Entries in sources (4)


An Addendum to that Last

For those of you who followed my links on that last post, I should point you to this index, and note that the “Open Letter to Open-Minded Progressives” is probably a better place to start reading than the Brief (lies!) Introduction.

Of particular interest is Part 6, where Moldbug actually details his plan for his favored new form of government (neocameralism, the “sovereign corporation” as joint-stock company).  It’s rather similar to some of the ideas in crypto-anarchism, it proposes solving the Roman Dictator Problem2 by using strong cryptography.  Significant aspects of the plan strike me as totally unworkable.  For one thing, all the problems that plague DRM schemes would also apply to cryptographically-locked guns.  But it’s still a novel idea.  (As far as I know.)

1. I might call it crypto-fascism, but that phrase already has a different meaning.

2. How do you give someone total sovereign authority but still make that authority temporary or revocable?


Reading a Reactionary

Haven’t posted in a while, but my intellectual fare from the past few weeks has been quite hard to digest.  I’ve been pulled into a fascinating blog written by one Mencius Moldbug.  (Edit: Not “Moldburg”.  Why the misreading?  Must have struck me as more Continental.)

There’s probably no brief way to describe Moldbug’s political views.  Short of a ten-thousand word essay, I could say that he’s a royalist or a formalist or a follower of Thomas Carlyle who sympathizes with Robert Filmer (who is, to quote Moldbug himself, “so right-wing, you need special equipment just to observe him”) and considers Hobbes to be relatively left-wing.

Moldbug distinguishes himself from the typical libertarian fare in a few key ways:

  1. He seems to recognize the obvious problems with libertarianism.
  2. His hypothesis has more to do with decentralized coordination within an extended political structure (including organizations outside of government proper) as opposed to the actions of a monolithic political class
  3. He takes more of a “come to the dark side, we have cookies” approach, as opposed to painting himself as holier-than-thou.
  4. He cites his sources and is damned interesting.
  5. He skips the “wouldn’t anarchist capitalism effectively outsource all the tyrannical aspects of government to businesses?” criticism by suggesting that the government should be turned into a corporation outright.
  6. His endorsement of “passivism” is far more soundly argued than Molyneux’s “just don’t vote” argument, which I criticized earlier.  He doesn’t think that enough people “walking away” will create political change.  Rather, he suggests creating an institution to understand the existing structure of government and create an alternate structure (essentially a shadow government) that is so obviously superior that handing control to the new structure becomes a popular option.  This proposal has two advantages:  It would be extraordinarily interesting to see such a thing attempted, and while I still doubt it’s practicality, I’m not sure I could see myself opposing it in any situation so dire that it actually had a chance of success.
  7. He has a sense of humor.

In short, Moldbug has excellent rhetoric and is an (artillery shell sized1) bullet biter extraordinaire.  Not to say that I’m persuaded, I’m sure he’d still place me firmly among the supporters of Chaos.  But if you like interesting political writing, you’ll find plenty2 to be fascinated, challenged, and quite probably shocked and appalled by.  Start here, probably.

1. Fired with confidence, presumably, by a Carlylean Artillerist.

2. This post probably exceeds my previous “number of words in posts linked to” count by orders of magnitude.


On Risk Assessment

In 2007, the Daily Mail did a human-interest piece looking at one UK family titled  “How children lost the right to roam in four generations”.  At age eight, their child is allowed no further than the end of the block.  At the same age, his great-grandfather was allowed to wander across the town, including walking to a fishing-hole six miles away.

In 2008, Lenore Skenazy, a New York mom, wrote an editorial titled “Why I Let My 9-Year Old Ride the Subway Alone”.  She quickly acquired celebrity status as “America’s Worst Mom”, and has been fighting to defend her views ever since.

In 2010, security expert Bruce Schneier wrote the following:

At a security conference recently, the moderator asked the panel of distinguished cybersecurity leaders what their nightmare scenario was.  The answers were the predictable array of large-scale attacks: against our communications infrastructure, against the power grid, against the financial system, in combination with a physical attack.

I didn’t get to give my answer until the afternoon, which was: “My nightmare scenario is that people keep talking about their nightmare scenarios.”


Worst-case thinking means generally bad decision making for several reasons. First, it’s only half of the cost-benefit equation. Every decision has costs and benefits, risks and rewards. By speculating about what can possibly go wrong, and then acting as if that is likely to happen, worst-case thinking focuses only on the extreme but improbable risks and does a poor job at assessing outcomes.

The parental is political, too.


The Politics of Behavioral Economics

A while back, someone posted this video (talking a bit about some modern research into the psychology of motivation) to the Liberal community on LiveJournal:

They asked:

Is this a liberal or a conservative idea? I mean, if we’re increasing productivity and creating more effective work places, isn’t that basically conservative? But we’re talking about empowering individuals and normalizing pay scales, and isn’t that basically liberal?

Which seemed to me like a silly question.  I wouldn’t attribute political views to the result of research unless making accusations about bias.  The truth itself isn’t ideological; what sort of political policies you promote based on the truth is ideological.

It’s popular for conservatives and liberals to accuse one another of “legislating morality”, but the truth is that both do.  Politics is making value judgments about what the government should or shouldn’t do.  And once you get beyond the sort of pure volunteerism that few (anarchists and hardcore libertarians) think should define the political process, that includes constraints on what people in general can or cannot do.

The morality in question simply has a different focus.  Conservatives tend to focus on deontological ethics, since if you seek to preserve traditional institutions, it makes sense for your morality to flow from the authority of traditional institutions.  Liberals favor teleological ethics, since if you believe that traditional institutions run the gamut from pretty good to hopelessly immoral and corrupt, you’d better focus on an ethical system that can tell the difference.

(That’s not quite the same explanation discussed in the essay Red Family, Blue Family by Doug Muder, which I list as one of my influences.  (That essay is in turn discussing the book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think by George Lakoff.)  However, I think that the “government as strict father” / “government as nurturant parents” and “inherited obligation” / “negotiated commitment” distinctions are related to the deontological/teleological distinction.)

Of course, that doesn’t cover the whole “conservative” / “liberal” distinction, since there’s more to politics than where people stand on traditional institutions in general (for Americans, especially given the way all political difference is crammed into a dichotomy in a two-party system).  A lot of “conservatives” are fine with traditional institutions being substantially reformed (especially when discussing past examples), so long as the government isn’t involved (in my opinion, a tricky distinction to defend).