Neoreactionaries, a gang of idiots

I read Neoreaction a Basilisk a few years ago. It was a hard slog, trying to wade through all the neoreactionary conservative garbage, and stories about Thiel and Yudkowski and Curtis Yarvin aka Mencius Moldbug. They’re all terrible writers and communicators who are only intelligible to people who have already been infected with their mind-virus. No, don’t try to defend Less Wrong to me — I tried giving them the benefit of the doubt long ago, and found myself sinking into a quicksand of nonsense generated by people who insisted they were the most logical and rational people on Earth.

I don’t generally recommend the book, because it’s very much a specialist tome. It’s like maybe a professional journal on the psychology of mass murderers is a good thing for experts to read, but for the rest of us, no thank you, we don’t need the nightmares. That’s Neoreaction a Basilisk, thorough and expert, but my god, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of hemlock.

If you really want to savor the flavor, Tucker Carlson interviewed Yarvin. It’s amazing. Carlson starts by saying that pretty much all of modern philosophy is an exercise in narcissism, but Yarvin is one of the few philosophers who sees through all the liberal nonsense. Yarvin is not a philosopher. He’s a software engineer with no expertise in philosophy at all, which tells you something about Carlson honesty and neoreactionary pretense.

Maybe this interview with the author, Elizabeth Sandifer is enough of a taste to let you know how awful and horrible and inane the whole neoreactionary movement is, without listening to pair of pompous asses on Fox News.

Her summary of Yarvin:

I think that there is a long tradition of right-wing “philosophy” that’s really popular among right-wing nutters and as soon as it gets outside that little bubble, it gets absolutely shot to hell by other philosophers. And I think to describe Yarvin in terms he would probably take as a compliment—and I very much mean as an insult—he’s kind of a modern day Ayn Rand.

So his broad philosophical idea is he’s just really obsessed with order. He thinks that order is the absolute best thing that can happen. Chaos, unruliness, rebelliousness—all these things are inherently very, very bad.

And so his belief, as he expressed back in his Moldbug days—and he’s not really backed down off of it in any substantive way—is that basically, California should secede, become its own nation, and simply impose a CEO with monarchic, godlike powers. At the time, he suggested Steve Jobs would be a particularly good pick for the absolute monarch of California and that the purpose of owning California and running it as a corporate monarchy is explicitly for profit. That was also a part of Yarvin’s philosophical vision for what the world should do.

I don’t want to pin him too much with the slightly satirical and deliberately over-the-top clickbait-y idea of making Steve Jobs king of California—that is him using a rhetorical device to get attention. But he does very, very much believe that rich elites should be in absolute control of everything, and people who are not landowners and do not have a ton of money should basically be thought of as the equivalent of slaves.

I think you can see why he appeals to authoritarians. I love this pithy summary of the whole movement.

To engage in Alt-Right thinking is to turn oneself into a vacuous skinsuit animated by raw stupidity. There is literally not a single shred of non-stupidity in the entire thing. Mencius Moldbug, stupid. Milo Yiannopoulos, stupid. Donald Trump, Vox Day, stupid, stupid, stupid. MAGA and The Daily Stormer are stupid. Every single detail of every single aspect of this entire cratering shitstorm in which the human race seems hell bent on going extinct is absolutely fucking stupid.

Yes! That is the entire right wing right now. It’s true of Republicans, creationists, and flat-earthers. Tucker Carlson, stupid. All the idiots saying we can’t enact reasonable gun control, stupid. The people demanding that we punish women for getting abortions, stupid. Billionaires, stupid.

If you get through that interview, you might also enjoy Sandifer’s deconstruction of Slate Star Codex, yet another scion of the poisonous bowels of Less Wrong.

The stupidity might be congenital.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says


    blockquote>And I think to describe Yarvin in terms he would probably take as a compliment—and I very much mean as an insult—he’s kind of a modern day Ayn Rand.



    That tracks. Rand had no formal training in philosophy. She was studying history when the Soviets kicked her and all the other bourgeois slime out of universities. Her title of “philosopher” is purely self-appointed.

  2. raven says

    But he does very, very much believe that rich elites should be in absolute control of everything, and people who are not landowners and do not have a ton of money should basically be thought of as the equivalent of slaves.

    We tried this once.

    In fact, we tried this more than once.
    This was the condition for most of human history.
    It didn’t work!!! It was a dysfunctional disaster for almost all of the people.

    This is why the majority of the population kept on rebelling. We finally got rid of rule by kings and the aristocracy. In some places at least for some of the time. This is a Third World model of government and why the Third World is behind the rest of the world. These clowns want to go back to Fascism, Feudalism, and the Dark Ages.

    Not going to do it.
    They are free to move to Russia or any Third World country and pretend that there are no problems and everything is fine except for all the money spent on security and the military to keep the population from rising up and deposing them.

    PS: Even in our supposed democracy, the rich elites still have a lot more control than they should. It’s all relative. It could be better in the USA and the West. It could also be a whole lot worse.

  3. raven says

    To engage in Alt-Right thinking is to turn oneself into a vacuous skinsuit animated by raw stupidity. There is literally not a single shred of non-stupidity in the entire thing.

    Sometimes the English language runs out of words to express just how stupid these people are.

    I just think of the neoreactionaries as internet trolls. Some of them have a lot of money but most of them are grifters just getting by.
    Russia is what happens when Fox NoNews, Tucker Carlson, Alex Jones, Steve Bannon, the neoreactionaries and most GOP politicians run a country. A dysfunctional disaster going nowhere with no rule of law. Human life is cheap and meaningless and you can and will die anytime the ruling elites decide it is convenient for them.

    We’ve seen just how stupid these people are quite recently.
    The Covid-19 virus deniers/antivaxxers.
    These are the people who don’t believe the virus exists and/or that vaccines don’t help prevent disease and death. They get Covid-19 and die often. The numbers in the USA are that at least 250,000 people died because of their false beliefs.

  4. consciousness razor says

    They always sound just like the normal right to me. I’m starting to think their Alt key is just broken, but nobody has noticed. I mean, there’s no telling what they might do without Caps Lock, but that one’s definitely still functional….

  5. jo1storm says

    @2 Raven

    To quote Bioshock: “Everybody wants to be a captain of industry. No one’s thinking they’re going to be scrubbing toilets.”

    Or Lion King: “It’s good to be king.”

    I just take anybody holding such beliefs to be both a narcissist and a guy with forward planning and thinking skills of a cardboard box.

  6. Owlmirror says

    I’m not sure that calling them stupid quite captures the issue. I mean, they’re often quite intelligent, and quite educated — and then they use that intelligence and education to promote and defend deeply stupid ideas and ideologies. Which I suppose can be ascribed to a more fundamental stupidity in the persons themselves.

  7. James Fehlinger says

    I was into this stuff ca. 1997-2002. The “AI”/”Singularity”
    stuff, that is, not the reactionary/fascist political stuff.
    Though venues like the Extropians’ mailing list always stank
    of Ayn Rand and “libertarianism”. Nowadays I keep an eye on
    the folks who enjoy mocking them (and Yudkowsky in particular,
    who emerged in 1996 as the guru-wannabe of the movement; he
    had a much better guru-whammy going than Ray Kurzweil ever
    did). ;->

    Still crazy after all these years:
    Yudkowsky drops another 10,000 word post about how AI is totally
    gonna kill us all any day now, but this one has the fun twist of slowly
    devolving into a semi-coherent rant about how he is the most important
    person to ever live.
    [ ]

    14 hr. ago

    Extreme TL;DR, so I’m just going to post a few highlights from the last few
    paragraphs where he starts referring to himself in the third person here:

    . . .

    This ability to “notice lethal difficulties without Eliezer Yudkowsky arguing
    you into noticing them” currently is an opaque piece of cognitive machinery to me,
    I do not know how to train it into others. . .

