February 8, 2020
“Writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence.”– Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus
One can hardly help avoiding the feeling that these times are Gestaltless and missing a certain Geist. To live now is to feel confusion at one’s surroundings, to feel that something is missing, and to find Nobody and Nothing aside God Himself (I highly recommend this Narrow Path) who can satisfactorily fill the gap in the Collective and Particular Unconsciousnesses. All the good old Wholes have become full of holes, and they’ve all ceased being Holy as such. Not they ever were, of course. Ideological reality has just ceased to comport with experiential reality. The innermost and outermost limits of the The World are hotly disputed, and to delimit the edges is a form of violence, or a sign of brainwashing:
Conceptualize the world as a globe and you cease to find divisions among men. This is a good thing. It is our duty to protect this larger system.
Conceptualize the world as a globe and you’ve renounced your individuality. You’re rendering unto Caesar things that can not easily be unrendered.
I don’t think either side is incorrect. Both ideas are true, and they are both false. Certainly, I find no issue with treating my fellow man well, but I don’t see why this means I must submit to enforced hospitality at the hands of self-propagating systems which may as well be demonic egregores. And flat-earthers are usually only skeptics of the largest egregore out there: the combined body of scientific research and its allied institutional interests. This is a refreshing skepticism, that does in some instances lose the forest for the trees. But some would rather level the trees in order to save the forest, which is merely an idea without the trees.
A month ago, Curtis Yarvin, or, the Artist Formerly Known as Mencius Moldbug, published an essay on American Mind called A Theory of Pervasive Error, which deals with ideology as market phenomena. Read and study this essay, because nobody, least of all myself, can articulate and systematize the failings of modern epistemics like he can.
What are epistemologies? Ways of knowing. How are epistemologies deliberated and ‘chosen’ by the society in which they are created? By a ‘truth’ market, which selects according to the survival of the fittest (most beautiful). This competition is more of a beauty pageant than a Hobbesian brawl, but it certainly could become more like the latter when the eyes of the beholders crowd into two camps who cease to recognize the others standards of beauty.
The crowning achievement of Yarvin’s essay is that he recognizes that this market is not actually Darwinian; Darwinian would imply a relatively level playing field where the environment (the mass of consumers (voters(clients))) selects whichever truths are most beautiful, in the words of Taleb, for a given sample path.
This is not the case, because for one thing, we do not inhabit sample paths, we inhabit a reality in which not one person can go forward, back or sideways, and for a second thing, truth and beauty, as ideals that transcend persons, are resistant to temporal and environmental utility. Yarvin is refreshing because he recognizes this, and does a wonderful job showing how lies can become beautiful through the ‘invisible fists’ of institutional interests. Truth and beauty do not change, the people interpreting them do. Artists, physicians, and philosophers become hypocrites, Pharisees, and scribes.
This theory of directed evolutionary development in the animal world is derided as Lamarckian by contemporary biologists. The pejorative comes from the French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck who, according to legend, alleged that Giraffes got their long necks by stretching to eat leaves from high branches. The idea that evolutionary development can be influenced by Will is rigorously opposed by those biologists who allege that the Giraffe’s neck merely ‘ended up’ that way because the mutations for Longer-Neck Proto-Giraffes happened to be selected by the arid Savannah. Ideological evolutionary development does not happen this way. Anyone who claims so is selling you an utterly alien brand of nihilism almost certainly begotten by French sociologists. I’m hesitant to accept that directionless evolution happens in the animal world either; random mutation from dead matter into beings capable of Love by any other name would still be an Act of God.
The examples I gave above, Globe and Unglobe, recognize two different standards of beauty, one which is universally utile, and another which rebukes utility as a standard. One is selected by experts and their institutions. These become larger as the demand for them grows and, as such, ONLY produce truths which are most utile for their survival in the short term. The other is selected by outsiders and fewer institutions. With no thought for short-term survival in a truth market, these producers are free to select for eternal truths without aesthetic tilt. The market, as it exists now, is in open competition between these ideas, but the combined power of the experts is the invisible fist that decides winners and losers in the ideological beauty pageant. Institutional skeptics gain little ground in a market whose limits are delineated by globally powerful institutions. That conflict exists over such fundamentals as the size of the world in which Man ought to exist, indicates the severity of the “output error.”
