The self-described dark elf who yearns for a king

Tuesday, November 29th, 2022

Andrew Prokop of Vox recently spoke with Curtis Yarvin, the monarchist, anti-democracy blogger that many of us still remember as Mencius Moldbug:

When I first asked to speak with Yarvin, he requested that I prove my “professional seriousness as a current historian” by “reading or at least skimming” three books, and I complied. One of them, Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann — a classic of the journalism school canon — describes how people can respond when their previous beliefs about how the world works are called into question.

“Sometimes, if the incident is striking enough, and if he has felt a general discomfort with his established scheme, he may be shaken to such an extent as to distrust all accepted ways of looking at life, and to expect that normally a thing will not be what it is generally supposed to be,” Lippmann wrote. “In the extreme case, especially if he is literary, he may develop a passion for inverting the moral canon by making Judas, Benedict Arnold, or Caesar Borgia the hero of his tale.”

There, I thought of Yarvin — the self-described dark elf who yearns for a king.

Try thinking of your culture and society as a battered wife

Tuesday, July 12th, 2022

Curtis Yarvin (Mencius Moldbug) asks ordinary Americans who aren’t power-hungry (“hobbits”) to try thinking of their culture and society as a battered wife:

If your husband hits you, your job is not to hit him back.

Winning a battle in the culture war — as in today’s Current Thing, the repeal of Roe v. Wade — is not like leaving your abusive husband. It is certainly not like finding a new husband. No — it is like hitting your husband back.

0% of domestic-violence educators recommend this strategy — at least not till it is time for Plan E and your actual murder feels imminent. In which case it will probably not work anyway. But why not try.

On the level of physical violence, your husband — a bear of a man — will always prevail. But the cops can easily hogtie him like an animal. If they want, they can make it hurt. If you are thinking like a general, not like a frightened mouse, you reason backward from the assistance of such allies.

Unfortunately, there is only one United Nations, and that one is not much help to such battered ones as we — but this is a type of idea — the strategic idea. In a situation of weakness, the only possible reversal must come from strategy rather than struggle.

Hitting your husband back is struggle. Setting a hidden camera before you talk to your husband about his drinking is strategy. Calling the cops is strategy. And in a dangerous situation, strategy is your job.

So if your husband stole something that belonged to you — do you steal it back? What if he literally stole it 50 years ago? Stealing it back is struggle, not strategy.

Since you are in the right, it is the court’s job to be on your side, and it is your job to make the court’s job as easy as possible. Stealing it back is your natural impulse and your moral right — which is exactly why it is such a dangerous trap. It is not your job. And it certainly does not make the court’s job easy.

Of course, the culture war is a sovereign conflict and there is no court to appeal to — only God’s court, in which might makes right — the ultima ratio regum.

Aggressive defense in a culture war is not a bad strategic idea because it displeases some mysterious higher power. In this case, there is no such power. Aggressive defense is a bad strategic idea for other reasons.

It is a bad strategic idea because it makes the problem harder to solve. It is a bad strategy because it is a trap and it always sucks to fall in a trap. Please do not bite at the bait and trip into the wire. Please circle back and try to get behind the trapper.

If you have limited energy and a limited number of possible wins, it is important to focus your limited energy on one kind of win: wins that make future wins easier. By definition, these are the kinds of wins that augment your power. These are real wins.

There is another kind of “win,” wins which expend your power in order to achieve some result you want. These are sometimes called “Pyrrhic victories.” Pyrrhus took the battlefield, but after the battle his chances of winning were reduced. His tactical “victory” was a strategic defeat.

Among those who believe that an unborn baby is a human life, of course, the result of preventing an abortion is saving a life. So the results of this win are lives saved.

This is a weighty argument to set against strategy — but this is war, in which such weights are often balanced, and must be. The battle is important. So is the war.