    The fact that, twenty-one years into my entering this death game, seven years
    into other E[ffective]A[ltruist]s noticing the death game, and two years into
    even normies starting to notice the death game, it is still Eliezer Yudkowsky
    writing up this list. . .

    I tried really really hard to replace myself before my health deteriorated further,
    and yet here I am writing this. . .

    [T]here are no candidate plans that do not immediately fall to Eliezer instantly
    pointing at the giant visible gaping holes in that plan. Or if you don’t know
    who Eliezer is, you don’t even realize you need a plan, because, like, how would
    a human being possibly realize that without Eliezer yelling at them? . . .

    9 hr. ago

    I knew I did not actually have the physical stamina to be a star researcher, I tried
    really really hard to replace myself before my health deteriorated further,
    and yet here I am writing this.

    I’ve wondered how EY would adapt to the narcissistic crisis of failing to single-handedly
    bring about techno-utopia by being very clever. Didn’t think I’d get to find out for
    another decade or two, but it looks like we’re already there: the narrative is “I burned
    too bright and so ruined my body and mind, no others are great enough to take up the torch,
    and now the world is doomed”. No lessons have been learned. . .

    (Hopefully I end up with weird parasocial attachments to Internet celebrities which are
    a bit less self-destructive than this?)

    9 hr. ago

    . . .

    Do you think he enjoys destroying the mental health of vulnerable young men who
    get pulled into the sphere, and now sit around in despair, convinced the world is
    going to end in the next 10 years?

    Rather than putting their energy towards the real problems in the world, all
    their energy gets sapped away by whatever their prophet’s latest sci fi writing
    experiment says.

    9 hr. ago

    It gets really fucking bad. Even on the S[late]S[tar]C[odex] [i.e., Scott Siskind]
    subreddit (which is otherwise mostly outside the blast radius for the sci-fi stuff),
    you’ll come across about one young man per month with a full-blown obsessive anxiety
    disorder over AI, and you’ll see other users giving them unhelpful advice like
    “just develop stoic detachment over the looming end of the world, like I did”.
    I hate it.

    4 hr. ago

    I’ve never really gone on the SSC subreddit, but holy fuck I was nearly one
    of those guys a few weeks ago. To tell you the truth I’m still pretty spooked by
    many of the ideas, but I’m cognisant now thanks to all of you that fear of a
    Yudkowsky-esque AI and all the assumptions it involves is essentially irrational.
    I’m so fucking thankful I found Sneerclub early on instead of continuing
    down the path I was going.

    And I worry about other guys like me who’re just discovering this stuff. I cannot
    tell you how quickly now any internet reading you do on “risk from AI” converges
    to LW and Bostrom.

    13 hr. ago

    I think someone on r/slatestarcodex said well about this post:

    “this has the feel of a doomsday cult bringing out the poisoned punchbowls”

    I really really hope that people can see the cultishness of this,
    I really really hope the so called rationalists can see this is just
    one very weird guy’s view, who has a vested interest in getting
    as much money, time and energy from his followers as possible.

    11 hr. ago

    . . .

    Of course, the archives of autodidacticism. . . show innumerable examples of
    deluded individuals who not only falsely think they are the one who figured
    everything out. . .

    Generally, when trying to judge if the proponent of a new idea is right or not,
    self-aggrandizement is considered a very bad sign. . .

    [T]he best reason I can think of, as to why self-aggrandizement should be
    negatively correlated with actual achievement – [is that] it’s a substitute for
    the hard work of doing something real. . .

    I am also pretty sure that when he was younger, he thought that, if he made it
    to the age of 40, some younger person would have come along, and surpassed him.
    I think he’s sincerely feeling dread that (as he sees it) this hasn’t happened,
    and that meanwhile, big tech is racing lemming-like towards an unfriendly singularity.

    To confess my own views: . . . [T]he overall scenario of AI surpassing human cognition
    and reordering the world in a way that’s bad for us. . . makes a lot of sense.
    It’s appropriate that it has a high priority in human concerns, and many more people
    should be working on it.

    I also think that Eliezer’s C[oherent]E[extrapolated]V[olition] is a damn good
    schematic idea for what a human-friendly AI value system might look like. . .

    [I]f we’re lucky, we’ll get to find out how Eliezer ranks as a prophet.

    2 hr. ago

    Do you think your friends are representative of rationalists in general?
    Do you think most of them are like that? Did you explicitly tell them that
    they are falling [in]to cult-like thought patterns and explain to them what
    their reasoning looks like from the outside, like you explained to me?


    9 hr. ago

    if we’re lucky, we’ll get to find out how Eliezer ranks as a prophet.

    It never ceases to amaze me how rationalists have reinvented religion…a prophet,
    tithing, God, the devil, scriptures, heaven, hell, it’s all there.

    9 hr. ago

    I can’t think of anything quite like [Yudkowsky’s] M[achine]I[ntelligence]R[esearch]I[nstitute]
    that existed before it – an organization whose central mission was to make AI “friendly” or “aligned”.

    Sci-fi clubs have existed for generations, dude.

    4 hr. ago

    and had the same delusions of grandeur

    8 hr. ago

    For my part, if I were to grant the incredible premise that Yudkowsky sits at the
    juncture of the world before and after AI, it will be that he was the guy who gathered
    and wasted the resources of somebody else who could have come along and been an
    actually effective prophet of AI-alignment. I imagine there’s plenty of futures in
    which AI is a massively beneficent human enterprise, guided by the steady hand of
    an imaginative free thinker – or better, a whole community of responsible AI researchers
    who managed to not join a cult – who was the first to see the risks and sound the alarm,
    maybe even in California. Yudkowsky’s will not be that universe.

    I’m also reinstating your ban. [Oh dear oh dear. Mitchell Porter’s been banned
    from SneerClub.]

    The right kind of nerd:
    Elizabeth Sandifer on the neoreactionaries, with mentions of our friends Eliezer [Yudkowsky]
    and Scott [Siskind, a.k.a. Scott S. Alexander, of SlateStarCodex]
    [ ]

    . . .

    Here is the part related to SSC:


    Oh, God. Okay. So, Curtis Yarvin came to present prominence– got his initial readership
    before he spun off to his own blog — on a website called Overcoming Bias, a website loosely
    organized around a community that called themselves “the rationalists.” The main figure
    in that is a guy named Eliezer Yudkowsky, who would describe himself as an A[rtificial]I[ntelligence]
    researcher. It’s important to note that he has literally no computer science qualifications;
    cannot — to the best of my knowledge — code; has never built an AI; and does not actually understand
    anything about how AI works on a technical level. But he is an AI researcher, which really
    means he writes science fiction. He writes science fiction novels that he passes off as
    philosophy and scholarship. He is horribly obsessed with the idea that someday an artificial
    intelligence is going to wake up, achieve sentience, take over the world, and destroy humanity
    because it sees no point in humanity. He writes great science fiction phrases. He’s got a phrase:
    “The AI does not love you. The AI does not hate you. But you are made out of atoms which
    the AI can use for something else.” That’s charming and chilling, and throw that into a
    science fiction horror book about an evil AI and you’re going to get a Hugo nomination for
    that stuff. As an analysis of computer science and the state of play of current technology,
    it has nothing to do with anything that is actually happening in AI research, nanotechnology,
    or anything else. It’s purely science fiction. But it’s pretty good science fiction. And so
    a lot of tech bro people are really, really into him because he makes them feel good. He says
    that they’re all super logical, rational people, and they can learn to make no mistakes if
    they just use his one weird trick for thinking rationally. He’s just had a lot of influence
    despite being frankly a kind of weirdo cult leader. But the Basilisk. What you actually asked
    about. The Basilisk comes from an incident that arose in Yudkowsky’s community where this
    guy named Roko, who went on to be a fascist, came up with a thought experiment imagining a
    futuristic, godlike AI. As I said, they’re terrified of an evil AI. They also want to create
    a god AI that will reincarnate them on a hard drive so they can live forever. And so this
    guy Roko imagined the god AI and said: Wait a minute, what if when the god AI exists, he
    looks back at everyone who failed to help bring him about and declares they’re evil, and
    should be reincarnated on a computer and tortured for all eternity? He made this argument
    that was entirely consistent with the many weird cult-like premises of Yudkowsky and his
    rationalists and created this idea of this godlike AI that would torture them all if they
    didn’t give all their money to AI research to try to bring him about—which, if you look
    at it from a perspective of not being a weirdo AI cult member, is basically just reinventing
    Pascal’s Wager.


