STOP MAKING LAST MEN
Quoting yourself is tacky, but for continuity’s sake:
I used a monarch and their palace for an example earlier. The palace costs $200, they only got $170 in revenue because of Laffer Curves. There’s a question that everyone should have asked then: “Why not just wait another year and then you’ll have enough for the palace?”…
…the question you need to ask yourself is what is our equivalent to that palace?
I’m afraid that this lays a trap, and perhaps more than one.
The palace looks like a concrete goal. If it is, then the social state equivalent might be something like “policy change”. If the real question is not the palace but its time frame, then we need to follow this logic. Q: “Why would someone push for policies knowing that they’re impossible within such a short period?”A: If the goal is not the policy.
The palace is almost a red herring, but not quite. A palace is enjoyed by the monarch, but it exists as a sign of monarchy. It’s the architectural embodiment of a state. As a project it’s almost meta – the state wants to gain more power so that it can display the kind of power it has. Raising taxes here isn’t just about getting a project done. The real goal is the demonstration: “We can build this in a year.” This is simply another way of saying: it stands for power and identity, not a goal.
Social power is a tactic and its purpose is political. These are “goals”. But the social state is an organization, and like all organizations its fundamental purpose is to maintain power and to provide identity. Better: the power of the state is what attracts people who want to identify with it. The “goal” has come to metonymically stand for the state itself.
“Ok, sure. But why do this?” For monarchs? I dunno. For us, citizens of a social state?
I’m afraid that when we talk about the “feel” of politics, there’s always going to be an unscientific element. This explains at least part of the retreat into data journalism. Data at least feigns objectivity. “Feigns” being the operative word.
To take rhetorical strategies as an example (a particularly feely aspect of politics): we have a plethora of data on which “good speeches” have influenced prospective voters. That data is derived by analyzing the subsequent sway of opinion, voter turnout, polled enthusiasm, etc. The speech can then be analyzed part by part, sections compared to demographic and economic and [other-ic] data to show why it was effective. “This was happening, she said this, got elected, good speech.” But that says nothing about the speech itself: did they just list issues? How did they talk about them? Indeed, there are often counter-examples to the historical location: unemployment was identical 20 years ago, [historical tidbit here]. And yet at that time similar speeches were ineffective. This often leads data-driven, objective commentators to collapse into cliches and pseudo-aphorisms: “The time was right”, she “just said it the right way”, all the while decrying other analyses as idle talk for ignoring “rigorous data”. This is all to say: the decisive factors (where they exist) sometimes don’t have an associated datum. They may even be resilient to such an analysis. Yeah, it’s “feels”. And your point is?
It seems to me that the strongest trend in global politics right now can be called “identity politics”. This is necessarily subjective, and I don’t think 538 would even know how to analyze such a thing. No matter. I’ll further argue that this is a process responsible for the current failure of both parties to achieve their goals, that this exacerbates the trend, and that this failure is not the same as polarization leading to impasse. Impasse comes from two goals conflicting. Polarization breaks down compromise. Contra impasse: there aren’t goals on either side. Well, outside of “identity” itself. There is gaining power to build a palace to display power to attract people to gain more power.
“Identity politics” should be further explained. In a restrictive sense, it’s a buzzword that means politics based on (roughly) demographic alignment. One’s identity as Christian, black, white, gay, etc. is their starting point. This might be an obvious image of it, but I mean the term in a much broader sense. This “broader” identity politics refers not to demographic influencing politics, but politics subsuming other identities. It means: basing one’s being on political alignment.
