When I was in high school and an aspiring balletomane (more suitable to my physique than being an aspiring ballerina) I went to the public library downtown and discovered that most of the best stuff was in French. So I sat there under the MacNeil bronze of a faun, and puzzled through the sentences, remembering how I’d learned to read English. But, alas, I couldn’t SPEAK French as I had spoken English, so the magic never happened. There are two blogs that I read in something like the same way, though I do manage to pick up nuggets now and then. Both are written by extraordinarily intelligent and intense younger men and then heavily annotated by their community. One is “Gene Expresssion” at www.gnxp.com, about genetics, and the other is “Unqualified Reservations” at http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/ about politics.
I spent nearly an hour last night wrestling with Mencius Moldbug’s ideas on “Unqualified Reservations,” trying to make my limited ability to reason and my even more limited background in history come to life as understanding. Here’s the main thing I got, a realization that made me laugh out loud. The first thing you need to grasp is that “Specifically: demotism is inseparable from the Whig theory of history, in which history is the story of political forms evolving, Great Chain of Being style, toward our present perfection.” I got that: onward and upward ever, progress is our true religion, we’re the best. (Hold up forefinger to signal “number one.”) Evolution wins: since we survived, we must be the fittest.
Then he begins his deconstruction: “Briefly, hominids exhibit what might be called a default pattern of government. In the default pattern, the basic unit of government is the tribe, which controls a well-defined territory and defends it from other tribes. The tribe has a chief, generally male, whose decisions are final. He maintains power by using it to reward his friends, relations, henchmen, lackeys, etc.” Tell me about it! I’ve spent a LOT of time on the reservation, not that it’s any different from Valier except that our current “chief” is female and her decisions are rarely final.
“Hominids are very flexible and intelligent animals. They can exist in a wide variety of cultural configurations, with all kinds of weird power dynamics. The default pattern (which we see even in chimpanzees) is not inevitable.” This is very good news. (And he resists dragging bonobos into it -- everyone loves bonobos. Well, not Puritans.)
“But it gives us a concise definition of government. A government is either (a) the default pattern, or (b) whatever organization militarily suppresses the default pattern.” This is very clear in Iraq, Serbia, etc. The rez’s military (the police) is very weak unless a white person is threatened. Valier’s military is informal and omnipresent, since so many kinds of officers live here: deputies, border security, prison guards. But the real reason it’s peaceful enough for officers to want to live here is that it’s small and the most senior generation maintains conservative standards of behavior internalized waaaaay back in Europe and maintained by traditional church congregations. Unfortunately, those sources didn’t emphasize the importance of protecting infrastructure like water and sewer. And they’re aging right out of the picture.
Now you need one of Mencius’ helpful invented terms: Washorg-4. “Since sovorgs [soveriegn organizations] are territorial by definition, we can name them by location. Thus, for example, there is a very important sovorg on the Potomac. We can call it Washorg. Furthermore, while heeding Dean Tucker's wise warning against inquiring too closely into "original title," we can distinguish four discrete revisions of Washorg, separated by breaches of legal continuity - in 1789 (Confederation to Constitution), 1861 (state to national sovereignty), and 1933 (limited to unlimited government). So our present lovely confection is Washorg-4.” He identifies both place and time, which suggests a through-line to the future, thank God or Whomever.
This is where I laughed out loud: “The truth is that no one is in control. In Washorg-4 and its global friends and relations, we are looking at a gigantic, spontaneously evolving, uncontrolled system. The decision-making process we call "democracy" is best seen as part of this system, as are the "voters" whose opinions guide Washorg-4's decisions. Since Washorg-4 is a massarchy, since it guides public opinion as well as being guided by it, it can only be seen as a dynamic feedback loop.” Take that, presidential candidates! Not even Karl Rove is in control! Not even the media!
“If our feedback loop is converging on any attractor, our only way to predict it is to study the dynamics of the loop itself. The assertion that any stage in this loop - mass opinion, the official information organs, or Washorg-4 proper - has any tendency to converge on sanity and good sense is unsubstantiated at best. It could even be described as laughable. The system could be fluctuating randomly and unpredictably, or it could be headed for some stable point that almost everyone in 2008 would consider horrifying and unbearable.”
“This is why I am so keen on finding a way to terminate Washorg-4. It is extremely dangerous and completely out of control. What else do you need to know?” Well, of course, what we need to know is how to design Washorg-5, including whether it should be based on the Potomac anymore at all. What comes AFTER democracy to keep us from endlessly and cyclonically (destructively) circling while people need service and guidance?
Mencius despairs of what can break into the cycle. I have a suggestion, having just watched “The Hanging Gale” which describes the circle as it existed during the time of the potato famine. The movie suggests that emigration is the solution and so they hoped. But all they did was export the whirlwind to the Native Americans. Still, there is a transformative force illustrated here, which is the environment, not just global warming but also global contagion. We need a suprahuman intervention and that is exactly what the planet is doing. (Note: I do not claim that planets are divine, though there are spots on this one that feel that way.)
Government is entangled with economics (not QUITE the same thing) and economics are environmental. If Ireland had not been an acid and peaty saucer -- due to its geology and climate -- that had to be drained to grow aught but potatoes and oats, then the people would not have been so vulnerable to poverty and domination from outside, both by King and by Pope. It was the adoption of drainage that made flax a viable crop and gave rise to the linen industry. It was the freedom from “place” that made cyberindustry possible both in Ireland and India. Education is the equivalent of draining acid soil and of making cyberwork possible. Education lets Mencius think through the problems of government, but Washorg-4 has seriously neglected and bungled education, in my opinion.
What will change everything is that now we live in a global “place” with environmental issues that affect us all and will profoundly change government, perhaps creating one big dystopia or a million small organizations or something in between, maybe elaboration of the complicated overlapping bodies we have now: rezorg-3 or Valorg-2, alongside water-district-1 and fish-and-game-8. The environment always has the last word.
But I’m still giggling over the mental picture of Washorg-4 back there frantically throwing levers and pushing buttons, wondering why nothing works, never pausing to really analyze the feedback loops created by an overrich upper class, an underculture of poor people, a black market of drugs and immigration, an undereducated work force, and a media both commodified and sold to the highest bidder. A simple reboot will not do the job.