06 February 2016

Neoreaction and Twitter

The ideas that became neoreaction were blogged, but neoreaction as a conscious intellectual movement started on twitter.

I'm not at all sure it could have come about in the same way without twitter. My aim was to speak to the group of people who read and commented on Unqualified Reservations, who were secular, libertarian or ex-libertarian types. Aretae, Nydwracu, Foseti, Devin, etc. But what gathered round the neoreactionary label were a number of young dissident rightists who were without a movement [1]. These young men even a decade earlier would have been ordinary Christian conservatives, but, alienated from mainstream thought by the progressive overreach which characterises the Obama era, they grabbed onto the Moldbuggian diagnosis of the modern state in spite of the fundamental difference in outlook [2].

There is still doubt on both sides as to whether this collision of philosophies, which produced what we now call "NRx", constitutes a valuable synthesis or a distraction. But for better or worse it was a product of twitter, which by its unique features causes blurring between distinct but proximate communities. The enforced brevity makes it practical to follow hundreds of people, and the way responses work make conversations public. (In contrast, if I share a remark on facebook, and you comment on it, the originator of the remark doesn't see your comment). The one-way nature of following means you don't need to ask for permission to connect to a social group. The encouragement of multiple pseudonymous accounts made it a first choice for dissidents. The fact that it worked by linking rather than hosting content meant it meshed with the pre-existing blog networks of libertarians and Moldbug's readers.

That is now history; over the last year or two many active neoreactionaries have left twitter. Their departure is in part a way of making the point that neoreaction is not and does not intend to be a mass movement, in part a way of excluding the less intelligent of the alt-right, and moving on from the same old repeated arguments. However, I did not follow. Though neoreaction cannot measure its achievement in terms of numbers of contributors or readers, it needs to be a live movement, and that means it needs to expose its ideas to outsiders and be exposed to the ideas of outsiders.  It is tempting to run away from troublemakers and communicate with a closed group, but I have seen such closed groups shrivel and die. I do not aspire to a mass audience, but I want a growing audience.

Also, to my mind, neoreaction is not primarily a community or an embryonic organisation, it is a set of ideas--incomplete, still under construction, but capable of standing by themselves. The long-term goal is not completely clear, but one plausible path is gradually spreading those ideas among the influential. I am greatly encouraged by the rate at which this is currently happening: a few people like Ed West and Sam Bowman are, without adopting the NRx identity, absorbing some of the ideas and leaking them into the mainstream. Moldbuggian concepts like the Cathedral, and recent NRx concepts like virtue signalling are becoming part of the general vocabulary. This spread is happening largely via twitter.

I am not opposed in principle to raising private channels of communication in parallel to public, but in practice I have found it difficult to be active on both. There is also one more beneficial attribute of twitter which is its disguise: I can access twitter from an office network and all the network sees is SSL traffic between me and twitter.com--there is no indication of what I am communicating or with whom. In contrast, connections to private sites are potentially more embarrassing to explain.

The context of this examination of the importance of twitter, is obviously, the fear of losing it. There is a three-pronged threat: first, the deliberate political attempt to exclude right-wing activity from twitter; second, the evolution of twitter, driven by profitability, in a direction which makes it a more effective disseminator of advertising and a less effective enabler of overlapping communities, and thirdly, the fact that the business itself is in difficulties and might not survive in its present form.

I have previously discussed alternatives to twitter, but they are not yet useful, because they don't have a user base. The value of twitter I have outlined above all relies on having a wide base of users; neoreactionaries can migrate to one of several platforms, but once moved we will be isolated from the mainstream journalists, the other dissident rightist groups, that twitter currently connects us to.

On the other hand, twitter is, from a technical point of view, easily replicable. Facebook is a leader in technology; its data centre technology is cutting-edge, it faces enormous demands in streaming and storage capability, and its automated management of the user experience is driven by immensely sophisticated software. In contrast, twitter, particularly in its 2011 form, is a much more straightforward technology. The original rails app was supplemented with a scala-based event stream, and obviously anything operating at that scale constitutes a technical achievement of a kind, but twitter is, fundamentally, the almost mythical thing that people imagine start-up successes to be but which they almost never are, a good idea. The explanation for its exceptional status is that its good idea, microblogging, doesn't really sound like a good idea, even a decade later. That, of course, is the big problem for twitter as a business: the company and its assets contribute relatively little to the value of the service, and it is stuck in a cycle of adding sophisticated profit-creating new features that its existing user base doesn't have any use for.

