The Sunflower Movements: Useful Fictions and Consensus Reality
June 22, 2022 6:22 AM   Subscribe

corporate libertarianism v synthetic technocracy v digital democracy: "Yes I think the defining political divides of the 21st century will be roughly captured in the terms laid out by Civilization VI: Gathering Storm Expansion... Current crisis is largely transition from the 20th century mode of fascism v communism v democracy to this."

"The hour is very late, and the choice of good and evil knocks at our door" – Norbert Wiener, 1950, The Human Use of Human Beings

Political Ideologies for the 21st Century (gfx)
Whatever their differences, there seems to be broad agreement that we’re in a moment of political flux and that the debates of today are unlikely to persist in the coming decades. Some see an inevitable future of world-spanning super-intelligences[1] and others radical crypto-powered decentralization. But you don’t have to embrace such determinism to believe (like Yuval Noah Harari)[2] that only ideologies that have a coherent vision of the future of technology (just as Fascism, Communism and Democracy did in the 20th century) are likely to thrive.

A natural place to look for candidates for such technology-ideology pairs is Sid Meier’s Civilization, the best-selling strategy game of all time. The game has usually featured a variety of types of government to choose from: for example, in the Classical era Oligarchy, Classical Republic or Autocracy. Yet the latest expansion of the latest iteration of the game (Gathering Storm for Civ VI) projects into the future, offering a choice of Corporate Libertarianism, Digital Democracy, or Synthetic Technocracy.
cf. viz.
  • Timeline cleanser: "This is the solarpunk future I'm fighting for!"
  • A New Chapter - "Hannah Arendt concludes her otherwise dark book, Origins of Totalitarianism, with the hopeful message that humanity's greatest capacity is renewal–the capacity to begin again, to imagine and bring about new, better, common futures."
CORPORATE LIBERTARIANISM

The Sovereign Individual - "They imagine the dissolution of essentially all social organization of significant scale and the use of anarcho-capitalist mechanisms to govern essentially every aspect of human social organization."
In short, Sovereign Individual is roughly the Das Kapital of the Ayn Rand worldview. It is a profoundly inaccurate statement of fact and set of projections intended to create a self-fulfilling dystopia. It has had a powerful influence on many of those shaping our digital future, particularly in the crypto space. Those subscribing to it should be persuaded where possible but resisted at every turn where not. Anyone considering allying with them politically or taking funding from them should be thinking of it in similar terms to how they would consider doing the same with an open adherent of a totalitarian ideology. The world that has captured their imaginations is not one we must or should want to live in.

Contrary to the authors’ claims, neither the technologies of the future nor the shape they give our society are pre-ordained. Political ideologies with no clear vision of how technology and society can interact to create a productive future are likely doomed to be superseded by those that do. But there are many possible visions, including those beyond the AI and crypto-maximalist ones Thiel refers to.
Dreams and kindness are all we have - "Dysfunctional government is not new in the United States. Arguably the only period we've had really functional government was the Roosevelt administration and the early postwar decades. But we always muddled through, right? Yes, we did, but we won't now. Technology matters. It has changed things. The world is a tightly coupled system in ways that it never was before. 'Technolibertarianism' has always been an oxymoron, because as Marc Andreesen tells us, technology gives us superpowers. A world in which everyone has superpowers is a world in which everything we do creates externalities and demands regulation. Techolibertarianism succumbs to its internal contradictions and becomes Peter Thiel selling surveillance to the state and bankrolling strongmen to become buyers. A fast-paced, interconnected world magnifies the power of coordination. A polity that can organize and coordinate the new superpowers of its public can do remarkable, amazing things. A polity that cannot organize and regulate those powers invites vicious internal conflict and collective paralysis. Governance matters more than ever, more than anything now. But since the 1980s the United States has worked to fetter and dismantle the apparatus it once built to develop and coordinate of the capabilities of polity. A hypothetical God, 'the market', was supposed to take care of that, better than any human institution we might instate, superintend, and reform. We chose a golden calf to lead us."[7,8]
  • The complicity of the CEOs - "A conversation with journalist David de Jong about the secret Nazi pasts of many of modern Germany's great fortunes -- and his warning for American business leaders."[9]
  • Inside the New Right, Where Peter Thiel Is Placing His Biggest Bets - "They're not MAGA. They're not QAnon. Curtis Yarvin and the rising right are crafting a different strain of conservative politics."[10,11]
  • Facebook Made This 29-Year-Old Rich; War Made Him A Billionaire - "After being drummed out of Silicon Valley as a Trump-supporting hawk, the VR wunderkind Palmer Luckey is feeling vindicated. His $8 billion defense tech startup, Anduril, is arming Ukraine and building the weapons of the future."[12]
  • @tszzl: "when i met palmer first he told everyone how he gets weapons ideas from anime sometimes. now defense tech is ascendant and he's the unequivocal future of western defense. RIP buttoned down bureaucrat boomers, long live hawaiian shirt weaboo libertarians"[13]
SYNTHETIC TECHNOCRACY

China is regularly called 'authoritarian'. That doesn't feel like enough. - "Consider the hallmarks of fascism: a surveillance state with a strongman invoking racism, nationalism, and traditional family values at home, while building up a military for expansion abroad."[14]
  • China bank protest stopped by health codes turning red, depositors say - "A protest planned by hundreds of bank depositors in central China seeking access to their frozen funds has been thwarted because the authorities have turned their health code apps red, several depositors told Reuters."[15]
  • @paulmozur: "China is building a new modern marvel. It's not a dam or a high speed rail, it's the most sophisticated domestic surveillance system in the world. The scale of data collection is staggering. No biometric frontier is neglected. This is how it works."
  • @TheOmniZaddy: "Every year my parents (who were protestors at Tiananmen) talk about this guy. No one knows who he was. But he's our urban legend and that's enough, given how shitty the rest of the day's memory is."
  • @KHShan: "Just as Putin, Russian media, Fox News & Tucker Carlson are saying that the brutality in Ukraine is staged or a hoax, Dwight Eisenhower said that one day the Holocaust would be denied."
  • The Wildly Perverse Effects Of Compelled Beliefs - "They weren't trying to convince anyone. Gaslighting is a power move, very popular among sexual and psychological abusers. It says 'I can lie to you and you can't stop me.' And then it goes further and says 'I can make you say the same things.'"
  • @olgatokariuk: "When I recently read Slavenka Drakulic's 'As If I Am Not There' book about Bosnian victims of rape in a torture camp by Serbian soldiers during the 1990s war, I could not have imagined similar things would be happening in my country just a few months later."[16]
  • Ukraine's 'unicorn' LGBTQ soldiers head for war - "Members of Ukraine's LGBTQ community who sign up for the war have taken to sewing the image of the mythical beast into their standard-issue epaulettes just below the national flag. The practice harks back to the 2014 conflict when Russia invaded then annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, 'when lots of people said there are no gay people in the army,' actor, director and drama teacher Zhuhan told Reuters as he and Romanova dressed in their apartment for their second three-month combat rotation. 'So they (the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community) chose the unicorn because it is like a fantastic 'non-existent' creature.'"
  • @mjluxmoore: "Ukraine's Azov Regiment has worked hard to combat its reputation as a far-right movement. As it trains new fighters for the war with Russia it's seeking to clean up its image - and avenge comrades killed or captured in the battle for Mariupol."
  • Thoughts from Kyiv – 17 March - "In the new Ukraine, we must stop mimicking western institutions blindly. Indeed, we have much to offer the world: not merely as the archetypical David who slayed Goliath in this war, but as an example of how to organize a country differently: with greater dignity, greater freedom, greater collective voice than has been possible in any other modern nation. Many have said that the world will no longer be the same after 24 February 2022. It must indeed begin to become different the day after we celebrate Ukraine's victory."
How the Ukraine crisis could reset the global balance of power - "Both the Russians and the Chinese have a kind of a semi-obsession with what they call color revolutions, which are what they regard as American-sponsored revolutionary movements around the world that target authoritarian regimes, often authoritarian regimes that are friendly towards either Beijing or Moscow. They see American efforts as democracy promotion or promotion of human rights as all part of a kind of world in which America is too aggressive, too powerful, too threatening to them. And they are determined to kind of reduce American power."
[N]othing's a given, you know, because history doesn't go in a straight line. But, I mean, if you were saying somebody believed above all that economics dictates everything, then I think you would say it kind of is a given that America must become less powerful and may ultimately be less powerful than China because of the sheer size of the Chinese economy. This is a country of 1.4 billion people. They only have to get to about 25% of the productive levels of Americans to have a larger economy. And they're almost there. But, you know, there are still big questions. Can China turn that economic power into geopolitical power? Would they risk a war?

