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?
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.