Techno-Commercialism And Markets In Morality

Neoreaction grows out of soil prepared by perhaps the most powerful combinations of power-based and want-based organization so far, capitalist markets, in which monies stand for both powers and desires in one instrument.

The novel techno-commercial focus of neoreaction is essential to its reinvigoration of ethno-nationalist and theonomist elements.

Of course, capitalism is not always regarded as a particularly moral institution. A great deal of ink has been spilled over how, exactly, capitalism is just or unjust, moral or amoral. However, going back to the roots of trade in the ideas of fairness, power, and desire should show clearly how, far from being amoral mechanisms, prices and capital are as inextricably moral as authority and community are.

To be sure, this is not the fuzzy, humane morality of a Spock-influenced parent, and neither is it the fiery, divine morality of the Old Testament. However, it is mortal justice par excellence. Markets are an engine for aggregating choices and exposing consequences. The justice of capitalism is the justice of the storm that drowns the careless sailor: the hapless are consumed and the skillful prosper.

Still, this is not at all a blind spot of economics in its contemporary Beckerian analytical formulations that take difficult to trade capital, such as intellectual training and genetics, to be just as fundamental as more liquid capital, such as land and equipment. It may sound discomforting or sophistical that in contemporary economics, ghetto community organization could be understood as part of an economy just as much as trading shares of a public company. It is, however, true.

We live in a world where concepts like ‘political market,’ ‘marriage market,’ and ‘religious market‘ are used to plan and analyze real actions unironically and effectively.

This is not the free market fundamentalist, anarcho-capitalist’s idea of capitalism. NRx has grown past its ancap roots, though it retains a strong affinity for economic analysis.

If you want to wirehead yourself, no other era can offer more ways to do it or leave you as brutally alone with the aftermath. If you want to live by wireheading others, no other era will match you as effectively to the people you can best help to their destruction. Unfettered contemporary markets, like post-Beckerian capital, threaten to be all-encompassing; the old paternalist superstructure around them is dissolving just as accelerationists have long hoped.

However, a curious thing has happened that not enough accelerationists saw coming: paternalist and maternalist moral superstructure, rather than merely disappearing like a vestigial tail, has instead been exposed as a valuable resource worth cultivating. It is dissolving through assimilation, not annihilation.

Morality itself has become capital to be managed and invested.

Employee reliability and social fluency are valued as intellectual capital in corporate finance. It is a cliché to say that character is your greatest asset. Intangible good will can be a dominant line item in accounting. Leadership training is a booming consulting market. Not only academically, but factually and practically, moral behavior is capital for sale—whatever its higher significance.

And just like for any other capital, which morality is most valuable rarely appears uniform across a society. The apparent value differs across classes and regions. Market allocation is a sophisticated mixture of desire-based and power-based social allocation, and the composition of that mixture varies throughout society.

At different rungs of the social ladder, different powers and desires are privileged, and so with their attendant moralities. At the lowest rung, perhaps physical clout and passionate desire appear key. At this rung, then, thug ethics appear adaptive and the young who intend to thrive in it seek instruction by joining gangs. Among the mid-level gentry, social clout and temperate desire may seem more important. At this rung, therefore, bourgeois ethics appear adaptive and the youth who intend to thrive in it seek instruction by attending colleges.

Specialization in skills generalizes to specialization in all forms of capital, including moral capital. In each case, market pressures promote elaborating both desire-based and power-based morality, though unevenly and along different dimensions.

So welfare checks and social security grow, but so do the privileges of wealth. Mass media may have to print flagrant untruth to serve their audience’s desires, but they can do so without much worry of being seriously accountable for misrepresentation. Sexual liberation proceeds like a ratchet, yet it seems to remain the same beautiful and powerful people who are having the most and best sex, only more so.

Mass culture drifts left with desire even as elite might makes ever more right.

Yet however powerful it seems, we must always remember that while market capitalism may currently be among our best, most comprehensive processes for organizing the human judgments necessary to design and carry out social resource allocation, it remains an institution of only mortal justice.