This broader “identity politics” comes from the phrase “the personal is political”. So does the restrictive sense, but the phrase influenced far more than demographic struggles. Since at least the 60’s there’s been a trend of political identity, not simply “identity as political” taking over “who one is”. One answers not in terms of goals or beliefs that are left or right. One answers “as” a Leftist, or “as” a Conservative, or “as” [group]. Indeed, the restrictive view is somewhat a victim of this: the LGBTQ movement, for example, is theoretically about one community’s specific aims. To pursue those goals, it may have allied with another social power (here, the Left). But over time, that community’s goals became merely a part of a political rather than sexual identity. I have a strong suspicion that Conservative opposition to, say, GLADD is not actually “anti-gay” in its roots. I think it’s anti-Leftist, and since “gay” translates to “Left”, the rest follow. Sure, that seems like an essentially “leftist” position now, but gay rights was a capitalist thing back in the 20’s. The first person I can think of who argued for gay rights was Schopenhauer, who despised democracy, women, and the poor. The history of gay rights movements finds both right and left courting it as a power block, and only (relatively) recently has it become a pillar of Left-wing identity. To see what this looks like on the other side, note that our first Evangelical President was Jimmy Carter.
This is obviously going to vary quite a lot with the individual, but (in some form) it’s common to almost all of us. This means that the way we interpret political threats, or disagreements, if much more personally than we maybe should. It also means that even the smallest things (music, etc.) can become a threat to identity, and we’ll interpret it accordingly. How could we not? That’s who we are.
I suspect 1. There’s a comparison to be made between social currency and identity vs. dollars and self-branding, material cultural. That’s for another article.that much of this has to do with social power as a growing force. While I’ve stuck to the Left, I implied (and am now saying outright) that social power is also becoming more common on the Right. There are certain obvious reasons for this: social states are seemingly more inclusive, they’ve much more likely to provide one with a sense of identity, etc. They’re also constant affirmations of identity in a way that voting or paying taxes or writing letters to your senator is not. This allows them to provide frequent reassurance that you are who you think you are, which is to say, you are who you identify with. Retweet [political slogan] and your friends will know who you are, march, wear a shirt, listen to the music, etc. Needless to say everything is interpreted accordingly, from Beyonce to the Dixie Chicks.
“There have always been tribes.” Imagining past forms of identity, we get something like this (this is super ahistorical, don’t quote me): Johnny was a Christian and a blacksmith and an Aquitanian and a [blank]. Maybe one of those took precedence, but it didn’t apply to everything, i.e. blacksmithy had nothing to do with the Cross, and the Cross was not against Aquitania. There may be political struggles from any one of those, but they aren’t at their core political. Those intrigues were directed towards goals rather than identities, if not simply because there were several given identities competing for that spot.
In contrast, modern identity is increasingly a) known through identity markers (signals); b) holistic (lesser identity markers are subordinated to one big one); and, c) entirely political (hence, subordinated to Political Party).
Let me explain (a) slightly more. There have always been signals, duh. But when the personal became political, the political became our identity’s sole foundation. Any given “thing” (likes, preferences, diction, etc.) is politicized, which turns any given thing into a potential political signal. Political party coordinates with morals, affiliation with valuation, etc. which gives us the infamous phrase “virtue signalling”. I’m going to avoid using it, ironically to avoid signalling. But the point of this is that identity tends to elevate signal over action, and to make what action exists simply performative.
Needless to say: this is horrifying. It’s also not that different from any given article on [polarization]. But where I distinguish this from polarization, as said above, comes from relative strength and weakness. Polarization article laments a stubborn individual identity and zealous devotion to one type of goal. I see weakened identity and the inability to even state goals, much less realize them. Further: I see progressive disintegration of political parties.
This sounds like [tribalism rant], and I think that tribalism is worrying (who doesn’t?). Yet I want to distinguish generic “tribalism” from what I’m talking about. Tribalism is almost always bad, but it at least maintains cohesion. Modern political structures do not.
Consider the following exchange: [show] has been declared problematic. In a Just Rational Universe we should be able to say this without [fanboys] flipping out. But they aren’t hearing “this thing” is problematic. What they’re hearing is “liking this (personal) is political>this is politically bad> your personal like of it makes you a bad leftist.” Since identity and Leftist are basically the same thing, this isn’t a criticism of [show]. It’s a criticism of you, follow the logic: you are bad.
The irony of “stop politicizing everything” is that it says more about the speaker than the politicizer. If they hadn’t already subsumed everything into their identity, then it wouldn’t be a problem. People love to mock [outgroup] for choosing to make arguments about how [pop culture thing] is really about [deep ideological theme], but that’s completely understandable. It’s the sorting mechanism at work.