So technically replicating retro-twitter is very feasible, but without the user base it doesn't get anyone anywhere. There is room in the market for a retro-twitter, because it needn't have high costs: the twitter company is trapped by its valuation as a facebook-challenger; a rival could be run on a small budget like wikipedia.  It is plausible that the Mozilla Foundation [3] or DuckDuckGo could roll out a twitter-clone, maybe even with federated features such as those of GnuSocial.

The missing step is getting the user base. Ironically, the situation facing NRx on twitter resembles the situation facing NRx as a concept: things have to get worse before they can get better. Just as we can't fight the progressive mainstream for power, but must "become worthy" to step in once it fails, we cannot fight twitter for audience, but must wait for it to fail and take our place in what replaces it. The way things are going, we may not have to wait too long.


Notes

1. Nydwracu is as young or younger than the newcomers, but he's a prodigy, and under suspicion of being a genius.

2. There was conversation between Moldbug and his followers and Christian reactionaries--people like Bruce Charlton and Lawrence Auster--before twitter NRx, but they were still consciously separate from each other.

3. The Mozilla Foundation is identified as an enemy over the Eich affair, but it does have strong princpled ideas about freeing internet users from monopoly businesses, so I don't rule it out.

01 February 2016

Archiving

A couple of casual online conversations:

First, journalist Jamie Bartlett banging on on Twitter about blockchain.

It became fashionable in 2015 to dismiss bitcoin but get excited about blockchain.  I never really got it, because what makes the blockchain work is the fact that there are rewards for building it.  I can download the blockchain and not even know who I am downloading it from, but, because (a) it takes enormous resources to create that data, and (b) that enormous effort is only rewarded if the recent blocks were added to the longest chain that other bitcoin users were seeing at time, I can be very confident that the whole chain, at least up to the last few blocks, is the same one anyone else is seeing, though I don't know who I got mine from and I don't know who they would get theirs from.

A blockchain without a cryptocurrency to reward the miners who create the blockchain is just a collection of documents chained by each containing the hash of its parent. In other words, it is just git.

What I hadn't realised is that the people so excited about blockchains actually didn't know about git, even though this aspect of bitcoin's design was explicitly based on git, and even though git is about 100-1000X more widely used than bitcoin. They maybe knew that git was a source control system, and that you could store and share stuff on github.com, but they didn't know that it is impossible to publish a version of a git project with a modified history that wouldn't be obvious to anyone who tried to load it but who previously had the true version of that history.  If you publish something via git, anyone can get a copy from you or from each other, and anyone can add material, but if anyone tampers with history, it will immediately show.

So, when Bartlett said "Parliament should put its records on a blockchain", what I deduced he really meant was "Parliament should check its records into git". Which, if you happen to care for some reason about the wafflings of that bunch of traitors and retards, is a fairly sensible point.

So much for that. On to incidental conversation the second.

P D Sutherland has been in the news, speaking in his role as Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. @Outsideness highlighted a tweet of his as "possibly the most idiotic remark I've ever seen"


The interesting thing is I distinctly remember a post on Sutherland, probably 2-3 years ago, on one of the then-young NRx blogs, and a bit of discussion on the comments. It's interesting because Sutherland is such a stereotype Euro-politician ( Irish bar -> Fine Gael -> Trilateral Commission -> European Commissioner -> United Nations ), to be worth attention. Further, it would be interesting to see what we saw and to what extent we might have anticipated the present.

However, I couldn't find the post or discussion. Blogs come and go, writers change personas, and either it's gone or the search engines couldn't find it.


Putting these two together, we need to archive our valuable materials, and the proper tool for a distributed archive is git. Spidering a blog might work for a dead one like Moldbug's, but is a poor way of maintaining a reserve archive of numerous live ones.

