In the September newsletter, I intro’ed with some thoughts about the importance of the cultivation of friendships. Over the course of October, I have reflected a bit more on the importance of community as the most antifragile asset against the vicissitudes of life. Gold, crypto, bonds, shares, etc are not sufficient replacements for the bonds of community to get you through crises. People talk about investing in assets at an early stage so you are safer later on in life, but few talk about peer groups and tribes as assets that provide even greater protection. Empires come and go, but communities and their networks remain.
Culture is superior to politics, which is really a second-order game for cultural shifts that have already occurred. Creating and sustaining culture is a far more rewarding endeavour that helps people, and is what allows for sustainable communities and polities as it provides the underlying norms, laws and social functions that make or break civilisation. However, choosing culture over politics doesn’t mean disengagement with power. On the contrary, culture gives you access to the real avenues of power, while politics is merely the superficial veneer of power that partisans believe is the real thing. Politics breeds partisanship because it’s hegemonic and linear in its approach, believing in zero-sum competition for power. Culture breeds synthesis and movement like a fractal owing to its distributed and antifragile nature, seeking to harness politics as merely one tool out of many to achieve the common good.
The Latest from Me
I have published my book club notes on The Lessons of History by Will & Ariel Durant, and developed a conceptual model of four principles that form the bedrock of civilisation: the Three Elements (blood, iron, and earth), the Twin Arches (culture and religion), the Twin Legitimacies (war and jurisprudence), and the Universal Matters (time and space). This will be updated as time goes on and I expand my reading.
I lay out a vision for Abrahamic cooperation in my contribution to Athwart Magazine’s symposium, Toward a Just Political Economy. I discuss: a simple framework for Abrahamic cooperation; the structure of the millet system of social organisation in Islamic civilisation; fractal localism as a 21st century millet-style system for local governance; Alasdair Macintyre's social technologies and how to go about building new cultures/institutions (such as charitable endowments for healthcare and education, and a public savings bank to drive local business investment and savings); why fractal localism must be considered alongside state power, the complex system of law, and how robust communities are the only protection against emerging surveillance society. I conclude with the simple statement that it is not good enough to handwave about justice and the common good, but to get our hands dirty and start building the institutions that will help with developing a just political economy.
The most important lesson to glean from Xiaoping’s leadership is how he managed to solve the problem of growing the Chinese economy without surrendering sovereignty. If Burja’s thesis bears weight, Xiaoping would be the most consequential leader of the 20th century, able to succeed in circumventing America’s post-war liberal order where the USSR failed and, if this decade continues with its unfavourable trends for America, is arguably one of the key outside architects of America’s decline as the world hegemon. Burja argues that China’s experience with trade diplomacy began centuries ago with their management of the steppe barbarians and led up to the 19thcentury where the European powers invaded China, forcing massive concessions and indemnities and creating the ‘century of humiliation’. Concessions on trade eventually lead to concessions on sovereignty. Xiaoping studied this and resolved to never allow China to go through anything like this again.
He set about to pursue growth without conceding sovereignty, permitting entry to American money and technology and forbidding it to Americans and their ideas. This was in defiance of western orthodox political thought and economics where growth is pursued above all else. However, in the Old World, countries like China, Iran, and North Korea are happy to forgo growth in favour of sovereignty. Furthermore, western orthodoxy mandates that it is markets that create strong societies and states, a belief that is largely disregarded outside of the Anglosphere with some considerable success, particularly in East Asia. Xiaoping’s gamble was successful; America focused on the USSR, Japan, and later the Muslim world, all the while China continued to enjoy all the benefits of free trade with America while also growing its political power and influence. ‘Hide your strength, bide your time’ was Xiaoping’s mantra, and he played it masterfully.
Culture & Society
Q&A: The Marriage Vows of the American Elite With David Samuels and Benjamin Ginsberg
Following their excellent interview with Angelo Codevilla (which I summarised in the August newsletter), Tablet Magazine continues with their candid analyses of American elite culture from an unabashedly Jewish perspective in this interview with Benjamin Ginsberg, a political scientist. For Ginsberg, movements like Black Lives Matter have been seized upon by Democratic Party cadres as a way to 'excite Black voters to turn out for the 2020 election', even though the epicentres of anti-police protests and riots tend to be in the whitest cities in America like Portland and Seattle.
Elite consolidation is continuing apace as the newly-monied Tech billionaires attempt to integrate themselves into the American elite, much like the newly-monied billionaires of the Gilded Age also married into the old elite. New money spent on endowments, foundations, and schools, while old elites were given stewardship over these institutions. The money that funded Silicon Valley itself was mostly old money anyway, with Jeff Bezos having gone to Princeton and Bill Gates being the son of an old-money Seattle lawyer.
American Jews also integrated into the American elite through an alliance with America's 'WASPs', i.e. the liberal Protestant bourgeoisie, with Jews contributing '2/3rds of the money... and 80% of the political energy'. But this has created tensions such as competition for leadership in the Democratic Party and divergence over the issue of Israel, with younger and more liberal Democrats taking a more negative stance on Zionism, and Ginsberg opines whether the time has not come for American Jews to start looking towards the GOP.
Howes gives us a succinct history of the state, featuring what is now the classical understanding of state formation over the past 500 years. The existence and functions of the administrative-bureaucratic state is a modern invention enabled by technological developments in the fields of communications and transport over the past 500 years. While today it is seen as a fundamental aspect of the state to heavily invest in public services like education and healthcare, this has only come under the purview of polities over the past century or so. Before this, education and healthcare (among other public services) were largely in the hands of private networks (largely religious) servicing their respective communities.
