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User ID: 1187



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User ID: 1187

Can you provide any references to the phenomena you described in your first paragraph? I've often suspected that universalist religions are a solution to the problem of scale, but I haven't dug into any literature on it.

I think this line of argument conflates two different propositions: a) there's such a thing as too much democracy and b) the only appropriate guarantor against too much democracy is a managerial elite with the backing of the state. Lots of people agree with the first proposition without necessarily agreeing with the second.

I strongly suspect that the chattering classes care a lot more about corruption than the majority of voters. Really egregious corruption can rub people the wrong way, particularly if people feel they are being shut out of opportunities that insiders have access to, but I don't think a lot of people care very much about, say, who gets appointed transportation minister. In order to be enraged about deviations from procedural norms, you have to be deeply invested in the legitimacy of those norms to start with. While the PMC may be, increasingly large numbers of voters aren't.

As tech advances, won't it take fewer people and less resources to "close the gap" to AI? Say Silicon Valley is on course to reach AGI in 20 years at current R&D rates. If Silicon Valley in 10 years has shrunk to half its current R&D rates, you can still hypothetically get to AGI, it would just take longer.

Apologies for the lateness of this reply; I go through long stretches of inactivity here. Maybe both geeks and sociopaths can be driving growth concurrently? At any given time, in any given movement, you can have participants along the whole spectrum of motives. Its probably also true that some movements have "better tech" than others; they're more likely to take root and have lasting impacts. The various Abrahamic monotheisms come to mind as movements with really strong tech. If anything, its probably that the better the underlying idea, the more status to be gained by getting in on the ground floor.

I don't actually know enough about the early history of Christianity to make a claim one way or another, to be honest. I'd be interested if you have an alternative set of stages. Or even if you just think there's a better word than "stages" which does sort of imply a linear progression in what is not necessarily a linear process.

Regarding your latter point, I think for me, "class interest" is basically just an emergent phenomena of people following their own personal incentives. For example, if I'm lawyer or doctor, anything lowering the barrier to entry in these fields is against my personal economic interest. Meanwhile, people with aspirations of upward mobility from non-PMC backgrounds, who can't afford or qualify for however many thousands of dollars of student debt that career path entails, would prefer that these barriers to entry be lowered."Class" is such a slippery phenomena; any given individual might be in different classes over the course of their lives, and if we use the word in the broadest sense (to include, say, religious or ethnic groups as well as socioeconomic strata), several different classes at the same time.

First time I've seen the rescue game, though I am familiar with John Michael Greer's writing. Generally I've found him quite insightful, though I think I probably have a fundamental disagreement with (what I understand to be) his broadly anti-growth philosophy. I was most interested to learn about the parallels to race discourse in the post-reconstruction south. Everything old is new again!

I think I'd concede that naturally-occurring niches may exist. I think these niches probably don't get filled without some sort of elite-aspirant recognizing an opportunity however. Oil sitting under the Arabian desert didn't do anything until someone with the resources, connections, and know-how to exploit it came along. I also think that relatively narrow niches may be artificially expanded by elites, in the same way that say, De Boers helped create the diamond market. Good point about consumer capitalism; I think its fair to say that incentive structures have a way of cropping up everywhere, however much you try to keep them out.

Something I've been working on; presenting it here to solicit the feedback of the hive-mind.

The Life Cycle of Fashionable Causes

Inspired by some of this recent commentary on the latest trends in identity politics, I’ve been inspired to try and outline a possible model for how these things emerge, develop, and fade. Originally this was written with identity politics in mind, but you could probably apply the model to other things, such as the centuries-long transition of Christianity from being an outlaw religion to a state-sanctioned religious monopoly, or the rise of revolutionary Marxism. I draw heavily from the “Geeks, Mops, and Sociopaths” model. Also, I more or less take it as a given that identity politics, in its most common form, is intellectually incoherent and most of its champions are largely driven by self-interest; I will not be discussing the merits of any particular form of it here.