I've written some ruby scripts to convert blog export files and feed files into one file per post or comment, so they can be archived permanently.  All a bit scrappy at the moment, but it seems to work.

The idea (when it's a bit more developed) would be that a blog owner could offer the blog as a git archive alongside the actual web interface. Anyone could clone that, and keep it updated using the feed. If the blog ever vanishes, the git clones still exist and can be easily shared.

(I wouldn't advise posting the git archive to a public site like github. The issue is not privacy--the data is all public in the first place--but deniability.  If you decide to delete your blog, then a recognised public archive is something people can point to to use the content against you, whereas a personal copy is less attributable. Of course, you can't prevent it, but you can't prevent archive.org or the like either)

09 January 2016

Outrage


I repeated on twitter a point I've made before:

I consider local stories from far away as none of my business and refuse to consider them

It was a response to bswud talking about the "Clock Boy" story / hoax



If someone were actually concerned to assess a situation accurately and respond with appropriate action, individual outrages, such as Clock Boy or Tamir Rice, would not be of any use. Instead, you would need actual statistics of how often various kinds of event occurred. Selecting only newsworthy events for your data set would be counterproductive.

Imagine a machine learning algorithm trained only on the outliers; this is your brain on news media.


There are two problems with ignoring outrage stories in favour of statistics. The obvious one is that statistics do not arouse the general public in the way outrage stories do. So, if your intent is propaganda rather than assessing the situation, statistics are less useful. The second problem is that statistics are more obviously mediated by others who may or may not be trustworthy than anecdotes are.  What the stories above suggest is that outrage stories are in reality no more likely to be accurate than published statistics, but it doesn't feel that way. You are always conscious that a statistic is potentially suspect, but a story of a reported event feels more like a fact than a claim, even though you read it from the same page as the statistic.

To emphasize, the real problem with outrage porn is not that it is not true. Reasoning based on selected outrage stories would be wrong even if they were all true and accurately reported. They are less akin to lies, and more akin to Frankfurterian "bullshit", in that it is irrelevant to the purposes for which they are used whether they are true or not.


For now, propaganda by outrage story is working, but the tenuous link between outrage and truth, because it is not a fundamental requirement of the process, can be completely broken. This seems to be what some on the WN side have undertaken to do:


Outrage stories are, necessarily, retailed and commented on without scrutiny, actual scrutiny being impractical. But there is still a widespread assumption that, while slanted reporting and hoaxes happen, most stories (or at least, most stories that are useful to my propaganda purposes) are somewhat true.  That assumption can be attacked by flooding social media with false stories. If the public doesn't know what to believe, and is unable to ever find out what is actually going on in some town a thousand miles away, and aware of that inability, then they would actually be better-informed than they are now.



As a postscript, do note that outrage porn is common across the political spectrum. Cologne New Year's Eve is outrage porn.

If I do comment on outrage porn, what I am interested in is patterns of reporting. Not the truth, or even the relationship of the reporting to the truth (since I don't know the truth), but the way reports are promoted or suppressed, and their relationships with each other. It is interesting that the Cologne story was kept quiet for a week, then escaped and became major (but not dominating) news. It is interesting that the BBC quoted a police officer one day that police said the attackers were mainly migrants carrying migrant papers, and reported the following day that there was no evidence they were migrants. If I draw conclusions from outrage porn, I am looking for conclusions that are independent of the validity of the reporting.

29 December 2015

Elite Cosmopolitanism


Tweet from Anand Giridharadas @AnandWrites Dec 27
Dear @realDonaldTrump,

I'm at a Muslim wedding in a Christian church in NYC, and everyone is dancing to salsa.

America already is great.



That scene may not appeal to everyone: @ClareYChen calls it "a shallow multicultural hellhole where the traditions of different peoples can become reduced to mere window dressing". But to argue against Girdharadas on aesthetic grounds is missing the point. It gives the impression of conceding the implication that the majority of Syrian refugees currently being bused into middle America will likewise be holding salsa-dancing weddings with friends of multiple races and religions; a proposition which could mildly be described as far-fetched. (Not that there necessarily aren't Syrian refugees that would do that, but, inevitably, those that do will end up in New York City or somewhere similar, while the rest of the country will get the rest).