Also, you know, there are questions, I think, ultimately about the stability both of China and of the United States internally because if you think, what ended the Cold War, it wasn't ultimately Russia and America sort of duking it out on the battlefield in Europe. It was that the Russian system collapsed because it was so unstable domestically. And there are challenges to China domestically - you know, can the one-party state go on forever? You know, what do they do about the fact their population is beginning to shrink and age and separatism, etc.? But unfortunately, there are also enormous challenges to American political stability. So I'm not sure whose system you would say is currently looking more robust, but that might actually be what determines the struggle rather than measures of the size of the economy or size of navies.
What Happens When American Children Learn About Racism? - "In their recent review of the literature on this topic, psychologist Sylvia Perry and her colleagues noted that teaching children about racism can actually increase the empathy they have for members of other groups, as well as their concerns about systemic racism. They point to studies showing, for example, that when white children learn about racism they are more likely to value racial fairness and show more positive attitudes and empathy toward Black people."
It’s hard not to look at these results and think — great! — if only our schools taught more critical histories of the U.S., it could improve how different racial groups interact with each other. But that’s not what’s happened in the last few years. In fact, there is currently an active push to restrict how race and racism are taught in schools: Between January 2021 and April 2022, almost 200 bills were introduced across the U.S. to ban the teaching of critical perspectives on the history of the United States.

Given the benefits of teaching a more critical version of American history, one might wonder why there is such active resistance to it. But perhaps, unsurprisingly, the answer to that lies within the very same findings I already presented.

One way to summarize the research I’ve cited is that when American children are taught more challenging lessons about history, young people of color are inspired to become civically and politically engaged, and young white people gain greater appreciation for their fellow citizens of color. According to Columbia University psychologists Ariel Mosley and Larisa Heiphetz, there may be an expansion of “moral circles” across different racial groups[17] — that is, young people from different walks of life could end up feeling greater moral obligations to work together and help one another and, as such, become less tolerant of the social systems that maintain and reinforce inequality.

If you believe in the virtues of a multiracial democracy, then the thought of a diverse coalition of young people coming together to help one another and push for the expansion of rights and greater equity and justice in society might be heartwarming.[18] But if you have a different set of beliefs, ones that are more oriented toward social dominance or a preference for hierarchy and inequality, then findings like the ones I’ve described might be the very kind of evidence that terrifies you.

Consider that in a recent longitudinal study that followed over 2,600 white Americans over three years, New York University and University of Massachusetts Amherst psychologists Eric Knowles, Linda Tropp and Mao Mogami found that compared to white Democrats, white Republicans believed more strongly that minority groups would collude against white people, which could threaten their standing in society if white people did not band together to defend their ingroup interests.

To be sure, these concerns about which racial groups might hold power in society are not new. Nelsen, the political scientist I mentioned earlier, noted in a recent paper that they have long been at the heart of debates about what history schools should teach. White Americans, for instance, have worried for some time now that teaching more critical history in our schools — lessons about racism and other forms of oppression — might cause the nation to lose some of its traditions, and could even lead to “reverse discrimination” against white Americans.

In other words, one reason why so many white Americans, especially white Republicans, might be concerned about the effects of teaching children about racism — and are actively trying to ban such lessons from schools — is a fear about what this type of education might mean for their own power in society. Teaching about racism could lead to greater cross-race coalition building and the expansion of rights and opportunities for racial minorities to participate in key decision-making systems, but that idea is interpreted by some Americans as an existential threat.

This is the fear that’s lurking beneath the surface of debates about how to teach our nation’s history. Both sides of the debate seem to have beliefs that are aligned with the evidence: They believe, for instance, that teaching critical lessons about our nation’s history might change power dynamics in the U.S. For some, this is a good thing and something they want children to be taught. But for others, such lessons evoke a sense that they are, to use the language of University of Pennsylvania political communication scientist Diana Mutz, under siege by engines of change.
'Armageddon Time,' Portrait of White Privilege, Stirs Cannes - "People don't remember that [Reagan] campaigned in Philadelphia, Mississippi, which is where Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney were killed by the Klan. And he started talking about states rights. He knew exactly what he was doing. I understand he didn't come out and say the N-word. He didn't come out and be Trump completely. But that was his purpose. I feel like that was planting the seeds for a kind of corporatist, me-first, top-down, frankly rooted in racism idea of American capitalism that hasn't left us fully since. When you propose a system which is all about money, it has the basis of oppression built into it. It didn't start with slavery. It started with the indigenous people who were basically vaporized. We're very good at genocide."
  • @Noahpinion: "I think people misunderstand Great Replacement Theory. The primary fear is not so much 'Immigrants are going to replace white people'. It's 'Immigrants are going to vote for a party that wants to give more power to black people.'"[19]
  • How Refugees Transformed a Dying Rust Belt Town - "Since the 1970s, refugees escaping war and persecution have helped to stem the decline of Utica, N.Y., a town that lost industry and population."
  • Czech Republic eyes Ukrainian refugee labor boost - "An estimated 6 million refugees have poured out of Ukraine as they flee Russia's invasion. Their welcome in central Europe has been generous and genuine. Now some hosts are also considering potential benefits."
  • Texas Republicans declare Biden election illegitimate, despite evidence - "Republicans in Texas formally rejected President Joe Biden's election in 2020 as illegitimate and voted in a state-wide convention that wrapped up this weekend on a party platform that calls homosexuality an 'abnormal lifestyle choice.'"
What is neo-reaction? - "Or perhaps I should rephrase that question: what would neo-reaction be if it were presented in a more coherent analytic framework? ... Here is a list of propositions, noting that these are an intellectualized summary of a somewhat imagined collective doctrine, and certainly not a statement of my own views."[20]
  1. “Culturism” is in general correct, namely that some cultures are better than others. You want to make sure you are ruled by one of the better cultures. In any case, one is operating with a matrix of rule.
  2. The historical ruling cultures for America and Western Europe — two very successful regions — have largely consisted of white men and have reflected the perspectives of white men. This rule and influence continues to work, however, because it is not based on either whiteness or maleness per se. There is a nominal openness to the current version of the system, which fosters competitive balance, yet at the end of the day it is still mostly about the perspectives of white men and one hopes this will continue. By the way, groups which “become white” in their outlooks can be allowed into the ruling circle.
  3. Today there is a growing coalition against the power and influence of (some) white men, designed in part to lower their status and also to redistribute their wealth. This movement may not be directed against whiteness or maleness per se (in fact some of it can be interpreted as an internal coup d’etat within the world of white men), but still it is based on a kind of puking on what made the West successful. And part and parcel of this process is an ongoing increase in immigration to further build up and cement in the new coalition. Furthermore a cult of political correctness makes it very difficult to defend the nature of the old coalition without fear of being called racist; in today’s world the actual underlying principles of that coalition cannot be articulated too explicitly. Most of all, if this war against the previous ruling coalition is not stopped, it will do us in.
  4. It is necessary to deconstruct and break down the current dialogue on these issues, and to defeat the cult of political correctness, so that a) traditional rule can be restored, and/or b) a new and more successful form of that rule can be introduced and extended. Along the way, we must realize that calls for egalitarianism, or for that matter democracy, are typically a power play of one potential ruling coalition against another.
  5. Neo-reaction is not in love with Christianity in the abstract, and in fact it fears its radical, redistributive, and egalitarian elements. Neo-reaction is often Darwinian at heart. Nonetheless Christianity-as-we-find-it-in-the-world often has been an important part of traditional ruling coalitions, and thus the thinkers of neo-reaction are often suspicious of the move toward a more secular America, which they view as a kind of phony tolerance.
  6. If you are analyzing political discourse, ask the simple question: is this person puking on the West, the history of the West, and those groups — productive white males — who did so much to make the West successful? The answer to that question is very often more important than anything else which might be said about the contributions under consideration.
@pkedrosky: "On the authoritarian impulse, I have found this helpful in explaining to me its otherwise baffling appeal in some places: The Anger Games: Who Voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Election, and Why?"[21,22,23]
In contrast to most of the established theories, we posit that people with authoritarian tendencies follow domineering leaders less for the pleasure of submission than for the pleasure of forcing moral outsiders to submit. Vicarious participation in the domination and punishment of out-groups is a core part of the authoritarian wish to follow a domineering leader. Hence, to activate this wish, leaders must be punitive and intolerant. Authoritarianism is not the wish to follow any and every authority but, rather, the wish to support a strong and determined authority who will "crush evil and take us back to our true path." Authorities who reject intolerance are anathema, and must be punished themselves.
The Pithiest Critique of Modern Conservatism Keeps Getting Credited to the Wrong Man - "'Wilhoit's Law' was created by a different Frank Wilhoit."[24,25]
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” That line—written by Frank Wilhoit—has become a popular aphorism to sum up the hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy of the modern Republican Party.[26,27]
What Tech Futurists Get Wrong About Human Autonomy - "The aim to transcend that which makes us human is not the path to serving humanity."[28]

