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


6 comments on “Neoreactionaries Should Study and Popularize Complexity Science

  1. […] Neoreactionaries and complexity science. […]

  2. Barnabas says:

    Could you recommend some (nonfiction) books on the topic?

    • I should stress that I am by no means a complexity expert.

      I did, however, greatly enjoy M. Mitchell Waldrop’s Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Chaos. It was written in the early 90’s when complexity first began to be seen as a “thing,” so it is a bit overoptimistic (One can assume Michael Crichton had caught the bug at the time of writing Jurassic Park).

      But it’s solid reporting of the history of the field up to that point.

      Also worth reading is Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene—although it’s a book on natural selection rather than complexity per se, much of the work done in it relies on computer simulations, which complexity studies use quite heavily.

      That, by the way, is one big obstacle to popular understanding of complexity concepts—the computer tools available are made by scientists, for scientists, and scientists are generally terrible programmers (mostly because they don’t want to get bogged down in programming and want to get to the actual science) and terrible software citizens in that they usually don’t share their code.

      One project in the back of my head to help reaction is to make some software that normal people can play around with and see effects emerge on their screen. What happens when NRx has prettier pictures than mainstream media? What happens when you have a video game about patrarchy?

      But anyway, I recommend Waldrop’s work, which is available on Amazon. John Holland and Melanie Mitchell’s books seem to have good reviews as well.

  3. beortheold says:

    Educating the public about complex systems is difficult because there aren’t many widely applicable lessons. The main lesson is that some systems are complex and therefore they can’t be predicted or controlled; all we can do is manage them. Therefore, stick to tradition, and if you want to make changes, be cautious and wait a long time to see if they had an unforeseen effect.

    I suppose the main thrust should be to make the idea of a complex system more widely accepted, to educate people to be able to recognize a complex system when they see one, and for them to acknowledge that making sweeping changes will cause unpredictable and possibly disastrous results.

    This could be done by illustration. There are plenty of examples in history of people trying to effect a change on a complex system and getting a totally unexpected result. Michael Crichton used the United States’ disastrous management of Yellowstone National Park as an example (I can’t seem to find the video online anymore). Other examples could be the AIDS outbreak caused by a combination of the loosening of sexual mores and the discovery of antibiotics (nobody expected a new disease to show up), or the rise of the internet caused by a relatively small investment by DARPA.

    Other than this lesson, most of complex systems theory is way too esoteric for most intelligent observers. But the lesson is simple. And, of course, Chesterton was talking about this sort of thing 100 years ago:

    “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

    • Thanks for your well-thought-out comment.

      I disagree however in that I think the mere existence of complex systems and their thorny (literally thorny—mess with them and you can get hurt) nature is sufficient. In fact I think it may be worse than ignorance. As far as economics goes we can run with the assumption that “conservatives know that complex systems are scary and liberals don’t.” And yet no one invites Austrians to parties. Not only that, but no one likes to think like Austrians—we know this empirically, because the meme only survives when its symbiote, intellectual pride, is present. The thing itself offers no hedonic value. If we are to consider peoples’ hope and optimism as Chesterton’s fence—which I think we should—I am reluctant to endarken without providing hope.

      But that’s a side issue. The main way I understand your disagreement w/the post is that complex systems are so…complex, and in particular ambiguous and unpredictable, that there’s just no way to put out memes that will be unambiguously useful.

      And I think you’re right. But I think it’s worth doing *anyway*. In my post on opposing truths I showed that we have a lot of “truths” in our society that are blatantly contradictory. I don’t remember precisely the mood I was in when I wrote that (most likely, “Screw you advice-givers, I’m never listening to you again!”), but I think it’s evidence that people can incorporate contradictory memes as long as their other characteristics are adaptive.

      But. I will certainly agree that the mere idea of complex systems is a powerful and useful meme.

      • beortheold says:

        I was probably too dismissive in my first comment, so I looked up some complex systems ideas and found a couple more memes that might make sense as part of social criticism. As an engineer, I tend to avoid getting dirty with complex systems. But then I remembered that in this case we aren’t the engineers; the progressives are.

        One idea, the thermodynamic view of a system, including such concepts as entropy and phase change is particularly apt. Entropy has come up as an explanation for society’s leftward drift on more than one occasion, but by taking a wider view of the thermodynamics involved, perhaps we can zero in on a more cohesive explanation.

        The idea of a phase change in a system seems particularly apt when noting the gradual transformation of our society from one of strong family units to one of atomized individuals over the last 50 years. Perhaps the analog to the temperature variable would be money.

        Apparently Hayek did a lot of work developing some of the concepts that complex systems folks use today.

        I still think that the standard methods of history will bring the most insight, but there could be something to this. I think there are sociologists who use complex systems ideas in their work, so it may be helpful to see their methods, because they are one step removed from societal-scale historical analysis.

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