It is normal for elites to be cosmopolitan. Aristocrats married foreigners, collected curiosities from abroad, adopted (playfully or otherwise) ritual and dress of strange religions. (Some, alternatively, studied and promoted their native culture, but that took the form of treating local traditions and folklore in the same way that others approached the exotic).

That normal elite cosmopolitanism may be good or bad—that's an interesting discussion for another day—but either way the elites in the past did not impose their exotica on the common people. George IV built the Royal Pavilion, but he did not import thousands of Indians from Madras to live in Brighton. Christian VII of Denmark commissioned translations of Persian histories, but did not expect his subjects to go to mosques.

Today's elites, unlike those of any previous era, do not even see themselves as elite. They think that everyone is equal, that everybody else should be like them, and assume without hesitation that everyone else could be like them. That produces a disconnection with reality that could become the stuff of legend. The peasants have no bread? Let them eat cake! Flyover people don't want Syrian refugees? Let them dance salsa with them! The apocryphal French princess was probably less out-of-touch.



The interesting question, beyond the immediate concerns, is whether it is even theoretically possible for a whole society to live in the cosmopolitan elite style. If it is only a matter of material wealth or intellectual development, then there is no reason why we couldn't one day all live in multicultural fairyland.

I'm not sure, but the most plausible explanation of why elite culture can only be elite culture is that there has to be a threat of expulsion. If elite culture is universal culture, then there is no way to get rid of unpleasant people; there is nowhere for them to go. I emphasised originally that the NYC culture of Anand Giridharas is a "selected" subculture, but the most important aspect of selection is not the positive filter of who comes into it, but the negative one of who is not ejected from it. The culture of the rural town or the inner city is not an elite culture and cannot be an elite culture, because it is not possible to drive those that do not fit out of it. In those bottom cultures, it is necessary to manage to live alongside those that the elite would exclude, and that involves a range of behaviours to avoid outsiders in ones activities and to reinforce one's own status as an acceptable insider who should not be avoided in turn.

22 December 2015

Soft Power

On the question of Islamic terrorism in the West, the narrative of the right has been that letting in large numbers of immigrants from Islamic countries is dangerous. The narrative of the left has been that the terrorism is a result of the West's invasions and destabilising of the Islamic world.

Very few people seem to have noticed that there is no contradiction between the two narratives.  They can both be correct, and in my opinion they probably both are.

I do have one issue with the “left” narrative however; not that I disagree with it, but I think it carries with it some associations that are interestingly wrong.

The associated idea is that sending in armies, special forces, cruise missiles and drones to other countries is particularly likely to stir up violent response in your own country, as if by some kind of justice or karma.

That is, on its face, quite a plausible thing to believe, which is why it gets carried around as the mostly-unspoken associate of the concrete argument that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in Islamic terrorism in America and Europe.

The problem with the idea, plausible as it is, is that it leads to the conclusion that aggressive military interventions are particularly dangerous, and that it is preferable to act in a more restrained way, using “soft power” to achieve foreign policy objectives by encouraging or giving aid to sympathetic factions. (I think the original meaning of “soft power” was a bit more subtle than the heavy-handed but non-kinetic activities I am talking about, but I don't have a better term).

That sounds plausible too, but the history of the last few decades seems to me to demonstrate the opposite.  Way back in 2003 I argued that the major error that led to the necessity (or near-necessity) of invading Iraq was not the 1991 invasion, but the actions taken after the 1991 invasion to try to overthrow Saddam Hussein via “soft power” and the Kurds.

In a similar way, while the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan did much to stir up terrorism in the West, they are not the biggest cause. Much more damage has been done by the “Arab Spring”, the attempt by the West to replace dictatorships with democracies through propaganda and funding for activists, with only a tiny little bit of bombing in an extreme case.