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." —John Adams, Letter to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798

DIGITAL DEMOCRACY

Can Big Tech Serve Democracy - "Public institutions should engage citizens through collaboration, taking advantage of new data and analytics to resolve issues that citizens care about... Could a great struggle for digital democracy against the Chinese surveillance state and Silicon Valley surveillance capitalism really form the foundation for a social movement supporting national renewal?"[29]
On March 18, 2014, hundreds of student protestors under the banner of the “Sunflower Movement” stormed Taiwan’s national legislature. They opposed the governing party’s trade deal, which would have tied the island’s tech stack closer to that of the mainland. The protestors weren’t violent, but they occupied the legislature’s main chamber for twenty-four days. On March 30, half a million people rallied in support of the protestors. According to one poll, a plurality—and nearly a majority—of Taiwan’s population supported the invasion, while nearly 70 percent agreed with the protestors’ broad demands. The protestors forced the government to back down and won substantial concessions, including better oversight of future trade deals.

Both System Error and Solving Public Problems praise programmer-turned politician Audrey Tang, who played a key role in the protests. She helped design the platform that protestors used to communicate with each other, build consensus around their demands, and broadcast online videos of the occupation of Parliament. After this process’s success, the government appointed Tang and her compatriots as “reverse mentors” to the government’s ministers. When an independence-oriented party swept the government out of power on the back of the protests, Tang became minister without portfolio. Later, she became digital minister, tasked with bringing an agenda like Noveck’s to life on a national scale.

And, to a large extent, Tang did precisely what the two books would have wanted. Taiwan’s government is now arguably the most sophisticated government when it comes to technology. It has built a system of “digital competency” education that is emulated around the world. Even the school districts around Microsoft’s headquarters have sent delegations to learn from them. It has also created online platforms for civil involvement in policymaking, based on Pol.Is, designed to minimize trolling and make it easier for the public to reach consensus on divisive issues. While the platforms have only been used for a small range of issues, and their results are not binding on legislators, they are widely accessible. Nearly half of Taiwan’s citizens have signed up as active users. Moreover, they have addressed controversial topics—such as labor rights in the gig economy and gay marriage—and seen them through with often ingenious solutions ratified by the legislature.

Taiwan has also built a rapid response system to disinformation attacks, which occur more frequently there than they do in any other country in the world (according to some observers, because of its proximity and importance to China). Some experts believe that this has helped dampen the deep polarization along ethno-political lines related to time of migration to the island and feelings toward the mainland. Taiwan also managed arguably the best COVID-19 response on the planet, balancing the strongest economic growth in Asia in 2020 with the world’s lowest per capita death rate among countries with reliable data.

These efforts to build and protect democratic consensus and public goods stemmed directly from democratic confrontation. Fearful that techno-authoritarianism would creep into their society, the Sunflower movement protestors peacefully and decisively changed the debate over Taiwanese democracy by highlighting its incompatibility with a non-democratic neighbor and driving a wedge into the ruling Kuomintang party. The g0v movement that Tang founded had been a bit player in the country until that larger mobilization.

There is much to learn from this experience. Trying to detach technology policy from political conflict on the ground is probably a losing strategy. After all, citizens are devoting a great deal of time and energy to engaging with civic life, even if much of it comes in the form of shit-posting. The question is not how to dissipate that energy, but how to harness it.

Here, Taiwan also offers a clue. Two subjects of concern that Americans share with the Sunflower protesters are the threat of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the concentration of power in those controlling technology. These both rank consistently in polls of the top ten threats perceived by Americans.

Could a great struggle for digital democracy against the Chinese surveillance state and Silicon Valley surveillance capitalism really form the foundation for a social movement supporting national renewal? There are certainly many reasons to be skeptical. Such an agenda could easily degenerate into anti-Asian racism and militarism. And yet, Taiwan is not the only example of a digital democracy that bootstrapped itself from the shadow of an authoritarian threat. Estonia, facing a similarly precarious situation, has built arguably the second most impressive example of digital democracy.

A remarkable property of both examples is their deep appeal across the standard U.S. political spectrum. Tang is perhaps the most prominent transgender political leader in the world and a self-proclaimed anarchist; she also has great potential with the U.S. right as one of the most popular leaders on the front lines in the defense of liberal democracy against the CCP. Estonia is a trailblazer in participatory democracy and one of the only post-Soviet countries that has developed a strong welfare state. At the same time, it is a poster child for libertarians.

The coupling of a struggle for democratic ideals and the adjustment of economies and technologies to match is not new in U.S. history. The Free Soil movement that helped birth the Republican Party and the abolition of slavery was as much a movement to protest competition from slave labor and the rise of industrialization as it was a moral crusade. Roosevelt tied confronting the Great Depression and dictatorship together to stimulate public infrastructure and scientific investment. Sputnik provoked a generational investment in technology that birthed the internet. And we’ve seen explicit echoes of these moments recently in, for example, the Endless Frontier Act, which draws on the legacy of the Cold War science surge to revitalize public investment in response to Chinese competition.

Matching these past achievements will require mastery of the kind of politics that we often forget went into making them. To realize the bold visions Reich and his coauthors urge as necessary and to which Noveck aspires, we will have to speak to the hearts—not just the heads—of those we often disagree with. This will require empathy, inspiration, vision, compromise, and a willingness to acknowledge those whose beliefs we abhor. In short, it will require politics.

Politics is about coalition building. And that, in turn, is about identifying who you do not want to win and figuring out how to stop them. The great struggles of the twenty-first century will pit democracy against authoritarianism, freedom against surveillance, public control against one party rule, and popular interests against elite domination. Our chances of avoiding another event like January 6 depend on whether democratically-oriented politicians and thinkers succeed in connecting these grand battles to the messy and sordid business of everyday politics in ways that scramble existing coalitions and forge new ones.
Why I Am a Pluralist - "I understand pluralism to be a social philosophy that recognizes and fosters the flourishing of and cooperation between a diversity of sociocultural groups/systems. I see two sides to pluralism, institutional and epistemic."
Institutional pluralism is a contrast with a broad range of social philosophies that might be described as “monist” (I ironically called these ALONE or Atomized Liberalism and Objectivist Naïve Epistemology in a related piece). Monist philosophies tend to focus either on isolated individuals and/or on a unitary/universal structure in which these individuals reside. The atomistic ideology predicated on the isolated individual is often used to justify capitalism, because it emphasizes groups as much as individuals. However, for institutional pluralism, groups are not mere vehicles for individual interests but are of fundamental interest. Meanwhile, the centralistic ideology predicated on a unitary or universal structure is often used to justify populist statism and nationalism. In contrast, institutional pluralism denies the centrality of any one group/collective, such as the nation state, global humanity, etc.

