The Pot-O-Gold #3: Money Never Sleeps
Your weekly collection of the most thoughtful writing on the internet & selected snippets from the writhing rat-king that is the DISCOURSE.
In the third edition of this now world-famous newsletter, I’m pleased to present you with a scrumptious offering combining the scintillatingly intellectual with the downright retarded.
The ratio is exactly 3: 5, I find it is pleasing.
A good piece by the newly resurrected rationalist messiah, Scott Alexander.
It’s a critique of Glen Weyl's post Why I Am Not A Technocrat, which is worth a read as well - though is, in my opinion, a flawed manifesto on the topic (he mentions “neorectionaries” as a sub-type of the *less democratic technocracy*, among other assumptions that are pretty hmmm-inducing).
The people who devise mechanisms can sometimes be biased. But they can't apply their biases very accurately. Perhaps the decision to make Congressional districts compact hexagons instead of compact pentagons might very subtly favor Republicans in some way. But it would favor Republicans less than getting a bunch of Republicans together to draw every district in exactly the way that favors Republicans the most; there's a limit to how biased a short hexagon-drawing algorithm can get. Likewise, if you wanted to bias a college admissions algorithm against Asians, you could perhaps weight math test scores a bit lower than English test scores. But that would bias it less than just having some guy who can look at Asian applicants and say "Nope, not him". Also, mechanisms are transparent and can be inspected. The entire country could turn its scrutiny on the decision to weight math tests less in the algorithm - whereas if you're just using "human judgment", each particular example of the admissions officer rejecting an Asian will pass unknown to anyone but the candidate involved.
I think Scott misses one important level of abstraction, one which I see rationalists miss very often: power.
This evergreen thread by @0x49fa98 is worth a revisit on the subject.
It’s easy to agree with Scott that evidence-based policies are better than non-evidence-based ones. It’s almost a tautology. But despite Scott’s claims that “Technocracy” is just an out-group shade of “evidence-based”, it is not.
Technocracy is power clad in the gilded garb of the *evidence-based*.
Currently, there is a lot of elite status investment in science and tech, and a lot of power flowing through these institutions. This last year has seen one of the greatest wealth transfers from the middle to the upper class, mediated through these expert institutions. All this has happened under the banner of the “evidence-based,” with, to put it mildly, mixed effectiveness in terms of promised safety. So, though I agree that on the gradient between not-evidence-based and evidence-based, we should aim to be closer to the latter, at least in a nakedly political decision-making system, a decision cannot be heralded as *the science*, and the opponent called a *denier*.
If The Science™️ is your civilization’s main receptacle of power, it will no longer serve its underlying purpose. This is science-as-power now, a completely different beast and if you think its interests are primarily in promoting the scientific method or double-blind testing, you are kidding yourself.
If you’re hot under the collar after all that technocracy ranting, this may cheer you up.
The story of the $44 million vaccine administration system, built by Master-of-the-Universe-tier company Delloite (under a no-bid contract), that - doesn't work.
Her frustration is echoed by millions of Americans who have struggled to get vaccines through various chaotic systems. But unlike others in some states, she wasn’t encountering these problems with a third-party consumer service like Eventbrite, or even through an antiquated government system. She was on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s brand-new, $44 million website called VAMS—the Vaccine Administration Management System, built by the consulting firm Deloitte.
In May, it gave the task to consulting company Deloitte, a huge federal contractor, with a $16 million no-bid contract to manage “covid-19 vaccine distribution and administration tracking.” In December, Deloitte snagged another $28 million for the project, again with no competition. The contract specifies that the award could go as high as $32 million, leaving taxpayers with a bill between $44 and $48 million.
Why was Deloitte awarded the project on a no-bid basis? The contracts claim the company was the only “responsible source” to build the tool.
In response to questions about the flaws with VAMS, a Deloitte spokesperson sent a statement that the company was proud to support the vaccine campaign and “help end the covid-19 pandemic so that our families and communities can recover and thrive.” He did not address specific questions.
Technocracy is just a side theme in this story, I believe the main issue is scale.
Delloite is not a government, but it is a sprawling mass of networked expert/ administrators, a too-big-to-fail juggernaut that gets most of its money through $100k Power Points (that just confirm what management already wanted to do) and various forms of brand-led rent-seeking. Delloite is not a problem solver, it is who you call if you don’t want to be accountable - a market leader.