Yarvin makes some interesting points about the consumers in the beauty/truth market: you can never expect farmers, for instance, to select the beautiful truths an expert like a physics professor would, and vice versa, but the structure of American society was variegated such that there really wasn’t any need for that in the first place. The problem arises when, given enough time, the experts selecting the truths will become beholden to the institutions they used to populate the truth market. The truths then become beautiful lies, aesthetically tilted in the direction of job security.
Pervasive error happens when the truth market is so tilted in favor of its selecting institutions that it continually spits out beautiful lies. Yarvin ends his essay with a cyclical theory of epistemological history (refreshing in an era of competing false Apocalypses and Ends of History), and posits that eventually a rogue truth market will arise which will not be beholden to institutional interests and thus, pervasive error. This market will be more compelling because its barrier to entry will be lower, and the environment in which it exists will be smaller. There will be fewer institutional interests and fewer experts.
Japanese ecologist Imanishi Kinji, famous for his work with apes, was ridiculed in the latter half of the 20th century for his turn toward evolutionary Lamarckism. He spent a few summers watching bands of mayflies along a river, and noticed that the mayflies, when feeding at a spot crowded with other mayflies, simply moved up river to find free real estate. To Imanishi, this was a clear act of Will on behalf of the mayflies, and led to increased variation among their progeny.
The lesson Kinji’s mayflies impart is this: the only way to compete with markets in which the only competitors are allied Big Fish, is to grab some smaller fish and create a new market in a new environment for aesthetic honesty to flourish absent institutions which can only tilt away from an ideal in order to survive. If Moldbug is correct, this market too will begin to malfunction, but such is history. There is nothing new under the sun and all is vanity. Internalize this, because it will drive you toward creating the exception, though no such exception can exist. This is where the cultural rubber meets the political road.
The Republic, of Twitter
Somewhere in Book II of The Republic, Socrates remarks that the just never enter politics willingly; they only enter politics to prevent those who are unjust from assuming power of their own. The world, as it stands, would much rather reward a Thrasymachus or Alcibiades, and it’s very likely that it will forever. Even among the just exist mercenary tendencies that threaten to unravel their convictions for short-term gain or even comfort. An ideological pathfinder, pioneer, land-clearer, or poet can never be comfortable.
To write in this ideological market is to compete for the favor of consumers who reward mercenary tendencies in service to their patron egregores. This is no fault of the institutionally-divorced publications subsisting through Twitter co-signs. It is the fault of a market which sucks talent into a void where any trenchant knowledge is turned against itself — toward self-satisfied inaction, or toward the aims of a dominant self-propagating system or institution (remember what these are).
Consider Twitter for a moment. Twitter feels alive. Twitter feels like a facsimile for the world. But what is Twitter really? The website is about a decade old, and a veritable boxing ring for ideas, but nobody could seriously argue that it makes up more than a fraction of the real ‘truth’ market. No, Twitter is more of a middle-man for ideological ‘investors.’ It is a tool of the market, developed and maintained by graduates of the same ailing institutions that have produced the epistemological crisis I’ve spent the last thousand words explaining. That it allows radicalism to exist is a testament to the market’s talent for making the pleasure of propagation masturbatory and impotent. Most publishing ops springing from Twitter are the offspring of the combined interests of a few mid-sized Twitter accounts, and most of these accounts remain in the “just keep posting” camp because it has borne fruit for them. Good ideas do exist in this realm between the potential and the actual. But there is some material motivation on behalf of Posting’s most ardent proponents to uphold their unique niche as the One True Mode of Expression. In reality, You (The Poster Reading This) do nothing more than germinate the heads of those who are chained to pointless desk jobs to pay off student loans, car payments, and other exorbitant cost-of-living charges imparted by insurance agents, usurers, and landlords who support and finance the existing marketplace. More often than not, these ideas, constructed in undoubtedly political environs, validate rather than inspire.