Epistemic pluralism is a contrast to traditions that seek out unitary, commensurable ways of knowing (most prominently technocracy). It does so by denying that any single rational logic or meritocratic scheme can select for optimal social ordering. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of a diverse range of incommensurable collective entities and cultures of knowledge that intersect and collaborate.
Mass representative democracy - "Among the kids, participatory direct democracy is often taken as the ideal to which democratic polities ought aspire. But at least in theory, the case for representative democracy is strong. Political decisions really matter. They should be made well. But they are hard. Whatever interests and values you hold dear, it takes a lot of work to inform and educate yourself enough to know what political choices would in fact best serve them. This work must be performed in the face of tsunamis of misinformation propounded by those serving interests and values that diverge from yours, but whose partisans are eager to co-opt you."[30]
If we had a legislature of 250 million (roughly the voting-eligible population), obviously the vast majority of citizen-legislators’ proposals and bright ideas could not be put before all their citizen colleagues. If only 1% of citizen legislators were to make a proposal each year, we’d all have millions of proposals to evaluate. That’s untenable. So we’d have to design a kind of stochastic parliament, where people’s proposals would initially go to very tiny fractions of “the legislature”. These random samples would constitute ad hoc “committees”, and each citizen would be responsible for serious deliberation on the proposals that come before them in this way, but each participant would field only a modest number of such proposals. Following deliberation and potentially modification at this stage, these ad hoc committees would vote to promote or kill the proposal. If they promote, the same procedure would recur but with a larger sample, and less scope for deliberation and modification. The number of such proposals that could be promoted to higher levels of review would be limited and so competitively rationed: only those gathering the most support would gain scarce “slots” compelling the broad polity to review them. Finally, the tournament-winning, most promoted proposals would get plenary up or down votes, like a vote on the House floor.

You can imagine this kind of thing, but it would do little to address the problems we invented representative democracy to solve. To function well, our citizenry would have to be extraordinarily engaged and informed, and it would take up all of their time. It would be like permanent jury duty.

But what if we elected representatives to participate in this kind of mass-democracy framework? Instead of electing one per 800,000 or one per 80,000, what if we self-affiliated into groups of common interest of no more than, say, 1000 souls, for whom personal, physical “town meetings” could be regularly arranged? Obviously, not everyone would wish to attend all of these meetings, but everyone could if they wished. With no more than 1000 constituents, an elected could become at least acquainted with her full constituency. She could be accessible and available to them all. She could maintain direct relationships with a substantial fraction of the people she represents, and be motivated and held to account by those relationships, by gratitude and shame experienced personally rather than by abstract shifts in what some consultant claims the polls say.

Instead of a few hundred Congresspeople, we’d have 250,000 representatives whose full-time job it would be to stay and live among and interact with their constituents, and participate in the online legislature. There would be no Congressional offices in Washington, no risk of going native among colleagues who become much closer than constituents. At a municipal level, there would be no councilmen or supervisors at City Hall. In my San Francisco, there would be roughly 800 legislators and any of us who cared to would know our representative and interact with her as much or as little as we pleased.
We the Regulators - "Between Marxism and market fundamentalism is a new vision for progressive government."

Factbox: EU project to engage citizens, and what they came up with - "The European Union has engaged in a year-long exercise designed to engage European citizens more and hear their views on the future direction the bloc should take. The exercise, called the Conference on the Future of Europe, saw various citizen panels feeding into a plenary chamber, made up of EU lawmakers, government representatives and citizens, to debate a series of recommendations."

Swiss voters back 'Netflix' law and boost to Frontex funding - "Swiss voters were asked to vote in three referenda on Sunday on proposals that would see changes to organ donation regulations, further funding for Frontex and a law that would make streaming services invest some of their profits into the Swiss film industry."

Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century - "The report and its recommendations seek to increase citizens' capacity to engage in their communities, call attention to promising local initiatives around the country, combat rising threats to democratic self-government, and rebuild trust in political institutions."

Can Democracy Include a World Beyond Humans? - "A truly planetary politics would extend decisionmaking to animals, ecosystems, and potentially AI."
  • It's an Immense World and We're All Living in It - "Ed Yong on what we misunderstand about animals—including why cows are so much smarter than they look."
  • How Animals Perceive the World - "Every creature lives within its own sensory bubble, but only humans have the capacity to appreciate the experiences of other species. What we've learned is astounding."
  • @buitengebieden: "Rescued from captivity, these two brothers were separated for treatment in two different locations. After they recovered, they were reunited."
also btw...
Slouching Towards Utopia?: Long Notes - "Here is my third claim: That in the long 20th century, for the very first time in human history, the principal axis of history was economic—rather than cultural, ideological, religious, political, military-imperial, or what have you."[31]
The social fabric of the Habsburg Empire was nothing to be proud of, but there was no gain in expected value by replacing it with one imposed by storm troopers, whether Steel Helmets or Red Guards or the ethno-nationalism of some particular relatively small grouping of valleys. The moral arc of the universe, von Hayek would have said, does not bend toward justice. Only a fool thinks it does. So all we can do is to try to calm everybody down, keep the (social) peace, and let obedience to market forces deliver what they can deliver—and they can deliver marvelous things... the market economy is powerful but very very imperfect even on its own terms of reference. It cannot by itself deliver enough research and development, for example, or environmental quality, or, indeed, full and stable employment.

The problems of "externalities" and "market power": anytime there is somebody who is not a participant in a bargain who is materially affected by its terms and conditions, the argument that a bargain is win-win with no downside fails... A well-functioning market economy needs very aggressive antitrust and price-posting to support it. A well-functioning market economy needs an enormous structure of Pigovian taxes and subsidies to point it in the right direction...

Simply concluding that the creative-destruction of the technological progress-fueled market had to be somehow leashed got humanity to precisely nowheresville. Humanity needed a plan. And it needed to be a good plan... Throughout the long twentieth century, many others—Karl Polanyi, John Maynard Keynes, Benito Mussolini, and Vladimir Lenin serve as good markers for many of the currents of thought, activism, and action—tried to think up solutions.

How do you keep—or perhaps improve upon—the incentives for efficient production, rapid creative destruction, and technological advance that the private-property market economy provides, without also buying into its proviso that only property conveys rights that allow one to count in the eyes of society's decision-making processes? ...The answer remains opaque and obscure... The failure-to-manage led to many, many societal reactions against the ongoing rush of claims that all was OK—that "the market giveth, the market taketh away: blessed be the name of the market". The demands and then the attempts to build a better New Order—or rather, multiple attempts to do so—turned at least Europe into a hellhole and an abattoir until 1945...

Perhaps the third best-selling novel in the United States in the nineteenth century was Looking Backward, 2000–1887, by Edward Bellamy. Bellamy was a populist and—although he rejected the name—a socialist: he dreamed of a utopia created by government ownership of industry, the elimination of destructive competition, and the altruistic mobilization of human energies.