Coordination problems and incentive structures rule everything around me.
Monstrous Government - by Adrian Vermeule
This is an important short essay on the nature of (good, bad, and worst) government through the lens of “On the Government of a City”, by Bartolus.
In internet terms, I would use this string of emojis to describe the emotional effect of internalizing this message: 🤔 👀 😨
The core evil of the monstrous regime, then, is not the same as the evil of democracy, in which the perverse many, acting together, at least pursue a common end, albeit a wicked end; nor is it the same as tyranny, in which one man acts purposefully for private advantage. Rather the core evil of the monstrous regime is a kind of incoherence, a political chaos, in which there is no purposive rule of any kind. The nominal ruling authority is enfeebled and great powers, nominally “private,” act independently but tyrannically within their separate spheres, like a hydra whose heads move independently and war with one another. This confusion of public and private authority is, for Bartolus, the worst possible state of civic affairs.
I will leave it to the reader to decide whether the type-image of the monstrous government has real-world applications today. One mustn’t, of course, make glib analogies to a world in which any of hundreds of federal district judges can, acting independently, block any government program nationwide (or even require the government to exercise its enforcement discretion in certain ways), with only intermittent and seemingly random oversight from the Supreme Court; or in which any of several gigantic social-media firms with monopoly power in a given space can, acting independently, delete prominent voices from the public sphere with the press of a button, while funding minor intellectuals who loudly declaim that the masters of what may be said are, after all, “just private firms”; or in which any of several mega-moguls can, acting independently, powerfully shape electoral politics merely by opening a checkbook. That sort of casual translation of Bartolus’ grim vision into very different circumstances wouldn’t do at all. And even if some version of monstrous government were upon us, the remedy would be clear enough, at least in principle: it would be for the public authority to dare to take purposive action for the common good, to dare to rule.
Even if he’s pretty much a competitor, given that my newsletter is now a world-famous media empire, I won’t be shy in recommending his. It’s really good.
His latest piece on Dopamine Thirst Traps is all about the potential and pitfalls of networked media at scale, and what it does to politics, in particular.
This last week has been a welcome and thrilling proletarian reversal to the “revenge of the nerd”, but the power we’ve seen unleashed with GameStop is a phenomenon that’s worthy of close attention.
Basic human impulses have always shaped culture, but now artificially-intelligent algorithms directly reward positive social stimulus in the form of “likes” and “retweets” with frequent, daily dopamine hits to the brain. What people “like” and “retweet” in the greatest numbers tend to cluster into our most immediate, and animalistic desires: status, sex, and war, or conflict, itself the realm of fear and anger. We also get a lot of humor, a kind of pressure release (thank God). The dopamine reward naturally drives content creators, from journalists and performance artists to politicians, in subtle ways they themselves may not even be able to perceive. Without our daily (hourly?) dose of attention, many of us, and certainly most compulsive creators, start to feel the pangs of dopamine thirst. We reach for our phone. We post.
In the narrow context of politicians, it’s important to remember that social media does not incentivize people to say what they think, it incentivizes people to say what they think is working. To some extent, this has probably always been true, and not only in politics. But the dopamine delivery device for social validation has not always lived in our pocket. Proximity to the drug has catalyzed frequent use, frequent use has led to dependence, and now this addiction — to attention, essentially — is shaping the political world. Have you ever scrolled to the beginning of an Instagram celebrity’s photos and noticed a jarring evolution from grainy pictures of food, sunsets, and laughing friends to a near-exclusive library of selfies and well-oiled abs by the pool? Well, the final boss Twitter version of the Instafamous professionally-pretty person appears to be a highly-polarizing populist demagogue, and politicians like this are now winning elections that once seemed impossible.
Well worth subscribing to.
Joe is the man to see about complexity, globalism, localism, and how these things play together. His newsletter is about as excellent as his Twitter.
He’s also agreed to come on the Subversive Podcast, so, yay!
This is what the institutions aren’t able to grasp. Their belief is that, by turning the dials back to where they used to be, the system will go back with it. They are wrong: history is unfolding, and it is not reversible.