This is an intentionally anodyne example, but repeat for any given “divisive” issue (some really divisive issues), and follow through to the aggrieved claim. Responses about how [fanboy] shouldn’t react that way, that it’s a sign of [privilege] to do so, exacerbates the problem. That’s just repeating: “You’re a bad [partisan]”. Before I get hatemail about aligning myself with [hilariously, either reactionary or leftist] positions: I’m explaining a mechanism, I’m just here to adjudicate. If anything, I’m trying to save you members. Burying your head in the sand won’t change anything.
This extends, of course, way beyond “[brocialists] gonna [brocialate]”. I’d like to recall the social state model, even if this has moved somewhat beyond it. That model helps to illuminate what I mean by “disintegration”, because this is a mechanism for the weakening of a social state’s tax base. As the social state raises taxes, more and more citizens will scurry away all or some of theirs. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that more and more will be caught. When someone skips out on financial taxes (structural), the punishments are normally fines. In very extreme circumstances it’s jail-time. In a social state, these are : social censure, humiliation, and ostracism.
I agree that being mocked on the internet is not as bad as jail time, and I don’t want to come across as too hyperbolic: most of the time a “check your privilege” or “fucking cuck” is just that between friends. While most people would prefer to be penniless but have friends than the reverse, “ostracism” is a rare social punishment. The problem comes from the fact that all those forms are direct attacks on identity rather than finance. An obvious corollary is that the people who most identify with [political movement] are the most likely to freak out when called out on something. Judging from personal experience: very true. Also, bad.
Mostly because identity attacks are the primary motivator of maintaining our current system.
Apparent goals are almost never the actual ones, cf. politics, psychology, philosophy for forever. Wanniski et al., for instance, pretend that they’re merely theorizing, and they think that they’re doing so to stop overtaxation. But they aren’t. They’re writing a game-plan for how to maximize government power. Find the apex and maintain that rate.
They might even believe that their stated goal is the same as the result of their actions. Laffer has since protested that maybe government revenue shouldn’t be maximized for [reasons]. I don’t doubt his earnesty, but Laffer is a fool. Power doesn’t work that way. It wants to magnify. Human objections to that don’t matter. More to the point: power magnifies because there aren’t major objections to it. Fiefdoms protect people, trading enriches people, etc. As I’ve already stated, taxes can invest people in the existence of the state, rather than repulse them. People who grow more invested in the state have more reason to maintain it, which means they want a stronger state. That results in more taxes.
If the apex were fixed, if it were a concrete and impassable number, then this would be better for us. Governments (brave or naive, who cares?) that passed the peak would be outcompeted by the more restrained. But the apex isn’t fixed. Any number of things move it, from technology to surplus to culture to war. Wanniski again:
When the nation is at war, [the apex] can approach 100 percent. At the siege of Leningrad in World War II, for example, the people of the city produced for 900 days at tax rates approaching 100 percent.
I joked about the military industrial complex when I last quoted this. That isn’t really a joke, even if the complex is far less powerful than [Chomsky fan] fears. It’s obvious why this roils the tax pool, and hence its conspiratorial application. Existential fear provokes extreme responses, see: armed robbery. “Taxation already is theft!” screams [Don’t Step on Me!], but even the Gadsden Flag will quit rattling when [enemy state] offers to watch their watchman. An enemy does not necessarily weaken the state. In many cases, it makes it stronger.
Last article I gave a rough estimate as to what I thought social tax rates might be. At the very top, I put “identity”. That’s the only one that wasn’t a guess. “Identity” equates to constant corvee labor, to rates approaching 100%. Maybe actual 100% is human sacrifice, but let’s not get dramatic. That rate is, not coincidentally, the same one that Laffer assigns to the threat of war.
This need not be actual, physical war. “War” is but a subset of the much larger category “existential threats”. Total war, famine, and disease are physical threats, but others threaten identity. Conquest threatens national identity even if the native population survives. Civil wars are similar: they arise from identity threats to subsets of the population. Religious oppression, ideological repression, [blank], are not inexorable physical threats – the person could simply “stop believing”. But this choice is illusory, for to do so would risk dissolving their identity. These types of existential threat (physical and identity) might be coordinated, but they can also conflict. Some people give in to armed robbery and others resist, and those who resist are not protecting material so much as their self-image as “one who would resist”.