There would by 2000 be, Bellamy thought, more than enough for everyone to live comfortably. And with more than enough, everyone should relax beneath their own vine and fig tree, rather than struggle to deprive others of what was rightfully theirs. The only reason to struggle to deprive was if it was the way for you to get enough. That was Bellamy's underlying logic. What Bellamy did not see was that people would think that it was bad that the undeserving would get the enough that they did not deserve. And what people did not see was that the cost you paid for their being enough was that you found yourself enserfed to the logic of the marketplace—where you had no rights other than those given you by your property, and where your property rights were worthless unless they were helpful in producing things for which the rich had a serious jones.[32]
How Europe became so rich - "In brief, Europe's political fragmentation spurred productive competition. It meant that European rulers found themselves competing for the best and most productive intellectuals and artisans. The economic historian Eric L Jones called this 'the States system'. The costs of European political division into multiple competing states were substantial: they included almost incessant warfare, protectionism, and other coordination failures. Many scholars now believe, however, that in the long run the benefits of competing states might have been larger than the costs. In particular, the existence of multiple competing states encouraged scientific and technological innovation."

The worldly turn - "After generations of 'blackboard economics', Berkeley and MIT are leading a return to economics that studies the real world."[33]

About 200 years ago, the world started getting rich. Why? - "Two economic historians explain what made the Industrial Revolution, and modern life, possible."

Do we need a better understanding of 'progress'? - "In sum, progress studies deploys a framing and language for progress that appears to be global and all-encompassing, but in practice, it is underpinned by a particular set of social and political worldviews. It's only one idea of progress, and one idea of what human flourishing means."[34]

Humanism's Twin Goals for Society: Freedom and Solidarity - "There appears to be a believe that all that matters is freedom versus oppression. And yes that is absolutely an important dimension. But it is not the only one. The other dimension that really matters to the functioning of a society is one of solidarity versus selfishness."

@mapc: "So a utopian future depends not just on technology, but on political economy as well."

A Brief History of Equality — the newly optimistic Thomas Piketty - "The French economist's latest book condenses the arguments of his previous tomes but is short on the practical politics of real change."
  • @GeorgistJoseph: "When Karl Marx died, there were about 25 people at his funeral. When Henry George died, there were 100,000 people who filled Grand Central Palace in NYC to hear his eulogy, and another estimated 100,000 crowded outside. It remains the second largest funeral in US history. Some people have been asking - 'Who is this guy? Why should anyone care about someone with two first names?' A thread on Henry George and the Single Taxers, the most important historical movement you've probably never heard of."[35,36,37,38]
  • @jamestwotree: "I dedicate one chapter of my manuscript to Henry George and Taiwan. Georgism became an integral part of Taiwanese efforts to recast its land reform as a progressive alternative to socialism during the Cold War."[39]
  • @GravelInstitute: "78 years ago... Franklin Roosevelt delivered the most radical speech any president has ever given. He proposed a total reorganization of American society – and found that it was incredibly popular."[40,41]
  • @_adasgupta: "What is needed to credibly assess relationship between diversity and development/public goods provision is a natural experiment where diversity is quasi-randomized."
  • @divyasiddarth: "Have you ever thought to yourself 'Wow, I sure do love Ostrom's eight principles for governing the commons, but I'm really not sure how to apply them to data commons?'"[42]
The Economic Mistake the Left Is Finally Confronting - "The left needs to think as much about supply as it does about demand."

A Simple Plan to Solve All of America's Problems - "The U.S. doesn't have enough COVID tests—or houses, immigrants, physicians, or solar panels. We need an abundance agenda."[43,44]

@surajpatelnyc: "Today, I am proud to release my plan, 'The Abundant Society,' to get costs under control and put our economy back on track."

A New Industrialist roundup - "American thinkers are realizing we need to build, build, build. What comes next?" @lymanstoneky: "To have high birth rates, you need *spacious* housing with *easy access* to *high quality* kid-related amenities (parks and schools) and it needs to be *purchaseable for a 25-year-old*."

Congress allocated $190 billion to schools for pandemic response. What happened? - "It's a perfect microcosm of the broken American state. When the polity is crying out for bold leadership and nationwide coordination on something incredibly important and time-sensitive, we had feds handing money to the states, who hand it to local districts, who aimlessly spend it on more or less whatever they feel like. Some do the right thing, most don't, or simply can't."
For years now, education has been a central focus of attention among neoliberal centrists and Democrats as an all-purpose remedy for poverty, inequality, and class stratification. ("It is the most powerful force for accelerating economic growth, reducing poverty, and lifting middle-class living standards," Leonhardt wrote in 2017.) Oligarch education "reformers" have spent billions on schemes to turn impoverished inner-city districts into genius factories by privatizing the schools, making teachers easier to fire, brutally hazing the students, or other similar schemes.

In terms of educational outcomes, the effects were mixed at best. But politically, education monomania has the handy property of deflecting attention from policies that actually could ameliorate poverty and inequality — namely, the welfare state and taxing the rich. Pretending inequality was the result of "human capital" produced by education further tended to suggest rich people got that way because of their talent and training, not because of a rigged economy. It's all part and parcel of the neoliberal mindset picturing the government as a toxic imposition on the self-regulating economy, a burden to be minimized wherever possible.
"Nothin' but the Rent" (and the Rentier) - "Marx and Smith and Say and all of their classical contemporaries agreed: rent was unearned, inefficient, and extractive, and for those reasons it was a relic of a pre-capitalist past. So why does it dominate the richest economies of twenty-first century capitalism?"
Since the 2014 publication of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the figure of the rentier has emerged in critiques of contemporary capitalism that come from different points on the political spectrum. Piketty showed that inequality has overwhelmingly been driven by the capital incomes of the top one percent (or tenth or hundredth of one percent), which led even Bill Gates to agree that “excess wealth concentration can have a snowball effect if left unchecked.” Liberals like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz bemoaned abnormal or excess profits received above competitive market rates. Work from left-wing academic critics like Andrew Sayer, Guy Standing, and Mariana Mazzucato sharpened the point further: rents are unearned incomes extracted by people who own things rather than do things or make things.

The story of the rise of the rentier is a new version of what had become a stale narrative about the rise of neoliberalism. Following Piketty’s chronology, the story goes like this: there was an earlier era of rentier dominance in the unfettered capitalism of the nineteenth century Gilded Age. That world came crashing down in the destruction of physical and financial capital between 1914 and 1945, leading to about thirty good years when organized labor was strong, taxes were high, governments were interventionist, and median incomes were rising. All of that changed in the long crisis of the 1970s and the policy responses of the 1980s. Inequality began to rise again, finance was deregulated, and neoliberal governments came to power, promptly breaking labor strikes with police violence and privatizing everything they could lay hands on. After thirty years of crisis from 1914 to 1945 and thirty years of suppression from the 1940s to the 1970s, the rentier returned to political and economic dominance from the 1980s onward.

The preponderance of rentier wealth and the attendant distortions to national economies, democratic politics, and international institutions has contributed to a parallel conversation about whether financialization, automation, information, or capital overaccumulation have led us into a new phase of capitalism, or indeed out of capitalism and into something worse.

In his detailed and stimulating book, Rentier Capitalism (first published in late 2020 and due out as a paperback in June), the political economist and economic geographer Brett Christophers offers a unifying interpretation of how rentierism works, providing a synthetic analysis of the contemporary British economy as a case study. The UK’s economy is currently dominated by finance, fossil fuel extraction, intellectual property, digital platforms, and the recipients of privatization, especially in real estate. Christophers aims to show how each of these sectors is a symptom of the same underlying malady, the rentier model, as well as how, collectively, the dominance of the cross-sector rentier alliance has produced the sclerotic economy, gaping inequality, and virulent politics that characterize global capitalism today.
Republic of unequals - "The inequality baked into contemporary US capitalism is warping America’s society and politics, explains Nobel laureate Angus Deaton. Joe Biden’s administration is bursting with inequality experts, but what chance do they really stand of fixing the problem?"
To economists, “inequality” is usually taken to refer to income or wealth, a gauge of how far the distribution departs from what it would look like if everyone had the same. And even if inequality in America was relatively flat for the decade before the virus, income and wealth inequalities in the US are among the largest in the world.