    Pascal’s wager being that it pays to believe in God because if you don’t,
    God will punish you — if he exists.


    Yes, good explanation. And so all of these AI cultists, broadly speaking, absolutely lost
    their shit. They had an epic meltdown-panic attack. Yudkowsky was, at one point, screaming
    in all caps about how the worst thing you can possibly do is talk about the evil godlike AI
    in the future that does this, because talking about it brings it into existence. Everyone
    is having a complete emotional meltdown over having accidentally invented Pascal’s Wager.
    And the whole incident eventually becomes a bit of popular lore that people who are the
    right kind of nerd know about. Jokes about Roko’s Basilisk, which is what this whole affair
    became known as, were actually what got Elon Musk and Grimes together. They both made the
    same pun about Roko’s Basilisk independently and found each other through it.
    A Twitter cross-over like no other. ]


    Wow. I never knew that.


    My friend, David Gerard, who was the initial reader and editor of Neoreaction a Basilisk,
    was the one who preserved all the transcripts of the meltdown and put them on RationalWiki.
    That’s why anyone knows about this. So he is ultimately single-handedly responsible for
    Elon Musk taking over Twitter just by popularizing Roko’s Basilisk. It’s horrible.
    He feels terrible about it.


    I fear that some of our listeners, hearing your explanation, may have thought to themselves
    at some point during…


    What the fuck is going on here?


    “I don’t understand this. It’s bizarre.”


    I should have prefaced this with: What I am about to say is going to sound
    completely insane, and that’s because it is.


    I’m glad you explained it because I think that it’s important to understand
    that even if you don’t grasp this whole thing about a godlike artificial intelligence
    in the future and whatever…


    And you should feel better about yourself if you don’t. If it did make any sense,
    you should really be worried.


    First, the people who believe in this very bizarre thing consider themselves to
    be extremely logical — more logical than anyone else, right?


    Yes. Functionally, they believe themselves to be, if not infallible on an individual
    level, at least infallible on a collective level.


    Secondly, this rationalist community that you’re talking about that drifts into
    extremely bizarre and sometimes fascist beliefs is quite influential in Silicon Valley.


    Hugely so. If you talk not just to management, but even many of the frontline software
    engineer/coder nerds, they all know who Eliezer Yudkowsky is. This is absolutely a
    household name within the specific bubble and enclave of Silicon Valley tech.


    And there’s an entire intellectual ecosystem here. You’ve written about the Slate Star Codex blog.


    Ah, yes, Mr. Siskind.


    He’s this rationalist who’s very opposed to social justice politics and is, perhaps, a little
    too open-minded about Charles Murray and…


    He’s a gateway to outright fascist ideas. He has openly said that he is a race eugenicist
    who believes that IQ is heritable. He definitely believes this to be true. He has said as
    much. He plays a little coy in public, but in his personal beliefs, he is a racist authoritarian.
    I absolutely believe this.


    And he is extremely popular among some people. He has a big following among a lot of
    these Silicon Valley types.


    Absolutely. His blog was widely considered essential reading among the Silicon Valley types.
    And then you go to the subreddit for his blog, and people are literally posting the 14 words
    [ ],
    which are a huge white nationalist slogan and just not even a dog whistle, just a whistle.

    And cf.:

    Your Narcissist: Madman or Genius? (Based on News Intervention Interview)
    Jun 3, 2022
    Prof. Sam Vaknin


  8. says

    The reactionary sphere often leans on IQ tests. It’s a damn shame that such marginal science has continued with the implicit support of psychologists. They know it’s bullshit* but they don’t teach that. Instead they stand back and allow it to be used, for example, to re-segregate schools, or impact hiring practices. Psychometric testing is a HUGE industry and it’s based on stuff that even its developers were saying “don’t abuse this” – food for American scientific racism, basically.

    (* except for baseline-testing an individual to monitor for brain degeneration)

  9. Howard Brazee says

    It seems like the Right believes the left are selfish lying cheaters—because, isn’t everybody?

  10. whatmannerofloaf says

    I’ve always loved this short and sweet old takedown on the community from poe-news, myself. Trans-accountants indeed:

    ‘Imagine there was an online community that pretended they had your job.

    Pretend there is a website of trans-accountants who have never had an accounting job nor had any education in accounting. They talk about accounting all the time but they make up words for it and misuse what few words they actually know. Everything they know about accounting they learned from movies and adventure novels with accountants. They talk about post-ledger accounting and they talk about maximizing your redline value returns.

    Or people who pretend to manage video rental stores but have never even owned a television.’

    And AI visionary Yudkowski’s sole contribution to the world being a Harry Potter fanfic is just icing on the cake of course.

  11. dstatton says

    I have a friend who knows a former top designer at Apple. Former, because he had a nervous breakdown working for Jobs. He said that Jobs was actually worse than portrayed in the book about him, which is saying something.

  12. drsteve says

    Oh, lovely! There are only two blogs I’ve really followed and regularly read over the past decade: Pharyngula, and Dr. Sandifer’s Erudiorum Press site (she has an academic background in the humanities which could account for a lot of the dense style of Basilisk). It was through her that I became fans of the fellows who run the I Don’t Speak German podcast, and more recently, of David Gerard’s reporting on the doings of the crypto world.

    I actually bought and read Basilisk a couple years ago at the same time I bought The Mismeasure of Man. Then I promptly bought copies of both for my sister for her next birthday — she works in data in the political domain, and I’ll have to check and see what she thought of them. I enjoyed Basilisk, but it’s definitely a pungent dish, and Sandifer’s prose more of an acquired taste than Gould’s.

    Tonight I have a ticket to see a panel led by a couple Stanford professors about ‘Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot’ so I guess I’ll find out if they have anything to say about all this (hopefully they would broadly agree with me that AI singularities are a lot less of a concern than the immediate concerns related to algorithmic decision making in social media, finance, law enforcement and so on. . .)

  13. seachange says

    #7 James Fehlinger

    The premise of that video is a waste of time. The fun and interesting part of it is like twenty seconds long, but he goes on for five minutes. I guess since PZ is talking about a huge book that’s a waste of time, you are on-topic?

    The United States has a lot of power that affects all the countries in the world and the countries around it a whole lot. Very few of those countries affect the United States back in the same way. It is expected by me that my fellow American citizens, undereducated and ignorant, do not know who is important in other countries, because -we don’t have to-. This would be true even if we did make an effort and were not ignorant and uneducated.

    Obrador is not stupid. He is not being hateful or reactionary. He has to worry about the political effects of citizens of the US and non-citizens of the US who are living there but supporting residents of Mexico with their US earnings. Communication back and forth happens, so it’s not just money, it is ideas. A lot of those folks are living in Texas. He has to do this.

  14. StevoR says

    @1. Akira MacKenzie : FWIW & hope it helps, I had the same issue with quoting here & found using a capital letter B in Blockquote seemed to fix it.

