12 March 2014

Brief note on Bazaars

Via @EsotericTrad , this utterly loopy piece by Brett Stevens. Apparently, the Dark Enlightenment is all about replacing the elite with people power. Really.
In the “Dark Enlightenment” lexicon, the opposite of the Cathedral is the bazaar. Where the Cathedral is based upon idealized collective issues forced into consensus and acted on by institutions, in other words a classic top-down arrangement, the bazaar is bottom-up and non-organized. It is what happens when people get together and do what makes sense to them without deference to the elites.
@EsotericTrad asked whether anyone had ever seen a DE writer mention the Bazaar in this sense, assuming not. I had thought not, and had said so earlier when esr asked whether the “Cathedral” concept derived from his famous essay on software development, “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”. @nydwracu knew better, though, and pointed esr to Moldbug’s Open Letter part XIV.
The Cathedral is called the Cathedral for another reason: it's not the Bazaar. Coding, frankly, is pretty easy. Reinterpreting reality is hard. Nonetheless, I think this thing will come down one of these days. And I would rather be outside it than under it.
Now, that’s an aside at the end of a 12,000-word “part XIV”, so it doesn’t seem a central concept. But it exists. What does it mean? What Moldbug is criticising here is not the Cathedral’s centralizing of power, but its centralizing of truth.
In a democracy, mass opinion creates power. Power diverts funds to the manufacturers of opinion, who manufacture more, etc. Not a terribly complicated cycle. This feedback loop generates a playing field on which the most competitive ideas are not those which best correspond to reality, but those which produce the strongest feedback.
What he is asking for is not “people power” but power divorced from opinion, so that there can be a diversity of opinion without a division of power (which, even more than most other DE/NRx writers, he is consistently and forcefully against).


Part of the confusion here stems from the overuse of the term “Cathedral”. Unlike many people who have written about his theories, Moldbug does not use the term to label the elite, or the powerful, or the state. It refers to the institutions that shape the beliefs and ideology of society (including the beliefs and ideology of the elite, the powerful, the state). Specifically, the elite universities and the respectable media.

Therefore when he criticizes the Cathedral in the piece quoted above, he is not directly attacking the structure of government (though he does plenty of that elsewhere), rather, he is criticizing the method of forming belief. When he implies it should be more bazaar-like, he is not saying government should be bazaar-like, he is saying the “information institutions” should be bazaar-like. A precondition for that is detaching them from the power-feedback loop he describes above.


  1. he is saying the “information institutions” should be bazaar-like

    Which brings us back to the same problem of rule by the angry mob, which was the point of the original Amerika.org article.

  2. Anonymous6:59 am UTC

    I thought Brett's was quite an interesting take on this whole Dark Enlightenment phenomenon. I'm not an anti-democrat but I agree that mob-rule has become a technique that the liberals are using, as in 'working the audience'.

  3. Anonymous, the entire DE thesis is that liberalism is mob rule.

    And Brett, I think you're missing the point Anomaly's trying to get across. What the people think is only rule if the people also rule. In the past, the way to get power was to raise an army, or climb the corporate ladder, or something similar. Now everyone has power, so the way to get power is to lie to them. Democracy, in other words, rewards liars.

  4. Anonymous1:14 am UTC

    Some people are literally incapable of conceiving of things in a non-demotic manner.

    I know, because I was one of those people at one point.

  5. More internet speaking out of two sides of the mouth:

    Democracy, in other words, rewards liars.

    Yes, I know that's what you're saying. Hint: you people keep pretending that I don't understand what you're saying, when in fact I understand what you're quoting better than you do. It's just typical internet behavior, a way to try to seize the upper hand. It only fools dilettantes.

    Nothing you're saying here -- any of you -- is difficult or, as I have said repeatedly, new. Nietzsche beat you by a few hundred years, Aurelius and Plato by a few thousand. You are (philosophically) borrowed 100% from roots conservatism.

    The point I'm making that the DE/NeR is in denial of is this:

    The people are in power. The people have been in power since 1789.

    The seizure of power by the people is democracy.

    The end result of democracy is pretense, and thus the Cathedral.

    You cannot beat democracy with more democracy.

