Yet More on Ambiguity

Have I hammered this topic enough?  Probably not, because I keep missing.  But not by a lot.

Last month G at Jr. Ganymede wrote an essay that spoke of vices as distorted virtues.

The diagram explains the relationship better than I can in words, so I will simply steal it, and throw myself upon the mercy of the Court.:

and another:

and another:

(The “Virtue That Has No Name” is the quality of advocating standards that you do not meet—not to seem holy, but because the standard must be advocated.  More here.)

The point of this post is not to highlight the relationships between the specific virtues and vices, but to show that this kind of relationship exists and is in fact general.  Pick one of those cycles above and try and put it in a soundbite.  It won’t fit.

“Nell,” the Constable continued, indicating through his tone of voice that the lesson was concluding, “the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.”

~Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age


Ambiguity is a part of life.  Ambiguity is highly inconvenient.

We throw around a lot of do’s and don’ts around this part of the internet.  But be warned!  There’s always the danger of taking these things out of context.

If you’ve heard two conflicting pieces of advice (“Absence makes the heart grow fonder” -> “Out of sight, out of mind”), be careful following *either* of them until you understand how the other one is true as well.

Drunken Thoughts on A Sunday Night

…or, something.  I don’t drink.  But that was sort of the state of mind that gave rise to these:


from reddit:

In the wild there are alphas and betas within animal groups, but human societies don’t (and shouldn’t) work in exactly the same way.


Modern secular society:  nothing is sacred and humans are just evolved monkeys, except when it’s convenient.


Moloch’s Consort

Products are to evolve rather than be planned.  Students are to gain admission on merit, rather than heritage (unless that heritage is oppressed).  Long live the Red Queen!  May she ever keep us at peak productivity.  Trouble is, Moloch is her pimp.  The last thing he wants is space for people to rest.  Moloch:  the Equalist’s Choice.



Proper Focus

I gave a lesson today in church on a talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, titled “Grateful in Any Circumstances.”  Were I to rephrase it for exactness, I’d call it “Grateful in the Most Important of the Circumstances in Which We Find Ourselves, That Being The Atonement of Jesus Christ.”  Our mortal travails are as nothing compared to the joy that awaits.  Don’t take my word for it, find out yourself.  But if you already knew, here is a reminder.



The Miracle

Scott Alexander just published a fantastic essay, which you should read:  Meditations on Moloch.

In it, he takes a problem, points out that it is not just a problem but a terrifying, probably unsolveable problem, and then raises a…lackluster solution.

Moloch is the personification of unfortunate consequences of game theory that promote misery, betrayal, small-mindedness, hatred.  Gnon is the personification of causality, who rules by definition.

Moloch as such is manifest in the small grumbles of everyday life—patent trolls, attractive guys being jerks and attractive girls being insane, good art being unpopular, and the existence of “One Weird Trick” ads.

Gnon has been named and invoked by neoreactionaries as causality deified, and is liberal with his bestowal of schadenfreude (and as such is memetically fit).  Neoreactionaries (including myself) advocate respect for Gnon, because to do otherwise is to die.  Gnon always wins.

Where Alexander transmutes Moloch from a paltry heathen god or the Hurried Pace of Modern Life to Cthulhu is when it is revealed that Moloch and Gnon are one and the same.  Cthulhu is the source of the Cathedral, Gnon is the source of patriarchy.  They operate in the same way, and since these are personified concepts rather than actual people (mortal or otherwise), to be alike is to be one.

Offered in opposition to these blind watchmakers is Elua, who is the only one of these persons who acts like an actual person.  Given the juxtaposition it’s easy to mistake Elua for another deified natural phenomenon (*all* of which, it turns out, are but aspects of Cthulhu), but the lie is put to that when we see that on any issue, Elua’s desires are the same as humans’.  That is, after all, what he or she is.  Elua is a human.

Unfortunately, Gnon wins by definition, where Elua only wins sometimes.  If we were to witness Elua winning out over Gnon, then we would in fact be seeing just another instance where they happen to agree.

Unless Gnon were conscious.  Unless Gnon was in fact Elua.  Unless the laws of causality could be bent.  In our favor.  I would call this…a miracle.

And so we come to Christianity, by roads we (or at least I) did not expect.  We find ourselves Completely Screwed, unless Gnon just happens to be a human.  And to ask the question is to answer it: we find a guy in the middle east two thousand years ago, claiming to be both the Lord of Hosts and the Son of Man.  Gnon and Elua.  And performing many miracles.  And beating Oblivion itself by coming back.

