Saturday, July 26, 2014

Will the “true 21st century” bring us back to feudalism?

Almost exactly a century ago, a lone gunman set in motion events that transformed the world -- ending the lives of millions and shattering empires. With that anniversary in mind, I pondered the clear fact that the last three centuries all seem to have started on their FOURTEENTH YEAR. The brutal arc and themes of the 20th Century - a concave pit that hit its nadir in 1943 - all of it began with shots fired in Sarajevo in the summer of 1914. And 1714 and 1814 were years of similar, transforming portent.

Century-Begin-2014 See my explanation... along with speculation where we might be heading, if 2014 proves to be the "real beginning" of the 21st Century. And sure… that great, over-arching, 21st Century theme might turn out to be pragmatic, adult problem-solving, science and reason! Heck, throw in the Age of Aquarius! I’m all for all of that.

But let’s be frank, the odds have always been against those traits ever getting the upper hand for long. Too many deep, animal drives have propelled most human cultures toward slumping into pyramids of hierarchy and domineering privilege. And rationalization, as portrayed by this poignantly sarcastic piece in the Onion.

Conniving cheaters and their lickspittle excuse-makers will always be an anchor on our ankles, dragging us backward.

== Traitors to the Enlightenment ==

How far does it go? Corey Pein takes on (and eviscerates) one extreme cult — the New Feudalism -- a weird and deeply sick mind-herpes that has infected some of our worst indignation junkies out there -- resentful fanatics who love drawing attention by declaring hatred of democracy, egalitarian justice and science, pledging fealty instead to rule by a new lordly caste.

Neoreactionary-brinLike a parody of evil techie libertarians, these fellows would be funny, if they weren't potentially dangerous. See my own take on this "movement," which declares hatred of all the things that brought us the richest, wisest, gentlest, most productive, insightful, generous, creative, socially-mobile, artistic, scientific and enlightened era of all time. Indeed, delusional rationalization is the greatest human talent, and the one gift in which pathetic under-achievers truly excel.

See the root cause of all this, in my talk: “Indignation, Addiction and Hope: Does it help to be “Mad as Hell?”  Follow along with the slides on Slideshare!

Mr. Pein may go a bit too far by interpolating and extrapolating similar views that he attributes to Silicon Valley libertarian-investor Peter Thiel. Thiel likes to poke at a very wide horizon of concepts and he is entitled, even if some of those what-if experiments push the envelope of plausibility. I can hardly throw stones at that trait! And Thiel has done enough pragmatic delivery of genuine goods and services that he is no under-achiever. Again, if he wants to poke at our heads with provocative ideas — he’s earned it.

As for the others? Facts will not stall indignation junkies, even when nearly all of their assertions prove diametrically opposite to actual truth. It is the Rapture of the Ingrates.

Oh, one final, amusing thing about the neo-feudalists? Their hilarious adoration of Vladimir Putin.

== Putin… the expected one? ==

I kid you not. Track the admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is lavish and open among the neo-feudalists but only softens a little — to “grudging admiration” —among the pundits at Fox. And why not? Everything now happening in Russia suits the Fox Design, as does the Putin narrative. Religion, hierarchy, inherited status, venerated values, top-down monopolies organized around families…

During the Crimea takeover, President Putin derided Western notions of tolerance and universal rights as “barren and neutered.” Said Putin, it is time to resist this scourge of "diversity" creeping in from the West. “More and more people in the world support our position on defending traditional values.”  He asserted Russia’s role to “prevent movement backward and downward, into chaotic darkness and a return to a primitive state.”

UnlikelinessPositiveSumSocietyI do not blame him for saying this! It is, after all, exactly (almost word-for-word) the dismissal that zero-sum thinkers — even very bright ones — always come up with, when faced with the stunning successes of the Enlightenment West. Our wealth and productivity and power and freedom and joys must have come at a cost! Something precious must have been sacrificed in a “tradeoff.”

Osama, Stalin, Hitler, even the Civil War Confederates… all said the same thing in various ways. Western/northern decadence must have been purchased at cost of our “soul”… or manhood, or grit, or resilience, or style, or willingness to sacrifice.

Zero-summers must believe this! The only alternative, when staring jealously at our innumerable successes, would be to admit “those people in the scientific-tolerant West know a better way to live.” And rather than utter those words, they would rather die, or else make up a good story.

Every generation of Americans, especially, has had to disprove the Zero Sum Canard, sometimes at great cost. In comparative terms, we got off easy with 9/11. The grit and determination exhibited by New Yorkers, who stood atop the rubble and shouted “Is that all you got?” was capped by the courageous rebellion of the passengers on flight UA93, who reacted within minutes, showing what resilience and grit truly mean. No zero-sum society would ever see common citizens react with such rapid agility, resilience or guts.

Positive-Sum-GameI do not blame the zero-summers for not understanding the Positive Sum Game. Zero-sum thinking is deeply rooted in human nature. But understanding why they go back, again and again, to the same dreary rationalization does not mean we must put up with it. Because it always forces us into a position of pain, having to prove, yet again, that we have (figurative) cojones.

We cannot surrender our method — our positive sum revolution. Not even while merchants of fear on both the left and the right are yammering at us to give up and give in to despair.

== Speaking of ingrates… ==

With just a few exceptions, the states whose politicians most-loudly preach small government tend to be much more reliant on it than other states. Red States by far are more dependent on the federal government and are poorer. In aggregate, these states take back much more from the federal government than they put in. More of their gross domestic product comes from direct and indirect government outlays. This turns the takers vs makers debate on its head as those pushing that message represent the end they portend to despise.

