Intellectual Porn; Why I’m not an Ancap

I got into an interaction on Twitter which got me thinking (see the whole thread and the back and forth between me and “Nom DeGuerre”).

Intellectualism is usually at least partly hedonistic. It is, as much as cuisine or sex, an effort to achieve a sense of fulfillment and harmony with the world which is accompanied by a sense of pleasure. Intellectualism revels in order and sophistication, but it often does so in theoretical worlds not necessarily subjected to the unrelenting and penetrating scrutiny of real life, other people, and immutable laws of reality. It has chemical elements no different from other dopamine effects. Everything you do can be a “drug” in a very real sense. This theoretical world – the ability to imagine and visualize “if” scenarios – is very important and crucial to real thinking. But it can be hijacked if the importance of the drug response is prioritized out of balance and the real consequences of that pleasure in the world are muted.

The trick is to find a way to make the right things your drugs – when you accomplish this, your efforts are reproductive, meaning you don’t enjoy something just to get a dopamine high, you do it to get both the high and produce something of value to someone else or create goodness. The obvious parallel is the inherent difference between masturbation and genuine, non-contracepted sexuality; the notion that the point of sex is pleasure, when in fact it is more than that.

Intellectual hedonism has its own form of masturbation. It includes the endless social media takes of “What if [the former president I like/the current president I like] did that, oh wow he’d be assassinated,” or “70% of the country is racist,” or “f*** white people,” or, “We should bomb all the countries! Murica! ::eagle in front of an American flag social media avatar::”. These are almost always nonsensical statements, designed to reaffirm or signal for a dopamine response rather than to really engage with the world.

Here, we have a peak performance of politically-themed emotional vomit, which 49,000 people retweeted (and still going) and a few million saw:

Venting emotions like this is not a healthy outlet. Granted, this particular individual is apparently making a living spreading this sort of emotional vomit in response to undesirable political realities – but he is certainly not helping his audience, who will themselves grow dependent upon these types of releases. This is pretending like you’ve accomplished something or experienced something worthwhile, when all you’ve done is addicted yourself to the dopamine response of emotional outbursts. This is how children deal with bad news.

We often craft worlds in our minds and filter our inputs based on that, because it maintains a certain concept of reality that would likely be shattered with a broader base of experience, and at some unconscious level, we know that. This is as true for Rachel Maddow or Daily Show watchers who sip their soy and smugly vomit out all of the “-ists” that those Conservatives Trumpers are, as it is for the angry boomer Fox News watcher lamenting “the millennials” who apparently kill everything. This is like intellectual porn. Refusing the reality to self-gratify against an idealized (positively or negatively) image, jacking up dopamine responses and making us intellectually impotent to genuinely learn and synthesize new information and experiences, spur people to action to improve their lives, or genuinely engage some policy issue’s difficulties.

Tangentially, I’ve mused before that video games are the porn of achievement. They trick your reward centers into thinking that pixels and light sequences and sounds in response to particular behaviors or virtual successes represent achievement. This rewires your brain against the harder, longer timelines of achievement gratification required to achieve anything in the real world, which is almost always substantially harder and less predictable, since games that are really hard and have longer reward timelines have mostly gone extinct, such the Ninja Gaiden series or other very difficult early-system games. I know about the problem of video games quite personally.

Now, for the whole reason I’ve laid down this concept of intellectual hedonism/self-gratification.

I happen to believe that certain political beliefs are themselves pure intellectual self-gratification. They are utopian ideologies that reject some fundamental aspect of man or of the history of civilization. Communism/Fascism and its related forms of state-worship are one version of this, but there’s a third: Ancap/Pure Libertarianism.

The most coherent and sophisticated version of intellectual hedonism I can find is anarcho-capitalism (ancap) or what one might call “pure libertarianism.” I add the modifier “pure” because libertarianism’s primary problem is always that it is, in practice, a maximization of individual liberty under certain situational caveats, decided by the practitioner. It is a very relative, squishy term that essentially means “the Non-Aggression Principle” (NAP) as much as is practical. It allows quite a bit of wiggle on that last phrase, which is why you see “right-leaning” or “left-leaning” libertarians, who carve out their own practical exceptions. This is also why libertarians who try to organize end up herding cats. The term itself establishes from the outset that it will be a bastion of confusion and division. NAP is a reactive, negative concept; not a real political ideology that can build civilizations.

At its core, Ancap/the NAP is intellectual hedonism and self-gratification. It is simply a much more sophisticated version of its negative image brother, Communism/Fascism/etc. Anyone who cracks open Human Action or The Road to Serfdom knows for a fact that these are really good analyses of the business cycle and economics – far moreso than the weird theories of Keynes or the Marx’s outworkings of the labor theory of value.