But to explain the new interest in inequality we do well to remember that there are also other kinds of inequality that might be as great or greater causes for concern. Racial inequality is perhaps the most obvious in the US. Black Americans do worse than whites on almost all outcomes, including wealth (the median white household has eight times as much wealth as the median black household) and income (almost twice as much), and extends into other aspects of life, such as education (black Americans are 10 percentage points less likely to have a BA degree than whites) and longevity (3.8 years lower), not to mention being grossly overrepresented in America’s prisons (33 per cent of the prison population compared with 12 per cent of the general population.) Covid-19 has taken a heavy and disproportionate toll on African American lives, as well as on Hispanic and Native American lives.

There are other important inequalities across groups, as opposed to individuals. Men and women are far from equal, and while the virus has killed more men, the sorts of service industries worst affected by lockdowns and changing consumer habits has hit female employment harder, even before consideration is given to the extra burden of childcare associated with the disruptions.

Education, particularly the divide between those with and without a college degree, has become more and more salient in the US in the last half century, with expanding gaps in earnings, in morbidity, and in mortality. The “public philosopher” Michael Sandel has noted that “the college degree is a condition of dignified work and of social esteem.” Anne Case and I have argued that those without the degree might as well wear a badge with the scarlet letters BA scored through by a diagonal line. This is another divide the pandemic will deepen. Contrast the difficulties and dangers currently facing millions of less-educated workers in shops, meat processing plants, building sites and the likes, where physical attendance is not an option, with the sorts of professional jobs that are easily carried on over the internet.

For some, all such inequalities may seem inherently unjust, while others disagree. Different people have very different ideas about what is or is not just. A more fruitful approach is to think about “democratic” or “relational” inequality. The philosopher Elizabeth Anderson has argued that we should pay more attention to equality defined as a state of affairs, not where everyone gets the same material wellbeing or at least gets what they deserve, but where “people stand in relations of equality to others.” The important thing is “equal respect and concern for all citizens,” something that need not require equality of wealth or income. This perspective shifts attention to how societies work, whether their rules, procedures and institutions treat everyone fairly, and whether everyone has equal ability to participate in society, to have their views be heard.

Relational inequality can help us think about what is wrong with income and wealth inequality, as well as racial and educational inequalities. Even if I have no objection to your being richer than I am, I can certainly object if you use your wealth to capture political leaders for your own benefit, to avoid paying taxes and to reduce the supply of public goods on which I depend. Louis Brandeis, a US Supreme Court justice between the wars argued that extreme inequality was incompatible with democracy—wealth inequality undermines democratic equality—and this kind of thought is surely behind much of the present concern. Relational equality might be difficult or impossible in the face of extreme inequality in income and wealth.

And this is, inescapably, going to be a political problem. For as the most celebrated early admirer of the American republic, Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote: “Democracy attaches all possible value to each man.” Slowly but ineluctably, unequal respect, unequal esteem, and unequal rewards in American society have come to be felt as a crisis of American democracy.
We Pay to Keep the Old Out of Poverty. Why Won't We Do the Same for the Young? - "Child poverty is a not a problem without a solution."

How Universal Basic Income Can Advance the United States' China Strategy - "If U.S. domestic policy can harness technological advancement to improve the lives of average Americans, it can unlock advantageous foreign policy approaches from their domestic constraints. The only way to turn Luddites into technophiles is to recalibrate the system so that the economic gains of advanced technology start flowing to them. Relevant human infrastructure investment could manifest in a range of forms, but here we consider one of the most prominent ideas from the 2020 U.S. presidential elections: Universal Basic Income (UBI)."[47]
  • @ComradeMorlock: "The people who complain about 'dependency on the government' never mention that the alternative is dependency on the rich."
  • @ChadNotChud: "The right wants you dependent on your employer and frankly im much more sure the govt will be around tomorrow than I am that I won't be laid off."
  • @KM_Kito: "everybody hates dependence on the govt, except when they do it, I'm looking at you bankers, homeowners, farmers, defense contractors, airline and cruise companies etc etc etc"
Against work - "John Stuart Mill wrote in 1848:"
I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other’s heels, which form the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human kind, or anything but the disagreeable symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress... It is only in the backward countries of the world that increased production is still an important object.
The World After Capital - "In order to tackle why the Industrial Age is ending and what is coming next, I will examine such things as the nature of technology and what it means to be human. It might seem a wildly ambitious thesis, but I argue that we are facing a transition as profound as the one which took humanity from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age, so nothing less will do."[48,49]

Will social democracy return? - "As Offer and Söderberg write, social democratic view was extremely successful empirically but was not theoretically worked out much by economists. The neoliberal view has exactly the reverse characteristics: empirically it was not much of a success (look at private pension schemes in Chile), but economists have extensively worked on it theoretically."
  • @snaidunl: "This is actually a pretty good typology of 'institutions', encompassing norms (conventions vs customs vs mores) and laws and modes of enforcement. (econs could maybe replace collective expectations with Nash equilibrium, and collective evaluations with Pareto optimum)."
  • You tell me it's the institution - "It is a trick of conservatives — who, when they live up to their name, wish by definition to prevent some kind of change — to claim that the status quo is immutable, change is impossible, unnatural. Attempts would be destructive. Conservatives try to ground the way things are in mysteries of culture, in ancient hatreds or deep currents of history, in arcana of genetics or race, or, now that they are vague and fashionable, in 'institutions'[*]. But institutional change happens every day, all the time, at a micro level within families and businesses, at a political level sometimes quite abruptly, often though not always in directions that were explicitly conceived and intended. As individuals we sometimes find we have fallen into unintended habits. At a social level we sometimes find ourselves in institutions that are harmful or dysfunctional. In either case, we try to change. If we are serious and strategic, sometimes we can."[50]
The Most Important Scarce Resource is Legitimacy - "In general, legitimacy arises because the thing that gains legitimacy is psychologically appealing to most people. But of course, people's psychological intuitions can be quite complex... Note that legitimacy is a descriptive concept; something can be legitimate even if you personally think that it is horrible. That said, if enough people think that an outcome is horrible, there is a higher chance that some event will happen in the future that will cause that legitimacy to go away, often at first gradually, then suddenly."[51] (The bulldozer vs vetocracy political axis)
  • @audreyt: "To give no trust is to get no trust. As democracies we must trust our citizens."[52,53,54]
  • @audreyt: "Reliable infrastructure makes our lives simpler & more convenient. Public digital infrastructure does the same for democracy."[55,56,57,58,59]
The Web3 Decentralization Debate Is Focused on the Wrong Question - "Fixating on the degree—rather than the type—of decentralization is leading us astray."[60]

@pujaohlhaver: "A first sketch of Decentralized Society"[61,62,63]

Where to use a blockchain in non-financial applications? - "If we don't create good large-scale aggregates of social data, then we risk ceding market share to opaque and centralized social credit scores instead. Not all data should be on-chain, but making some data public in a common-knowledge way can help increase a community's legibility to itself without creating data-access disparities that could be abused to centralize control."[64,65,66,67,68]

14 Warning Signs That You Are Living in a Society Without a Counterculture - "Movies, music, and other creative pursuits are increasingly evaluated on financial and corporate metrics, with all other considerations having little influence... The banal word 'content' is used to describe every type of creative work, implying that artistry is generic and interchangeable."