Quality-life-america-countyAnd more -- a composite ranking (map) differentiates those counties where Americans are healthy and wealthy, educated and thin... versus struggling, poor and obese.

Sorry. The left has its haters of the enlightenment, too. But our biggest problem, right now, is the New Confederacy. Instead of seceding, this time, they think they have a better plan. They are tearing it all down from within.


Robin Miller said...

I worry more about a bloody socialist revolution than about feudalism, although feudalism could easily be what takes over after the revolution's first spasm of "one for all and all for one," when some greedhead decides HE's the one.

If our richies go on believing they are entitled to everything and the people who Work deserve next to nothing, that revolution is inevitable. Sigh.

LarryHart said...

@Robin Miller,

Sounds to me like you've got your cause and effect backwards. The thing you are less worried about will be the direct cause of the thing you are more worried about.

Anonymous said...

Looking from very far away from the U.S. (I am turkish) it seems obvious that the descendants of slavers have been fighting a "deep war" to undermine each and every progressive policy in the U.S. and weaken its government for a very long time. We had (and probably still have) several groups fighting such a long term covert war for the contol of the state institutions ( My question is this: are there any groups that are as openly dedicated to the cause of freedom and equality and are as well organized as their adversaries?

Tony Fisk said...

A fun-filled sunday morning read! Still, I think David would be familiar with Betteridge's Law:
"The answer to any headline ending in a question mark is 'no'."

Amusing coda to the comments about Putin. In the wake of his win in the Senate (carbon tax repeal) Australia's own great and glorious leader has been girding up his budgie smugglers to set the world and Eastern Ukraine to rights. It is particularly amusing* to hear him chastise Putin for downing MH17 (on little clear evidence at the time). I think he is made of similar stuff. Fortunately, he has nothing like the same rein.

*amusing, rather than alarming, due to drop off in newsworthiness with distance.

David Brin said...

anonymous. Welcome to the group! Turkey has fascinating battles of its own, going on, of crucial importance. Long live Iniquitous Izmir!

To answer your question, the powers that are defending the great American Experiment are not as well organized. They are more cultural. The themes of tolerance, diversity, pragmatism suspicion of authority... these are very strong. and deeply rooted. The question: can they be mobilized effectively?

Starved Soul said...

Enlightenment values are great for maximizing economic production and technological innovation, but for the less tangible factors that determine the fate of civilizations, they seem inadequate. Don't the levels of depression, suicide, drug addiction, social atomization, "assabiyah", random violence, consumerism, and births per female suggest that this experiment has serious flaws and may not be sustainable? How can any societal model call itself a success that is failing at the most basic task of any species: reproduction? Modernity seems to have created the same problem we see with animals in zoos; by living in this domesticated, captive way, humans are failing to breed, and showing other signs of enervation.

Enlightenment civilization is always going to be threatened by the magicians of the non-rational, who understand that things like spirituality, aesthetics, myth, and raw animal vitality are as critical to human well-being as economics, laws, politics and technology. Enlightenment mythology seems particularly vulnerable now that the promised Star Trek/Jetsons future shows so few signs of materializing. When the Matrix, Brave New World and Terminator start to look like much more plausible futures, people may just decide that the whole experiment is a road to hell and abandon ship. Is the endgame of the Enlightenment the replacement of humanity by machines? Can you blame anyone, whether New Confederates, Neoreactionaries, Putinites, Islamists, Hippies, or what have you, from wanting to stop this crazy experiment?

In any case, we may be about to find out what happens when Enlightenment civilization peaks, and can no longer plausibly promise rapid material progress, at least of the sort that liberates rather than enslaves. One of the scarier prospects is that people will begin to look for scapegoats to blame for why the promised future didn't materialize, and already some (including you?) seem to have a few in mind.

Anyway, I could go on an on, but the main issue for me is that Enlightenment values starve the soul, and have lost their power to inspire. You are a dogged believer in and propagandist for this experiment, but I ask you, from the depths of your soul: don't you think it's all starting to ring a little hollow?

David Brin said...

Starved Soul asks: “Don't the levels of depression, suicide, drug addiction, social atomization, "assabiyah", random violence, consumerism, and births per female suggest that this experiment has serious flaws and may not be sustainable?”

I quash my initial response, which was unworthy and unfair… though justified. A reaction of disdainful hilarity. An unfortunate impulse, but earned by the simple fact that Starved Soul actually seems (implicitly) to believe that such things were better, for the average person, in any other society.

Good lord. Accounts from every other society relate that life was brutal, filled with tension, oppression and sudden calamity. Power could be exerted over you, capriciously, at any moment and everything you had worked for might be arbitrarily yanked away. Think about those early dickensian factories of ill repute. The workers who suffered in them complained. But they had moved there, eagerly, to get away from the vastly worse life on tenant farms.

“Enlightenment mythology seems particularly vulnerable now that the promised Star Trek/Jetsons future shows so few signs of materializing. When the Matrix, Brave New World and Terminator start to look like much more plausible futures…”

I agree that these seem far more likely… to fools who swallow the incessant anti-optimism propaganda. For you to ignore the NATURE of the propaganda the envelopes you, that you suckle from every movie and novel and song. Are you truly unaware of the ratio of can-do, optimistic messages to the tsunami of those preaching despair? The despair that you so reflexively express?

Show me the films that display society functioning or suggest we can have any faith in ourselves, versus the blast of dystopias. YOU are a product of that propaganda.

