid!  Or Versailles. Or conquering everyone in sight.") It is beyond hypocrisy.  It is incantation.  


4. The fundamental flaw, though, is succession.  Find for me one example (other than Plantagenets) in which three direct generations of kingship did not include at least one maniac or complete fool, whose whims brought devastation down upon the house and the nation.


5. Down below in comments, one fellow claimed that the success stories of Hong Kong, Singapore and China show that political freedom is unnecessary in order to improve the lives of the people through economic advancement.  This is by far the strongest counter-attack by the neo-reactionaries and at first sight it does seem to advance their position on one small sector (though no others.) It caused me to make a bold - supportable - counter assertion that these mercantilist-predatory trading nations… along with the more democratic Japan and South Korea… in fact deserve far less credit for their development "miracles" than they claim.   Consider How little of their success was based upon internal inventiveness and how much depended on maintaining a huge balance of payments trade surplus with the United States.  


Walmart-EconomyThis system of uplift-development through trade ("foreign aid through WalMart") has been the greatest force raising standards of living around the globe… and it was permitted, indulgently, by trade systems imposed by Pax Americana after 1945.  No other pax imperium ever did such a thing.  Indeed, Gandhi's #2 complaint about Pax Brittanica was its home-favoring, mercantilist trade rules.  But under Marshall, Acheson and Truman and Ike, we did the exact opposite, and never turned back.


Dig this well, it was a great democracy's CHOICE of a purely optional policy, allowing factory jobs to follow cheap labor and allowing predatory mercantilist behavior to go unpunished while jobs flowed around the world, that led to development in all of those countries.  Yes, they had decent leadership and hard-working people! But the core process was entirely a western innovation originating in a democracy that was so creative and inventive that it could afford 60 years of uplifting trade deficits that dsaved the world. And democracies that even now choose to continue that far-sighted plan.  


In other words, again, the NR boys are blathering nonsense that is diametrically opposite to any sense at all. …and anon...

144 comments:

Jonathan S. said...

"In contrast, can you count any mythic systems -- other than Star Trek -- that encouraged a different view? Recognition that "I am a member of a civilization"? One that made million miracles possible? Not by unleashing a few demigods, but by stimulating the efforts of whole scads of bright folks who are merely way above-average?"

The first one that comes to mind is another Roddenberry concept - Andromeda. A group of self-selected "superior men" manage to overthrow a centuries-old republic, and predictably all falls apart into squabbling kingdoms under other names. A man arises, one frozen in time from the earlier era (due to his ship being too close to the event horizon of a black hole, until grabbed by a salvager), who works to reinstate the reign of the common men (and other beings) of the galaxy.

It kind of lost its way in the third season, when the original showrunner left and Kevin Sorbo took over and turned his own character into another of those tired "chosen one" demigods, but until then Dylan Hunt had been working tirelessly, not to replace the old Systems Commonwealth, but to revive it. That was a fascinating show to watch, as he molded a crew of salvagers, misfits, and one renegade "superman" into the salvation of the old ways of republic.

It was truly a pity that Sorbo backslid into the petty feudal mindset...

Rudy Behrens said...

As old as society itself, a better world through better people. Now--- let's decide what is a 'better person'.

Biggest wallet? Biggest gun? Most productive? Smartest? Bravest? No- it becomes the most ruthless and devious.

That is why have governments and laws and, yes, democracy. We tried that other way, the Ayn Rand paradise, and we repeatedly destroyed ourselves by destroying or wasting our best and brightest.

David Sugar said...

Thankfully, not all human societies drank from the poisoned well of the Ur conjecture to aspire after the pyramid of power.

Incidentally, the viewpoint of at least soviet style communism as a kind of atheistic theocracy seems shared by many who lived through that place and those times.

The idea of enlightened greed tends to fail simply because any conspiracy of "trillies" would be people who already know that their wealth and power was acquired by any and all illegitimate means necessary, and hence would neither believe in nor desire an "enlightened" version of it, because they would inherently know it would not have worked for them if it had been that way. By very definition they are confirmation biased against it. That idea seems utter rubbish.

Human societies clearly prosper most when the potential to participate is maximized. If one wishes to call that socializing opportunity, that is fine. All hierarchical societies are about minimizing such participation to a more selective few, however that few is chosen.

The US today has created conditions where participation by the best and brightest is clearly no longer welcome or rewarded, unless one is already wealthy or from an already wealthy family, or one slaves for the exclusive benefit of such people. That message is clear, and people are leaving while it still remains possible to do so.

Indeed if one looks at both class mobility (lowest in the industrial world) and wealth inequality (highest outside of third world extremes), a kind of feudalism already exists in the US where opportunity is now closed to many. I think those neo-reactionaries may yet get at least some form of their wish, and it is already very clear what that outcome will be.







tonyt said...

This is well argued, and insightful. We can see symptoms of the neo-feudalism in the US in things like the citizens united decision which allows the trillies to leverage their influence further. It's clear that purchasing sound bites (or visual bites or print bites) can influence large numbers of people who will simply react to them on an emotional basis. Moreover, there is a cultural impetus that reinforces this simple acceptance--it show up insidiously as TV commercials and the like. Add to this what seems to be a normal human 'pack reaction' to the alpha creature (usually male), and we've got quite a challenge on our hands

Dominic said...

And in the US the biggest defender of privilege definer of "the national conversation" is historical revisionist David Brooks who never fails to blame all fault within US politics equally on actual republican politicians and imaginary hippies from the 1960s.

hilmera said...

The BBC did a little 2-part show of ~20 minute programs on this back in 2011. Part one described republicans in Sweden arguing for an end to their rump celebrity-pseudomonarchy.

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/docarchive/docarchive_20110329-0905c.mp3

Part 2 brought the crazy in the form of the American monarchist movement.

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/docarchive/docarchive_20110405-0900a.mp3

I think the main issue with modern-day monarchists is a mixture of plutocratic separatism mixed with some kind of genetically- or environmentally-caused mental retardation. That or meff. Something happens to people's brains when they are removed from the possibility of seeing the disconnect between family wealth and fitness to serve.

John T. said...

Bravo, Mr. Brin, my pleasure to read.

Mel Baker said...

I've been proposing for some time that we start giving our corporate plutocrats the titles they clearly want. Lord Ellison Duke Oracle, Lord Koch Marquis of the Oil Lands, etc. Then we can doff our caps or tug our forlocks when they pass. The parody of their pretentiousness might provide the cleansing power of satire, which at this point may be the most effective way to fight Civil War 2.0.

David Brin said...

Dominic, in fairness, campus hippies in the 1970s and 1980s included some of the most nasty and vicious jerks and bullies I have ever met. The stereotype is based on very real examples who tried hard to crush any rivals at scores of universities and did real harm. Still, to compare them to Limbaugh or Murdoch or the current GOP madness is laughable.

Hilmera, if I lived in a Scandinavian monarchy - especially Denmark - I'd be tempted to keep them around - on a very very tight budget - for reasons that include those I describe in "The 4th Vocation of George Gustaf." But we cannot do that. We are committed in the US to the Lincolnian reconfigured model of Madison. SOmeone has to.

Mel… I could go for that. If to get their titles they sacrifice 90% of their money and wealth.

Andrew Kieran said...

OK, don't know if anyone's linked to this, but as a leftist who saw you in the last post point to a fairly tame example of far-left "nuttery" (hardly) and I thought I could give you something better.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/25/london-slaves-cultlike-political-group

from the good old U of K, the bizarre tale of a maoist cult emerges once again as two of it's members are charged with holding women captive as slaves for 30 years, from birth. As a leftist myself (an old fashioned fourth internationalisr, in fact, from a tradition of social democratic marxist thought, happy to agree to disagree cordially with all those with good intentions) I have to say that we do nutjob lefties better than you guys do.

one-nil to the UK in the nutjob lefty stakes, woohoo!

Lars said...

Chrystia Freeland (You've got the cover of her book pictured), you may be interested to know, just won her seat for the Liberals in yesterday's federal by-election.

Interesting to read that the Dark Enlightenment thinkers appear to be following (in far more depth) the thinking behind Pournelle's Empire of Man.

Lars said...

On another note - the comments at http://techcrunch.com/2013/11/22/geeks-for-monarchy/ are, um, startling.

Mark said...

I certainly understand the appeal. After all, if I were made king of everything I have little doubt I could make things much better. I'm sure most feel the same -- though most of you are wrong!

But then, one of my major goals would be to make sure no king ever followed me. I'd leave the world more democratic than it is now, as well as with much greater wealth sharing.

Nicholas MacDonald-Wu said...

Oh, fun...

"four great arenas -- markets, democracy, science and courts -- where avoidance of criticism or error-discovery is difficult, even impossible over the long run."


One of these things is not like the other... one of these things just doesn't belong...

NR are big on three of the four- courts, markets, and science. They're not big on the fourth, democracy. Yes, it's an engine of competition- but competition of the wrong type. While the others either seek objective truth (science and courts), or survival of the fittest (markets), democracy selects for mediocrity at best, and outright defiance of reality at the worst. They discuss what matters might replace it... while some like monarchy, some sort of technocratic republic or state run as a company for the profit of it's shareholders seems to be the more popular alternative.

"these accountability arenas are the only systems that ever penetrated our species's penchant for delusion in any systematic way."

Hence the neo in neo-reactionary... isn't the real conservative the one who thinks that these are the only alternatives and new ones can't be innovated?

“note how he slips in the Trojan Horse axiom that communism is a categorical cousin to democracy... Each dollar goes further towards improving standard of living for the average person in an aristocratic system than in a Democratic one.”

Isn't it interesting that reactionary post-Deng Xiaoping China has managed so much more than Democratic India? Why was it that every country in Africa, given democratic institutions by their retreating imperial overlords, failed- while South Korea, where power was seized by a shameless workaholic dictator named Park Chung-hee, succeeded wildly? (And why is it that while we see lots of developing countries "slip" into despotism and stagnation, while some of the ones under despots prosper, the ones that remain democratic universally stagnate? Interesting question, that...)

"Like maintaining that Hitler and Stalin were epiphenomena of democracy, and not absolutist-oligarchist reactions to democracy -- attempts to throttle it to death, erecting new elites, complete with harems, along ancient patterns... Or the way no ancient autarchy ever "got done" even a scintilla's percentage of the accomplishments of any modern democracy."

And yet, totalitarianism has only existed in the demotic age. Earlier monarchies were all authoritarian; even the Legalist despotisms of China didn't purport to create a "new man" - though Legalism has the other traits of totalitarianism, it existed only for it's own perpetuation and had no pretense of any other greater purpose.

The question needs to be asked- does modernity accomplish a great deal because of democracy- or despite it? The liberal autocracies of Europe in the 19th century accomplished a great deal. So did the UK with a very limited franchise- when the colonial populations are figured in, what percentage of the British Empire had the vote?

It seems that rule of law is the essential difference between a Singapore and a North Korea (or a Singapore and an India, for that matter).

Nicholas MacDonald said...

Continued...

"bizarre belief that you can have economic freedom without any of the political kind"

There's nothing bizarre about it at all. See Hong Kong, where the residents had no political rights for decades, and few today- yet had staggering economic freedom, greater than that of the US during the same time period.

"Or that Communism was somehow a version of democracy, instead of a quasi-feudal theocratic cult that relentlessly spewed hatred at "bourgeoise democracy." "

Arguably Democratic Centralism- the political system of Communism- is the most democratic of all; the majority rules, and the majority's view must be made absolute (as in, no minority dissent is allowed). In this, we see the key difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism- under the first, you must be brought in line with the program and made to agree. Under the latter, whether you agree or not is completely irrelevant. There's a subtle and very, very important distinction there.

"Above all, the hoary and utterly disproved nostrum that bourgeois citizens are fiscally less prudent than kings and lords, a slander that is as counterfactual as claiming day is night."

Bzzap! No.

The problem isn't bourgeoise citizens, who the neo-reactionaries by and large are. The problem is the rabble.

"Scott Alexander showing, among other things, how neo-reactionaries overestimate by many orders of magnitude the stability or governing aptitude of monarchies."

Alexander focused overly much on refuting monarchy; when neither Nick Land or MM actually think that monarchy is the preferred system. Both favor some sort of republic- a minarchist technocracy of some sort for the former, and a "formalist sovereign corporation" for the latter.

Though I'll give credit where it's deserved- Alexander is the best challenger Land or Yarvin/Moldbug have faced.

"Some of you know the experiment to which he refers. North and South Korea."

I could get into how this means just the opposite of what Alexander thinks it does, but abuse of the SK/NK divide is rampant. (See, also, libertarians who think that it says something about free markets vs. planning- when SK in the 70s and 80s was the most heavily planned economy on Earth outside the communist bloc. Oops.)

"And marvel that bright males (almost no women, of course) are able to talk themselves into believing factually-opposite, example-free, history-ignoring, human nature-ignoring and cosmically stupid incantations, just because it flatters their playground-traumatized imaginations to imagine that -- in a world of far more limited opportunities and justice -- they would somehow get to be the ones with harems."

