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Technology, Class, and Ideological Realignment

I appreciate Michael Lind's model of the contemporary American class structure. He asks us to visualize two horseshoe structures:

a lower horseshoe whose two prongs point up, and an upper horseshoe whose two prongs point down. The lower horseshoe has the underclass at the bottom/midpoint and the hub city working class and the heartland working class as the points of its two opposing prongs. The upper horseshoe has the managerial elite proper as its midpoint/apex and the professional bourgeoisie and the small business bourgeoisie as the points of its two opposing prongs.

This model is pretty nifty, and it parsimoniously captures some ideological variation as well. Roughly, Lind suggests, the “center,” “left” and “right” map onto the managerial elite, the professional bourgeoisie, and the small business bourgeoisie. True elites just want stability, institutionalized bourgeois professionals want more government funding, and the self-employed want freedom from regulation and taxation. So far, so good.

But his sense of the near future is quite limited. It was only a parting remark, but

Lind suggests that any new cross-class alliance will have to create “powerful mass-membership, working-class organizations..."

I do not think this needs to happen, and I do not think it will happen. This is a powerful meme from pre-digital labor history, but I don’t think it bears much scrutiny. It’s the kind of thing Gen X socialists say when they don’t know what else to say.

I see a very different trajectory.

Consider Lind’s ”small business bourgeoisie,” which currently includes a lot of obsolete business models, like many local brick-and-mortar stores. There is a new player in this class, and it's the bootstrapped internet business—which doesn’t even require computer programming or much startup capital anymore. This includes a whole new breed of "DTC" or direct-to-consumer brands, but also the "creator economy" and even some of the crypto economy.

A non-trivial portion of Lind's "professional bourgeoisie" is defecting from legacy bureaucratic institutions (technologically indefensible prestige cartels), into this new tech-savvy faction of the small-business bourgeoisie. The clearest and most recent example is the massive wave of journalists quitting their jobs in favor of writing independently on Substack. But the 2 million people working full-time as internet “creators” already would have been enough to substantiate my claim.

Then within Lind's "managerial elite" (the major titans of industry and government), there is an increasingly salient cleavage between tech-centric libertarian types and paper-centric bureaucratic types. Think “west coast” figures like Marc Andreesen or Peter Thiel versus “east coast” figures like the Sulzbergers.

The "professional bourgeois" defecting from institutions into the small-business bourgeoisie are doing so because their institutional wage premia are being eroded by technology, so their shift is almost intrinsically tech-centric and libertarian.

We’re beginning to see an ideological realignment where the professional bourgeoisie increasingly defects from the old state-centric, pro-bureaucracy socialism into a new, more tech-centric communitarianism with socialistic longings but libertarian characteristics.

It’s not as contradictory as it sounds. For most left-wing intellectuals since Marx, their ideological alignment with state power was only ever a marriage of convenience. Their ultimate preference is always to abolish the state, but until that’s possible, they love the state as a necessary vehicle moving in the direction of liberation. In the digital age, left-leaning bourgeois intellectuals will retain their radical egalitarianism but their marriage of convenience will now be with technology and private wealth, which they will correctly see as the only viable bulwarks for egalitarian political structures moving forward.

If you doubt that ideologies and alliances can shift so quickly due to external changes in the economic landscape, read this classic political science paper. Is “free trade” a left-wing or right-wing position? There’s no clear answer to this questions, because the content of “left” and “right” party programs fluctuates depending on opportunistic factors. If you look at left-wing parties across time and space, their position on the Free Trade issue is a function of how much land, labor, and capital there is in the country under consideration.

The newfound allies of our defecting professionals will be the tech-libertarian elites and, most confusingly, the working-class heartland—the true believers in the American freedom ethos. This is the only way to understand the new cleavage that puts on one side right-leaning media figures like Tucker Carlson, with defected left-leaning professional-bourgeois figures like Angela Nagle and Ariel Pink, with right-leaning tech figures such as Curtis Yarvin and Peter Thiel, with an army of anti-institutional solo-business creators as big as Joe Rogan and as small as the Patreon podcaster who is barely scraping by but nonetheless paying all of their bills with complete intellectual freedom.

