I’m still sorting through the many comments I got on the Anti-Reactionary FAQ. Many of the criticisms were excellent. I would like to update the FAQ to reflect them eventually, but that would be a never-ending process, and disrupt some people’s project of creating a counter-FAQ – it’s harder to hit a moving target. But I want to respond to a few broad categories quickly, especially since they may help reveal more of a coherent picture than the question-by-question style of the FAQ.
I’m not mentioning major factual errors here. Some people pointed out a few good ones – for example, the text of the Cyrus Cylinder I used seems to derive from a 19th century forgery. These have already been corrected where they occurred.
I. Fifty Year Trends
One of the better critiques is that I focus too much on fifty-or-so-year trends – which often show improvement in key social indicators – rather than comparing our own society to preindustrial village society. This is an important point, because I’ve been accused of confusing Reactionaries and garden-variety conservatives before, and go-back-thirty-years versus go-back-to-preindustrial-villages seems like part of that distinction.
My defense is that a lot of Reactionaries have made the claim that fifty years ago was better than today, and the counterclaim is worth defending (it’s also highly relevant for whether our civilization is on the verge of imminent collapse). Still, I accept the point that, even though divorce, suicide and crime rates are declining at present, they’re probably much higher than in 1100s rural Austria or whatever.
This raises a key question that was too broad (and which I understood too late) to get in the FAQ. If these social indicators got worse from 1100 to now, but have been getting better for the past thirty years since good statistics are available, at what point did the trends change direction? And why?
Let me ask a stronger version of that question: between about the sixties and the eighties, crime, divorce, suicide, abortion, promiscuity, drug use, STDs, and unhappiness were all trending upwards. Between the eighties and the present, all of those things have been trending downwards. Why?
I have seen very little discussion of such an important question. Probably the best research on this question has been that linking lead to crime rate. Lead is known to decrease intelligence and increase impulsivity, and its levels peaked and then declined at about the right time. Some research has tried to link lead to teen pregnancy as well. It could conceivably hold for all the indicators involved except for divorce rates (which hit at the wrong time). Other research suggests the baby boom (more concentrated youth creates a “youth culture” that promotes rebellion), the explosive increase in the drug scene around the 60s, or some kind of disruption to norms about sex and the family caused by the availability of STD-curing antibiotics and easy contraception.
Whatever the reason, it seems like if the current trend is down, we should panic before it destroys us all; but if the current trend is up, one can argue things are already improving, we’re doing something right, and we shouldn’t jinx it.
II. The Upper Class/Underclass Gap
Some people criticized my defense of modern sexual norms by saying I was putting too much emphasis on how they have worked pretty well for upper-class suburban whites, but am failing to consider the dysfunctionality of modern culture among lower-class urbanites and the uneducated.
I agree that problems with divorce, out-of-wedlock birth, STDs, et cetera are worse among lower class and uneducated people.
Assuming we want to correct that by enforcing some kind of value system on them, we have two models. Number one, the value system of 1100s rural Austria. Number two, the value system of the wealthy people in the suburbs just down the street.
1100s rural Austria had a lot of things going for it in terms of enforcement of sexual norms. Due to land inheritance and dowries, parents had extremely strong control over their children’s future and disinheritance was nearly a death sentence. There were no drugs besides alcohol, no contraception or abortion to save you if you slipped up, and no penicillin to cure any STDs you might catch. People of all ages worked all day, and although work was broken by festivals these were community gatherings rather than “idle time”. There were no TV shows or novels, and people were socialized mostly at church. But probably the most important thing was that reputation was almost inescapable – most people spent their entire lives in the same small village interacting with the same small group of people.
It’s hard to see how to export that kind of environment to the modern underclass. Pol Pot tried something like it, but it didn’t go very well. That leaves the upper-class people down the street who are doing pretty well in exactly the same technological environment. Can we export their values?
It’s possible the answer is no. It’s possible that progressive values are the sort of thing high-IQ, low-impulsivity people are naturally good at, but which low-IQ, high-impulsivity people naturally fail. But two thoughts on that.
First, IQ and impulsivity are not absolutely fixed. I am the furthest thing from one of those wishy-washy people who say everything is socially determined, but even within most things being biologically determined there is a lot of wiggle room. The iodization of salt and the banning of lead have cut a big chunk into the rich-poor IQ/impulsivity gaps already. There’s a lot more room to improve these kinds of factors, and a lot of progressive programs are trying to do exactly that. As technology increases, we’ll hopefully be able to do more. It’s worth noting that poor kids are the only ones still exposed to a lot of lead – perhaps that has something to do with it?
But second, the same values that work so well for upper-class people might also work well for lower-class people, if only they had them. This is one reason I included 18.104.22.168.1 in the FAQ (the other was because it’s a cool number). Many people criticized me for calling some lower-class values ‘reactionary’, as if I was just playing with definitions. But a corollary of that might be that if progressive values work for the upper-class, maybe they would work for the lower-class as well if only they would adopt them.
Here’s where I’m coming from. Suppose that culture experienced a technological/economic shock with the Industrial Revolution and Demographic Transition. This somehow caused the rise in divorce, suicide, drug use, et cetera from the 60s to 80s cited above. Gradually, the shock wore off and everyone started to adjust. They developed new values and institutions that contained the damage and operated well in the new conditions. The gradual development spread of these new norms caused the decrease in all those social ills noted from the 80s to the present.
The upper classes are “early adopters” in terms of technological and material change. They’re going to be the first people trying contraception, the first people trying new fancy leaded gasoline, the first people sending their daughters off to college.