If you think that's the concern, you've really missed the point. (Though it could be valid! Many a geek- including myself- has left their home country for China, Hong Kong, Singapore or Vietnam- not to mention Korea and Japan- and been truly amazed at the sexual possibilities that open up for them. And these societies are ones where geeky males, via the Confucian exam system, ended up with the harems for millenia. Might that just be a little... appealing?... to guys who still feel like their nose is being rubbed in the sand by football jocks and gangstas back home? Oh, you bet it might.)

"You want to offer innovations and solutions and evidence, along with those wild-eyed assertions? Well, you know...
...we'd all love to see your plan."

See the writings of Land and Moldbug/Yarvin. They suggest a few.

ZarPaulus said...

Well, Machiavelli, in his one brief work that "supported" monarchism, filled it with a mixture of helpful and not-so-helpful advice for would-be despots. So that it would be hard for the monarchs to tell whether the book was intended as advice or satire. Most notably that line about not disarming your peasants.

I mean, what would you expect? He spent 14 years working to build up the Florentine republic only for the Medicis to steal it back, dislocate his limbs, and force him into retirement.

Bland Allison said...

"...there's a reason why kings built large palaces, sat on thrones and wore rubies all over. There's a whole social need for that, not to oppress the masses, but to impress the masses and make them proud and allow them to feel good about their culture."

Slightly off topic, but I was surprised at how well this matches the underlying motivations for building Sports Stadiums and supporting "professional" College Football Teams. It's been shown again and again that they end up costing the taxpayers and not adding to the economy, but the feel-good arguments always seem to win.

They haven't won in Los Angeles lately for the NFL. Perhaps we're all getting a bit smarter?

Robert said...

There was one science fiction universe which not only built on the importance of working together but envisioned a better world - even as it showed forces that would try to prevent that world from coming about.

Babylon 5.

Think of it. This is a series that envisioned a massive space station that existed purely to bring varied races together so that they could negotiate, trade, reason, debate, and be at peace with one another. It was not a utopian world like the Federation. It was a dark dirty world... in which people struggled hard to ensure te future be worthwhile.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

ANdrew K… wow. You win. For now.

Nicholas, what fun to have one of you join us! But of course, you miss the entire point that democracy does exactly the same thing as courts, science and markets. It is an arena of competition in which policies are the material under relentless criticism and scrutiny and testing. Both democracy and markets lack very clear metrics and so are filthy, inefficient testing arenas. Often good policies (or products) fail and bad ones win. But overall, in fits and starts, both move forward.

( Courts must be meticulous because life or death is at stake and science has an ultimate arbitrator -- objective reality.) Hence your only contribution is to deny that democracy has the claimed effect.

You'll admit that it exposes competing policies to competitive scrutiny! But you'll deny the outcomes are better than those from non-competitive policy-determining systems, in which small clades of in-group-thinking lords connive based on limited knowledge or perspectives, free of criticism or external input, putting their own interests ahead of those of the society in zero-or even negative sum games. And yes, I just described oligarchy. ..

… and yummy what a great record of governance it has to show! What I love about you guys is your ability to utterly ignore how gruesomely awful EVERY single such governing clade was, compared to most (not all) democracies.

David Brin said...

Sure, China has done better than India. I never claimed democracy was problem-free. For one thing, it works best above certain level e.g. where women naturally choose to have fewer kids because they are free. In India they got the vote before liberating women and educating their daughters. hence a population boom. Score one for democracy being imperfect. Did you see me claim otherwise?

Not one African nation had anything remotely like democracy as a functioning process and you know it. They are counter examples against Oligarchy, not democracy. They are evidence what a stranglehold beastly oligarchy has on natural human patterns and how incredibly hard is the experiment to try something new.

"And yet, totalitarianism has only existed in the demotic age." What a load of rationalizing crap! Make up your neologism rationalizations to separate out the worst horrors of human history and call them NOT examples of brutal men hammering other men and taking all they have… which is the patten of 6000 years. What staggering dishonesty!

Look guys! He does it again! Communism isn't oligarchy, it's democracy! Never mind that careful studies show that the Bolsheviks quickly re-established the old Boyar power structure almost exactly, with communist Nomenklatura families slipping right into an aristocratic-theocracy EXACTLY like the standard pattern. Put aside the clear statements and Lenin and Stalin etc despising and sneering contempt at bourgeoise democracy.

Never mind. "Black is white! Because it is the only way I can sustain my narrative!"

"The problem isn't bourgeoise citizens, who the neo-reactionaries by and large are. The problem is the rabble."

No, the problem is bright dolts who proclaim "If only for my neighbors (the sheeps!) I would be a lord! A god!"

Oh the fancy incantations to demean democracy take the form of amazing constructs, like the Tytler Calumny.
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-tytler-insult-is-democracy-hopeless.html

But it boils down to the basic fact that middle class folks who know about mortgages and debt have ALWAYS been fiscally more prudent, politically, than the aristocracy… and that is always. You would be hard pressed to find any fiscally prudent monarchs or oligarchies ever, across 6000 years, or prudent about war or any other major aspect of governance. The "rabble" of Athens voted down "largesse" from the great silver mines in order to have Themistocles invest in their future, saving the West. Throughout the Bushite insanity it was always the middle class that polled to delay tax cuts in order to pay down debt. And it was the oligarchs who pushed Supply Side "economics" pouring trillions of largesse down their maws, which they did NOT invest in new "supply" industries. Not even slightly. Sorry. Opposite.

In other words, it is all incantations, slander and lies.

David Brin said...


The "Confucian exam system," was the best effort ever to add a meritocratic and internally critical veneer to the old pyramid of (darwin-driven) inherited privilege. Without any doubt, if we are taken over by the returning oligarchy, I hope it takes rulership seriously and I depict them leaning toward such meritocratic tweaks, in EXISTENCE. Indeed, that tradition shows in Deng's mercantilist China…

…which nevertheless is exactly and entirely a product of the western democracies, especially America, which CHOSE under Marshall/Acheson/Truman, to create a world trade system that allowed factories to chase labor and poor countries to sell goods mercantilistically to our consumers. Pax Americana did not have to do this. (No other Pax empire in history did it.) The altruistic decision turned the American consumer into the engine of development for the planet, uplifting billions… and THE CHINESE DID NOT DO THIS. Nor did the Koreans, or Singaporeans or even the Japanese.

It was the result of a set of decisions we could have reversed at ANY point in the last 60 years, to allow their "mercantilist miracles" to happen. As the Pax power, we could have stopped it any time. We chose not to. And THAT is the total refutation of your entire construct.

The democracies, especially the US, were so rich, so creative, inventive and productive AND generous that we shrugged off 60 years of trade deficits and thus uplifted billions of people. While raising our own generations of snarking bright-fools with the habit of self-aimed criticism, to denounce the errors of our own culture! Some of those T Cell jeremaiads proved useful and on-target!

And some are the product of fevered fools who can stare at humanity's greatest miracle - this Enlightenment -- and proclaim: "Nah! If you bring back the old ways I would be a king!"

No lad. I said it in the piece. Nerd-flavored dog food.

Robert said...

@Nicholas MacDonald: Sorry, but you're wrong. And here is how I'm going to prove it. Would you be so happy to be in a monarchy if your worse enemy was King?

You see, while democracy has its flaws, it also has some strong benefits and with the power of faster and more effective communication, true democracy can only ever improve. Monarchy is dependent on a group of hereditary leaders who dictate everything. And it doesn't matter how stupid they are. It doesn't matter how uneducated they are. All that matters is blood.

Funny thing about blood. It is what caused the overthrow of the Russian monarchy - inbreeding resulted in a hemophiliac prince, a family who allowed a madman too much power, and a family that failed to consider its people. They followed the same path that the King of France did: they died because of excesses of power.

If you look at the history of the world, you see a repeating pattern. Monarch after monarch is inevitably overthrown because he abused his power and certain other people said "enough is enough." This is not a stable form of government. It is not a reliable form of government. It is playing Russian Roulette. Eventually the bullet will fire and you will die.

Democracy has flaws. But aristocracy and monarchy has far greater flaws. Returning to the old ways will ultimately lead to unrest and instability and won't benefit our world in the least.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

I haven't even finished your main post yet, but I'm already burning with rightous anti-romanticist indignation (yes, and realizing the trap that righteous indignation can be) the same way I was over the weekend when I took my daughter to see the new "Hunger Games" movie.

And then Krugman goes and puts the two concepts together beautifully:

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/


The Reason Why

Terrific piece in the WaPo on how Kentucky’s rural poor are being helped by Kynect, the state’s version of Obamacare, which has had a picture-perfect rollout.

This is why we need health reform.

To my misfortune, I accidentally read some of the comments, which which full of scorn verging on hatred for the “moochers” getting access to decent medical care for the first time. What can you say? I assume that these people root for President Snow against Katniss, too.

Carolyn Meinel said...

See also Columbia Journalism Review's "Giving a Baron too Big a Pass," examining Rupert Murdoch as an example of someone who is trending in the feudalistic direction, using his vast wealth and a blatantly (at times) criminal media empire. http://www.cjr.org/critical_eye/murdochs_world.php

LarryHart said...

Johnathan S:

The first one that comes to mind is another Roddenberry concept - Andromeda. A group of self-selected "superior men" manage to overthrow a centuries-old republic, and predictably all falls apart into squabbling kingdoms under other names. A man arises, one frozen in time from the earlier era (due to his ship being too close to the event horizon of a black hole, until grabbed by a salvager), who works to reinstate the reign of the common men (and other beings) of the galaxy.


If (as it seems to em) the "Hunger Games" type meme of a brutal tyranny ruling over impoverished humanity is in the air these days what you describe is the next step--the image of Captain America.

Not Captain America the WWII-era super-soldier, but modern-day Captain America, the hero of a bygone age presumed dead, who is restored at the moment of greatest need.

Tony Fisk said...


David, I recall you were invited to talk to a conclave of 'old money' in Leichtenstein a few years back. Was this a field trip for 'Existence'? A job interview?

It does have an allure: this idea that the best form of rule is a benevolent despot.

What doesn't get mentioned is that such individuals are extremely rare, which makes the whole idea of an ongoing monarchy of benevolent despots just a bit improbable. This instability is really what gives fantasy novels about warring kings their tension points.

I note that Pratchett has yet to address the question of Vetenari's succession although, oddly, I would rate Discworld as one of the mythic systems that encourage a different view. Sure places like Ankh-Morpork and Lancre are creaking feudal monarchies, but peek through the cracks to see who's doing the donkey work to improve things.

Best moment in B5: when 'the Ones' (Delenn and Sheridan) tell the non-benevolent god-like super-despots to 'get the hell out of our galaxy!'

sociotard said...

another in the anti-democracy bin:

http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_x_li_a_tale_of_two_political_systems.html

His main point was "how can a government claim the right to rule if not through elections? How about through competence!" He at the least had some good digs, like where he pointed out that someone with George Bush's record would never have come to power in China.

Christopher Jannette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LarryHart said...


Neoreaction - aka “dark enlightenment...


I still prefer my term "endarkenment". Hoping it will catch on.

Alfred Differ said...

David is in fine form lately. It makes me wonder how many keyboards he pounds into dust when he writes on this subject. 8)

Endarkenment: I like it. I'll use it. 8)

Anonymous said...

I believe that citing the "experiment" involving North Korea and South Korea is grossly unfair because North Korea is vastly richer in mineral resources than South Korea is, so the latter's much better off population is ... um ... wait a sec ...

-- ToddR (not a self-identifying Neo-Reactionary)

David Brin said...

LarryHart I have cited "endarkenment" in a new addendum at the end of the article. You are immortal. ;-)

David Brin said...

Ah well… the age of endarkenment refers to the period beginning in the early 1980s, during which pseudoscientific nonsense came again to be perceived by many as having validity comparable with scientific reality.
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Age_of_endarkenment

Still, full creed should go to guys who think up a word SECOND!

LarryHart said...

Wow! Who'd have thunk back in 86 or 87 when I picked up "The Postman" as an impulse buy that the author would know my name?

If I don't get back "here" before the holiday (one of my favorites of the year), Happy Thanksgiving one and all. I realize not all the regulars here are American, but best wishes anyway.

TheMadLibrarian said...

LarryHart, that's an old, old meme, the hero who waits for the call. Recall the legend of King Arthur, who was spirited away after the last battle by the fairies (or wise women or...), healed of his wounds, and slumbers until England is in dire need. Then he will rise and lead all righteous men to victory.

TheMadLibrarian
31 ovirds: average size of a genetically engineered turkey

Tim H. said...

"Endarkenment", achieved through the in-dillegent application of "Slacktitude".

SMERSH said...

Endarkenment was already thought of as an option by the reactionaries themselves.

I think anti-enlightenement is a bit less dorky than dark enlightenement.

You guys don't have to become neo-reactionaries (they're dorks) but you should seriously examine the premises of the enlightenment and double check them.

