Scales of Sovereignty (part 1)

Continuing Moldbug’s tradition of submitting ‘democratic’ society to Machiavellian analysis, Spandrell explains why rich and powerful Westerners do what they do and make the decisions they make. They do what they do for the same petty reasons any of us do anything: to solidify our friendships and to fuck with the people we don’t like. Writes Spandrell,

When you, politically awakened man, think about power, you have an abstract framework of what power does, and what it should do. You have your ideas on how society should be organized, and think that politics is about applying those ideas in absolute terms. But on closer inspection, it doesn’t work like that. George Soros didn’t buy shares of Herbalife because he has abstract beliefs on how the economy works and believes Herbalife is great value. Or he has abstract mathematical models that say that Herbalife will make him a lot of money. He has enough money anyway. Soros is probably buying Herbalife shares to fuck with Bill Ackman, another disagreeable Jewish banksta who seems to have very few friends.

All politics are local. Taken to its extreme, this maxim means that rich and powerful individuals make decisions affecting millions—billions—of abstract ‘others’ based entirely on the local realities of the rich and powerful themselves, that is, based on their relationships with other rich and powerful people they know, love, and loathe. The reality of democratic politics confirms Spandrell’s insight. Read any D.C. insider memoir. Petty social networking runs America. Justice? Founding fathers? Republican ideals? Bullshit. It’s all about who has what, who wants what, who’s a good drinking buddy, who’s a douche bag, and who knows how to play quid pro quo.

~~~

As Spandrell’s post reminds us, the Machiavellian impulse—the realist impulse—in neoreactionary politics is demanded and enabled by the insights of Darwinism and HBD. People are people. People are animals. (Or, as the trads put it, people are fallen.) We’re only a few evolutionary branches away from baboons. Civilization is hard.

~~~

Earlier discussions about sovereignty were prompted by the Moldbuggian question, “Is sovereignty conserved?” However, when I sat down to re-read the discussions about that question, I realized how rarely we talked in terms of HBD and Dark Enlightenment. In light of Spandrell’s cynically and darkly enlightened analysis of elite power plays, we should be prepared to answer Moldbug’s question with a resounding, “Yes, obviously.” Because mammals, especially humans, have evolved to do sovereignty.

I quote Bob Dylan:

 You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk

You may be the head of some big TV network

You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame

You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Ten thousand years ago, various populations of mankind realized that some control and coercion are necessary if we want to be more than naked, competing brutes. The libertarian paradise of complete socio-political freedom would, in reality, not even look like the Serengeti. It would look worse than the Serengeti. Most animal groups maintain cohesion and exert control through their own simplified hierarchies (e.g., lion prides or meerkat matriarchy).

There will always be sovereignty. There will always be someone to serve, someone or some group who has some element of control over certain elements of other peoples’ lives. This is a necessary condition for civilization.

Commenter Hypothetical provides the following quote from Frederic Jameson regarding two different mechanisms (state power and market power) by which mankind is controlled and thereby kept safe from his own brutish, stupid anarchy:

Hobbes needs state power to tame and control the violence of human nature and competition; in Adam Smith (and Hegel on some other metaphysical plane) the competitive system, the market, does the taming and controlling all by itself, no longer needing the absolute state […] the market is thus Leviathan in sheep’s clothing: its function is not to encourage and perpetuate freedom (let alone freedom of a political variety) but rather to repress it.

According to Jameson’s way of thinking, the state and the market serve the same end: ensuring that mankind does not devolve toward his animal instincts, toward a too-destructive competitive environment in which everyone loses. Dylan again: You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Indeed, as I said, you’re gonna have to serve somebody because the last 10k years of human evolution have taught humans that control and coercion are necessary, in some form and to some degree, for intelligence optimization and general human flourishing. If some freedoms are lost, so be it.

Control is necessary in some form and to some degree. That’s the key. Jameson is guilty of equivocation by suggesting that the “control” enacted by the state is of the same form or has the same effects as “control” enacted by market forces. Clearly, there is a world of difference between the two. State or political control is all too human, enabled by the petty politicking and social networking—the kind described by Spandrell—that we should expect from the human animal and from the human elite in particular. In other words, state control is control by individual politicians operating at local (petty, short-sighted, moralistic, status-whoring) scales. State control is control by the whims of individuals and the fickle furors brought on by activists with megaphones. State control is control by factional baboons who have lost their fur.

Market control, on the other hand, is control by an aggregate of individuals and interactions at distant and varied scales that are not human at all. Market forces are often intractable for any individual human or group, if not in the short term then certainly in the long term. I don’t think that economists really have any idea how these forces work; however, we can be sure they exist and that, like physical laws before Newton, they seem to work whether or not we can describe them.

