I know! For some reason Windows FTP doesn't upload things I tell it to upload on the new computer - it appears as a file on my site but the link doesn't take me there.
For now just look at it here
Martin Luther King was assassinated. Bull Conner died at 76 of a stroke. It really depends on what kind of power you're measuring.
Part of the problem with social/conscious power is that people don't have reliable methods of changing aliefs in others* (maybe the implicit association test should be reconfigured as a video game), and I don't think it's settled to what extent art leads political power and to what extent art is shaped by political power.
*This might be just as well.
I win all my legal cases, blocking some of their drilling, and Congress passes all the laws I want, raising their tax rate a little. Whenever ExxonMobil tries to condemn me in any way, there is a huge political outcry and they back off. Does this make me more powerful than ExxonMobil?
No. What I described would be pretty successful for a life of activism. But in the end, ExxonMobil is going to just drill somewhere else, and figure out some tax shelter policy that completely avoids whatever law I got Congress to pass against them.
The line "figure out some tax shelter policy" actually involves having ExxonMobil have laws passed to treat some pre-existing or easily adapted to behavior as some sort of tax preferred status. This isn't just them being bigger, this is them being better than 'Scott the activist" at something 'Scott the activist" thinks he's the best at. Having congress pass all the laws you actually want (combined with understanding how the industry actually works) is a lot more powerful than any activist has ever gotten.
After writing that I'm noticing that if ExxonMobil is playing for structural power, and the activist is playing for social power then both can win. The activist can have bills passed that get cheers from the environmentalists and make ExxonMobil get hammered in the press, while ExxonMobil still gets to engage in their economic activity, supported by congress in ways that are not noticed by MSNBC. Everyone can win the game they're playing.
2013-01-31 03:53 pm (UTC)
Massive props for making explicit a distinction that, in hindsight, we should have been using all along.
I would really love to see this transmogrified into a Less Wrong post.
I don't think that's the conservative position.
I think the conservative position would be that "social/conscious power" *is* power, just not necessarily productive power. Regulations about who you can hire and fire and how hard you can work them may not make the average worker better off, but they sure make life harder for the business owner. The energy people expend in being PC is an effort that costs their capacities to do other things, and who knows what good things might have been left undone? I think a conservative would say that it is power, but only power to waste resources and win by attrition, not power to actually redistribute pieces of a pie of the same size, and certainly not power to create resources.
Modern feminism [so says my conservative devil's advocate] doesn't really give you the power to reduce rape, or any of the other straightforwardly good things. It does give some specific women social cover for getting their way, if they wrap themselves in the feminist flag.
All the (current) feminist noise about rape is confusing to me. Do they believe that rapists actually think they have the right to rape a woman? Do they also believe murderers believe they have the right to kill?
I think it both cases, 99% of the time, it is an impulse, lack of long term thinking, and a quick sub-conscious estimation of ability to resist.
I'd wager organizing a neighborhood watch would deter far more rapes than organizing a protest.
Graph is missing for me too.
> Just to use race as an example, fifty years ago, there were explicit laws keeping black people down, and scientific racists in universities were blithely speculating on the cranial capacity of "Negroids" without a second thought.
Who was doing that in 1963?
2013-01-31 08:40 pm (UTC)
Gould was doing that only 30 years ago.
Physical anthropologists were unfashionable, but hardly extinct. In fact, their apotheosis is the 1962 book of Carleton Coon. While he was wrong on multiregionalism, he was 50 years ahead of his time on the importance of dividing Africans into two races.
Now speaking as me:
There exists an activist toolkit, an activist tradition, activist archetypes. You can see it in "Les Miserables." Nobody really knows or cares about the revolution of 1832. I don't even know what it was for. But I do recognize barricades, flags, singing crowds, workers led by brave young students, pamphlets, speeches. All the accoutrements. And all the accoutrements stir my blood, because like all Westerners I come from the Enlightenment tradition, and, y'know, "Aux armes, citoyens!" and "It's coming yet, for a' that."
