Moldbuggian Interlude

Mencius Moldbug is a highly creative political thinker. He represents the club of writers that make the blogosphere worthwhile along with original thinkers like Patri Friedman, Eliezer Yudkowsky, and Dennis Dale.

It had been a while since I visited Unqualified Reservations, and so I was delighted to find this long-form advertisement for elected dictatorship at the top of the blog's front page yesterday.

Moldbug's eccentricity has become so severe that he is no longer merely advocating political arrangements never contemplated by anybody else, but he is now advocating political schemes long rejected by everybody.

To be as mad as Moldbug is an artform. In fact I nominate the phrase "mad as a Moldbug" for entry into the vernacular.

Also on the front page there is this post that argues, among other things, that America's Israel policy is pro-Arab because Israel would have undisputed domain over the Middle East absent other Western powers holding it back.

If this is your first exposure to Moldbug, don't miss the world's only worthwhile "why I am not a libertarian" essay.

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What's so original and

What's so original and fascinating about taking up ideas that have been repeatedly tried and rejected (and currently most popular in practice with Latin American leftists), without giving much of a reason to explain why those others shouldn't have changed their minds or why this time will be different? Mencius is smart and well-read, but he's become more aggravating to me over time because he's not only ignorant about a lot of relevant info but completely uninterested in becoming informed (George W. Bush didn't have a low IQ either). He just writes longer and longer blather with interludes from centuries-old books (and not timeless ones like Euclid), cocooning himself away in his mental-castle in the sky.

Let's contrast two other figures who often say shocking things. n/a is so bigoted mere anti-semitic white nationalism isn't enough, Nordicist genes must be protected from Meds! You'd expect him to be a stupid lunatic, but in every disagreement he has with Mencius, he's right and MM is wrong. Because n/a actually cares about getting his facts straight. Steve Sailer has less cognitive horsepower than someone like Mencius or Eliezer, but Sailer himself is aware of that. What's his view on global warming? He doesn't feel qualified to say much about it, so he doesn't stick out his neck in ignorance.* Instead he finds low-hanging fruit and exploits such niches for all they're worth, so even fairly mainstream figures like Pinker and Gelman acknowledge his insight.

I just started writing a post on Gelman's book in which I'll throw down the gauntlet and say anyone interested in American political demography who hasn't been reading Gelman has no business opining. Hopefully Anonymous is my favorite pseudonymed blogger, and his stated aim is to understand reality better so as to maximize the probability that he will live forever. Crazy stuff and he gets into more morally "icky" territory. In as far as he's concerned with politics, he reads Gelman & Sailer and so on, not ancient philosophy. He also unfortunately doesn't write much. Why? Because that's of little help achieving much of anything other than impressing readers with your erudition.

*Some may not view that as a good thing, but I do. There has never been a shortage of uninformed opinion.

A writer who popularizes

A writer who popularizes neglected ideas is useful even if his scope is narrow. Moldbug may be riding a hobbyhorse, but it is an interesting hobbyhorse. By purposefully picking out old writers that have fallen out of favor, he is interesting.

For me there's more to it

For me there's more to it than just this. I'm persuaded by the thesis that certain thinkers have been rejected not because they were discovered to be wrong, but because their enemies have come to dominate the political and intellectual world. Similarly, Catholicism displaced competing notions but not because it was true or closer to the truth. And for a while, Marxism displaced competing ideas in China and Russia but not because it was true or closer to the truth.

In science it is common that better, truer ideas will displace worse, less true ideas. But this is not necessarily the case in every area of thought.

In a different conversation elsewhere James Donald brought to light the strange yet verifiable fact that the history of evolutionary theory was altered, falsified, very close to the year 1970. It was too strange to believe without strong evidence so I spent about an hour going through Google Books to check the theory out and it checked out. Books written before 1970 had one version of the history of evolutionary theory, and books written after 1970 had another version which directly contradicted the first. And the earlier version is, upon inspection, obviously the correct version. Here is the result of my research:

Comment

I conclude:

This is astonishing. A complete 180 from before 1970 to after 1970. Everyone before 1970 - every single source found, with out exception - credits Lamarck with the idea of common descent. But after 1970, almost every source (there was a single exception that I found, by Ernst Haeckel) denies credit to Lamarck. This is scarcely believable, and yet the evidence is right there.

and I followed up on the lone apparent exception, which turned out to be no exception at all:

Followup

Oh wow. That exception after 1970? I looked it up. Ernst Haeckel (the very one, not some other) lived 1834 - 1919. For whatever reason, the book was dated by Google books as post-1970, but this must have referred to a recent republication of the very old work.

So in the end there is not one exception either way (that I found in the first two pages). Every pre-1970 book found credits Lamarck with hypothesizing common descent. Every post-1970 book denies credit to Lamarck. What happened in or around 1970, that caused this universal 180?

This is only one example of many, in which it becomes apparent that conventional wisdom, and not just conventional wisdom but what the brightest minds are saying today different from what they said a hundred years ago is the product of something altogether different from a steady progress in the direction of truth.

I wonder what the source of

I wonder what the source of the modification was? Perhaps one should keep fisking?

This is an incredible find.