Stage 1: Client identification

Elite-entrepreneurs identify some conceivably-marginalized group (racial or religious minorities, the handicapped, slaves) and position themselves as champions of said group. This is especially frequent in times of elite overproduction, for obvious reasons. Note that at this stage, these champions may well be selfish, but they aren’t necessarily insincere. On the contrary, they’re likely to be true believers. Remember, the cause isn’t fashionable yet. On the contrary, advocating for it too strongly will likely raise eyebrows in polite society. There was a time when Christians were still a despised and hated minority, and when anyone suggesting that slavery should be abolished would be met with astonishment. John Brown was a villain before he became a hero. Our elite-entrepreneurs are analogous to settlers or prospectors on the cultural frontier. They may hope to hit pay dirt but they haven’t yet.

Stage 2: Advocacy

This is the long march through the institutions. The champions create platforms for advocacy, or seek positions within existing platforms (academia, parliaments, the Senate). They form organizations, publish manifestos, recruit disciples. Very importantly, during this stage the cause starts to accrue social capital. Not a lot perhaps, but a little, concentrated in certain areas. It starts to be possible to accrue legitimacy and street cred in “the movement” even its only with other supporters and second-generation converts to the cause. You may still face penalty or sanction for association with the cause among the general public though.

Stage 3: Critical Mass

The cause is now practically mainstream. People put their preferred pronouns in their linked-in bios; they say “He is Risen” as a greeting. It’s likely that in the process of expanding, the movement has softened some of its hard edges and dispensed with some of its more controversial positions. This is the gold-rush stage. The cost of joining the movement is now relatively low, and an increasingly large portion of converts are simple band-wagon jumpers.

Stage 4: Fragmentation

As the movement expands, the social capital it began accruing in stage 2 starts to dissipate. Its no longer hip or cutting edge to be associated with it. The late-comers to the movement are frustrated because they can no longer accrue status by participation. The old guard (the Old Bolsheviks) are frustrated because the movement has lost its purity and its revolutionary fervor. At this point, you start to see infighting. There are lots of attempts to establish internal discipline, to decide who is and is not truly part of the movement, which particular courses of action best serve the cause. Much of this comes down to fighting over scraps of power and prestige; the gold rush days are over.

Stage 5: Dissolution

At this point, the movement is largely spent. Some of its precepts have probably been normalized in the culture at large (not even the race-realists nowadays advocate for a return to slavery). Precisely because the cause was largely triumphant, you no longer draw any attention to yourself by advocating for it. In the case of sufficiently far-reaching transformations – such as the mass adoption of Christianity – the movement has probably become such a big tent that you can find people advocating for totally-opposed courses of action, each claiming to represent the true spirit of the movement. In the Catholic-Protestant wars which racked Europe for centuries, both sides claimed to fight in the name of Christ. Other such totalizing philosophies, like Marxism-Leninism, have had their own internal schisms. Its important to note that simply because a belief system has become such a big tent that it can seemingly accommodate or justify almost anything, that doesn’t mean the movement which spawned it had no impact. The fall of paganism, the rise of Protestantism, and eventual rise of Marxism-Leninism all left the world a very different place than it was before.

A few other notes here: Obviously this is presented as a linear model, and assumes that the movement in question is ultimately more or less successful. There’s no reason that need be the case. I’m sure further investigation would identify a number of movements which never progressed through all these stages. For that matter, I see no reason in principle a movement couldn’t move back and forth through these stages, or even be in different stages among different sectors of the population.

With regards to identity politics, I think that in certain sectors, (academia, most establishment media organizations), its probably in stage-4. Affirmative-action hiring policies are increasingly ubiquitous, but at the same time, there is massive labor surplus for a relatively small number of jobs. In the case of media, the financial opportunities are rapidly declining, as Freddie DeBoer has documented extensively; while academia hasn’t yet collapsed I strongly suspect the current model is not sustainable, and there may be an implosion at some point in the future. People are hopping on board the identity politics bandwagon in an attempt to carve out a secure niche, but enough people have hopped on this bandwagon that now they’ve hit diminishing returns, and will now have to start adjudicating who is and is not a member of minority group X

I'd definitely read the piece if you ever get around to it.

