Bloody Shovel 3

We will drown and nobody shall save us


Power is fascinating. It shouldn't be though. Nothing good comes from the fascination towards power, especially for those who don't have it. But we can't help it. We are a political animal. Which means we share a common descent with these fellas down here:




We being monkeys, we aren't really fascinated with power, in abstract. After all it's quite hard to even define what 'power' is. What does it really mean to have power? What does power do? How does it work? One of the first signs a word/concept is too vague is that it doesn't translate well. In Chinese 'power' generally translates as 力量, but political power is translated as 權力.  It doesn't help that 權 generally translates as 'right'. As in 人權, human rights. And that's a recent coining, borrowed from Western political science jargon. You'd think Chinese would have their own ideas about power after 2300 years of centralized empire, but they don't have a clue.

So most people don't have a good understanding of what power is. What we do know is powerful people. Those are everywhere, and God are we obsessed with them. Fascinated. They're everywhere, and everybody's talking about them. We are fascinated with the powerful. How did they get it? What do they want it for? And how do they use it?

And oftentimes, rather than fascination, we are more like mystified. Bemused. Stupefied. What the hell are they doing? I guess that is the common feeling on the reactosphere. All politically aware people have fantasies of what they would do if they had power. And theories of what power is for and why people seek it. But then you look around. And you see Jeff Bezos giving money to a sodomy promotion group. You see Finland's government paying to have Somalis living the 60th parallel. You see George Soros buying shares of Herbalife.


I have no male friends


And that's all there is to it. The only reality is the social circle. And what we call society is just an aggregation of overlapping social circles. As it happens in most social circles, extroverted sociopaths tend to gain power. Scale that up onto society at large and you get a club of vapid shallow extrovert sociopaths who have stumbled into power and simply use it influence their friends and screw with their foes. And the rest of us are just an abstraction.


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  • Just damn, but that's the stuff. I've been saying that there is no hypocrisy in the Media, for much the same reason: the power base has shifted from the consumer to the crony. You've done a masterful work here, condensing the complete twitterverse complaint of the powerless into a handy catch-all of Truth: it's who you know.

    • Thank you.

      Yup, the media has been depending financially on government support for quite some time already. It's only natural that they cater to the power elite, which are their real customers. And friends and family, really.

  • Heh, we quipped here in Finland that the reason why our treasonous elite were eagerly going for the landmine ban was so that they wouldn't have to answer any embarrassing questions from their old activist friends - who were now leading their own, mineless Euro countries - in EU conventions. Reference group uber alles.

    (The obvious backstory is that a shitload of EU leaders have their roots in the 60's student movements)

  • The more I think about it, why would we expect people to understand basic statistics? In what era of human history was understanding such a thing evolutionarily beneficial? And even if it was that probably only applied to the tiny portion of society directly working on such things.

    We should not expect anyone to understand mass society at all.

    • It's not so much understanding as simply giving a shit. One thinks Bill Gates is smart enough to have abstract morals. But he'd rather have a beer with Myhrvold.

  • This is brilliant, Spandrell. The implications of Dunbar's work (if correct), are myriad. Whenever someone turns round to me and demands that his/her humanitarian concern for unknown people is 'realer'-than-real, it just ends up reaking of deontology and cathedral status-sniffing.

    A post on the implications of dunbar on far-right/left political movements would be (damning) interesting.


    • Thanks.

      Moldbug back in the day said that leftism is a social club. The Komintern surely saw plenty of sex, hate, drama, as did the early NSDAP with all those gay orgies held by Ernst Röhm. For all I know Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to push south instead of for Moscow because he couldn't stand the general who proposed that. There's a reason historians until Marx focused on the personalities of the powerful.

          • Well, it's the eternal dilemma for me. To what extent do historical individuals affect history - are they the mini-motors? or, as we've been looking at, is it paradigm shifts in the cultural-structural motor of history that dictates motion?(e.g. The Cathedral). So I'm torn. Perhaps there's a half way? Like genes vs culture, the answer is probably in the grey area. I just found Baumann on the Holocaust, and Foucault in general, very convincing regarding this quandary.

            • I would rarely recommend him under any other context, but Bruno Latour's latest stuff about "monads" and the sociology of Gabriel Tarde might be interesting to dig into. Latour and Tarde ditch the whole macro/micro history and try to find a third way with network theory, which allows individuals to have major impacts on the whole (as Spandrell said, how can they not?) without necessarily doing away with the larger superstructure. I don't fully understand it yet, but essentially, Latour argues that the individual is the sum of his network connections and attributes.

              • Thanks for that. Heard of both, but have read neither - will get on it soon. I wonder where the 'positive' side of agency factors in techno-commercialism? If we're 'hosts' to the signal, agency appears more appropriate (i.e. stronger) in the philosophies of humanism, positive rights, and central planning. I guess there is no quick answer. Goulding via Szabo pointed to the Kolmogorov complexity, I think it's relevant here. A proper tangled web.

              • This makes great sense. I was thinking recently that the graphs of top 100000 people by wealth, as well as graphs of unrelated things like number of readers enjoyed by the top 100 blogs, or absolute energy released by the top 100 earthquakes, are all eerily similar. They are all logarithmic scale graphs, following something akin to the Pareto 80-20 principle. They have a long flat tail on the left, and on the extreme right end, there is a steep ascent, nearly vertical towards the end. The only sensible interpretation is that being nearer the top of the wealth pyramid makes it even easier to move up, since every action you perform is magnified proportional according to how high you are on the wealth scale. So if you have two equally hard working individuals, one born poor and one born rich, the poor one will remain poor while the rich one will probably be orders of magnitude richer than his parents. I am sure power also works the same way. Your exertions on your social circle go much further when you are already powerful. Makes me sympathetic to Marxism when I think about it. Or aristocracy. The only thing that stands discredited is the "all men are created equal and if you work hard you can achieve everything you desire" crowd.

            • Well people's individual behavior does depend greatly on the general conditions of their time, so there's that for materialism. But I don't think there's much doubt that some historical events really are contingent, almost random. There's such things as close calls in history.

              • All for want of a nail.


  • "I think you’ll find the only difference between the rich and other people is that the rich have more money." -- Mary Colum

  • This is one of the best posts you've had. Echos of Helmut Schoeck's Envy, which everyone should read if they haven't. Keep it up.

  • Very plausible. One of the things that would follow is human societies have got too big for our Dunbar limits. Swiss cantons ftw.

  • dunbar's number applies to any social grouping under competitive pressures. but power is when the personal desires of hedge-fund tycoons mediate everyone else's, even by accident

    also, the reason that before marx (really hegel) history was told as persona and event is that before hegel (really rosseau) history as such did not exist

  • So you're saying one of the things that have been forgotten is that the point of power is to reward your friends and punish your enemies.

    Oh shit, you're right.

    Of course, per Jim, pious leftists reward their leftward enemies and punish their rightward friends. It's amazing they have any success at all.

  • Soros's motives aside, Ackman got Herbalife completely wrong.

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