Used well, markets link distant inhuman consequences to contextual human judgment more effectively than any other system yet devised. In doing so, they empower human choice to incredible heights. However, the highest heights can be the sites of greatest folly. Desire all too often exceeds power no matter how great. And Nemesis always follows hubris.

Capital is just as capable of empowering the negligent to commit greater follies as of empowering the wise to accomplish greater deeds, like sailing will drown the negligent in deeper waters even as it propels the prudent to more distant shores. As we learn to live with capital, we are learning its peculiar laws, but whether we are learning correctly enough or quickly enough is up for debate.

It is unclear whether any of our lives on Earth could survive a particularly poor choice of investments, given how frightfully powerful our investments have become. A slogan from Stewart Brand describes it well: “We are as gods and have to get good at it.”

Existential threat is not new of course. Our world could always end completely and without warning, and given doomsday arguments, we should not overestimate the stability of older civilizations when measured against inhuman chance. We know we have been lucky enough to develop on our planet so far, but we do not know what this luck consists of. Nonetheless, the power of modern technology is an all-too-foreseeable source of threat.

Negligence appears to thrive everywhere in our systems, from the raising of children to the securitization of debt, and it seems truly doubtful that we are currently wise enough to avoid systemic disaster.

In fact, we see everywhere that the contemporary man expects punishment, though he often despairs of receiving it soon enough to reform his life. We see it in the author of Infinite Jest, who could not escape his privileged loneliness and addictions short of death; we see it in the director of the 2008-2009 bailouts, who laments that the wicked could not be punished without hurting the innocent more; we see it in the father of the American Cold War containment strategy, who was no more certain that the Soviet system would collapse out of its own illegitimacy than he was that consumer capitalism would do the same soon after.

In many cases, we respond to this state of affairs by limiting ourselves. We restrict the power of nuclear and medical technologies through treaties and regulation. We declare certain desires like ‘perfection of the race’ out of bounds. We even limit the forms of discourse that seem capable of leading to dangerous powers and desires. This is, in one sense, prudent.

However, our self-limitation is performed haphazardly and ineffectively. Our restrictions are like those of the obese trucker who will fastidiously avoid cholesterol ‘for his heart’, but still drinks 64 oz. sodas every day. It is not uncommon to see an environmentalist feminist call for restrictions on GMO foods, citing possible hormonal disruption, while wholeheartedly encouraging women to use hormonal birth control. It is not uncommon to see a pacifist multiculturalist decry violent genocide while advocating population replacement.

Evidently our morals leave something to be desired, as any reactionary could tell you. One of the key innovations that the techno-commercialist neoreaction growing out of libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism offers is its account of these moral failures as a market failure in moral capital, i.e., a market failure for truth and justice.

This diagnosis begins with the fact that current media and education markets lack any strong guarantees that the forms of mortal judgment they offer match any more objective concept of judgment, a classic information asymmetry. In fact, the incentives of moral instructors, such as journalists and university professors, seem more aligned towards giving audiences the illusion of understanding and the pleasure of a good conscience rather than any real thing, adding principal agent problems on top of the information asymmetry. Our academic, media, and political cartels, thus incessantly produce glittering insights, but rarely glowing wisdom.

And as judgment worsens, the information asymmetry and principal agent problems only grow.

The current market for judgment and moral influence is therefore a farce. Parents pay tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to send children to universities that do not instill even basic professionalism, much less improve their other character. Self-help books overwhelmingly preach empty self-esteem and merely instrumental habit while antidepressantantipsychotic, and antidisobedience drug prescriptions soar because self-regulation is becoming a rarer and rarer skill. The social sciences are transparently biased, and geneticists are employed not to state basic facts.

