Outrageus Ideas

July 20, 2014

TechCrunch had a post about the neoreactionary movement today. If you're not familiar with the neoreactionary movement, I highly recommend checking out some of the links on that article and also on this one, which the original article linked to. In short, neoreactionaries promote moving away from liberal democracy and to a more traditional system like monarchy, along with everything that comes with that. They believe human societies perform optimally under those kinds of systems.

I was introduced to the neoreactionary movement a few months ago. The person that introduced it to me was someone I already respected as being somewhat smart. The excitement that I felt as I dipped my toes into neoreactionary material was something I had not felt for a long time... Here was a set of ideas that flew in the face of everything I had ever accepted as true, and if these ideas are coming from smart people, maybe I'm on the brink of a new intellectual breakthrough or epiphany. That's exciting!!!

Some of the first neoreactionary articles that I read were from Unqualified Reservations whose author (who goes by the pseudonym Mencius Moldbug) refers to himself as the "Sith Lord" of the movement. Let's just call him one of the founders of the movement.

My excitement soon turned into disappointment. I would read these really long blog posts and they'd be littered with obvious fallacies. And then there's this guy... He's the Rush Limbaugh of the movement. Given the way he writes (at least in the few posts that I read), I'm honestly impressed he doesn't keep his CAPS lock on 24/7. He's a big fan of shouting what he thinks without much of an attempt to make a case for it in the least, which is fine, since his readership almost entirely consists of people who agree with him.

So obviously, I'm not a big fan of neoreactionary thought, and yet when the TechCrunches of the world are talking about neoreactionaries, I find myself feeling like defending them. Why?

Like I said, I think neoreactionary thought is littered with fallacies. If you read Unqualified Reservations, I think you'll find few of the conclusions follow from the premises. BUT! Those premises are sometimes really damn interesting. This is what I find fascinating about neoreaction: a bunch of smart people have done a lot of interesting work to come up with a bunch of nonsensical ideas. Up until the point you get to the conclusions, reading neoreactionary material just might be the most eye-opening thing you can do. When I was reading Moldbug, I was amazed at how quickly I could spot his fallacies, but when he would present a series of progressive, commonly-accepted ideas just before exposing them as absurd, I couldn't see any inconsistencies with them. I can't get behind his conclusions, but I can get behind many of his critiques of progressive thought. If nothing else, reading his blog posts exposed the massive amount of bias I have toward liberal-progressive thinking.

That brings me to a neoreactionary concept that has resonated with me the most... the idea that we always have a "religion", as a kind of default operating system that guides how we behave. No matter how secular-minded you think you are, you still have a mental framework that dictates your values. For most of us living in the liberal west, that framework is liberal progressive thought. How many people do you know that would take seriously someone who was openly racist? For most of you reading, I'd bet the answer is "none". But what if that person had some really, really good reasons to be racist? What if he was the first person to discover that there are major genetic differences between the races?


I want you to stop and feel the emotions that that question stirred up in you. Feel it? That anger in your gut... "How dare he even propose such an obviously absurd thing!?". That's your religion kicking in. I just insulted your liberal-progressive religion. That gut feeling is blocking your rational senses to take in any further information. Next, let me ask you... "why are we not racists?". If you answer anything other than "because it has not been proven that there is a significant genetic difference among the races", you're wrong. We don't accept races as equal because racial equality is the ultimate good in the world. We accept them as equal because that is the most rational thing to believe given the information we have. And if one day evidence came out to the contrary, we should instantly change our views.

But I suspect, if that day ever comes, we won't instantly change our views. Because ideas like equality form the core of our liberal-progressive religion. I'd like to think I don't have this religion. I'd like to think I think what I think because it's true, but reading Moldbug has proven that wrong. I can only do my best to uninstall any piece of this operating system as I become aware of it, and neoreactionary thought is very helpful in that regard.

Once you've accepted that there always is an operating system, hopefully the next thing you'll want to do is uninstall the default. Unfortunately, I don't think we, as humans, can operate without one, so the challenge is to find/design one that is desirable and replace the default with that.

This is a really hard thing to do, obviously. Let's see if (at least some) neoreactionaries have a good idea where to start...

So yes, we want to maximize some long-term flourishing of our people or whatever, and maybe we’ll be in a position to do something about that some day, but for an actual concrete mission statement that can actually set the boundaries and direction of a community, I’d offer the following:

The main value of Neoreaction is in producing a novel, intelligent, uncompromised, and correct analysis of social and political science that is unafraid to contradict current political fashions and is unafraid to draw on non-contemporary or non-agreeable thought.

-- Pushback on “The Purpose of Reactionaries” and Social Conservatism

That seems pretty damn sound to me. If you're the kind of person who thinks beliefs should be held as holy in a bubble that protects them from facts, you don't belong on this site (or anywhere near me to be honest). Otherwise, I expect you'd be fairly on board with that way of thinking, too. If a movement came about with this mission statement and stuck to it, I'd follow it to the darkest corners of enlightenment. However, just read that whole post and you'll soon see where the whole argument gets derailed. I've distilled the argument down to this:

  • we want to form our opinions based on facts, regardless of current, conventional wisdom,
  • there is an existing religion (liberalism) that has penetrated every corner of our society so we'll have to be vigilant against it,
  • therefore: any scientific fact that doesn't support our ultra-conservative foregone conclusions must be dismissed because all those "facts" were discovered/promoted by intellectuals who work for "the cathedral" (ie. universities and other institutions that neoreaction blames for spreading liberal thought).

Some of those forgone conclusions include being pro-racism, sexism, and/or slavery, and I can't think of why these ideas ever took hold in a movement that fancies itself "rational" other than that they were old ideas that nobody today believes in... therefore they must be good. Thus a neoreactionary does exactly the opposite of what he sets out to do: believe in questionable (to put it mildly) dogma in a fact-free bubble that is the neoreactionary community.

Note that my only problem with the above reasoning is the last step. Even when it comes to dismissing current scientific understanding, I don't think that's too outrageous. If it is true that our shared liberal dogma is akin to a state religion, then how much information are we missing out on because the science community won't even think about approaching topics that might go against the state religion? Whether or not there is evidence that this kind of bias exists, I'm not sure, but I find its existence plausible.

You won't hear TechCrunch complain about why neoreaction has not stuck to its lofty ideal, nor would they even acknowledge that there might be some merit to such a movement. TechCrunch is too busy wondering why anyone would possibly not want to adhere to the state religion. That's noble of TechCrunch, actually. Many comparable publications would have preferred to start a witch-hunt instead.