The problem is that today, when people tend to be rather confused and ignorant about values and history, we respond directly to the accoutrements and don't check what they aim at. The Occupy Wall Street movement was, in large part, setting up the accoutrements and hoping the purpose would take care of itself. [I don't doubt that there were actual intellectual threads here and there. There are things to be said about financial regulation and corporate welfare. And straight-up Communism was, at least at one time, a well-defined aim. But my overall impression was that people were performing "Do you hear the people sing?" and not too clear on what they were singing for.] It was full of spirit -- as the Tea Party was full of spirit -- and even as Obama 2008 was full of spirit. (Don't laugh. I'm from Chicago. The ground in Grant Park rang with dancing. The love was real. And if I were president it would break my fucking heart that people spent a love so real in my name.)
I think Moldbug treats Revolution (or activism) as though it's an agent, rather than a spirit, an emotion. He treats it like an agent, and constructs a framework where it's the enemy. But a spirit doesn't have goals, so you can't actually be its enemy. It's just a force, like the reproductive drive or the force of gravity. Maybe the Enlightenment was an agent, but Revolution isn't.
It's a bit of a dangerous spirit, because it can rationalize pretty much anything. When something becomes a revolutionary cause, it captures the attention of smart idealists, and can suck up their energies. And smart idealists actually do quite a lot in the world, contrary to popular belief. "The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." So causes that capture the hearts of smart idealists *are* powerful in the long run, or at least divert power away from other possible causes. In that way, Moldbug *isn't* overestimating the power of universities. The practical men of the world do hold most of the stuff, most of the reproductive fitness, but they only have the power to do what they want, and they got their idea of what they want from more ethereal sources. The media, the schools, the arts.
Where he and I differ is that I think Revolution is a force to be harnessed. It ought to be a tool in your toolkit. It may have to be softened and limited -- I don't want civil war -- but there have been plenty of defanged revolutionary movements, it's quite possible.
Moldbug's right that you can't have a conservative movement that uses the pacifist activist toolkit; that's a fool's errand, because you can't enlist the State. (I admire MLK, both for ethics and effectiveness; but you have to admit that what he did was goad the state to get involved. It was sound strategy; I have no criticism. But most of the people who imitate him do *not* have the strategy set up properly.)
But I don't know that there might not be a way to use the activist toolkit productively. I think it may even be necessary. People have the Occupy spirit and the Tea Party spirit and the Obama spirit for a *reason* -- because some things about life suck and need to change. I agree that some things suck and need to change! We might need to channel and ride that spirit to have half a snowball's chance in hell of getting things to change.
Now you have me wanting to watch Econstories again.
One more thing and I'll shut up:
Moldbug is basically one generational cohort older than me; he was part of the generation that were young adults in the 90's. And that was the time when it looked like technology might actually have a chance of making people freer. Structurally. Practically. That the Internet might actually decentralize things meaningfully. That cryptographic currencies might work. That Drexler-style nanotech might actually be researched and developed. Etc. That the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace (https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html
) might be more than a rueful sigh.
Things did not turn out that way.
It turns out that entrenched power and the vagaries of human nature are strong enough to overcome even pretty damn effective technological tools. It turns out that you can't actually get liberty without politics. We have Paypal, and it works fine and made its creators rich, but they were expecting it to be a tool to make commerce (and the rest of life) freer, they were hoping that the whole shebang could be done by building tech tools and no need for persuasion or political activity at all... and it looks like that's not enough. Primate conflicts can still screw it all up. It's not that there's no chance of victory, but the challenge is a lot bigger than it looked.
It's a little like Eliezer realizing "before I put together an AI team, I'm going to have to work on teaching people to think clearly." It's weird that the right move in the long game is writing popular-science-and-philosophy essays...but human nature is such that it seems to work out that way. You have to fight monkey brains before you can get anywhere.
Privately, I think of the people of the cypherpunk generation as the Bold Fenian Men. Like in the song. "And wise men have told us/their cause was a failure/We may have good men/but we never had better/Glory-O, Glory-O, to the Bold Fenian Men!" I've met some of them, and I see a certain sadness or resignation. Trying to make do in a very disappointing world. [Of course, it's a little bit of an insensitive tag; please excuse the irreverence. I know that sad is different from dead.]