Mind you, self-criticism is a great trait of the enlightenment! I prefer it. We are never good enough! We have driven into ill-repute so many noxious habits that our ancestors took for granted — racism, sexism, homophobia, vast wastes of human potential, yet we need to keep moving on, never satisfied with our rate of self-improvement.

What is not helpful is unsapient reflexive gloom and cynicism. And romantic nostalgia for a “wise and serene” past that never was.

If your soul feels starved, welcome to human nature. FEED IT! You are at a feast. Better yet...Oh… grow up.

David Brin said...

Starved Soul badly needs this:

David Brin said...

Oh... births per female... yes, in Japan and Russia, women are choosing not to breed, in part because of the male culture. But elsewhere they are choosing 2 or 3 ... and this is not bad it is the miracle! It means we are not a species doomed by Malthus! In means those 2 or 3 will be doted on and cared for and their potential maximized.

Good lord.

Eli Sennesh said...

Hello "Starved Soul",

I once thought a little bit like you. Funny thing: turned out the problem wasn't too much Enlightenment, but rather, not enough Enlightenment. Now I'm a full-throated and dogged endorser of the Enlightenment project, right up to the end.

The only problem with the Enlightenment is that it leads to counterintuitive conclusions, which people then refuse to accept as true simply because they are counterintuitive. These include things such as, "You're not unhappy because life is a tragedy and has been ever since Man first acquired Sin from eating the Apple of Eden... you're unhappy because your boss makes you work 60-hour weeks for very low pay, and you thus don't have time for a girlfriend."

Well, I suppose that one's actually pretty intuitive. Still, it explains a lot: high levels of depression are often tied to very long working hours for very low pay in meaningless bullshit jobs. Low levels of reproduction are often tied to people being unable to afford to marry, acquire a family-sized dwelling, and start a family. Social ills of every single kind are strongly correlated with high levels of personal debt, which are often found in the presence of financialization and neoliberalism. Social atomization and low social trust often occur in the presence of things like suburbia, and especially when there's lots of inequality. Consumerism is often a product of society having decided that everything fun other than consumption (oh let's say it: sex) is sinful, and besides which, having a few toys never hurt anyone.

Random violence is worth noting for its dramatic absence in recent years compared to the entire past of human history.

So let's try a somewhat harder Enlightenment belief: "People from other countries are in fact much the same as yourself, and the only rational and moral thing to do is live in peace with them." Here we can see the counterintuitiveness emerging, but "strangely" enough, countries that follow this maxim have a tendency to live longer, healthier, happier, richer lives than countries that go the Reactionary road and spend their lives on revanchism and war. The Enlightenment wins again!

Gosh, maybe I should try something a bit harder. I mean, let's just take an example: the Enlightenment is destroying the environment, right? With industry? Destroying the beautiful environment Romanticists and reactionaries love? Oh, wait, no: it's the hard sciences of ecology, geology, and meteorology that alert us to environmental problems and offer solutions, while it's the reactionary economic structure of capitalism that tramples the environment.

Let's try it on hardcore mode, maybe. Aren't you willing to bet the Enlightenment will break down hard when I try it on hardcore mode, since it is, at its core, empty materialism?

Let's try it: "Death is bad. Very bad. Extremely bad. Being scared of death is like being scared of a great big monster with poisonous fangs. It actually makes a great deal of sense, and does not, in fact, indicate that you have a psychological problem." (Anyone who recognizes this quotation: TROLOL.) In fact, it's so bad, that it's not really "just a part of life" at all; it's more sort of so horrid that we ought to just get rid of it at the soonest opportunity.

And then, just to finish off, we can do the same with depression, despair, and boredom.

So yeah, there you have it: the Enlightenment project in its fullest horror, the equality of men and the application of reason to human life yielding their most utterly wicked and intolerable results: the end of... war, death, famine, pestilence, and oppression.

Except that we never wanted those around in the first place.

Jumper said...

Moldbug reminds me of John Kennedy O'Toole. I doubt Moldbug's toadies read any O'Toole.

Jumper said...

For two organized groups on the freedom front, try the Southern Poverty Law Center
and the ACLU. Between the two, decent coverage.

Tyler said...

Mr. Brin,

Would you be so kind as to add some margins beside the images on your blog? It would make reading a bit easier, and is more aesthetically pleasing. The following simple styles would do the trick:

img.alignleft { margin-right: 1.5em; }
img.alignright { margin-left: 1.5em; }

David Brin said...

Tyler I tried inserting
img.alignleft { margin-right: 1.5em; }

into one of my posted blogs but all it did was show up as text.

Starved Soul said...

The main thing I was trying to get at is that hostility to the Enlightenment comes from irrational or sub-rational aspects of the psyche that are nevertheless vital, and need to be fed or we start to die. I listed a few symptoms of the disease – particuarly the fact that birthrates are sub-replacement everywhere the Enlightenment has taken hold most strongly – the USA being an exception precisely because this project still has many holdouts who believe in the pre-Enlightenment virtues of God, family, etc. Another data point might be the Marxist and Soviet experiements, which proclaimed themselves the true heirs of Enlightenment rationalism, yet failed rather miserably.

But it can be difficult to argue against the Enlightenment on its own terms – i.e. with statistics and mundane facts that Enightenment ideologues will understand. You have to feel it it your soul, I suppose. When your leaders are technocrats who don't seem to suffer from these feelings, it becomes challenging to find ways to express your opposition in ways that will be heard and respected. Have artists, poets and spiritual leaders ever been more marginal than in the present civilization? We lack a powerful outlet for the kinds of feelings I'm talking about -- particularly if they don't fit a certain narrative. I.e., we can have a few "state poets" who celebrate our great diversity and progress, but poets of other very human values are being proscribed. The result is that many powerful traditions are being buried by a sterile, beigist progressivism, and its not clear what will replace them that has comparable psychic power.