The state, in this case being barely larger than the monarch, their retinue and their personal armies, relied largely on delegation. To pay for these things, you need to tax people. To tax people, you need deep penetration by state officials into society, which in turn necessitates its own level of investment (paying them), communications (ensuring constant connection) and transport (for the ability to traverse vast distances of the realm in relatively quick periods of time). Previously, mercenary soldiers and private tax collectors were the principal agents of polities, and the ability of the monarch to rule their realm largely depended on these self-interested actors.
The development of the centralised bureaucratic state meant that these mercenary intermediaries were replaced by full-time employed officials of the state, and this was made possible by novel transport and communication technologies and the development of institutions like the Westminster Parliament who could force through taxation and the development of public services with a legitimacy that the monarch could never hope to muster.
Krein believes that the real class war in America is not between the 99% and the 1%, but the 0.1% and the 10%, with the 99% have essentially been turned into pawns of this inter-elite conflict with little to no political agency. If political change is to come in America, it will only be through counter-elites that break from dominant policy consensus. In this case, the counter-elite force will be the 10% who are seeing economic immiseration just like the working class, but who still retain the power to contend with the 0.1% in a serious manner. This “managerial class” is dependant on labour as its source of economic power versus that of capital appreciation for the elite, but wages have either been stagnant or falling for decades, leading to their current position of agitation.
As the elite have priced them out of prime urban areas, the managerial class began its exodus into poorer areas and began the gentrifying process and their transformation into a “creative class” in the “knowledge economy”, constructs aimed at assuaging their class anxiety and falling prospects. This was compounded by the usurious student loans crisis, another increasingly-impossible means of attaining status. The political effects are clear: woke corporate is largely the creation of the managerial class as a means of ideologically de-legitimising the elite. Politicians like Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, ostensibly a revolutionary candidate, do well with the gentrifying managerial class, while her opponent, a standard Democrat candidate, did better with the working class. This echoes a common theme throughout history; namely, the alliance of the upper and lower classes against the middle.
These themes of inter-elite conflict between the managerial class and the elite, and the slide into irrelevance of the working class, are echoed in The Codevilla Papers under the Governance section in the August newsletter.
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Norman takes the modern mind to task by exposing its fragmented understanding of living systems; it is living systems as a whole that generates the parts, not that the parts come together to create the whole. For Norman, this is an essential feature of complex living systems and our attempt to shoehorn techno-industrial civilisation’s understanding of itself as a manufacturing supply chain into what is essentially an organic, biological system has deprived us of genuine, whole places: cultural, economic, architectural, individual, and family wholes.
Instead of attempting to control and design the whole, we should act as humble stewards of systems we barely understand and, owing to humanity’s limited sensory abilities, will probably never fully understand in its complexity. However, beauty offers us one interface with which we can conduct this stewardship. This work begins on the ground in localist contexts, ensuring we are tending to the earth and people around us.
Science & Technology
Dan continues his excellent forays into the biological organism-like nature of technology, this time analysing the role interfaces play in helping us to process reality, and the dangers that technology may bring through autistification (the subject of Autistification and its Discontents under the Technology section in the August newsletter). Put simply, we risk becoming entirely dependant on these new technologies to the point where key cognitive functions have become outsourced to them, leaving us permanently handicapped.
There is also another interesting crossover with Bruno Maçães’ concept of virtuality (see John Gray’s review of his work here), where Americans now prefer constructed fantasy worlds instead of reality. One piece of evidence for this, in Bruno’s view, is the US election contest where both Democrat and Republican partisans are engaged in the creation of fantasy narratives and realities. Our increasing technological capabilities in digital interfaces and VR systems may very well be a significant driver of this trend.
Software like Urbit offers an alternative: interfaces totally devoid of any sort of digital stimulants that are often the root cause of addiction and shorter attention-spans. I would wager that in the near future, real performance technology will follow this similar ‘minimalist’ philosophy in providing users with the least amount of stimulants (colours, sounds, graphics, etc) as possible.
Burja’s analysis of Xiaoping’s strategy to secure economic prosperity and political sovereignty in a system designed to preclude it suggest that Xiaoping may very well be the most consequential actor of the 20th century. However, it was not Xiaoping’s actions alone that secured China’s rise, but America’s willing haemorrhaging of its state, economy, and society that enabled China’s rise, as laid out in the September newsletter’s China essay, The China Model’s Challenge to Democratic Capitalism. However, all is not lost, as Mark and Balaji discuss the idea of the 'Chinese Century' in the Charter Cities podcast and believe that while this decade will see China achieve near-parity with the USA in terms of technological prowess, economic size, and global political clout, the game is not yet lost over the decades to come - if the American elites can pull it together.
But can they? The Real Class War and The Marriage Vows of the American Elite share the same themes of elite consolidation over political and economic control of the American empire, the rise of the woke managerial class as an embittered counter-elite, and the increasing irrelevance of the working class in any of this except as pawns. This increasingly zero-sum conflict between the managerial class and the elite make me wonder whether inter-elite civility really is a bad thing. It seems that it is by virtue of their hypocrisy that the lower classes are not torn apart. Some imagine that in a scenario where X party was harsh and uncompromising against Y party, then Y party's crimes would be halted and truth would prevail. But truth doesn't prevail because X group stops being civil with Y group; when counter-elites stop being civil, it is not they who get their hands dirty, but the masses who they use to wage their dirty wars against each other.
My contention at the beginning of this newsletter, that culture matters more than politics, is an attempt to extricate me and my own from the increasingly zero-sum game of inter-elite politics that is already recruiting ideologues from across the atomised generation I am a part of, and I think that a strong tribe is one way to resist this inevitable pull into conflict and decline.
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