Saturday, October 14, 2017

On Formalism

Formalism is supposed to prevent violence, but instead encourages violence, in particular rare but catastrophic large-scale violence. It is supposed to be the political-formula-free formulation, but cashes out to right of conquest.
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As a good formalist, we accept that it's nobody's business but the Turk's. However, this raises the question of why it's their business, and the answer is they marched a large army into Istanbul. Hence, formalism, far from being a solution to violence, actively endorses it. If you dislike a power distribution, all you need to do is formally declare war on it and win, whereupon the formalist will dutifully switch to your side.

Insofar as the war is indeed won, this is actually fine. It's a proof that the prewar formalist beliefs about who owns what was mistaken, and the war kindly corrected it.

The problem is that humans are manically optimistic. Wars frequently occur because of illusory opportunities. Hence, formalism in fact encourages the exact thing it is supposed to discourage. The only actual deterrent that's been found is to bodily threaten the person in charge of declaring wars. For example, pointing a nuclear missile at their face. (I suggest cryptographically signed assassination technologies as a cheaper and cleaner alternative.) Absent such deterrents, unwinnable wars are declared all the time, which cause vast destruction before the overoptimistic human in charge gets the message.

As a bonus, because political formulae are perverse, formalism encourages progressivism or other Sophist phenotypes. If you say coercion-legitimizing status comes from beating somebody up, then the true elite shows themselves by coercing someone without laying a finger on them and getting away with it, that is, using rhetoric.

By contrast, the anarchist formula of Exit (short ver.) implements the only other deterrent for war: disallowing coercion-legitimizing status and/or making the person who declares the war also pay for the war. War is obviously unprofitable; demand simply isn't high enough. I am curious to see how Exit's perversity would play out. If it's bad, I'm officially anarcho-pessimist.

As an aside, formalism also has two moral norms - violence is bad, and lying is bad. Moral norms have a poor track record as political engineering constraints. This is unsurprising given that moral nihilism obtains.


Jeff said...

I'll re-read MM whenever I have stable internet again, but my understanding was that it functions similarly to the "mandate of heaven." IE don't start wars unless they're necessary. It plays, to me, as a motivation for non aggression types to stick up for themselves against anti-liberal authorities.

On a personal level, thinking about it has made me a better father.

Anonymous said...

"Moral norms have a poor track record as political engineering constraints." Indeed, religious norms have a much better track record. The separation of moral and religions is a rather novel concept in Western culture. I doub't it will last.

Alrenous said...

Jeff, this blog requires more reading comprehension than you used.

Anon, you've crafted a distinction without a difference. Thinking your moral restrictions are better because they're 'religious' makes you prey.

reluctantreactionary said...

Can we state that formalism is a preferred structure for all non-sovereign governing bodies? In fact could we state that a formal hierarchical structure is pretty much inevitable for all non-sovereign governing bodies? For example I could choose to enroll my son in the Boy Scouts or the Royal Rangers. (or the Girl Scouts in today's clown world) I have ability to exit the governance or either organization whenever I wish. Similarly I could choose to buy some used motorcycle tires through either Ebay or Amazon. Which governing body will provide a better system for redress of grievance if my tire is defective, and which of the two offers lower transaction cost.

The whole concept of formalism seems to me to be tied to the concept of exit. I live in a state governed by a sovereign. The sovereign may choose to shoot me if I try to leave, and may declare war on competing governing bodies. The problem of war is just a worst case of the general problem of cooperation. People may trade goods (even political goods) truthfully and honestly, but the temptation to just kill the other guy and take his stuff is ever present.

Anonymous said...

youre leaving out some shit. some wars are declared to probe for information, some declared because death is preferable to current conditions and the added bonus of inflicting some damage on your oppressor before you inevitable demise is better than just your inevitable demise. some wars that are un winnable are also to costly to the other side who would prefer to simply compromise than absorb the cost of winning the war.there's a spectrum of these outcomes from unofficial tolerance of say nigger run no go zones to limited independence parliamentary representation etc exit in place.and there's wars that cant be won in the sense of you then rule the opponent but you do rule yourself, true exit independence.and the war itself can be of an infinite variety from resist trump to 4g to guerilla to economic to nuclear to who knows we will never stop inventing ways to fight asymmetrical wars because all wars are asymmetrical we just dont know how symmetrical until the dust settles.
But thanks for rebutting formalism

Alrenous said...

Learn about superposition. Also, if you would, capital letters and punctuation.

Leonard said...

Of course formalism "cashes out" to right of conquest. In fact all sovereignty does, no matter the political formula. Formalism -- at least as Moldbug describes it -- is simply honest about that. Personally, I think he was dead wrong there. I think that every state will evolve a political formula. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that the ruling elite will retain in some Straussian way the actual "formula" of right-of-conquest, at least for its top leaders; one hopes so. But I very much doubt that's what they'll tell the people or the average members of the security forces. (I posted about this a few times back in the day at UR, but as of now all comments there are gone, perhaps permanently. In any case it was after the point when MM read or responded to comments, so unfortunately MM never addressed my criticisms.)

As for right of conquest encouraging wars... well, of course. But this is not particular to formalism. For example, USG invaded Iraq, justifying it as vindicating some "rights" or whatever, but more proximately as "we will force Saddam out and force Iraq to be democratic". By what right did we change their system of government? Duh, we had an army in place, and nobody else did. Of course nobody has the slightest question about this; it's obvious. That is, humans pretty much understand right-of-conquest.

One question here is: is formalism more or less likely than other systems of government to cause over-optimism on both sides of a conflict? If more, then it is perhaps more war-prone. If not, then not. I'd point out the Iraq example again. Although the actual military conquest of Iraq was indeed the hoped-for "cakewalk", USG drastically over-estimated its chance of winning the peace in Iraq, exactly because of its progressive delusions about the Iraqi people and human nature in general. We were supposed to be "greeted as liberators"! They were supposed to act like Germans! It is to be hoped that a better system of government would get less delusional leaders than Dick Cheney. Which is not to say he is particularly delusional for a modern elected leader. He's on the lower end, I'd say; this is an indictment of democracy.

Personally, my estimation is that a neocameral leader will be less delusional than a democratic leader, because the mechanisms by which each take power are different. The neocameral leader leads because the plutocrats believe he will maximize shareholder value; this is at least subject to real-world checking via stock price. The democratic leader leads because the electorate believes that he will "do good", or at least "do more good" than some other candidate. This is subject to no real-world grounding at all.