This may not seem to matter much in the great march toward "the Singularity" of human obsolescence, or whatever goal Enlightenment civilization has these days, but I think it does. Ibn Khaldun understood a thousand years ago that when people lose their "tribal values" and become overly domesticated, their civilization falls. I see signs everywhere of a falling civilization, yet, like late Rome perhaps, it hardly seems to know it's falling. For that, you have to have eyes to see what is immaterial yet vital, and not be blinded by your own arrogance.

David Brin said...

Starved Soul you are wrong in every particular. The US birth rate is above replacement because American women have settled on 2 kids as their norm… and the small difference is made up through immigration — and not from religious fanatics. Those immigrants are part of a huge wave of people who would come to America if they could, in order to join the enlightenment.

They are voting with their feet. (How about you do the same, and move somewhere where there is one declared faith that crushes all others, that you can dive into and feel en-souled?)

When women are sure their children will not die, they choose to have two to dote on and heap opportunities upon them. This fact is saving the world. It is also allowing a billion kids to be their own guides, seeking soul satisfaction from a mountain of opportunities, instead of spending their lives in grinding, miserable poverty.

It also frees some of them - like you - to wallow in delusional cynical romantic nostalgia for a past that never happened. You call us enlightenment types "arrogant" but we will not KILL you for refusing to share our enthusiasm! On the other hand, you would kill us, if you could. Do not deny it. ALL of the other societies that you adore killed our kind. We are the ones who invented tolerance and diversity.

What's more, you know it.

You writhe and twist in order to support inane nostalgia. I have seen fools pose the USSR and Leninism as examples of the enlightenment, when they were blatantly pyramidal-religious social structures of exactly the same format as all other past oligarchy-tyrannies, with a slight change in the details of the State Faith. Their relentless enmity toward every aspect of the enlightened West reveals how far gone you are, down paths of rationalization.

“Have artists, poets and spiritual leaders ever been more marginal than in the present civilization?”

Excuse me? Are you completely out of your cotton picking mind? Sorry, but my patience is getting strained. You keep bringing up points that are diametrically opposite to every conceivable fact. No other civilization reewarded and subsidized such a huge fraction of the population in arts, lifting some artists/actors/directors to heights of prestige formerly only attained by brutal warriors.

No other civilization offered citizens an utter smorgasbord of spiritual offerings. No longer able to oppress and exclude each other or persecute over differences in doctrine, spiritual leaders must instead compete with product, giving YOU the choice of which of a thousand styles to try, then try another. But you would rather have some high priest tell you exactly what spirituality is, and kill all deviants!

“we can have a few "state poets" who celebrate our great diversity and progress, but poets of other very human values are being proscribed.”

You are a true dope. Absolutely everything you say is diametrically opposite to fact. But you think simply declaring something makes it so. That surely is how priests ran things.

“I see signs everywhere of a falling civilization…”

Yes! At last you say something that is true! This IS what you “see.” It is a FACT that this is what you see! It is pathetic and sad that you see this. But yes, I agree that it is what you see.

I look you in the eye. The past that you romanticized never ever even remotely happened. You have zero evidence for it.

All you can do is wallow in smug cynicism, free of fact. Do grow up.

Larry C. Lyons said...

Dr. Brin,

You noted that "Facts will not stall indignation junkies, even when nearly all of their assertions prove diametrically opposite to actual truth. It is the Rapture of the Ingrates."

I wouldn't call it that. Its a well known psychological phenomenon related to True Believers. Unfortunately true believers will always continue to believe no matter what. You can present tonnes of reason, logic, and contradictory evidence. In fact it will most likely to cause them to dig in deeper and more strongly believe in their idiocies. The phenomenon is called, appropriately enough the Backlash Effect.
For more info see

David Brin said...

My father would have been forced to be serf in any other culture. In 1930s Chicago he becomes a gangland reporter, then an internationally recognized poet. I was free of any compulsion to be what my father was... the first time that has ever happened. Yet, after rising by pure merit into the halls of science... I branched off and became a poet/artist!

I only just now realized... that guy must have been yanking our chains. No one could be that stupid.

LarryHart said...

Starved Soul:

The main thing I was trying to get at is that hostility to the Enlightenment comes from irrational or sub-rational aspects of the psyche that are nevertheless vital, and need to be fed or we start to die. I listed a few symptoms of the disease – particuarly the fact that birthrates are sub-replacement everywhere the Enlightenment has taken hold most strongly – the USA being an exception precisely because this project still has many holdouts who believe in the pre-Enlightenment virtues of God, family, etc.

There's got to be some middle ground between letting ones own culture die out and every culture racing each other toward overpopulation. To me, in a world with 7 billion people and counting, sub-replacement birthrates is a good thing. But not (as "Starved" alludes to) if overpopulation is simply filled on by non-Enlightenment groups.

As to values of "God and family", I'm not sure God intends us to actively work toward reaching a Malthusan die-off point and having our families live through the horror of such a time.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I only just now realized... that guy must have been yanking our chains. No one could be that stupid.

If that were true, the 2010 vote result would not have taken place, and we'd be living in an alternate universe in which this one was some sort of tv miniseries about vampires and zombies and other fantasy creatures. :)

Duncan Cairncross said...

"There's got to be some middle ground between letting ones own culture die out and every culture racing each other toward overpopulation. To me, in a world with 7 billion people and counting, sub-replacement birthrates is a good thing. But not (as "Starved" alludes to) if overpopulation is simply filled on by non-Enlightenment groups."