There are very clear signs of this irreversible shift: a new permanent wall to be constructed around the Capitol (for now a metal fence lined with barbed wire on top), an unprecedented self-organized swarm attack on short selling hedge funds, and of course a new normal that includes transient “lockdowns” of varying degrees globally, impacting every aspect of business and life, to name three.
As always, I must insist that we don’t know exactly where we are headed. But I can guarantee you it’s not back to where we were over the past fifty years or so.
A nicely argued case for the Thiel stagnation hypothesis from a former skeptic who *looked into it*
When I first heard the stagnation hypothesis, I was skeptical. The arguments weren’t convincing to me. But as I studied the history of progress (and looked at the numbers), I slowly came around, and now I’m fairly convinced. So convinced, in fact, that I now seem to be more pessimistic about ending stagnation than some of its original proponents.
A very good essay, won’t spoil it. Ok, will a little ->
Any self-identity based on negation is ultimately parasitic on the image of the enemy it opposes, to the extent that in their absence it becomes compelled to create them in order to retain coherence. Hence the return of anti-fascism after the end of history and in the teeth of a disintegrating Western project. Zizek speaks of a new “opium of the people” where “every little doubt and reserve is immediately pointed out as a sign of secret collaboration with fascism.” The “demonic image of a fascist threat clearly serves as a new political fetish; fetish in the Freudian sense of the term, that is a fascinating image whose function is to obscure the true antagonism.” For individual militants this antagonism is psychological. Extrapolated to a mass of individuals, the problem is political or social. But one could also ask whether the Freudian conception of the fetish is not itself a kind of fetish, the fetish of liberal individualism, or its obscure remainder, in the same way that the Oedipus complex reactivated the Oedipus myth, rather than neutrally interpreted it.
The moral chaos of current Western lockdown policies, in which lives are being systematically destroyed in order to ‘save lives’ is also an example. What is at stake is a political calculation about the value of a life made according to the priorities of a bureaucratic Party-State machine which desires to expand. Because it grows through the destruction of society it sows divisions, disrupts communications, crushes autonomous authorities, destroys communities, and creates strife.
The riddle of recent world events is solved once the logic of the system is understood on its own terms. The servitors and functionaries of the global biopolitical machine don’t give a damn about a virus barely more dangerous than the flu; what moves them are the opportunities for bureaucratic profit which the situation has created, and the transformation of the human lifeworld into static fragments of a bloodless dream.
This Week’s DISCOURSE
A few of my favorite things.
This week has been a great one for civilization-scale hypocrisy posting. The core narrative is unraveling in real-time, and I’m just here with my keyboard and popcorn.
Daniel highlighting *some inconsistencies* in the way social media is treated.
Sorry my libertarian brethren, Twitter is a utility.
The emperor is not only naked, but he’s also doing acro-yoga on daytime TV and there isn’t even a trigger warning.
Yes, this is real. Genes are funny.
This is an interesting phenomenon - gender differences in mental health are larger, to the detriment of women, in more gender-equal societies.
My knee-jerk reaction was “see, modernity is a corrosive force, SSRIs, wine aunts”, but I think @clickingseason has a point. WEIRD countries tend to have populations that are more sexually dimorphic, in almost every variable. Neuroticism is one variable, so this may explain the effect at least partially.
David Schmitt @PsychoSchmittThe gender gap in adolescent mental health...566,829 adolescents across 73 countries...Girls have worse average mental health than boys across 4 measures of mental health...More gender equal countries have larger gender gaps in mental health https://t.co/KwrxHghoSv https://t.co/GBqRca2YL1
Geoff just launched his Podcast @outsidertheory!
We’ve also recorded an episode this week on Countess Elizabeth Bathory, one of the most prolific serial killers in history. We talk about the limits of freedom, Paglia, the Marquis de Sade, and my love of serial killers (stock standard white woman thing).
His first episode with Angela Nagle is out now.
Outsider Theory @OutsiderTheoryEpisode 1 of the Outsider Theory podcast is up! I discuss the Capitol riot, the right's turn to subversion and transgression, the institutional capture of the left, the shifting tech consensus, and conspiracy theory with Angela Nagle. https://t.co/kVTfeLtK67
I’ve also been on Things Hidden with David Gornoski this week, to talk about Outcasts, liberalism, and the indispensable lens provided by the work of Rene Girard.