Hence, “identity” makes one more inclined to want a strong state. It feeds back into power.
Whatever the original purpose of social power was, the social state becomes a means of protecting identity. Threats to the state are existential: if the state suffers, your identity does as well. This incentivizes members to maintain tax-rates at their maximum, in order to fight off threats. Even attempts to convince you that the state (i.e. your politics) is not “who you are”, will sound like existential threats. That’s for a good reason: they are. If your identity is a political party, then saying that the political party isn’t you is a direct assault on your identity. “States” obviously don’t think on their own. But members as a collective most certainly do.
This is symbiotic. To maintain that rate, (i.e. keep identifying), there has to be a threat. But that very rate (high taxes!) produces more tax-dodging (Laffer curve), which produces more identity threats (III), which produces more splinter groups. There will always be abdundant enemies, and each one will be existential. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this creates something like “permanent warfare”. This is a feature, not a bug.
An outside 2. It could also mean that, given a creation of permanent war, all sides have become fascist parties. I’m going to pass over that in silence. observer might be shocked at the overuse of the word “fascist” by all sides. George Orwell satirized this way back when as a mere rhetorical tactic. I don’t think it is. I think it means pretty much exactly what the people saying it mean: the enemy is The Enemy, and the enemy (or The Enemy) will obviously respond in kind.
Identity isn’t what “everyone political” pays, no, but I do think it’s a trend. You see the effects play out too reliably, and too disparately, for it to be confined to one single group. This is what I mean, of course, by the “feel” of modern politics. That feel is identity. “What is our equivalent of the palace?” Well, frankly, something something Hobbes. No, it wasn’t always like that. And?
Every single article about Trump’s fascism, or the Left’s totalitarianism, should be read in this light. Sure, to an outside observer it looks crazy (do I mean the article or the thing its describing?). But that outside observer is just in a lower bracket – give them an election and they’ll be up in the top rates.
There are obvious ways that this destroys the ability to do anything. Social capital allows for social power which allows for change. When that is squandered on identification, defense, and fortification, then nothing gets done. There is no political impasse, because neither side is proposing anything. They’re maintaining whatever rate works just to maintain that rate and pretend that they’re strong. “Pretend” is the key word there.
So ends social power as an effective force, and along with that ends its use as a tool for analysis.”Effects of social power” can’t explain why its modern form led to this. Indeed, social power has been around for quite some time, and the recent interaction with identity is relatively new. Social power doesn’t have to lead to war, it only does so when threats to the social state are simultaneously taken as threats to one’s identity. The real question, then, is what happened to identity? Phrased differently: why did identity become the foremost concern?
“Why are you so obsessed with narcissism?”
Describe the march of history over the past 100 years. Answer: Fascism, then Marxism, then Narcissism.
What distinguishes the three? Technology.
What followed fascism? War. What followed Marxism? War.
You think there’s a political crisis, but there isn’t one. There’s a narcissism crisis that gets channeled politically.
Social power is involved in that story, but it isn’t the primary force. I can’t prove this (how would I?) but I suspect the young of both sides are much more invested in social currency. Not coincidentally, studies find narcissistic inventories on the rise among the youth. Continuing.
Here’s a recent study, also not a coincidence: Narcissistic people tend to identify more with their in-groups, and they tend to take more offense at any insult to their in-group. The authors call this “social narcissism”, cf. identification and extreme responses to “attacks on my party/group.” Like… all of it. Think of any. That I’m not accused of only bashing the Left, let me suggest one: Right tends to identify with country more, and nationalism is back on the rise. Because we live in the world of “the personal is political”, that means that what was previously bedroom narcissism becomes extremely politically volatile.
