Reactionary ideas

In a good post on reactionary music, James_G gives the following list of ideas associated with the reaction:

– anti-democracy
– anti-Idealism
– responsible foreign policy
– hedonic utilitarianism
– pragmatic inequality and elitism
– anti-cargo cult science
– pragmatic, but not principled libertarianism
– unschooling
– chastity
– controlled immigration
– patriarchy
– singularitarianism

I’d add sound money (and I’m not a believer in the singularity), but that’s a pretty good list.

33 Responses to Reactionary ideas

  1. dearieme says:

    I suspect that reactionaries might also enjoy Jazz of the era of Bix.

  2. James_G says:

    Nuh-uh. All jazz (20s era or whatever) is as decadent as music can get whilst remaining elaborate and flattering to the ear. Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall concert was just as much a cultural indicator as the 1913 premiere of Le sacre du printemps.

    Zeuhl music incorporates just the right amount and kind of jazz influence. It’s a matter of balance. And in small doses (e.g. events where a few extra degrees of liberalism would be socially permissible) jazz needn’t be a pariah. But although the Nazi prohibitions seem amusing in hindsight, they do have some basis in reality.

    Incidentally, the most invasively harmful musical influence we (modern Westerners) are exposed to is ambient music (i.e. music in the environment of which people are barely aware). Something that most Westerners don’t appreciate is just how much music influences the mind and emotions. If e.g. a supermarket pipes in music of a dissipative kind – which it inevitably is – this has a morally ruinous, stupefying and demeaning effect on the minds of the workers who are subjected to this wholly inapt emotional influence for several hours each day, particularly since they are likely to be mentally unguarded.

    The purpose of piped music is to lull consumers, and perhaps to provide the workers with “motivation”. I suppose this is one way of resolving the problem that working in this kind of establishment, or e.g. a fast food chain, is inherently dispiriting and humiliating to most people in a way that working in an independent type of shop or diner certainly isn’t.

    Now the reason that these aesthetically disgusting mega-chains, which apart from providing lousy services recklessly degrade and abuse the minds of their employees, is the government’s economic misgovernance. No one really likes McDonalds and would much prefer to have a diner like this in their town or city, but the RR Diner finds it hard to suck on the teat of zombie money.

    This is something Moldbug has argued, without providing substantial evidence to support his claim. I later happened upon this article, written by a former strategic intelligence analyst complaining about how inefficient large corporations really are, which bears out what Moldbug said.

    When the intelligence business works, it helps create organizational cultures where empirical evidence and concern for the long-range strategic impact of a decision trump internal politics and short-term expediency. And in the past, many such cultures have thrived in businesses and government agencies alike. But three trends are making this harder, or even leading these intelligence providers to have the opposite effect.

    First, the explosion of cheap capital from Wall Street has led major industries to consolidate. Where a sector such as pharmaceuticals or telecommunications (and, of course, banking) might have had dozens of big players a couple of decades ago, now it has closer to five. When I began in the intelligence industry 15 years ago, I did projects for Compaq, Amoco, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, and Cingular — all of which have since been rolled into the conglomerates of Hewlett Packard, British Petroleum, Pfizer, and AT&T. There are fewer firms for an intelligence analyst to track, and their behavior has to be understood on totally different terms than when this discipline was created. Where once an automotive industry analyst might have based her predictions on the efficient marketplace theory or classical competitive analysis, now she has to use very different analytical tools. Most of these firms are considered Too Big to Fail by their respective nation-states, as evidenced by General Motors and Chrysler in 2009, and the markets are thus convoluted by subsidies, special regulations, and protectionism. One cannot predict the future of a marketplace by trend analysis alone, because oligopolies do not compete the same way as do firms in free markets.