As far as Europe goes,
All of the countries are operating at less than replacement values,
It was "expected" that the Catholic countries would use less "birth control"
What actually happened was the less religious countries especially Scandinavia have a HIGHER birthrate
In the "More Enlightened" countries the men expect to help with the children,
In the "Less Enlightened" countries the men do NOT help with the kids - and the women are responding by having less children

Paul451 said...

Nicholas Rubin, 16 year old kid, wrote a browser add-on which highlights the names of US politicians and pops up a list of their campaign contributions when you hover your mouse over the name.

The idea being that you read a news story about Sen. Snot blocking or supporting some issue, just hover over his name to see how much money he was given by that industry/lobby.

Kids today.

locumranch said...

To answer David's main question:

Yes, the 21st Century will bring us back to Feudalism, but not to the old Noblesse Oblige type, but to an new type of Enlightened Feudalism where self-anointed experts will force their will on an unconsenting populace in order to serve the God of Progress.

The Expert Class will stand exhalted as the unquestionable owner, priest, allocator & sole arbiter of public good, delegating & distributing public resources on lordly whim, while the lowly commoner must bow down on bended knee, entirely dependent on expert largesse.

"May I have some more," the inexpert Oliver will beg, only to be told by the enlightened expert that soft drinks above a certain size are forbidden, tobacco is immoral & luxury causes cancer, condemning the commoner to a healthy lifestyle of bulgar wheat, raw vegetables, seasonal fruits, efficiency vehicles & draconian exercise while the expert reposes with soft cushions, fossil fuels, comely virgins & gluttonous feasts, things which the unenlightened commoner is simply incapable of appreciating.

It will be a progressive heaven on earth.


David Brin said...

Strawmanning till the end. He takes no note of the fact that I coined "The Age of Amateurs" and widely promoted ad hoc networks... that Smart Mobs of agile citizens feature in many of my tales... and that I have promoted both Proxy activism and orgs like the society of amateur scientists.

That I was the very first to call 9/11 the Day of the Citizen, when every action of the Protector Caste failed but average folks stepped up. Or that citizen resilience has been the principal theme that I keep pounding, when each year I go to DC to consult.

Above all, it is the positive sum game that Locum cannot and never will understand. And that's not his fault! It is a very difficult concept that does not come naturally to human beings. It is the core wellspring of all of the enlightenment's successes. But alas, even bright members of our own society simply cannot grasp it, as a matter of personality perhaps.

Or character.

locumranch said...

David still cannot grasp the fact that (1) power corrupts, (2) one elite tends to resemble any other when given sufficient time, (3) a benign well-intentioned tyranny (governing without the consent of the governed) is still a tyranny and (4) The Age of the Amateur is the very thing that has declared a 'War on Expertise'.

Progress is, indeed, in the Eye of the Beholder, so much so that I would choose to forego a society full of positive-sum progress for the sake of a single star-bound ship full of space-faring chauvinists.


Eli Sennesh said...

No, progress is not in the eye of the beholder. And enough talk of "values"! You've got those built-in: you don't need some ideology to tell you what to care about.

David Brin said...

Here's what I love about locum. Reality means nothing to him.

I am the world's biggest promoter of citizen agility and resilience and the rising power and involvement and freedom of amateur avocations... in all areas, even security and public safety! Yet, he blithely strawmans that I want a technocracy dominated by licensed experts!

Likewise, I am probably the person on this planet who talks most avidly about the vital enlightenment innovation of divided power, breaking up any domineering concentration into units small enough to compete and apply reciprocal accountability... and the people's ultimate power to do the same...

...but he blithely strawman's that brin wants a hierarchic world of top-down-control.

Yes, I believe the opposite extreme is dismally stupid... the foxiest war on science and loopy declarations that do not - on average - know a lot about the fields they chose to devote their genius to. Expertise creates a BASELINE or default or paradigm around which further debate and impudent opposition can roil. When 95% of the experts in a field warn of a danger, we should invest in precautionary measures WHILE unleashing critics and competitors in swarms, to pick at every flaw.

It would be one thing if he either had evidence for his straw men... or even glimmers of clever sense of humor. Alas, he seems to actually believe that declaring things that are diametrically opposite to true makes them so!

I'd send him to get a job at Fox. But alas, I doubt he'd enjoy it. Besides, we'd deny ourselves the unintended comic relief.

PS... he said: "The Age of the Amateur is the very thing that has declared a 'War on Expertise'."

What a flaming nincompoop!

Alfred Differ said...

What some find difficult with an age of amateurs is the destruction of an assumption that expertise must be certificated to be true. Without formal recognition from an elite, one is not an expert, thus there MUST be a ruling elite in this new world coming our way.

What they miss is that we construct our elites through evolutionary processes. Survive the culling and you are an expert in survival. Detection of expertise works much the same way. Make your claim and we'll see just how robust it is.

This social process is anti-fragile (up to a point) as long as its believers keep to their faith. That makes it a life form of its own with us as its parts.

Robin Miller said...

Yes! We need a ruling elite. As soon as I am proclaimed Emperor of the Untied States of a Merica, I will select 1000 citizens to be The Elite, and the rest of you will bow before them because you are not Worthy.

David Brin said...

The notion that a rising clade of amateurs is in direct OPPOSITION to the existence of sage and respect-worthy professional experts is... staggeringly loopy and dumb. It is a prime example of zero-sum thinking. So much so that I find it simply mind-boggling that anyone would contemplate it.