But even this is a trick. “Social narcissism” misses the point. There isn’t “social narcissism”, as though it were a group dynamic. There’s only narcissism, which attaches itself to a larger identity. That identity is associated with a larger social entity, but it doesn’t come from that. It comes from a previous lack of identity, and a misattribution of “self” to “identity” rather than to action.
Narcissism is commonly interpreted as excessively “strong” ego. The narcissist has an inflated personality, obsessive love for themselves, they overestimate their own worth. Indeed, some NPD sufferers do behave like egotists. The problem is that the underlying pathology is pretty much the opposite.
Narcissism is not born of an excessively strong ego, but an excessively weak one, not a powerful character but a sense of powerlessness. For this reason, NPD is consistently misdiagnosed as anxiety or depression (and vice-versa). Actions that appear to be from “self-love” are attempts to mask deeper feelings of worthlessness.
Narcissists aren’t egoists because, ironically, their entire pathology is social. The craving for recognition is because only other people can provide worth, or affirm or deny. Self-worth is precisely what’s missing. “Identity” in unimportant, is a con, and it doesn’t give one self-worth. But it’s everything in a social sphere, cf. every single thing said about social power.
The need for the other, a social group, is meant to provide the sufferer with a lacking self-worth, as well as to provide an audience for the identity of the sufferer. That “provide” is critical. Acting is inimical to narcissism, which means that taking or proving one’s worth (to oneself) is not possible. The narcissist says “I’m the kind of person that would do [something],” but they don’t do [something]. The [politic -ist] says: “I’m the right [kind of politics], I’ve already done enough to show you how valuable I am.”
Narcissists do not love their own identity because they don’t have one. It involves the creation of a personality, but specifically as a “kind of personality” that already exists. Not creating one for or from oneself, but identifying as an already extant type of person. That “already extant type” is already socially esteemed, so if they can appropriate it then they can show their worth. All this does is deflect questions of “self” and, obviously, action. All energy maintains the mask.
From this comes the litany of behaviors that are related to weakness, not strength (DSM-III but also online src):
…self-aggrandizement, overwhelming feelings of vulnerability, hyper-sensitivity to criticism, idealization of love, disregard for feelings of others, manipulative attitude towards others, envy and a belief that others are envious of self; persistent fantasies relating to personal success, power, beauty, and brilliance; and pervasive fear of old age and death.
Note that all of that manipulation is related to protecting identity>action. The related fantasies of success are precisely protective inaction, the attempt to protect one’s identity as “the kind of person who does something”. All acts are kept in a liminal state to prevent failure. If one were to fail, it would show them not to be the kind of person. From this comes the need for social affirmation and the characteristic rage when that is denied.
In other words: modern identity is not from strength, and even less from a strong sense of self. It’s from the opposite. It’s from an erosion of self-worth and action. Plug in whatever villain you want (capitalism, God, feminism), but it doesn’t change the situation. Stop focusing on identity. Stop focusing on blame. That’s going to destroy us all.
The Last Psychiatrist focuses on narcissism. I’ll write about it sometimes, but it’s not really from me. Alone’s work is definitive, and I’m not going to expand on it even if I borrow the groundwork. But Alone also has a strange obsession with con games, on misdirection, on tricks. That should tell you something.
Here’s a common response to TLP: “How do we stop narcissism?” Wrong question. Narcissism is an epiphenomenon. The emphasis on it is a con. The problem is –
“How do we stop feelings of weakness?” Closer, but what if those are justified feelings? What if people are in fact weak? They already know that they’ve failed, and now a flock of assholes want to make them like themselves anyway. Stop trying to trick people into “feeling” something. That makes them less powerful, not more.
“How do we make people stronger?” Even closer. That is properly political, and I’ll admit it as the only important political question, which why I maintain any contact with the Left at all. But even [Powerful Dude] feels powerless, and you can tell because [Powerful Dude] is a narcissist. The rich and powerful hate themselves and desperately want to be liked, insert your least favorite example here. The issue isn’t even strength or weakness per se, it’s the inability to know that one is strong or weak. The only way to know is to have a goal. The only way to have a goal is to value something. The only way to value something is –
“What is nihilism?”
top image from Aleskei German’s My Friend Ivan Lapsin