That’s Amore

sam[ ]zdat

daysofbeingwild4final Lasch. continued from here and then here


Donald Trump wins, so The New Yorker ponders Jason Brennan’s argument against democracy:

Brennan calls people who don’t bother to learn about politics hobbits, and he thinks it for the best if they stay home on Election Day. A second group of people enjoy political news as a recreation, following it with the partisan devotion of sports fans, and Brennan calls them hooligans. Third in his bestiary are vulcans, who investigate politics with scientific objectivity, respect opposing points of view, and carefully adjust their opinions to the facts, which they seek out diligently.

While it’s nice that our future epistocrats are so relatable, that’s exactly what gives me pause. Why is a book about how politics should be cold and calculating trying to sit down and have a beer with me?

If epistocracy is the best system and you can…

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The Craft is Not The Community

I think Otium undersells why shared external goals and shared internal community get linked together so often (namely, the energy of a big goal can unite a group, and being part of a close knit tribe can increase efficiency working together and get people to put in more hours), but overall this is a good cry to seriously consider your priorities in large groups and projects.


Epistemic status: argumentative. I expect this to start a discussion, not end it.

“Company culture” is not, as I’ve learned, a list of slogans on a poster.  Culture consists of the empirical patterns of what’s rewarded and punished within the company. Do people win promotions and praise by hitting sales targets? By coming up with ideas? By playing nice?  These patterns reveal what the company actually values.

And, so, with community cultures.

It seems to me that the increasingly ill-named “Rationalist Community” in Berkeley has, in practice, a core value of “unconditional tolerance of weirdos.”  It is a haven for outcasts and a paradise for bohemians. It is a social community based on warm connections of mutual support and fun between people who don’t fit in with the broader society.

I think it’s good that such a haven exists. More than that, I want to live in…

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Cthulhu Lies Dreaming

Exploring Egregores

r__lyeh_by_sammael89-d5lhrk1[1]What can anyone add of the Great Old One Cthulhu? By far the most famous  of Lovecraft’s creations, He has also become the most popularized, neutered, and generified. He’s a great big dragon that sleeps under the sea and wants to devour thousands of souls for breakfast. Let’s make an ironic college club around him and name it Campus Crusade for Cthulhu? Eh.

Everyone reading this already knows the most evocative line about this egregore:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

He is a sleeping god. He is beyond death. And He drives you insane with contemplation of him. Okay fine to all that, but we’ve been inured to such things. What is special about this egregore, that defines him apart from being “the one most often turned into a plushy toy by now.”

Well for one, we know…

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Piracy and Emergent Order: Peter Leeson’s An-arrgh-chy and the Invisible Hook


Buccaneer of the Caribbean, from Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates

After our long trek through Siberia, I wanted to change things up and do something rather different for Anthropology Friday, so today we’re reading Peter Leeson’s work on pirates. Strictly speaking, it isn’t quite “anthropology” because Leeson didn’t go live with pirates, but I’m willing to overlook that.

The Golden Age of piracy only lasted from 1690 through 1730, but in those days they were a serious menace to ships and men alike on the high seas. In A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, (1724,) Captain Charles Johnson complained:

“This was at a Time that the Pyrates had obtained such an Acquisition of Strength, that they were in no Concern about preserving themselves from the Justice of Laws”

Pirates stalked the ocean’s major trade routes, particularly between the Bahamas, Caribbean islands, Madagascar…

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The Economist: Why America Shuns Hereditary Rule

“Defenders of nepotism—for they do exist—argue that close relatives are able to offer presidents more candid advice than any outsider. They note that by some counts 16 presidential children have worked in the White House, variously as private secretaries (a tradition begun by the 6th president, John Quincy Adams, himself a president’s son), as unpaid gatekeepers (cf, Anna Roosevelt, daughter of Franklin), or as formal advisers (Dwight Eisenhower’s son John served as a national security aide). But such a defense of nepotism breaks down when America has a bad president.”

“When ordinary aides find themselves in that unhappy situation, a sense of duty to their country, to their office or to the rule of law may prompt them to question furtive actions and poor decisions, or to resign. Other aides may be more strongly moved by self-interest, and a desire to keep their good name from being soiled by an unfit boss. But when a child wields power at the pleasure of a parent, fidelity to country or to the law must vie with deeper, more visceral loyalties. That tug of loyalties is more painful still when a parent is like Mr Trump, a clannish, vengeful man who, by his own son’s account, would send him to school with the growled warning: ‘Don’t trust anyone.’ As for trying to preserve a free-standing good name, that is tricky if you are called Donald Trump junior.”