I think Moldbug was a Bold Fenian Man, or something close to it. His Aaron Swartz post was one of the sadder I've read on the topic. Basically it seems like Moldbug's not in favor of idealist activism because it gets brave, intelligent young men killed. Because Aaron Swartz was loyal (to the point of cluelessness) to things that were not loyal to him, so why should anyone else waste their loyalty?
I think there's a mistake with that attitude, but it's a mistake I almost don't dare criticize. I wasn't there. I'm too young to be truly disappointed. I haven't lost people to betrayal or malice. (To malign incompetence, yes.) Maybe if I had, I'd take the same position.Edited at 2013-01-31 05:39 pm (UTC)
Pointing to your first comment, I don't think the issue is specific to the cypherpunk generation. It's more the phases of activism thing - excessive hope followed by dramatic disappointment. While it's usually an old/young thing, it's not always as one doesn't have to be young to expect too much from a new movement.
With technology, it's amusing how long romantic idealization of tech driven social reform has co-existed with trenchant critiques of the same: Brave New World, Player Piano, 1984, and so on.
For me, the 90s cyber optimism seemed like a hangover of hippie futurists like Stewart Brand and the phreaks. It seemed to involve a willful denial of the dystopian settings for the cyberpunk novels they emulated, in particular the near constant motif of tech enabling extreme income disparity. And it struck me as a particularly white middle class dude perspective. As Gibson said when I interviewed him, "I offer picaresque adventure; if I wrote about the real potential for a resource poor, polluted, religion crazed nation it would be drab and depressing."
There's also another layer of social power going on: that HBR article is 99% pure opinion with one reference to a study of dubious merit, given it's involves issues which cannot be definitively quantified and are often measure in debatable ways with unacknowledged bias. The structural power favors social scientists at Harvard in a way which gives them social power to present a qualified assertion as conclusive given fact.
Which points to how social/conscious power is not only the booby prize it's never singular. No matter how much social power one side has, the other also has some and if its backed by structural power, its potent.
I'd argue structural power contains social/conscious power often concentrated on making deep change to structure difficult to discuss.
50 years ago few people used the n-word on the record while still being utterly racist in other ways. Agreeing the n-word was pure racism permitted less open expressions of white structural power from being deemed such. The n-word weeds out the Michael Richards of the world while white people can still make sitcoms set in New York with almost no black faces, let alone leads.
To roll back to the original example, in most cases the media would be equally likely to label Rebecca Black an out of control attention whore even if she was clearly the bar fight victim. With Trump, the advantage is not Black having sympathetic power, but his unusual lack of it. Yet even after wallowing in brazenly racist conspiracy theories for over a year and Trump still hosts The Apprentice and has celebrity status.
Do you mean to say "permitted .. to be" or "Prevented... from"?
Quick note: the epithet in the title should be "Formalist" or, rather, just "Moldbuggian" - not "neo-cameralist". Neo-cameralism is how M.M. refers to the prescriptive part of his doctrine only (sovereign corporate states and other fetishistic nonsense); what you have above is the descriptive bits.
Given that it is, by your description, useless, it's as bad, or worse, than the conservatives think. Because it is completely gratuitous, and frequently vicious, power-mongering.
If patients complain about the medicine's foul taste, how is it less bad if the medicine doesn't even do what it claims?
In the long-term, the media circus would die down. Trump would still live in a gigantic mansion from which he controls large parts of the world economy, and Rebecca Black would still be a B- or C- list celebrity desperately trying to avoid having everyone forget her.
In the longer-term, Trump dies and Black is still living, so she wins by outlasting the opponent.
In the very long-term, both are dead, so this is a lose/lose situation.
In the even longer-term, both are endlessly reincarnated as Boltzmann Brains, so that's a draw, I guess...
All of this assumes that Trump doesn't get arrested. Under the Moldbugian paradigm he would be (at least with some reasonable substitute for Rebecca Black). That would keep him from going back to Trump Tower, at least for a bit.
