06 November 2021

Errors in axiomatic construction

 Charlie has this tweet, which kicks off a thread that talks about technology in a context of atrocity but which settles into an axiomatic "Nazis are the problem".

That's a mistake.

Nazis are certainly one problem (and an immediate problem), but if you poke at it, fascism generally is a manifestation of a much more general problem, and that turns out to be a manifestation of the false axiom.

Fascism -- the several fascisms, white supremacy, American exceptionalism, whatever you call the "this is all ours" structures in Australia and Canada, etc. -- is a set of rationalizations to the effect that what you want, you should have, irrespective of what it is or how it got that way so long as those things are independent of another member of the in-group. ("In group" isn't stable; populism is a protest at being excluded from the in-group.)

That in turn rests on the idea that wealth reduces your insecurity.

It doesn't, it's the problem.  There's a very long historical pattern of using wealth to create armies and then using the armies to guarantee markets -- to force people to buy from you, which has higher rates of return than any possible mechanism of taxation because taxes have to come out of surplus if you are going to avoid breaking the economy -- followed by formalization into empire followed by collapse.  Empires always collapse.  It's inherent in the form of organization.  The collapse is generally protracted and severe.

(What wealth does do is increase your status, and being band-forming primates, we all have this wetware bug which equates status and security.  You'd think an awareness of kings in antiquity needing food tasters would start to put a dent in this, but it doesn't.  You'd think an awareness that the empire is not helping you if you're not a member of the elite would stick better, too, but it doesn't, either.)

Wealth -- the idea that you should be able to have, and keep, as much as you can obtain by any means -- also acts to increase the general insecurity by simple feedback; it's going to act to reduce your agency because structurally, it's trying to guarantee returns and equally structurally, those returns are not abstractions; they reduce to your effort and thus time and thus lifespan.  "Productivity" is a term of art for someone else being able to get more return per unit of time of your lifespan.

Any effective reduction in insecurity must rest on things which actually reduce insecurity generally.  (Which seems ridiculous as a thing which needs saying, but here we are.)  That in turn means you'd want a general measure of agency to be seen to not decrease (and to be evenly distributed over the population); it would also mean effective collective solutions.  Both of those imply that really sharp limits on relative prosperity are required, and that wealth in the "keep whatever I obtain" sense cannot be permitted.


Moz said...

One problem with living in an overshoot society is that no-one is secure. The worse the overshoot the less smart you have to be to know that. Better communication and education makes that worse, not better.

Which means we now have huge numbers of people correctly convinced that an awful lot of people are going to die, soon, and nothing will be done to prevent that. It's very hard to convince them they're wrong about that because the general argument is correct. Which leaves a lot of fussy nitpicking that's very hard to do convincingly.

In many ways the nazis were entirely correct about some aspects of the problem, but they shared that correctness with "the good guys" who also knew that hordes of brown people needed to be controlled if Europe was to remain the centre of the world.

Swapping to "developing countries are the problem" has worked really well as a deny/delay/distract technique for almost a century but time is running out for it.

Graydon said...

All lamentably factual.

Agency in an overshoot is something you may have, you can't tell until the population is back under the carrying capacity and you're in it. (Though that might be "economy" in more ways than it's "population".)

Still the case that wealth doesn't increase your security.

JReynolds said...

Will McIntosh's Soft Apocalypse, Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence, William Gibson's "Jackpot" series. All of them are what we're going to be looking at, I think. Not just "one day everything is normal, the next it's Mad Max time". Nope - just one step after the next, down the wrong road, bit by bit getting worse.

"The gates of hell are open night and day;
Smooth the descent, and easy is the way:
But to return, and view the cheerful skies,
In this the task and mighty labor lies."

(With the exception being COVID - here in Ontario, numbers began going up at the end of October. Just a little bit at first, but now it's low triple digit increases when you compare the average for 7 days before. Our premier hasn't said word one about this entirely preventable problem.)

I hate living in this timeline.


Graydon said...

I think those narratives are all way, way too optimistic. Industrial agriculture, any agriculture, requires predictable rain. ("six inches of dirt and rain at predictable times".) It's not looking especially implausible that this decade we lose that.

(It would be, reassuring isn't quite the right term, but less terrifying if the Arctic Amplification Hypothesis hadn't made predictions which are holding up.)

And, yeah, Dougie is on Team Virus. That long stretch of 0.9 or so and then woosh, 1.26 and rising for Rt. I could wish someone could get to him with a little basic natural selection but that's clearly hopeless by now. (Functional vaccines produce more virulent diseases; there's this substantial literature about chickens. You want the vaccines, because fewer corpses, but you can't just throw up your hands; the hard work of extirpation must be done.)

Though as an example of "political capture by the paperclip optimizer" it couldn't get a lot clearer.

Tim McDermott said...


As a thought experiment, consider the consequences of having a weather system similar to the hot blob parked over BC last spring that parks over Iowa during corn silking time. Most of the US corn crop fails. Best case 10 of millions die of starvation. Worst case global trade in food ends and everywhere turns into Syria.

It is not talked about much, but Syria is apparently the first war caused by climate change. From 2010 to 2014, the Syrian rainy season ceased. Crop failures drove people into cities. Rebellion followed. Millions of refugees, more than Europe could handle. Multiply by a couple of thousands for global crop failures.

Starving people get crazy. Civilization does not survive the failure of agriculture.