This isn’t a proselytizing post, unless I guess you want it to be.  It’s more a description of the conflict I feel in what there is of the neoreactionary community when we discuss “what is to be done.”  We debate on government but it’s not enough to get just the right government, because you can’t govern an ungovernable people.  But neither can we rely on simple virtus because, well, we’re humans.  We need God, and specifically Christ.  I am not writing this out of the blue, I am simply answering the question SA posed in his essay.  And I’m sorry if this isn’t the answer you wanted, but if you think about it, all the other ones are much, much worse.

Neoreactionaries Should Study and Popularize Complexity Science

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I tend to ramble on without getting to the point, so I tried to start at the end.  Now let’s explain it.


What are complex systems?

There’s no official definition, so I’ll give my unofficial one:  Complex systems are systems with behaviors that arise from the relationships between their parts, rather than any particular part.  If there’s an easily traceable, deterministic, unambiguous cause of all the system’s behaviors, then the system is probably not complex.

Let’s move to some examples.


Economics was probably the first field with a concept of complexity.  Smith coined the phrase “Invisible Hand,” when referring to certain economic phenomena.  The reason the hand was invisible was because no person actually intended for such phenomena to arise!  Describing another actor-less action, Smith wrote:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Economics exhibits many concepts of complexity studies because it studies systems made up of a vast number of parts (each individual economic actor), most of whom act without intent for the system as a whole.


Evolution and Adaptation

If you’re reading this blog you’ve probably read quite a bit on this one.  From mating preferences and sexual strategies, to the eugenic or dysgenic effect of culture and policy, a lot has been written on this subject.  Evolution and adaptation are complex phenomena in that no one intends for…really, anything, to happen, but stuff happens—systematically.


Collective Consciousness

Moldbug has contributed a lot of things, but one undeniably important piece was the idea of the Cathedral.  We often use language that attributes intent to the Cathedral—I do myself—but we know that it is not a single entity, but a large-scale phenomenon arising from the sum (and product, and quotient) of a billion smaller interactions.  Hit pieces, predictably, reliably miss this point, thinking that we see the Cathedral as an actual conspiracy.


There are other terms for these sorts of phenomena; they include emergent behaviorsnonlinear dynamics,  Here’s the wiki page.


So, Uh, Why Study It?

  • Complexity science has relevance to the great majority of problems we discuss in this corner of the web.  If we’re going to sit around discussing a bunch of problems that have relevance to each other, drawing from game theory, biology, and sociology, let’s at least be good at it
  • One aim of neoreaction is the creation of memes to infect the populace (with knowledge!)  I suspect a better understanding of memetics would go a long way here.
  • Knowing stuff is good.  I use concepts from complexity science in my day job and my personal life, although my knowledge of the field is extremely paltry.


Okay, But Why Popularize It?

Because the Cathedral is a beast that feeds on the ignorance of its host (the population).  It is a mental parasite that thrives on soundbites.  Gigantic impenetrable pieces of baroque writing did in fact work because they didn’t match the heuristics that memetic immune systems employ.  But only for a small segment of the population that had the time and inclination to wade through the things.

Freed, ourselves, our thoughts should turn to the rest of humanity.  And this time logorrhea won’t cut it.  If soundbites are the antibodies of the Cathedral, then we’d better start making some viruses.

But!  They have to be the right viruses.  Just as a virus modifies the genetic code of its host, memes change the mind.  But the old memes are unsuitable, because empirically, they were easy to unseat and even subvert to the dark side.  So we need some new ones—ones that will provide better protection this time.

Can you infect people with the ability to think more abstractly?  I suspect the answer is yes.  Besides, lacking state control of the educational apparatus, infection seems the best delivery strategy anyway.  And the state hasn’t been doing that great a job with their method anyway.


So far, neoreaction has mostly been a cabal of scientists, doing forbidden research.  But we need educators, and education is freaking hard work.  People don’t read blogs like ours.  People don’t read at all.  Can you deliver the payload in a Call of Duty-shaped package?  (Civilization was actually quite a good attempt here.)


I’ll end here, because I can tell that anything I write after this will be garbage.  But one thought:  we should do good.


Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Further Reading

the dangers of hubris when dealing with complex systems
Fluff on Chaos Theory (+ some game)
(though caution reading too much into the above)
Asimov’s Foundation

Snow Crash and The Diamond Age (it is no accident that Neovictorian has the name he has)

Tron final scene (and a clue, I suspect, as to how we get out of this mess), though you should watch the whole movie

Decline is the Wrong Metaphor, A Storm is Better

There is a very important, unknowable question: Will the future be good, or bad?

It is, unfortunately, unanswerable, as are all questions about the future.  Past performance predicts future results—so far.   The Titanic was unsinkable, until it wasn’t.  All swans were white, as everyone knew—until some were black.