Like the one about human rationality.

David Brin said...

Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, in the Illuminati Trilogy, start by describing the mechanisms (like fear and homogeneity) that prevent the underclasses from thinking. But then they go on to say some things that are highly inconvenient to the neo-reactionaries and their contempt for The People… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Illuminatus!_Trilogy

"Those at the top of the authoritarian pyramid, however, suffer an equal and opposite burden of omniscience. All that is forbidden to the servile class— the web of perception, evaluation and participation in the sensed universe— is demanded of the members of the master class. They must attempt to do the seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling and decision-making for the whole society.

"But a man with a gun is told only that which people assume will not provoke him to pull the trigger. Since all authority and government are based on force, the master class, with its burden of omniscience, faces the servile class, with its burden of nescience, precisely as a highwayman faces his victim. Communication is possible only between equals. The master class never abstracts enough information from the servile class to know what is actually going on in the world where the actual productivity of society occurs. Furthermore, the logogram of any authoritarian society remains fairly inflexible as time passes, but everything else in the universe constantly changes. The result can only be progressive disorientation among the rulers. The end is debacle. "

David Brin said...

SMERSH if you follow me, I frequently point out that humans aren't reasonable. Indeed, the Enlightenment accountability arenas us OPPOSITION and competition to enable us to apply reciprocal accountability to each others' delusions, in a way that is often positive sum.

It is how science works. How markets democracy and courts work… when they work.

This process is not designed to depend upon people being reasonable; it is set up so that we can move forward DESPITE being unreasonable beings.

Mark said...

You guys don't have to become neo-reactionaries (they're dorks) but you should seriously examine the premises of the enlightenment and double check them.

Like the one about human rationality.


This part I think we should all agree on. The world could definitely use Enlightenment 2.0. Criticism of democracy is welcome, even encouraged.

But ultimately, the government needs to be responsive to the people. Any suggestion that leaves that out holds little value to me.

Robert said...

Sir Terry Pratchett actually touches upon this in his Vimes books. He puts it succinctly, with Vimes' disgust in his fellow man. To paraphrase: Vimes always felt humanity had a fundamental flaw, the tendency to bend at the knee.

This is ultimately what neo-reactionarism is about. The desire for the pomp and circumstance and mystique of nobility. Or in other words? Bending at the knee.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

ah. Endorkment then. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

There are some rational arguments against the way we employ Democracy that don't call for reverting to feudalism. They point out the mistakes democrats make when we attribute too much to Democracy that can't possibly be true.

Popper's 'Conjectures and Refutations' (ch 17) derives from a talk in the mid-50's where he was talking to liberals (as they were called at the time) and trying to challenge them in how they dealt with public opinion (voice of the people) relative to their own principles. It's worth reading the original, but I keep a paraphrased version handy when talking to my friends who can't handle Popper's verbosity. I include it because I think it illuminates some of what bothers David about the neoreactionaries and ingrates.
_
Popper's Liberal Principles: (paraphrased)

1. Liberal Razor: The state is a necessary evil. Its powers are not to be multiplied beyond what is necessary.

2. Democracy VS Tyranny: Under a democracy the government can be got rid of without bloodshed; under a tyranny it cannot.

3. Democracy is a process framework for individual action: Democracy as such cannot confer any benefits upon the citizen and it should not be expected to do so. In fact democracy can do nothing – only the citizens of the democracy can act. Democracy provides no more than a framework within which the citizen may act in a more or less organized and coherent way.

4. Why Democracy: We are democrats, not because the majority is always right, but because the democratic traditions are the least evil ones of which we know. If the majority decides in favor of tyranny, there is no fatal inconsistency in the democrat's views. Instead, it is the case that the democratic tradition was not strong enough.

5. Institutional Intent: Institutions alone are never sufficient if not tempered by traditions. Institutions are always ambivalent in the sense that, in the absence of a strong tradition, they may also serve the opposite purpose to the one intended. Traditions are needed to form a link between institutions and the intentions and valuations of individuals.

6. No Liberal Utopia: A liberal state rationally designed on a traditionless tabula rasa is an impossibility. The limitations to the freedom of individuals which are made necessary by social life should be minimized and equalized as much as possible (Kant), but application of such an an priori principle requires solutions that appeal to existing traditions and customs and to a traditional sense of justice, and to an impartial judge's appreciation of equity. All laws, being universal principles, have to be interpreted to be applied; and an interpretation needs some principles of concrete practice, which can be supplied only by a living tradition.

7. Liberalism is evolutionary: Principles of Liberalism may be described as principles of assessing, and if necessary of modifying or changing, existing institutions, rather than of replacing existing institutions. One can express this also by saying Liberalism is an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary creed unless it is confronted by a tyrannical regime.

8. Moral Basis: The most important tradition is the 'moral framework' of a society. This incorporates the society's traditional sense of justice or fairness, or the degree of moral sensitivity it has reached. This is the basis which makes it possible to reach a fair or equitable compromise between conflicting interests. It is not unchangeable, but it changes comparatively slowly. Nothing can be more dangerous than the destruction of this traditional framework as that leads to cynicism and nihilism, i.e. to the disregard and the dissolution of all human values.
-
The last one addresses an underpinning tradition and is probably at the root of our risk of sliding further into Civil War. It is easy to argue that the feudalists are attempting to replace our moral framework and the neoreactionaries are assisting them.

Hayek also wrote about the limits of Democracy, but he was even more verbose. 8)

David Brin said...

Alfred, these are good steps - I Like em. Let me add.

Democracy tries to deal with the problems of majority rule by (1) putting is republic-style dampers on popular passion, (2) establishing method of sliding-scale "minority veto" all the way to indulgent mildness-of-punishment toward civil disobedience so that majority will must at least feel an incentive drift toward consensus.

The dominant thread of modern democracy, liberalism, stays on the lookout for opportunities to broaden receptiveness to new, diverse, or minority viewpoints, so that tyranny of the majority becomes less likely. Moreover, there is a consensus that the best-justified efforts of government are those that raise up opportunities for open and level competition, not leveling outcomes.

This is not to say that occasional acts of leveling are uncalled for. History in America shows at least a dozen such mild "reset" events that party-sufficiently re-leveled the playing field without disturbing market incentives for innovation and commerce.

Institutional intent. I would mention in there the danger of institutions being "captured."

Division of power and prevention of collusion among elites should always remain a fundamental way that active citizens seek to keep their democracy healthy. Indeed, it is the only way that cheating can be prevented.

Alfred Differ said...

I tend to view Democracy as a process (or in your language a market) by which we decide a particular activity of government. Hayek in his later work made a distinction between 'discovered law' and 'the business of government' and tried to coin terms for each. Law was limited to 'thou shalt not' rules that had to match social traditions or risk breaking the Rule of Law. The business of government had to do with how money got collected, services rendered and all that stuff. Majority rule (thus Democracy) works well for the business of government, but poses serious risks for for law and unfortunately our legislatures are set up so both types are handled by the same people in the same bodies. We wind up fretting over what a candidate will do regarding one and not paying enough attention to the other as a result.

Your description of democracy as a market makes sense to me regarding policies that direct the business of government. Your worries about neo-reactionaries makes sense to me because they threaten social rules where we DON'T want majority rule or rule by an elite of any kind. We largely want to be left alone or left to the social traditions in which we choose to participate.


I agree with you regarding the risk that institutions get captured. The Libertarian response is typically to disempower them, but that flies in the face of history. Institutions wouldn't have power in the first place if we didn't choose to give it to them and we wouldn't do that unless it was beneficial to us somehow. We don't have to know HOW we benefit, though, because an evolutionary argument takes care of that for us. The institution simply wouldn't survive without people to propagate it into the next generation.


Oh... I do have one quibble. Montesquieu as hero?! Sorry. He strikes me as a nutcase best left out of our inclination to trumpet the benefits of the Enlightenment. Maybe I'm just reacting to some of his ideas like modern thinkers do to Andrew Jackson, but I'll admit I'd rather cut him out of the play. I suspect the story will work well enough without including a 'designer' in the continental (French) sense. we have enough Scots to make the story work. 8)

LarryHart said...

The Mad Librarian:

LarryHart, that's [Captain America] an old, old meme, the hero who waits for the call. Recall the legend of King Arthur, who was spirited away after the last battle by the fairies (or wise women or...), healed of his wounds, and slumbers until England is in dire need. Then he will rise and lead all righteous men to victory.


Sure, or even Cincinattus as was referecned by Dr Brin in "The Postman".

I'm a big fan of 1960s/1970s Marvel Comics (though I can't deal with teh stuff they're putting out now) and so I think of Captain America in that context. I wasn't saying that Captain America is unique in that context. What I was saying is that I somewhat expect (and hope) that the zeitgeist will seem right for that meme to permeate the culture once we get past the current zeitgeist where the "hopeless resistance to all-oppressive tyranny" meme ("The Hunger Games" et al) pervades.

And to me, Captain America's return to the present time is different in the sense that he wasn't "called" back to service, or even expected. He just happens to show up alive and by doing so turns hope around. I could use some of that about now.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin, re: endarkenment.

Ah well, I wasn't after personal glory for creating the word (though I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard anyone else use it). I just think it's a perfect word to cast a clear, negative value judgement on those who work against the enlightenment.

Thus, I don't care who gets credit for inventing the word. I just want it to catch on in conversation and talk radio (and blogs).

LarryHart said...

Robert:

Sir Terry Pratchett actually touches upon this in his Vimes books. He puts it succinctly, with Vimes' disgust in his fellow man. To paraphrase: Vimes always felt humanity had a fundamental flaw, the tendency to bend at the knee.


I first noticed this way back when the earth was cooling in 1980 or so when the preperations for the wedding of Prince Charles and "Lady Di" were all the rage. At barely 20 years old, I was mystified as to why my fellow Americans, who prided themselves on throwing off the yoke of royalty, were so in need of latching onto someone else's royalty.

Ronald Reagan actaully tapped into this sort of thing, reasserting big-time the celebrity aspect of the presidency in a way that hadn't been seen since JFK, maybe somewhat with FDR, and not really before that except for George Washington.

Cesar A. Santos said...

"But there's probably no better form of government than a good despot."

It is true. No form of government can even approach a totalitarian state ruled by an intelligent, wise and competent person. It would leave any democracy in the dust.

Finding that person is what makes the entire system unpractical.

Bobert said...

Those in favor of despotism always use the argument "a despot makes the trains run on time." Note that those people who claim this have never lived under despotism. As such, they fail to realize that the despot only creates the illusion that the trains run on time. He does this by having all train schedules classified as a State Secret. Hence, anyone who complains that the trains are running late is swept up by the secret police for divulging a State Secret and sent to some gulag in the hinterlands. Likewise, one is rewarded (usually by not drawing the attention of the secret police) if one proclaims loudly that the trains are running on time, as this is helping spread disinformation to prevent the Enemies of the State from discovering the actual train schedules.

LarryHart said...

Cesar A. Santos:

"But there's probably no better form of government than a good despot."

It is true that no form of government can even approach a totalitarian state ruled by an intelligent, wise and competent person. It would leave any democracy in the dust.


George W Bush said it best when he joked about dictatorship being easy "as long as I'm the dictator." Authoritarian government is much easier for those in authority. It's just harder on the standard of living of everyone else. The attitude that "easier for the rulers" is in and of itself a positive thing, and that the general populace should just shut up and be greatful they are allowed to live? It strikes me as un-American. I realize the people espousing the attitude don't see "American" as a positive thing, but I guess after years of being lectured by those same people about how they are the only True Americans and how I should "go back to Russia" if I see flaws in capitalism, I'm ruefully pleased to see that I'm the real American after all, and ruefully disgusted to see the former flag-wavers admitting that "American" isn't all it was cracked up to be after all.

That depends on what the point of government is, and what the point of society is.

A totalitarian government may be able to build a pyramid or invade a neighbor or exterminate Jews more efficiently than a democracy ever could, but what do those "accomplishments" mean to the average man on the street?

Democracy, while still imperfect, somewhat in proportion to the size of the populace, is best for being at least nominally responsive to the needs of the human beings living under the system.

Cesar A. Santos said...

Maybe I should add compassionate as well.

As a thought experiment, a ruler not interested in his own personal gain but in making his state and people the best and most advanced he can, and with the necessary knowledge, competency and unfettered power to do so, would be practically unstoppable in achieving such goal.

The practical difficulties would be to find such a person and how the system would survive after his death.

Believe it or not the best discussion of such a scenery was made in an X-man cartoon. Scott admits that Magneto would probably achieve his goal of building an utopia if he managed to control the world but that it wouldn't survive his death.

Now if you add immortality to the mix...

David Brin said...

Cesar Santos you pull a lovely trick. You lay down your main point as an "of course" axiom and hurry on to say "but there is the problem of succession."

But your main point axiom is absurd. Please show me the examples from history when autarchs -- even great and good kings (and I admit there were some) -- ever accomplished as much as the western democracies have in the last 200 years…. in direct proportion to how democratic they became.

