Does formalism matter?

Mencius Moldbug’s concept of formalism runs roughly as follows: since politics is violence at a remove and violence is conflict plus uncertainty, both can be eliminated via the elimination of uncertainty. Since democratic politics necessarily creates uncertainty in government, democratic politics should be replaced by a feedback mechanism that doesn’t, i.e. neocameralism: a patchwork of sovereign corporations.

The obvious problem with this is that Strange Loop is not the government. In fact, very few political controversies today involve the government—GamerGate doesn’t, the censorship issue doesn’t, tech conferences don’t, the endless bickering over which demographic groups are inherently deserving of more status than which other demographic groups doesn’t, and so on. When the government enters into political controversy at all, it’s usually because either it’s an election year (see: Trump) or some political actors have proposed making the government pass a primarily-symbolic resolution bestowing some status upon some group or other, as with gay marriage and the bathroom bill. The government—of USG or of North Carolina; it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s a government—has become the chief celebrity of the nation, and not much else.

Given that most politics today is about culture and most political issues today are symbolic (tech conferences, the bathroom bill, arguably GamerGate), argued about for fun by people who only care because they don’t have better hobbies, how much of a difference does it really make what the government does?

(See also: fandom wars. Fandom wars can get big.)

15 responses to “Does formalism matter?

  1. Dedicating Ruckus June 11, 2016 at 2:49 am

    On the other hand, there’s probably an argument to be made that the left is only able to make headway in nominally non-governmental conflicts because the government has a thumb on the scale. Black Lives Matter would not be able to do nearly as much damage if the police didn’t stand aside and let them. Similarly, a government that actually cared about order would have the option of taking direct actions against powerful groups like the foundations which are directly involved in disrupting it on a large scale.

    Probably more significant, removing democracy would break the information/power feedback loop and disrupt the operating mechanism of the Cathedral. If there are no elections and the security forces can handle outright mobs, then the government has no reason to care what the New York Times prints. (Leaving aside actually publishing classified information, for which see above under ‘direct actions against’.) And if they aren’t a channel to power, it’s plausible that leftists will cease trying to infiltrate the universities. In the long run, that would solve many of the problems.

    I’m not sure the original premise holds, though; or rather, it applies to an earlier stage of ‘democracy’, e.g. that before the Civil War. Isn’t the Moldbug hypothesis that the post-FDR government isn’t significantly democratic in the classical sense? Thus, there shouldn’t be much uncertainty in elections at all; it’s all just Inner Party or Outer Party, meet the new head of state same as the old head of state. (How this analysis holds up in the presence of Trump I’m not sure.)

  2. pithom June 11, 2016 at 3:22 am

    I think you’re defining politics too broadly. #Gamergate was not about government, for example, it was about ethics in game journalism.

    • nydwracu June 11, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      “Ethics in game journalism” is a subset of “politics”, as is whatever Brother Jonathan McIntosh jabbers about. “Art is only legitimate if it makes the viewer miserable” is a political stance.

      • pithom June 11, 2016 at 4:01 pm

        ““Art is only legitimate if it makes the viewer miserable” is a political stance.”

        -If that’s so, what isn’t a political stance?

  3. Rime June 11, 2016 at 4:12 am

    This means the centers of power have left the government, as Moldbug aptly points out again and again. What you call the “government” is no longer governing and not the government. It is the leftover heap from the last redistribution and reconsalidation of power. Guys like Trump want to take that mess, clean it up, and make it work again. Creatures like Hillary and Bernie want to look good and siphon resources out of it while letting power stay more or less where it is.

  4. James Donald June 11, 2016 at 4:22 am

    If a corporation hires politically incorrect people, or fails to hire social justice commissars, it gets sued for discrimination.

    Thus, the judiciary matters.

    Gamergate, no one to sue.

    • Alrenous June 11, 2016 at 3:29 pm

      Most conferences are grant funded, or funded by tickets bought by grant-funded salaries. The remainder is made up of very sue-able public companies with public sponsorships. (scroll down)

      Or, as Microsoft found out, everyone is in violation of antitrust if they aren’t paid up in their political contributions. If a human commits N felonies a day, how many does a corporation commit, do you think? Who is, in fact, immune to abuse by the justice department?

      Gamergate would have worked anyway, because in a panem-et-circenses regime, you can’t mess with the circenses and expect to keep ruling.

  5. vanderede June 11, 2016 at 7:41 am

    Short answer: Lebanon.

    Long answer: government is an institution like any other, and to some degree an emergent feature of ideological and phyletic groups and institutions, like the ones involved in The Video Game Controversy. The two attitudes one can take to this info are republicanism (the government is a neutral public good which exists to mediate between different institutions and phyles) and monarchy/dictatorship (the government is the private property of some individual, institution, or phyle, which exists to pacify or neutralise other phyles).
    Nerdbug’s whole point is that republicanism only actually *works* under specific, delicate circumstances, and the majority of countries which are called ‘republics’ today aren’t anything approaching the classical model. In theory, according to the constitution, USG is a neutral public good with the purpose of mediating between the red and blue phyles. In practice, it has for some time now been the private property of the blue phyle, used by them to enforce the Universal Rule of Righteousness, mostly in a way that doesn’t involve gulags, thankfully. Nerdbug’s and Carlyle’s response to this situation is to tear up the constitution, give them a little crown marked ‘KING OF AMERICA’ – i.e. formalism – and work from that point onwards.
    In Lebanon of the First Republic (1945-1975) there was a rule that the position of President had to be held by a Maronite, the position of Prime Minister by a Shiite, and the Speaker of Parliament by a Sunni. The system worked until the 1970s, when the Palestinians immigrated from Jordan, tilting things toward the Sunnis and destroying the delicate balance. Eventually, things sorted themselves by the negotiation of a new bargain, and the government came into existence again, in a weakened form. Hezbollah continues to exist, as a state-within-a-state. The *correct* response to the situation wouldn’t have been to try the same solution over again, given that it had failed; a reactionary would have just handed it back to the Ottomans, a technofuturist would have made it the private fiefdom of a Chinese businessman.
    Similarly, an Ottoman would have dealt with The Video Game Controversy by brutally suppressing the whole thing and segregating the groups involved into millets, the Chinese businessman would revoke the citizen rights of one group or the other, and let them fall under the control of another businessman, hence, patchwork. Note that in both cases, the ability of the phyles to directly interact and dox/kill one another is sabotaged, and they have to use the businessmen or the Padishah as mediators. The situation becomes something resembling republican neutrality.
    So in short: how does a state deal with ethnic and sectarian conflict, given that the people running it will inevitably be ethnic and sectarian themselves?

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  8. Jefferson June 14, 2016 at 4:44 pm

    I’m confused by this post. What we call government is a leg of the Cathedral, and because of our demotic religion it must manufacture consent, right? We call it the Cathedral because it is inherently a theocracy. There are two paths to status in our theocracy: through the Cathedral, and through industry. You seem to be suggesting that since the politics of industry are not openly debated in a meaningful sense, our politics are divorced from governance. Perhaps you do not care about the politics of culture, but to the pious this is the only arena that matters.

  9. Frank June 14, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    >how much of a difference does it really make what the government does?

    As others have pointed out, true power is upstream from culture. This is a very poorly argued piece, as you know very well that Cathedral is the real nexus of sovereignty in the USA.

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