We have never been neoliberals

Standard economics is denounced as a political program in disguise; and one that both implies and requires a greedy individualistic outlook on social life. The former may as well be true, insofar economic policies can be neatly divided between those that assume standard economics and those (mostly in third world shitholes) that reject it. But the latter is wrong.

An Econ 101 class will teach you that the field is divided in two more or less independent disciplines, Macro and Microeconomics. The object of Macro is ultimately the Dasein of social life as bounded by the reach of policy. It speaks in moods and fears. As a theory, it’s pretty much the primus inter pares of systems theory; it encompasses everything from mineralogy to demography as stylized feedback loops that actually explain the world. On the other hand, micro as a theory says nothing about individuals at all; it speaks in choice structures that (in the version taught in undergrad) are reconciled by an Auctioneer (in Lacan-speak, the point de capiton; in Deleuze-speak, the Virtual). Nothing about this rejects inconsistent decision-making or even multiple personalities. If I’m different persons when drunk or sober, manic or depressive — I’m still selling my time and buying consumer goods, albeit at possibly highly unequal rates.

Indeed, read correctly, the technical lemmata of micro-level theory that prove the inconsistency of aggregate demand and choice (in stark contrast to the non fingo attitude of macroeconomics toward these things) also pose hard constraints on the possibility of individuation itself. The political program of neoliberalism is distinguished from nationalistic, class-interest or otherwise collectivistic programs because it claims that the smallest minority is the individual. But this is actually false: if I’m one person at work, one person as a parent, one person when drunk and one person when manic, guess what: boom, Arrow’s impossibility theorem applies. There’s no I there that can vote. May I insist, this follows straightforwardly from how micro theory understands choice (101 textbooks say “agents”, not “people”; and a deep dive will reveal that what is rigorously meant is agencies), and from the axioms in Arrow’s theorem.

This is what grand axiology does (in this case, an axiology built around the concept of choice, which is probably not fully general): it “de-necessitates” it’s supposed causability chains (sovereign individuality, and worse yet, “rational” choice — a word improperly confused with Enlightenment ideals). Now: micro theory at one point in the 1920s was being used to argue that scientific socialist planning was indeed possible if we could only have means to simulate the secret sauce of market economics. This didn’t pan out (as the more reasonable linear programming project of Kantorovich also didn’t back in the USSR); but did neoliberalism? For a couple of glorious years, even Byte magazine explained that on the Internet one has countless personas, but this, too, didn’t last for long. As it turns out, most people seem to value greatly a kind of continuity between their offline “persona” and their online presence; and more generally a continuity between a group-belonging that warrants their values and the truth of their morality.

Of course: neoliberalism was also a power grab. But so was 20th-century unionism. From a tentative (but frail and not fully thought out) higher-axiology vantage point, it would seem that these press the question of how you, the reader, should value yourself more: as consumer or as worker. In each case, the power grab is enabled by the kind of power it gives you. But neoliberalism (and this is counteracted somewhat by other forces allied to the neoliberal movement, such as cultural and religious conservatism) seems to offer the power to shatter the mirror that produces the illusion of a cohesive identity. You don’t go to the market and say “as a philosopher I want these shoes; as a scientist I want this cutler set whose heft feels like a restaurant’s”. Something disorganized in you wants them. This is also, of course, why drugs disseminate in common circles: you no longer have to be a decadent poet to acquire, as such, some opium.

A Freudian would, at this point, conclude that neoliberal consumerism produces a psychological regression to toddlerhood, but this smuggles strange, alienated-adult values into the word “regression”. Consumerism does seem to heighten (here I’m resorting more to my experience, but you’ll validate it with yours) immature tendencies: people fight over parking lot spaces at malls, it’s awful. But this isn’t infantilism per se, many kids are nice and cooperative by default.

In contradistinction unionism (or whatever new movement that wants to give you power as an X-type person — yes, much of this applies to McKenosha) appeals to a kind of double adulthood where not only you’re endowed with a mature adult socialization, but also you’re able to see the union as the doubly adult body that regulates its relative infantile parts by binding them to the collective contract.

But there’s different approaches to infantile regression and nested adult/adult infancy hierarchies both. Politically motivated trolls (frogs and clowns and all that) employ utterly childish aesthetics and behavior to question group-inflicted adulthood-structures. Why does Pepe say “lol Hillary” and sides with Trump, and not the opposite? Well, isn’t it pathetic how she had to stand back to give way to Obama and waited patiently for her turn — fairly given to her by the adult-of-adult bodies (the party) and the adult that regulates them (political interests at large in the equilibrium producing the stable party)? Trump, on the other hand, launches his entire political career babbling like a toddler about Mexican rapists, but ten days later decides (in a sudden moment of insight while eating faux-Mexican food) he loves them. But Trump (to trust most of my American friends, about 3/4 of them) is no toddler — no toddler can be evil.