    Second, industry consolidations have created gigantic bureaucracies. Hierarchical organizations have a very different logic than smaller firms. In less consolidated industries, success and failure are largely the result of the decisions you make, so intelligence about the reality of the marketplace is critical. Life is different in gigantic organizations, where success and failure are almost impossible to attribute to individual decisions. Though a given conglomerate might have hundreds or thousands of “executives,” each is much more beholden to a complex culture of bosses. Even if people mean well, they’re living and dying by a system where the incentives are to seek advancement by pushing responsibility downward and pulling credit upwards. In large, slow-moving bureaucracies, conventional thinking and risk avoidance become paramount, irrespective of how many times a day people at that organization use the word “strategy” or “innovation.” It is far more preferable to fail conventionally than to make a daring but uncertain decision without the full backing of the entire organization. Because massive bureaucracies are so much more common than they were even a few years ago, decisions are simply not in vogue right now.

    Finally, and most importantly, the world’s economy is today driven more by policy makers than at any time in recent history. At the behest of government officials, banks have been shielded from the consequences of their market decisions, and in many cases exempt from prosecution for their potential law-breaking. Nation-state policy-makers pick the winners in industries, such as automotive, and guarantee the smooth operations of others, such as Verizon and General Electric, both of which received zero-interest cash flow via the TARP program in 2008 and 2009. Eventually, states might do less of directing specific outcomes in the world markets, but for now, these policy-makers have suspended many critical free market principles, and at times the rule of law, on the notion that we are in a crisis, and keeping the system together comes first.

    Thus, what use is the old model of competitive analysis if you are looking at markets in Greece right now? Which would have more impact on a given market: the clever, innovative actions of a CEO in Athens, or the politics within the European Central Bank? And how about analyzing the future of the housing market in the United States? Are you going to examine how much people are able to pay for accommodations and the level of housing stocks available in given cities, or shall you look at the desires of central bankers and Congressional policy-makers able to start new financing programs to end up with a desired outcome? How can you use classical competitive analysis to examine the future of markets when the relationships between firms and government agencies are so incestuous and the choices of consumers so severely limited by industrial consolidation?

    There is no good way to reliably predict the future in these markets anymore, except maybe by being privy to the desires of an ever-decreasing number of centrally connected power players. Companies still need guidance, but if rational analysis is nearly impossible, is it any wonder that executives are asking for less of it? What they are asking for is something, well, less productive.

    • Bill says:

      Now the reason that these aesthetically disgusting mega-chains, which apart from providing lousy services recklessly degrade and abuse the minds of their employees, is the government’s economic misgovernance. No one really likes McDonalds and would much prefer to have a diner like this in their town or city

      Almost, but not quite. McDonalds solves a real problem. I will tell you about the problem. You are driving from the North to Florida in the 1970s, before McDonalds penetrated. You are hungry. You see diners. From the outside on first impression, it is extraordinarily difficult to tell the difference between a hideous, dirty greasy spoon fit only for the dregs of society from a fabulous local diner. If you live there, of course you know. If you are passing through, you do not, and you get caught eating at the greasy spoon a lot. McDonalds is roughly the same everywhere (except they sell disgusting lobster sandwiches in Maine). Thus, you can just go to McDonalds if you want a roughly clean bathroom, roughly clean employees, and a predictable meal experience.

      McDonalds has solved this problem so completely that nobody under, say, 30 even knows what the phrase “greasy spoon” means. Greasy spoons are not a thing for them, because McDonalds killed them dead. But, back in the 70s in the deep South, there was not a McDonalds off every interstate exit. There were random diners: some good, some carriers of little known parasitic diseases.

      McDonalds is caused by mobility. Mobility is bad. Locality is good. Parochialism is good. Mobile cosmopolitanism is bad. Maybe yelp will allow us to have mobility without McDonalds. Maybe not.

      Travel is a hideous thing if it is done by more than the elite. Travel is a horrible, homogenizing lowest-common-denominator nightmare.

      • spandrell says:

        Can’t say I disagree, but don’t get angry with what can’t be helped. Mobility is here to stay, for gazillions of reasons.

      • Bill says:

        Yeah, I agree with that. But whaling on McDonalds, WalMart, and a bunch of other logical consequences of low transportation costs is like trying to hold back the ocean one molecule at a time. The problem to get at is “how do we get back (something like) localism, particularism, and etc in a world of low transportation costs and cheap information access?” Maybe, the answer is some kind of self-sorting followed by self-conscious differentiation.