A belated thanks! Added to my to-read list.

Thank you, added that to my TBR

Anyone have any good references on market consolidation? I'm investigating the idea that economies of scale lead to a small percentage of firms controlling large sections of the market. Any literature on this would be appreciated.

Stalled out on "Democracy in America". Its not that it lacks insight or is badly written, its just...a long winded nineteenth century book, i guess? And it seems like it may suffer from its success, being one of those books whose key points have already passed into the broader culture in some way.

Been a minute since I logged in here, but I wanted to respond that I'd be interested to read that. What technologies exemplify this trend?

Two from my endless pile. Both labor intensive so who knows when, if ever, I'll get around to them:

Globalization, Fragility, and Monoculture - Basically, an exploration of the idea that modern economic conditions facilitate economies of scale in which commodity production and distribution is highly centralized, for reasons of cost i.e. the huge percentage of the worlds semiconducturs traditionally manufactured in Taiwan. This also facilitates standardization of design in these products. The analogy in the natural world would be the ability of certain species, hyper-optimized to fill a certain ecological niche, to flourish and crowd out potential competitors. This is well and good until something happens to disrupt the status quo; the product or organism that was perfectly adapted to one set of conditions is often too specialized to adapt when those conditions change. None of these ideas are terribly new of course. Since Covid, lots of people have been thinking about the idea that globalization is pretty fragile. Both John Robb in the security sphere and Nicholas Nassim Taleb have arguably been preaching similar ideas long before they started to enter mainstream currency. The issue, I think, is that the mono-cultural model tends to be very profitable in the short-to-medium term. Hyper-specialization is what allows for explosive growth, which is what hordes of slavering venture capitalists and would-be venture capitalists are always seeking. Not sure anyone has addressed the explicit tradeoff between growth and security/systemic diversity and the compromises that we may be forced to make on that front in a generation or two.

A tale of two elites - Arguably since the end of the civil war, the United States has largely been run by people associated with political and financial centers of power in the Northeast of the country. Broadly speaking, they tend to have similar educational (Ivy League) and professional backgrounds (often lawyers, academics, or some other wordcel-esque job), and place a great deal of emphasis on technocratic credentialism. The emergence of silicon valley as a possible rival center of power, with its own culture, norms, and ideals could set conditions for a major change. Again, hardly an original idea, but not one I've seen explored in depth to my own satisfaction

For a long time I've been thinking I need to make it a rule to tell someone if I enjoyed reading something they wrote. This is another data point in favor of making that a rule.


Be very interested to read the Putin thing

Would be very interested in the Orthodox Church/Ukraine Situation

Great comment, thanks!

Wanted to reiterate what others have already said, that I appreciate you taking the time to post this review and I will likely add the book to my ever-growing TBR list. If I could ask a follow up question - does the author posit a reason emotions were running so high? I get that there was a climate of fear and paranoia which contributed to the Terror, but what was the mechanism by which this climate emerged?

Thank you, that was a very helpful explanation.

What exactly is the distinction between a paraphilia and a sexual orientation? The most thoughtful answer I can find with a quick search suggests that the latter is biological and the former psychological? But that already strikes me as a fairly fuzzy and non-absolute distinction. Most of the rest of what I found can be boiled down to "paraphilia = gross/sexual orientation = perfectly legitimate, no judgement dammit" without ever actually explaining why that would be.