And how many such lives, really, are saved? Are there really that many American women who want to get an abortion, but can’t afford an $89 ticket to Oakland? We’ll see mobile abortion death vans lined up like taco trucks at the taxi stands outside all major California airports. A girl in trouble won’t even need a reservation… she may not even need to exit the secure area — major airlines now planning to staff their executive lounges with on-demand abortionists, also expert in Swedish massage… abortion tourism as a whole will blossom… specialized abortion spas… abortion bachelorette parties… abortion gender-reveal ceremonies… abortion with dolphins… “our constitution,” per John Adams, “was made only for a moral and religious people.” Does not Pres. Adams’ data point argue strongly for a new constitutional thinking?

Evolving more and more pretty lies until pervasive error is again the norm

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

Western civilization has been repeating this story over and over for roughly the last half-millennium, Moldbug argues:

The intellectual command economy rules. Public opinion is directed by a dogmatic bureaucracy, rife with pervasive error, systematically incapable of changing its mind.

An unofficial free market for truth evolves. This market cannot be poisoned by power, because it has no power. It develops a higher-quality product than the official narrative.

A new epistemic elite arises. The old intellectual bureaucracy, smart enough to sense its own inferiority, hands power to the new truth market. A new golden age begins.

Dogmatic bureaucracy returns. Slowly and inevitably poisoned by power, the once-vibrant civil society slowly ossifies into a dogmatic bureaucracy, evolving more and more pretty lies until pervasive error is again the norm.

This is a slow and degenerative process which cannot be reversed

Friday, December 20th, 2019

No one sensible could possibly mind a benevolent dictator who was also always right, Moldbug suggests:

Distributed systems are hard. It’s amazing when they work at all. We shouldn’t be surprised to see failure modes. But nor should we have to live with, or be ruled by, pervasive error.

So we should admit that distributed despotism is caused by the way power poisons truth markets. Putting a truth market in power is unsound political engineering. A previously reliable machine will start to evolve pretty lies. This is a slow and degenerative process which cannot be reversed.

Putting a church in charge of the government is not putting God in charge of the government. Putting a truth market in charge of the government is not putting truth in charge of the government.

One of Orwell’s grim truths

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

There’s more than one kind of loyalty:

Intentional loyalty (trying to help the Party), emotional loyalty (believing in the Party), and objective loyalty (being useful to the Party) are three different things. One of Orwell’s grim truths is how easy it is to be objectively useful to a regime by intentionally rebelling against it.

No hardcoded program is perfect

Sunday, December 15th, 2019

Is our taste for politics so different from our taste for sugar?

Instinct is not intelligence. No hardcoded program is perfect. But in a stable adaptive environment, an instinct that fails systematically will have long since been revised by evolution.

In the tribal world, not only were political instincts like loyalty and ambition productive for us individually — they also tended to work out well collectively for the tribe.

Biologists still argue about group selection, but a dysfunctional tribe is unlikely to pass on any DNA. Massacre has always been a thing. While you’re bickering endlessly around the cave fire, the next tribe over is figuring out how to just eat you.

In modern civilization, these equations need not hold. Any of our instincts may be dangerous individually or collectively. Evolution just hasn’t had enough time yet to tune our biology.

One Key Tenet of the Neoreaction

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

If Foseti were forced to pick the one key tenet of the neoreaction, he’d pick this understanding of Progressivism, borrowed from Moldbug:

To the reactionary, Progressivism is a nontheistic Christain sect. If you don’t understand Progressivism in this way, you simply don’t understand Progressivism.

From this understanding of Progressivism, all other reactionary ideas flow. For example, here’s reactionary history in one sentence is: “Massachusetts, of course, later went on [i.e. after conquering the US in the Civil War] to conquer first Europe and then the entire planet, the views of whose elites in 2007 bear a surprisingly coincidental resemblance to those held at Harvard in 1945.” Similarly, political correctness and diversity-worship really can’t be understood unless they’re viewed as religious beliefs — at which point their operation becomes startlingly clear.

