FIRST A BRIEF NOTE: For weeks I've been parrying online salvos from the "I need to believe!" cult, enraged by my caustic skepticism toward the latest UFO Craze. Although I've spent my whole life examining every conceivable aspect of 'the alien' - from astrophysics and SETI to vastly-varied sci fi ruminations - the standard attack claims that I 'lack imagination.' Riiight.
For sixty years I've watched these frenzies of wishful illogic erupt, about twice per decade - with all the same mantras and nearly identical 'testimony' by pathetic third-raters who never, ever, ever name-names or show a scintilla of evidence. Hence, I can be forgiven some ennui. Always the same drivel, that thousands of humanity's best and smartest would have studied alien super-tech for eighty years without a single palpable outcome, nor having any reason to keep it secret that we're being buzzed by mischievious space-elves.
I've pointed at the number of active cameras on Earth, now a million times as many as in the 1950s; yet the images keep getting fuzzier. (Here is my own 'cat-laser' theory about so-called 'tic-tacs.') I've also made it clear that I leave an open slot on my idea shelf for silvery space-jerks buzzing us while breaking every known physical law. A small slot. (In Existence I explore the form of alien contact I think we actually might live to see in our lifetimes.)
But okay, fire away guys. Or wait till I do a full posting about this mania, in a week or two.
Meanwhile, I promised to finish up a far more important topic. One that's rooted not in space-elf fantasies but a very real human psychosis! One that could end our Enlightenment Experiment... our one and only chance to go out there ourselves.
To the stars.
== Those who betray the light seek a return of darkness ==
Last time, I addressed two disturbing symptoms of the World Oligarchic Putsch. A dismally stoopid so-called Neo-Monarchy Movement and a surge in apocalyptic frenzy by the aristocrats themselves, building hyper prepper getaways to ride out 'The Event.'
I referred to Douglas Rushkoff's book "Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires." Doug and I have both been asked 'advice' by some of these folks (e.g. how to keep their guards loyal when money is no longer any good). (We both have answers, but decided not to tell.) We do disagree though, on some parts of the diagnosis.
Rushkoff believes the etiology of this illness is rooted in the tech industry. Because it was new-money cyber-zillionaires asking his advice about The Event, he blames their techno-transcendentalist belief that they can break-and-rebuild anything. But that observation was likely a selection effect, based on which part of the oligarchy overlapped with Douglas Rushkoff's circles.
Alas, it extends much farther than the relatively harmless techie caste. The same Prepper Mania also courses through larger communities of Old Money, plus casino mafiosi, "ex" commissar oligarchs, petro-sheiks, hedge parasites and inheritance brats around the globe. They just have more discreet habits. Old money vetts their servants and sycophants more carefully, if no less delusionally. And even so, I have been to some of their haunts, as I describe in Existence.
No, it goes far deeper than techno-transcendentalism. Last time I addressed the underlying drive behind all of this, rooted in the harems of kings for 6000 years.
== A younger voice told it better ==
Oh, I’ve confronted this monstrous treason before—romantics who rave that modern, enlightenment values are empty and democracy is fatally flawed. They speak of yearning for kingship, and sometimes promote it in superhero films, or Tolkien nostalgisms or – yes – Star Wars.
And so let me pause to quote from a smarter and more vivid fellow, my younger self, in this excerpt from my nonfiction book: Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood.
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 or BBC, the way our unseemly scientists do today? Weren’t miracles more exciting when they were doled out by a precious few, instead of commercializing every discovery, bottling and marketing each new marvel to the masses for a dollar ninety-five? Didn’t we stop going to the Moon because it became boring? Just look at how people felt about Princess Diana. No democratically elected public servant was ever so adored. Democracy doesn’t have the same pomp, majesty, or sense of being above accountability. As we saw in Chapter Ten, one of the paramount promoters of the fantasy-mythic tradition, George Lucas, expressed it this way.
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.
Lucas's yearning makes sense if you remember that arbitrary lords and chiefs did rule us for 99.44% of human existence. Amid the brutally predictable drudgery of everyday life, miracles were awesome, far-away things. Flight was a legendary prerogative of demigods in stirring fables. And a man was meaningless out of context with his king.
