A Dialogue

After the Tech Crunch article was published, I had a very long Twitter conversation with a self-styled “anarchist.” I’ve transcribed it here (with minor modifications). It demonstrates plainly that even in radical anarchists we find the Puritan’s universalist impulse to re-make the world in its own eyes, with its own moral compass as a guide, consequences be damned.

The conversation begins with my trying to explain that the coupling of “monarchy” and “neoreaction” is overly simplistic:

Scharlach: The core of neoreaction is not monarchy. The monarchy angle is oversold in the Tech Crunch piece. There are a few earnest monarchists in the neoreactionary ranks, but most of us simply believe that monarchy would in some ways (certainly not in all ways) be better than universal democracy. Defending monarchy is an intellectual point we like to make, not a solid policy proposal.

Anarchist: Fine. So what is the core of neoreaction, if not an apologia for monarchy?

Scharlach: In a few words? Neoreaction is a critique of democracy and demotic excess.

Anarchist: That’s just as absurd as the monarchy business. Everything we enjoy in the West today is thanks to democracy. Democracy is the most positive force in the history of the world.

Scharlach: Quite the opposite. I’d argue that everything we enjoy in the West today has occurred in spite of democracy.

Anarchist: That makes no sense. You must be a racist.

Schlarlach: Can I at least give you some examples of what I mean before you write me off as racist?

Anarchist: Alright. Go ahead, racist.

Scharlach: As one example, I know that every department at my university is very un-democratic when it comes to accepting students. We require both undergraduates and graduates to score well on the SAT and GRE, respectively. There is no voting, no policies to accept all students equally (like at a community college). Once in, students have no say whatsoever in their graduation requirements. And yet my university is ranked in the top 50 nationally and in the top 10 in at least a dozen specialties. As another brief example, how about every successful tech company in existence? Do the janitors at Google get a say in how the company is run?

Anarchist: Okay . . . so you have examples of un-democratic systems that aren’t absolutely shit in every situation. So what?

Scharlach: Oh, but I have lots of examples! I can list them for you if you want.

Anarchist: Spare me.

Scharlach: So why is it then “racist” to suggest that non-democratic social orders might be worth trying?

Anarchist: But non-democratic social orders have been tried. In fact, I’m tempted to argue that the obverse is true. We’ve seen a lot of examples of tyrannical systems trotted out with “democracy” written all over them.

Scharlach: And you don’t find it a bit . . . interesting . . . that so many tyrannical systems seem to find “democracy” a useful cover?

Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get what you’re saying? Huh?

Scharlach: Nevermind. I agree that we don’t have anything like true democracy in America or anywhere else on earth. But I would argue that wherever you find things working—in government or in the private sector—you’ll find very little that resembles a democracy in any sense of the word.

Anarchist: Then how about we try democracy? It seems like trying more non-democratic models would be trying the very same things that aren’t working.

Scharlach: Wait. Didn’t we start this conversation based on the assumption that a lot of things are working?

Anarchist: Huh? What? I don’t get what you’re saying? Huh?

Scharlach: Nevermind. How do you define democracy? What is this system that you claim to venerate even though it has never really been tried?

Anarchist: Democracy, as I define it, is a system of governance by which individuals group together to decide on those things that impact the whole.

Scharlach: So everyone should have a say in everything. Sounds very unstable.

Anarchist: No, let me clarify: individuals group together to decide on things that impact them.

Scharlach: Sounds like a tricky distinction to make. In such a system of governance, it’s only a matter of time before political leaders convince people that everything impacts them.

Anarchist: That’s not true. It seems like there will always be a clear distinction that can be made in any given context whether something directly impacts you or not.

Scharlach: Alright. So why do people in Vermont get to vote on Mexican immigration, when said immigration only impacts people along the border states? Or why do I get to vote on same-sex marriage laws when such marriages have no impact on me whatsoever?

Anarchist: That’s not democracy in my anarchistic sense of the word. Under the current authoritarian government model, people get to vote on these issues. But I don’t like how you’re putting immigration and same-sex marriage together here.

Scharlach: Why not? In both cases, we’re talking about people voting on things that don’t directly impact them.

Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get it? Huh?

Scharlach: Nevermind.

Anarchist: No, wait, I have an answer: if there is true democracy, “immigration” and “Vermont” become meaningless concepts. Sexuality, in contrast, is a universal human constant.

Scharlach: How would democracy override geographically bound populations and population movement? Those seem like universal human constants, as well.

Anarchist: Uh, uh, uh . . . not every decision is geographical. Consider internet protocols and transnational standards.

Scharlach: That’s a complete non-sequitur, but I’ll bite: lots of people are affected by tech standards who have no idea about technology. Should they get to vote on tech standards?

Anarchist: Actually, if you look at how internet standards are decided, the answers is, Yes: rough consensus among people who are actually coding. With the internet, the rules are a) anybody can participate, b) anybody can make a standard, and c) anybody can choose to use or not use it. And in practice, there is no voting. There is deliberation until rough consensus is reached among those who show interest and actually get involved.

Scharlach: “Deliberation among those involved until rough consensus . . .” That’s actually a mildly neoreactionary way of looking at things. Left-anarchy and neoreaction overlap here. But I’d also point out that we can define “those involved” in this context as individuals who have come together through a decidedly un-democratic process. In theory, “anyone” can participate in computing, but in practice, very few people have both the intelligence and the access to technology needed to code. So, “deliberation among those involved until rough consensus” works in the tech world because the people involved have been culled from the populous and are homogenous in many ways. So, in the end, I agree with you that what you’re defining as democracy can work—but only in small, homogenous groups. But the larger and more racially mixed the group, the more difficult it is to reach consensus about anything. Too many competing factions.

Anarchist: What does race have to do with anything?

Scharlach: Replace “race” with “culture” if that makes you feel more comfortable. Most of us neoreactionaries believe that some cultures are simply incommensurable with others. Impossible to reach consensus about things affecting the group when incommensurable cultures are forced to inhabit the same space.

Anarchist: Sorry, but how much have you traveled?

Scharlach: I’ve grown up in and around Los Angeles. Half my family is Mexican. I know plenty about cultural diversity, if that’s where you’re going.

Anarchist: So what’s wrong with cultural diversity?

Scharlach: It’s fine when there’s consensus about it, I suppose. It’s bad when enforced from the top down.

Anarchist: Cultural groups are not as different as you’re implying here. I’ve traversed enough of this planet to know that human cultures are very similar . . . the differences are relatively small.

Scharlach: The differences are small? That’s interesting. I heard just the other day that Afghanistan might go back to stoning adulterers.

Anarchist: What? Huh? I don’t get it? Huh?

Scharlach: Nevermind. I’d just say that your globe-trotting has most likely been from cosmopolitan city to cosmopolitan city. Everyone looks the same in those cities because they’ve all just adopted your Western norms and ways of living. These people are a minority.

Anarchist: Well, then, the key for democracy is to . . . . to . . .

Scharlach: To what? To make sure that no one on the globe really is all that different from anyone else?

Anarchist: You’re putting words in my mouth!

Scharlach: You just said a moment ago that you define democracy as a system of governance in which individuals group together to decide on things that impact them directly. So let’s look at the Afghan example: do you think it’s alright for Afghans to stone adulterers?

Anarchist: Of course not! That’s horrid! It’s especially horrid because it’s almost always the women who get punished, not the men! Misogyny!

Scharlach: Maybe. But I personally think Afghans have every right to stone adulterers if that’s their cultural consensus. Just as Americans have every right to jail anyone who stones anyone else, if that’s the American consensus.

Anarchist: So you have no problem with murder, slavery, genocide, so long as they’re “culturally consensual”?

Scharlach: I think that any attempt I might make—as an outsider—to solve a problem in Africa or the Middle East would only make matters worse. And you should agree with me, too, if you believe your own version of democracy just defined a moment ago. You need to ask yourself, if you’re such an anarchist, such a believer in organic decision-making among people involved in something, why do you feel this impulse to interfere with something happening in an alien culture five thousand miles away from you? Do adultery laws in Afghanistan “impact you directly”? Does slavery in Africa “impact you directly”?