For certain people that have recently decided to call themselves reactionaries, this understanding of Progressivism is an uncomfortable conclusion. For others (like yours truly) the idea that any Western ideology could be entirely devoid of influence from Christianity is absurd.

The Real Emotion Behind the Arab Spring

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Mencius Moldbug explains the real emotion behind the Arab Spring:

Actually, Beavis can tell you better. “Fire is cool,” said Beavis. Fire is indeed cool. Americans were bored and needed some better CNN. They wanted to see shit burn. Shit indeed burned, and is still burning. Which was cool. So they got what they wanted. Not too different from the crowd in the Colosseum, just less honest about how they satisfy their very simple chimp/human needs.

And it’s not just sadism that motivates callous altruism. Another source of venal satisfaction is that when you help people, or appear to help them, you become a patron. You gain ownership over them. When you help overthrow the dictator of Egypt, for example, you become in a sense the new government of Egypt. The old dictator was a strongman — the new dictator is a weakman, because he owes his job to someone else. That someone is you — the collective you, but you nonetheless. If you decide you don’t like your weakman, it’s easy to find another weakman.

The fear that someone, somewhere, is exercising power over someone else, is one of the most basic cues of the callous-altruist mentality. Let me kill the master and free the slave. Out of altruism! Not sadism or ambition, of course. My hands are pure.

But slavery is simply dependence, and the default state of the newly “freed” slave is to be dependent on his new master — you, because you killed the old master. So your sadism itch is scratched, because you get to kill; and your ambition itch is scratched, because you become a slavemaster.

(A slavemaster? You may not tell your dependent what to do all day. But if you pay him to do nothing, he is still your slave — you may not ask him to work today, but you could tomorrow. He would have to obey your commands or starve. In other words, he’s a slave. And of course, there’s one thing you’ve surely bought — his vote.)

When Higginson and friends tried this experiment in the 1860s, roughly a fourth of the slaves died as a consequence of the operation. Not to mention all the other people killed. Naturally, since America is a communist country, this episode — which might under other regimes be viewed as an outbreak of mass criminal insanity — is considered one of the most glorious in our glorious history.

What is communism?

Friday, September 20th, 2013

What is communism?

In the terminology of the father of modern political science, Gaetano Mosca, communism is a political formula — a pattern of thinking that helps a subject support the organized minority that governs him. Typically a modern political formula allows the subject to feel a sense of political power that convinces him that he is, in a sense, part of the ruling minority, whether he is or not (usually not). Since humans, and in fact all great apes in the chimp lineage, are political animals evolved to succeed in hierarchically ruled tribes, feeling powerful is deeply satisfying. Communism works because it solves this problem, more effectively than any other political formula in wide distribution today.

When it comes to the formal governance process proper, of course, few are actually in the loop. Just as pornography can stimulate the human sex drive without providing any actual sex, democracy can stimulate the human power drive without providing any actual power. But one of the problems with American democracy today is that it’s far too constant.

[...]

Witch-hunting on a purely informal basis, Popehat’s “social consequences,” scratches the political perfectly, because of course here is actual power — the power to harm other human beings — being exercised by ordinary people who are not mysterious DC bureaucrats. Never, ever understate how fun it is to just chimp out for a minute. If you mock it, it’s because you’ve never had a chance to be part of the mob. You can condemn it as a vile, base passion, which of course it is — and a human passion as well. We really all are Caliban.

But we have an angelic nature too, and our angelic forebrains need a cover story while the chimp hindbrain is busy biting off toes and testicles. Pure sadism is enough for the id. It’s not enough for the ego. This is why we need communism.

And what is communism? As a political formula? Perhaps we can define it, with a nice 20th-century social-science jargon edge, as nonempathic altruism. Or for a sharper pejorative edge, callous altruism.

What is callous altruism? Altruism itself is a piece of 20th-century jargon. We could contrast it with the original word for the same thing, obviously too Christian to prosper in our age: charity. When we say charity, of course, we think of empathic altruism.