A major catalyst of this realignment will be crypto. Crypto is fundamentally a redistribution of wealth and power away from the managerial elite (whose income is based on legacy cartels and fiat currency) toward anti-institutional outsiders (whose income is based on being correct before being accepted). This is another independent vector of change, which is also intrinsically tech-centric libertarian.

The American class structure is approaching a great schism that might very well make the Civil War of 1861 seem like a sibling rivalry.

On the one side, we will have a tech-centric libertarian camp connecting all of the most forward-thinking and freedom-focused people up and down the class hierarchy, boasting a fundamentally new and censorship-proof monetary system and wealth base.

On the other side, we will have everyone whose income is based on having paid dues to a legacy institution, plus the black urban underclass that the institutional bourgeois is essentially holding hostage (exploiting this faction's historical investment in the Democratic party, leaving them nowhere else to go, like abusive husbands do to their battered wives).

The big question is whether the captains of the sinking ship accelerate their bellicosity or ask for a lifeboat. In many ways, crypto provides the best thermometer for this growing cleavage: If the institutions gradually buy into crypto, then I would expect the USA to gradually morph into a tech-libertarian patchwork where all national and state bureaucracies gradually recede into nothingness and all power passes through blockchains.

If the US government tries to institute an outright ban on crypto—like Nigeria is doing right now—then all the crypto millionaires, the small-business intellectuals, and the freedom-loving rednecks would galvanize into a proto-secessionary unit. They would have most of the guns in America, and most of America’s greatest minds.

In the face of serious aggression from US institutions, this camp could either double-down on one of the untraceable cryptocurrencies and alternative networking models like Urbit, to sustain the true American nation in the shadow of the usurper government, or it would simply purchase a small country somewhere else.

Either way, we win.

The Two Meanings of Reaction (Excerpt from Based Deleuze)

The following is an excerpt from my short book Based Deleuze, which will be published on September 20th. Pre-order here and you’ll receive it by email as soon as it’s released.


Discussing the ideological valence of great thinkers is difficult because they have little use for the crutches of ideology. The difficulty is particularly acute today, when ideological labels are used so loosely, and often with ulterior motives. I should therefore clarify, at the outset, what I mean by "reactionary" in the subtitle of this book.

In some sense, Deleuze was explicitly anti-reactionary. He was anti-reactionary in the sense that he was anti-reactive, in the spirit of Spinoza and Nietzsche. To be a reactionary, in this pejorative sense, means to be always responding to active, superior forces, instead of becoming an active force; to be captured by sad affects, to be resentful, and to think and act with these as one's motive forces.

This common sense understanding of reactionism partially maps onto the modern political-ideological sense of the word. The data show that conservatives are more reactive to disgusting stimuli, for instance (Inbar et al. 2009). Experiments have shown that even just the presence of foul odors can make people slightly, but measurably, more conservative (Schnall et al 2008). Conservatives are more likely to see threats and reactively demand "law and order." Edmund Burke watched the French Revolution with horror, and famously wrote about his reactions. Henceforth, we'll refer to this aspect of reactionary or conservative politics as reactivism. I prefer reactivism to reactionism because it will remind us that left-wing progressive activism is much closer to this sense of "reactionary" than we are accustomed to thinking. Reactionary politics in this sense, reactivism, can be a failure mode of left-wing politics no less than right-wing politics.

Things get confusing because modern society also calls reactionary whatever transgresses left-wing or progressive norms. Nietzsche, for instance, is seen by many as a reactionary, even though one pillar of his whole life's philosophy is a contempt for reactive tendencies. Since World War II, any sufficiently disagreeable and strong-willed individual eager to avoid reactivism — who wishes to constitute an authentic, healthy, and autonomous existence — will generally be coded as reactionary. Even if their political beliefs are ideologically ambiguous or ambivalent. Strong and uncompromisingly active drives get coded as "reactionary" if the individual is not plausibly linked to the larger collective liberation struggle of some officially marginalized group. It is only in this sense of the term that we will find a "reactionary" component in the philosophy of Deleuze.