    You are ideologically the inheritors of Conservatism, and that's why it irks you when people point that out.

    The characteristic of the Dark Enlightenment is posturing, not substantive reason, which is why when conservatives offer comradeship (mischaracterized by most of you as "ecumenism," which is a ridiculous misuse of that word) you make a big show of slapping down that outreached hand. It's because you are in denial.

    I've been writing on these topics since 1997 and have made every single point made by all DE blogs combined. The difference is that I didn't try to style it as a new product, a marketing strategy, etc. I have generally been live and let live, until I've encountered some DEs. They are generally strikingly nasty, astoundingly pretentious given their lack of achievement, and contentless blowhards.

    That isn't the future. That is more of the same. And that's why I pointed it out, and that's why you raged like newfags in response.

  6. Brett, I’m not sure who you’re talking to—possibly another blog. Nobody here is “raging like newfags”, except perhaps you.

    On NRx generally, you have it backwards. We are not “ideologically the inheritors of conservatism”. It is worse than that. We are ideologically the inheritors of liberalism. We are not heretic conservatives who have accidentally become liberal, we are heretic liberals who have accidentally become conservative.

    And yes, the conservatism we have stumbled into is largely not new. Moldbug himself states that one of the most important developments has been Google’s production of online versions of long-forgotten writing: Froude, Maine, Filmer and so on. What is new is not the material, but seeing the material through the epistemology of modernism; to be able to say that even under the basic assumptions of liberalism, liberalism is a failure and conservatism is superior.

    That and being pretentious. We like being pretentious. It’s fun. We don’t get paid for doing this, so we need to have some fun.

    Back to the concrete point about information institutions, I really don’t understand your position. Are you complaining that we are too democratic or not democratic enough? “The people have been in power since 1789”. We know. We want that to end. Are you saying that is impossible?

    Or are you saying that universities must always and everywhere control the government, and so allowing the existence of competing scientific theories is necessarily the same as having democratic government? That’s the only way I can make sense of your claims, but it’s rather a large assertion to make by implication rather than by stating it outright. If you are saying that, I’d be happy to discuss it; it’s an interesting line of objection.

    Or are you saying that every institution must be run on the basis of central authority? That for a badminton club to vote on whether to have practice sessions on Wednesday or Thursday is “more democracy” and therefore damaging to society?

    Our view is that a university should be like a badminton club: able to carry on its own business freely, provided it sticks to it, and not part of the governing structure of the country, either formally or informally. Is that objectionable to you?


    My problem with the #NRx is that it uses a liberal basis -- revolt against the "Cathedral", social engineering -- as its means of solving liberalism. Thus, like libertarians, it's a flavor of liberalism hoping to lure people away from liberalism, when regular liberalism is easier for them to follow instead. That's like Rand Paul attempting to use his positions on amnesty or isolationism to make himself more palatable to the liberal audience. When you sell out your essence to pander votes, your audience is going to flee and the people you wanted will turn toward an easier option.

    When I say you are "ideologically the inheritors of conservatism," the point is that your ideals are essentially conservative. You've mixed in a few liberal bits to make the soup seem more palatable to the Crowd. And yet, the Crowd is what creates "Cathedrals." There's a contradiction here that will unravel this movement much like libertarianism unraveled itself. The problem is not "entryism" but ideological contradiction. A conservative movement that is afraid to be conservative will condemn itself to reduction to the lowest common ideological denominator, which is something like liberalism. It's probably a mistake to view liberalism as originating in an ideology; more accurately, it is what happens when there's no direction and focus turns from leadership toward (as it did in #TrannyGate) internal policing as a means of keeping the group together. People ask "Why can't we all just get along?" and the answer is evolution; some ideas are better than others. When that process is crushed by a need for imposed/ideological group identity, you get something like liberalism. The problem with this re: #NRx is that by taking a conservative stance but basing it in liberal ideas you're heading back to this point.


    "Or are you saying that universities must always and everywhere control the government, and so allowing the existence of competing scientific theories is necessarily the same as having democratic government?" I'm not sure where this came from. I've been a vocal supporter of aristocracy for some time, which is the "parent science" to neocameralism etc. but without the modern baggage. "Or are you saying that every institution must be run on the basis of central authority?" -- aristocracy is both centralized and decentralized. Too big a point for here.

    Raging like newfags -- actually, the #NRx community has done quite a bit of this lately. It culminated with #TrannyGate but a tendency to bloviate across the net and deny connection to other movements by #NRx'ers prompted my original article. Where is "here"? Do you mean on this blog? Looks like a convenient redefinition from "#NRx as a whole" to "#NRx as discussed here."

    The point about conservatism emerging from liberalism strikes me as a non-issue. Since liberalism took over, all of us are emerging from it to figure out reality on our own.

  8. OK, I see part of the confusion. We say, as others have said in the past, that modern western “democracy” is in a large part a sham: that the mechanism of the Cathedral means that what we get as government is the Cathedral’s ideology, not really the people’s will.

    You are interpreting us as therefore wanting to remove the Cathedral and restore “true” democracy. That is what those who have made similar analysis in the past have wanted.

    However, the other part of the neoreactionary argument is that doing this would be even worse. That the Cathedral, though flawed, at least makes a reasonable effort to run an effective government, within the constraints of its ideology, and that actual popular rule, mob rule, leads to almost immediate catastrophe. I refer you to this post in particular for an explanation.

    So I agree with you that the Cathedral is what democracy inevitably produces, if it is stabilised and avoids catastrophe. What is necessary is not only to constrain popular government—as the Cathedral has done—but to have a new system which does not rely on the idea of popular sovereignty for its legitimacy.

    You say you are a supporter of aristocracy—from a neoreactionary standpoint that would indeed be an improvement on what exists today. My own feeling is that something like that may well be the best that can be achieved. Ideally, however, government would be seen as a technical problem, and rulers would gain power not as popular representatives, nor as hereditary aristocrats, but as those who had been successful at running governments successfully. This is the concept behind “neocameralism”, “patchwork” and so on.

    The idea that the practical “goodness” of government is usefully approximated by its profitability is, I think, another original contribution from Moldbug. It runs counter to the normal assumption that the difference in interest between ruler and ruled is of decisive importance, and is itself a product of the age of economic growth, which was not recognised and understood in the age when non-demotic forms of government—such as aristocracy—were existant and being intellectually defended (even though it had, arguably, begun during that period).

    The significance is that profitability of a government is objective, and can be maximised by competition, in a manner familiar from other kinds of organisation. The question of whether a system of competitive profit-maximising governments can practically exist is an open one—I for one remain unconvinced—but that is what is described as the “techno-commercialist” strand of neoreaction.

  9. A few points picked out of the flow for relevance & compatibility between our viewpoints:

    There are no new systems. There are variations on known systems. It's like a taxonomy of species.

    The Cathedral is what democracy produces, in my view, because democracy creates opportunities for demagogues while simultaneously pressuring people to justify their unequal status. If you have money, the impetus is on you to make sure "the help" are happy.

    "Ideally, however, government would be seen as a technical problem, and rulers would gain power not as popular representatives, nor as hereditary aristocrats, but as those who had been successful at running governments successfully." And yet, that is the role of hereditary aristocracy: produce people who are good at running governments, which is a cluster of heritable traits. Normally there is some decision process behind the scenes as to who is promoted to monarch.

    Avoiding class roles is a last vestige of liberalism in most conservative thought. It's no different than realizing men have different roles than women, or that different ethnic/class groups have different abilities.

    "The idea that the practical 'goodness' of government is usefully approximated by its profitability is" -- I find this an idea that is a response to a modern problem. We probably don't want governments to be profitable; we want them to be not-parasitic. Paradoxically, the way to do this is to ensure that they have the wealth they need but cannot expand their charter to do more than government should. The aristocratic solution is to not have a government, but to have a power structure, and to have it delegate or hire the tasks it needs. I remain unconvinced by government "profitability" as a choice vector as well.

    The tension between Moldbug and conservatism is (in my view) that Mb believes in social engineering. Thankfully, he has based this social engineering in regular engineering, and not in political morality like leftist social engineering (the Great Society). Regular engineering, like conservatism, is consequentialist; it measures its success by outcomes in reality. Thus it is less likely to be ideological in motivation.

  10. just blogwalking.. Nice post and have a nice day :)