When we think of charity, we think not just of helping others — but of helping others whom we know and love, for whom we feel a genuine, unforged emotional connection. For whom we feel, in a word, empathy. Understandably, these people tend to be those who are socially close to us. If not people we already know, they are people we would easily befriend if we met them.

Dickens, no stranger to genuine empathy, had a term for nonempathic altruism. He called it telescopic philanthropy. Who is Peter Singer? Mrs. Jellyby, with tenure.

So, for example, in classic Bolshevik communism, who is the revolution for? The workers and peasants. But, in classic Bolshevik communism, who actually makes the revolution? Nobles (Lenin) and Jews (Trotsky), basically. To wit, the groups in Russian society who are in fact most distant — emotionally, culturally, socially — from actual workers and peasants.

Similarly, the most passionate anti-racists in America are all to be found, in early September, at Burning Man. Everyone at Burning Man, with hardly an exception, is highly altruistic toward African-Americans. But, to within an epsilon, there are no African-Americans at Burning Man.

But wait, why is this wrong? What’s wrong with nonempathic altruism? Why does it matter to the people being helped if the brains of their helpers genuinely light up in the love lobe, or not? Loved or not, they’re still helped — right?

Or are they? How’d that whole Soviet thing work out for the workers and peasants?

Heck, for the last 50 years, one of the central purposes of American political life has been advancing the African-American community. And over the last four decades, what has happened to the African-American community? I’ll tell you one thing — in every major city in America, there’s a burnt-out feral ghetto which, 50-years ago, was a thriving black business district. On the other hand, there’s a street in that ghetto named for Dr. King. So, there’s that.

Red-Baiting

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

If you look for Americans in 1913 who have the same basic worldview of an ordinary American college student in 2013, you can find them, Mencius Moldbug notes — but you can’t find a lot of them:

The cultural mainstream of 2013 is not descended from the cultural mainstream of 1913, most of whose traditions are entirely extinct.  Rather, it is descended from a very small cultural aristocracy in 1913, whose bizarre, shocking and decadent tropes and behaviors are confined almost entirely to exclusive upper-crust circles found only in places such as Harvard and Greenwich Village.

What were these people called?  By themselves and others?  Communists, generally.  Though when they wanted to confuse outsiders, they’d say “progressive” — and still do.  But poking at this paper-thin euphemism, or any of its friends — “radical,” “activist,” and a thousand like it — is “Red-baiting” and just not done.  You’ve got to respect the kayfabe.

Risk Factors for Geekiness

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

For real, live grownups like Mencius Moldbug — with, like, wives and daughters and stuff — it’s obvious that (a) geeks are born not made, and (b) a Y chromosome is a major risk factor for geekiness:

In other words, we are not equalists.  We’d certainly love it if everyone was equal (hopefully leveling up, not leveling down).  But we’re not insane and don’t argue with reality.

For example, I’m a geek and I’d love it if my daughter was a geek too.  She isn’t.  Not only is she more girly than me, she’s more girly than her mother (who has an EE degree).  She’s reading Lemony Snicket in kindergarten, but she’s not a geek.  A friend of mine has a daughter, about the same age, about as smart, who is a geek.  I wish my daughter cared about numbers, planets and dinosaurs.  For all I know, my friend wishes his daughter was a walking Disney Princess encyclopedia whose dolls can improvise an hour-long soap opera.  We can wish all we want, but that’s just not how it is.  If I tried to impose my ideal daughter on the real person who reality decided would be my daughter, I would be a bad person and a bad parent.  And that’s why I’m a realist, not an equalist.

The Logic of the Witch Hunter

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

The logic of the witch hunter is simple, Mencius Moldbug explains:

It has hardly changed since Matthew Hopkins’ day.  The first requirement is to invert the reality of power.  Power at its most basic level is the power to harm or destroy other human beings.  The obvious reality is that witch hunters gang up and destroy witches. Whereas witches are never, ever seen to gang up and destroy witch hunters.  By this test alone, we can see that the conspiracy is imaginary (Brown Scare) rather than real (Red Scare).