This latter sense of "reaction" is a recurring, subterranean tendency that can arise from the Left as well as the Right. It is most likely to emerge from the Right, but in periods when "the Left" becomes especially, excessively decadent - the responsibility to transgress "The Left" occasionally falls to an otherwise proper leftist.

This is how we will understand Deleuze's “reactionary leftism.”

Deleuze’s Troublesome Inheritance (Excerpt from Based Deleuze)

Now that the book is a little more than 75% done, I figure I should start posting some excerpts. Did you know Deleuze’s parents were both fascists? Good son that he was, though, he never disavowed them. Very naughty, today’s Antifa would say, but very based. Not because fascism is cool — Deleuze was unambiguously anti-fascist, as am I — but because honoring your mother and father is far more important than signaling games. Your mother and father are immanent, molecular parts of your life, whereas public signaling games have only to do with molar institutions. Verbal statements can significantly and advantageously affect interpersonal relationships (what Deleuze and Guattari mean in their discourses on collective “enunciation”), but as soon as you start making statements for the purpose of manipulating public consequences — you're captured. So it would never make sense to throw your father under the bus, even if he is a literal fascist, just to show some random journalist you’re on her team. Get it? Probably not! That’s why I’m writing Based Deleuze.

I’ll also paste here the current table of contents, as of today.

Current Table of Contents

  1. Bearing One’s Cross
  2. A Troublesome Inheritance
  3. From Christ to the Bourgeoisie
  4. Becoming Imperceptible
  5. HBDeleuze
  6. Accelerate the Process
  7. Becoming Minority
  8. Deleuzo-Petersonianism
  9. Autocracy, Capital, Bureaucracy

Excerpt from A Troublesome Inheritance

Let us consider a psycho-biographical approach to understanding the ideological valence of Deleuze’s thought. Political ideologies are known to be heritable — probably somewhere between 30% and 60% heritable (Hatemi et al. 2014) — so an author’s family background must provide at least some hints about an author’s ideological center of gravity. Most attitudes show a higher correlation with parental attitudes later in life, suggesting that individuals early in life experiment by deviating from their inherited center of gravity, before eventually settling their viewpoints somewhere closer to that center of gravity.

According to the joint biography of Deleuze and Guattari by Françoise Dosse (2011), both of Deleuze's parents were ideologically conservative. Louis Deleuze was an engineer and small-business owner, before he closed-up shop to become an employee of a large aerospace engineering firm. Louis disliked the Popular Front, the left-wing coalition that came to power in 1936, instead favoring a relatively small paramilitary party known as the Croix-de-Feu. Originally consisting of World War I veterans, this faction was financially supported by French millionaire and benefactor of Mussolini, Françoise Coty. The party had a Catholic bent because the Catholic Church prohibited Catholics from supporting the monarchist Action Française. The Croix-de-Feu was essentially a French equivalent of the Nazi party in Germany and the National Fascist Party in Italy, although this tendency in France was much weaker (the party enjoyed only about a million members at the height of its popularity).

After the Popular Front came to power, Louis and his wife, Odette, were horrified by the empowerment of working-class people. The Popular Front passed policies such as mandatory paid vacations for all workers. Gilles recalls Louis and Odette disgusted to find working-class people on the beaches of Deauville, where the Deleuze family vacationed in Normandy. “My mother, who was surely the best of women, said that it was impossible to go to a beach with people like that on it (Dosse 2011, 89)." Notice that Deleuze does not disavow his mother or her disgust, prefacing his recollection with an emphatic endorsement of the woman.