      • spandrell says:

        Before Gengis Khan’s hordes, Song China was a highly urbanised, literate, commercial culture. It had banknotes, huge volumes of trade, best tech in the world. The government was awash with money, it neglected the army and instead used taxes to fund their factional infighting, not unlike the Whigs and Tories of modern England.

        The Mongols obliterated the country, and after 100 years, a peasant army reconquered the country. They blamed the commercialised, vain urban culture for the defeat, and the first thing they did was tie the peasants to the land, forbid internal migration, most commerce and banking. Peasants were to stay in their damn places and be taxed regularly.

        Tax income decreased 90%, and while the country regained stability, it was mostly stagnant until 1840. Then Europe raped them for 100 years.

        Point being, a lot of things are “good”. But you can’t pursue the good if your neighbours don’t. Hindus are cool and mystic and local. Didn’t help them against Islamic agression. Localism doesn’t build nukes.

  3. Simon says:

    Hedonic utilitarianism! Haha! You have to be joking.

    You’re all so left, it’s…deft.

  4. Bill says:

    I’m with Simon. Utilitarianism, geek rapture, and libertarianism do not belong. These three have nothing to do with reaction. They are complaints that modernity is not modern enough.

    “Anti-cargo-cult science” is worrisome, too. It seems like it is getting the causality all wrong. Moderns worship science. Science becomes degraded because it is worshiped. The idea that “it would be OK to worship it if only it was worthy again” is nuts. The worship caused the degradation. That item should be replaced with “anti-scientism.”

    • Foseti says:

      I would defend libertarianism to a point. I’d like government to be much much smaller and also much stronger. For most decent citizens the result would look a lot like libertarianism, regardless of what it’s called.

      I won’t defend utilitarianism or the singularity, but at least with respect to the latter, a lot of neo-reactionary writers seem to be fans.

      • Bill says:

        I don’t exactly disagree. Per accidens, right now, government should get smaller overall. But there are places it should get much stronger and maybe bigger, financial regulation being one of them. When you say “libertarian,” though, this unavoidably calls up images of guys like Grover Norquist, a man who never saw a tax that didn’t need cutting, a regulation that didn’t need rolling back, or a government employee who didn’t need firing.

  5. Birdie Steptoe says:

    Strongly disagree with “hedonic utilitarianism” and all general libertarian-transhumanist junk. Go with Hume – no ought from is. Just resist all positive morality and values, philosophically speaking – some useful new theology will come along to posit a priori whatever is necessary for psychological rationalization to function. The left has a philosophy but it’s a gang tattoo and has no motive force, either. The thing usually called “egalitarianism” is a constantly regenerating force in history, from the ancient Taoists to the Sufis to the pre-Augustine Christians to the Protestants. What we have here is simply the worst and longest overgrowth the process has ever managed – they usually get destroyed or stabilize and become normal power blocs. No one ever philosophized it back into chains for all time.

  6. James_G says:

    “Pragmatic, but not principled libertarianism” means e.g. sound money, reduction in government size and bureaucracy, end of the welfare state. It doesn’t mean open borders, privatised roads, dogmatic free trade or attempts to do away with the state altogether. In other words, take the parts of Austrian economics and libertarian thought that are sound from an engineering perspective, and omit the Idealist political liberalism parts.

    If one has to choose a utility function, hedonic utilitarianism is, as far as I’m concerned, the only way of not being a psychopath.

    It doesn’t mean opening the floodgates to Third World immigration, or enacting socialist economic policies, etc. The most important instrumental political goal for rational hedonic utilitarians is the maintenance of a flourishing First World technological and scientific civilisation, and that will continue to be the case. Those who think otherwise are distorting the idea of utilitarianism with their weak minds and weak wills.

    The singularity is merely a factual belief. There is a weak form: belief that AI is possible, that human intelligence can be improved upon, and that the creation of superintelligent AI will radically change life on Earth; the strong form is that an “intelligence explosion”, or recursively self-improving superintelligence might develop rapidly from the first super-human AI created.