  15. StevoR says

    Accepting IQ tests as genuinely representing a fixed measure of real intelligence should automatically be considered as knocking quite a lot of points off of that person’s IQ.

    If memory serves Stephen Jay Gould had afew good essays onteh whole IQ (& its actual value & use) issue..

  16. Owlmirror says

    using a capital letter B in Blockquote seemed to fix it.

    using a capital letter B in Blockquote seemed to fix it.

    HTML is completely case-insensitive.

  17. jenorafeuer says

    I have for years described Yudkowski and the cult around him as ‘Exhibit A that engineers need to be taught more philosophy so they stop trying to reinvent it badly’.

    As numerous people have pointed out, aside from the ‘AI’ angle, most of the positions that these people take are centuries old. Part of the problem is that because they have never actually read any of the old discussions, they’ve created their own new terminology for all of it, which makes it difficult to have a discussion on it for anybody who’s not steeped in their particular subculture. Which is often true of philosophy in general, true, but if they’d read up on philosophy first they could have at least used the same words as people had previously and it would be easier to tie arguments together. Sadly, a lot of these folks seem to have started from ‘I’m so smart’ and ‘Modern philosophers talk nonsense that has nothing to do with the real world’ as their starting axioms, so reading up on past arguments was never going to happen.

    As Sandifer points out in the book, Yudkowski himself tends mostly towards ‘harmless crank’. Sadly, a number of those he’s inspired (like Yarvin) are rather far away from ‘harmless’. Another reason that actually reading up on the history of philosophy might have been useful; ancient Athens alone gives us examples of how followers of a guru can go really, really wrong for the rest of the society around them.

  18. birgerjohansson says

    Seachange @ 14
    The ‘stupid’ I referred to is Ted Cruz who made accusations without any evidence.
    Technically he may not be a reactionary as he seems motivated by the campaign donors (as too many other politicians are).
    BTW Germany and the Scandinavian countries have had conservative leaders that did a good job – Britain, USA, Canada and Australia have had a significantly worse outcomes. One likely explanation is that the systems favor demagogues and opportunists rising in what used to be conservative parties.

  19. hemidactylus says

    Thanks PZ for sending me down this scary rabbit hole. Not only did I learn:

    But also got chills from: “…The active spear tip of this movement is anti-wokeism and fears about cancel culture and critical race theory and all that.” and: “When you look at what actually happens—you look at the way in which the education system is of paramount importance in Yarvin’s conspiracy theory, there is a direct line from that to using groomer panic and critical race theory to stage a fascist takeover of the entire Florida educational system, which just happened. It just happened. Florida’s education system has literally banned most of the stuff that Curtis Yarvin thinks is secretly running the world. So these ideas are having a huge impact. There were many, many steps between Curtis Yarvin and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. But those steps existed and can be linearly traced.”

  20. James Fehlinger says

    And AI visionary Yudkowski’s sole contribution to the world being a Harry Potter
    fanfic is just icing on the cake of course. . .

    I have for years described Yudkowski and the cult around him as
    ‘Exhibit A that engineers need to be taught more philosophy so they stop
    trying to reinvent it badly’. . . As Sandifer points out in the book,
    Yudkowski himself tends mostly towards ‘harmless crank’. Sadly, a number
    of those he’s inspired (like Yarvin) are rather far away from ‘harmless’.

    Oh, make no mistake — Yudkowsky’s got the gift of the Guru Whammy(TM),
    and he’s been practicing it for more than a quarter of a century, since
    he was a tyke.

    Some back-and-forth from the old Extropians’ mailing list (which I
    had myself quit posting to by then, but which I still kept an
    eye on):
    Science intrinsically requires individual researchers setting their
    judgment above that of the scientific community. . .

    The overall rationality of academia is simply not good enough to handle
    some necessary problems, as the case of [K. Eric] Drexler illustrates.
    [He meant the rejection of Drexler’s ideas about “molecular nanotechnology”
    by mainstream chemists, not the apparent crackpottery of Drexler himself.]
    Individual humans routinely do better than the academic consensus. . . .

    Yes, the Way of rationality is difficult to follow. . .

    Given the lessons of history, you should sit up and pay attention if Chris
    Phoenix says that distinguished but elderly scientists are making blanket
    pronunciations of impossibility without doing any math . . .

    It seems I must accept the sky is green, if Richard Smalley says so.

    I can do better than that, and so can you.

    Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
    Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
    I’d be concerned that if I started off doubting the practice of science
    as a guide to truth, I might as well send in for my membership card in the
    Flat Earth Society, because that’s where I’d end up. . .

    Rejecting science means rejecting the best and most successful institution
    mankind has ever developed for finding out the truth about the world.
    It puts you onto a dangerous path fraught with tempting falsehoods that
    can lead you astray. As I suggested above, you better set aside money
    for your membership in the Crackpot League, because that’s where this
    road ends.

    Hal Finney

    In addition to possessing an intellect too powerful to be bound by
    the strictures of the mainstream scientific community, the gentleman
    in question also claimed (and undoubtedly would still claim) to be
    a “COMPLETE STRATEGIC ALTRUIST”. See the comment thread at

    As Elizabeth Sandifer mentions in that Current Affairs interview, there’s
    a certain audience (including among some ostensibly smart people —
    Silicon Valley programmers and even “captains of industry” like
    Elon Musk or Peter Thiel) who eat this stuff up.

    Just as L. Ron Hubbard or Ayn Rand or — in the present day —
    Keith Raniere or Teal Swan are irresistible to their target audiences.

    1607: Growing up with Teal Swan – Diana Hansen Ribera
    Premiered 7 hours ago
    Mormon Stories Podcast

    3:16:15 (/3:37:53)

    John Dehlin: My final thought with all of this. . .
    is just, like, how in 2022 are people like this
    getting traction? How are people in 2022 getting
    1.5 million followers, selling $5,000 retreat tickets
    and filling auditoriums? Like, where’s the. . .
    where’s the skeptical thinking? Where’s the understanding
    of logical fallacies, of coercion techniques and undue influence
    and cult techniques? Where’s. . . I mean, how many cult
    documentaries — The Vow , Going Clear , Wild Wild Country
    like, how many. . . how many cult documentaries do we have
    to have on Netflix and Hulu and Amazon before there’s, kind of,
    cult awareness and critical thinking and skeptical thinking
    so that people don’t get sucked into this? And I’ll just be
    honest, like, you know, when people tell their stories about
    Mormonism, and when people lose their faith in Mormonism,
    sometimes that creates a vacuum. Because they no longer have
    identity, morality, spirituality, community, meaning,
    purpose, resolutions about the afterlife. And sometimes that
    vacuum. . . ex-Mormons leave Mormonism and fucking go join
    a cult! And it drives me crazy! Like, did you not learn
    anything ?


  21. whatmannerofloaf says

    @21 Wow that is some good crazy!

    Also, going through the comments of Sandifer’s article for the first time and it didn’t disappoint!

    Scott Aaronson showed up at the end to indulge in self-pity and accuse her of unfairly persecuting Scott Alexander and himself (who had family murdered by nazis mind you!) and referring to his older, more famous exercise in self-pity as ‘radical empathy’.

    Then when Sandifer responds that she’s not interested in debating him Scott (who btw had written a whole screed crying about how women didn’t like him because of his nerdlinger status) snidely refers to her ‘blogging about Batman comics’ and emphasizes about how much more successful he is.

  22. James Fehlinger says

    Scott Aaronson showed up at the end to indulge in self-pity and accuse
    [Sandifer] of unfairly persecuting Scott Alexander and himself. . .
    [and] snidely refers to her ‘blogging about Batman comics’ and emphasizes
    about how much more successful he is.