It’s only been two hundred years or so – an eyeblink – that “scientific enlightenment” began waging its rebellion against the nearly universal pattern called feudalism, a hierarchic system that ruled our ancestors in every culture that developed both metallurgy and agriculture. Wherever human beings acquired both plows and swords, gangs of large men picked up the latter and took other men’s women and wheat. (Sexist language is meaningfully accurate here; those cultures had no word for “sexism,” it was simply assumed.) They then proceeded to announce rules and “traditions” ensuring that their sons would inherit everything.
Please, try to find even one exception. You won’t succeed. Putting aside cultural superficialities, society on every inhabited continent quickly shaped itself into a pyramid, with a few well-armed bullies at the top, accompanied by some fast talking guys with painted faces or spangled cloaks who curried favor by weaving stories to explain why the bullies should remain on top.
Only something exceptional started happening. Bit by bit – in gradual stages – the elements began taking shape for a new social and intellectual movement, one finally capable of challenging the alliance of warrior lords, priests, bards and secretive magicians. It didn’t happen all at once, but in fitful jerks, sometimes five steps forward and four (or more) steps back.
Timidly at first, guilds and townsfolk rallied together and lent their support to kings, thereby easing oppression by local lords. Long before Aristotle became a tool of the establishment, his rediscovery during the High Middle Ages offered some relief from dour anti-intellectualism. Then renaissance humanism offered a philosophical basis for valuing the individual human as a being worthy in its own right. The Reformation freed sanctity and morality from control by a narrow, self-chosen club; it also legitimized self-betterment through hard work in this world, not the next. Then Galileo and Newton showed that creation’s clockwork can be understood, even appreciated in its elegance, not just endured.
Still, the entire notion of progress remained nebulous and ill-formed. Society’s essential shape – pyramidal, with a narrow elite atop a vast and permanently ignorant peasantry – stayed largely unchanged until a full suite of elements and tools were finally in place, setting the stage for true revolution. A revolution so fundamental, coming with such heady, empowering suddenness, that participants gave it a name filled with hubristic portent. Enlightenment.
The word wasn’t ill-chosen, for it bespoke illuminating a path ahead. Which, in turn, implied the unprecedented notion that “forward” is a direction worth taking, instead of lamenting over a preferred past.
== Back to the present ==
Since I wrote that passage, things have deteriorated to a point where I am getting mail and messages from all over, referring to the 'Holnist' survivalist/prepper/feudalist villains of my novel (and film) The Postman, asking me "Brin, how did you know?"
I answer that this pattern has always been part of human nature. We are all descended from those harems and there will always be humans who yearn to be kings. In America, this manifests in eruptions of pimply ingrates (formerly confederates, now called incels) who think if-only our civilization came crashing down, they could be Top Dogs.
(Sorry. More likely kibble.)
Oh, some of these guys’ll yammer about the price of enlightenment freedoms and progress and accomplishments. For example – as described by George Lucas above - a purported loss of serenity, or unity, or elegance, or sense of belonging, or never-defined 'virtue.' And sure, I have plenty of my own complaints about millions of noisy, noisome neighbors who recite nonsense incantations from Fox News…
...or a smaller coterie of symbolism-obsessed fanatics on the other side, who seem daily determined to make liberalism look bad, from within.
And yeah... UFO nuttery.
Still, oh for a time machine! I’d send every romantic to live for a single week in any of those lamented, idealized past times. Even as a king!
Only, these rabid-frothy loons would not be kings, nor top dogs. As I showed last time, Mencius Moldbug knows that. Instead, he envisions himself—like in the Tablet article—as Machiavelli. A valued factotum and vizier to the top dog.
Except for some inconvenient differences. Like the fact that Machiavelli fought like hell for the Florentine Republic, only hiring out to aristocrats when all was lost. And even then, he helped sneak enlightenment partisans away to northern freedom. And even when he had no choice but to be a lackey, his works slyly planted seeds.
Oh, and another difference: he had more than three neurons to scrape together.
No, Mr. Yarvin, those of us who know Machiavelli can tell that you are no Machiavelli. Whether there come good kings or bad ones, you’ll not be of use in the era you hope to help bring about. Except as kibble.
== The all-too human pattern of sycophancy ==
Okay, this is taking more than the hour I allotted to these dopes. So, let’s wrap up. Did I mention that all humans are delusional? Yeah. And that those who acquire vast wealth and power hug their delusions close, while imposing their uncriticized mistakes on the rest of us? Again, it’s called history.