    The strong form is a lot more debatable than the weak form, which is little more than common sense. At minimum the weak form belongs in the belief set of everyone, reactionary or otherwise, because it is likely to be an accurate belief. However I include it as a special reactionary belief firstly because real scientists like Yudkowsky are badly mistreated by the corrupt scientific establishment – and reactionaries should be particularly well-placed to sift real science from pseudo-science or corruption – and secondly because if anything, the consequences flowing from a likely creation of superintelligence within the next 1000 years disfavour the Universalist attempts to undermine First World civilisation with their endless debasing schemes. It provides a pressing need for civilisation to run efficiently, in an elitist and compulsively energetic way.

    • Candide III says:

      Why the cold feet? If your goal is the “maintenance of a flourishing First World technological and scientific civilisation”, just state it as is. Don’t hide behind utilitarianism because a) it’s dishonest and b) it doesn’t work (see asdf’s comment below).

      Factual beliefs should have no place on the list of ideas. Shall we add “sea is wet, grass is green”? If you insist on including factual beliefs that are “controversial”, shall we add anti-AGW for instance?

      I shouldn’t call Yudkowsky a scientist. He’s a philosopher.

    • spandrell says:

      Are you Phlebas?

  7. asdf says:

    Once you become a hedonic libertarian, it’s hard to argue against immigration. Your only arguement, that it will ruin the first world, is subject to sufficient enough debate that as long as you accept utilitarianism it will be impossible to effectively defeat it.

  8. dearieme says:

    In the year 2012 to admire the Jazz of, for example, Bix is almost be definition reactionary.

  9. spandrell says:

    Utilitarianism doesn’t define the “people” whose utility you are maximising. If the ‘people’ is defined as anyone with human DNA, then it doesn’t matter wether you are utilitarian or theocratic or whatever, you are doomed because the demand is infinite and uniform while supply is not.

  10. Nyk says:

    In my view, the over-philosophizing, distinctly non-reactionary thought process might be a problem. I am skeptical you can ultimately bring about a Reaction by thinking like a Liberal. Then again, it is almost impossible for anyone alive in the West today not to think like one. With LessWrongian thought processes, at most you’ll be bringing about a variant of Universalism with LessWrongian philosophy at its core (which might be preferable to the current version of Universalism – but not because of the intrinsic value of Bayesianism, but rather due to the high IQs and high introversion of the people involved in the LW community – people who would hopefully be rulers in case Lesswrongianism became dominant).

    I would use this heuristic to fix such kind of thought processes:

    “When in doubt, remember: Might makes Right.”

    Might. (And not hedonic utilitarianism, not Bayes’ formula)

    If you look at other reactionary writings (Moldbug, Carlyle), the ideas that they express are quite easy to grasp once you can get past the ramblings of the authors; you can extract the simple, common-sensical ideas behind them quite easily. The words are plain English and not lesswrong-speak. Everyone of a reasonable, minimum level of intelligence can understand Moldbug’s parable about the dilemma of the libertarian artillery officer.

    This is not so for lessWrongian stuff, that can be quite convoluted and which frankly I find hard to read and understand (blame it on my IQ if you like), not to mention of dubious usefulness. How is it helpful to know that each person has his own morality function? It is already quite obvious to regular folks that other people have different moral values than they have. It is quite obvious to regular folks that they (most of the times correctly) think that it’s in their self-interest to help the agents who promise to increase the influence of their own particular moralities.

    The smug philosophers over at LessWrong are sometimes expressing common knowledge with a convoluted vocabulary and afterwards hyping it as a philosophical breakthrough.

    If I’d have to name a community that exemplifies Idealism at its worst, LW would be among the first to cross my mind.

    It would be nice if, in the future, James or someone else wrote a post dissecting the Idealism of LW; perhaps elaborate on this particular post of Moldbug:

    • James_G says:

      >“When in doubt, remember: Might makes Right.” Might. (And not hedonic utilitarianism, not Bayes’ formula)

      Indeed. And the mightiest utility function of humans in general is hedonic utilitarianism. As a matter of fact, although humans contain various possible subagents whose goals include egoistic hedonism, fairness, aesthetics etc., hedonistic utilitarianism is the one that my reasoning faculties perceive to be typically the strongest and most capable of obtaining subduing its competitors.