How the Internet Turned Us Into Content Machines - "Two new books examine how social media traps users in a brutal race to the bottom."[69,70,71]

"In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it." —Herbert A. Simon, 'Designing Organizations for an Information-Rich World', Computers, Communication, and the Public Interest (1971)[72]
posted by kliuless (26 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am disappointed/discouraged that the person whose twitter is linked in the first link and the L'Hôpital's rule link has a better general understanding of the main conceptual content of L'Hôpital's rule than many of my calculus students, yet seems to be (as far as I can tell?) using it to promote blockchain as something that he thinks will actually help promote or contribute to direct democracy or something(?).
posted by eviemath at 6:41 AM on June 22


Freaking amazing post - I actually have no idea (clueless) on how you actually put all this together. I'd like to say "saving it to read later" but I just read it all this am (not the links yet) and its massively interesting. Slight hyperbole, (but only slight )this might be the best post ever on the blue. Id say excluding Art/Music posts - but damn you've got that in there as well supporting your theses. Deepest thanks kluiless - perhaps the most inapt name on this site.
posted by WatTylerJr at 7:43 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


You've put out some banger posts, kliuless, but using a Civ 6 expac as framing device for visions of the future?
That's an opus, right there. Hopefully not magnum yet, but it's a thing of wonder no matter how you slice it.
posted by CrystalDave at 8:27 AM on June 22 [4 favorites]


So, uh, who’s gonna award kliuless their phd after this dissertation?
posted by Mizu at 8:29 AM on June 22 [7 favorites]


A lot here to dig into, amazing post!
Could anyone point out which link or set of links might be best to look at to better understand how the resurgent ethnonationalism I see in the US fits in the 3 tech trajectories framework? It seems like it's covered under synthetic technocracy but the way that's defined doesn't seem to quite fit the more old-style authoritarianism I see happening?
posted by Wretch729 at 8:43 AM on June 22


anyone reading Piketty on equality?

I got some value from Capital in the 21st Century (full confession: I really started flipping past the tables and charts at some point)
posted by elkevelvet at 9:09 AM on June 22


Okay, I started reading the piece about "How Europe became so rich" and was wildly dismayed to see that it did not start out with "because it stole most of the raw materials and resources from three or four other continents".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on June 22 [5 favorites]


L'Hôpital's rule.

My calculus teacher declared that anyone who referred to this as 'Hospital's rule' would automatically lose twenty points on the next exam. So naturally we did it all the time.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:36 AM on June 22 [1 favorite]


Didn't know The Economics of Inequality was out, or even was a thing... ordered, thanks kliuless!
posted by Captain Shenanigan at 11:41 AM on June 22


@EmpressCallipygos

OK, so the question becomes "Why is it that Europe was in a position to loot those three or four other continents, rather than being the victim itself?"
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 1:02 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


I refuse to believe that the MeFi server problems I experienced a bit earlier today were anything other than down to the glorious weight of this post landing. Chapeau, kliuless.
posted by protorp at 1:35 PM on June 22 [4 favorites]


TIL about PyScript, a CPython interpreter compiled into WebAssembly. Little more than a footnote in this glorious post, but still exceedingly cool and promising.

I also liked Brad DeLong's book-length tweetstream on his book about the Long Twentieth Century.

/me bows down in kliuless's direction. I am not worthy!
posted by whuppy at 1:54 PM on June 22


It seems like it's covered under synthetic technocracy but the way that's defined doesn't seem to quite fit the more old-style authoritarianism I see happening?

My sense is that it far better fits with "corporate libertarianism" than "synthetic technocracy." Corporations have liberty, and money measures freedom. The crypto-white supremacist crowd would surely pretend it's a coincidence that corporate power and wealth are concentrated disproportionately in white hands, but get a beer or two into them and they might admit out loud that they believe it's because white (and occasionally east Asian) people are superior.

Corporate Libertarianism (by far the dominant strain in the US), by that score, can be seen as being in direct opposition to Personal Libertarianism (how many soi-disant "personal libertarians" do you know believe that all contracts without redress clauses and/or rooted in information asymmetry which disadvantages one party should all be null and void?), and mostly in opposition to Social Libertarianism (these are the ones you see online saying "There are dozens of us! Dozens!").

In the US, the libertarians are obsessed with using their "freedom" to curtail the freedom of everyone around them. They're free to not rent an apartment to Black folks, they're free to not serve LGBT people at their restaurants, and they're free to force your kids to be told the universe is 6000 years old. The Black people in question are not free to rent any apartment on the market, the LGBT people are not free to eat at any public restaurant, and kids are not free to be told about measurable empirical facts about the world around them. That's US libertarianism. Corporate Superstitionism is what it really is. Not much of a technocracy, no matter how you slice it.
posted by tclark at 2:52 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]


So, uh, who’s gonna award kliuless their phd after this dissertation?

A linkdump is not a dissertation.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 5:01 PM on June 22 [1 favorite]


A linkdump is not a dissertation.

I mean, it’s a little bit more than just a linkdump, but, I hope you know my comment wasn’t serious and I was commenting on the post’s length and breadth?

Anyhoo, I’ve been slowly working my way through this beast, but haven’t gotten too deep into it yet because, funny enough, I’ve been playing a game of civ VI and wanted to wrap it up today. The glorious Zulu people had a worldwide cultural victory, with a Synthetic Technocracy, which knocks back the speed at which you gain tourists significantly (tourism is how you gain a cultural victory in this version) so it kind of stretched the endgame out somewhat, but I needed the bonus power for my cities since I’d steadfastly avoided building anything that would cause CO2 emissions. Because of this, I skipped down to that section of this post after the introductory links. But I think I should probably read things in order, because the different discussions and links and ideas here all seem to be building a complex whole.

(But oh man I wanna play a new game of civ… maybe I should try a religious victory, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before… it’s so much nicer thinking about these things when the people aren’t real.)
posted by Mizu at 5:45 PM on June 22 [2 favorites]


"Why is it that Europe was in a position to loot those three or four other continents, rather than being the victim itself?"

Makes it sound rather inevitable, doesn't it, if you assume everyone would act the same.
posted by tigrrrlily at 7:16 PM on June 22 [3 favorites]


More inside indeed... I am in awe.
posted by blue shadows at 12:03 AM on June 23


>"Every creature lives within its own sensory bubble, but only humans have the capacity to appreciate the experiences of other species. What we've learned is astounding."
Don't let the corvids hear you say that. As tool-users that train their young and who note good and bad local actors ...

I'm indebted to our local magpies and crows for warning us about foxes approaching our chicken coop -- which is a story that involves them imagining us and the fox as motivated agents and I'm sure they have capacity to appreciate our experience trying to avoid losing chickens to the fox again.
posted by k3ninho at 11:04 AM on June 23 [2 favorites]


14 Warning Signs You Are Living In A Society Without A Counterculture:
First, here’s a quick definition. These are the key indicators that you might be living in a society without a counterculture:
• A sense of sameness pervades the creative world
• The dominant themes feel static and repetitive, not dynamic and impactful
• Imitation of the conventional is rewarded
• Movies, music, and other creative pursuits are increasingly evaluated on financial and corporate metrics, with all other considerations having little influence
• Alternative voices exist—in fact, they are everywhere—but are rarely heard, and their cultural impact is negligible
• Every year the same stories are retold, and this sameness is considered a plus
• Creative work is increasingly embedded in genres that feel rigid, not flexible
• Even avant-garde work often feels like a rehash of 50-60 years ago
• Etc. etc. etc.


Oh no, just because White Twitter is all nostalgia, have you not seen all the flavours of TikTok that ByteDance are monetising?

So, what's the white counterculture that's not obvious? Like the one fighting against the conservative-binary to allow "not us" to speak or be seen or be amplified into public consciousness? The sellouts in the two-party system of "us and them" who are aiding equality and equity by siding with Them in a thing Us has declared is traitorous cultural war?
posted by k3ninho at 12:18 PM on June 23


Okay, I actually have a couple dissents to the "society without a counterculture" piece. Namely the following warnings:

1. Every screen shows the same movie.

Is this truly a thing that happens in society as a whole, or maybe just in extremely small towns? My parents live in a town of only 20K people and even they have a variety of options in their local multiplex. And in my home town, even in the days before there even was a multiplex, occasionally there was a "different option" available at the drive-in the next town over, or at the very least a film festival being thrown by a nearby library. Is this truly a sign of "a society without a counterculture", or is it a sign of "I am living in an EXTREMELY impoverished town"?

