A statement on neoreaction a basilisk
This isn’t so much a review as it is an address to a particular comment I’ve seen often come up among those who oh so desperately want to undo the project, to argue that the links made within NAB are irrelevant, and more generally the statements that are made whenever the politics of the lesswrong community are attacked. Whenever Yudkowsky’s politics are ‘conservative’ or not is argued over and over and over again in the horrid way characteristic of a group with a strong belief in the powers of language, and this argument has come up yet again in the conversation about NAB, that Sandifer’s choice to talk about Yudkowsky alongside Moldburg and Nick Land (two massive neoreactionaries) is a miscategorization to the degree that Sandier shouldn’t finish the book, that the book is communist propaganda, whatever.
I’m just going to provide my reading of the situation, as ya know, an actual communist. Because I’m of the opinion that while Yudkowsky may not be a ‘conservative’, his work definitely fits within the reactionary project, and that this key element explains a large degree of the way the lesswrong/rationalist community leans.
To sum up the key element; the major part of Yudkowsky’s project is a desire to work towards the creation of a beneficent AI who we can then give the resources to to run the world. To this end he has created a pair of think tanks, has written innumerable papers and thinkpieces, etc. Now, this is hard to take seriously but if we do take it seriously then this is merely a new coat of paint over a desire that is over two hundred years old.
You see, it’s easy to forget that feudalism (stay with me now) wasn’t just ‘having a king’, that the feudal system was a whole system wherein the whole hierarchy was justified in generally divine terms. And while the literary origin of the divine right of kings was in Bodin, Bodin’s work actually is a degradation of the concept; the fact that it needed to be expressed in the 16th century showed just how much it was being questioned. Because, before this period, while the King was not absolute the hierarchy he remained atop of was, it’s an amazing statement that no matter how many aristocratic intrigues and revolts occurred before the 17th century, not a single one of these revolts sought to end the whole edifice of monarchy. I can go on about this separately but a full discussion of it would take quite a bit of time and I’m not specifically talking about this.
But the thing about the divine right of monarchs is that in the end it is divine. Many who sought to bring back monarchs seek to merely turn the clock back to 1788, but some of the more intelligent reactionaries who wrote in the generation following the French Revolution noted that you would have to turn it back even further, that the beginnings of secular thought was the beginning of the demise of a fully justified monarchy. Because if God is not there in the foreground, justifying the difference between King and noble and noble and peasant, then the King is just some guy, your local lord is just some guy, and what the fuck justifies their existence over you?
This became worse and worse over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, with ever more and ever more complicated justifying measures appearing–for instance, a focus on the innate power of the blood which became a motif among reactionaries for centuries to come. But in the end these measures just didn’t cut it, and after the French Revolution it became harder and harder to justify Monarchy, or any sort of Autocracy, on divine or secular grounds.
I would argue that the reactionary project ever since the French Revolution is the search for a newly justified King, a King who could reestablish the hierarchy of old. But they come up on an issue, without the totalizing religious beliefs of old your hierarchy is always going to comprise of regular people, and unless you engage in nonsensical magical thinking (a trait actually increasingly common now even in mainstream works but constantly under challenge), you’re going to have to find another way.
And so, at the end of this line of thinking, we find Yudkowsky. How is it that neoreactionaries found such a home in the bosom of rationalism? Because they were, in the end, seeking the same thing. Moldbug declaring that he is, in the end, searching for a king is not a more radical view compared to Yudkowsky’s, only a more honest one. It takes away the varnish of technoutopianism of a beneficent and omnipotent AI and says that in the end a person will do. Because in the end a King is a King, regardless of how many philosophy classes he’s taken and, indeed, whether he is human or not. The two exist on the same plane within the same project: the AI Philosopher King is, to the Lesswrongers, ideal, but Moldbug says that he’d settle for Steve Jobs. It’s the same shit, the same longing for a newly justified King.