Posted by: Alephwyr | August 1, 2018

Draconic values: a meditation

As prophet and founder of a future society of dragons, it would make good sense to lay down the law, establishing my own revealed knowledge as an eternal standard on which to base the future norms and mores of all dragonkind.  I am unwilling and unable to do this.  To begin with, it seems to me that most good social norms and mores arise organically in relation to the environment in which a people originates.  While it is certainly possible that I have some non-trivial role to play in this organic process, it is probably not the role of dragon Moses: God would have said something.  Additionally, I still have some conflicted and paradoxical devotions to liberty, to the open society, and to existential philosophy.  Just as importantly, I’m not able to construct the kind of intense genealogical and semiotic investigation into essentialist concepts of dragons that would be necessary to establish a dragon essentialism credible enough to function in a traditionalist context.

It seems to me that the best way to go about constructing a society of the future is to first establish meta-level environmental properties and rules, like I went about doing in my previous blog post.  Nonetheless, such a system is just a giant information processor in a sense, and what values and utility ultimately come out of it depends on what sort of values and inclinations are injected into it in the first place.  Therefore, I am compelled to make some effort to describe my own values, which would ideally be presented in a clear and systematic way, but due to my limitations can only come in a rambling and circuitous way instead.  If this style of writing worked for Robert Pirsig and Lee Iacoca, maybe it will also work for me.  This is likely to be an extremely personal blog entry with little total value, so if that bothers you, skip it.  No really.  If the world I’m trying to design counted on anyone reading about my personal life and the vague reflections it has engendered, then it would be a very poorly designed world.  This is to be the most optional entry in my overall series of dragonposts.  Better to overlook it than to alienate yourself.

There is one person whose total effect on my life has outstripped that of any other person, living or dead.  He is not a family member, and he probably wouldn’t even describe himself as my friend.  In a certain sense, he is a completely random asshole I met on the internet.  For the sake of halfheartedly protecting the guilty, I will simply refer to him as волк (“volk”, or wolf).  I met волк on a forum dedicated to a video game (I won’t say which), where there were naturally many high-level discussions of philosophy and economics.  At the time I believed that anyone who invoked the concepts of logic or reason was inherently untrustworthy, along with the concepts themselves.  I believed this because I had just been expelled from an alternative school after going insane from torture by religious fundamentalists.  These religious fundamentalists had routinely invoked logic and reason as motivations for their torture, and any attempt to point out flaws or limitations in their logic or reason just led to more torture.  волк invoked concepts of logic and reason regularly, and so I initially found him entirely untrustworthy.

At some point, волк utterly annihilated me in an argument, eviscerating me in excruciatingly exact and logical terms, which he also documented empirically and reinforced with very severe and degrading rhetoric.  It was at that point that I realized several things:

  • It’s possible for someone to invoke logic and reason and actually be logical and reasonable
  • This was the only person I had ever met or was ever liable to meet who was consistently and trustworthily logical and reasonable
  • My highest good was whatever he had that enabled or proceeded from this: whether it was intelligence, rationality, discipline, dignity, sophistication, erudition, or class.

Subsequently I am not sure I have any of these things, but I know my way around them a little better.

I quickly realized that the fastest way to have quality intellectual opinions was just to reverse engineer the formulas for волк’s various arguments and deploy them uniformly regardless of consequences.  The point at which fact diverges into value is the exact point at which positions become arbitrary.  However, if you can fluidly make the transition between a mountain of well-reasoned fact and a handful of logically compatible values, you gain immense rhetorical power and tend to overwhelm opponent objections by destroying the immediate salience of the is-ought distinction: the subtler you are in this one transition, the more “reasonable” you look to most others.  Argument is implicitly competitive, and like in many competitive fields, the best approach is generally just to optimize your formula then slam on the gas.

So I spent a lot of time just probing волк, who was an open book in most respects, and modeling my intellectual approach and disposition off of his.  I had trouble applying aggression correctly, in general using far too much of it, and overall I lacked rhetorical competence of any kind, all in addition to not actually knowing anything.  But the stand-out facts of this account are that I was trying to construct myself, a self, off of a mental model I had of a single, extremely exceptional individual: one who I simultaneously felt intense loyalty to and who I really needed, in a psychological sense, in order to not be completely lost.