§

To be clear, I don’t argue that Deleuze was sympathetic to fascism, but his writings and interviews are filled with ideologically devilish statements such as this one. Why? Nobody really knows. Now that I'm about half-way done with the book, I'm more convinced than ever that I have the answer. If you haven’t already, pre-order now. You know you want to!

Democrats wanted strongman rule way more than Republicans — until Trump arrived

Democrats wanted strongman rule until Trump arrived

That graph is from the new book by political scientists Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart (2019), Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism.

Just finishing the book now. I'd call it a rigorous validation of the conventional wisdom of the moment.  Certainly required reading for anyone with weirder theories about the culture wars. This will probably serve as the baseline model for some time.

Our theory argues that a cultural silent revolution has heightened polarization over cultural issues in the electorate, provoking an authoritarian backlash among social conservatives. We hypothesize that socially liberal values are spreading through intergenerational population replacement and demographic shifts, causing traditionalists (concentrated among the less-educated and older birth cohorts) to feel threatened, perceiving that respect for their core values and social mores is rapidly eroding. These developments have cumulated over time to reach a tipping point in high-income Western societies…

If you read between the lines there are some more tantalizing insights, such as the one dramatized in the graph above. I would like to write a longer review, but we'll see.

Patrons may have noticed this in my hard drive a week or two ago.

When not to go with the flow

The task of identifying the line between good and evil is like infinitesimal calculus. Mere intuitions are insufficient, which is why "going with the flow" so easily ends in evil. Many marriages fail this way, as sincerely innocent intentions to "make friends" or enjoy "a rich private life” all of a sudden become adulterous affairs or irrecoverable distances. To keep innocence from turning to guilt requires strict and formal tools, just as one cannot eyeball the derivative of a curve, but when it comes to good and evil the objects of analysis are typically difficult to measure. This is the genius of socially conservative Christian norms around sex and marriage, which are often seen as stupidly strict prohibitions, e.g. never having alone time with a member of the opposite sex. Secular cosmopolitans today laugh at this norm, but are the scoffers and mockers really doing so well? In the context of this particular example, marriage, one error on the side of adultery does more damage than several errors on the side of foregone other-sex friendship experiences. As a result, some educated cosmopolitans run around with many "friendships" and failed marriages, scoffing at the paranoia of Christian family values, although the latter include some superior, evolved formalities to deal with overly complex identification problems we are incapable of solving intuitively "in the moment." Whenever a fatal point on a map is hard to detect, it makes sense to prohibit any entrance into the smallest definable region around the undetectable point. Unconditional prohibition may be the most sophisticated rule in contexts where many hidden chutes toward the netherworld are known to exist, even if a sizable range of perfectly innocent and desirable experiences must be forgone.

Audience structure on the Left and Right of new indy media

It looks to me like the audience structure of public intellectuals and/or "content creators" differs across the Right and Left. Right-leaning writers/creators in contemporary culture seem to enjoy a larger variety of wide pyramids (anti-establishment populism), whereas left-leaning writers/creators produce for a smaller number of taller pyramids (prestige hierarchies). As Oliver Traldi recently discussed — I think his article was the proximal trigger for this post — Jordan Peterson and Chapo Trap House may even have an oddly overlapping target market. But whereas right-leaning figures — e.g., Mike Cernovich, Scott Adams and many, many others one or two notches down — enjoy huge audiences of lower-status people, there seem to be way fewer left-leaning content creators who eek out decent little livings from obscure Youtube channels or whatever.

On the left, most intellectual/entertainment attention is channeled into a smaller number of institutions considered legitimate, namely academic institutions, a small number of presses such as Verso, a small number of big podcasts such as Chapo Trap House, and a few small outlets such as Jacobin and the like. These left-leaning attention pyramids seem more premised on institutionalized forms of cachet. Whether that cachet is found in academic credentials or socialist hipster capital, it seems that individual lefties seem to distribute their attention in a way that is more conditional on what the other comrades consider good. People who are as far right as DSA members are far left watch whatever batshit Youtuber most satisfies their individual, idiosyncratic palates, but seemingly all the lefties on the hunt for something a little naughty converge on Chapo, rather than a whole bunch of different Chapos for their various consumer predilections.