      Hedonic utilitarianism’s might, its ability to trample the other competing value-functions in my brain, explains why I am advocating hedonic utilitarianism!

      Beyond this statement of fact, although we have much to learn about the details of qualia and how the human brain represents goals, there is nothing essentially deeper to be said about morality and human goals.

      >Everyone of a reasonable, minimum level of intelligence can understand Moldbug’s parable about the dilemma of the libertarian artillery officer. This is not so for lessWrongian stuff, that can be quite convoluted

      To quote Einstein:

      It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.

      Attention must be paid to both ends of this quote (also known as “Einstein’s Razor”, guarding against facile attempts at applying Occam’s Razor).

      >The smug philosophers over at LessWrong are sometimes expressing common knowledge with a convoluted vocabulary and afterwards hyping it as a philosophical breakthrough.

      Another Einstein quote:

      All of science is nothing more than the refinement of everyday thinking.

      >It would be nice if, in the future, James or someone else wrote a post dissecting the Idealism of LW

      I agree with some of Moldbug’s critique. I will say that there are circumstances in which a consideration of Bayes’s Theorem is practically useful. For example, if you have seen the film 12 Angry Men you might note that the do-gooding contrarian juror who uses entirely spurious reasoning to persuade the others of the accused’s innocence could have been effectively refuted by explicit references to Bayes’s Theorem (perhaps I will write an essay on this at some point).

      I may also write at some point about how neurological leftists and rightists can best cooperate, because I perceive this to be an important trend of the future, and the LW forum is one example that could be discussed.

    • Candide III says:

      > The smug philosophers over at LessWrong are sometimes expressing common knowledge with a convoluted vocabulary and afterwards hyping it as a philosophical breakthrough.
      That describes 99% of all philosophy that’s not merely bullshit.

  11. Nick B Steves says:

    I see singularitarianism getting reactionary “press”, and vice-versa, from time-to-time (like One Stdv’s seminal “Misandry Bubble” appearing in The Futurist) but I think this is more because both are odd bed-fellows of libertarianism, than any inherent sympathetic relationship. Singularitarianism seems, to the reactionary, about like the replacement of one imminantizable eschaton for another.

    • James_G says:

      >Singularitarianism seems, to the reactionary, about like the replacement of one imminantizable eschaton for another.

      Perhaps it does, but at least the core idea seems very reasonable. So, perhaps this analogy is nothing more than that.

      Attention should be paid to refuting bad ideas and examining why they have occurred (in order to ward against similar errors), but I haven’t seen anything remotely approaching a refutation of the weak singularity theory, nor does it seem a burdensomely complex theory. Therefore, you can’t just skip to the latter.

      • Nick B Steves says:

        I only read later your breaking out singularitarianism into weak and strong. I was only familiar with the Kurtzweilian Techno-Gnostic, Orgiastic Geekitude sort.

        On the soft version… well… things might very well get better, if we leave things the hell alone. After all, seeing as nature has selected for intelligence, conscientiousness, future time orientation, etc. It hardly adds up to singularitarianism in my book… More like just standard issue, Stop Trying to Immanentize Your (probably Idiotic) Eschaton sorta stuff…

    • spandrell says:

      Thing is we aren’t going back to the pre-leftism world. Not gonna happen. So it follows that any hopes is in the future. As a simple collapse of liberal civilisation will be horrible in a Fall of Rome way, the Singularity is the way of killing leftism without much pain.

      • Candide III says:

        I should put it a little differently: contemplating Singularity is the way to avoid contemplating the collapse of liberal civilization.

  12. Avice says:

    Ha! chastity, unschooling…singularitarianism?!?

    Is this “thick reactionism” in the style of Roderick Long’s “thick libertarianism”?

  13. […] is popular among the dissenter crowd. Candide and I agreed in this foseti’s thread that Singularity is popular mainly because it gives some hope of preventing the Collapse of […]

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    Reactionary ideas | Foseti

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