Anarchist: First, even if it didn’t, we still need to take moral stances on some things. And, second, yes, it does: slavery in Africa makes electronics cheaper for me.

Scharlach: This is exactly what I was talking about at the beginning: in a democracy, it’s only a matter of time before everyone comes to believe that everything affects them directly . . .

Anarchist: [Silence]

Scharlach: And in the end, maybe everything does, in some Cloud Atlas kind of way, affect everyone at some level. Which is why the universalist democratic impulse is dangerous. When everyone has a voice about everything everyone else does, the world becomes its own tyranny.

At which point the anarchist blocked me from his Twitter feed.

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29 responses

  1. cyder534

    “It demonstrates plainly that even in radical anarchists we find the Puritan’s universalist impulse to re-make the world in its own eyes, with its own moral compass as a guide, consequences be damned.”

    Is this a big shock? I remember debating with a proper hardcore Anarchist from Liverpool when Facebook was in the forum n’ post mode and the BNP was a big presence. The universalism was strong in that one. Think he probably still blogs. He was one of the more articulate anarchists – but a preacher non-the-less: http://truth-reason-liberty.blogspot.co.uk/

    January 7, 2014 at 10:55 pm

    • I had some “anarchist” friends in high school, but they all came from white blue collar backgrounds, so I think their brand of anarchism turned either into skinhead shit or just . . . heavy drinking. Actually, the whole American anarcho-punk scene had a pretty heavy white nationalist strain to it. The same in Britain, from what I’ve heard? But again, there’s a class split. These anarcho-punks I’m talking about came from poor or working class backgrounds. Very different from the more middle-class ‘punks’ who probably turned out like your friend. Not sure if the class distinctions amongst anarchist punk rock were as stark in Britain as they were in America

      January 8, 2014 at 2:31 am

    • Oh, and thanks for the link. I always like checking into the anarcho-sphere. Does that even exist?

      January 8, 2014 at 2:32 am

      • cyder534

        Ha – maybe it’s just different across the pond. Think there is a working-class, left-wing anarchist presence around the UK. Phil was one of the coordinators – but it seems his wife got fed up with it consuming his life. I get what you mean though. The majority of the ‘anarchists’ You’d see on tv would be of the silver-spooned, middle-class, student variety who take V for Vendetta to be their go-to resource.

        January 8, 2014 at 10:03 am

  2. I knew some kids in High School who thought it was … edgy? provocative?… to say they were ‘Anarchists’, and draw that ‘A-circle’ symbol all over their stuff. They knew about enough of what ‘Anarchist’ meant as they could absorb in the first sentence or two of an encyclopedia entry. Mostly, ‘F* the F*ing Po-leece! Legalize it!’ A very adolescent phenomena is almost all respects.

    Some got a little farther than that, but not much. But really, of course, they weren’t anything like ‘Anarchists’ at all, and none of them that maintained any kind of political identity stayed that way. I’d score more as progressives than Libertarians.

    January 7, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    • Yes, definitely. Although this “anarchist” was in his forties or fifties and seems to be some minor somebody in the tech world (6k followers on Twitter). His is a philosophical anarchism, the kind that pretends to have outgrown its adolescent silliness but is, as you say, just a different brand of progressivism.

      January 8, 2014 at 2:24 am

      • Hey, you down to come to the meetup / shindig near DC on Sunday, April 13th?

        January 8, 2014 at 2:26 am

      • Oh, that would be grand, and since it’s a Sunday, I could very feasibly make the drive down. I’ll give you a confirmation as the date gets nearer.

        January 8, 2014 at 2:28 am

      • Thales

        Yes, Scharlach, you must attend — you wouldn’t be a very good sleeper agent if you missed it or failed to report back.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:04 am

      • Thales

        Oh, fuuu…I shouldn’t have blabbed about you being one of my sleepers. Can you just delete that last comment…and dammit this one, too, and forget that you deleted them? THERE ARE THREE FLOWERS IN A VASE — ONE OF THEM IS GREEN.

        January 8, 2014 at 7:06 am

      • Ha! It was good getting together, by the way. The reactionary conspiratorizing has begun!