3. The most popular song doesn’t change for three years in a row.

I notice that the author here doesn't really expand on what he means by "Most popular song", unless you go to a side tweet. And only in that side tweet do you see that his support for this is: Ed Sheeran's "Shape of You" has come in at number 1 on something called "The Contemporary Music Super Study". Last I checked, the yardstick for "most popular song" was something like Billboard; I've never even HEARD of "the Contemporary Music Super Study". Maybe our author was deliberately looking for something to support his claim, I guess?

4. The banal word ‘content’ is used to describe every type of creative work, implying that artistry is generic and interchangeable.

The only time I've ever heard people call something "content", it was either someone who was gung-ho about pursuing a social media influencer type of career ("Follow my TikTok for more tips on how to generate content to your $ite!") or someone who was grumbling about how things were so much better when they were younger. (Exhibit A - Martin Scorcese, talking about how the year 1963 was a cinematic paradise because that's the year he saw his favorite Fellini film, while conveniently forgetting that things like Gidget Goes To Romeand How To Stuff A Wild Bikini also came out that year).

7. Indie music and alt music are marginalized.

When haven't they been?

9. The experts who ‘explain’ the culture to us all seem to be insiders with identical backgrounds.

The illustration the author gives for "experts who explain the culture to us" consists solely of NY Times-charting books. He ignores the myriad cultural commentary on places like Youtube - produced by everyone from visual effects artists to aspiring playwrights to a pair of twins.

11. Even elite awards for creativity are dominated by reboots and remakes.

Again, when has this not been the case? What's that old saw about how "there are really only seven plots in the world"?

12. Five companies have almost complete control over the book business—where, in an earlier day, dozens of indie publishers thrived

This seems to be a cyclical thing - go a bit further past that "earlier day" where "dozens of indie publishers thrived" and you will find an earlier period where "five companies had almost complete control over the book business", and a period before THAT when "dozens of indie publishers thrived", and before that....

13. Everybody is encouraged to watch the same TV shows and movies—with niche options gradually removed from the dominant platforms.

The expansion of television into "niche options" is a recent change from the earlier period where there were only three networks, and no cable. In the 90s and aughts we suddenly jumped from only 4 networks to a SCORE of cable channels, many of which struggled to capture public attention, and most of them ending up opting for reruns of things previously screened on the networks anyway.

Mind you, I'm not saying that the points he's making aren't worthy of thought. I'm suggesting that perhaps the conclusions he's drawing from them aren't that they're "signs that there's no counterculture" - rather, that if he's looking for evidence of the counterculture, it's stupid to be looking for it in mainstream places like The New York Times Book Review.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:01 PM on June 23 [2 favorites]


good points! to k3ninho's, though, perhaps the relevant (reactionary) counterculture is evangelical?

A linkdump is not a dissertation.

it's collage (or collision ;) maybe an artful assemblage?[*]

Could anyone point out which link or set of links might be best to look at to better understand how the resurgent ethnonationalism I see in the US fits in the 3 tech trajectories framework? It seems like it's covered under synthetic technocracy but the way that's defined doesn't seem to quite fit the more old-style authoritarianism I see happening?

i forgot to pull it out, but the response in the first link was clarifying to me:
I’ve taken to calling those sides Team Exit & Team Voice - but there is also this, Team Loyalty (which is anything but democratic) ... At the extreme pole you find Aadhar / India stack and the CCP’s cybernetic WiFi curtain / open air prison (Extreme loyalty). Which are far more extreme than WEF/Altman’s version of UBI web3.
so looping around to hirschman:
-team exit is corporate libertarianism
-team voice is digital democracy
-team loyalty is synthetic technocracy
so while weyl (hermann was his great uncle) lists neoreaction as "adjacent" to corporate libertarians, i think its ethnonationalist underpinnings better places it under synthetic technocracy -- team loyalty. so like in russia, there is at least the recognition its 'old-style authoritarianism' needs updating if it is to transition to a synthetic technocracy.
posted by kliuless at 3:11 PM on June 23


7. Indie music and alt music are marginalized.

When haven't they been?


Offhand, I can only think of 2 times in living memory, roughly 1966-1970 and 1991-1997.

Both times the corporations needed a few years to fully catch up and ingest most indie/alt music that accidentally broke out of the margins and forced true alt-music back into the margins so that the charts became dominated by the shuffling zombies of the previous years' impressive variety.

60s psychedelia gave way back to more conventional pop and rock, and 90s alternative fell even further and was dethroned by cookie-cutter Nu-Metal. There was probably even a Nu-Metal band named "Dethrōnd" complete with standard-issue shaved-headed dudes with long goatees playing 7-string guitars through Mesa Dual Rectifiers and a vocalist that didn't sing with his whole mouth but somehow sang directly and solely from his chin.
posted by tclark at 8:26 PM on June 23


14 Warning Signs You Are Living In A Society Without A Counterculture:
First, here’s a quick definition. These are the key indicators that you might be living in a society without a counterculture:
• A sense of sameness pervades the creative world
• The dominant themes feel static and repetitive, not dynamic and impactful
• Imitation of the conventional is rewarded


so basically, the 1950s*.






* the suburban-North-American-Leave-It-To-Beaver-mostly-white version, that is.
posted by philip-random at 9:17 PM on June 23


so basically, the 1950s*.
* the suburban-North-American-Leave-It-To-Beaver-mostly-white version, that is.


But, see, even in the 1950s there was a counterculture - that's when the Beats were doing their thing, for starters, and that's when the Italian Neo-Realist film movement was getting going and Ingmar Bergman was also getting going. They weren't as out in the open yet - but that didn't mean it wasn't there. You just weren't going to see it if you never stepped outside what was on the New York Times bestseller list and your local movie theater. You had to go check out that weird poetry slam in that bar in the slightly-less-safe part of town or go to that weird indie film house where it seemed like it was only open on Tuesdays and everyone smoked hand-rolled cigarettes. And in time, that kind of counterculture produces some groundbreaking Next Big Thing that shoots out and into the open and blows everyone's minds - but it's one of a THOUSAND things that maybe only eight people know about, but my God those eight people loved that weird thing they took the time to go find.

So I'd argue that this particular article wasn't so much "14 signs that you're living in a society without a counterculture" so much as it's "14 signs that you should expand your horizons as a patron of the arts". If you're pissed off about how the radio plays the same shit over and over, start going to the little clubs and find a band you like and sign up for their mailing list. If you're annoyed by what the big publishing houses are releasing, go find the nearest indie bookstore and see what they have on that back shelf where they sell the little chapbooks. If you don't like all the Marvel/Disney/Fast-and-Furious movie stuff, go see whether the nearest college has some kind of a film society and see what they're watching. If you don't like how samey-samey the film established film discussion is sounding, go on some online film discussion group to see what the people THERE are saying.

Basically, if you aren't seeing the counterculture out in the open, that just means that you now have to do a little legwork to go find it rather than assuming it's going to be fed to you. Because if it's being fed to you, it's not counterculture any more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:16 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


I agree. With emphasis on:

it's "14 signs that you should expand your horizons as a patron of the arts".

the whole point of an underground/counter culture is that it's not playing the mainstream game, fighting for your attention. It can't possibly win that game. So it doesn't bother trying. It just does what it does, lays low and percolates, ferments. I've never not been rewarded for taking the time to go looking for fresher, stranger stuff.

But I still lean toward the now being a new sort of 1950s monoculture. Except it's less a monoculture than a duo-culture -- Left vs Right, Red vs Blue, Us vs Them. You're either for this team or that team. I recently heard someone refer to themselves as a conscientious objector from the culture wars. I like that. And it suggests that maybe the new cool (or whatever you want to call it) will be less about working extremes, more about digging deeper and deeper for common roots.

Interesting times.
posted by philip-random at 8:14 AM on June 24


Imitation of the conventional is rewarded

Imitation of the conventional is always rewarded, and always has been.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:58 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


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