Sure, were I to have such power, the US would rapidly have high speed rail because I could seize the necessary rights of way. I could do dozens of such things!

But my first act would be to put on a collar with TNT and a radio computer. It would explode when citizens pressed buttons a specified number of times. And if I overstay a preset time limit. Acts of faith with democracy. Even so, I'd be wracked with guilt. The collar is for when the guilt (inevitably) starts to fade.

Ricardo Montachio said...

We surely had many great and competent kings and emperors through History in the West and East.

Many of them were genuinely worried about their subjects and supported the development of science and technology.

But then others, many of them their direct descendants, were so bad as to ruin their nations and legacies. Thus the problem of hereditary succession which was always the main weak point of monarchies everywhere.

But in the current age we are seeing how easy it is to destroy democracies too. The rightist and leftist crazies are surely doing a very good job at it.

It is difficult to compare the legacies of the ancient kings with what happened after the industrial revolution (which happened under a Monarchy by the way) because we are basically comparing between utterly alien worlds.

But if we are comparing idealized systems we have that a perfect totalitarian state compared with a perfect democracy still has many advantages as it can act much faster.

In the real world a (true) democracy (something actually rare and limited mostly to North America and western Europe as almost all Africa never had any, Asia have few and weak ones and Latin America is being slowly dragged back to the Communist nightmare by incompetent populists) is more robust as it doesn't depend on the will of a single person and has more safety mechanisms built in.

The best real world cases of a single person or cadres running the show well (in economical terms at least) are China and Russia.

China is posed to become a superpower that could (potentially) dwarf the US. I wouldn't be surprised if they actually manage to go to Mars before the United States. Russia is slowly recovering its former power under Putin.

Of course, the treatment of the environment and the population under their power is sorely, sadly lacking.

So, to sum things up, I will say that yes, a perfectly good despot will always be much better to get things done fast and well but democracies, while slower and more incompetent, are way safer for the average person.

A hard choice but if I could have a perfect person ruling things I'd choose that.

As the perfect person unfortunately doesn't exist I will admit democracies work better (though far from good enough) for the individual.

A side SF note: the perfect person doesn't exist but an AI maybe...

Cesar A. Santos said...

The (a bit too long, I see now) post above was by Cesar Santos. My coworker had changed my Gmail ID to his.

Duncan Cairncross said...

after the industrial revolution (which happened under a Monarchy by the way)

Really?
I was under the impression that Parliament had declared and obtained sovereignty some hundreds of years earlier

Duncan Cairncross said...

But in the current age we are seeing how easy it is to destroy democracies too. The rightist and leftist crazies are surely doing a very good job at it.

They are - but mainly in the US weird variant of a democracy/republic

A proper parliamentary democracy may be more resistant to this effect
(tongue in cheek)

More reasonably a democratic system depends on the institutions in that state AND on the rules it operates under
A small variation in the rules could have a major effect on its operation

Example - if the right to vote (or the requirement to vote) is written in at the start then voter suppression can be eliminated,
A similar rule could eliminate Gerrymandering

LarryHart said...

Cesar A. Santos:

The practical difficulties would be to find such a person and how the system would survive after his death.

Believe it or not the best discussion of such a scenery was made in an X-man cartoon. Scott admits that Magneto would probably achieve his goal of building an utopia if he managed to control the world but that it wouldn't survive his death.


Heh! I read your first sentence there and thought "The best example of that was illustrated when Cyclops pointed out to Magneto that his benevolent dictatorship would not survive his death. But no one else here on this list is going to know what I'm talking about if I said that."

Then I read your next paragraph and fell on the floor laughing.

What's also important about that comic book example is that the idea of Magneto being a benevolent despot was a retcon. Had the Magneto of X-Men #1-66 (and intervening issues of Avengers and Fantastic Four) taken over the world, his rule would hardly have been a benefit to human beings. The Magneto who could credibly claim that if only he were allowed to impose his will by force, everyone would be much better off--that character was a complete retcon of the character as he existed up until that particular story arc, even earlier issues written by Chris Claremont himself.

David Brin said...

Cesar I am sorry to be persistent, but your eloquent missive (under a different name) simply arm-waved away your obligation to answer my challenge. I am interested in past autarchies whom you would assert accomplished far more than any equivalent more open system.

Yes there were "good kings"… yet the Roman Republic accomplished far more than any combination of the best emperors. Periclean Athens made terrible mistakes, yet accomplished more than any contemporary. Yes the Medicis were superior, but not to the Florentine republic that preceded them.

I do not classify Pyramids as great accomplishments so leave off whim projects. Great Walls and such.

Your sole examples were modern China… which is entirely a construct of WalMart and the American consumer pouring in trillions, under trade patterns that the US established to help developing nations. Anyone giving all the credit for Chinese mercantilism-led development to clever Chinese leadership is a very superficial observer.

Putin? Please. I mean… please. Without gushers of oil money, Russia would be in its ninth revolution by now.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Cesar Santos you pull a lovely trick. You lay down your main point as an "of course" axiom and hurry on to say "but there is the problem of succession."

But your main point axiom is absurd...


To be fair, I didn't read Mr Santos's comment the same way you did. I took his main point to be that even if one concedes the strengths of despotism, the overall consequences of the system still come out behind.

I'm not trying to speak for him, but I thought he was making a kind of indirect proof, and that he was agin' it, not fer it.

Alfred Differ said...

Even without the weight of history demonstrating that the most benevolent dictator can't accomplish more than an open society, there is the theoretical demonstration regarding the use of available information. The autocracy simply can't know as much as the people it rules, thus it cannot accomplish what they might do if freed to act. There is no mechanism by which to get the information centralized enough for planners to act efficiently. To make matters worse, the people who first know might not up until the moment a decision has to be made to make efficient use of the data.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Use_of_Knowledge_in_Society

The foundational error supporters of a benevolent dictator make is the notion that 'efficiency' can be defined at the level of a community. Within a single family, one can economize resources to maximize the benefits to all members. That problem can be complex at times, but rough solutions can be found and refined. At the level of a community, though, this isn't possible without the sacrifice of liberty. My family's interests aren't the same as my neighbors on occasion and this is especially true in mixed culture communities. As long as this holds, there is no definition for efficient use of resources that involves all of us, thus there is no point in trying to centralize enough information for a dictator to use.

LarryHart said...

Ok, let me take this Thanksgiving Day to not only be thankful for the lovely wife I always wanted, and the wonderful daughter I never knew I wanted until she came along, but also...

(on topic of this posting)

for the civilization I am proud to be a part of. This is one nerd who knows I wouldn't survive a day in the law-of-the-jungle, "no such thing as civilization, just a collection of individuals" civilization the Randroids and tea-baggers aspire to. In our modern American techology-heavy civilization, I am able to trade value as an analyst for value as means-of-survival and even luxury. In the Holnist world, I'd be lucky to last as long as Roger Septien.

So I'm thankful for being lucky enough to be born a citizen of a free and prospeerous civilization, and expect to be called upon in this ongoing civil war to help keep it that way.

Alfred Differ said...

I'd gladly serve to express my thanks. For now, I try to head it off by talking openly about it outside the echo chamber. 8)

I wrote a list of the various times I would have died a lonely, miserable, or stupid death absent the benefits of the civilization in which I am a member. It's a little depressing when viewed in total as most of the causes of the near misses are my own inability to learn what was taught to me. Remove those, though, and there are still a few close calls where I survived due to antibiotics, other forms of medical intervention, or the generous support of friends, coworkers, and family made wealthy enough BY our collective actions that they could afford to be generous.

I am thankful to be a member of the greatest human civilization ever. May the ascent of Man continue!

Tony Fisk said...

There is no mechanism by which to get the information centralized enough for planners to act efficiently.

That's why the wealth needs to be centralised as well. ;-)

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. Yah. I know what I would do with it centralized in my hands, but that is easy to predict. My family and friends would benefit because I would choose optimal solutions that fit them best. Knowing little more than that, I wouldn't be able to be more altruistic than that.

I suspect there is a back-of-the-envelope mathematical demonstration of this limit involving the relative volumes of n-balls in solution spaces where n is high. I have part of the idea written, but it is on my unfinished project list. I suppose I should complete it when insomnia sets in tonight. 8)

Cesar A. Santos said...

@LarryHart
For some reason that exchange really left a strong mark on me. The power of pop culture!

I'm in a real hurry right now so I can't post answer to everybody but a quick example out of the top of my mind for Mr. Brin: Genghis Khan.

Yes, I know about the brutality and blood, not an example of civility or the perfect enlightened despot.

But for the Mongol people the man was a living god. He took a scattered tribal people and built one the largest and most powerful and sophisticated empires in history in his life span.

It shows the relativity of values. To us it was cruel and brutal (as that age usually was) and not something desirable but for the Mongols at the time it was a completely different experience that left them a global power for generations.

pwyll said...

Greetings David - as an aside, The Practice Effect was but one of many of your books I've read and thoroughly enjoyed over the last couple of decades.
If you're interested, Mencius Moldbug has a new post up ruminating on the TechCrunch article, this post of yours, and Scott Alexander's anti-reaction FAQ, among others. It's here: http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2013/11/mr-jones-is-rather-concerned.html
Sample quote: "So for instance, Brin seems very big on the Enlightenment. It would be interesting to know the last book from the Enlightenment he read. If he's read any. My suspicion is that what he reveres is not actually the actual Enlightenment, but the "Enlightenment" as taught in 20th-century universities. Did you know that powdered eggs are actually made from actual eggs? Imagine a science-fiction dystopia in which, perhaps on board your starship, you ate powdered eggs for breakfast every day. Eggs, to you, are powdered eggs. Real eggs are illegal. Or something. But one day, someone smuggles an actual chicken on board..."

hilmera said...

One thing I didn't get on first reading of this post is that the diamond-shaped society is something you identify as belonging to today's Enlightenment-based society. I figured instead, because I instinctively hate this kind of unlabeled infographia, that it was meant to represent the neo-reactionary goal, leaving a substantial number of people at the bottom, but minimized by the ability of all of those in the bit above to look down at the one poor bastard at the very point.

You might want to clarify that because as it stands the diamond shape is pretty meaningless. A more honest shape would be a sausage. Or still a pyramid, but stepped and plumper in the middle.

My point is that there's no point at the bottom. There's still a substantial pedestal that waxes and wanes with inequality.

pwyll said...

For those that don't know, Moldbug was the one who got the neo-reactionary ball rolling several years back, and was a lone voice crying in the wilderness for quite a long time before a larger reactosphere started developing. He doesn't post as frequently these days, so something new from him is always a rare treat.

David Brin said...

Cesar you are pretty good! I welcome you as a member of this blogmunity, one of the oldest and most courteously wise ones on the web.

And yes, Genghiz Khan certainly is an interesting example. Had he only organized and elevated the Mongols, I'd not be so impressed, since 300 years later the mongol steppe was unchanged. But his family did a fair job with China for a while, too. And he ran the most efficient harem in history. 8% of Chinese males are apparently descended from him.

Still, you'd be harb put to convince me that the rate at which the lives of Chinese peasants were elevated by innovation and commerce were better than the rates that ANY generation of American yoemanry knew that their children would have better and more interesting lives, generation after generation, under democracy.

Mr. Hilmera, the diamond shaped structure in itself is better because it admits that we may not be able to eliminate all bad luck, but assumes we can create a civilization both rich and fair and compassionate enough that the well-off and empowered vastly outnumber the unlucky or poor.

But the diamond is more than just a change in shape. There is also CHURN within the diamond. It is considered unsavory for large numbers of children to AUTOMATICALLY inherit the status of their parents… but rather that each generation might start fresh, a notion that then led to the demolition or pre-judice or pre-judging a person's prospects based upon an involuntary caste.

And the diamond RISES! That is part of it. For today's poor to live lives that are in many ways richer than kings of old (except in space, servants and respect.)

Tony Fisk said...

It would be interesting to know the last book from the Enlightenment he [Brin] read. If he's read any.

Mr. Malaketh Moldbug starts with a non-existent strawman, and seems content to argue with that. If this is a typical example of his writing, I am content to leave him with it.

Duncan Cairncross said...

It would be interesting to know the last book from the Enlightenment he [Brin] read. If he's read any.

Don't know about the last one but Dr Brin has definitely read Adam Smith!

David Brin said...

And Montesquieu and Locke and Hobbes and Hume, and Franklin and all of the American Framers.

I admit I am weak on Condorcet and Kant and the Continentals.

LarryHart said...

???

Speaking of insomnia setting in, I'm mysteriously awake at 12:30am so I just started reading Scott Alexander's anti-Reaction blog. Toward the top, he quotes this neo-Reactionary argument, which he then goes on to attempt to refute:

The present system has every incentive to portray itself as superior to all past systems. Reactionaries point out this is not the case, and actually see present society in a state of severe decline, pointing to historically high levels of crime, suicide, government and household debt, increasing time preference, and low levels of civic participation and self-reported happiness as a few examples of a current cultural and historical crisis.