        January 9, 2014 at 7:11 pm

  3. Jefferson

    Mildly off-topic, but apart from the DC crew, are there any decent meat-space neoreactionary cliques? Google’s been a bit unhelpful…

    January 8, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    • cyder534

      I’m meeting Rasputin and Exvatica in London – not a clique, really.

      January 8, 2014 at 10:34 pm

    • Raptros and mildly pseudononymous NYC-area neoreactionary (not me I mean) are getting something together in Austin TX in early March.

      A rather large (~50) gathering is planned for Vegas in June.

      I suspect NYC will have another one soon, tho’ not sure if people will be coming in from British Columbia or not.

      I’ve heard Anissimov, Moldbug, and a few others in the Bay Area are not hard to grab drinks with. I get the impression (but I’m not sure why) that Jim D. lives in that area too.

      January 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm

  4. Pingback: The Rest of the Week in Reaction | The Reactivity Place

  5. Contaminated NEET

    Where’s the real dialogue? I checked your twitter feed on the right there, and I couldn’t find it. Who was this mysterious anarchist?

    January 11, 2014 at 12:19 pm

  6. Rasputin's Severed Penis

    This strongly reminds me of a discussion I had with a 50 year old ‘anarchist’ in pub after an art event. He seemed to think he was quite the philosopher, but the cognitive dissonance involved in his position was almost unbearable. I was trying to explain some of the basic tenants of Neoreaction to one of his friends, while he kept on interrupting to call me a ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’, even when things didn’t even remotely touch on race. When I said that Neoreactionarys were opposed to the excesses of welfare state, he nearly hit the roof:

    “My sister’s little boy is disabled, don’t you think it’s the responsibility of the state to take care of them??”

    I pointed out that, as an anarchist, he must surely be opposed to the state in all its dimensions. After all, welfare is one of the things that the state uses to create dependency. But he just kept on going on about how I was ‘evil’ and there should be more state welfare, etc, etc…

    I came to the opinion that he had been so completely pwned by the progressive meme, and accepted its religious doctrine so completely, that he really was completely unaware of the intellectual inconsistency position.

    January 12, 2014 at 4:44 pm

  7. Carl

    You guys all realise that Hans Herman Hoppe is an anarchist, right?

    I love how anarchism gets dismissed as “adolescent”. In effect you are saying “stop being such a baby and consent to the USGOV”. If anarchism is adolescent, then that attitude is just childish. Point out the government I need to accept as my sovereign so that I may outgrow my anarchist notions.

    January 12, 2014 at 11:35 pm

  8. Rollory

    Nice work.

    I don’t have the patience for this sort of thing.

    January 13, 2014 at 4:36 pm

  9. Rollory

    Carl:

    The problem with USGOV is not that it is authority, it is that it is incompetent and self-destructive authority, and in the process of being self-destructive it is destroying everything else. Legitimate and competent authority, with the wisdom to exercise self-restraint, is acceptable, and is something to strive for. This is a topic one can find all through the works of past eras, from philosophy to children’s stories, from China to Europe.

    The USA republic in its first stages met that standard, but only because the voters comprising it were wise and generally well-educated. Any government can be good if the rulers are wise. In a democracy – or in an anarchy – it is required that the maximum number of people be wise, because power has been spread out to the maximum number of people. But people aren’t interchangeable, and aren’t all wise.

    January 13, 2014 at 4:46 pm

  10. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/01/15 | Free Northerner

  11. Dominic

    Reblogged this on Creakings of a Cog in the Machine and commented:
    Scharlach: You just said a moment ago that you define democracy as a system of governance in which individuals group together to decide on things that impact them directly. So let’s look at the Afghan example: do you think it’s alright for Afghans to stone adulterers?

    Anarchist: Of course not! That’s horrid! It’s especially horrid because it’s almost always the women who get punished, not the men! Misogyny!

    Scharlach: Maybe. But I personally think Afghans have every right to stone adulterers if that’s their cultural consensus. Just as Americans have every right to jail anyone who stones anyone else, if that’s the American consensus.

    Anarchist: So you have no problem with murder, slavery, genocide, so long as they’re “culturally consensual”?