Think! People who are amateurs in one field may be "experts" in another. It will become regular habit to respect the best of your profession's amateurs - if they are polite and positive-sum helpful, in turn.

Jesus, do you guys know anything about the age-old traditions of many sciences that already depend upon their amateur aficionados for data collection and (nowadays) even some data analysis? When I was a kid I was a member of the American Assoc of Variable Star Observers and our brightness profiles helped to solve the great Cepheid problem!

Today medical doctors START by referring patients to web based support groups and expect them to get educated enough to be co-members of the treatment team. Where have you guys BEEN?

And yes, if a field gets stodgy and hegemonic and brittle, they can expect this relationship to collapse and become adversarial, as the amateurs supply large numbers of rebels against a rigid status quo. Great! But to EXPECT this as the automatic outcome is zero-summing at its worst.

Starved Soul said...

I think you romanticize quite a bit yourself, Dr. Brin. For example, I've heard you claim more than once that our grandchildren can live in a Star Trek world, which is nothing if not a romantic fantasy. Is that before or after the Vulcans arrive and give us warp drive? We certainly need the help, having not been beyond LEO in 42 years!

Immigrants don't come to America for any grandiose philosophical reasons, like being part of some "Enlightenment experiment." They come here to make money. Period. They come here because our propaganda is global, because they liked the way Pamela Anderson look on "Baywatch", because we are the dominant empire and they want to get on the receiving end of the imperial wealth pump. This does not make America a "shining city on the hill" or a land of enlightenment, just the new Rome.

An interesting guy to read to get a very different perspective is Morris Berman (see; he basically takes the opposite view of America that you do. He calls his tribe the WAFers, after his book "Why America Failed". Berman even defends the Conderacy as the one example of a "non-hustling" culture that America has seen. It's great to see someone like him, whose background probably isn't so different from yours, seeing through the shallow progressive hype to the deeper cultural and spiritual rot at the soul of America.

You can dismiss all this as "smug cynicism" I suppose, but every failing empire has probably used similar language to describe dissidents down through history. At the end of every empire, reality starts to favor the cynics. It's a huge historical process that we're part of, and I don't think it can be willed away or blamed on any particular demographic.

David Brin said...

Starved Soul (SS): I never said we will live in Star Trek. What I said - and the history of the enlightenment bears me out - is that we can continue both our technological and moral progress so that our much-better-than-us grandchildren might live in a much-better-than-ours civilization…

… of which Star Trek is just about the only example in cinema, standing apart from the relentless tsunami of the duystopic rants-for-gloom that made poor SS the dour cynic that he is. (I don’t mind that. It is his utter inability to see how much a clone he is, having been trained to parrot cynical aphorisms by rote.)

“Immigrants don't come to America for any grandiose philosophical reasons, like being part of some "Enlightenment experiment." They come here to make money. Period. They come here because our propaganda is global…”

Does this fellow ever say anything right? Even once? Ever? Notice the dripping contempt he spews at people who were the ancestors to all but the Native Americans! No, freedom from persecution had nothing to do with it! Nor adventure. Nor escaping from the rigid caste systems that trapped all of our forebears… all the time… in all other cultures except this one that allows us to rise by our merits.

What drivel! Remittances from American immigrants provide the second largest wave of “foreign aid” on the planet to poor countries (after the tsunami of development that comes from our walmart purchases.) Those remittances home come with emails, letters, photos that get reprinted in local press.

Indeed, half the world’s doctors and other experts pour out of American universities, which are filled with foreign scholars. It used to be that the best stayed and we benefited. But now they flock home where there is huge money to be made. Not money to be made HERE! But Money to be made via skills learned here. Those men and women take home tales of America.

To dismiss love of America overseas as “Hollywood” shows not only contempt, but utter stupidity.

David Brin said...

Compare the cartoony images that SS presents here, to the real story, of which Hollywood is just a part. Though hollywood spreads memes of Suspicion of Authority and Tolerance and diversity. He presumes to lecture us based upon … cliches! Yet he is not the arrogant one!

He does not answer even one of my earlier points. Because he knows that he has lost all of those.

Arrogance? In this culture, all we can do is laugh at his shallowness and self-serving cynicism. And at utter imbeciles like Morris Berman” (guffaw!) who could not do one useful thing if his life depended on it. In this culture, all we can do is chuckle.

In the cultures SS wants… the 99% feudal tyrannies in which “spiritual” meant doing exactly what the high priest demands… I would be killed. Most of us on this site would be killed.

Screw your accusations of arrogance. We will make civilization work, attain great heights… and you will suffer the indignity of being tolerated and allowed to do and think and say pretty much whatever you want. No matter how dumb

Tony Fisk said...

I think Locumranch's basic problem is he tries too hard to be the contrarian.

Starved Soul's problem lies in having difficulty passing the Turing test.

I-need-a-good-name said...

Starvedsoul, we can lead your soul to food but only you can make it eat.

You compared the enlightenment/modernist world to a zoo, but if that's the case then the cages are open.

You have the option of joining the Amish and many similar groups, or forming some similar community, you can do extreme sports and live dangerously like the Dudesons and the guys from MTV's Jackass. (

You can join many militaries (

You can do these things because, in the world of enlightenment/modernism, YOU HAVE A CHOICE.

You can vote with your feet, like those immigrants, and by the way if they really are only chasing money and boobies, doesn't that contradict your claim that less modern places have less consumerism and shallowness?

And as for hollywood, it gets plenty of counter-argument in the form of people saying that the west is decadent and soulless and blah blah blah....Yet after listening to both sides they are still willing to uproot themselves and take the plunge. They outnumber those who go the opposite way. [Citation needed]

Funny how things change when people go beyond abstract political opinioneering and into looking at their actual lives with actual stakes involved.