Combining the conservative contention "Giving more social/conscious power doesn't increase structural/unconscious power" with the liberal contention "We need to keep giving more social/conscious power until the structural/unconscious power increases to the right level" means that we will just end up giving infinite amounts of social/conscious power, to no positive effect. This, the conservative might argue, would at the very least be an inefficient use of resources, not to mention such an easy and attractive solution that it would prevent us from looking for things that do have an effect.
Funnily enough, one might just as well replace "conservative" with "Old Left" or "Marxist" in this passage. What Americans call the liberal or progressive approach to social power was mostly influenced by the New Left praxis of the 1960s, when cultural and social promotion of minority causes, feminism, identity politics, etc suddenly looked like an cool, visible, effective weapon against oppression - emancipating society one campaign at a time.
In fact, the now-commonplace expression, "The Personal is Political", originates in the eponymous 60s feminist essay (http://www.carolhanisch.org/CHwritings/PIP.html
). It makes for a good illustration of this approach.
However, since the late 60s (Debord, Marcuse) and to this day (Badiou, Zizek), major far-left thinkers have often attacked this mindset of "cultural liberation" as bad-faith optimism, all-too-convenient, self-congratulatory, liable to being appropriated and exploited by the underlying mechanisms of the very society it desires to change, shrinking from measures that would require discomfort and discipline.
Such critics did not argue for stoic resignation in the face of oppression (like conservatives), or for irresponsibly resorting to force where ideas are inadequate and blueprints unsound (like Communist revolutions). Rather, they primarily suggested that the challenges of activism might be vast, not scaled to our level, and any structural - revolutionary - victory against oppression would first require a step back and an extraordinary effort of reason. (As well as figuring out realistic ways to modifying the whole socioeconomic order, if that's what it takes.)
This is, at least, my pragmatic reading of the radical/communist view.
Oh, cool! I always wondered if there were something deeper to leftist theory, and it sounds like there might be, properly translated.
"A step back and an extraordinary effort of reason" -- YES. That's exactly what I believe it does take.
2013-01-31 08:20 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. Thank you for a good essay!
I like the split between structural power and social power, but I think there's more to it. (and not just in the trivial sense where there are always an infinite number of trivial details)
Another axis I'd consider is something like a wealth/income split of power accounts. In the confrontation you describe Donald Trump has more accumulated power, but is losing at that moment. Rebecca Black is out-earning Donald Trump on the confrontation, but Trump is also earning power outside of such confrontations, while Black... isn't.
I speculate that if the liberal activist lobbyists had numbers (or time, or multitasking ability, etc) to sit on every facet of ExxonMobil, ExxonMobil might end up losers because all their power-income sources were shut down. But as it is, ExxonMobil gets a tax shelter because there aren't enough activist lobbyists (or they don't have enough time, etc, ibid.) to badger Congress over every single tax loophole.
2013-02-01 04:50 pm (UTC)
That's another good point. I note that most activists in general seem to use P control (Yay engineering control theory!) which is NOT good for systems that have inertia. It doesn't take into account rate of change (leading to overshoots) or sustained errors (leading to a constant light push that does not result in change). They also seem not to ever even think about stopping criteria.
ON the other hand a lot of reactionaries use only D control which is frankly much, much worse.
"Giving more social/conscious power doesn't increase structural/unconscious power"
What's wrong with the obvious reply? The increase in white women's income (plus economic factors that the Democratic Party chose to ignore in the 90s) does look like it could account for the slightly widening gap. I flatly don't believe that it "had only a little to do with any kind of a social justice movement". If I had to guess, I'd say you've underestimated how irrational and dismissive of economic advantages the old system could be.
If you look at the graph, the inequality has widened even among men.
2013-01-31 10:20 pm (UTC)
Social Power and Psychological Wellbeing
"The things people actually care about, like money, success, influence, and psychological health, come entirely from structural/unconscious power."
