That’s Amore

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final Lasch. continued from here and then here

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Donald Trump wins, so The New Yorker ponders Jason Brennan’s argument against democracy:

Brennan calls people who don’t bother to learn about politics hobbits, and he thinks it for the best if they stay home on Election Day. A second group of people enjoy political news as a recreation, following it with the partisan devotion of sports fans, and Brennan calls them hooligans. Third in his bestiary are vulcans, who investigate politics with scientific objectivity, respect opposing points of view, and carefully adjust their opinions to the facts, which they seek out diligently.

While it’s nice that our future epistocrats are so relatable, that’s exactly what gives me pause. Why is a book about how politics should be cold and calculating trying to sit down and have a beer with me?

If epistocracy is the best system and you can convince voters to elect it using “reason” then you’re proving the inherent reasonableness of democracy, i.e. very confusing reductio there. Either Brennan doesn’t think he’s an epistocrat (dismiss that out of hand), or the book and its article are selling something else. You might say that only the elite will read it, and he’s trying to appeal to them, but why do vulcans need cutesy metaphors? Things get weirder when the New Yorker goes into what exactly makes up an epistocracy:

He sketches some options—extra votes for degree holders, a council of epistocrats with veto power, a qualifying exam for voters—but he doesn’t spend much time considering what could go wrong.

Actually, he does. No, I have’t read the book. No, I won’t. But what he just described is America with extra steps.

Turnout_by_educ

Replace “Council of Epistocrats” with “the judiciary” and you’ll see that Brennan’s book is critiquing the exact system that produced the critique in favor of the system that he’s critiquing. This fucking book came from Tlön, it’s so meta that I barely believe it exists in this plane.

I know this so fact checkers at the New Yorker definitely know it. That no one sees fit to mention it is highly suspicious, as is the New Yorker’s ridiculously weak defense of democracy. Not to mention: Jason Brennan is a libertarian. 95% of the readers “compelled” by his “cogent points” actually agree with the non-voters Brennan wants to keep non-voting instead of him.

So this is classic narcissism, from identity protection (New Yorker=elite and liberal; not responsible for 2016) right down to the absurd power fantasies and intense paranoia that “everyone else” is somehow fucking your life up. It’s a defense against change, all the more so because if Brennan gets his system it will look identical to our own. The only difference is that believing this is currently all the plebs’ fault punts culpability somewhere away from you. Fine.

I have problems with epistocracy, they’re about what you’d expect. Still, this isn’t about epistocracy. This is about pizza. Continue reading “That’s Amore”

A Taylorism For All Seasons

lasch on narcissism part 1; gaddis on modernity, part […]

daysofbeingwild1

Christopher Lasch – The Culture of Narcissism, part 1/X, current essay being more of an overview. 

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Imagine a kind of masquerade.

It’s an acting contest at first, and everyone is assigned a mask. The guest is to playact the identity of the mask – so the person who gets a werewolf mask howls, the guest with a zombie mask groans, etc. The best actor wins. This being a party, assume that everyone is still vying for status and attention in the interim, but that may not be acting. People talk about all sorts of things at parties, even those with explicit contests. Most people won’t assume that the mask says anything about the person – it’s randomly assigned, after all. Those who do are missing the point. Both the judges and the guests will appraise character based on acting. The contest may not be equal, of course – there are differences in acting ability, perhaps some roles are easier or more prestigious than others – but these still relate to action.

Now imagine that the rules of the game change. There are no longer preassigned masks. Everyone is expected to provide their own. Perhaps this was due to concerns over fairness (easier/harder masks or prestige of role), perhaps there was arson at the mask-factory. It doesn’t matter – the contest remains but the rules change. There’s no longer one contest, but two: making a mask, and acting like it, and all of a sudden it starts making sense to focus on the mask. Pro-social behavior is both performance and making a good mask, but now the mask is more important. For one reason, if roles are easier/harder and this correlates with prestige (it will), people might begin to bring the most prestigious mask that they can still act as, that isn’t beyond their ability. For another, since you made the mask, it shows certain inner aspects previously hidden (desires, self-awareness, whatever). Still: there are limits, and you have to be able to behave in a certain way. You can’t simply gain status by making the most prestigious mask possible – the judges will make you fall on your ass. The opposite is also dangerous, albeit socially: Don’t say “I was too busy to put in the effort”, as though this is a successful social maneuver. This shows us that you’re lazy, or poor, or [thing]. For most people, social opinion is important for their own identity, and of course you’d start to identify with the mask. It increasingly signifies your role. Still: Nothing changes about the original dynamic. Some people are better actors and others are worse actors; some roles are harder (read: more prestigious) and others are easier. Some people still want to win the contest, but “winning the contest” is now a mix of acting talent, pro-social behavior, and proper self-estimation. This may still be unequal, but it’s less random.