Whom do I want to serve? Where do I want sovereignty conserved? In forces I don’t understand, not in individual human animals, whom I understand too well, and who are, in their competitive brutishness, apt to bring civilization tumbling down just to piss off other humans they don’t like or to earn a few status points in the short term.

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18 responses

  1. The neoreaction recognises that state control is indeed quite human and imperfect but, more importantly, it also recognises that certain forms of states are far more petty, short-sighted, moralistic, and prone to status-whoring.

    States aren’t going away anytime soon, and that’s why it’s important to identify why and how these certain forms are so prone to these failings. But, I assume that’s what the next parts of this series will cover.

    August 30, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    • Yes, that’s exactly where I’m going next. At what scales does the state operate, and how powerful are its operations at any scale? That’s the question that, I think, should guide any discussions about alternate political systems.

      August 30, 2013 at 5:26 pm

  2. Anon Guy

    Justice? Founding fathers? Republican ideals? Bullshit. It’s all about who has what, who wants what, who’s a good drinking buddy, who’s a douche bag, and who knows how to play quid pro quo.
    Does this go for the Founding Fathers too? Were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution simply the constructions of power-hungry, unprincipled apes looking to stick it to their enemies and reward their friends? Was George Washington just putting on an act when he seemed to conduct himself with the strictest levels of personal integrity and honor? Was Abraham Lincoln just looking for an angle, a way to gain a little more power, when he wrote the Gettysburg Address or his Second Inaugural?

    I don’t think life is quite as simple as some would like to make it, painting everything as simply power plays and denying the reality of beauty or nobility or honor.

    Yes there is undeniably a lot of mercenary Darwinian behavior going on. But to say that that is always the only thing motivating human beings and driving society just doesn’t seem true.

    August 30, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    • Does this go for the Founding Fathers too? Were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution simply the constructions of power-hungry, unprincipled apes looking to stick it to their enemies and reward their friends? Was George Washington just putting on an act when he seemed to conduct himself with the strictest levels of personal integrity and honor? Was Abraham Lincoln just looking for an angle, a way to gain a little more power, when he wrote the Gettysburg Address or his Second Inaugural?

      Short answer: yes.

      August 30, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      • Anon Guy

        Well that’s just not credible. To the extent that that is the view of the reactosphere, it’s not going anywhere. It comes off as a group of disappointed idealists, angry at the socialist turn of things, going overboard in the opposite direction, saying that everything is about power and that beauty and nobility have no part in it. That doesn’t feel true.

        August 30, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      • Reactionaries aren’t known for basing their beliefs on whether or not something “feels” true.

        And I don’t see what’s idealistic—disappointed or otherwise—about positing that power-grabbing and status-whoring lie at the center of politics, past and present. After all, you’re the one talking about beauty and nobility.

        August 30, 2013 at 8:29 pm

      • Long answer: Yes.

        August 30, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    • Well it happens that people in that society were more stoic and valued integrity and whatnot, but the idea that Washington was influenced by his family and peers, and sought to have their approval and esteem seems quite reasonable to me.

      I don’t know to what extent they prioritized their abstract ideals over the influence of their social circle. Not that there is a lack today of people who prioritize abstract ideas (feminism! free abortion! bomb Syria!), but in the end social circles are who enforce who gets or doesn’t get to act on their ideals. That’s especially true now that women are more involved in decision making.

      Also don’t forget that * a lot* gets lost in history books. Nobody likes to write about Jefferson doing X because he wanted to look good to his friends wive because he wanted to fuck her. But you think it didn’t happen? Heh.

      August 31, 2013 at 9:17 am

      • I don’t know to what extent they prioritized their abstract ideals over the influence of their social circle

        That’s an interesting question to ask, especially when we’re talking about intellectual and political elites.

        Obviously, people can prioritize abstract ideals over material comfort or even safety. Obviously, Washington believed enough in abstract ideals to go to war. However, by going to war, did Washington lose status among the people who mattered most to him? To the contrary, he obviously gained status. Just like Sean Penn living in squalor in Haiti for a year after the big earthquake. It probably sucked, but when he got back to Hollywood, he was cock of the moralistic block. Probably got a bunch of blow jobs out of it.

        August 31, 2013 at 1:18 pm

  3. The baby we don’t want to lose amongst all this bath-water ditching is emergence. You’ve already granted this for market dynamics (catallaxy), but complex systems of every kind exhibit it. Behaving like a modestly advanced baboon in a society of 300 million is not at all the same thing as doing the same on the veldt — unpredictable swarm dynamics kick in. Schumpeter, for instance, has made a number of penetrating insights into the functioning of multi-party state politics considered as a machine, which a simple reduction to HBD at the level of the biological individual does not preserve.