No. Social Power is very much tied closely to Psychological Health. That people with lots of "structural power" are on average Psychologically healthier is *mostly* not the result of structural power. Higher IQ, conscientiousness, low time preference and other things that correlate with functionality and thus our social construct of "health" psychological and otherwise are what enables one to accrue "structural power" in the first place.
Is there any reason at all to think social animals such as ourselves would derive more pleasure from "structural" than "social" power? In a terminal sense I mean. We have strong evidence people care about social power a lot, we all crave because humans are social animals. "Structural power" is something that in itself excites only non-neurotypicals. Top earners may get excited about earning even more money much like gamers getting excited about a high score, it only matters to them either because of their private fixation or their social circle.
Having structural power is neat but I say only as much as one can leverage it into other things the monkey brain cares about like a candy bar or a top escort. In conversation on IRC Athrelon noted how this relates to the "diminishing marginal utility of money".
The standard "liberal" position is precisely "structural power doesn't matter for happiness and well being after a certain level so we should redistribute it directly via means such as progressive taxation". Pause and think about this for a minute.
Wouldn't Donalnd Trump get depressed about being being a laughing stock and buffoon who teenage girls can beat with impunity? Perhaps not Donald Trump personally for this exact example but to give examples someone like Howard Hughes certainly could become very miserable while having all the "structural" power in the world. People kill hemselves or completely cut contact with the outside world because of a lack of "social power". Suicide for anyone above direst material poverty is usually about trying to escape this kind of suffering. Worse, the utility of those with social but not "structural" power over this individual would fundamentally derive from his misery.
Isn't there something fundamentally ugly about that? Maybe it is worth in a utilitarian sense but it is a form of Omelas and carries all the burdens of proof real implementations of such scenarios do.
If social power is not a good way to redistribute "structural" power and structural power while correlating with merit and mental health does not in itself buy *that* much happiness the scenario very much does come down to this.
And even if it was an *excellent way* to do so, note how structural power is fundamentally tied to the wealth creating mechanisms of society! To be controversial maybe white married middle class men are rather good at stewarding their material resources and wealth compared to some other demographics. Redistributing it results in less wealth creation. Social power today does *not* nor has it ever accurately matched contributions to wealth creation. Now of course neither does "institutional" power perfectly match this but it can today at least leverage the neat information properties of markets.
We want the sum of structural power over *nature*, the amount of wealth a society has available to be ceteris paribus as high as possible, Pareto Optimality is one of the most reliably benign goals that is systematically neglected in pursuit of the misfiring heuristics of our minds which do not understand institutional power.
Note what the currently popular hypothesis for the evolution of the part of the brain that deals with optimizing for social power is.
"This makes the last sentence of the liberal argument above sound suddenly terrifying. "
It is I hope I have shown to me far more terrifying than your virtual Conservative feels it is.
2013-01-31 10:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Social Power and Psychological Wellbeing
Link to final version:
2013-01-31 10:50 pm (UTC)
I've had a kind of a sorta-point about this for a long time, which is that there is a very aggressively odd form of social justice activist who treats her (it is usually her) very oddness as a weapon against the powers that be. I fail to think that the powers that be are harmed or even scared that much by oddness, although I think the aggressively religious group are affected.
social/conscious power just isn't that good a lever
It's also a lever that is easily spiked or twisted, by structural power.
The sexual offense charge against Assange is a good example. It split Assange's support base, by actions which need not have even been deliberately coordinated by the several parties with structural power. In Sweden, ambitious prosecutors; in the media, scandal mongers; in the background in UK, US government influence; in finance, PayPal and others freezing Assange's donation lines and even his legal defense fund (not when he embarrassed the US State Dept, but when he announced that he was about to embarrass Bank of America).
I think that reasonable people can disagree with the liberal claim tha straight white men have more structural power (per capita of course) than gays or women (such an argument is much less reasonable WRT blacks).