The market perspective is not the only one worth taking on this moral problem, and it is unlikely to reveal all solutions. However, it does offer advantages. First, it can be formalized well using methods of contemporary microeconomics, enabling tests by computer simulations and experiments. This may prove essential as discussions of reactionary institution design mature into genuine engineering of social technology. As importantly, it relies little on shared cultural heritage that is all-too-rare among the cosmopolitan elite, making neoreaction more accessible to intelligent and analytically-minded individuals with elite backgrounds. Market failure is a neutral way for shallowly rooted intellectuals to debate the moral bases of their problems—and thereby earn respect for reactionary analysis—without first assenting to a reactionary moral perspective.

Indeed, whatever one’s opinion of reactionary mores this moral market rot must be taken seriously. It hollows out the rest of the capitalist consequence engine. In the 2008-2009 subprime crisis, an inability to properly appreciate the risks of contagion among unreliable mortgage applicants led to a dramatic system failure. Hiring based on signals of competence is at times prohibited outright as unjust oppression, even before one broaches the tender subject of compensation for competence. The health care market has been utterly sick both before and after Obamacare’s passage, from the regulation-driven pricing of pharmaceuticals to judicial system avoidant defensive medicine. Volumes have been and continue to be written about moral hazard, the blind spots of regulators, and the apparent stagnation of developed economies.

These problems are all too apparent and have clear roots in judgment. Yet however farcical and structurally perilous, this moral market failure is an opportunity for market makers.

The task of techno-commercialist reactionaries is to identify and invest in the morality and judgment that will survive a market reset (especially the wisest ethno-nationalism and theonomy), short what will be exposed as dross, and be ready to thrive in the recovery.

In less commercial language, if they choose to appreciate it: hew to admirable men; resist sirens of modern moralism like narrow individualism and narrow rationalism; put trust in the faiths of one’s forefathers. Be ready to depart from Troy to seed a new Rome; be ready to depart Sodom without a backward look.

Because make no mistake, inhuman judgment never stops no matter how slow it can seem to an internet junkie or an algorithmic trader. Nemesis comes for the proud.

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  1. Another highly interesting article from Barghest, why am I not surprised?

    A couple of points, there seems to be a desire here to expand the definition of capital beyond the material, to in fact transform our notion of capital into an amorphous sense of ‘value’, and on the one hand I am cautious this may try to suffuse things of great metaphysical value with mere monetary application analysis, while at the same time consider that it might in fact be a step in the right direction, exiting out of the Capitalist/Socialist paradigm which posits all things being reducible to material capital.

    If we move beyond this box, we can then with confidence say that markets producing wealth in the immediate (high time preference, purely material) are beneficial, unless they will decrease ‘wealth’ in the long term (low time preference, only incidentally material). As such, one can justify outlawing the production of pornography, in spite of the revenue it collects from man’s depraved, primal urge, which the state has a vested interest in taming.

    “The task of techno-commercialist reactionaries is to identify and invest in the morality and judgment that will survive a market reset (especially the wisest ethno-nationalism and theonomy), short what will be exposed as dross, and be ready to thrive in the recovery.”

    Oh, I completely agree. Hey, If you want to invest in something, try land and arms.

    The Reactionary State, properly construed, provides the opportunity for the industrious to make bank, while guarding against what negative influence such industrious souls could wield through a complex net of class, culture, taboo, and of course autocracy.

    “Market failure is a neutral way for shallowly rooted intellectuals to debate the moral bases of their problems—and thereby earn respect for reactionary analysis—without first assenting to a reactionary moral perspective.”

    Just wanted to point out, I think this is probably NRx’s strongest achievement.

    1. Thank you, Mark, and I agree, there is a definite and suspect tendency to try to make capital encompass all value to all people. In Becker’s work and his legacy through the Chicago School, this seems fascinatingly mirrored in a push to make ‘rational’ encompass every way that people choose.

      If you’re interested in using economic analysis to undermine economism and haven’t read it, I highly recommend Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Though it’s not obvious from the title, the book makes an extended argument for the inevitability of aristocracy and the relative functional irrelevance of any of Capitalism, Socialism, or Democracy. The argument rests on the importance of non-economic virtue and authority for catallaxy, and I think it’s strong and subtly made. The book deserves its reputation as a classic.

      Land and arms are great examples of investments that reflect and require judgment. For me, it’s all for the kids.