    Yes, it astonishes me how thoroughly a handful of ostensibly smart
    people (and Aaronson, I gather, knows a thing or two about the theory
    of quantum computation — he is — or was — a professor at MIT, no?)
    get enmeshed in this stuff.

    See the link to the YouTube video
    “Maciej Ceglowski – Superintelligence: The Idea That Eats Smart People (Keynote)”
    in the comment thread of:

    You know, Keith Raniere — the guy who recently ended up in prison, who
    was running the NXIVM cult — has a shtick similar to Yudkowsky’s in
    several ways — claimed to have the world’s highest-measured IQ, claimed to
    be the most ethical person in the world, claimed to be able to teach people
    to think more “rationally”. Raniere even had a sci-fi connection —
    his “large-group awareness training” outfit (don’t call it a cult
    or we’ll sue!), originally called ESP (Executive Success Program),
    had been inspired (Raniere claimed) by Hari Seldon’s “psychohistory” in
    Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy
    ( )

    Raniere didn’t do the Artifical Intelligence thing (that was a clever
    variation on a theme — very timely, in the mid-90s). Yudkowsky alleged
    that his original inspiration was Vernor Vinge’s True Names ; by the time
    I ran into his self-published “Staring into the Singularity” in 1997
    (written in ’96, when he was 16; no one ever claimed he wasn’t
    precocious) there was a lot of jargon borrowed from Vinge’s
    A Fire Upon the Deep (“High Beyond”, “Powers”, etc.).

    Raniere, instead, followed L. Ron Hubbard’s lead by cozying up to the entertainment
    industry — actors and (primarily) actresses. And before the
    LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training) courses, there was
    MLM (Multi-Level Marketing). If at first you don’t succeed. . .

    But speaking of smart people, I have a friend whom I’ve known for 45 years —
    very smart in his heyday, precocious youngster, trained in physics, sci-fi fan
    (though not so much recent stuff like Gibson, Egan, or Banks) but who
    is also, manifestly, on the Autism Spectrum, considers himself a “libertarian”,
    and — alas — is a fan of SlateStarCodex. Also Quillette. Considers such
    people “independent-minded”. What am I gonna do with him?
    (At least he has no interest in the AI Apocalypse, Yudkowsky, cryonics,
    or the Singularity. But the politics — oy! ;-> )

  23. drew says

    which tells you something about Carlson honesty and neoreactionary pretense

    What that tells me about honesty is that to you it’s a partisan label. I’m no Tucker fan but there’s no evidence here of trying to trick everyone into thinking the guy was a professionally certified and bonded philosopher.

  24. blf says

    drew@25, What is a professionally certified and bonded philosopher? No-one but you has claimed there is such a thing, or that others claim someone is such a thing.

    What that tells me about honesty is that to you it’s a partisan label — indeed, drew, stop using the mirror, stop making stuff up, and stop projecting.

  25. Rob Grigjanis says

    drew @25: I just listened to the first few minutes of the video. A bit after four minutes, Carlson asks Yarvin to comment on something “as a philosopher”.

  26. Owlmirror says

    A bit after four minutes, Carlson asks Yarvin to comment on something “as a philosopher”.

    Ah, but not as a professionally certified and bonded philosopher! There you go!

    Technical truth, the objectively best kind of truth . . . !!

  27. says

    Maybe this interview with the author, Elizabeth Sandifer is enough of a taste to let you know how awful and horrible and inane the whole neoreactionary movement is…

    Thank you for that link. Sandifer is quite funny. I look forward to reading the book.

    This seems like a relevant place to enthusiastically recommend a book from last year – The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by anthropologist David Graeber (who tragically died in 2020 just after the book was finished) and archeologist David Wengrow. It’s like a brain cleanse after the toxic rightwing blather.

    A dramatically new understanding of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution—from the development of agriculture and cities to the origins of the state, democracy, and inequality—and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation.

    For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike—either free and equal innocents, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a conservative reaction to powerful critiques of European society posed by Indigenous observers and intellectuals. Revisiting this encounter has startling implications for how we make sense of human history today, including the origins of farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery, and civilization itself.

    Drawing on pathbreaking research in archaeology and anthropology, the authors show how history becomes a far more interesting place once we learn to throw off our conceptual shackles and perceive what’s really there. If humans did not spend 95 percent of their evolutionary past in tiny bands of hunter-gatherers, what were they doing all that time? If agriculture, and cities, did not mean a plunge into hierarchy and domination, then what kinds of social and economic organization did they lead to? The answers are often unexpected, and suggest that the course of human history may be less set in stone, and more full of playful, hopeful possibilities, than we tend to assume.

    The Dawn of Everything fundamentally transforms our understanding of the human past and offers a path toward imagining new forms of freedom, new ways of organizing society. This is a monumental book of formidable intellectual range, animated by curiosity, moral vision, and a faith in the power of direct action.

    Here’s a discussion about it at LSE covering some of the major points. (I’m not gonna lie, it’s a long book – 700 pages. But it’s not at all laden with academic prose or jargon, and there are rewards on every page.)

    There are so many interesting discussions, but I was particularly taken with the analysis of the Talianki archeological site in contemporary Ukraine and other similar Neolitihic Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements – discussed briefly in the LSE video at about 40 minutes in. These receive relatively little attention in theories of urban development and are referred to as “mega-sites,” which the authors suggest could be the result of an unexamined bias towards hierarchical and centralized social relations. They ask, “Why would we hesitate to dignify such a place with the name of ‘city’?”

  28. says

    SC @29: re: “The Dawn of Everything,” I’m looking over reviews of the book, and so far I find the Wall Street Journal HATES it. So I guess that’s kinda promising…I’m reading the Atlantic’s review now…

  29. says

    And here’s a link to the Guardian review, by David Priestland – “The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wengrow review – inequality is not the price of civilisation”:

    History matters. As we debate statues and slavery and dispute the role of empire, we have become accustomed to constant sparring over the past. But there is one branch of history that has, so far, remained above the fray: the story of our very early past, the “dawn” of humanity. For the anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow, this consensus is a problem. As they argue in this iconoclastic and irreverent book, much of what we think we know of this distant era is actually a myth – indeed it is our origin myth, a modern equivalent of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. At its core is a story of the rise of civilisation and, with it, the rise of the state. Like all origin myths, this narrative has enormous power, and its reach and resilience are preventing us from thinking clearly about our present crises….

  30. Louis says

    Whilst idiocy/stupidity etc are all factors in the neoreactionary movement and various underpinning ideologies, I am very leery of dismissing the prominent proponents as “stupid”. Sure, there are a lot of bad ideas (demonstrably bad based on a lack of supporting/overwhelming contradictory evidence, I mean) floating about in that crowd, and in any large group of people a few utter dim bulbs will persist, but I am not convinced that idiocy is even part of a proximal explanation.

    The usual ignorance of history (and the Doom this causes), a lack of curiosity around the wider subject matter, the happiness and satisfaction of finding ideas that suit one’s own (unexamined) biases, and the emotional resonance obtained when someone hands you a justification for your own bigotry seem to me to be more likely explanations. Why? Because we all suffer, to varying degrees, from these things. No this isn’t “both sides”, it’s a very simple recognition of commonplace cognitive biases that are ever so human.

    In fact, despite obvious examples of stupidity, I think the neoreactionary movement is typified by cunning, clever strategising, and, let me be blunt, outright fucking evil. And I really mean that last one. It’s not for nothing that the Overton window has shifted in very specific directions over the last decade or so. It’s not coincidence (or conspiracy btw) that the same names appear in different parts of the world. It’s deliberate exploitation of people, deliberate manipulation of the media, and very deliberate attempts (often successful) to use any means available to seize power. The similarities between Modi, Orban, Bolsanaro, Trump, Johnson et al (and a large number of their colleagues) are not negligible. Whether or not they are people I like with ideas I like or find supportable (and they really aren’t), “stupid” is not the word that springs to mind.