Two contrary methods are used to arrive at the same result. Communism/Fascism – essentially, the domination and total aggression of the state – is contrasted against the total absence of aggression by a state entity. As we saw in the Soviet Union and its satellites, the worship of the state and what it can accomplish is not sustainable nor productive for any length of time, even with tremendous volumes of force applied. Ancap is the inverse, where for brief periods of history, no centralized entity claiming a monopoly on the use of force exists, and individuals do for a time interact quite peaceably and equitably. Ancap is a vacuum however, and always invites an entity to fill that vacuum, which is usually a powerful, well organized business or another state entity. We have to talk of degrees of Ancap in most instances, however, because Ancap is nearly nonexistent in modern society.

Ancap can be observed as a political phenomenon of relative equilibrium before any sort of state power has injected itself into the natural cooperation between people. Already, we are at a place where culture must create even the preconditions for Ancap. Most societies took a long time to develop peaceful trade, cooperation, and instead assemble themselves into warring, competing tribes with scarcity mindsets – the idea that any gain of mine must be the loss of someone else. Societies evolve from this warring tribes faction with various tribal rulers to some dominant force which comes to the fore and imposes a sort of unified peace. Once this happens, an era of peace and prosperity usually follows, provided that dominant force is not too far to the “tyrannical state” side of the spectrum. Mini “ancap” communities thrive, having been given stable soil and fair weather in which to bloom in their enclaves.

The drift for most societies toward the tyrannical state occurs gradually, although in relative recent history, by fits and starts. More and more, these “ancap” pockets of civilization are converged upon and controlled by particular interests and then governed by oligarchies or dynasties. This reduces their competitiveness, productivity, and leads to their stagnation. Eventually, this happens across the entire society, until a more competitive civilization comes along or catastrophe fomented by powerful revolutionaries occurs, which accelerates the pace toward tyranny.

The only weapon against this “oligarchy convergence” as we see in the global economy across industries (traditional media, agriculture, internet search engines, social media) today are people who take command of control centers and remove the oligarchies via restructuring or some form of political force. This is always messy, and necessarily involves violation of the NAP. Adherence to strict ancap principles at this stage of a society is asking for the oligarchy to continue. If you study or watch any civilization over time, at no point could you insert ancap without yourself violating the NAP (although as previously mentioned there will be pockets of ancap where organized force is absent, say, in the horse industry or in the apple markets, etc). Always returning to the NAP when you consider policy changes or proposals is crucial. Believing in it with a utopian idealism is disastrous.

In fact, if you follow the NAP fully, you preclude yourself from supporting virtually any action of the state. This cedes the entire territory of the state to actors who are more than happy to violate the NAP. You create the vacuum for tyrants and oppressors because you, who properly understand what an ideal world would be, believe that somehow adhering to that ideal belief system represents the best course of action. Evidence and history argue against this, yet so many libertarians and ancaps somehow think that “maintaining their ideological purity” is more important than the results of their abdication. They claim that their “credibility” will be higher if they remain consistent. “Credibility” of this sort does not move oligarchic democracies or republics any more than it did under monarchies. They have an impotent weapon fueled by their own intellectual self-gratification. Retreating to that violates the reality that we live in hierarchies and are socially interdependent.

Eventually, someone will reign over others as humans always and everywhere form themselves into dominance hierarchies, and someone must decide certain corporate questions of state because of the undeniable fact that states are impossible to entirely remove from human life. Certainly, we can remove hindrances the state places between the peaceful interaction of individuals for the betterment of both, and I happen to think that the most important role of government is this. However, strict adherence to the NAP in political terms abdicates the only levers of power to accomplish that end.

Now, here’s an important caveat. I think Austrian economics and the philosophy underlying it get a lot of things right which modern liberalism fails to see clearly, and they have certain components of economics much more accurately described than Newtonian-assumption economics which attempts to make philosophy and social science into a hard science. I think the Austrians’ emphasis on the roots of large-scale malinvestment because of monopolized control of interest rates is an accurate autopsy of the business cycle. But because one can tell you why someone died does not mean they can fix a broken limb or cure a cancer. They’re a lot closer than many of the other guys, to be sure.

Western civilization has a cancer, and sometimes the only solution is surgery or chemo and hard physical therapy and personal development. Chemo, in one sense, could violate the hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm.” Yet, it is sometimes better than the alternative. Simply believing that the state caused the cancer in the first place does nothing to help us cure it.

If you’d read to this point and are familiar with Ancap/Libertarianism/Austrian Economics, you might think that I’ve sort of blended Austrian Economics, which is more of a theory explaining business cycles, value, etc, versus Ancap/Libertarianism, which is a political stance; and that’s true. I have probably blended those distinctions in this writeup because I think they are companions of a certain school of thought and really indispensable to one another. But there are distinctions, and this is only the opening salvo of writing my way through my own transition out of it. I’ll clarify those distinctions with more writing, as only in attempting to write or express something coherent does real analysis begin.

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