As for the nested adulthood structure where the group is the adult that regulates its children… isn’t this how the hierarchy (maybe even the lattice/poset) of larger and smaller axiologies works? In general axiology we’re maximally mature and agree on the most important and generic issues of theory and praxis. Of course, the “trick” here is that, while we’re promised “infinite power” in general axiology, there’s no going up in a corporate ladder, no gradual acquisition of power (that both implies and requires power grabs elsewhere). This is why a toddler-like attitude may be required to explore systems of value and valuable means to acquire them: a refusal of adulthood as submission to the higher adulthood of groups, but rather an experimental and naive (even if deadly serious, as children often are in their games of imagination) openness to the Situation.

On a personal note, this is also why I (despite all my conservative adult instincts) remain a revolutionary, and theory remains a revolutionary project.

Elitism

I.

The outstanding problem of civilization is the hoi polloi. As many other matters that interest us, civilization is an axiological affair. It affirms that certain things are valuable (for example, science) and exposes the valuable means (scientific method) of producing valuable things (scientific works). But (again, for example) science is not locum suum: it must be produced somewhere and by something. The alchemy of systems theory is that these are described as the same process and the same thing. But this only dislocates the problem of material causability to the setting (both more abstract and more concrete) where it interacts with the general conditions that make it causable. It is in this setting that the hoi polloi appears as an axiological concern: not everyone who shares in the higher-level axiologies (that produce the quability conditions of science) is able to understand science. The higher-level axiologies are quability conditions on the higher-level chrematistics: no science, no antibiotics. But what links one and the other is obscure, and quability needs to deploy a whole lot of obscurantism (priestly robes, institutions) to keep chrematistics working. All of this is true of art, religion, philosophy, museums.

All of this is also neatly genericizable. Systems theory exposes the quability conditions on quability conditions, generically. For in every example referred or alluded to above, systems theory enables the “switcheroo” between (force of) causability and (constraints on) quability. This does not solve the problem of the hoi polloi at all, but it hints at the radical transform (the image I want to evoke is the Laplace transform, but maybe the best analogy is a change of measure) on actual ongoing affairs that is needed in order for elitism to function. The closest we have to a clear program is: theory is the theory of generic structure. But to become operational, theory must present the technical means for reparameterizing (much like the Laplace transform exchanges time for interest rates) the symbolic deadlocks that prevent us from otherwise speaking of values frankly.

If, following standard conservative theory, politics has to do with the edges that separate friend from foe, the symbolic deadlock has to do with political identification. If, as in standard liberal (details vary) theory, politics has to do with the structure that society consents to structure itself, then political identification is universal. Identification is a judgement with subject and object: I judge mr. Moldbug to be somewhat right of center; some may think otherwise. But our basic tools for surving the contractarian crush — experienced firsthand in every country that sees regular regime changes, from France to Brazil — have all to do with the flattening of identification: thus I will claim to be a revolutionary even if my text often has a reactionary mouthfeel. More simply put: to survive the pending contractarian crush, one must harden an identity that spans at least some of your habitual territory. Thereafter the identity does the speaking for us. Of course, this is where they squeeze you for cash: if you’re an American who made a point of prioritizing the melioration of the “Black condition”, then mr. Ibram has got your tongue. Worse yet, if as a first-worlder you’ve had too much of a conscience for the bitter fruit of colonization, you get a deracinated version of American antiracism. This is the point where Edinburgh renames its David Hume college building after possible-overdose-victim George Floyd.

I have nothing to say about a particular incident like this: you already know how to feel. I know how I feel — but that’s not theory. And I’m a theorist; I deal in theory.

II.