The lower classes are late adopters. They’re going to go through the same thing the upper classes did, but they’re going to be time-delayed. If this is true, they’re going to have to learn the same things the upper classes did about the new norms and institutions, at which point they, like the upper classes, will reverse the negative trends and start a positive trend.
Right now the lower class is kind of time-frozen, because the natural upward trend of real wages has been arrested for the past few decades and I expect values change to be closely associated with change in material conditions. I would expect if real wages continued to increase, then the lower class would gradually undergo the same kind of institutional changes the upper class went through, adjust to their new conditions, and end up with the same progressive values as the upper class.
Or maybe I’m totally wrong. But it seems making the New Orleans ghetto like the Boston suburbs should in any case be easier than making the New Orleans ghetto like an 11th century Austrian rural village. I haven’t even heard good plans about how to do the latter. All I’ve heard is “let’s put a king in charge”. As if system of government had anything more to do with 11th century Austrian purity norms than speaking Middle High German did.
III. Sluttiness and Consequentialism
I got a lot of flak over these two sentences: “Contraception prevents out of wedlock births. Protection and antibiotics prevent STDs. So the old reasons [for disapproving of sluttiness] no longer hold.”
The flak was mostly for saying contraception preventing out-of-wedlock births and STDs, when in fact there are still a lot of both around, and out-of-wedlock births are at historically high levels. Many people brought up point II above – that these problems have only been “solved” for upper-class suburban elites.
First a boring objection. Statistics on out-of-wedlock births include both unintentional pregnancies and happily cohabiting couples deciding to have children. Unintentional pregnancies alone are harder to measure, but seem to follow the declining-since-1980s trend mentioned above. Most STDs do as well. It depends on exactly which disease you pick – syphilis is at historic lows, but chlamydia is a growing problem.
But to me the more important objection is that even if true, this isn’t Reactionaries’ real objection. There is a serious debate going on in the Reactosphere about whether a self-respecting man can marry a slut. If the above were the Reactionaries’ real objection, the answer should be obvious – ask her if she has any illegitimate kids, ask her to take an STD test (as a gentleman, you can offer to take one yourself as well), and then if she has no kids or STDs, no problem.
Given that this obvious solution hasn’t caught on, I’m going to continue thinking Reactionaries’ problems with sluttiness transcend the possibility of kids and STDs, and my argument in 5.1.1 holds.
IV. Equality of Opportunity vs. Equality of Results
Before complaining about this part, please read at least the first half of Social Justice For The Highly Demanding of Rigor.
V. Tone Arguments
Not intentional! Or rather, the only instances of snarkyness or meanness that were intentional were the sentence at the bottom of 1.1 and the entirety of 5.7. Konkvistador recommended comparing this to my non-libertarian FAQ and I agree. I just have a hard time writing about things without making wisecracks. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
I only write these sorts of things about philosophies I have a lot of respect for. I have never written an anti-creationist FAQ or anti-homeopathy FAQ. I have strong libertarian sympathies and I have strong reactionary sympathies, and that is the main reason I get very annoyed when I hear people I otherwise sympathize with saying things I think are dumb and going what I feel is too far. I thought I made this clear in Section 6.1.
VI. The Cathedral
I keep being accused of not knowing what the Cathedral is. Perhaps these accusations are true. I will admit that the offhanded references to “Ivy League professors meeting under the full moon” are snark (see above), but perhaps even when I try to be serious I don’t get it quite right.
But let me try to sidestep that critique by pointing out a serious flaw in the Moldbug post that inspired the entire Cathedral concept.
Moldbug notes that there are three reasons for agreement. One, everyone agrees because they are being forced to agree – for example, the Spanish Inquisition rooting out heretics. Two, everyone agrees because the truth is obvious – for example, people agreeing the sky is blue. Three, everyone agrees because of a self-organizing consensus of social norms – for example, women going around topless in public is unacceptable in Western society.
He asks why there is so much agreement among Ivy League colleges on their particular brand of liberalism. He throws out the first possibility – there is no obvious Inquisition. He throws out the second, because he says the sheer degree of their agreement is implausible – honest truth-seekers sometimes differ, but there is minimal difference between for example Harvard and Yale’s African Studies department. This leaves the third possibility, which he calls the Cathedral:
In a [society with true intellectual freedom], for example, we should see intellectual inhomogeneities between competing institutions. Harvard and Yale should mostly agree, because reality is one thing. So should the New York Times and the Washington Post. But there will always be sclerosis, stagnation, drift. Competition, not just among ideas but among institutions, is essential to the Popperian ideal. We should see these institutions drift away from reality. And we should see the marketplace of ideas punish them when they do, and reward those which do not.
Do you see this? Because I sure don’t. What I see is a synopsis.
From my perspective, not just Harvard and Yale, but in fact all major American universities in the Western world, offer exactly the same intellectual product. Which institution is more to the left, for example? Harvard, or Yale? You can pick any two mainstream universities, and you will not be able to answer this question. It’s a sort of intellectual peloton.
This seemed suspicious ever since I first read it, and I’ve since placed my finger on exactly why.
What percent of Harvard professors do you think prefer wine to beer? What about Yale professors? Now what about Columbia professors?
I don’t have a clue what the actual numbers are, but I bet all three colleges are within a few percentage points of each other. Why? Because large samples drawn randomly from the same population tend to converge.
Moldbug’s point makes sense only if there is a single top-down authority deciding on the politics of Harvard, and then another deciding for Yale, and then a third deciding for Columbia. But if the schools are just selecting professors based on number of publications or something, then the differences in individual professors’ opinions will be drowned out by the Law of Large Numbers, and we would expect the “consensus position” of each school, insofar as one exists, to be similar.
Why is the distribution of professors drawn from so liberal to begin with? This is another one of those things we have data about.