Tumblr Debates

If you read this tribalism blog but not my tumblr, then you may want to know there’s been active debates about tribalism vs individualism these past couple of days.

The initial discussion over the previous post I made about the joy of finding a group.

Balioc’s longer rant about the costs of tribalism, and Anaisnein’s support for that instead saying how important it is that basic needs are dealt with my impersonal forces.

My post on my own goals, including both Christian universalism, and short term tribalism.

An article by a mother who chooses ideology over her kids, and my somewhat angry reaction to that.

One last reply by a follower, that illustrates both why people are so upset at tribes, and why I don’t think we are just talking about basic needs here.

Some of these I have yet to respond to, and I may try to over the next few days. But really, I think the main points have been successfully expressed by all sides here.

What’s the other option to Individualism?

An interesting article going around Rationalist-Sphere this week is Sarah Constantin’s In Defense of Individuality. Constantin is a great writer and she makes a very thorough argument. I have a number of objections to it, but one in particular strikes a chord, since Scott Alexander also reiterated this concern.

4. It’s perfectly fine to have a generally individualistic society where people are allowed to voluntarily form communities that they like.
5. And realistically we should expect most people to eventually exit from them.
6. If those are good nice communities, people will exit peacefully.
7. If they’re bad communities, they’ll use a lot of abuse and shaming to keep people from exiting, but eventually people will still exit.

Constantin was more visceral in her criticism of how communities keep themselves alive.

The first antidote to flaking that most people think of — building people up into a frenzy of unanimous enthusiasm so that it doesn’t occur to them to quit — will probably result in short-lived and harmful projects.

Techniques designed to enhance group cohesion at the expense of rational deliberation — call-and-response, internal jargon and rituals, cults of personality, suppression of dissent  — will feel satisfying to many who feel the call of the premodern, but aren’t actually that effective at retaining people in the long term.  Remember, brainwashing isn’t that strong.

And we live in a complicated, unstable world.  When things break, as they will, you’d like the people in your project to avoid breaking.  That points in the direction of  valuing independence. If people need a leader’s charisma to function, what are they going to do if something happens to the leader?

It’s a defense of individualism that relies on “well the only other option is tribalism, and they just keep each other in with force and coercive dumbening, so why would we consider them?”

On the other side of Rationalist Tumblr, Skye at funereal-disease is describing the camp she just went to.

We’re basically siblings for one week a year. Which is the sweet spot for intimacy: we have over a decade of history, but we haven’t spent enough time together to really start resenting one another. Familiarity breeds contempt, right?

Instead of any external factors, it is sheer love for the camp that brings us together. The loyalty this institution inspires is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Don’t get me wrong; there have been people here I wasn’t a huge personal fan of. We’re human. But like…you don’t ban your aunt from the family reunion because she’s kind of annoying. You are bound by more than that. We are here because it really does take all kinds to make something like this work. Everything we are is going to be meaningful to at least one of the kids here. There is space for all of it.

And because we’ve known each other so long, we’ve reached that rumored place of just…knowing one another’s weirdnesses, rolling our eyes, and making room. One of our number has a Master’s in critical theory and loves to discourse. In the outside world, being around people like that kind of scares me, but here it’s just “oh, this is how Chris is”.

Which is exactly what I am talking about here. Healthy communities aren’t kept together by “the charisma of the leader” or “brain-washing back and forth chants” but just by, everyone being really glad to be there and trusting each other, treating each other like human beings they care about instead of representations of the most annoying facets of society.

It’s just like, have these individualist partisans ever been in a group where people like each other?

Obviously there’s a problem if you’re trying to force everyone into these tribes. Some people won’t like that and you’ll get resentment and distrust. But as an option they are there, and they’re pretty good. People enjoy them, and they get stuff done. I’d put their value to society right up there with individualism.

When social scientists talk about anomie,  they’re talking about the loss of this. When people critical of a culture that exalts individualism as the only morality, they are trying to find the words that defend this. It’s not that this “tribal magic” needs to be enforced, but we have to at least have room for it. We should let people who are doing that keep doing it, instead of being hyper-critical because it follows a different morality than liberal individualism.

I’m not exactly full of concrete ideas here, but the original posts weren’t too concrete either. Just stop thinking of the face of communitarianism as Stalin in front of a chanting crowd, and think more about a summer camp in Vermont.