“Woke” is fundamentally a feeling. Good old /r/atheism was naive enough to say as much in their “… and in this moment I’m euphoric” declaration. One could add the qualification that the feeling of woke has to do with being euphoric at social injustice (therefore the apparent manifestation of euphoria as rage), but this seems accidental at best. Surely, manifestations of woke that echo the standard Left scenarios will more easily seep through the institutional fabric on which elitism is deployed, but ratheism is counter-evidence to the identification of woke with its overt claims. Remember, ratheists at one point were suing for the material manifestation of their claim to relevance (by removing religious imagery from public buildings). If they did so through the tortuous circuitry of the courts, it’s not because they didn’t feel justified to go ahead and take religious statues down on their own authority; it’s because no one would have their back — not unconditionally. Currently circulating analogies with the Chinese Cultural Revolution feel a little out of context, but do a lot to illustrate the apparently-uncontrollable nature of woke. To me, the CCR is very alien; I understood very little of e.g. Hua Linshan’s autobiography: the mass psychology it depicts is nothing like I’ve had a direct knowledge of. (I understand McKenosha, on the other hand, viscerally so). I have to guess it’d be actually easier to steer woke toward Beijingcore mass-control politics than it would be to have them accept the strange passions of the Cultural Revolution.

If woke is a feeling, how is it steered at all? This is kind of legible in the news itself, isn’t it? Woke confesses itself with passion. It’s easy to see who’s wholeheartedly in its corner and who apologizes for it in less direct ways. Furthermore: Proud Boys (which always sounded like something out of Achewood) aside, the opponents of current woke causes are never themselves woke. Woke is left-leaning due to the institutional engineering that continually tagets it; but then, as mr. Moldbug and many others have amply documented, everything is targeted by the “Ratchet” — the everpresent complex of forces that stretches the span of politics to the left, only and always. To the extent that woke is even noticeable, it must exceed the natural left-drift of constitutional politics. But woke does not read like a conspiracy, at least not in the generic case: it could be that the Biden campaign has (in a strategy that evades my comprehension, but may well give results) fanned the flames of McKenosha, but this does not explain Edinburgh. Nor does it Brazil, where now football broadcasts are preceded by “Ubuntu Football Club” hagiographies of Black guys who were already widely (and correctly) admired. What political goal is addressed by re-presenting the story of Washington and Assis, telepathic non-twins who were crack strikers in the 1980s, as a story of black men under racial injustice?

Here we must again invoke the switcheroo: on the contrary, little is achieved by getting riled up about the “long march through the institutions” and the drip-feed (Brazilians say: drip by drip, soft water can drill holes through hard stone) of woke cultural presure. A causability structure materially enables woke, but we must become able to focus on the system dynamics that enables its quability conditions. After all: if woke was a virus, the task would be to understand contagion and immune response; if it was an earthquake, to map fractures in tectonic sheets and points of possible shock; if it was an alien invader, to learn what are we — what value we have — in their eyes, and how our planet is in the quability conditions for their larger goals. If these alien invaders were anthropomorphic, we would further have to understand how they impact the structure of our desires and fantasies. We might even have to seduce some of them, see what they’re like in the sack.

III.

Talk of “Cultural Revolution” conflates the euphoric energy of the momentarily empowered wokish youth, and the cynical longer-term goals at the top echelons of the Revolution. In other words, it conflates utter axiologic instability, at one level, with the tectonic, thousand-year thinking of the larger axiology. The “cultural revolution” itself was a sudden and short-lived moment of distension, more similar to Woodstock than anything in our peak-historical moment. Unsurprisingly, whatever “woke” does is profoundly unsurprising and derivative of the ec-static 1960s. Likewise, the fact that this utter lack of imagination has some impact at all with the institutions that woke critiques is commonly associated with the presence of once-rebel boomers in decision-making chairs. Therefore Edinburgh University’s attitudes have probably more to do with lingering nostalgia for the Rolling Stones than any learned appreciation of America woke unrest. In other words: Edinburgh falls prey to woke’s utter lack of imagination because of its own utter lack of imagination. This is fundamentally a failure of elites. McKenosha burns simply because rioters haven’t been hit with the water cannons. Mayors and decision-makers and probably a majority of cops regard the riots with deep (sometimes mixed, sometimes not) feelings of wish fulfillment. I mean, the whole thing sucks — capitalism, electoral democracy, everything sucks. It sucked when I was 20 and it still sucks now — but now I’ve had opportunities to make a dent, and have I?