    Study after study shows the effects of language in popular media, shows how reporting serves the interests of Capital as much as by innocent coincidence as by design, and, when more sinister efforts are made, how people in general can be convinced that their own interests are right to be subsumed by, or subordinate to, the interests of oligarchs of various types. It wasn’t vastly different in the USSR (from my reading), that was just a different type of oligarchy, but an oligarchy nonetheless. Capitalism as currently enacted leads to a corporate kind of oligarchy, communism as it was practised to a bureaucratic kind.

    So why evil as part of a proximate explanation? Well, I think one would have to be exceedingly naïve to describe someone like Boris Johnson (to take one example) as “stupid”. I am certain his privilege and background got him opportunities less privileged and much brighter people didn’t get, but even if he is “stupid” himself (which I doubt), there are a large number of people around him that aren’t. Equally, I find “cults of personality” to be poor explanations, more soap opera and psychodrama than explanation. In a celebrity age, treating politicians as celebrities is a mechanism of letting them off the hook. A piece of evidence: the similar strategies in various nations of running rough shod over political conventions designed, but uncodified, to prevent exactly the sorts of egregious autocratic behaviour that certain of our neoreactionary chums seem hell bent on exhibiting. This has not happened by accident but by design. In the UK at least, Johnson’s illegal prorogation of parliament was met with audible tutting and people questioning whether or not he was a gentleman. Personally, I’d have moved directly to beheading, but then I’m intolerant.

    It was deliberate, a stratagem. A move made after months/years of boiling the frog of the populace with a series of outrages and conventions being evaded/broken. This, combined with observing the feedback from, and reaction to, these violations lead to an understanding of what was tolerable, and what speed further violations could be made at. we are now in a position where we have, in the UK, an essentially invulnerable PM (for now perhaps…). Scandals have hit politicians before, and are this crowd any more venal than previous ones? Arguably not, but they are certainly more brazen, and enabled by a client media. These are not the acts of the stupid. This is calculated, and why I call this evil is because it is not merely done for the usual ideological reasons, but done with the intent to harm others. It’s a feature not a bug. As long as the personal pocket book increases, it’s all good, so far, so standard avarice. However, the current incumbents (home and away) seem interested in smashing and spoiling. Whilst I love a good revolution, me, dismantling the positive aspects of the state knowingly, knowing the harms caused, knowing it is for not just personal gain but also so the “wrong people” suffer is evil. for want of a better word.


  31. says

    SC @32: I’m reading the City Journal review of the book now:

    This review is less positive, and suggests the authors got a lot of things wrong about early history, and about what others have written about same:

    ‘In any case, others have likewise spotted glaring errors in the book. In a review in The Nation, Northwestern University historian Daniel Immerwahr judges the book’s claim that colonial American settlers captured by indigenous people “almost invariably” chose to stay with them to be “ballistically false” and writes that the source Graeber and Wengrow cite “actually argues the opposite.”’

    One might see this book as an imperfect attempt to at least counterbalance a certain technocratic, deterministic, authoritarian reading of history…which isn’t a bad thing. I still at least want ot check out their take on the “indigenous critique” of Western societies.

  32. Rob Grigjanis says

    Louis @33:

    This is calculated, and why I call this evil is because it is not merely done for the usual ideological reasons, but done with the intent to harm others. It’s a feature not a bug.

    I’m reminded of comments made by a New York stockbroker soon after 9/11. He saw the attacks and resultant chaos/upheaval/uncertainty as an “opportunity”.

  33. Rob Grigjanis says

    “He saw the attacks and resultant chaos/upheaval/uncertainty as an “opportunity”.”

    And of course, so did the Bush regime.

  34. Owlmirror says

    The review of The Dawn of Everything from The Nation is:

    And the full context of that “ballistically false” quote:

    Certainly, the part closest to my area of expertise raises questions. In arguing that people hate hierarchies, Graeber and Wengrow twice assert that settlers in the colonial Americas who’d been “captured or adopted” by Indigenous societies “almost invariably” chose to stay with them. By contrast, Indigenous people taken into European societies “almost invariably did just the opposite: either escaping at the earliest opportunity, or—having tried their best to adjust, and ultimately failed—returning to indigenous society to live out their last days.”

    Big if true, as they say, but the claim is ballistically false, and the sole scholarly authority that Graeber and Wengrow cite—a 1977 dissertation—actually argues the opposite. “Persons of all races and cultural backgrounds reacted to captivity in much the same way” is its thesis; generally, young children assimilated into their new culture and older captives didn’t. Many captured settlers returned, including the frontiersman Daniel Boone, the Puritan minister John Williams, and the author Mary Rowlandson. And there’s a long history of Native people attending settler schools, befriending or marrying whites, and adopting European religious practices. Such choices were surely shaped by colonialism, but to deny they were ever made is absurd.

  35. says

    Raging Bee @ #34:

    This review is less positive

    Good grief, that review (by some guy who otherwise likes to write about the alleged evils of “cancel culture,” which should make his stance fairly clear if it didn’t already come through in the review). I’m only a portion of the way through, and it’s already annoying:

    …Much of this story, the authors write, stems from a book titled Hierarchy in The Forest by the renowned anthropologist Christopher Boehm….

    It seems that Graeber and Wengrow mischaracterized Boehm’s claim, and then spent a large portion of the book arguing against their own mischaracterization….

    WTAF? Even setting aside his characterization of the relationship between the two claims, the basic assertion here is bizarre. As should be clear from even the short descriptions in my posts above, they discuss in great detail the origins of this narrative in the Enlightenment era, and provide countless examples of it from then on; it’s simply ridiculous to suggest that they write that “much of this story…stems from” a book published in 1999 – I don’t even remember the discussion of Boehm in the book.

    …OK, I’ve now skimmed the rest of the review, and it amounts to a political sneer at the authors from the right peppered with large mischaracterizations of the work as a whole and just sloppy argumentation. He sets up straw man after straw man.

    and suggests the authors got a lot of things wrong about early history, and about what others have written about same:…

    It suggests that but provides a single supposed example (for the record, the sentence he partially quotes actually begins “The colonial history of North and South America is full of accounts of settlers…,” and is meant to contrast with reports of indigenous captives who they claim were far more likely to wish to return to their societies). It’s quite possible that they’ve exaggerated or incorrectly interpreted this 1977 dissertation on this point on page 19 of a 700-page book, but this isn’t even directly related to their thesis. (I’m not convinced Immerwahr establishes his strong claim here, either.)

    I’ll note that Henderson in the CJ review quotes Immerwahr but doesn’t link to his review in the Nation, which would have been easy enough to do and is basic good practice. I have my suspicions as to why he didn’t link to a leftwing review, aside from this sole example for his claim that “others have likewise [LOL] spotted glaring errors in the book” being the only example of an alleged “glaring error” Immerwahr provides as well. Here’s that review. Now, I have some significant problems with some aspects of Immerwahr’s review, but I think it’s a relatively thoughtful piece that at least attempts to engage with the book and is worth reading.

    One might see this book as an imperfect attempt to at least counterbalance a certain technocratic, deterministic, authoritarian reading of history…which isn’t a bad thing.

    Well, the best we can hope for are imperfect attempts at anything. But in my judgment – as someone who’s actually read the book and not just a few reviews – it’s a very solid effort. Obviously, nothing should be read uncritically, but, again, I can recommend it enthusiastically.

    I still at least want ot check out their take on the “indigenous critique” of Western societies.


  36. James Fehlinger says

    In fact, despite obvious examples of stupidity, I think the
    neoreactionary movement is typified by cunning, clever strategising, and,
    let me be blunt, outright fucking evil.