Rare twitter outages are a testament to this fact. In one instant the network is extinguished, and you’re left sullen and weighed down by the queerly heavy hunk of occult machinery in your hands. Where have the ideas gone? Without Twitter’s BINGO free space, all posts die. These networks will always be insulated from reality (the strange space from whence your paycheck comes, your family resides, and God rules).
I am not saying that the ideas produced here have no purchase in the world; this has been far from my experience. I am saying that the markets which created the platform by which “radicalism” is propagated use it as another mechanism for the aesthetic tilting of Truth toward banality and the sour irony of the crowd.
Cry now, and forget, because there is good news. These same markets have woefully neglected interpersonal communication, because, as it turns out, “universal” truths in the business of incorporating all of humanity prove painfully difficult to impart on a one to one basis with those far removed from the institutions producing them, and every single person you meet feels the exact same confusion and not-rightness: there is no Geist, no nous, only the cold, prodding hand of necessity. On Twitter, anonymously and in insulated enclaves of a few thousand posters, this is simple to to convey, but the user is alienated as soon as he looks up from the screen. With people you meet, honest confrontations with the vapidity of day-to-day living stick like stink on shit. The truthful art of our time will declaim constructed reality with sincerity, and in doing so demarcate the foundations for something new.
Most Posters live in the cold desert Suburbia, where there exists a Town a few miles down the road. In this Town there are theaters. In this Town there are music venues. In this Town are open mics. In this Town there are others like yourself. For now, the only thing the “artists” populating the venues I’ve listed have going for them is the courage to perform milquetoast poetry readings and passionless and saccharine music.
Back to markets. What can you do when the market is dominated and constructed by Big Fish? Move to a smaller pond. Yarvin’s allusions to untapped, ‘rogue’ truth markets bring to mind characters with whom all who read this will be well familiar. Even Yarvin may have had these folks (himself, BAP, Mike Anton, le Frogs, KB, Logo) in mind. I suppose time will tell if they have the force behind them to influence the dominant market. But usually, an invisible ‘fist’ can only be countered with a stronger invisible ‘fist,’ and in the meanwhile, Truth runs off to hide in the attic of a barn, embarrassed and afraid of her impersonators. For this reason I suspect the rogue markets he prophesies will be different in essence rather than by degree, and closer to You than they will be to the Leviathan.
Smaller markets that exist outside the institutionally constructed mainstream markets don’t have the problem of Leviathans, and if they do, it’s a much easier problem to tackle. In the Town, far as it is from the Metropole, people are eager for a truth that may reach them without tilt, without beautiful lies that need a college degree for vindication, without 2500 word essays to sway them, and without the unholy countenance of their office computer’s glow. All markets begin as concentrated communities of like-minded individuals. Three percent is hefty in one place. Not so online.
What is stopping you from writing a controversial one act play satirizing academia with your friends and performing it at a local venue? What is stopping you, drawing from the combined resources of your public library’s books and printers, from writing a treatise on the benefits of Universal Basic Horse and distributing it for free at farmer’s markets? What is stopping you from reading excerpts from Thomas Carlyle’s On Heroes at your local brick-furnished coffee house? Work? Find time to set aside your material needs to give space for your Will to breathe, else you cannot be helped.
So long as your city council represents the interests of a few board members and email correspondents desperate for a recognition of the Paris Climate Accords, the soil is open, and the real estate is good as free. People are desperate for newness without superficiality, and for truth without braille. Posting will not cut it in these parts, the only place where the future that resides within you may become immanent.
Of course, this all assumes one is acquainted with the Word and has some practise in virtue. That which is planted in fertile ground will not bear Good fruit unless it is Good. So speaks Socrates in Gorgias:
“When we have practised virtue together, we will apply ourselves to politics, if that seems desirable, or we will advise about whatever else may seem good to us, for we shall be better able to judge then. In our present condition we ought not to give ourselves airs, for even on the most important subjects we are always changing our minds; so utterly stupid are we!”
But if by some miracle we cease to be utterly stupid, and have well-acquainted ourselves with the Good and Beautiful, the only task that remains is to break the dry soil, with bare hands if need be, but one need only trust someone will lend proper tools eventually. Until then, the artist is simply not alive.