In a previous generation, the name for this utter lack of imagination was “middlebrow”. It was Rachmaninoff over Hindemith, Ravel’s Bolero over Ravel’s La Valse. Carnap and Elliot and Schoenberg were acutely aware of the heavy baggage of civilization (and its constant potential for horror), but were Cronkite, Ginsberg and Hendrix? Middlebrow was an intermediate step in high culture’s loss of meaning; it made the ritual motions (such as piano virtuosity) of high culture but couldn’t see the once-transcendent nature of high culture. Standing on the shoulders of giants was difficult (slippery: ever heard the story where Heidegger becomes a temporary Nazi?) and dizzying; middlebrow is where high culture sits and starts to slip. Of course, culture is a vortex: in the same few decades separating Whitehead and Barry Manilow, jazz emerges from minstrelsy (low-brow humor) to highly abstract art-form. But have current Black mayors and leaders listened carefully to Cecil Taylor’s “Air”? Do they have the necessary wingspan to meaningfully react to repeat scenarios from their own youth?

From this distance, the problem is no longer whether the Cathedral creates woke insurrectionary theater, or whether it leaves the speaking classes at the mercy of random angry youths. It is: how do we establish a valuable structure and produce the valuable means to maintain it? What is the axiological infrastructure needed so that woke ends up doing (even if indirectly and involuntarily) good? What intermediate questions must be addressed by a theory that spans, in this way, the abstract vectors of civilization?

McKenosha

US politics seems now consumed again a modernistic insurrection. Historical (rather than theoretical) postmodernity is a ruling order of depersonalized and delocalized actors connected by (mostly abstract) business transactions. But the interests of business are, contra Marx, most of the time out of sync with each other; the system of global liberalism does not march in lockstep. This renders it fundamentally vulnerable to external synchronizing factors. Synchronization signifies: “fire together, wire together”.

Consider Q, which is to say, Sokal politics rebooted. Sokalian modernity was epitomized by the purity of science, mishandled by sophistic barbarians; Q-modernity is epitomized by the purity of children, menaced by pedophile networks. This is also the case of McKenosha, where Wakanda is destroyed by white supremacy. Of course, “we have never been modern”; the 16- and 17-year olds abused by Epstein have never been children (yet: exploitation of teens by grown adults was, in the past, held in check by sexual repression; the pill ruins everything). Q is validated by the deracinating process of “globalist” politics that joins the Clintons to British royalty both in Pleasure Island and the WTO. In the very same way, McKenosha is validated by the way the urban warfare cookie crumbles.

But pay attention, what matters each time is not the content of their fantasies and goals, but their resonance to ongoing events. Of course, under the regime of peak history, almost every event is ongoing; the count of finished or future events is exceedingly small. To single out police violence (or the discovery of lolita sex slaves; or whatever else) risks endorsing the very availability-heuristics that blinds and/or favors the resonance of Q or McKenosha. Theory is drowned by the deafening beat of these threads — themselves out of sync with each other, save for the quilting point that synchronizes and signifies them: Trump.

Still, the resonance to their resonance is strange and invites scrutiny. American-style antiracism goes global; if you, in Croatia or Guatemala, didn’t know quite for sure who were your local elites, you can tell by their stilted FIFA-style locution on this matter. This is even stranger in places like Brazil which have their own (close to orthogonal to the US configuration) issues that don’t naturally fit the Nike/BLM mold. McKenosha is synchronized by law enforcement excess, and social engineering agencies throughout the world are synchronized by McKenosha. In two years more, racial exploitation in Brazil will have been fully erased by a poor dublagem of its Hollywood counterpart. How can Zumbi, the slave-owning Black king of the Palmares rebellion, ever compete with Black Panther? Wakanda further erases recent ethnic cleansing in Africa, Tutsis, pygmies. American culture seems to binge-eat on modernity and excrete baudrillardian postmodern simulacra.

On the other hand, Q also seems to be going global. This should be puzzling, since Q is the theory that mr. Trump has been effecting a secret-in-plain-sight agenda to purge elite pedophiles and undo manifold conspiracies that kept people (temporarily embarassed Free People) down. But while McKenosha demands a single-minded vision of white supremacy as structurally integral conspiracy, Q is additive and adhesive; it integrates the “post-rational” thinking of MLM semicults and radical, Alexander Supertramp-type individualists alike, and many more. In Germany, we’re told, Q is all about how the elite lies about Covid. And while McKenosha can, in principle, be refuted with relative simplicity (if the arena for refutations were ever set up), Q is fluid, distributed and barely synchronizing enough to subsist. McKenosha is a single Cartesian proposition; it is feared for its quick Maoist rise; but it’s ultimately brittle. To survive, it will need increasing propping up by social engineering agencies in the US itself, which will have to look to the world for best practices.

I’d like to tell you to hold your breath until it blows over, but under conditions of peak history, it won’t. Nothing ever will. The way out is to the top. Loudness will beat loudness until (in the asemic horizon) nothing is signifiable anymore.