      1. Thanks for the recommendation. Added to my reading list.

        1. Here’s an electronic copy of Schumpeter’s book:

  2. This piece is fantastic, threads the needle of NRx economics with astonishing ease. I’ll be going back to this one a lot for reference. The writing is excellent as well.

    And this: “The novel techno-commercial focus of neoreaction is essential to its reinvigoration of ethno-nationalist and theonomist elements.” Precisely. All of these elements, when balanced within a NRx synthesis, cancel out the negatives aspects of the others while increasing their potency. This piece has eased any concerns I (crypto-Communist that I am) have harbored about the danger of NRx degenerating into Anarcho-Capitalism 2.0 (this time with a King!).

    1. Thanks, P.T. What you say in your second paragraph was definitely one of my hopes for the article: to exemplify the use of economic analysis without devolving into market fundamentalism, to show the NRx synthesis can be harmonious.

  3. Not seeing the Moldbug.

    1. Chris B, I’m glad to have you reading. I’m a regular reader of Reactionary Future and your comments on other sites.

      The article is meant to clarify a pair of issues that, in my opinion, have lately been distracting a fair fraction of the NRx community from its core insights including Moldbug’s. I want to clear that path again.

      First, it is meant to make clear how NRx can use economic analysis without acceding to liberal, individualist, or rationalist principles. Second, it is meant to make clear how economic analysis can be used to lead liberal intellectuals towards an appreciation of reactionary analysis, for instance in the style of de Jouvenel et al. It does not reach the point of actually doing that latter analysis, not because it should not be done, but because it’s not the piece’s purpose.

      It’s my opinion that your work recently has been muddying these two issues. You’ve been understood (rightly or wrongly) to say that economic and political analysis are exclusive rather than complementary. However, I also believe that your writing is more than interesting enough to make up for that, so long as the flaws do not distract too much from the strengths. Therefore my hope is that in clarifying the two points above, I can help those readers we have in common to appreciate what is best in your writing without being led astray by what is least in it.

      1. First thing, there is no trike in Moldbug at all. De Jouvenelian analysis has nothing to do with the trike. That is just made up to justify/ explain the entryism of whomever turned up to the party.

        Second thing, for all the austrian economic criticism, Moldbug does not throw everything to markets, and this lazy application of extreme liberalism is frustrating.

        There is clearly a complete failure of any libertarian tradition transference to accepting the role of the state and judgement leadership.

        1. Your critique is a non sequitur. This article directly says that “the market is failing to cultivate good judgment and judgment is inevitably sovereign, so alternatives to unalloyed markets are necessary.” How do you see “complete failure of any libertarian tradition transference to accepting the role of the state and judgement leadership” in that?

          You are blinded by the use of economic language and assume that liberal points are being made, but actually read the piece. I have never in my life been a libertarian or an anarchist. I believe in the rule of power guided by judgment as sketched in Aristotle; I do not believe there ever has been or ever will be any alternative to that.

        2. Chris B:

          A) Let us have Moldbug as authoritative interpreter of Moldbug, shall we?

          B) While there is no “Trike” in Moldbug, that’s because post-libertarians and post-ancaps were the only ones there.

          Nobody is “throwing everything to markets”. Nobody. That’s just Muh Menciian Puritah speaking.

  4. Seems like a straightforward extension of Moldbug’s view of Austrian economics as a useful tool for informing the sovereign’s judgment and for that necessary Carlylean task of “ascertaining a set of conditions fixed with adamantine rigour by the ancient Elemental Powers” . Barghest seems to be proposing to rescue the useful bits of economic analysis from the liberal-utilitarian swamp, a project both Mises and Moldbug contributed to.

    1. Quite right. Thanks for this, ashv.

  5. Sir Barghest is quickly becoming my favorite contemporary NRx writer, which is quite a feat considering the relatively junior status he currently holds. I long to see many other thought provoking essays such as this in the future, and I think I speak for almost everyone when I make that statement. Thank you, much appreciated.

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