    This is not to deny the value of micro-machiavellian analysis as a corrective to naive ideology-driven models of political process (which Schumpeter also rejects, from another angle).

    August 31, 2013 at 2:33 am

  4. (‘HBD’ in that paragraph — and Spandrell’s discussion — should have been something more like ‘evolutionary psychology’)

    August 31, 2013 at 6:18 am

    • Yes, I agree. I too often let “HBD” signify more than it’s designed to signify. I agree with your other comment as well. I’m just trying to work through the obvious point (as I see it for now) that whatever ’emerges’ via the state machine is ultimately more willfully designed and guided, more singular of purpose—and therefore possessing a tendency toward rot and atrophy—than the emergent properties of the marketplace, which are the product of millions of diverse designs and purposes.

      August 31, 2013 at 1:24 pm

  5. Vladimir

    All politics are local. […] [R]ich and powerful individuals make decisions affecting millions—billions—of abstract ‘others’ based entirely on the local realities of the rich and powerful themselves, that is, based on their relationships with other rich and powerful people they know, love, and loathe. […] It’s all about who has what, who wants what, who’s a good drinking buddy, who’s a douche bag, and who knows how to play quid pro quo.

    This sounds superficially insightful. However, it’s at best a trivial observation and at worst a diatribe that brings only confusion. Yes, all people, including the rich and powerful, are guided in their everyday lives by various human weaknesses, low motives, and erratic impulses. But to gain any actual insight about the world and society, one must abstract over this noise and discern the more general trends, which are by no means chaotic and trivial.

    Clearly, the rich and powerful individuals in today’s world — or at least Western world — are acting in almost complete unanimity and unity of purpose in spreading and enforcing a particular ideology. Of course, most of this behavior is readily explained by status motives. But this just leads to the question of why this ideology is recognized as such a strong and universal status symbol, and how come that it has such an elaborate system of universally agreed-upon doctrine, even without any central authority dictating it. For someone who wants answers to these truly important questions, observations such as those quoted above are useless.

    August 31, 2013 at 7:14 am

    • Yes, all people, including the rich and powerful, are guided in their everyday lives by various human weaknesses, low motives, and erratic impulses.

      Clearly, the rich and powerful individuals in today’s world — or at least Western world — are acting in almost complete unanimity and unity of purpose in spreading and enforcing a particular ideology. Of course, most of this behavior is readily explained by status motives.

      So you basically said what I said with more words.

      But this just leads to the question of why this ideology is recognized as such a strong and universal status symbol, and how come that it has such an elaborate system of universally agreed-upon doctrine, even without any central authority dictating it.

      [Response redacted. See my other response.]

      August 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    • But to gain any actual insight about the world and society, one must abstract over this noise and discern the more general trends, which are by no means chaotic and trivial.

      I don’t know. For now, my entire point is that taking a more cynical approach to motives allows us to reduce those ‘general’ trends, which may or may not chaotic, to the machinations of individuals, their evolutionary psychology, their inborn need for status, their inborn need to be accepted by a social circle, and their inborn need to mark territory between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ I’m not even sure what larger trends you’re referring to.

      Clearly, the rich and powerful individuals in today’s world — or at least Western world — are acting in almost complete unanimity and unity of purpose in spreading and enforcing a particular ideology. Of course, most of this behavior is readily explained by status motives. But this just leads to the question of why this ideology is recognized as such a strong and universal status symbol

      Okay, I agree, and that’s a question I’ll return to later. The points I’ve made in this post aren’t mean to stand alone; they’re laying groundwork for a large essay I’m in the process of writing and re-writing.

      However, again, recognizing that the actions of the intellectual and political elite can be reduced to “status motives” is not, in my opinion, a “useless” thing to keep in mind when trying to answer the question of why progressive egalitarianism has become a universal status symbol because it provides a mechanism whereby we don’t have to figure out why so many people at the center or trying to get into the center seem to buy into it. All it takes is for one powerful person or oligarchic group to adopt progressive ideology; everyone else falls in line because holding to that ideology is precisely how everyone else must go about seeking status within the powerful in-groups. This recognition will obviate the need to grant too much power to things as vaporous as ‘ideology.’

      August 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm

  6. Yet to read the comments here, pretty busy (I’m reading my student hand book, meeting/being mesmorised by the lovely totty, here; and scrambling for part-time work in New Cross) but well done Scharlach, great start to a series I’m looking forward to. You’re on a tear recently!

    MW

    August 31, 2013 at 6:29 pm

  7. A non centralized religion being enforced ever tightly shouldn’t a mystery. It’s not like Sunni Islam hasn’t been around for 1300 years.

    September 1, 2013 at 9:18 am

  8. Pingback: Scales of Sovereignty (part 2) |

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