I have no idea what "increasing time preference" is, but as for any of those other things, they seem to be problems that increase in direct proportion to wealth-inequality. These are not symptoms of a society that has gone wrong because of democracy or feminism or gay marriage or Social Security or socialized medicine. Rather, they are symptoms of a society that has gone wrong because of failed experiments in Supply-Side Economics and successful experiments in regulatory capture.

So to badly misquote Ronald Reagan, "Reactionarianism isn't the solution to the problem; reactionarianism is the problem."

Reminds me of an argument I used to have on my old comics-related list with a Texas religious conservative who used to argue (with a straight face, and as far as I could tell, quite sincerely) that the reason the economy crashed in 2008 was because Democrats came back into congressional power (in 2006) and started destroying the economic boom that was W's first six years in office.

Alfred Differ said...

The descendents of Ghengis Kahn became the people he had conquered. His genes have propagated well into modern times, but his works were eaten alive by more successful memes as even his own children demonstrated.

Institutions don't propagate without people acting out the traditions and our enlightenment traditions have been widely adopted and adapted. Numbers and variety are the stuff of evolution whether biological or cultural.

David argued in 'Otherness' that it remains to be seen whether our western approach can win over the long haul, but with the evidence of recent years I'm pretty sure the fight is essentially over except for the crying. I'm not even sure the US can screw it up at this point. Too many billions of people are invested in a liberal future at this point for them not to find a way forward. They would have to become inhumanly stupid first.

LarryHart said...

Ok, I guess I should have read ahead first. :)

From the same blog, just a few lines down:

Suicide rates did rise from 1999 to 2010. But if we’re going to blame leftism for rising suicide rates it’s kind of weird that it would choose the decade we had a Republican President, House, Senate, and Supreme Court to start increasing. A more likely scenario is that it had something to do with the GIANT NEVER-ENDING RECESSION going on at the time.


Exactly.

I'd guess the same is the case for all the other measures of decline the reactionaries are laying at the feet of progressivism. They all manifested during the era of Supply-Side economics. So the reactionaries' prescription for a solution is...Supply-Side economics!

Sorry, this isn't even new stuff. I've seen the same tired arguments about feminists or gays or atheists or scientists destroying the "traditional values" that society rests upon for at least 30 years now. If these folks really want to self-exile to Galt's Gulch or whatever, they can leave with my blessing.

But if they think they can leave the real-America economically impoverished because they take their electronic representations of wealth away with them, they might have another think coming. And if they think they leave the rest of the country intellectually impoverished because they take their wonderful selves away from us moochers, well, they might be surprised at who wins that contest.

LarryHart said...

pwyll quotes Moldbug's blog:

Sample quote: "So for instance, Brin seems very big on the Enlightenment. It would be interesting to know the last book from the Enlightenment he read. If he's read any. My suspicion is that what he reveres is not actually the actual Enlightenment, but the "Enlightenment" as taught in 20th-century universities. Did you know that powdered eggs are actually made from actual eggs? Imagine a science-fiction dystopia in which, perhaps on board your starship, you ate powdered eggs for breakfast every day. Eggs, to you, are powdered eggs. Real eggs are illegal. Or something. But one day, someone smuggles an actual chicken on board..."


Ok, I thought there'd be more to the paragraph in the actual blog. There isn't. It just ends there.

So, is this vignette supposed to be the way David Brin learned about the Enlightenment in 20th century universities? Or is it supposed to be a metaphor for us pro-Enlightenment people not knowing any better until the Reactioaries smuggle real uplifting values into our environment, making us realize we hunger for endarkenment?

And that was probably the most interesting paragraph in the piece. Seriously, this philosophy is supposed to be a real threat to democracy? From the level of discourse here, I don't see it. They don't even make interesting comic book villains.

Anonymous said...

Still, you'd be harb put to convince me that the rate at which the lives of Chinese peasants were elevated by innovation and commerce were better than the rates that ANY generation of American yoemanry knew that their children would have better and more interesting lives, generation after generation, under democracy.

Obviously the Chinese peasants have been elevated at a higher rate. The American yeomanry no longer exists, having been rapidly replaced by immigrants over the past century. Their children have not been having "better and more interesting lives, generation after generation", since they weren't born in the first place. They've suffered population replacement.

Anonymous said...

The democracies, especially the US, were so rich, so creative, inventive and productive AND generous that we shrugged off 60 years of trade deficits and thus uplifted billions of people. While raising our own generations of snarking bright-fools with the habit of self-aimed criticism, to denounce the errors of our own culture! Some of those T Cell jeremaiads proved useful and on-target!

Openness is not the same as resilience. Indeed, "open", by default, simply means it is vulnerable. Moreover, the increasing centralization of power and capital in the democracies is resulting in a de facto command and control state without the requisite disciplines. This combination of an undisciplined command and control state with the vulnerability of an "open society" simply means the democracies increasingly resembles the veritable cornucopia of ecological foment that is the body of an AIDS patient.

China's "bubble" is being "inflated" by a glut of goods as opposed to glut of monetary units. It's more like a water balloon that, when it bursts, will become a flow actual goods to the population. That's a "problem" of a qualitatively different sort than the one the democracies will have when the Federal Reserve dollar ceases being the world's reserve currency.

The ethnic distance between the Chinese government and the rest of the population is far less than that between the American people and those who bailed out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. It took some serious animus to do so much damage to the US economy merely to keep from reviving the US middle class. The historic animus is likely to be far less in China so their leaders are far less likely to sacrifice the national economy to their animus toward the people.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brin, you're a washed up old queer. A has-been. You're just pissed that young people aren't going to listen to lame boomers like you and follow your gay democracy bullshit.

Cesar A. Santos said...

Thanks, Mr. Brin.

This is one great discussion I'm pleased to be a part of.

I believe people are torn between the benefits of democracies and the capability of actually doing things a centralized regime has.

To cite an example, it's heartbreaking to see how our democracy is slipping backwards because of the insanity of the more radical Republicans and the apathy of almost all Democrats.

Meanwhile the education system and agencies like NASA are being ravaged to pay for absurdly high cost projects in the military-industrial complex that pay for the politician's campaigns.

$35 billion dollars for a fighter that doesn't even work well and put pilots at risk?

We're in the threshold of having the ability to discover life in other worlds (or that said life isn't there what would be even more bewildering) and NASA's budget is being slashed annually.

Meanwhile a wise king could have already sent a colony ship to Alpha Centauri.

Insane.

Alfred Differ's points were great to read and may support the notion that Democracies, while faltering in many points and being fragile systems, can still survive in an increasingly hostile world and even achieve what we hope it will. Maybe they're even more resilient than we believe them to be.

As Mr. Hart said the main problem in the current political climate is the reactionaries blaming all our problems in our progress when, in truth, progress is our only hope of finally leaving our self-destructive tendencies behind.

Maybe this is the struggle that explains the Great Silence out there.

Charlie Stross said...

David, have you run across the left-wing equivalent of the Neo-Reactionaries -- the Accelerationists?

Here's my (tongue in cheek) take on both ideologies: Trotskyite singularitarians for Monarchism!

The Anti-Gnostic said...

We probably will not see monarchy again. Only a tremendous reset--nuclear war, asteroids, massive plague--sufficient to eliminate every public claim to territory could 'clear the decks' sufficiently for a monarch to emerge. Not impossible, but not probable.

One thing can be predicted with certainty: democracy will end. It may shamble on in some pretentious form, with legislators voting on 1,000 page laws drafted by lobbyists which they don't read, but it will end.

The democrats--progressivists like David Brin--are in that part of the cycle known as Hubris. They literally believe such things like A can economically spend B's money on C. They are the products of a K-selected society with vast amounts of capital built up over generations. This immense surplus has been deployed for the past half-century to democratically selected ends, including the subsidy of r-selected population groups. Ideals of K-selected individuals are about to run up hard against the reality of r-selection.

I don't think our elites will allow things to get that far. Unlike the lifestyles they urge tolerance about to you, the elites, generally, are doing what's necessary to remain elite: getting married, having kids and staying married to other elites. So, there is some definite future time orientation. If there's one thing bourgeois and elite parents know how to do, it's how to protect their kids. I don't think Idiocracy will be allowed to happen.

The future is not going to be the Arab Spring currently being played out in Libya and Syria, but thankfully crushed in Egypt; Christians will not be gunned down inside their burning churches, for now.

The future is trending toward authoritarian, mercantilist rule, as in places like Dubai and Singapore. Commercial enterprises will evolve and purchase sovereign powers from desperate, bankrupt governments, or they will be given it by desperate, impoverished citizens. Over time, these enterprises will acquire a hereditary character.

The Neo-reactionaries are ahead of the curve. The democrats are still stuck in Year Zero.

Charlie Stross said...

Anonymous said:

Hey Brin, you're a ...

Where is Emily Postnews when we need it?

LarryHart said...

The Anit-Gnostic:

The democrats--progressivists like David Brin--are in that part of the cycle known as Hubris. They literally believe such things like A can economically spend B's money on C.
...
The future is trending toward authoritarian, mercantilist rule, as in places like Dubai and Singapore. Commercial enterprises will evolve and purchase sovereign powers from desperate, bankrupt governments, or they will be given it by desperate, impoverished citizens...


I'm not sure you're giving Dr Brin enough credit. The future you predict is almost exactly the future presented in his latest novel "Existence". Of course, that history gets interrupted by a science-fictiony plot element, but it's a sci-fi novel, so that's hardly a condemnation.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

What's really hilarious is that not even David Brin believes in democratic rule. He's as technocratically elitist as they come, and he's just written a whole book about it. So all that's really going on here is just a member of the current cognitive elite defending against the threat posed by a rival cognitive elite. Fear, in fact, that the rival ideology may prove popular.

Democracy is a show. The actual sovereigns do what the actual sovereigns have always done. Not even democrats believe in democracy. Reactionaries are simply calling for honesty in the debate, and some forward-thinking applied to what happens when the transfer payments run out.

LarryHart said...

@The Anti-Gnostic,

Also, this is me speaking, not Dr Brin (who might even argue your side against me here), but I'm not so sure that "A...spend B's money on C" is an accurate characterization of social democracy. Much (though admittedly not all) of the cause of impoverishment is that value that was once avaialable for common usage is captured and hoarded by elites. National or regional regulations designed to protect the commons--say anti-fracking laws designed to protect drinking water--may deny profits to Koch Industries, but they are not "spending the Koch Brothers' money" when they do so, any more than laws forbidding armed robbery are "spending the robbers' money".

I've just recently read some Thomas Paine (who Glenn Beck bizarrely tried to claim as a right-winger a year or so ago), and his notion that commercial/industrial society which benefits at the expense of the commons owes back to those it displaces in the process, not as charity but as a kind of "rent". If businesses had to be financially responsible for the cost of the damage they do to land, water, and air, they might be more inclined to work with the communities they operate in rather than adversarily against them. Absent a legal structure that holds them financially responsible for those externalities, we are indeed "spending B's money on C", but not in the way you meant. Almost the opposite way, in fact.

LarryHart said...

The Anti-Gnostic:

Reactionaries are simply calling for honesty in the debate,...

It seems to me that reactionaries are the ones peddling romanticist nonsense, advocating something that might sound good to some (though not to me) until it's too late to stop it. Hardly "honesty".


and some forward-thinking applied to what happens when the transfer payments run out.


I'm still not clear on how a return to monarchy solves that problem. Kings also borrow money to finance wars and such. How did that work out for Louis XVI? Or before that, for the population being taxed to death to pay back the debt?

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Larry - you can put away the smelling salts. Monarchy is probably not coming back, and the reactionaries are quite realistic about that. For starters, there's no catholic religious entity left to perform a coronation.

What currently persists is the democratic tragedy-of-the-commons exploited by the current, actual sovereigns. The tragedy will only end when ownership is once again aligned with governance, as in places like Dubai, Singapore, et al. America, for example, is owned by everyone and therefore no one. So America will eventually be wasted, as all commons eventually are.

Robert said...

A sure sign that a person has no effective argument is when he turns around and starts calling someone "queer" or a "has-been" to try and dismiss that argument.

As for the "superiority" of an authoritarian mercantilist government over democracy... China is not an example to be using as China is currently in a cyberwar with the Democratic and Republic style Western government to steal as much technology and scientific research that they can. One of the biggest problems with Chinese research is the "shortcuts" a number of Chinese scientists take to "prove" their theories... or just steal from others.

If an authoritarian government diminishes scientific advancement, then the replacement of democratic governments with authoritarian governments will ultimately result in the near-end of scientific advancement. And it will also force people to stay on the planet because space colonization wouldn't be desired by an authoritarian government - it's hard to keep control of colonies (as history has shown) and space is so vast that space colonists who become self-sufficient could just cut off all ties and forcing them to tow the line would be more resources than it's worth. Thus it's easier to keep people on the planet than to let them colonize the solar system.