Assuming my observation is at least partially consistent with the data, which I haven't checked, the question is why?

Leftists will say "capitalist ideology" and Koch-brothers funding and so on, and there is often some truth in some of these common takes.

I think the main explanatory factor is that social status conditions intellectual attention and deference very differently on the Left and Right. Roughly, it's a crucial and ineluctable principle of selection and attention on the Left, but less so on the Right. (Each one obviously has internal status hierarchies, I'm just talking about the degree to which social status = attention). Because the Left is supposed to be morally enlightened relative to the status quo, then within the Left, that which is the most morally enlightened deserves the most attention and deference. "Enlightened" or "moral" is interchangeable with "cool" or cultural capital, these are really just different labels for social standing. There is a particularly interesting and perverse layer here, which I might comment on briefly without getting too sidetracked, which is that one of the factors shaping what's cool on the Left is how likely something is to gain power (it's not really enlightened morally unless it's a real threat to capitalism, or appears to be closer to threatening than all the rest of the stuff that has no teeth). For this reason, simple coolness/fashion dynamics get loaded with intellectual and moral gravitas: if some radical Left thing gains cachet, well of course you see through mere fashion appeal but if the kids are excited about it then it's your duty to support it, because to win we need something that catches on...

In other words, I am kind of curious how many of the Chapo patrons are young men who would quite prefer something a little edgier, but this is as edgy as they can get away with while keeping their feminist-careerist wife or that philosophy grad student they're sleeping with. The people who watch the cacophony of figures from Alex Jones all the way to mild-mannered liberal Dave Rubin are not any less concerned with their social identity, as if they are above such concerns, it's just that they're generally more detached from competition for high status. They're more or less adapted to whatever status they have, whereas very many activated leftists are status insecure, trying really hard to be upwardly mobile (e.g., their parents were poor and they'll say and do anything not to be), or negotiating inescapable downward mobility (e.g., their parents were comfortable profs and they tried but will not be). The activated left is just filled with these types of people, who fight tooth and nail for the lowest rungs of high status. If you've never been there, you cannot understand the amount of constraint and discipline it imposes on your personal lifestyle choices, especially around intellectual and entertainment consumption choices, because these are one of the coins you can trade up for admiration, sex, jobs, etc.

This might be why the left contains a smaller number of intellectuals/creators and each will enjoy proportionally larger audiences (proportional to the population with that degree of ideology) in part because those audiences are somewhat "captured" by the risk-aversion enforced by intense competition for high status. This is why there can only be a few big-money podcasts such as Chapo, whereas there seem to be way more right-leaners making that kind of money or more: There is only so much DSA / socialist Brooklyn cultural capital to go around before creative forking efforts would dilute that capital to structurally unsustainable levels — for the dilution of one's Left status to structurally unsustainable manifests concretely as a vague defection to right-wing populism, no matter what the actual beliefs of the person involved.

You can syphon off a subset of the Chapo patron base with a "Chapo but for IQ realists" or "Chapo but with a taste for Moldbug" — trust me, I'm trying. 🙂 But then you can't stay in good standing on the Left (meaning even if some leftists like you, most can't tell their friends about you, which for people in cut-throat competition for the low rungs of high status, means they just can't listen to you). You can syphon off a subset of the Chapo patron base while staying in good standing on the Left, but your room for differentiation is so constrained that you'll have a hard time constituting a fundamentally unique product different than what Chapo is providing. This is why you do see a few Chapo-like podcasts out there but they are tiny or they fade out. Anyway, this is my best shot at a possible explanation for why the Right can somehow fund a huge number of idiosyncratic intellectuals/creators with big populist audiences but the Left appears to have only a few. I'm not even too sure about the data, to be honest, so caveat emptor — I just wanted to lay out some of these hypotheses I've had for a little while now.

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