Final transformation: hide the contest. It still takes place (somewhere), but is no longer the explicit public aim. Power-dynamics remain among the party-goers and these are more prominent than before. People still gossip at parties, winners and loser still emerge, the new game increasingly revolves around the mask. It signifies how you think of yourself, how you think of others, etc. There’s technically something important about playing the role behind it, but with a hidden contest all social prestige comes from the mask itself. Accordingly, the mask becomes a token of everything you are, even if everyone knows it’s just a mask. Suddenly, the game isn’t fun anymore. Continue reading “A Taylorism For All Seasons”

Scraps 1: Collapse/Jane Austen/Spengler/Cowen

Scraps and puzzles. Riddle: everything below is talking about the same thing. How?

1. 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed

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~1250 BC is the standard archaeological date for the Biblical Exodus, if in fact an exodus occurred. Most material evidence we would expect of such an event is lacking.

To get to the collapse in 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization CollapsedEric Cline has to give an overview of the major Bronze Age civilizations. He casually mentions the following detail: While we don’t know if Exodus as real big Exodus happened, we do know that there was extensive Semitic-Egyptian interaction. There’s evidence of a Semite vizier to the pharaoh, and it’s unlikely that you’d get such a figure without some sort of storied history. Aper-El, the vizier, held his post in the 14th century during the reigns of Amenhotep III and Akhentaten. Since I’m not particularly  pious, I feel free to pick and choose my biblical chronology as it suits me. That places him at roughly four generations before the proposed exodus, the traditional period between Joseph and Exodus (ignoring that the Bible says each of those is about 100 years). There’s more:

Akhenaten was, infamously, the pharaoh who tried to make Egypt a monotheistic kingdom. During his reign, Akhenaten abolished worship of all gods except for Aten. No matter how one thinks of Aten, the image of a single Semite working as vizier to a Pharaoh who then, for reasons no one can quite figure out, becomes a hardline monotheist, is too fecund of an idea to ignore. One can imagine a particularly rambunctious bilblical literalist seizing on this factoid to weave a grand tapestry – Joseph in the palace of Akhenaten, preaching the word of proto-God, and the mad pharaoh rearranging his kingdom based on Joseph’s powers.

I’m not a biblical literalist and I want to.

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Also in 1177, the theory that the destruction of Troy took place much earlier than anticipated, and possibly twice. That… sort of goes a long way towards explaining why you have military descriptions from totally different time periods just floating around the Iliad. At the same time, if they preserved that, why wouldn’t they preserve at least some vague notion of the Hittites having hired them?

Probably not useful as literary theory. Possibly interesting as actual history. Continue reading “Scraps 1: Collapse/Jane Austen/Spengler/Cowen”

Identity is the enemy. Finale.

let's go
STOP MAKING LAST MEN

(Part I here, social currency here, Part II here, Part III here)

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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? Continue reading “Identity is the enemy. Finale.”

Truth and Lies in a HyperNormal Sense

hypernormalization

JEREMIAD ON TRUTH

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“Wake up sheeple!” is déclassé but you still want to say it. Hence, HyperNormalisation.

That’s not a comment on the film, it’s a comment on the use of it. Normally it’s silly to trade in audience reactions as though that defined the art; guilt by association and Hitler ate Boca Burgers, etc. But HyperNormalisation takes “media and its effects on the individual” as a primary theme, so it’s meta by design. That the audience has taken this (one) theme as the primary one, and then spread that through media is meta^3, ~6 Becketts on the Pirandello Scale. It also opens up the entire problem of modernity and truth.

Here’s a review of the film: HyperNormalisation is good. Adam Curtis is probably the best working documentarian. Neat. Moving on.

Let’s talk about truth.

Continue reading “Truth and Lies in a HyperNormal Sense”