Some of the stuff he

Some of the stuff he popularizes is neglected, and I'm glad he pointed out stuff like "On Power" and "Vampire of the Continent" (as well as "Demonic Males", though that's further from his bread-and-butter). But elected dictatorships are not. If you believe Gene Healy, a milder form of it is part of the current zeitgeist Mencius would normally shy away from. He has admitted his great debt to previous thinkers, saying "Most everything I have to say is available, with better writing, more detail and much more erudition, in Jouvenel, Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leoni, Burnham, Nock". The most recent writer listed there is Burnham, and even that proto-neoconservative is greatly at odds with Mencius on this issue (needless to say, the more libertarian members of that list are as well). Maybe they're all wrong, but Mencius has done a piss-poor job arguing it.

And if you'll excuse me complaining about stuff he doesn't explicitly say, his reference to the dictator as "her" combined with some of his other posts suggests he may have Sarah Palin in mind. Sarah Palin is way too unpopular to be elected, we're more likely to get a Hugo Chavez type figure Mencius would hate. You'll notice that most Palin defenders don't point to any qualities that would actually make her a good candidate (and I won't even argue that Joe Biden is more competent), but like them Mencius seems enthralled merely by the dislike others have for her. His shift to referring to her demographic base as "proles" marks him as one of those deluded David Brooks/Thomas Frank types who needs Gelman's disinformation on the actual relation of class and politics in America.

I suppose in some ways our views on Israel are similar (pro-Zionist from the sidelines, advocating neutralism for the U.S, this apparently led one half-Jew to believe I was as well) but his argument is absolutely terrible. America is not Berkeley or Calvin's God, causing water to boil whenever someone lights a fire under it. America obviously did not cause the English Civil War or rebellion of the Netherlands, since it didn't exist yet. Similarly, the fact that Israel is not the new Ottoman Empire cannot be assumed to be the responsibility of the U.S. And of course people will laugh when you say the U.S is anti-Israel since by any standard measure we support them more than any country and nobody can point to any concrete actions taken by Obama or any other American politico since Eisenhower to hinder them. Nor does he engage in any discussion of Israel's history in Lebanon which might make them reluctant (the internal politics of Israel, founded by leftists, which are characterized by fragile coalitions of many tiny parties are never discussed either) to repeat the experience on a larger scale. It's a ridiculous post-hoc: my preferred state of affairs isn't the status quo, America must have caused that!

Pierre Louis Maupertuis is said to have suggested common descent before Lamarck was even born. I'm not sure what politics has to do with Lamarck, outside of Lysenkoism.

Pierre Louis Maupertuis is

Pierre Louis Maupertuis is said to have suggested common descent before Lamarck was even born.

The issue isn't whether Lamarck was the first one to come up with it.

I'm not sure what politics has to do with Lamarck, outside of Lysenkoism.

Politics has something to do with Darwin. For more detail, check James's discussion. The point I was making remains.

Another thing I forgot to

Another thing I forgot to mention about Israel. In his laughable post on the "Palestine lobby" he claims the International Protestant Conspiracy has turned world public opinion against Israel. That sort of thing is in keeping with his America: Vampire of the World perspective, where the devastation is most reduced at its epicenter. However, he has acknowledged the existence of a very few countries which are independent of Foggy Bottom/Washcorp. Russia and China are most often name-checked but Iran, Venezuela and the Arab oil kingdoms are also sometimes included. Under his view shouldn't we then expect the most unbiased views of Israel to be found there? I'm even willing to throw out all but Russia and China. You'd think he be interested in what public opinion is there, but he completely dismisses such data when I provided it for U.S academia.

I don't know what public opinion actually is there, I'm guessing they're not pro-Palestinian but less pro-Israel than America is because (contra Huntington, in my view) Americans tend to view Israel as civilizational kin, a little outpost of America in the Middle East (certainly smelling like roses relative to their neighbors). But acknowledging that would in part entail acknowledging the liberal nature of Israel (something Lawrence Auster exaggerates but is at least cognizant of) and would muddle his liberal vs Zionist dichotomy.

Another thing I forgot to

Another thing I forgot to mention about Israel. In his laughable post on the "Palestine lobby" he claims the International Protestant Conspiracy has turned world public opinion against Israel. That sort of thing is in keeping with his America: Vampire of the World perspective, where the devastation is most reduced at its epicenter. However, he has acknowledged the existence of a very few countries which are independent of Foggy Bottom/Washcorp. Russia and China are most often name-checked but Iran, Venezuela and the Arab oil kingdoms are also sometimes included. Under his view shouldn't we then expect the most unbiased views of Israel to be found there? I'm even willing to throw out all but Russia and China. You'd think he be interested in what public opinion is there, but he completely dismisses such data when I provided it for U.S academia.

I don't know what public opinion actually is there, I'm guessing they're not pro-Palestinian but less pro-Israel than America is because (contra Huntington, in my view) Americans tend to view Israel as civilizational kin, a little outpost of America in the Middle East (certainly smelling like roses relative to their neighbors). But acknowledging that would in part entail acknowledging the liberal nature of Israel (something Lawrence Auster exaggerates but is at least cognizant of) and would muddle his liberal vs Zionist dichotomy.