So modernism has solved, let's say, half the problems in the world, and replaced many of the remaining big problems with smaller problems. Time to give up? No, time to get on with solving the next problem.

"depression, suicide, drug addiction, social atomization, "assabiyah", random violence, consumerism"

1. Are you certain these are worse in the enlightenment/modernist world? It's easier to get diagnosed with depression because of more doctors less taboos against depression. Keep that in mind as you look at this map: I'm not going to go through the data on everything, since you already stated that you don't do data….So that's why I'd suggest travelling and letting your "soul" or "truth detector" or whatever do the rest.

2. Greater wealth means that now people can afford drugs, guns, and overpriced handbags. Nothing prevents us from succumbing to temptation like poverty! If these problems are a big deal for you, there are cultural/social/religious movements aiming to deal with them. No political movement is needed, especially not a political movement that would prevent the tolerance and free association that makes all those movements possible.

3. What the heck is "assabiyah"? I googled it and nothing jumped out at me.

"spirituality, aesthetics, myth, and raw animal vitality"

The enlightenment has done all of these better, though there's been a post-ww2 backlash against them, for some reason. Someone must have given them a bad name or something.

And again, these are not essentially political, and don't need a political movement. Did you know that before Reagan evangelicals used to deliberately stay out of politics? Then they jumped in, failed at all of their objectives, people left religion in droves, and the young aren't interested.

My advice to neoreactionaries: feed your own soul, and don't try to force-feed people because all that does is cause a backlash. My soul is lean and mean and likes it that way, thank you very much.

Gator said...

Re Morris B.
His 7/23/14 blog post is about "Stella Awards" -- people winning ridiculous lawsuits.

Turns out this from a fake email more than a decade old!

Morris's response was just " in any case, how completely believable any of this is, given the fact that we are dealing w/Americans."


Alfred Differ said...

The counter-reaction to the Englightenment dates from before WWII by quite a bit. A number of 'liberal' revolutions failed in Europe in 1848-49 and the support they had from the intelligensia melted away in favor of what became socialism. The manner of some of the failures "demonstrated" a need for organization and that can easily be interpreted as a need for a leading elite.

locumranch said...

What separates David and I is a mere if -- "if a field gets stodgy and hegemonic and brittle" -- but this is already a done deal (an inevitability) in most human endeavours.

Humans self-organise around individuals of merit; these individuals educate, indoctrinate and promote other like-thinking into their organisation; they self-perpetuate by actively excluding any idea or individual that is not similarily 'like-thinking' or 'right-thinking'; and then these 'right-thinking' organisations become stodgy and hegemonic and brittle.

This exactly how the Bad Ol' Aristocracy was originally created, and I have personally seen this pattern repeat itself over & over in the physical sciences, academics, medicine and especially (aaarrgh!) academic medicine wherein various experts objectify data, sift opinion, create consensus and establish 'right-thinking' guidelines that quickly become fixed and immutable rules.

Opposing all this is the libertarian idea that there is more than one 'right' answer to any question, but this idea (ideal?) (also the basis for speculative fiction, btw) is frustrated by the fairly universal human desire that 'There can be only One" (One God, One Spouse, One Organisation & One Correct Answer), describing a Zero Sum Game, perhaps, but One that our host is fairly fond of.


Alfred Differ said...

Narratives are fun to play with. Shift things a little like the setting the knob for Locumranch's cynicism and you can turn his second paragraph into the following variant.

"Humans self-organise around individuals of merit; these individuals educate, indoctrinate and promote other like-thinking into their organisation; they self-perpetuate by actively excluding any idea or individual that is not similarly 'like-thinking' or 'right-thinking'; and then these 'right-thinking' organisations become stodgy and hegemonic and brittle."


"Humans self-organize around individuals of relative success. These individuals provide the example behaviors to imitate however imperfectly for those who would wish a similar success for themselves. Attempting perfection in imitation encourages some to accept indoctrination from the master and expel less-perfect behaviors within themselves and from those around them. Too much rigidity in the attempt leads to stodgy, brittle thinking and a failure to achieve the intended success, but might (or might not) lead to success of a different type."

Jonathan S. said...

"Immigrants come here solely to make money"?

You mean that thousands of families in Central and South America are shipping tens of thousands of children to the United States because they think the children are going to make lots of money to send back to them?

It has nothing to do with lack of freedom, lack of opportunities, dangers from gang violence or government death squads? It's all about the benjamins, is it?

Yet another flat claim that fails utterly when placed up against harsh reality...

Jumper said...

locumranch, I am one of the technocracy you fear. I support Agenda 21, and the International Building Code, New Urbanism, and all manner of horrible freedom-endangering notions. It's because I read the literature. For years I was a technician for hire, in highway construction research, petroleum exploration, computer assembly, metallurgy, and construction. In construction I followed the ASTM procedures for testing construction of building foundations, concrete construction practices including steel reinforcement, and retaining walls. I love me some retaining walls, if built right.

In construction, I met on a regular basis scoffers who did not respect regulation and expertise. It was about money in part, but it was also about antiintellectualism. The thing is, their crap fails. Their retaining walls fall down. Their foundations sink. Their roads crumble. They are cheats.

I don't give a damn what they say; they are a cancer and they are criminals. Is that really the side you want to be on?

Tim H. said...

Jumper, my Father told of overhearing a construction foreman, as soon as the building inspector had signed off on the rebar in a driveway, soon to be poured "The inspector says we have too much steel, take half of it out."