    The leaders:

    On Narcissists and Narcissism (Sam Vaknin on Exist Real in NAVSOS, Worthing UK)


    There is a common misconception about narcissists. They tend to be demonized;
    they tend to be thought of as “evil”. Narcissists are not evil.
    You can’t be evil if you don’t care about people. You can’t be evil if
    you don’t perceive people as full-fledged three-dimensional entities, but
    you perceive them as cardboard cutouts, or as internal objects — so, you can’t
    really be evil. Evil implies intent; evil implies premeditation. Evil implies
    that you care about the responses of your victims — these responses gratify
    you, or like in sadism, yes? Sadists are evil, because pain — the pain of their
    victims gratifies them, gives them pleasure. But narcissists are none of the
    above. Narcissists don’t care. They are utterly indifferent. They are more
    akin to viruses, or predators — natural predators. They abuse — because —
    they abuse. They don’t seek… They don’t derive pleasure from abusing other
    people. They don’t derive any satisfaction or gratification from the
    reactions of their victims. They don’t pursue evil or malevolent strategies
    because they lead somewhere, because they lead to any emotional… They simply
    do what they do. It so happens that what they do is very painful to people
    around them. It so happens that what they do can damage people around them —
    compromise their interests, affect their health, ruin their psychological
    well-being, I mean — it so happens. But — it so happens. It’s a byproduct.
    Perhaps this is the most horrifying thing about narcissists. Because, you see,
    psychopaths, for example — you can understand psychopaths. Because every one
    of us is a mini-psychopath. You can understand psychopaths. They want money.
    They want sex. They want power. Only, they want it so badly that they will
    literally kill for it. So, OK, they are — psychopaths are exaggerated versions
    of ourselves. We have something in common with psychopaths. We all want
    money. We all want sex. We all want power. We can understand them. We
    think that their methods are, you know, reprehensible, socially unacceptable,
    but we still understand them. But how can you understand a narcissist?
    No one has anything in common with a narcissist, because narcissists would
    do the same as a psychopath — they would kill, abuse, extort, threaten,
    and everything; but they would do it utterly offhandedly. Utterly indifferently.
    Utterly like you are not there, like you don’t exist at all. Like you are
    a speck of dust that has to be brushed off. And I think this is far more
    terrifying than the most terrifying psychopath. Because I can understand
    the most terrifying psychopath. He comes here, he says “I want your money or
    I’ll kill you.” I understand that. He’s human. Psychopaths are human —
    exaggerated humans. Narcissists are not human. They are not human. The lack
    of empathy is so deep, and their inability to perceive other people as people
    is so extreme that, as I keep saying, they are a different species.
    They are predators in the true sense of the word. They consume other people.
    Devour them. Reduce them to writhing shells. Like, absent-mindedly.
    As some kind of effluence, some kind of byproduct of an industrial process.
    And that is utterly terrifying.

    The followers:

    “The history of philosophy is to a great extent
    that of a certain clash of human temperaments. . .
    Temperament is no conventionally recognized reason,
    so [a philosopher] urges impersonal
    reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament
    really gives him a stronger bias than any of his
    more strictly objective premises. . . He trusts his
    temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he
    believes in any representation of the universe that does
    suit it. He feels men of opposite temper to be out of key
    with the world’s character, . . . incompetent and
    ‘not in it,’ in the philosophic business. . .

    Now the particular difference of temperament that
    I have in mind. . . is one
    that has counted in literature, art, government,
    and manners as well as in philosophy. In manners
    we find formalists and free-and-easy persons.
    In government, authoritarians and anarchists. In
    literature, purists or academicals, and realists.
    In art, classics and romantics. . . [I]n philosophy we
    have a very similar contrast expressed in the pair
    of terms ‘rationalist’ and ’empiricist,’
    ’empiricist’ meaning your lover of facts in all
    their crude variety, ‘rationalist’ meaning your
    devotee to abstract and eternal principles. No one
    can live an hour without both facts and principles,
    so it is a difference rather of emphasis; yet it
    breeds antipathies of the most pungent character
    between those who lay the emphasis differently. . .”

    — William James, Pragmatism (1907)
    Lecture 1, “The Present Dilemma in Philosophy”

    “The Truth: what a perfect idol of the rationalistic mind!
    I read in an old letter — from a gifted friend who died too
    young — these words: ‘In everything, in science, art, morals
    and religion, there must be one system that is right and
    every other wrong.’ How characteristic of the enthusiasm
    of a certain stage of youth! At twenty-one we rise to such a
    challenge and expect to find the system. It never occurs to
    most of us even later that the question ‘what is the truth?’ is
    no real question (being irrelative to all conditions) and that
    the whole notion of the truth is an abstraction from the
    fact of truths in the plural, a mere useful summarizing phrase
    like the Latin Language or the Law.”

    — William James, Pragmatism (1907)
    Lecture 7, “Pragmatism and Humanism”
    (via )
    Reaction as a Return to Natural Order
    Posted on June 10, 2013 by Michael Anissimov

    From Julius Evola, Men Among the Ruins (1953):

    . . .

    The Reaction is. . . about. . . offering positive
    principles for stability and civilizational
    success — . . . traditional principles of hierarchy and authority,
    which foster order. . . Leaders that lead, instead
    of simply following popular opinion. The whole idea is remarkably
    simple, and stood on its own for thousands of years without being
    contrasted with anything else except chaos and anarchy.
    Space Seed
    Stardate: 3141.9
    Original Airdate: Feb 16, 1967

    SPOCK: There was the war to end tyranny. Many considered that a noble effort.

    KHAN NOONIEN SINGH: Tyranny, sir? Or an attempt to unify humanity?

    SPOCK: Unify, sir? Like a team of animals under one whip?

    KHAN: I know something of those years. Remember, it was a time of
    great dreams, of great aspiration.

    SPOCK: Under dozens of petty dictatorships.

    KHAN: One man would have ruled eventually. As Rome under Caesar.
    Think of its accomplishments.

    SPOCK: Then your sympathies were with. . .

    KHAN [pounding on table]: We offered the world order!!

    Also: salvation from malevolent Artificial Superintelligence
    and out-of-control molecular nanotechnology (“grey goo”).


  37. says

    There’s also sort of a double-feature review of the book, in something called the Monthly Review:

    This is two reviews, one by Chris Knight, the other by Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale. The latter talks about recent advances in anthropology in detail, and concludes:

    In sum, the work of scholars in many fields makes it possible to put forward a coherent picture of a human adaption to a particular ecological niche evolved over two million years and led to the emergence of humans some 200,000 years ago. Yet apart from brief disagreements with Sarah Hrdy and Christopher Boehm, Graeber and Wengrow deal with this impressive range of new material by ignoring it.

    And a little later:

    The transformation from equality to hierarchy, and from gender equality to marked gender inequality, is generally associated with farming, and this presents Graeber and Wengrow with considerable problems. Because of their interest in choice, they seem determined to avoid materialist arguments or consider the ways the environment conditions and limits the choices people have.

    And in conclusion:

    Graeber and Wengrow are angry. There is an energy in this anger which will please readers, like ourselves, who despair at global inequality, hate the politics of the global elite and are fearful of climate chaos.

    In many ways their book is a howling wind of fresh air. And we share their hostility to all existing states. But going forward, in order to halt climate change, we need an understanding of the human condition that includes the central importance of class and the environment.

  38. says

    You can’t be evil if you don’t care about people. You can’t be evil if
    you don’t perceive people as full-fledged three-dimensional entities, but
    you perceive them as cardboard cutouts, or as internal objects…

    Actually, not caring about people (the ones you know to be real at least) is evil. So is choosing to treat them as cutouts or objects. So is knowing they have needs, interests and rights, and choosing to act in disregard for same. And no, you don’t have to care about others to be evil — indifference is also evil.

