15 July 2018

What I think is going on

There's a certain "what is going on?" feeling attached to watching a whole bunch of white supremacists advance politically, despite obvious present evidence that this is going to make everybody worse off economically.

I can't claim I think this is easy to explain -- it took me awhile to get what I think is a handle on it -- but it is explicable.

I think it's important to remember that white supremacy is a loot-sharing agreement, and that it is out of loot.  (Open-loop economic systems are a different problem and I should put that in a different post.)

Thing is, white supremacy has been out of loot for a long time; the fix, for the entire 20th century, has been to enforce relative status.  This isn't economically useful at all -- it's massively economically harmful! -- but it makes people feel better.

This gets presented as a narrative where there's a corrupt status-quo which seeks to prevent the white supremacists from feeling good, and a white-supremacist movement politican who will overturn the status quo; once that happens, the white supremacists can go back to feeling good.

The "feeling good" part rests on "I should have as much social status as I think I should have, or  else I will commit violence until I get it".  The violence is an inherent part of the feeling good; there is no amount of deference that will keep a white supremacist system from assaulting and murdering people, because the tangible proof that these things are permitted them is a required part of the feeling good.  (Fascism is not more complex than the assertion that white supremacy is the laudable norm.)

Under that overt position, there's a narrative that says "you work hard, and should get more benefit from your labour, but instead of doing what they should (and reinforcing your superior status), the mechanisms of colonization have been shifted from race to money so that you've been impoverished.  The mechanisms of colonization should be returned to their original purpose, as is the people's will!"

This is how the 2016 US election got framed; that the Democratic candidate was inherently at fault for advancing the view that the status quo requires the mechanisms of colonization to be about money, and that illegitimate means were used to keep the democratic candidate who recognized that this is the problem from getting the nomination.  This is not materially accurate; it's also about as white supremacist a narrative as could possibly be constructed.

Now, we know with enormous confidence that the way you have an increase in the general prosperity hasn't changed since cities were invented; if you are open, cosmopolitan, and support the rule of law without regard to wealth, class, race, creed, or origin, everyone is much better off.

The tricky cognitive leap is recognizing that this is not important.

What's important is how well a given system gets copies of itself into the future.[0]  That's it.  Material reality does not reliably intrude on political processes even in times of famine.  "But we would all be richer" does not matter.  "There would be less death and violence!" does not matter.[1]  This is the great and troubling insight from biology, and why I think the right hates evolution and wants to make sure it is never widely taught; pointing out that every question of social organization is a selection contest potentially removes the utility of their very successful approach of creating a moral tangle.  (The best lack all conviction because they've been suckered into an insoluble problem.)

(No, seriously.  Morals are feels driven by your early childhood norms.  Morals are not a basis for policy.)

Systems consist of stocks, flows, feedbacks, and constraints.  Copied into the future is a constraint.  Not a feedback; how well the thing performs is not relevant very often.  (This is one of the common errors of 19th century social thought, that how well something performs matters.  Relative success at copying matters, but that is not even slightly the same thing as an absolute measure of material performance and it's surprisingly distant from a relative measure of material performance.)

If copying is a constraint, what you mostly get is what people understood when they were five.  (More or less; axiom formation.)  It has to be simple.  It tends to revert to the primate default.  The primate default is "I have status when I can hit who I want and take what I want and fuck who I want.  I want as much status as I can get."  The primate default isn't sufficient to support a neolithic village, never mind an industrial culture, but it will socially parasitize anything.

Something else from biology; you can't expect a stable system. You can't expect a meta-stable system.  Odds are, there just isn't one to be had.  How organisms behave is a function of environment, which includes the other organisms, which includes the other organisms of their species and their social system.  How it is advantageous to behave depends on what's currently the usual way to behave.

(So you can in fact expect a period of prosperity to get parasitized by opportunists seeking primate status, and there likely isn't an inherent structual means of preventing this.)

So the right, which is using (more or less), "we always win/we're the best", "anything I can take is mine forever", "you all do what I say", and "wealth is virtue", gets copies into the future readily.  It's simple; it gives social advantage; it appeals to long-established multi-generational norms; it provides a reasonable approximation of primate status.  It doesn't do this evenly and by an analysis of absolute advantage[2] it does it incomptently.

(Yes, really, incompetently.  Five generations is nothing. Fifty generations -- thereabouts of a thousand years -- isn't all that much.  Open-loop economies are certain to fail; it's the economy you've got when the loop is closed that matters.  It's hellish tough to get people to acknowledge that need to close the loop.  It costs them status, and we're machines for preferring death to loss of status.  Buggy, buggy primate wetware.)

So what's going on is a move to insist on the historical norm -- the violent status-enforcement of a post-loot white supremacy and the late-capitalist end-game of seeing who can have the largest pile of cash when the economy has ground to a halt -- in preference to acknowledging material circumstances, because the instant the material circumstances are acknowledged, the requirement for a different social order is inescapable.  Whatever it is, it won't be what has been.  The prospect of change on that scale locks people up with the primate wetware bug.

What could a functioning set of axioms be?

  1. You're not special.
  2. Gang up on problems; share risks, share benefits.
  3. Responsibility cannot be shared; assign it accurately.
  4. Does generally realizable access to choice increase in the future?  (if no, fix it.  fix it now, because it will never get easier.)
  5. Insisting you're special merits death.  Material actions are insisting.

It'll work, if we can get there.

[0] look at the intensity with which black or native leaders are killed as they emerge.  Look at the intensity with which any form of non-corporate collective organization is subsumed or destroyed.  This is why that's important; no new system is to be permitted to get copies of itself into the future.

[1] look at the difficulty getting existing power structures to recognize that making recreational drugs unlawful does not help the general prosperity.

[2] you can view the great conflicts of the 20th century as circumstantially compelled cases of having to prefer absolute measures of performance.  You can flail around a long way to find examples of that happening without the clear existential threats, too, and maybe start to conclude that the refusal to look at climate change has a slightly broader motivation than greed.

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