What's more, the lack of scientific advancement, especially in medicine and microbiology, will result in an eventual super-bug that will kill a huge number of people without the means of stopping it. The "problem" is that disease is indiscriminate, and can target the elite leaders just as easily as the lay person.

Humanity needs to head to the stars. Not just to protect against threats from without (asteroids, comets, gamma ray bursts, etc.) but also threats from WITHIN that could likewise destroy a modern civilization that became too hidebound and regulated by authoritarian elites to react.

Authoritarianism won't allow this. Thus it is the greatest threat to the survival of humanity around.

Rob H.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

@Larry - Also, we see exactly what happens when monarchs overtax their subjects--they get overthrown and killed. Democratic majorities have no such check on their behavior. They will tax up to the limits of the Laffer Curve, then they will print money to pull future production and spend it. When there's no more future to pull forward, they collapse.

The Kims in North Korea, incidentally, had just about wasted all the wealth that could be got under their socialist regime. They are kept in power by aid from Western democracies, as well as non-communist China.

LarryHart said...

The Anti-Gnostic:

Larry - you can put away the smelling salts.


I'm ok. In fact, I'm enjoying having to debate my own position in clearer terms.

My main point of argument with you personally is not about politial philoophy, but about what you think Dr Brin's position to be. I think you're wrong about that.


What currently persists is the democratic tragedy-of-the-commons exploited by the current, actual sovereigns. The tragedy will only end when ownership is once again aligned with governance, as in places like Dubai, Singapore, et al. America, for example, is owned by everyone and therefore no one. So America will eventually be wasted, as all commons eventually are.


That's the right-wing position, true, but I don't think it's the reality. America, even its air and water, certainly its mineral rights, are increasingly considered to be "owned" by trans-national corporations. You seem to be presenting that sort of ownership as a soluion to the problem, whereas I see that to be the very problem itself.

Democratid populations don't "spend" all of their air and water at once. Corporations do so without a second thought.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Democratic populations don't "spend" all of their air and water at once. Corporations do so without a second thought.

Of course. This is why Georgia-Pacific is running out of trees to cut down and beef cattle are going extinct.

Also, I'm afraid you didn't get the memo. Even environmental stewardship must bow the neck to that Great God in the democratic pantheon, Diversity. After all, immigrants need some place to live and throw their trash too. And do you really value lions more than Liberians?

LarryHart said...

The Anti-Gnostic:

@Larry - Also, we see exactly what happens when monarchs overtax their subjects--they get overthrown and killed.


You're consistent enough that I believe you to be sincere, but this really got me thinking you are pulling a joke.

Seriously, you see this as a feature, not a bug, of monarchy? If I may paraphrase: "When the monarch gets too deep into debt, he will brutalize his population in a vain attempt to get them to produce the amount of the shortfall and relinquish that wealth to him. After living through this brutalization-enforced slavery to the point where even the threat of torture and death isn't sufficient to keep them in line, the people will finally rise up against the monarch, who will at first have many of them cut down with armed force, but eventually, he will fall. Thus, the problem is eliminated."

One of the whole points of democracy is to avoid just that necessity. That scenario described above, which you see as a reasonable check on monarchial power, is the very problem the Enlightenment tries to avoid.

Are you seriously arguing something along the lines of "In the long run, we're all dead"? I'd say the human problems which society has to solve have as much (if not more) to do with what takes place during the journey as they do with where the journey will end up. I mean, otherwise, why not go with Woody Allen's character in "Annie Hall":

"Why won't you do your homework?"
"The universe is expanding!"
"What's that got to do with your homework?"
"What's the point?"


Democratic majorities have no such check on their behavior. They will tax up to the limits of the Laffer Curve, then they will print money to pull future production and spend it. When there's no more future to pull forward, they collapse.


Assuming your premises are true, how is this a worse outcome for the nation or even for its creditors than the French Revolution scenario?

Duncan Cairncross said...

"Democratic majorities have no such check on their behavior. They will tax up to the limits of the Laffer Curve, then they will print money to pull future production and spend it. When there's no more future to pull forward, they collapse."


Let's have some examples?
I don't think this has ever actually happened - even the very high taxes of the 50s did not cause this

The closest was the hyperinflation in Germany in the 30s - and that was caused by reparations and an attempt to stay on the disastrous gold standard

This is a variant on the "Democracies always fail when the masses realize that they can vote to pay themselves"

Which is unique as something that "always happens" that in fact never has happened

Of course if you change it to "the elites find ways to steal all of the money and that causes the society to collapse"

Then there are numerous past examples of this happening - the fall of the Roman Republic being the most famous



The Anti-Gnostic said...

Monarchs have an interest in their own self-preservation and the succession of their heirs. Democracy is an impersonal juggernaut. Democracies impose taxes far in excess of what kings could get away with.

Also, it's kind of naïve to think that you can actually change the government by voting. The US in particular is an agreement between the Democrats and Republicans to stay in power.

Of course, in about one or two decades the US will essentially be under one-party rule, like Mexico under the PRI. Like Mexico in a lot of ways, actually. Thanks, democracy.

LarryHart said...

@The Anti-Gnostic,

Sorry, I responded to this already by assuming your premises were sound and going from there. But I'm having trouble conceding even that much.


Larry - Also, we see exactly what happens when monarchs overtax their subjects--they get overthrown and killed. Democratic majorities have no such check on their behavior.


Excuse me? In America, the check on taxation by the democratic majority is...the fact that they are the ones also paying the tax. Just look at the Tea Party right now. They're paying some of the lowest tax rates in recent history and howling about how overburdened they are and suggesting "second amendment remedies." Not impotently, either. Any Republican who suggests "raising revenue" as a way to reduce the deficit is threatened with a primary challenge from the right.

Those in control of congress right now are debating how much (not whether at all) to cut entitlement programs in order to keep taxes and deficits low? In what universe does this look as if there is no check on the willingness and ability of the masses to tax and spend?


They will tax up to the limits of the Laffer Curve, then they will print money to pull future production and spend it. When there's no more future to pull forward, they collapse.


First of all, I can't take it seriously when anyone cites the appropriately-named "Laugher Curve" as anything but a joke. Seocndly, you're essentially asserting the "Tytler Calumny" about democracies voting themselves largesse from the treasury, which may sound good, but does not hold up in practice. If anything, it's the elite who "vote themselves largesse from the treasury" at the expense of the general population. So maybe we should apply the solution you suggest above?

The Anti-Gnostic said...

The "very high taxes of the 50s" weren't. Nobody pays more than half their income to the government. In fact, probably nobody pays more than 40% of their income to the government, because that's about the point where it doesn't make any sense to work.

So, in the 1950's, there were company cars, tax shelters, deferred compensation, far more tax deductions, the famous "Swiss bank account" etc. with an IRS that didn't have near the present arsenal.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

. If anything, it's the elite who "vote themselves largesse from the treasury" at the expense of the general population. So maybe we should apply the solution you suggest above?

What we should do is limit government so that it doesn't make sense for the elites to bother monkeying with it. Since we're never going to do that, then at least align ownership incentives with government incentives.

One populist idea with which I strongly agree: Warren Buffett's secretary's tax rates should be lowered to those of Warren Buffett's. I'm not holding my breath for that one.

Dan said...

Democracy does poorly in most countries in the world. For many developing nations, a dictatorship that ensures basic rights is the best they can hope for (think rule-of-law Egypt versus 'Arab Spring' lawless Islamist Egypt; or think of the Chilean economic miracle versus the stagnation everywhere else in Latin America). America has done better with democracy, largely because of its better demographics. But now we gradually move toward third world demographics, the bloom leaves the democratic rose.

LarryHart said...

@Duncan Cairncross,
Great minds think alike, apparently. :)

The Anti-Gnostic:

Monarchs have an interest in their own self-preservation and the succession of their heirs. Democracy is an impersonal juggernaut.


I'm fighting the urge to simply reply with a Monty Pythonish "No i't'isn't."

True, democracy works best at the local level of a community in which people really do care about their neighbor's welfare.

But in equating a monarch's self-interest with his doing the right thing for the nation, you're falling into the Ayn Rand fantasy trap. More than likely, the monarch doubles down on repression to forestall rebellion, as in "The Hunger Games" or "1984". But as Paul Krugman said, I suppose you root for President Snow against Katniss too.


Democracies impose taxes far in excess of what kings could get away with.


Because they also decide how that money is spent. I can't believe you were citing "A spends B's money on C's behalf" as a knock against democracy. In democracy, at least, B and C are mostly the same thing, and A is responsive to them. In a monarchy, A and C are the same thing (the elite) and B is who eventually guillotines them all. Yet, that was the sense in which you claimed democracies work.


Also, it's kind of naïve to think that you can actually change the government by voting. The US in particular is an agreement between the Democrats and Republicans to stay in power.


It's kind of naive to think that the country would look anything like it does had Al Gore been president in 2001 or Jimmy Carter in 1981. Or (in the other direction) Mitt Romney in 2013.

If more Democrats had voted in the Tea Party rout of 2010, we wouldn't have gerrymandered ourselves a permanant Republican majority, and congress would look quite different today as well. Pretending that both parties are the same is playing into the hands of the Republicans. But since "playing into the hands of the Republicans" is exactly your stated position, it's not surprising that you do.

LarryHart said...

The Anti-Gnostic:

The "very high taxes of the 50s" weren't. Nobody pays more than half their income to the government. In fact, probably nobody pays more than 40% of their income to the government, because that's about the point where it doesn't make any sense to work.


Snarky answer: It does, however, make sense to sit on your butt by the pool while the dividend checks roll in.

Not-as-snarky answer: When tax rates are 91% on money over 3 million dollars and someone makes 4 million dollars, he doesn't pay 91% "of his income" to the government. He pays 91% on the last million only. This is a feature, not a bug. The point is to make it "not worth" taking that money out of the company, and instead, to encourage building wealth within the company through real investment.

Supply-Side Economics asserts that if you lower tax rates, the wealthy will have more money so they'll invest it more. Instead, they do just what I would expect them to do...take it all out of circulation while tax rates on doing so are low. The only surprising thing is that anyone can still pretend Supply-Side economics (or the effing Laugher Curve [sic]) are real things.

Dan:

...or think of the Chilean economic miracle versus the stagnation everywhere else in Latin America).


I know it wasn't you who treated the Laugher Curve [sic] as something real, but are you really here to glorify Pinochet?

Geez, Paul Krugman was right. You guys are cheering for President Snow against Katniss.


America has done better with democracy, largely because of its better demographics. But now we gradually move toward third world demographics, the bloom leaves the democratic rose.


Nice try, but's not the ethnic minorities who are destroying America. It's the remaining Republican constituency, the angry old white men. Even though I fit that description myself, I can't wait until we all die off.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Larry - being eager to die is a sign of a defeated people. Did you infect your children with that attitude? I can't wait for you to die either.

David Brin said...

Alfred thanks. I share your belief that western enlightened-liberal memes have become so embedded in the world that a large dose of them will be permanent… but I am less sanguine than you, that the embedding has gone anywhere near far enough. We need at least one more generation of benign American "chung kuo" (central kingdom) for English to be firmly established and Hollywood lessons of individualism, tolerance and appreciation of freedom and eccentricity to be locked in. Also, across that time, China and Africa may perform some democratic reforms and Latin America may lock-in.

Cesar, you raise an interesting thought, re the F35 fighter that I will discuss in later comments. (Guys… looks like we have a lively one, here. Cesar will be a good add!)

David Brin said...

The Anti-Gnostic says: "Monarchs have an interest in their own self-preservation and the succession of their heirs. Democracy is an impersonal juggernaut. Democracies impose taxes far in excess of what kings could get away with."

Except that the diametric opposite is what is true. I never cease to be amazed by the ability of bright dopes to do this. It is stunning proof of the Triumph of the Will over mere objective reality.

Hey A-G! Look at:
http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-tytler-insult-is-democracy-hopeless.html

David Brin said...

We've been honored to have Charlie Stross, my esteemed (and brilliant) young colleague, join us.

See his amazingly erudite bestiary of nerdy ingrate movements (to which I replied in comments) at:

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2013/11/trotskyite-singularitarians-fo.html

David Brin said...

And now-- onward

Damien Sullivan said...

Democratic India beats China in one important way: no major famines.

That aside, it's hardly a controlled experiment on the level of the Koreas. China has a long history of being a China (national identity), linguistic dominance, a long history of literacy and meritocracy... India has a zillion languages in use, and the horrible caste system, which inhibits social cohesion and literacy efforts.

I suppose India could be used as reactionary support in some ways ("too much diversity it bad!") but it's hard for them to convincingly disown castes.

If one were to defend autocracy, the Five Good Emperors of Rome, where competent adults were adopted as heirs, seems more futile ground. It even fell apart immediately on someone letting his 19 year old son take over. The period of PRI dominance in Mexico, with strong presidents picking successors, might be the closest modern equivalent. Or, with more indirection, the Vatican/Iranian models: supreme leader picks people who pick the next supreme leader. Of course, these are less shining examples than distant Antonine Rome.