  39. Louis says

    #39 and #41 I don’t believe all these people are merely indifferent. As you say, Raging Bee, indifference is also evil. It might be a bit Catholic, but indifference is an evil of omission, whereas acts of conscious harm are evils of commission. I am happy that the indifferent (narcissistic, per James Fehlinger’s description) exist and are a factor, but it’s, IMO, undeniable that given the choices and rhetoric of Johnson, for example, that it’s not merely indifference that is factored into policy decisions. There is a desire to compel, to punish, to harm that is derived from aspects of the conservative (small c) ideology he espouses.

    “Let the bodies pile up in their thousands” is not merely indifferent (for example)


  40. says

    Raging Bee @ #40:

    There’s also sort of a double-feature review of the book, in something called the Monthly Review:…

    I’ll note that the Monthly Review is a Marxist publication, edited by John Bellamy Foster (whose take on the Russian invasion of Ukraine is shameful, incidentally). Obviously this doesn’t mean a Marxist review of the book can be discounted out of hand, but like the capitalist ideologues they have a vested interest in propping up the materialist narrative challenged by Graeber and Wengrow.

    In any case, I’ve just started reading it and…whoa:

    It may seem paradoxical for an anarchist–of all people–to accept the inevitability of the state. But this book adds weight to that message. Yes, say the authors, anarchist freedom can be implemented, but only in precious moments or enclaves. So much for the revolutionary slogan that “another world is possible”. Instead, Graeber and David Wengrow contend that “hierarchy and equality tend to emerge together, as complements to one another”. They seem to be saying that we cannot have freedom in one place without accepting oppression somewhere else.

    The authors are uncomfortable with Darwin’s theory of natural selection, conflating modern evolutionary theory with “social evolutionism”–the narrative of a ladder of stages progressing from “savagery” through “barbarism” to “civilization.” Modern evolutionary theory claims to be scientific, we are told, but in reality is pure myth. Quixotically, Graeber and Wengrow expect readers to give serious consideration to a perspective on human origins that doesn’t acknowledge evolutionary theory at all.

    These are bizarre paragraphs, diametrically opposed to the book’s content. Like, I have no idea what they’re talking about here – this is a complete misrepresentation of the book.

    I might have more to say when I’ve finished reading it, but I’m not sure why you’re so insistent on finding random critical reviews and presenting them without context. I’m not going to reply to any more.

  41. says

    Obviously this doesn’t mean a Marxist review of the book can be discounted out of hand…

    Turns out I could have dismissed these out of hand. :) The first remains as weird as those paragraphs above. I’m honestly not sure they read the book.

    The second is…slightly better. But essentially what they do is push the bog-standard materialist line while claiming that their version is somehow new and sophisticated.

    Agriculture was invented independently in many places in the world, beginning about 12,000 years ago. Hunter-gatherers shared their food, and no one could own more than they could carry. But farmers settled and became invested in their fields and crops. This created a potential for some people to seize more than their share of the food.

    Over time, groups of thugs and bullies could come together and become lords….

    They present this like it’s a rebuttal to G&W. This is exactly the sort of narrative the book spends hundreds of pages hammering away at, FFS.

    And they repeatedly suggest – there are almost no quotes from the book itself – that Graeber and Wengrow hold positions they don’t.

    They reject arguments that there are environmental and technical limits to the choices people can and do make. For them, in short, people make history in circumstances of their own choosing.

    This is false. They also claim that the authors ignore work that they in fact discuss extensively and often admiringly. The whole thing strikes me as intellectually dishonest and slipshod. I think I’m especially annoyed about it because I share some of their criticisms at a broad level. I think the book is insufficiently attentive to feminist scholarship, but they don’t make a strong case for how that complicates or intersects with their argument. My major criticism of the book is its insistence on pointing to features of our species that are allegedly unique and “make us human,” defining humans against other animals; but not only does the review not improve on this lazy trope, it tries to give it a scientific veneer:

    Boehm argues that the equality and sharing among hunter and gatherer bands was culturally and consciously achieved.

    He says that we retain our ape heritage which encourages us to submit, to compete and to dominate. But for humans to survive we had to agree consciously together to repress the jealousy, aggression and selfishness which welled up in us, and we had to repress selfishness in others.

    Boehm’s ideas are now widely accepted….

    Our “ape heritage.” Our repressed animal instincts. Gah.

  42. says

    Oh, I forgot – from the conclusion of the second review (and quoted above):

    Graeber and Wengrow are angry.

    This is also weird. Neither in their personal demeanor nor in the pages of the book do they come across as angry. Passionate, exuberant, critical, yes, but the tone of the book isn’t angry at all. These reviews are so odd!

  43. says

    Graeber and Wengrow discuss Boehm’s work fairly briefly (mostly on pp. 86-7). As far as I can tell they engage with it in its complexity and don’t misrepresent it at all. Basically, their contention is that Boehm doesn’t appreciate the full implications of his argument and falls too readily into a Rousseauian framework. The claim that they “mischaracterized Boehm’s claim, and then spent a large portion of the book arguing against their own mischaracterization” is patently false. They spend little time on his work, and are far more approving of it than I am.

  44. James Fehlinger says

    Actually, not caring about people. . . is evil.

    Speaking of “evil”, I’m reminded of a book I read when it came out
    almost 15 years ago (2007):

    Barbara Oakley, Evil Genes — Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose,
    Enron Fell, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend

    I just stumbled across a lecture by the author from the year after
    the book was published:

    Some People Really Are Born to Be Bad: Scientific Research, Family History (2008)

    Jan 31, 2018
    The Film Archives

    Evil Genes is a book by Barbara Oakley, a systems engineer, about the
    neurological and social factors contributing to chronic antisocial behavior.
    The text was published on October 31, 2007 by Prometheus Books.

    Another book about “evil” I alluded to in a couple of comments I left
    on another blog from back in the day:

    . . .not just those bullies who bark to distract from their
    wee willies. . .

    Of course, this is a characterization of bullies that
    prepetuates the (increasingly discredited, one gathers)
    notion that bullies are that way because they’re really
    suffering from low self-esteem.

    Roy Baumeister (author of Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty )
    is one of the contemporary psychologists who now suggest
    that bullies in fact have (as common sense might lead one to
    expect) exceedingly high self-esteem. Their willies are
    in fact bigger than yours, and they bully because they can
    (and they’re entitled because of their big willies, big
    muscles, big brains, big mouths, and other personal advantages).

    Challenge or expose their narcissism for what it is, though,
    and you’d better run for the hills Mr. McCoy, because
    Mr. Hatfield wants your willy for the pickle barrel.
    In the concluding chapter of that book, Baumeister lists four
    major root causes of evil:

    Simple desire for material gain — money and power.

    *2. Threatened egotism. “Villains, bullies, criminals,
    killers, and other evildoers have high self-esteem, contrary to
    the comfortable fiction that has recently spread through
    American culture. Violence results when a person’s favorable
    image of self is questioned or impugned by someone else.”

    *3. Idealism. “When people believe firmly that they are on
    the side of the good and are working to make the world a better
    place, they often feel justified in using strong measures against
    the seemingly evil forces that oppose them.”

    Sadistic pleasure. “This root is responsible for a much
    smaller proportion of the world’s evil than the others. . .
    Moreover, sadism appears to be an acquired taste.”

    #2 and #3 above are what you have to fear from narcissists (#3 applies
    because narcissism can easily assume the form of grandiose
    pretensions to both the desire and the ability to “save the world”).

  45. James Fehlinger says

    BTW, the thumbnail image for that Barbara Oakley YouTube video is a photo
    of a young, handsome, and deceptively innocent-eyed Josef Stalin.

    I knew I’d seen that picture before somewhere, but it took me a while
    to identify it.