More interestingly, I think that it's important to point out that the people who wield social power are not the people on who's behalf it is nominally wielded. If feminist activism doesn't reduce rape, might a rational skeptic simply ignore the part of the story (a story it is promoting, of course) about its purpose being the reduction of rape, especially if activists aren't moved to change their methods by data about its effectiveness? A more cynical person than Scott might suggest that while feminist activism may not boost the structural power of women, the social power wielded in the name of rape prevention massively boosts the structural power of the people who actually wield it. They might conclude that this is the general case with social power.
The other obvious question is how much harm is done, to anyone, by the wielding of social power. Reasonable opinions might again differ, I think, but I haven't thought very hard about this.
It seems easier (though losing a few details along the way) to replace "structural power" and "social power" with "money" and "reputation". Should we put more trust in our society's mechanisms for allocating money, or in its mechanisms for allocating reputation? Both seem to be exploitable, but in different ways.
Or even better to replace "reputation" with "public opinion".
Late to the game question about the Moldbug article: he writes that, "I'm quite convinced that Glenn Greenwald really has no idea at all why liberal public opinion stopped giving a damn about torture in 2008." Is he just not aware of stuff Greenwald has written like this, (http://www.salon.com/2012/02/08/repulsive_progressive_hypocrisy/) or does he have some esoteric theory of why liberals stopped giving a damn about torture? (I suppose it's probably the first, but I'm hoping it's the second because that would be more entertaining to learn about.)
I understand your puzzlement, as I too was fascinated by Moldbug's brilliance and heterodoxy when I started reading him. I couldn't understand why he kept making so many absurd, skewed or factually untrue little assertions - about real-world history, real-world politics, etc, etc.
He talked of socialism without examining many sides of life under concrete, historically existing state-socialist or social-democratic regimes; of the relations between capital and labour without ever mentioning the bloody and dramatic history of labour movement; of the Cold War while just throwing its realities out the window...
Eventually I accepted that, although many of his ideas might be cool and novel and interesting, he has been ever willing to ignore or distort the bits of reality that don't fit his far-right/technocratic picture. What's worse, I think that he's more inflexible and selectively oblivious about reality than many of the "hypocritical" leftists he rails against - and he's cut off his line of retreat.
I don't think anyone is actually in control of much of anything. 'Power' is just another way of anthropomorphizing terrifyingly alien processes. Moldbug is as much as a delusional-teleological rationalist as the progressives he despises.
2013-02-01 07:26 pm (UTC)
Nobody is in control all that much, as far as I can tell, but this power is still relevant and not very anthropomorphic. It's almost more like power in the physical sense, a source of energy that is needed for both active and passive activities. Power is *not* nothing without control. Plus a significant part of both social and institutional power is defensive and non zero sum.
I think you may underestimate the nuisance effect of all the laws. George McGovern tried to run a B&B in his retirement, and discovered that with the level of regulation they had even back then, he couldn't do it -- and this was a man who not only thought he could run the US, but convinced a fair chunk of votes to agree with him.
OTOH, there is the other issue that Exxon's smaller competitioners are less able to cope, so it may mean that your activist leaves Exxon better off.
I've been thinking about the last part of this comment, and I think this is a significant part of why social power does not usually affect structural power much.
To use your example of regulations, activists may successfully leverage social power to force government to pass regulations. The affected corporations, however, will use their structural power to ensure that the bill written in Congress affects them as little as possible, and maybe even will burden smaller competitors who don't have the resources they do.
In the end, no progress has really been made, and the corporations might even be better off.
Just thought I'd confirm for you that, to my knowledge, this is the basic idea behind the theory of 'privilege.' As far as I understand it, privilege refers to all the ways that culture will work in your favor without you having to do anything for it, which I believe maps pretty well to your idea of structural/unconscious power.
If that were "privilege" they would admit that a black woman college professor has privilege in contrast to some white male Skid Row bum. Since I have actually seen people argue that it's other way 'round, that the white maleness accords him some mystical privilege -- which does him no good at all -- I suspect it's not.
On reflection, one grave problem with Moldbug's criterion is that it's useless. You will know whether you have power when you triumph, and not if you don't. Prior to then, you have to use some other rule.
(Leaving aside his deeper problem of defining Right as Success.)