I do think that thinking of these things as a cluster of associated impulses is probably the best way to describe it. I don't really think you can separate sex from emotion from social roles from (insert X addenda here). One thing Lawrence and Blanchard don't touch on but may be worth bringing up. From my personal observations, frequently the fantasy of being a woman is associated with a fantasy of the loss of agency, and by extension, responsibility. You mentioned a military academy cadet and star athlete who apparently didn't measure up to his own standards for masculinity. I suspect there may be a lot of folks in this space with similar profiles. There's an element of stress relief to the fantasy. The wall street dude who spends all day amongst ultra-competitive alpha males making split-second decisions on which millions of dollars ride. The soldier who has to make split-second decisions on which the lives of his team-members ride. Anyone who lashes themselves into the breach of war or politics or business or science, through some combination of ambition and responsibility. To someone like that, the fantasy of being a stereotypical princess - of being passive, helpless even, loved for what you are rather than anything you do, of being at the whim of people and forces more powerful than yourself - that can be a powerful intoxicant. Nothing to base this on other than my own personal experiences and too much time spent in the seedy parts of the internet, but I think its worth considering.

Off the top of my head, the highlights are:

a) The Great Gatsby - technically I read this right around Christmas of 2021, but I'll include it here. Gatsby's a total simp. Daisy, so far as we can tell from the text, probably isn't even that hot. You know who's cool and who I want to read a book about? Meyer Wolfsheim. How did he claw his way up the ranks of organized crime? Did he kill a dude and make his teeth into cufflinks? I think he did.

b) The Maltese Falcon, Dashiel Hammett. I'd tried some Hammett before - the Glass Key and Red Harvest - but I just didn't get that into them. I liked this one a lot more for some reason. I think it just seemed more tightly written than those two, though I'm not sure if that's the explanation

c) Francis Fukuyama - Political Order and Political Decay. This one was on audiobook so without an actual copy in front of me, I have a hard time remembering what I thought about it. The main impression I retained is that Fukuyama is clearly a smart guy who's read and thought a lot about his topic, but is hamstrung by his commitment to an orthodox-western-liberal view of "progress" and state formation. His analysis would probably have been more interesting if he'd been willing to consider more heterodox ideas.

d) The Duchess of Malfi, John Webster. Famously gloomy and violent Jacobean revenge drama. Probably one of the best works of fiction I read this year. The anti-heroic Bosola gets all the best lines, even though he's largely tangential to the plot until the last few scenes. Surprised I haven't seen a film adaptation of this sometime in the last ten years.

e) The Folk of the Air, Peter S. Beagle. Beagle is probably best known for The Last Unicorn. This is a sort of early urban-fantasy story about an itinerant musician who returns to a thinly-veiled Berkeley after ten years of wandering. He finds that all his old friends are now part of a thinly-veiled Society For Creative Anachronism and that some of them get way into character and sometimes their re-enactments get just a little too real. Started off slowly but hit it's strides at the two-thirds mark and wrapped up with a satisfy albeit ambiguous conclusion.

f) The Ballad of the White Horse, GK Chesterton - Sometimes hailed as the last epic narrative poem in the English language. A fictionalized depiction of King Alfred's defeat of the Danes at the Battle of Ethandune. Short, with a pretty simple and straightforward plot, but a lot of great quotable lines. A few choice morsels

A gloomy Norseman: "You sing of the young gods easily/In the days when you are young/But I go smelling yew and sods/And I know there are gods behind the gods/Gods that are best unsung."

The narrator: "The Great Gaels of Ireland/Are the men that God made Mad/For all their wars are merry/And all their songs are sad".

Alfred, rebuking the Norse kings pseudo-Nietszchean worldview: "What have the strong gods given?/Where have the glad gods led?/When Guthrun sits on a hero's throne/And asks if he is dead?"

I'm told that Tolkien didn't like it on account of how he felt the Norse were misrepresented. Nonetheless, its well worth your tim."

TL; DR - The Autobiography of Benevenuto Cellini. He was probably a pretty interesting dude to hang around but the writing didn't hook me.

TL; DR - The Divine Comedy. Tried it, couldn't get into it.