My view is that these kind of soft power interventions are particularly dangerous. Of course, there is the chance that they will be totally ineffective, which would be OK, but that possibility itself lends a reckless attitude to the decision-makers behind the interventions. When starting a war, even twenty-first century politicians make some small effort to anticipate consequences and problems. When intervening without military force, image and sentiment take over entirely, and no attempt at all is made to predict what the concrete consequences are likely to be, even when it is very easy to do so.


As I argued in 2003, I'd rather see military action, thought through and taken seriously, than the kind of gesture politics behind the Arab Spring, or, for that matter, the Ukrainian coup.

13 December 2015

Birth of a Religion

The most pertinent objection from outsiders to anyone advocating neoreactionary, formalist beliefs is that, historically, single-person rule as a mechanism for overcoming politics and discord has been tried, and failed.

I have explained previously why it is it failed: it was too successful too quickly. When European monarchs used the power of written communication and efficient transport to eliminate their traditional rivals for powerbarons, abbeys and guildsthe result was an almost immediate flowering of wealth, technology, culture and philosophy. That flowering empowered other groups to step into the shoes of the displaced medieval trouble-makers.

The first lesson, then for future formalist rulers, is to be less easy-going and tolerant of opposition than predecessors such as Louis XIV or Charles I. Getting rid of the old mess does not buy you very much time at all if you permit the concept of shared power to survive.

But even with that knowledge, accidents happen. Formalism does not promise a Utopia of endless peace and prosperity. A new trick, like cryptographic weapon-locks, might work for a few decades, but contexts inevitably change and new threats arise. Some of them will be successfully resisted, and some will not. Two centuries of peace and prosperity would be a great achievement of any system. Of course, absolute monarchy in Western Europe did not manage anything close to that.

The real tragedy of modernity is not that the absolutism failed. It was likely to fail sooner or later, and it is a shame that it did not last longer, but not a tragedy. The tragedy is that in the process, the clumsy and ad-hoc propaganda of its opponents got enshrined as holy writ. And while systems of government almost inevitably fail, and yet can be restored, that was not inevitable, but a terrible fluke.

When new religions are born, the details of their doctrine are massively unpredictable. Of course, Gnon filters religions for viability, but that is dictated by a few macro-features, leaving enormous scope for random features to be picked up and carried on in the religion's germ line.  Looking at something like Mormonism or Baha'ism, you are struck by the sheer weirdness of what is included, usually just because it was one guy's pet idea.

The burst of cultural exuberance triggered by the arrival of effective absolutist government produced a new religion with some pretty random beliefs about the nature of Man. That religion became entrenched, as successful religions do, and the history of the last two centuries has been the history of its random doctrines being gradually applied by its culturally dominant devotees, starting with the most realistic and practical, and by now concentrating on those that are left, the most bizarre and indefensible, such as the total malleability of human nature.

That is the problem with modernity. Yes, we have bad systems of government, but that is something that happens from time to time, and can be fixed. Yet for us it is not being fixed, because along with the bad systems of government we picked up something far more damaging and harder to cure: a bad religion.

Liberalism.

07 June 2015

Government and Management

This is quite an interesting bit of detail about the Labour Party before this year's election.

What strikes me about it is that Miliband was not in any kind of control of his immediate colleagues.

In a sane system, the chief ability of a leader, of government or of something intending to become the goverrnment, would be the ability to get a small group of people to work with him. In business, that is the most vital ability of a manager. Ed Miliband seems to have been greatly lacking in that ability.

The reason, obviously, is that he was not chosen for his ability to lead. He was chosen for his appeal to outsiders—party members, unions, voters. None of those groups would even be aware of his actual managerial competence.

People talk about the lack of "real world" experience of politicians, with backgrounds in think tanks or as assistants to other assistants. My assumption has been that the valuable experience is of the hard problems of keeping a business solvent, or whatever. But that's much less relevant to a politicians job than the ability to take control of a meeting.

Of course, as with Nick Clegg, the fact that those around him are "rivals and enemies" makes the task much harder than it might be. All the more reason to demand exceptional ability at it.

Reading Jonathan Rauch on party machines (still free!), this was the main ability that politics selected for in the age of strong parties. The incompetence of Miliband and the like is a new thing.