    Scharlach: I think that any attempt I might make—as an outsider—to solve a problem in Africa or the Middle East would only make matters worse. And you should agree with me, too, if you believe your own version of democracy just defined a moment ago. You need to ask yourself, if you’re such an anarchist, such a believer in organic decision-making among people involved in something, why do you feel this impulse to interfere with something happening in an alien culture five thousand miles away from you? Do adultery laws in Afghanistan “impact you directly”? Does slavery in Africa “impact you directly”?

    Anarchist: First, even if it didn’t, we still need to take moral stances on some things. And, second, yes, it does: slavery in Africa makes electronics cheaper for me.

    Scharlach: This is exactly what I was talking about at the beginning: in a democracy, it’s only a matter of time before everyone comes to believe that everything affects them directly . . .

    Anarchist: [Silence]

    Scharlach: And in the end, maybe everything does, in some Cloud Atlas kind of way, affect everyone at some level. Which is why the universalist democratic impulse is dangerous. When everyone has a voice about everything everyone else does, the world becomes its own tyranny.

    At which point the anarchist blocked me from his Twitter feed.

    *********

    The best discussion on the incoherence of democracies. The entire dialogue is an absolute must read.

    March 6, 2014 at 6:08 am

    • Carl

      You’re conflating democracy with anarchy here. If it’s anarchy of the direct democracy/anything- the-horde-says-goes variety, then sure. But you also seem to advocate a version of this yourself based on “cultural consensus”:

      “But I personally think Afghans have every right to stone adulterers”

      You don’t actually believe this anymore than you believe your neighbour has the right to stone you to death because your curtains offend him. It seems you’re pretending to believe in an extreme version of logical positivism to win points against some naive anarchist.

      March 6, 2014 at 7:02 pm

      • I do actually believe that. And I believe even more that no one in America has any right to go over to Afghanistan and interfere with their culture.

        March 8, 2014 at 9:09 pm

  12. The beginning with the claim that ‘democracy was the single greatest positive force’ is very common, but seldom defended. Good use of ‘nevermind’ to let him reach the conclusions you had already reached. Like an argumentation shepherd.

    March 11, 2014 at 6:09 pm

  13. That seemed to be far more productive than my discussion with a neoreactionary (Nick Land). Google “Clarifying The Dark Enlightenment”. For some reason he bravely exited the discussion when I brought up anarcho-capitalist economics. It’s funny because he was the one who professed an interest in anarcho-capitalism.

    Actually I’m currently in the middle of a far more productive discussion with an anarcho-capitalist…

    http://www.reddit.com/r/Libertarian/comments/202uvj/what_should_the_government_do/

    You should enter the discussion! The more the merrier! I’d be interested in your thoughts on how to determine the proper scope of government.

    Personally, I don’t believe in blocking ballot votes anymore than I believe in blocking dollar votes. If you’re an American environmentalist…and Brazil is voting to decide whether to conserve its rainforest…then your vote should be able to flow accordingly. Why not? You’re not going to make the effort if the issue doesn’t concern you. And when I say “issue” I’m pronouncing it the English way…”yisiu”. Errr…I used Chinese pinyin to convey how the English pronounce “issue”.

    If you’re still an American environmentalist…and Brazil’s EPA is doing a good job protecting its rainforest…then your tax dollars (positive feedback) should be able to flow accordingly. Why not?

    And people should be allowed to sell their votes. Why not? Google “Crooked Timber Liberals Do Not Advocate Selling Votes”. That was a pretty productive discussion.

    And kids should be allowed to vote. Why not?

    If you think somebody is going to enter the wrong input…then the responsibility falls on you to share your information with them. Isn’t that what I’m doing right now? How could you not love this process?

    March 11, 2014 at 6:48 pm

  14. “Anarchist: That makes no sense. You must be a racist.”

    This never happened. The ‘anarchist’ is just a strawman created by the OP to make himself look smart.

    July 31, 2014 at 1:30 pm

  15. Yaotl

    Irony, I’m an anarchist and I agree with you, the “anarchist” no idea what they are talking about, particular if they deny ever saying something they said.

    December 19, 2014 at 10:21 pm

  16. Pingback: A Dialogue | Neoreactive

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