Jumper said...

We were too smart. The city said if you don't watch the concrete cover the steel then it doesn't count anyway. And random sampling is a good whistle blower.

David Brin said...

Alfred thanks for your sincere attempt to paraphrase and restate locum's statement into one that makes sense.

But indeed, his most recent missive was "on-meds"... in that it cogently stated HIS view... rather than trying to cram blithering-lying diametrically opposite-strawmanopinions into my mouth. (His usual approach.)

Actually, if you examine his two paragraphs this time, it becomes clear what the problem is. For all of his intelligence, locum is psychologically unable to grasp the concept of the positive sum game. You'll notice that both outcomes are zero or negative sum. Indeed, the possibility of a positive sum game never occurs to him... a real handicap in communicating with most of us here!

Knowing no scientists personally, he cannot conceive that most of them were raised with "I might be wrong... or only partly let's experiment and find out."

Or that most of them are well-aware of subjective interference and confirmation bias and the only way to overcome them is competitive reciprocal criticism.

Or that a healthy expert caste knows that its consensus paradigm standard model will be at best 90% right, 90% of the time. And if parts of it aren't being demolished by evidence, in any given year, then the experiments aren't trying hard enough.

And when the expert caste is NOT healthy? Then impudent rebel post-docs... or even gifted amateurs... should be encouraged and not stifled, so long as they prove THAT they know their shit first.

The notion that an expert can be emulated and learned from... but never treated as a god and always potentially may become next year's tolerated old fart... this is not like the priesthoods of old. And the pity of it is that locum actually thinks that it is.

Kelsey said...

David, to help you on the "assabiyah" term. I knew it sounded Arabic, but my Hans Wehr dictionary was failing me. I had to combine that term with Ibn Khaldun in his second post to figure out the root of the word.

And man, oh man, there's too much for me to look into tonight, but "assabiyah" or العصبية basically means national consciousness or race consciousness and as Starved Soul said, Ibn Khaldun argued that any nation that lost it proceeded to die or get overtaken by a stronger tribe.

So Starved Soul, I happen to know that the root of that word also ends up in the Arabic words for "group" and "fanaticism" and "racism". There's a reason the US is trying so hard to move past "assabiyah" and it's because we realize the us/them mentality will kill us all if we can't grow up.

Alex Tolley said...

locum - " especially (aaarrgh!) academic medicine wherein various experts objectify data, sift opinion, create consensus and establish 'right-thinking' guidelines that quickly become fixed and immutable rules."

I am going to give locum his due here. Physician Ben Goldacre has written an excellent book "Bad Pharma" that documents in almost chilling detail (the stuff to create righteous indignation, really) of the corruption of the medical business that includes the very scientists and related institutions that should be the bulwark against such things. Medical scientists have willingly bought into this Faustian bargain for a mess of silver, to mix metaphors. At a minimum, this provides a counter-factual to the idea that expertise, especially scientific expertise, will provide the right answers. In this sense we should be accept Heinlein's prognosis that greed is the best motivator, not ideals.

Then there is the perennial issue of who welds power. Let's get away from the usual Koch or Murdoch examples. Another democracy, Australia, has effectively gutted climate change mitigation. On top of it, the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, as allowed the most environmentally egregious placement of a coal port at the Great Barrier Reef, against almost all scientific consensus this would be very harmful.

We cannot know whether a technocracy would make better policy or decisions, but clearly the decisions of a number of governments have been at odds with a technocratic decision. We used to think that the socialist/communist nations had the worst environmental outcomes, but clearly our western nations are starting to follow suit. I don't know how much scientific resistance there ever was in the communist nations to environmental degradation, but we have no excuse in the west where we do have scientists explaining the policy problems yet are downplayed by the vested interests.

Locum has a point. The institutions that should be supporting good public policy are in some cases being corrupted (e,g, medical schools) or being overwhelmed by paid FUD. The latter we can expose, but the former is much more insidious.

locumranch said...

I fear neither experts nor technocrats but, as Alex and (perhaps) Alfred seem to grasp, I do fear those individuals and organizations who would convert that expertise into compulsion, power and command.

I admit that experts do know better, relatively speaking, than the uneducated masses (this applies to me as well as others), but better knowledge does not and should not translate into the ability to command, compel and force others to submit, obey and subvert their personal will.

As a practicing physician, I know this firsthand because I treat a litany of medical disorders whose source is either involuntary or deliberate ignorance, yet I know that (in a free society) I cannot simply compel my patients to accept, obey or internalize my better 'expert' judgement without outlawing simple pleasures like tobacco, alcohol, motorbikes, junk foods, sports participation & sexuality.

So, instead of demanding obedience, I attempt to cajole and persuade my patients and I refuse to resort to fear tactics, fallacies, misinformation and threats of imminent Armageddon (in order to get my expert way) as other moral bullies do..

My approach (also known as the process of 'Informed Consent') is the only civilized way to effect change, IMO, without which there can be neither freedom nor autonomy.


David Brin said...

locum said: "I admit that experts do know better, relatively speaking, than the uneducated masses (this applies to me as well as others), but better knowledge does not and should not translate into the ability to command, compel and force others to submit, obey and subvert their personal will."

All of which is completely cogent and fine.

The puzzling thing is why locum ever implied that ANY of us here would disagree with that paragraph. At any level or in any way. Sure, he wants to emphasize the point. That's fine!

But he does not have to (in effect) presage such proclamations with "Unlike you bunch of expert-worshipping, authority suckling, roll-over idjuts!"

That's what converts an obviously true statement into a slanderous lie.

David Brin said...