TheEmperor

волк was very important to me, even before he revealed that he was a descendent of the Roman Emperor Octavian, and other such facts, which all did a very good job of aestheticizing what was already an intensely urgent drive to subordinate myself to him.  And it is perhaps for reasons such as this that traditionalism makes a good deal of sense to me, because I have derived substantial aspects of my personal sense of value from this relationship, and because the general pattern of modeling yourself off of a superior until some point of differentiation is reached makes a great deal more sense to me than the current, more pathological and mainstream development process most people seem to undergo, of adopting other people’s behaviors in a purely ad-hoc manner based on what will most efficiently satisfy their immediate wants or needs, over and over again, for the entire course of their life.

However, волк himself is not a traditionalist.  His philosophical influences are mostly analytic philosophers, and the few that might conceivably intersect with my own cognitive capacities and inclinations are Kant, Mill, Popper, and others of that sort.  He is not right-wing at all, but decisively neoliberal by way of a tempered libertarianism.  He favors free markets, the open society, and internationalism.  While he recognizes the validity and superiority of allowing for differentiation in human market value, he believes in a certain moral equivalency between all people, which doesn’t make and has never made tremendous sense to me.  And so I am left by all of this with a paradox: The God-Emperor supports precisely everything that is anathema to his own sovereignty and significance.

TwoOfWands

I am thus left trying to split the difference between my own moral intuition and his, which is exacerbated by the fact that I trust his more than mine.  Intellectually, I reason mostly in terms of philosophical opinions and systems which are now largely, at best, orthogonal to my own personal values and the systems with which they tend to be associated.  But it is much more complicated than that.

The first system of philosophy I really understood was existentialism, by way of Sartre.  Sartre’s phenomenology makes objective value impossible, but it also unsubtly romanticizes the construction of value in this otherwise nihilistic vacuum by its various appeals to authenticity and so forth.  After reading around 200 pages of Sartre, I went through a period of intense existential despair, which at some point, for no intellectual or philosophical or apparent reason at all, simply dissipated in its entirety.  But I retained a sense of the romanticism of free will from all of this; and in fact, I would have had that sense of romanticism even if I hadn’t actually read Sartre and had my experience with existential despair, simply because волк also values such things, and that would have been good enough for me already.

This foundational romance later contributed to my attraction to Chaos Magick once I went off the deep end and had to turn to obscure and esoteric texts in order to try to rationally systematize an increasingly disintegrating epistemology.  Chaos magick lead to other esotericism, which lead to a modest classical education, which lead to a syncretic adoption of various traditional outlooks and values.  This in turn has presented another paradox: the deeper I get into esotericism and occultism and classical thought, and away from reason and modern liberal values, the less well-aligned my own value system is with волк’s, and consequently the less respect I tend to have for his positions.  Simultaneously, the deeper I get into these modes of reasoning, the stronger my compulsion is towards loyalty to him.  It is a very hard line to walk, especially when волк explicitly repudiates me and disabuses me of any notions of personal value.  If he did this for good reason it would be easy to bear in a sense.  I would just be worthless.  But he did it in such a way that his judgement was not even magnificently wrong, but pathetically wrong, in the same vein as flat-earth argumentation perhaps.  So I am left with the contradiction now, that my rational mind knows волк is without authority in this matter, but my heart does not.  This is the hardest contradiction to rectify.  Whoever came up with the notion of ex cathedra as a condition of Papal infallibility was a great genius, far greater than any Newton or Einstein, because they rectified a potential for contradiction for which no redress was immediately and apparently possible.

Now, even Popper makes most of his arguments for the Open Society not on an absolutist basis, but on an instrumental basis: that is, the evidence is given that an open society promotes certain outcomes which most would agree are favorable.  However, instrumental arguments have also been given for various traditional social arrangements that represent, if not closed societies ineluctably, then at least societies in which openness is very far from a primary value.  Having only a cursory familiarity with history, it still seems apparent to me that the instrumental value of a given social form at any given point in time probably corresponded reasonably well to the incentives that existed at the time that form was in wide adoption.  However, my own personal concerns with the structure of societies and nations are not very broad, and mostly revolve around a handful of questions about merit.

It seems to me that the outcomes of all meritorious people in respect to a given social form can be divided into four categories (note that I am here defining “merit” not as a person’s total value in any sense, but something more like their raw ability or potential)MeritSquare

  • A meritorious person succeeds in agreement with social form

This is the most common type of success in the world, and seems utterly equivalent to me in both the ancient and modern world.  Why?  Well, even though we nominally live in a free society, the determining factors for most levels of success are still ultimately dependent on effective social conformity more than any other skill.  This extends even to people who have achieved very high status, and to me it is the least meaningful application of merit/potential/ability.  To wit:

He walked at random. He owned nothing, but he was owned by any part of the city. It was right that the city should now direct his way and that he should be moved by the pull of chance corners. Here I am, my masters, I am coming to salute you and acknowledge, wherever you want me, I shall go as I’m told. I’m the man who wanted power.

That woman sitting on the stoop of an old brownstone house, her fat white knees spread apart-the man pushing the white brocade of his stomach out of a cab in front of a great hotel-the little man sipping root beer at a drugstore counter-the woman leaning over a stained mattress on the sill of a tenement window-the taxi driver parked on a corner-the lady with orchids, drunk at the table of a sidewalk cafe-the toothless woman selling chewing gum- the man in shirt sleeves, leaning against the door of a poolroom-they are my masters. My owners, my rulers without a face.

Stand here, he thought, and count the lighted windows of a city. You cannot do it But behind each yellow rectangle that climbs, one over another, to the sky-under each bulb-down to there, see that spark over the river which is not a star?-there are people whom you will never see and who are your masters. At the supper tables, in the drawing rooms, in their beds and in their cellars, in their studies and in their bathrooms. Speeding in the subways under your feet. Crawling up in elevators through vertical cracks around you. Jolting past you in every bus. Your masters, Gail Wynand. There is a net-longer than the cables that coil through the walls of this city, larger than the mesh of pipes that carry water, gas and refuse-there is another hidden net around you; it is strapped to you, and the wires lead to every hand in the
city. They jerked the wires and you moved. You were a ruler of men. You held a leash. A leash is only a rope with a noose at both ends.

It is not that I think all examples are this extreme, but the same basic pattern is present in all such cases, so my overall feelings towards such people are indifference.  This is all in rough agreement with Nietzsche’s, “Only there, where the state ceases, does the man who is not superfluous begin.”  Nonetheless, from the standpoint of engineering a meritocratic society, it seems to me that this pattern will hold in every society and so we can effectively ignore it as a consideration.

  • A meritorious person succeeds in spite of a social form

This is not just many artists, musicians, and philosophers, but also many a conqueror.  In a sense, whenever someone achieves something at the cost of blood, they have achieved success in spite of social form, regardless of how much force was brought to bear or how it was acquired, though on balance it is really only when the majority of social friction went against a person that we tally something in this category.  This application of merit/potential/ability, is much more common in ancient societies: we find only a few criminals and such in recent memory who exhibit it, like Jacques Mesrine, perhaps.  Modern war is not in fact demonstrative of this since it mostly constitutes the wholly asymmetrical slaughter of brown peasants.  When blood is spilt, this is obviously not in general a morally sound application of merit/potential/ability, but it leads to greatness in a pure magnitude sort of sense.  Greatness in a pure magnitude sort of sense was such an important form of greatness to ancient people that it tended to be a primary and essential property of their gods, and this extends to the Jewish and Christian God.  It remains important to people today whether they admit it or not.  Our current form of society leaves less and less possibility for such greatness.  The diminishment of such possibilities is probably inevitable regardless of how future societies are engineered (that is, the possibility of implementing cost-free artificial versions of war and such does not seem to lend equivalent greatness to real war, as playing even a fully immersive video game in which one conquers the world does not make one an Alexander the Great).  Nonetheless, the psychological and social value of having such phenomenal possibilities available may be one of the neglected aspects of future societies, so there is some small room for improvement here over current society, in the context of our far virtual future.

  • A meritorious person fails because of a social form

This has occurred in every society, and in every new society less and less; but also in every society less and less in a manner dictated by processes that roughly resemble a greedy algorithm configured to act from smallest to largest.  That is, democratization, industrialization, and the general and increasing tendency towards the average in society have matched merit to outcome more and more efficiently in a manner that proceeds from average levels of merit to greatest levels of merit, excluding the largest cases in those events when the knapsack runs out of room, rather than the smallest.  Ancient societies were somewhat better at proceeding in the opposite direction, rewarding those of greatest merit/potential/ability and excluding many of those with average merit/potential/ability.  Modern colleges initially operated like this, but as they have become increasingly accessible they have begun to operate more in accordance with the greedy algorithm pattern described.

The uniformity of such process and the resulting singular exclusion of the extremely meritorious from appropriate positions is essentially the reason I am anti-democratic and anti-populist, if I had to pick just one.  Elitism in its various forms is a major traditional solution to this class of problems, but maybe not an optimal one: going back to the concept of diffusion and development given in an earlier blog post, the optimal solution would seem to be to couple elitism with the investment of the gains of our filthy populist processes into new fields and ventures: but in practice what the demos want is to take their surplus industrial value and spend it on incrementally fancier versions of the same things, and this is why our economy and culture is now driven by successive i-phones rather than by the kind of massive scientific and infrastructure development we saw in the last century.  I am not sure what the solution to this is, but I hope some genius is reading who will be able to help with it: it is the single biggest hole in the meritocracy of current societies.

  • A meritorious person fails in spite of a social form

This sort of person is a stereotype who we usually don’t think of as meritorious in the full and proper sense, regardless of ability or potential, precisely because they have managed to fail despite having every advantage and means not to do so.  The instinct to denigrate in these cases seems largely sound.  However, it can be difficult to distinguish these people from those of the previous entry in some cases, when we consider the fact that it often results from a fundamental misalignment of values that could easily become adaptive if investment into new fields and ventures increased by amount x.  The most obvious example of this also dovetails with category 2, a meritorious person who succeeds in spite of a social form.  Of all the artists who have gotten their break, how many have died before they became famous, when they could have invested their energies elsewhere and been successful?  While it can be utterly bewildering and enraging to find people who threw away all their gifts, we must also avoid unjust impressions of others whenever possible.

This is also a large flaw in our society, and could be handled by doing several things better that current society does not do: encouraging investment in novel ventures, even under low-probability high expected value conditions or perhaps even under some altruistic conditions, using stronger pressures to align people’s values to mainstream norms, using stronger pressures to align people’s values to subcultural norms when this fails, using stronger pressures to ensure people create and act according to their own values when this fails, and ensuring that discipline and work-ethic are universal social values by de-emphasizing their relationship to any specific cultural paradigm (ie, Protestantism and its cladistic successors, per traditional sociological framing).  I am not sure how democratic and populist forces interface with these issues.  Perhaps I will investigate it later.  However, it seems superficially likely that it would be easier to do these things better under a less democratic and populist system.  This goes back to what I said about how people now build, or fail to build, their character: without clear hierarchy, people’s character formation or malformation is more distributed across culture and different cultures.  With hierarchy, it is much easier to accountably build character.

Now with all of this in mind, what does it suggest for my future dragon society?  Well, I think one of the major possibilities it suggests is that at Layer 1, the lowest echelon of society, the system of government should be non-democratic.  Perhaps a combination bureaucracy and monarchy, like in ancient China.  Since it would largely be a ceremonial government, the form is mostly irrelevant in the first place.  However, the benefits to character formation would potentially be substantial.  Additionally, since this will be in the far future, when we have a glut of information and in general know exactly what the best way is to do everything, the form of government is largely irrelevant on this basis as well.  To wit, communism was able to function largely because it had capitalism as a frame of reference.  How well will a post scarcity bureaucratic monarchy be able to function in the context of a post-scarcity force-automated neocapitalism?

Layer 2 should be a democracy or perhaps a democratic republic, perhaps with Epistocratic elements.  At layer 2, all absolute incompetence has been filtered out anyway.  Consequently, the only way someone could be disenfranchised in an Epistocracy at this level would be if they willfully adopted ignorance, which seems acceptable.  Traditionalist and other objections to democratic rule mostly pertain to the fact that the demos is of poor quality in its totality.  Were this not true, then democracy might function surprisingly well.  It would also be good from a character forming perspective for intelligent people to learn how to co-exist under such a system, and from an aesthetic perspective, making the teleological climb from ancient to modern forms of government, walking the whole course of human history, would have a very romantic appeal.

Layer 3 should be run according to corporate principle, albeit with force decisions automated at an encrypted system level.  Why is corporate principle acceptable in this case when it is otherwise not?  Well, precisely because the lower systems succeed in producing people of character and filtering out people without character, by the time they arrive and begin work in this corporate environment, their values will be well-aligned with the production of meaning.  In this respect, the production of meaning will merge with the production of capitalist value, until both are very close to functionally equivalent.

A few random thoughts, even though they don’t really belong here: At the highest levels of decision making, actors could have personality elements held in abeyance while they held their positions, in order to minimize issues.  This would be a voluntary requirement of assuming a high level position.  For instance, it could be the case that the desire to quit could be held in abeyance until a new qualified candidate emerges.

As for the possibility of violent conflict at the lower levels, it seems transparent that if this violence were to be made as authentic as possible, it would have to result in at least the appearance of death, and subsequently reincarnation or graduation to the next tier of the system.  However, traditionally it has been very young people who go to war, and young people do not generally have much accumulated experience or social capital.  Therefore, if war were ever permitted at our lower social levels, it would have to be fought by older dragons.  Since there is no reason lifespan has to have any given length, this is probably relatively easy to implement.

Additionally, for the purposes of ensuring education, the wings of dragons should not grow into functional limbs until after the educational age has been transcended.  As for communication between layers, it could be done by deniable and ambiguous actors culturally coded as metaphysical entities.  These entities could have hard-coded personalities to ensure compliance with cultural expectation and social requirement.  For instance, Layer 3 could communicate with Layer 1 via Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, Uriel, Saraqael, Raguel, and Remiel, and Layer 2 via Armozel, Oriel, Daveithai, and Eleleth, all of whom would dwell in fact at Layer 3.

This is all very strange.  I proceed so belligerently in strange behavior because I am not a slave.  Herodotus gives an account of an incident in Ancient Scythia.  During a slave rebellion, the Scythians took up arms against likewise armed slaves.  Much killing took place of both slaves and masters, until one among the masters came to their senses:

“What are we doing, Scythians? We are fighting our slaves, diminishing our own number when we fall, and the number of those that belong to us when they fall by our hands. Take my advice, lay spear and bow aside, and let each man fetch his horse-whip, and go boldly up to them. So long as they see us with arms in our hands, they imagine themselves our equals in birth and bravery; but let them behold us with no other weapon but the whip, and they will feel that they are our slaves, and flee before us.” The Scythians followed this counsel, and the slaves were so astounded, that they forgot to fight, and immediately ran away.

Modern societies punish with economic disincentives partly because it is more civil, but partly because it is more effective.  Let the army try to put people in the mythical FEMA camps of Alex Jones, and millions of revolutionaries will enact the Battle of Athens on a national scale.  But so long as it is merely bureaucrats demanding taxes and fines, and collaborators enforcing neoliberal social codes, erosion can proceed not only through the growth of dead letter laws and the steady growth of state power, but through post-totalitarian social incentive structures that rot society to the point that even the sacrosanct right of free speech is self-policed out of existence by a docile and self-hating citizenry.

So on that note, though I have no intention of taking up arms (волк is, naturally, a pacifist), I also have no intention of ever, ever shutting up.  Even though I have myself degraded to the point I am incapable of serious analysis that doesn’t include dragons.

This is all I can think of to say in regards to my values at present.

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