Alas it gets worse. Not only do the mighty suppress critics and criticism. They surround themselves with flatterers! With sycophants, who feed on table scraps by licking the master’s hand.
“You’re a genius, sir! No one else could have gathered the wealth and power your now wield! Or – if you inherited much of it – genius runs in families! Certainly, it’s not cheating to manipulate influence and contacts and bribes and blackmail to ensure others can’t compete with you. All great things are accomplished by unitary executives!”
Oh… and …
“When civilization collapses, we’ll be fine in your Patagonian mountain prepper fortress or undersea redoubt. Never mind all those 100 million nerds and fact profession, who you despise and on whom you waged war.
“Those professionals - who know bio, nuclear, cyber, nano and all the rest and who know the exact location of every prepper citadel, will never get mad at those who deliberately conspired to bring down the Enlightenment Experiment! They won’t hunt you down, after the Fall that you prepper-kings helped make happen. Never!”
No greater failure of oligarch IQ can be seen than the reflex to embrace sycophancy. Of course we know that truly effective ‘genius’ is in direct proportion to a person’s confident willingness to face discomforting and corrective criticism. But the sponsors of Mencius Moldbug have their self-flattering incantations, like this one from the Tablet agitprop:
“An all-powerful state is necessary, a sovereign Leviathan of the kind envisioned by Thomas Hobbes, to impose order by force on a level of such absolute authority that it can then disappear from day-to-day life.”
To which I respond: “Name… one… example… of that ever actually happening.
Ever, at all?”
These fellows used to be gnats at our ankles. Now the would-be Machiavellis have amplifying sponsors. They have become like Howard Beale, in Network, agents for delivering a toxin that destroys a mighty people’s confidence in themselves.
The ancient pestilence of despotic harem-building oligarchy that made a hell of 6000 years… and that could easily deny our children the stars.
I encourage you to have a look at George Orwell’s other works than Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Especially Homage to Catalonia, which eviscerates the way dogmatism so often turns the Left into a circular firing squad. To be clear, though, Orwell remained lifelong a socialist, because he knew the main enemy of human progress was inheritance-based oligarchy, the central human social disease that the left could only successfully counter by remaining moderate, pragmatic and inclusive.
A different work that’s worth a look, if you have time is Orwell’s Fifty Essays. One of them (#40) offers glimpses into predecessors of our newbie Neo-Monarchists, like Edmund Burke and a contemporary of Wells, James Burnham: "In his next published book, The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, James Burnham elaborates … All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another. All talk about democracy, liberty, equality, fraternity, all revolutionary movements, all visions of Utopia, or "the classless society", or "the Kingdom of Heaven on earth", are humbug (not necessarily conscious humbug) covering the ambitions of some new class which is elbowing its way into power."
What this illustrates is something I’ve noticed, over the years, worth its own extensive essay-appraisal… that much of conservatism is based upon a mental equivalence of color-blindness, or Flatland 2-D thinking in a 3-dimensional world. These fellows are simply unable to grasp what they cannot see, including even the notion of a Positive Sum Game! That a social system can be set up in which these mighty interests are restrained from destructive combat for pinnacle power by:
FIRST breaking up powerful interests into small enough units, so that it is in each unit’s interest to tattle on power abusers. (This – I maintain elsewhere – is also the only likely way to achieve a soft landing re Artificial Intelligence.)
SECOND recognition by a critical mass of creatively potent individuals that their own self-interest will benefit most from an enlightenment nation. That their resulting longer, happier lives - filled with a cornucopia of toys and advancements and new frontiers and vibrant minds to argue with – will outweigh the dubious and historically lobotomized pleasures of ‘supreme executive’ bossing and harem-keeping.
What’s most ironic about all this is that Adam Smith and the U.S. Founders did grasp this positive sum concept, as did Pericles around 500BCE (see his Funeral Oration in Tacitus). Concluding that a deliberate flattening of power structures can both maximize competitive creative-productivity and prevent reflexively unsapient harem-gatherers from behaving as Buke, Burnham, Rand and the neo-monarchists describe and admire.
My answer to those who clutch dreams of kingship, rationalizing that there is no viable alternative, is to urge (some of them with high IQs but flatland vision) that they should learn to perceive a third dimension. One that we call up.