Think about it.  Obviously, if the witches had any power whatsoever, they wouldn’t waste their time gallivanting around on broomsticks, fellating Satan and cursing cows with sour milk.  They’re getting burned right and left, for Christ’s sake!  Priorities!  No, they’d turn the tables and lay some serious voodoo on the witch-hunters.  In a country where anyone who speaks out against the witches is soon found dangling by his heels from an oak at midnight with his head shrunk to the size of a baseball, we won’t see a lot of witch-hunting and we know there’s a serious witch problem.  In a country where witch-hunting is a stable and lucrative career, and also an amateur pastime enjoyed by millions of hobbyists on the weekend, we know there are no real witches worth a damn.

Social Consequences

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Most of what we call “McCarthyism” was a matter of “social consequences,” Moldbug notes:  

Besides, the social consequences work for one and only one reason: there’s an iron fist in the velvet glove. Being sued for disrespecting a privileged class — excuse me, a protected class — is not in any way a social consequence, but rather a political one.

[...]

Of course, ain’t nothin’ new here.  For quite some time in America it’s been illegal to employ racists, sexists and fascists, and mandatory to employ a precisely calibrated percentage of women, workers and peasants.  Because America is a free country and that’s what freedom means.

Liberty Under the Soviets

Friday, June 21st, 2013

Mencius Moldbug couldn’t think of a better way to demonstrate the profound and utter phoniness, the shameless and thoroughly criminal hypocrisy, of the American obsession with civil liberties, than to visit his friendly local library and request a copy of Liberty Under the Soviets (1927) — available nowhere online, apparently — by Roger N. Baldwin, founder of the ACLU. An excerpt:

My own prejudices are amply conveyed by the title of this book. Though over half of it is devoted to a description of the controls by the Soviet state, I have chosen to call it Liberty Under the Soviets because I see as far more significant the basic economic freedoms of workers and peasants and the abolition of privileged classes based on wealth; and only less important, the release of the non-Russian minorities to develop their national cultures, the new freedom of women, the revolution in education — and, if one counts it as significant, liberty for religion — and anti-religion.

Against all these liberties stand the facts of universal censorship of all means of communication and the complete suppression of any organized opposition to the dictatorship or its program. No civil liberty as we understand it in the West exists in Russia for opponents of the regime — no organized freedom of speech or assemblage, or of the press. No political liberty is permitted. The Communist Party enjoys an exclusive monopoly.

Nevertheless I emphasize by title and the arrangement of this book the outstanding relation, as I see it, between the dictatorship’s controls and the new liberties. For although I am an advocate of unrestricted civil liberty as a means to effecting even revolutionary changes in society with a minimum of violence, I know that such liberty is always dependent on the possession of economic power. Economic liberty underlies all others. In any society civil liberties are freely exercised only by classes with economic power — or if by other classes, only at times when the controlling class is too secure to fear opposition.

In Soviet Russia, despite the rigid controls and suppression of opposition, the regime is dominated by the economic needs of workers and peasants. Their economic power, even when unorganized, is the force behind it. Their liberties won by the Revolution are the ultimate dictators of Soviet policy. In this lies the chief justification for the hope that, with the increasing share by the masses in all activities of life, the rigors of centralized dictatorship will be lessened and the creative forces given free rein. Peasants and workers are keenly aware of their new liberties won by the Revolution. Anywhere you can hear voiced their belief that, whatever their criticism and discontent, that they are “free.” And they constitute over ninety percent of the Russian people.

Baldwin’s later, shorter piece, Freedom in the USA and the USSR, is online, and it’s quite brazenly pro-Communist. What’s shocking is how the ACLU maintained a reputation as merely liberal and not at all Communist.

How to Reboot the US Government

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Mencius Moldbug gives a rather rambling talk on how to reboot the US government: