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an overconfident autodidact’s imitation of a Lewis Lapham essay
July 1, 2014 3:39 PM   Subscribe

“Moldbug.” The name sounds like it belongs to a troll who belches from the depths of an Internet rabbit hole. And so it does. (SLTheBaffler)

The Dark Enlightenment previously and still more previously.
posted by Rustic Etruscan (67 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's funny how many people say "freedom" and mean only "the ability of the rich to do whatever they want all the time". Thiel, Tunney, Yarvin, and their compatriots should be rightly regarded as self-declared enemies of humanity.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:58 PM on July 1 [16 favorites]


Silicon Valley's got its own Steven den Beste? You could throw a dart anywhere in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes to cover my reaction to this, but why not try this... "There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after...I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem."
posted by Diablevert at 4:11 PM on July 1 [23 favorites]


From Yarvin's startup:
Urbit is a clean-slate reimplementation of the whole system software stack. On the bottom it's a replacement of the lambda calculus, in the middle it's a new functional programming language, on top it's a purely functional network operating system in which address space is property.

Tlon owns approximately half of the entire address-space on the Urbit network.
Of course, if you're going to create an entirely new form of property, keep a bunch for yourself.

From a comment on this thread on Hacker News, by a very successful engineer turned angel investor:
I have met MM. We had an extensive discussion, first in person and then via email, about a programming language he was (maybe still is) designing called Watt. He seemed to me to be reinventing many wheels, and doing it badly. But what struck me most was that he actually seemed to take pride in his ignorance. Here's a relevant excerpt from our correspondence:

"Therefore, the M-FCCN [metacircular functional content-centric network - Ed] problem is if nothing else an interesting excuse to revisit the foundations of programming languages with an extreme emphasis on precision and simplicity. I felt it would be a big mistake to start this effort by learning either a Lisp or one of the "PL theory" languages, like Haskell, as it would sacrifice the enormous advantage of not knowing either. I found it much more interesting to recreate functional programming from scratch in more or less a clean room."

I think he approaches economics and politics with the same philosophy. It kinda drives me nuts that he attracts so many followers.
I wonder if Yarvin's partners know that this is all wankery to Yarvin.
posted by fatbird at 4:18 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]


I loved the sound of urbit and hoon, though, assuming that's the same Mencius Moldbug. A shame he unlaunched.
posted by Coventry at 4:20 PM on July 1


What a drag that Nick Land is one of these dudes now.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:21 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


You could throw a dart anywhere in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes to cover my reaction to this

Holy shit, that's one of the better putdowns I've seen in awhile.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:25 PM on July 1 [17 favorites]


When I heard about Urbit, I lamented to the person who introduced me that things like that are made by ignorant cranks and geniuses, and it can be very hard to sort out which project is from which provenance. If the political idiocy wasn't bad enough, the deliberate and arrogant refusal of compsci history clinches it. What a waste of what could have been a productive mind.
posted by idiopath at 4:26 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


I guess he's no longer mefi's own Steven den Beste (hence not around to ask this for himself) but is there a reason you mention Steven in this context? What is the context? Moldbuggism? Mouthbreathing? Dark epiphanies? Nothing here smacks of anime that I spot.
posted by jfuller at 4:32 PM on July 1


I do agree that, with the pernicious hold of neoreactionaries in Silicon Valley, it's time to aggressively rebut this stuff rather than point and laugh. Scott Alexander's response to it all is an excellent start at demonstrating how unmoored from reality they are.
posted by fatbird at 4:34 PM on July 1 [5 favorites]


"pulls sheet over head, puts flashlight under chin"ooooooooOooo it's the DaRyK Enlytenment!.... Tremble sheeeele OOooooOoooo
posted by The Whelk at 4:35 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


If anybody at Yahoo! is looking to follow up on that whole Community thing, I'm going on record right now that I would watch the hell out of a show called Lewis Lapham: Fascist Teenage Dungeon Master.
posted by cortex at 4:43 PM on July 1 [20 favorites]


What is the context? Moldbuggism? Mouthbreathing? Dark epiphanies?

Fakespertise, I presume.
posted by RogerB at 4:52 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Man, we got neoconservatives, neoliberals, and neoreactionaries, some of you guys should try to come up with some sort of neoleftism.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:53 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


“What I want is a good, strong monarchy with a tasteful and decent king who has some knowledge of theology and geometry and to cultivate a Rich Inner Life.”

“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:00 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


I'm sympathetic to moldbugs. The government going to a mold standard would certainly be anti-deflationary.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:01 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


(in the furthest reaches of space, far from any living soul, dimly lit by large and dying stars, an enormous fedora floats, humming with potential, awaiting the first, final, and greatest *tipping* of all time)
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:03 PM on July 1 [9 favorites]


Yarvin’s favorite author, the nineteenth-century writer Scot Thomas Carlyle, is perhaps best known for his infamous slavery apologia, “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.” “If there is one writer in English whose name can be uttered with Shakespeare’s, it is Carlyle,” Yarvin writes.

What? That sentence is so badly written that it's not even clear if Corey Pein knows Thomas Carlyle's name. He's hardly best known for that one essay.

Poetry Foundation biography of Carlyle.
posted by Jahaza at 5:04 PM on July 1


"Dark Enlightenment"? That's nonsensical and contradictory. How about we just call it the Endumbment.
posted by ckape at 5:07 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]




I guess he's no longer mefi's own Steven den Beste (hence not around to ask this for himself) but is there a reason you mention Steven in this context? What is the context? Moldbuggism? Mouthbreathing? Dark epiphanies?

The post title about sums it up, though I might chose a different name than Lapham's. I had heard of den Beste in the early days* of blogging, long before I became a habitué of this here dive. He was this sort of proto-blogging legend, with passionate acolytes who spoke of his writings in hushed tones, and equally passionate detractors who spoke of them derisively---but the kind of derision that nonetheless betrays a gruding respect. Couldn't seem to make a post shorter than 20,000 words, because he didn't really write posts, he exponded upon his Very Serious Theories About What It All Meant. Even had a joking meme named after him.

For a time in the run up the Iraq war, at least, he appeared to the casual observer to be an influential critic and commenter in this new blogging world, someone you had to react to, have thoughts on. An autodidact, but perhaps, people wondered, that's what blogging was for, to bring the world voices which would otherwise have been walled off in attics and basements, arms purple to the wrists from mimeographing their manifestos...I couldn't say, at this late date, when and how it all went wrong for him. The vague impression I have is that, like a many a battle plan, his theories couldn't long survive contact with realitythe enemy. Or maybe the world just shrugged and moved on when the blogs got suited up and adopted by the man.

This Moldbug character seems to be den Beste all over again, just a differnt flavor of jelly bean. God is Bernie Bott.




*well, early to me, anyway, 2002ish?
posted by Diablevert at 5:25 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


“If Americans want to change their government, they’re going to have to get over their dictator phobia,” Yarvin said in his talk. He conceded that, given the current political divisions, it might be better to have two dictators, one for Red Staters and one for Blue Staters. The trick would be to “make sure they work together.”

You can't say he doesn't have a sense of humour at least.
posted by dng at 5:27 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


That was a very well-written piece. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:36 PM on July 1


It vexes me no end that these clowns have appropriated 'Tlon' as the name for their alternate reality.
posted by um at 5:45 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


The world oligarchy is looking for boffins to help them re-establish their old - pyramidal - social order.

What re-establish? It hasn't gone away, it just has let a few non-standard people into its upper echelon. This is all about pulling up the ladder behind you when you're barely halfway up and hitting your least favorite people above you with it.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:47 PM on July 1


> Pizza Shop: We're Being Extorted For Bitcoin. What's a Bitcoin?

This is totally an attempt to offload bitcoins. "Our currency is actually worthless: how can we get people to trade cash for it ASAP?"
posted by postcommunism at 6:01 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


I'm reading this with interest but/and I need to make it known that for a wonderful few minutes when I first heard there was something called the Dark Enlightenment, I legit thought it was a juggalo thing.
posted by clavicle at 6:02 PM on July 1 [11 favorites]


I'm reading this with interest but/and I need to make it known that for a wonderful few minutes when I first heard there was something called the Dark Enlightenment, I legit thought it was a juggalo thing.

"There are depths in man that go to the lowest hell, and heights that reach the highest heaven, for are not both heaven and hell made out of him, everlasting miracle and mystery that he is the Great Milenko."
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:30 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]


"Innumerable are the illusions and legerdemain-tricks of Custom: but of all these, perhaps the cleverest is her knack of persuading us that the Miraculous, by simple repetition, ceases to be Miraculous. There's enough miracles here to blow your brains. I fed a fish to a pelican at Frisco Bay. It tried to eat my cell phone, he ran away. And music is magic, pure and clean. You can feel it and hear it but it can't be seen."
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:56 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]


How do we get rid of these people, though? I don't think they're afraid of The Baffler. But they need gettin' rid of.
posted by uosuaq at 7:12 PM on July 1


I'm reading this with interest but/and I need to make it known that for a wonderful few minutes when I first heard there was something called the Dark Enlightenment, I legit thought it was a juggalo thing.

Oh man, me, too – I confused it with the Dark Carnival. Turns out, it is way dumber.

I felt it would be a big mistake to start this effort by learning either a Lisp or one of the "PL theory" languages, like Haskell, as it would sacrifice the enormous advantage of not knowing either. I found it much more interesting to recreate functional programming from scratch in more or less a clean room.

This is shockingly dumb. That this guy has funding is another hole in the "meritocracy" banner that startup culture waves so hard.

I'm fascinated that a guy ranting in a doorway like this has gotten a following. He's like a mean Time Cube guy. Maybe the meanness is the secret ingredient.
posted by ignignokt at 7:13 PM on July 1 [9 favorites]


Here's a thread on Moldbug from back in 2007. Metafilter was making fun of Neoreactionaries before it was cool.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 7:14 PM on July 1 [7 favorites]


I'm really torn at the minute, because my immediate reaction to learning this individual had been in graduate school for computer science, and that he feels he's able to create intelligent theories from not first principles, but ideas he feels are self-evident... well, this all seems like things I've experienced before.

But really, how do you get past undergraduate, let alone some graduate work, without having some lisp-style language experience? It makes me feel like he's not really coming from points of ignorance, but from points of loathing ideas that came from people he views as self-defined authorities that he gives no heed.

How many years of your life can you act like a self-assured twenty year-old white male? Well, your whole life, probably, but it's sad when people take you seriously.
posted by mikeh at 7:34 PM on July 1 [5 favorites]


I make an occasional cheese dip.

No thanks. Dairy makes my valve clench.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:36 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]


One of the good things about higher ed is, it eventually becomes clear to you that there are people much smarter than you, and that the first idea that comes to your mind on any given topic is probably something they have already thought about and found wanting. Ideally, that is, I guess.
posted by thelonius at 7:43 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


There is something to Urbit, not that it itself will go anywhere or it fulfills practically what it points at.

You were supposed to learn new one-syllable names for all the digits.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:00 PM on July 1


How do we get rid of these people, though? I don't think they're afraid of The Baffler. But they need gettin' rid of.

Do they, though? Reading through the essay, I kept flashing back to that one paper in grad school I wrote where I thought it would be a good idea to take apart a book by a little-known academic who argued that tolerance (as in "teach tolerance") was an unnecessary value. All my professor had to say was that he didn't know why I gave such an unimportant, fringe viewpoint pride of place in my analysis when I could have tackled something that actually engages with an interesting facet of real political debates.

And that's what I see here. Moldbug isn't relevant. A few of the thousands and thousands of "California libertarian software developers" have offered support to the neoreactionary "movement"? Why the pride of place?
posted by psoas at 8:01 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Hmm. Ignatius J Reilly was a couple decades early and born on the wrong coast.
posted by notyou at 8:19 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


mikeh: I'm really torn at the minute, because my immediate reaction to learning this individual had been in graduate school for computer science .... how do you get past undergraduate, let alone some graduate work, without having some lisp-style language experience?

I googled this guy and came across the best explanation (warning, link to LiveJournal):
Curtis and I were in the same tiny cohort at Berkeley, as graduate students in Computer Science. We all called him "Bicycle Helmet Man" because he never took off his bike helmet, even in class. Strange, strange guy.
And there you have your answer: the bicycle helmet protected him from unwanted thoughts.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:32 PM on July 1 [5 favorites]


Psoas, you know how the FBI kept files on civil rights leaders, or how the Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of hate groups? Knowing about this guy and the people around him means if they start acting up, we know who they are and what they want. Things that may seem unimportant or fringe now might become major issues and viewpoints later, like Christianity might have seemed to Rome.

There's also more than one person who thinks like this, it isn't the work of a singular crackpot - there is an entire cabinet of broken cookware. If more people decide to follow them, everyone's liable to get scalded.
posted by Small Dollar at 8:45 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Plus I doubt the "no tolerance" guy had billionaires thinking his stuff was top drawer.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:29 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Do they still have the table that tells you how your stats adjust as your character ages in the DMG? I ask because I'd have thought that D&D nerds would realize that Wisdom goes up with age for a reason.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:37 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


See this is what happens when you don't value the liberal arts.

You end up sounding like a complete LOAD.
posted by The Whelk at 9:52 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


And there you have your answer: the bicycle helmet protected him from unwanted thoughts.

Parentheses?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:53 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


The Enlightenment / Dark Enlightenment thing puts me in mind of one of Robot Chicken's three-second bits where Rainbow Brite introduces her sister Rainbow Dim, who says "9/11 was an inside job!"
posted by XMLicious at 10:50 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


I'd like to get all hepped up about it but you know that would be admitting they had any kind of power or numbers or influen e outside of some articles and shit . Like I'm pretty sure I can find more people who want to fuck a plush version of a cartoon coyote then actually take this shit serusly.

I mean basically utter total failures are kinda interesting in the abstract but- yeah.
posted by The Whelk at 10:55 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Yeah, just in case you didn't realize that these dudes are dorks, check out Dark Enlightenment psuedo-M:tG cards.

The contacts with people like Peter Thiel are worrisome, but on the whole these are the Computer Science equivalent of power electronics musicians who are really into Julius Evola.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:38 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


I am very fond of David Brin's takedown. So much stuff in the tech industry can be understood as auditioning with Our New Masters. Ick.

I also feel vindicated about my second Ask ever. Turns out Thiel is indeed an unpleasant right-wing snake.
posted by Zarkonnen at 11:47 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Ok so that "heroes of a dark enlightenment" link from Pope Guilty includes a passing reference to that rape apologist Heartiste...so yeah fuck these troglodytes.
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:30 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I think you'll see this kind of stuff increasingly creep into the culture in the next decade, even if it's under a different name or banner or if it's been institutionally co-opted. While I doubt that we'll be living under a Corporatist Monarchy as arranged by an aristocracy of Magic The Gathering fans anytime soon, a lot of this thought already has a foothold among people who I think fancy themselves "independents." Not to be too hyperbolic about it but this all sounds a lot like what Anders Breivik was on about.

I just read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? recently and it's interesting, because while the androids are portrayed relatively sympathetically in it, and the book is full of Dickian What Is Reality Who Is Human issues, ultimately the argument seems to be that no, these androids are not human because they lack EMPATHY. That at the end of the day, this is what makes us human. The androids not only have no empathy, they don't even believe it exists. They believe it's a lie concocted to make them feel LESS THAN, and if only they could prove to all of whoever's left on earth that empathy is a sham, they'll be rewarded with full respect, citizenship and humanity.

People who invest themselves in these kinds of dogmas remind me a bit of that.
posted by StopMakingSense at 1:24 AM on July 2 [9 favorites]


"Dark Enlightenment"? That's nonsensical and contradictory. How about we just call it the Endumbment.

Dork Embarassment.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:34 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


The Dark Enlightenment warriors and the LessWrong/Roko's Basilisk squad should join forces, or at least should set up an IT consultancy. One group of aggressively techno-fetishistic navel contemplators deserves another.

The M:tG cards are delightful, though. Hardly a person of color to be found.
posted by the painkiller at 4:00 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


If, thanks to globalisation and regulatory capture, it does turn out that we are seeing a historic shift away from a relatively flat society and the Enlightenment idea of universal rights and human dignity back towards a more hierarchical society where everything is defined in terms of Hobbesian kinetic force brought to bear (and what is neoliberalism, with its everything-is-a-market ideology, if not that in a velvet glove?), wonder if Yarvin or any other USENET bloviators will succeed in becoming the Macchiavelli to whoever the God-Emperor Supreme CEO is, rather than, say, the uploaded, software-modelled consciousness of a distant descendant of Milton Friedman or something.
posted by acb at 4:15 AM on July 2


It's been noted here and elsewhere that underlying alot of this thinking there's this implicit assumption that These Chosen People, these special snowflakes, this coterie of thinkers and dreamers who formulated these ontologies in the first place are going to naturally become the Inheritors Of The Dream by force of...virtue, or the magic of the free market or some kind of woo-woo *poof* "and naturally I'm going to wind up at the top of the heap because reasons" process. Which is why the last 2 sentences of the Baffler article are so trenchant:

"But he captures the fundamental problem with these mouthbreathers’ dreams of monarchy. They’ve never role-played the part of the peasant."

Also, there's a brilliant Bob The Angry Flower cartoon about this, which deserves reposting at every possible opportunity.
posted by the painkiller at 4:57 AM on July 2 [6 favorites]


On a tangent: I've been wondering whether there's any overlap between the ideologies/meme-complexes of the Dark Enlightenment/neoreactionary scene and Slavoj Žižek (and any followers he might have). In both cases, there is a rejection, with extreme prejudice, of the progressive/liberal assumptions, only with the cold iron of feudalism on one side and the cold steel of old-time Communist totalitarianism on the other.
posted by acb at 6:25 AM on July 2


On a tangent: I've been wondering whether there's any overlap between the ideologies/meme-complexes of the Dark Enlightenment/neoreactionary scene and Slavoj Žižek (and any followers he might have). In both cases, there is a rejection, with extreme prejudice, of the progressive/liberal assumptions, only with the cold iron of feudalism on one side and the cold steel of old-time Communist totalitarianism on the other.

To the extent that I keep abreast of these things*, I haven't seen any crossover whatsoever. Aside from the mutual distaste for conventional political thought, there's not a whole lot in common between them.

Relevant sidenote: in this article on the Neoreactionary Canon [pdf], the (neoreactionary) author refers to Žižek as a "charlatan" and a "truly evil man".




* which i do, for the lulz
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:48 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Which is to say, Žižek and Moldbug are basically equivalent because neither of them are liberal capitalists? Seriously.
posted by forgetful snow at 6:51 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


Oops, shoulda previewed.
posted by forgetful snow at 6:51 AM on July 2


Diablevert: "Silicon Valley's got its own Steven den Beste?"

Metafilter's own, you mean.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:48 AM on July 2


the painkiller: regarding the cards and people of color, note the non-critical usage of the word "dysgenic" in one of the cards. These people are actively racist.
posted by idiopath at 9:34 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


> Yeah, just in case you didn't realize that these dudes are dorks, check out Dark Enlightenment psuedo-M:tG cards.

Are those the cards that depict them as a bunch of buff warrior dudes with flavor text about how they are all clever iconoclasts who deploy various technical insiderjargons to the deep wow-ment of their audience/fans? And then there's one that shows a young pretty lady with flavor text to the effect of "Rides around on a pink dragon saying 'pew pew, dragons!'"?

*clicks*

They are!

I love these guys.
posted by postcommunism at 9:53 AM on July 2


Hah, their subreddit uses the same MtG art.

Rule #1 on the sidebar is "No Post-Modern Discourse."
posted by postcommunism at 12:26 PM on July 2


a friend of mine mused that moldbug just really hates his dad
posted by p3on at 12:47 PM on July 2 [8 favorites]


Jahaza: "That sentence is so badly written that it's not even clear if Corey Pein knows Thomas Carlyle's name. He's hardly best known for that one essay. "

Really. I'd say his history of the French Revolution is his best known work. Which I gather Moldbug hasn't read; it's hardly radical, but it's pretty sympathetic to the Revolutionaries.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:49 PM on July 2


The Dark Enlightenment warriors and the LessWrong/Roko's Basilisk squad should join forces

There's overlap, which is party why Scott Alexander got into it. You run into these people on LW. ("Partly" because I get the impression he's interested in a variety of wacky things believed by intelligent people, for example, libertarianism and Thomism. If enough intelligent people believe it, perhaps there's something in it, so as a keen seeker of truth, he looks into it and then writes a massive article discrediting it).
posted by pw201 at 1:04 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Rule #1 on the sidebar is "No Post-Modern Discourse."

*head asplode*
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:18 PM on July 2


Tangential to the article, but still interesting in itself, is this extremely cringey interview between Justine Tunney, with whom the article leads, and the Emoprog Army Radio Hour, a leftism/comedy podcast. I would have included it in the post, but I'm friendly enough with the people involved that I would have felt uncomfortable doing so. The podcast is also good enough for a post of its own, in my opinion, but I'd have the same reservations about posting it myself.

anyhow the interview is fun and def worth a watch
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:19 PM on July 2 [4 favorites]


It is just so weird to me that Tunney used to be deep into OWS.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:05 PM on July 2


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