But the past is helpful in predicting the future most of the time.  If the line has been going down for the last sixty days, it will probably go down tomorrow.

And so, when we look around and we see a society getting worse, we extrapolate forward and see a decline.  And we are probably right.  Even if it doesn’t happen tomorrow, there are structural issues that show no sign of being fixed.  So if not tomorrow, next month, or next year, or decade, or century—who knows?  But we’re crusin’ for a bruisin’, that much we’re sure of.

But.  There is still more future left.  After the Big One (civil war?  credit crunch? earthquake?  tsunami?  nanobots?), will things get a) better, or b) worse?  How does the story end?

That’s an important question, because if it all ends in thermonuclear war, or even just eternal Mad Max, then what’s the point?  Why prepare for a future that won’t exist?

And so we come back to our original question,  and re-realize that it is

  • important (if ends badly, why waste all the effort now?)
  • unknowable (past performance is no guarantee of future results—although past performance indicates that we’re in trouble)

Taking a very (in my mind) rational view, Captain Capitalism has published a book embodying the look-at-things-so-far-stupid approach, titled Enjoy the Decline.  The thesis is that things are going downhill, so you might as well get as much out of life as you can in the meantime.

But can anyone really enjoy a decline?  I will certainly admit to an overly-developed sense of schadenfreude, but probably the worst thing about a decline is knowing that you’re living in a decline.  “What’s tomorrow going to be like?”  “Worse.”  “Oh…that’s, uh…great.”  As far as I can tell the EtD idea is to create a local pocket where things will be better each day, but only better as measured on a hedonism scale.  Trying to actually accomplish something is pointless, because any lasting good you might do will crash and burn with the stock exchanges.

But hedonism’s not good enough.  Man does not live on bread alone.  Humans require narrative—what is the point?   What is “all of this” leading toward?


“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”


Fight Club describes a bunch of men who, lacking belief in God but still needing a narrative to sustain them, have it punctured by reality.

Little wonder, then, that is produced by a society that no longer believes in God (at least not seriously), and is having its alternative narratives (80’s: Me!  90’s: dotcom! 00’s: hmm… 10’s: uh oh…) popped one by one.

The important thing to understand about Fight Club is that they were right.  In a world governed by Ikea catalogs (in other words: no narrative), the plea to start the world becomes relevant.  Bread?  We’ve got iPhones, we have bread covered (for now).  But a future?  We rejected (and probably fear) the Second Coming, Mars is too expensive…House of Cards in your pocket, now there’s a future we can all agree on.  This future is a) unobjectionable, and b) quite obviously hell on earth.

I mean, ignore the basement fighting and the corporate sabotage and the workplace blackmail and coordinated vandalism for a moment.  It’s how you respond to things that determines who you are, but we don’t care who they are, we care about what they saw and what they were responding to, because we can notice it and not be them if we respond differently.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust, so you can at least trust the unjust about whether it’s raining or not.

I’m not saying anything new here.  All I’m saying is: the discontent, at least the sophisticated ones, are right.  Basically right.  Democracy leads downward, the sexual revolution leads to disaster, race matters more than we (self included) would like to think, immigration is going to screw us over.  And there is no way to reverse any of these things.

So that’s the rain.

But there’s a difference between a world-ending flood and a storm.  The difference, when it’s raining, is which you think it is.

So which do we think it is?  Are we facing a survivable storm, or the end of the world?

Where I live, we get some OK storms now and then.  Nothing too crazy, but maybe enough to make you drive a lot more carefully during the commute.  And it’s pretty nice to be in your warm house when it’s pouring outside.

The Decline is temporary.  It is temporal.  It is part of the world, not the whole world.

We should take it seriously, we should prepare, we should be generally sober-minded.  But then we should forget about it.  I imagine Christ shaking his head, saying, “Look, I’m glad you understand the world better now, but don’t forget that I’ve overcome it.  Gethsemene?  Calvary?  Those were hard, you know, and the whole point of them was so you didn’t have to get super down about all this stuff, so I’d appreciate it if you didn’t.”

So, let me spell out the future: a bunch of good and bad stuff happens, bla bla bla, then eternal happiness and immortality.  Not very exact, but certainly throws everything else into perspective, doesn’t it?

The other thing I want to mention is: the Decline does not drag every other narrative down with it.  You can not only play fun games and eat warm food during the storm, but you can write great novels and extend the garage.  It is possible to grow in the midst of rot.

Who’s dumber, the person who gets caught out in the rain and then frantically tries to get inside, or the person who, safe inside, concludes that the rain will last forever and commits suicide?  You don’t have to be either.