Not sure the Alps are going to stay comfortable territory for trillies. Maybe the Northern Italian side.

***

"Best moment in B5: when 'the Ones' (Delenn and Sheridan) tell the non-benevolent god-like super-despots to 'get the hell out of our galaxy!'"

Eh, at least the 'despots' there were immortal. The "we live for the One, we die for the One" personality cult of Sheridan was pretty creepy.

***

"Democracy tries to deal with the problems of majority rule by (1) putting is republic-style dampers on popular passion"

Alternately, republics elect an oligarchy who shuffle around based on market movements and their ability to appeal to the masses on a few key issues ("do I have a job and is anyone trying to kill me?"[1]) while allowing elite rule on most other issues. Is representative democracy more or less accurate a name than elective oligarchy?

[1] Currently falling down on "do I have a job".

Karl Boetel said...

"human nature-ignoring"

Are black people just as intelligent, on average, as white people? What is your evidence for your answer?

Damien Sullivan said...

"It is true that no form of government can even approach a totalitarian state ruled by an intelligent, wise and competent person. It would leave any democracy in the dust."

"As a thought experiment, a ruler not interested in his own personal gain but in making his state and people the best and most advanced he can, and with the necessary knowledge, competency and unfettered power to do so, would be practically unstoppable in achieving such goal."

I don't like Austrian econ over all, but per one of Hayek's good ideas, and Mises on the planning problem, part of the practical problem is *getting* that wisdom and knowledge. Even if you find a smart and benevolent ruler, does she know enough to make really good decisions, or do we need mechanisms to incentivize information to come to her? Does any human, no matter how bright and benevolent, have enough empathy to get into people's shoes for all values of people? Is she actually brighter than the Condorcet jury theorem on lots of issues? And will she stay benevolent and humble given power, or will cognitive biases creep in?

Plus people aren't binary heroes and villains. One can be heroic and benevolent so much of the time and then do something hideous to someone who angered you, then go back to being benevolent. The unrealistic thing about Superman isn't that he goes around helping people, it's that with such a power differential he's never snapped and laid the smackdown on someone like Luthor or a dictator.

"I wouldn't be surprised if they [China] actually manage to go to Mars before the United States."

That'd be a sign of dictatorships being better at building pyramids.

***

" yet the Roman Republic accomplished far more than any combination of the best emperors"

Well, er, the Republic conquered more. By Octavian's time they'd almost run out of places worth conquering. And the Republic only ever applied to the city of Rome, and citizens rich enough to travel to it for meetings; for everyone else the Empire just meant the top government was more stable.

***

"increasing time preference"

Increasing preference for things now rather than later; decreasing willingness to save or defer gratification.

***

"They will tax up to the limits of the Laffer Curve"

That's almost never happened.

"Democracies impose taxes far in excess of what kings could get away with."

Tax rates on peasants in feudal India were commonly around 50%. Bzzt!

Democratic taxes can be high but also get spent on public goods rather than palaces and wars, so the high taxes come back to the people. Bit of an important difference there.

Anonymous said...

For the Way Way Back see Michael Moorcock's "Starship Stormtroopers" at http://flag.blackened.net/liberty/moorcock.html

vanderleun said...

"So for instance, Brin seems very big on the Enlightenment. It would be interesting to know the last book from the Enlightenment he read. If he's read any. My suspicion is that what he reveres is not actually the actual Enlightenment, but the "Enlightenment" as taught in 20th-century universities. Did you know that powdered eggs are actually made from actual eggs? Imagine a science-fiction dystopia in which, perhaps on board your starship, you ate powdered eggs for breakfast every day. Eggs, to you, are powdered eggs. Real eggs are illegal. Or something. But one day, someone smuggles an actual chicken on board..." -- MENCIUS MOLDBUG

David Brin said...

Karl B - I do no know if the curve distribution for all races is the same for IQ… but I do know this:

1- There is more genetic variation among and between African racial groups than between African Bantus and Caucasians. Hence, what exactly, do the neo-racialists think they are doing? By ignoring this distinction, they display an utter lack of the "scientific curiosity" that they claim and reveal the truth… that their motivation is simply racism.

2- Yes, the lefty-liberal insistence that science should not look at racial differences is - formally -- inappropriate political correctness. But I am willing to live with this for a generation, for its pragmatic effects, which are to help end the nasty human habit of pre-judice or pre-judging individuals based upon their involuntary membership in some broad grouping.

THAT is the nasty habit that wastes vast amounts of human talent and is utterly vile, on any basis. Unfortunately, 99% of modern people (yourself included) are unable to parse the paragraph before this one and understand what it actually means… And I do not have time on this old thread to school you.

Damien S… thank you. Excellent points.

Vanderleun I answered that lying slandering fool earlier and I owe him nothing more. I know Smith far better than he does. And Locke. Burke, Montesquieu, Franklin and the American Framers. I am not strong on COndorcet and the Continentals, nor do I see any reason to be, since their wing of the Enlightenment became mired in platonist just-so stories.

Seriously? Powdered eggs? THAT passes as cogent argument, to you? I'll not return to this thread, but seriously?

Damien Sullivan said...

I haven't read Scott's FAQ, but I'd read his earlier posts "steel-manning" conservatism/reactionary thought, and I found he made a much more convincing case for 'conservatism' -- which he doesn't believe in -- than the conservative commenters who came by. He made it almost seem sensible; they would have served their cause best by shutting up. That seems to still hold here.

"Are black people just as intelligent, on average, as white people? What is your evidence for your answer?"

I've heard that blacks score comparably to whites when controlled for socio-economic status *and* neighborhood.

White/black IQ disparity has lessened in the US, unless you're Charles Murray.

In general, race and IQ seems really complex. A simple IQ survey shows racial differences, but the environments are massively different, preventing any robust conclusion that the differences are due to genetics. To insist that they are is unscientific at this time.

Jim Harrison said...

Not the endarkment, the enmerdement.

hilmera said...

Ok, Mr. Brin, I give up. You may continue using the diamond without further frustrated snark or advocacy from me of potatoes or onion domes.

I think, however (one last rant), the transparent society and the connectivity of it make the society-shape more of a state of matter where the majority of society is in a probabilistic gas cloud with certain areas where people get stuck, deposited where they are less mobile, the very bottom and the very top of your diamond, for example. But there I am trying for an analogy of the messy real world rather than the ideal. And I still don't get the point of the ideal and see a meaningless infograph. I'll simply have to disengage from the topic and get past it.

Cheers.

MPC said...

what I want to know is why David Brin threw a fit because a minor (extremely) blogger criticized him ineptly

"I look you in the eye and call you an evil person and a liar."

I mean if you didn't laugh when you read that you have no sense of humor

David Brin said...

MPC if you read the provoking spew of slander and didn't retch with disgust, then you have no sense of honor.

Have you not stood up thusly to bullies and liars? What never? Then my diagnosis is better than yours. You truly have no idea what a society focused on honor would be like.

The society you yearn for will ensure that insults flow only downward.

David Brin said...

I'll not be back to this thread. Further postings here will be futile echoes.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Thanks for the link to the previous thread, David. Your preference is for democratic rule by middle-class men. I think that's a fine model though it does strike me as, well, reactionary.

Sojka's Call said...

The other source that looks for reinstatement of monarchy is the fundamentalist christain. Some of them argue it is the only form of government that can fully uphold christain values. That argument is the foundation of others though hidden as to not put off the libertarians who embrace the idea.

pwyll said...

David, regarding your comment that: "There is more genetic variation among and between African racial groups than between African Bantus and Caucasians. Hence, what exactly, do the neo-racialists think they are doing? By ignoring this distinction, they display an utter lack of the "scientific curiosity" that they claim and reveal the truth… that their motivation is simply racism."



It sounds like your mention of greater African genetic variation is meant to imply that genetics can't be used to classify people into racial groups. In fact, the exact opposite is true. From this link: http://www.gnxp.com/new/2007/01/14/race-the-current-consensus/



"...researchers at Stanford, ... assembled a group of Americans who identified themselves as either African-American, white, East Asian, or Hispanic. They followed a similar protocal ... they took DNA from all individuals, looked a hundreds of different DNA variants, and applied a clustering algorithm. They then looked to see if their clusters corresponded to self-reported group. And indeed, in 3631 out of 3636 cases (99.85%), the individuals were clustered by the algorithm into the “correct” racial group."



In fact, the (incorrect) statement that "there's more genetic variation within individual races than between them, so race is meaningless" is so commonly-repeated that it has its own name - Lewontin's Fallacy.



As such, "neo-racialists" do not "ignore this distinction" - rather, they're more likely to be aware of it, but also to understand that Lewontin's fallacy is indeed a fallacy.

Anonymous said...

Larry: "Democratic majorities have no such check on their behavior. They will tax up to the limits of the Laffer Curve, then they will print money to pull future production and spend it. When there's no more future to pull forward, they collapse."

Duncan Caimcross: Which is unique as something that "always happens" that in fact never has happened

Of course if you change it to "the elites find ways to steal all of the money and that causes the society to collapse"


You guys will be neoreactionaries when you realize that those are the same thing.

Of course the elites will steal what they tell the the masses to vote to redistribute.

Aaron Boyden said...

Hmmm, a minimum of 3 generations without one maniac or complete fool? Does Thutmose III, Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV, Amenhotep III pass your test (four generations, even! And probably controversial whether it was either preceded or followed by a maniac or complete fool). Admittedly, it wasn't easy to find an example, and perhaps I'm being too generous to one of those pharaohs.

David Brin said...

Aaron Boyden it is easy to rule "well" when there are no metrics. Everything about middle kingdom Egypt tended toward stability. This was not hard. And still, I did not say you could find none, only that it would be hard. (I myself cited the Plantagenets who, I believe, had at least one run-of four.


Anti gnostic said: ". Your preference is for democratic rule by middle-class men. I think that's a fine model though it does strike me as, well, reactionary."

Then you are clueless, sire. It is not "rule by" but rather a system by which complex and diverse interests will find it in their own best interest to negotiate. To exchange reciprocal criticism and accountability and to pragmatically solve problems. Majority rule politics is but a crude, surface manifestation, though it is so vastly better than the failed alternative of rule by delusional elites.

reason said...

Daniel Sullivan,
"In general, race and IQ seems really complex. "

Well for starters race is very difficult to meaningfully define and so is intelligence. So I'm not sure the question makes much sense in the first place.

reason said...

pwyll,
Your argument subtly distorts things. You are saying that there are markers that roughly correspond to racial groups - I don't deny that. But that doesn't mean that genetic diversity within those groups doesn't make arguments of genetic determinism moot and irrelevant (because the markers may not be relevant to the question at hand).

Paul451 said...

Trivial addendum:

Damien Sullivan,
" The unrealistic thing about Superman isn't that he goes around helping people, it's that with such a power differential he's never snapped and laid the smackdown on someone like Luthor or a dictator."

Addressed in one of DC's many, many parallel universes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justice_Lords

[And the IRL equivalent: http://www.alternet.org/state-rep-smashes-homeless-peoples-stuff-sledgehammer ]

Karl said...

Hm, "Foreign Aid Through Walmart", other than creating some of the most clueless of our Oligarchs? Yes, it may have been a wonderful policy for the rest of the world, but it is now the major factor hollowing out the American Working class, such that even the clueless tools of the oligarchy have noticed here in Bentonville. Two years of consecutive same store sales declines, they have initiated ad "Insourcing" initiative to return manufacturing jobs to the US. Those were their own customers jobs they shipped to China.

And of course their rigid insistence on fighting any enforcement of existing wage & hour laws (Maybe more relevant to the discussion over on Charles Stross's blog?); Thus the assorted protests on Black Friday.

Anonymous said...

"in fact deserve far less credit for their development "miracles" than they claim"

Well that's kind of insulting ... You make it sound as if the US handed their success to them on a platter and they didn't have to work their butts off to providing competitive goods and services to sell in (sometimes hostile) foreign markets.

IMHO you are "forcing" the correlation between system of government and economic success/scientific advancement. Both economic success and scientific advancement come about when the right conditions for them to flourish exist. The system of government doesn't really matter as long as the governments nurtures (or at least stayed out of the way of) said "right conditions".

I not a fan of any system of government, they are all flawed, and people should just pick one they are comfortable with. IMHO the difference between a good government and a bad one, isn't the system of government, but the people that makes up the government.

Keith Halperin said...

RE: There was one science fiction universe which not only built on the importance of working together but envisioned a better world - even as it showed forces that would try to prevent that world from coming about.

Babylon 5.

"Best moment in B5: when 'the Ones' (Delenn and Sheridan) tell the non-benevolent god-like super-despots to 'get the hell out of our galaxy!'"
..............

There' is a good variation on this in what I hope will be a new SF classic: "The World's End."
The protagonist Gary King (played by Simon Pegg) has a discussion with the alien "Network", representative of the Galactic Community:


"The Network: At this point your planet is the least civilized in the entire galaxy.

Gary King: What did he say?

Andrew Knightley: He said we are a bunch of f*** ups.

Gary King: Hey it is our basic human right to be f*** ups. This civilization was founded on f*** ups and you know what? That makes me proud!"

Gary later says (reminiscent of Delenn and Sheridan in B5):

"Get back in your rocket, and f*** off back to Legoland you c***s!"
..............

Here endeth NOT the lesson, but I won't give away spoilers...

Andrew said...

I thought this story sounded familiar a conspiracy of elites that want an end to democracy and return to feudalism and aristocracy. Then someone mentioned Captain America and it hit me Jack Kirby already used this plot way back in '76 (Madbomb is the name of the trade paperback if any one is interested.)

A group of elites create a "madbomb"that causes people to violently turn on each other, creating enough chaos to overthrow democracy and return to an aristocracy.

Thinking about it I find the use of a madbomb to be analogous to how people are able to exploit righteous indignation, short-circuiting our ability to work together.

Bluto Pomposo said...

You, Brin, have a little money, a little pull, a little position, power, etc. Not a huge amount, but you're a bigger deal than me. And you identify with people who control enormous money and power. You think you can count on them to hurt people who aren't like you just to show them who has the power, and protect people who are like you. Right on A, wrong on B. They don't need you very much, and they will need you less as time passes.

So you feel safe, and powerful. You feel arrogant. You can tell stories about how evil and hateful some people are, how they deserve to be punished for thinking badthink, without bothering to learn what they DO think. And you're proud of making up your own story and presenting it as truth, because that feels like power to you. Makes you feel big to kick somebody who can't kick back. Makes you feel like a MAN - maybe for the first time ever, judging by what little of your work I've read.

Thing is, you're not literally kicking anybody. And regardless of whatever stories you tell, we're still right on the facts, and what little you know of what we actually think is deeply frightening to you because you know we are right. I've seen a lot of lefties lie to themselves, and I've seen them break when the chips were down and admit the truth, for a little while. They're not as dumb as they try to be.

We would rather be permanently right than temporarily fashionable. I pity an author who makes your choice on that question. You won't last. But your literary legacy was hopeless anyhow, so you may as well take the money and sign books for fat girls at cons. Could be a lot worse. Hell, I wouldn't turn it down.

But what really matters is that reality always, always has the last laugh. You're not the first little man who ever felt a little bit powerful, Brin. And we're not the first underdogs who ever took cheap shots from puffed up little men.

In the long run, we win, and nobody's going to like it. But you can't fool mother nature, and that applies to more than just margarine.

Bluto Pomposo said...

...and when I say nobody's going to like it, I mean we won't either. That's why it's the DARK enlightenment. We'd love to fix Detroit by writing a check. But that's not possible. We know it's less cruel to face facts than to try to force a fantasy to be true. You don't care about the cruelty, you just want the fantasy.

Johnny Thunder said...

I don't qualify as a reactionary since I don't want to bring back any old system in particular. In fact I'd go so far as to say I'm not wise enough to produce a working permanent system (yet). I understand this must be quite perplexing to people who know everything. I am however quite attached to their anti-democratic views, with a twist.

I don't find it at all peculiar that Brin & Co. credit democracy with our modern standard of living even though that standard is a result of the Scientific Revolution (to which the Enlightenment latched on like an insidious parasite and now claims credit for) that started under monarchical oligarchies.

I also don't find it peculiar that Brin points to a severely isolated communist country as an example of "monarchy". I wonder what would happen to, say, Sweden, if everybody suddenly refused to trade with them. I suspect it would resemble North Korea a lot more than it resembles modern day Norway. Good ol' Kim is actually doing pretty well compared to Gadaffi or Saddam when it comes to surviving the onslaught of Democratic benevolence arrayed against him. His people, not so much. The Iraqis under Western sanctions didn't do too well either.

One could point to Hitler, propelled to power thanks to widespread dissatisfaction at the democratic, progressive Weimar Republic, as a sort of quasi-monarch, but I guess that comparison doesn't work as well as North Korea because Hitler turned Germany from a defeated country wrecked by the Great Depression into an industrial, economic and military juggernaut that nearly conquered the world. Sure, Hitler murdered a bunch of people but even if you ignore the millions of children murdered by abortion in democratic countries, I'm sure you can find quite a few millions who died to help propagate Democracy where it wasn't wanted.

It doesn't surprise me that Brin himself pimps democracy so vociferously. After all Brin himself has greatly profited from the system. Not nearly as much as, say, Warren Buffet, or Mark Zuckerman mind you. On the Infernal Hierarchy he probably wouldn't rank higher than a Lesser Caitiff.

It doesn't even surprise me that Brin has so many followers hanging onto his every word as if falling from the Mouth of God Himself.

Johnny Thunder said...


What surprises me is how many people are under the serious delusion that they don't live in an oligarchy. Now Brin himself is almost certainly a liar, putting on a show of "fighting the oligarchs" for the benefit of his followers. Oligarchs putting on minstrel shows of fighting the oligarchs is a well entrenched Democratic tradition. It's not as comical as when Warren Buffet does it but it's still a joy to watch. I mean:

"We and our Enlightenment are the revolutionaries, still, beating down the repeated, clawing assaults of oligarchists from all sides, some of whom called themselves "communists," but always prescribing the same, boring pyramid of power."

It's gold Jerry, gold! Boy I sure am glad we don't live in one of those pyramids. Today power looks like the opposite of a pyramid: it looks like a spike, ready to be driven into the ground. That's a good thing, right?

http://markpalermo.tripod.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/.pond/cocktail.jpg.w300h300.jpg

The shape is quite becoming, presumably it represents a funnel, so that our beloved Democrats at the top (who are not oligarchs, I swear!) may pour the bounty of Democracy right down our collective throats. Brin enumerates other benefits, like the trade deficit with China. Clearly this happened because "we could afford 60 years of uplifting trade deficits" and not because the Oligarchs (who have no power in a democracy, I swear!) wanted cheap labor. There is also a flood of third world immigration into Europe and especially America also due to generosity. The border with mexico is for all intents and purposes open despite popular desires to close it because The People Have Spoken and not because the Oligarchs want to depress wages even further. Every facet of culture isn't inundated with virulent anti-racism to make the middle and lower classes willingly accept their annihilation. It's Democratic Generosity. That's the one. Nailed it.

Look suckers, the world is quite simple: social hierarchy is in fact a pyramid. This is not a prescription. It's a description. It's a pyramid in hunter-gatherers, it's a pyramid in democracy, and it's a pyramid in everything inbetween, from monarchy to capitalism to communism to every "ism" you can think of. Some people are better than others and they will rise to the top. It's the cold, cruel reality of this world. The people at the top (and no, they're not you, even Brin himself probably barely qualifies for the bottom edge of the top of the pyramid) are better than you. Individual oligarchs may come and fall, but no matter what system you live under, you will always live under an oligarchy. Always. From the day you are born to the day you die, if you can count on one thing and one thing only, it's that someone out there is better than you and standing on your head. Democracy does not exist so that the narcissists here can buy an xbox. Democracy exists because it benefits the oligarchs. They can have as much power under democracy as they did under feudalism, with far less effort at doing anything productive and far less chance of any of them getting killed when something goes wrong. They also have no loyalty whatsoever to you or your countries. They are not shipping jobs to China because of generosity (Brin must have chuckled to himself maniacally while writing this drivel knowing you suckers would eat it right up), or because they give a crap about Chinese children. They are shipping jobs to China because it improves their bottom line. If somebody complains they launch massive smear campaigns accusing anyone of worrying about any of these things as rayciss. There are only so many people a king can kill before they get fed up and drag him to the gallows. That number is a lot, lot smaller than the number of people you can silence with "dat's rayciss". The oligarchs of today don't kill you because they don't have to. They already own you, mind body and soul.

Johnny Thunder said...

1- There is more genetic variation among and between African racial groups than between African Bantus and Caucasians. Hence, what exactly, do the neo-racialists think they are doing? By ignoring this distinction, they display an utter lack of the "scientific curiosity" that they claim and reveal the truth… that their motivation is simply racism.

The distinction is ignored because it's not relevant. Counting genes is a stupid way of classifying things because it doesn't say anything in and of itself.

For example:

"We’re used to hearing about biodiversity of rainforests, for example, as cradles of huge numbers of species,” Cutter says. “But our research drives home that biological diversity even within a single species can also be really impressive. The copies of DNA that one of these worms gets from its mother and father can be even more distinct from each other as the DNA we might look at between humans and macaques.”
For instance, comparisons of any randomly chosen analogous sequence of DNA from two different specimens of C. brenneri would find these sequences would differ from each other by some 14.1 percent, meaning they would differ on nearly every sixth base pair on average. By comparison, C. elegans has about 100-fold less genetic variation, and humans have more than 150 times less variation."

African genetic diversity says nothing about what those genes add or subtract in terms of ability and behavior. C. Brenneri has 150 times the genetic variation of humans and I don't see a single one piloting star ships.

2- Yes, the lefty-liberal insistence that science should not look at racial differences is - formally -- inappropriate political correctness. But I am willing to live with this for a generation, for its pragmatic effects, which are to help end the nasty human habit of pre-judice or pre-judging individuals based upon their involuntary membership in some broad grouping.

First, I'm not sure how you intend to end a "nasty human habit" that is inborn in all of us without genetic engineering. If there are genetic predispositions to, say, violence, the racial stereotypes won't go away, so your nasty habit, even if purely social (it isn't), won't go away either.

Second, I'm not sure what exactly you think the pragmatic effect is gonna be. As far as I can tell it's to get the plebs accept an influx of cheap third world labor so the oligarchs don't have to pay them as much, and the plebs are too busy killing each other to threaten the ruling powers. Latin America, with near African levels of murder despite being considerably better off financially and almost completely racially integrated is a very good example of this "pragmatic effect".

Even if all races were equal in ability (a subject I have no strong opinions on), it won't change the fact that people are hardwired to hate people who are different.

Keith Halperin said...

The 12/2/2013 issue of The New Yorker (http://archives.newyorker.com/?i=2013-12-02#folio=076) has an interesting article with three points I'd like to discuss/dispute:

1) The assertion that moderate/centrist views are more prevalent in the mass public than in political elites because they are less "informed".

2) Gerrymandering is responsible for at most 10-20% of the polarization of the House of Representatives.

3) Polarization in Congress maps
better onto one measure better than any other: economic inequality -the more economic inequality in America, the more polarization.

Unknown said...

its all futile echoes... electric media since 1930.

pwyll said...

Re: reason @ 1:49 AM


Actually, I'm not saying that "there are markers that roughly correspond to racial groups." Rather, the statement "PCA and clustering algorithms allow almost *perfectly* accurate classification of humans into self-identified racial groups" would be more accurate. Note also that the link I posted was from early 2007 - I'd bet the state of the art is even more accurate now.


Brin, in his original statement, made the "more genetic variation within races than between them" assertion, and then accused "neo-racialists" of ignoring this out of bad faith. However, he did not state whether he made that assertion in order to argue that (a) "race is a meaningless concept" or (b) "trait distributions of different races overlap, so racists are wrong to argue that some races are superior to others." Because this was unclear, I merely addressed the "bad faith" accusation, and pointed out that Lewontin's Fallacy does indeed fit the definition. I don't think your charge of "subtle distortion" is warranted.


However, the point you raise is a good one to address. Would it be fair to say that you're asserting that "just because different races are geneticly distinct, doesn't mean they differ in their distribution of a particular trait."? (this sounds like a stronger version of assertion (b) above.) This is true - overall genetic distinctiveness does not require that races be distinct in a given trait. However, in reality races often *do* differ - sometimes considerably - in the distribution of a given trait. For example, while there's a large overlap of the IQ distributions of white gentiles and Ashkenazi jews, the average Ashkenazi jew has a higher IQ than roughly 70 to 85% of the white gentile population. (Assuming IQ is normally distributed with a standard deviation of 15 for both populations, a white mean IQ of 100, and a jewish IQ mean from 108 to 115, the range outlined here. Disclosure: I myself am a white gentile, while David Brin apparently is - ironically - Ashkenazi jewish.)

Anonymous said...

Just for the record - Nietzsche predicted the disaster of the first world war and the hellish ideologies (including the role of anti-Semitism) that would be born from it, and was trying to get an EU going when it would have done some good.

Something you might want to consider when you start running down Nietzsche. Perhaps you might like to actually read the man...

Anonymous said...

Nietzsche also said that there was no more perfidious way of attacking an idea than to defend it with faulty arguments. So this unbalanced, self-important screed is probably as good an advertisement for the neoreactionaries as they could wish for. And I write that as an opponent of theirs.

Hank Roberts said...

> screed

To quote Stoat: "It’s easy to tell that you’re ranting, but less clear on whose side."

And that's the, er, point. The pyramid has sides. The diamond has facets.

Brin is writing on the facets, not writing on a "side" there.

amba said...

David Brin:

1) I love you.

2) Are you familiar with Douglass North's The Natural State? What he is saying is related somehow to what you are saying.